What I Read in 2016: Picture Books

I value my picture book collection the way that Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler values her files: deeply, though you wouldn’t know it by my lack of an ordered cataloging or shelving system. Here are some of the books published in 2016 that made it onto my shelves this year.

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Panda Pants  is a dialogue between a young panda and his father. The little Panda is set on a pair of pants. The father is unconvinced. The silliness is tempered by a dead-pan delivery and a touch of philosophy. Like Zen Shorts, if conceived by the Comedy Network.

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My Friend Maggie is another fantastic offering from Hannah E. Harrison. All of her books have the emotional realism of Kevin Henkes’ work and her illustrations GLOW. This book isn’t just kid-friendly, it strikes a deep, deep chord. I’m not a crier, but this book makes me tear up every darn time.

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Miss Moon lives in a beautiful, well-mannered world of dogs and dresses and boating parties that I would also love to live in. In Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess, Janet Hill’s collection of life lessons are accompanied by her distinctive oil-paintings and would be a great gift for dog lovers, graduates, or people with a taste for whimsy.

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Sara O’Leary is grand master of the list poem. In A Family is a Family is a Family she lists a wide range of families, accompanied by Qin Leng’s delicate illustrations of the small pleasures of domestic life.

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Jo Ellen Bogart’s quietly magnificent The White Cat and the Monk is an ode to work, peace, and stillness. Even non-cat lovers will admit that there is something delightful in a monk comparing his daily routine to that of his cat’s. Illustrator Sydney Smith does a great job getting into the head of a cat and demonstrates why his work keeps turning up on award lists.

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Lion Lessons is begging to be turned into a piece of theatre. A boy studies to be a lion with an actual lion. Simple, funny, genius. Jon Agee’s books are on my auto-buy list.

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Just when you thought there were no new ways to tell a first day of school story, Adam Rex comes along with the perspective of a new school building in School’s First Day of School. Christian Robinson’s bright, retro art helps make this brand new book feel like an old favourite.

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My favourite debut of the year is Ooko, by author-illustrator Esme Shapiro. Foxes abound in children’s books, but never has a fox been so sweetly delusional before. A quirky friendship story with a twist. Bonus human leg hair!

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Julia Sarda’s colour palette of rich jewel-tones and Goth-meets-Art Deco sensibility is an unexpected but brilliant pairing with Kyo Maclear’s fable about a list-making family. Maclear tends to be paired with airier, more whimsical illustrators, but The Liszts is proof that her canny text works just as well with a darker, earthier art style.

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In Scribble, child-whisperer Ruth Ohi imbues simple shapes (circle, square, and triangle) with matching personalities who are thrown for a loop (shape pun!) when scribble arrives. The book works on two levels, as both a story about learning to accept other’s differences and also as an ode to imagination.

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There will always be a desire for counting books and Lucy Ruth Cummin’s A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals adds an element of mystery and dark humour to this tried and true formula. In a post-Klassen/hat eat hat world you may think you know the twist…but DO you?

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Thanks to Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick I have always been drawn to topiaries (yes, even after The Shining). The Night Gardener features some pretty fantastic creations and captures a sense of wonder and possibility in a spare text accompanied by old-timey, sepia-toned illustrations.

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Magical Contest Alert: Win a Custom Illustration of your Pet!

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How much do you love that little guy? Now imagine YOUR pet with the fantastic beasts treatment!

November is the month of fantastic beasts, and the good folks at Penguin Random House Canada are running a wonderful contest to celebrate all things magical.The prize? A signed copy of If I Had a Gryphon AND a custom illustration of your own beloved pet (with some magical additions) by illustrator Cale Atkinson! I wrote If I Had a Gryphon as a primer on the pleasures and perils of magical pet care after seeing the vast numbers of kids at storytime who were a tad too young for Harry Potter or the wonderful Candlewick “Ology” books (Dragonology, Mythology, etc).

To enter, tweet a picture of your pet using the hashtag #IfIHadaGryphon before November 25th, 11:59pm EST. You do *not* need to include the book in your picture, just your pet being adorable will do!

