Malaika’s Winter Carnival

Title: Malaika’s Winter Carnival
Author: Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrator: Irene Luxbacher
Published By: Groundwood Books, 2017

It’s winter here in Canada and, honestly (in Ontario, anyway), it’s been a pretty good one. Not too much snow, not too cold to go outside, no sense of your face physically freezing as you open the door…yes, altogether, it’s been a decent winter.

That said, it’s only January, and there’s some bad weather scheduled for Thursday and we have all of February and most of March to get through as well, so let’s not assume anything. Winter could sneak up and dump a meter of snow on us any day now. Winter is wily like that.

In celebration of the season, I’m going to review a book given to me by Alydia, one of my dearest, oldest friends (oldest in that we’ve known each other since we were 14, not as in ‘she’s ancient’). It’s a book written by Nadia Hohn, a friend of hers!

I think the take-home lesson here is that everyone knows everyone and writers make excellent friends.*

The book is all about a little girl named Malaika. She lives in the Caribbean with her grandma (the text doesn’t specify which country, but I was thinking Jamaica, based on some of the language used and the foods referenced). The story starts with Malaika’s mom returning from Canada. She brought along two people with her: Mr. Frederic, and his daughter Adele. They explain to Malaika that soon they’ll be a family: her mom is marrying Mr. Frederic!

Malaika is, understandably, not thrilled about this turn of events. Everything she knows, the life she loves, her caring grandma are all in the Caribbean. But she has to leave everyone behind to go to Canada and start a new life, in her new family. It’s a lot to process.

When she reaches Canada (Quebec, to be specific), it’s wintertime and it is cold. Not only does Malaika have to navigate a totally new country with a totally new language (French) and a completely different school system, she has to do it all in the coldest part of the year. It’s too much.

Malaika hates it. Again, understandably.

Things come to a head when the family goes to the winter carnival and it’s nothing like the kind of carnivals Malaika has been to. Luckily, Malaika’s mom realizes what her daughter needs: a visit with Grandma (via FaceTime).

I don’t want to give away the ending, but it wraps up the story nicely and lets us know that Malaika is going to be okay.

The art is extremely colourful and detailed. Malaika is adorable and Ms. Luxbacher really captured her facial expressions perfectly. Especially when Malaika was at school — you can feel how lonely and upset she is.

I really enjoyed this story — it dealt with immigration from a child’s point of view (the story is told in the first person, by Malaika), which isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of in picture books. Malaika is an excellent character and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

Jess’ Rating: Five stars!

*As long as you’re okay with us using things you’ve said and stories you’ve told us in future works. And also, we’re kind of introverted and need time to recharge after hanging out. But beyond that? Writers are great friendship material.

Over-Scheduled Andrew

Title: Over-Scheduled Andrew
Author/Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Published By: Tundra Books, 2016

Sometimes I think back to the before-times of pre-COVID life. I remember how busy it was, how much we had on the go. And while I’ve never over-scheduled my kids, I can’t say the same for myself.

When I picked up Over-Scheduled Andrew at the library, I immediately thought of a young Jess, back in high school. I belonged to ALL THE THINGS. In the band? You know it. Hospital volunteer? Yes ma’am. Editor of the newspaper? Who else? In the play? Yessirree. Prefect? Unfortunately.

I was part of it all.* And I LOVED it.

Andrew is the same. He is a big joiner, and he has many skills to hone and interests to pursue. He can act! He can debate! He can play chess and dance and do karate and tennis and edit the newspaper and play the bagpipes. He can join the French film club and take singing lessons and learn Spanish. But…as Andrew joins more things, the time he has left over to spend with his best friend dwindles to a mere fifteen minutes on Friday afternoons.

More than that, Andrew is absolutely exhausted.

He starts to make mistakes. Get confused. Play bagpipes during a tennis match. Dance through debating. Andrew is a mess.

Finally, when Andrew messes up his big role in the play, he realizes he’s taken on too much. He quits almost everything and returns to a life of drama, enjoying his best friend, and starting a new, no-pressure club.

The story is, obviously, delightful. The message rings true for so many kids. Your time is important: how do you want to spend it? Also, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you have time to do it well (looking at you, young Jess).

Aside from a great story, let’s talk about art: Andrew is a chickadee, which makes him exceptionally cute. I love the style Ms. Spires chose for this book, and all the little details she added on each page. Her characters are so expressive and watching Andrew become more and more bedraggled is both adorable and relatable.

I’ve reviewed Ashley Spires’ books before (see here) , and we’re huge fans in this house. This is another winner.

Mama’s rating: Ten clubs out of ten!

* “All” meaning “everything non-athletic.” Your girl doesn’t do sports. Trust me, it’s for the best.

If I was the sunshine

Title: If I was the sunshine
Author: Julie Fogliano
Illustrator: Loren Long
Published By: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019

Sometimes I go to the local library and randomly choose books off the shelf. Occasionally I’m alone, but I usually have one of my two enthusiastic helpers with me. Last Saturday, it was Lily. She’s seven now, so past the age of picture books (so she says, anyway). But she was more than willing to play “close your eyes and choose any book you want from this shelf.” Over and over again.

She picked six books. Of the six, this one was my favourite. It’s basically dreamy poetry and beautiful art combined, so what’s not to love? Here’s the tl;dr version. (Although, ‘c’mon, it’s a picture book. It’s not exactly tl, know what I mean?)

The story is an exchange between two people/animals/insects/various beings that love each other. It’s a sweet back-and-forth, saying “if you called me this, I’d call you that.” For instance:

“If you were the winter,
and I was the spring,
I’d call you whisper,
and you’d call me sing.”

Gorgeous, right? The text is lovely. The pictures absolutely make this book something to cherish. The colours are vibrant, the animals are friendly and adorable, the book itself is actually kind of large, which gave me the feeling I was looking at one of those fancy coffee-table art books (note: I own zero fancy coffee-table art books personally).

I can imagine my girls loving this story right before bedtime. It’s such a soothing. calming, gentle read. And that’s so important. When Vivi and Lily were little, I read a LOT of picture books before bed. I’m a sucker for funny books (as are they), so we’d definitely read one or two silly stories. But the just-before-we-turn-out-the-lights books were always soporific. Something soothing, something that would let them dream sweet dreams and know they were safe and loved.

This is one of those books.

Mama’s review: 5/5 stars

A Wee Boo

Title: A Wee Boo
Author: Jessica Boyd
Illustrator: Brooke Kerrigan
Published By: Orca Book Publishers, 2022

You guys, you guys, you guys…my book is here. Like, it’s really, really here. I am literally holding it (lovingly) in my arms RIGHT NOW. Even though it’s still a challenge to get a copy in stores, I got my author copies tonight. Much screaming occurred. I hope the neighbours aren’t worried.

Anyway, I promised I’d review my book when it came out, so I’m going to. And believe me, I am going to try to be super-objective in my review. Suuuper objective.

So. Here’s what I’d say, if this wasn’t MY sweet baby book. If this book was the product of someone else’s imagination. This is what I’d say.

OMG, you have to get this totally amazing book! It’s maybe the greatest ghost book ever written!

Ahem. Okay, more objective than that.

This book is a delight. Wee Boo is absolutely adorable, and the story leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

What’s it about? So glad you asked! It’s about a sweet ghost named Wee Boo. All she really wants in life is to get her Haunting Licence and become a proper ghost. But in order to be licenced, she needs to scare someone. And that’s a problem because she’s exceptionally cute.
Boo fails to get her licence twice in a row, and has to report back to Ghost School (and a very unhappy group of teacher ghosts). The teachers give her one last chance to scare someone. Wee Boo ends up at a home with a family. She can’t scare the mom, dad or cat…but there’s a fourth someone living there.

A baby.

Super-easy, right? Babies are natural scaredy-cats! But instead of being freaked out, the baby giggles at Boo’s antics. It’s only when the baby’s parents see her giggling at nothing (they can’t see Boo) that they’re creeped out. And voila! Wee Boo scared someone (the parents). She gets her Haunting Licence, hooray…but…somehow, Boo is still unfulfilled. That’s when she realizes something: instead of being a proper ghost, she’d rather be an imaginary friend. Boo returns to the house and she and the baby are pictured on the endpages growing up together.

You guys. Seriously. Even if this wasn’t my book, I’d be totally sniffling by the end.

Brooke (the fabulous illustrator) did a phenomenal job. One day, I hope to actually meet her! She’s so talented and Boo is everything I hoped she’d be. The art makes me so happy.

The book makes me so happy.

🙂 🙂 🙂

Give it a read, let me know if you love it. (I know you will.)

Five little ghosts out of five. 🙂

Outside, Inside

Title: Outside, Inside
Author/Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Published By: Roaring Brook Press, 2021

The past few years have been a bit of a weird timeline, non? When I look back on pictures of 2019 (especially those from Christmas), I keep thinking to myself, “You fool! Just wait a few months and things are going to be so, so different.” In fact, right before we went into our first lockdown here in Ontario, Lily and I took the subway downtown to SickKids for a check up (shout out to the celiac experts at SickKids!). We were ON the SUBWAY. With NO masks. Right before the pandemic was officially a THING.

The mind boggles, looking back.

When we first found out that the kids would be coming home from school indefinitely, it was…odd. I naively made a list of places that we could visit, now that school wasn’t happening. Except that all of those places were closed too. And all those people we love so much? Yup, couldn’t see them in person either. We didn’t even see my parents for Easter that year. (We made cardboard cutouts and sat with them at the table. It’s both sad and funny, looking back).