I  cannot wait to see all your pet photos in my twitterfeed.

Contest open to Canada & the United States. Full rules here.

 

 

IF I HAD A GRYPHON: EVENTS!

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What’s in the bag? Do you know any young pet detectives who could help me solve a magical mystery?

I’ve been gathering props and breaking out the vocal exercises all in preparation for events and storytimes across Ontario for IF I HAD A GRYPHON. Come join me (and maybe a magical creature or two) on the following dates for stories & activities:

Tuesday, Feb 9th, 10:30am, Chapters Brampton, Storytime & Signing 

Saturday, Feb 13th, 11am, Chapters Ajax, Storytime & Signing 

Sunday, Feb 14th, 11am, Indigo Yonge & Eglinton, Storytime & Signing 

Saturday, Feb 20th, 2-3:30pm, TPL Lillian H Smith Branch, Book Launch  Storytime

Saturday, Feb 27th, 11am, Chapters Guelph, Storytime & Signing 

Sunday, Feb 28th, 2pm, Cardboard Castles, Creemore, ON, Storytime & Signing

Monday, Feb 29th, 6pm, Thornton Public Library, Storytime & Signing

Saturday, March 5th, 11am Chapters Milton, Storytime & Signing

Saturday, March 12th, 10:30-noon, Woodstock Public Library, Storytime & Signing

Giveaway: If I Had a Gryphon

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We are a month away from the release of my first picture book, If I Had a Gryphon (Tundra Books, February 9/16). In this primer on magical pet care, Sam deliberates the pros and cons of raising a series of fantastic beasts, including unicorns, gryphons, krakens, hippogriffs and many more!

Here are what people are saying about the book, illustrated by fellow Canuck Cale Atkinson (To The Sea):

Vikki VanSickle’s first picture book is an outstanding success. The humorous storyline, the strong rhyming scheme, and the bold illustrations by Cale Atkinson make If I Had a Gryphon a marvellous addition to the picture book genre. Sure to be a favourite among fantasy fans and those contemplating what their perfect pet might be—mythical or otherwise! ” CM Magazine 

VanSickle delivers lean, bouncy verse and an impressive array of offbeat creatures, while Atkinson’s illustrations are bold and hint at dynamic motion. . .brisk and bright. “ Kirkus Reviews

VanSickle’s rhymes are unflaggingly exuberant as the girl puts up with noisy harpies, biting chupacabras, and mischievous fairies, and Atkinson fills the pages with visual comedy. ” Publisher’s Weekly Review

Needless to say, I’m as happy as a hippogriff in a dog park! You can enter to win a free copy over at Goodreads.  Contest open to Canada & USA. Follow the links below to enter. While you’re there, why not add it to your To-Read shelf?

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle

If I Had a Gryphon

by Vikki VanSickle

Giveaway ends February 09, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

My Favourite Books of 2015

Every time I start a year in review list I am overwhelmed by the number of amazing books out there. I always intend to pick one or two books per category but it is much, much too difficult. What follows is a mere sliver of the fabulous books I read and loved this year, which is in turn just a chip on the tip of the iceberg of the fantastic offerings in contemporary children’s literature.

Picture Books 

There was a really great piece in Quill & Quire about The Golden Age of  Canadian Picture Books that we are currently enjoying. I could not agree more- in fact I would extend the Golden Age beyond our borders to include the US and the UK as well. Just look at this years’ riches!  This is Sadie marks yet another beautiful collaboration between Canadians Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad, celebrating the imagination of a child. Jon Agee, one of my favourite contemporary picture book makers, delivers a winner with the rhyming It’s Only Stanley, in which a clueless family disregards the astronomical ambitions of their dog. Sidewalk Flowers rightfully made many best of the year lists, taking home the GG for Children’s Illustration. Look out for Hannah E. Harrison, who’s sophomore effort  Bernice Gets Carried Away combines the warmth, humour, and emotional integrity of Kevin Henkes’ work. Seriously, how does she get her art to glow like that?! Christian Robinson had a stellar year with two great collaborations, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, a colourful ode to both urban living and grandparents, and Mac Barnett’s tender ghost-meets-girl story, Leo: A Ghost Story.

Early Readers & Chapter Books 

Mo Willems has another stellar year with The Story of Diva and Flea and I Really Like Slop. 2015 also saw the start of a new early chapter book series by Canadian Kallie George, with the charming Clover’s Luck in January and the equally magical The Enchanted Egg  in November. Non-fiction is at its funniest with the Disgusting Critters series, which added The Spider to the already wonderfully gross line-up of The Fly, The Rat, The Slug and Head Lice. Soon to come? The Toad!

Middle Grade

I read a lot of top notch middle grade fiction this year. The wintry, emotional Waiting for Unicorns inspired me to get back into blogging after a hiatus.  The Penderwicks in Spring proves that some series get even better with time, and this fifth book might be my favourite installment thus far. Goodbye Stranger remains not only the book I wish I had written, but the book I think every twelve year old (and adult who lives or works with twelve year olds) should read. George proves that books that fill a necessary void (in this case, narratives starring trans children) can also be beautifully written. Major props to author Alex Gino for this sensitive, accessible novel.

Look out for stars on the rise Victoria Jamieson, who’s Roller Girl ran away with my heart and should be on the TBR pile of all Raina Telgemeier’s zillions of fans. Ursula Vernon’s confident, fraction-obsessed Harriet Hamsterbone, the first in the delightful Hamster Princess series, is guaranteed to give readers a serious case of The Giggles. Circus Mirandus transported me right back to being 10 and discovering fantasy books for the first time and Monstrous was the Frankenstein/fairy-tale mash-up I didn’t even know I wanted.

 

Teen 

Sarah Dessen proves that she is indeed worthy of the title Patron Saint of YA with her thought-provoking, nuanced and ultimately redemptive Saint Anything. All I want for Christmas is some well-deserved Printz recognition for my girl Sarah! Longtime fans of Dessen will devour newcomer Emily Adrian’s Like It Never Happened, which first caught my attention because of the high school drama club setting and won my heart with it’s honest portrayal of contemporary issues. Susan Juby, another YA pioneer, was in top form with the unforgettable The Truth Commission, serving up a devastating family drama with her trademark wit and style. Fans of Juby will also love the mad-cap, Veronica Mars-esque Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by debut Canadian author Stephanie Tromly, featuring a reluctant detective with a very dry sense of humour and a weird, mysterious boy with a tragic past who is a much-needed quirky alternative to your standard YA book boyfriend. Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap wins the award for most unique book I read this year, with it’s gorgeous prose and shifting narratives. File this one under surreal mystery. For those who prefer their teen books laced with magic realism, The Accident Season provided the same kind of breathless, beautiful read as mega-bestseller We Were Liars. The series I should have read earlier but am still thankful I got around to reading is the lush, epic Throne of Glass series by NYT Bestseller Sarah J Maas. I have a terrible habit of never reading past book 2 in series, but I could not get enough of Maas’ rich, dark world. You can bet I’ll be taking the most recent book (and Goodreads Choice Award Winner) Queen of Shadows with me on vacation…that is if I can wait that long.

Sarah Dessen Patron Saint of YA

 

What books stole your heart in 2015?

Middle Grade Monday: The Story of Diva and Flea Review

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I picked up the charming The Story of Diva and Flea  from Book Culture  while acting out my Kathleen Kelly fantasies in New York. It had been on my list for awhile (because Mo Willems) but with Paris so front-of-mind it felt particularly poignant. At its heart, this story is about making new friends, and how those friends can help you face your fears, but it is also a love letter to Paris.

I love Mo Willems. His characters are exuberant and his sense of humour ranges from slapstick to dead-pan. If the Elephant and Piggie series doesn’t make kids want to read I’m not sure anything will.  The latest installment in the Elephant and Piggie early reader series, I Really Like Slop, might be my favourite children’s book title of all time. Willem’s humour is ever-present in this very different story of a stray cat and a pampered dog who become friends, but this is a surprisingly tender and poignant Willems.

Whether they realize it or not, both Diva and Flea are lonely. Diva, a dog who is described as “smaller than a person’s foot” is afraid of feet and therefore never ventures outside her Parisienne courtyard. Flea, a self-described “Flaneur,” fears going indoors, as he has  traumatic memories of a broom incident. They eventually become friends and Flea teaches Diva to be a brave like him and Diva teaches Flea that indoors can be nice, especially if there is Breck-fest of Luh-nch.

There is an Oliver & Company* feeling to the story, with a streetwise cat and a pampered dog, but Willems gives these stock characters both depth and warmth. Flea is gentle with Diva and tries not to hurt her feelings. Diva is patient with Flea and generous with her food and person, Eva. Their friendship almost feels like a love story, and Tony DiTerlizzi’s spot illustrations give a sense of a classic French movie, with scenes of manicured gardens, gargoyles, the Eiffel tower and cafe-lined streets.

The consistent use of flaneur as a verb (“Do you see me? I’m flaneur-ing”) will make children giggle, as will the animals’ observations of life. For example, upon seeing people exiting out of metro trains, Flea muses “So that’s where people come from.” Much of the humour comes from the nature of the animals and how they misunderstand each other. In one of my favourite scenes, Diva discovers a dead mouse on her doorstep, a present left by Flea as an apology. By way of thank you, Diva says “That is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. But, in the future, bring me a small piece of ribbon please.”

In one of the final scenes, Flea teaches Diva how to “meet new Feet.” This sweet scene reminded me of the classic book Catwings, in which the winged kittens are told to seek out “Gentle Hands.” Flea instructs Diva to sit at the feet and say meow (she says woof instead) and wait for the “wondrous thing.” That thing is a pat on the head, which Diva describes as “wondrous indeed.”

This is really more of an early chapter book than a middle grade novel, but I couldn’t resist including it. The Story of Diva and Flea reads like a dream and feels like a classic. Check out the video below of Willems and DiTerlizzi talking about their collaboration.


The Story of Diva and Flea is available now in hardcover from Hyperion.

*I have been waiting my entire career to work in an apt Oliver & Company comp

Middle Grade Monday: The Doldrums

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I dare you to look through this book without a) gasping b) petting the cover and c) calling over your friends or colleagues so they can also gasp and pet the cover. Of course it is the untenable thing-the story-that counts, but when the package is this deluxe, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Luckily Nicholas Gannon‘s words, characters, and art live up to the promise of the book’s beautiful packaging.

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and trinkets his adventuring grandparents have brought back from their world travels. His grandparents are currently missing and his parents don’t understand Archie or his wander-lust. Luckily Archer makes a friend in neighbour Oliver Glub, who is not as keen on adventuring but will give it a go for Archer’s sake, and Adelaide L. Beaumont, recently arrived from France with a wooden leg and an air of mystery. The three friends hatch an escape plan, but naturally things do not go as expected.

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This is a very classic middle grade story about friendship masquerading as an adventure story. That isn’t to say that there isn’t adventure in this delightful tale- there is lots of mystery, calamitous situations, mysterious trunks, encounters with odd strangers, etc. In a way the book demonstrates how anything can turn into an adventure when you’re with friends. Archer, Oliver and Adelaide don’t even realize how lonely they are until they find each other. Gannon has an assured, sensitive narrative voice and some truly lovely phrasing. I found myself wanting to underline certain lines to help imprint them on my brain.

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Gannon’s art is warm and delicate and captures the same slightly nostalgic, cozy tone as his writing. Art includes a mix of black and white spot illustrations, coloured plates, and sepia-toned architectural drawings. You can get a sense of the art by visiting the wonderful website, which also includes character descriptions, selected scenes, and lots of carefully curated extras.  This is the ideal book to read curled up in an over-sized chair on a rainy day. It made me crave milky tea in a delicate cup, cozy knitted sweaters, and mail in thick envelopes, sealed with wax. Perfect for fans of The Greenglass House, The Mysterious Benedict Society, classic New York story The Saturdays, Under the Egg and anything by E. L. Konigsburg.

The Doldrums is available now in hard cover from Greenwillow, an imprint of Harper Collins.