We were scared. Everyone was scared. And lonely.

After several weeks, I snuck downtown to see my bestie. I missed him terribly, and he had somehow sourced a box of yeast I needed to bake bread for Lily (our grocery store was totally devoid of yeast and flour for quite some time). We walked around a totally barren, empty downtown Toronto. We didn’t hug hello or goodbye, and we did our entire visit outside. I took a picture of Jay at Dundas Square, completely deserted, with large billboard ads telling people to be careful and stay home. It was…really weird.

We didn’t see our family or friends for months. We missed everyone so much, and Zoom calls weren’t the same.

All that said, I kept telling Karl, “I know we’re lucky. I know it could be so much worse. People have it so much worse.” So we were also grateful. Grateful, lucky, sad, lonely, hopeless, hopeful, brave, weak, tired and frustrated.

When I read LeUyen Pham’s Outside, Inside, all those feelings came rushing back. She captured the fear, the hope, the strange separateness that the pandemic brought perfectly. This book is a must-have and must-read. I’m going to do my rating right now: five stars, no question.

But, full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Ms. Pham’s and have been for a looong time. Both of my girls have been massively into the Princess in Black series as they’ve grown up. Vivi adores the Real Friends/Best Friends/Friends Forever books that LeUyen Pham created with Shannon Hale.

But this book? This is something extra-special. It’s like a time capsule. It’s something that adults and kids alike can relate to. It’s beautiful, both in its sparse but poetic text and gorgeous artwork. Each page is so fabulously detailed. The hospital spread is so heartbreakingly accurate.

And the end? It totally made me cry. It’s a good reminder that although COVID isn’t over, there’s still hope. There’s a future. There are things to look forward to and we won’t be in this situation forever.

So if you’re looking for a wonderful, excellent, fabulous picture book that will maybe help you to process some of those hard feelings about the pandemic, this is the one. This book truly is perfect.

Mr. Wolf’s Class – Series Review

Today, I’m lucky enough to be joined by my littlest reader, Lily! She’s been reading (and re-reading) the Mr. Wolf’s Class series by Aron Nels Steinke.

J: Lily, what do you think of the series, overall?

L: I love it! Because it’s just so well made, and I really love the characters.

J: What do you think about the art?

L: I love it! The art is really cute.

J: Who’s your favourite character?

L: Aziza or Randi. They’re both really funny.

J: Which character are you most like?

L: Probably Aziza, because she’s very funny, she’s very kind and she’s very smart.

J: Which character are you least like?

L: Henry. He’s super-sporty. Maybe Abdi? He’s sporty too.

J: Which book is your favourite in the series?

L: Either Snow Day or the Field Trip one. I like Snow Day because two of the kids had to stay at school with Mr. Wolf. I like the Field Trip one because I like how Aziza was taking over most of the story.

J: Would you want to stay at school overnight in a snowstorm?

L: Yes! Because it would be SO FUN!

J: With Mr. Wolf, or your teacher Mrs. Hou?

L: Mr. Wolf! He’s so funny and well-prepared. He had food, a soup stash and popcorn.

J: What book do you think Aron Nels Steinke should write next?

L: He should write about solving some of those mysteries! I really want to know about the love note one and the stairs to nowhere.

J: Where do you think the stairs go?

L: To the rats’ home! The rats in the school wear clothes and are very cute.

J: Anything else you want to add?

L: I just really love the book series, and I really love the characters. I want a new book to come out soon!

Lily’s rating: 500/5

Mommy’s rating: What she said

Chez Bob

Title: Chez Bob
Author/Illustrator: Bob Shea
Published By: Little, Brown and Company, 2021

I first read a Bob Shea book when I discovered the joy of Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great (reviewed here).  It’s still one of my favourites to read aloud to any willing children in my life. The goat’s voice is incredibly fun to do (he’s all melancholy and slightly congested) and the unicorn is a blast (carefree and kind of ditzy).

(Those are just suggestions. You do you, of course.)

Anyway, when I saw Chez Bob at the library, I suspected it might be every bit as wonderful as Unicorn. And it is!

First, the art is fabulous. I love Bob Shea’s style. I once tried to draw some of the pages from Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great and, well, let’s just say that there’s a reason I’m a writer and not an illustrator. Bob Shea is both, though, and frankly I’m jealous.

I mean, filled with admiration.

Chez Bob is about Bob, a lazy alligator (or potentially crocodile?) that just wants to eat some colourful little birds. He decides to simply ask the birds to hop into his mouth, but (unsurprisingly) that doesn’t work. Bob realizes what he has to do: get something to lure the birds to his mouth. Namely: seeds.

So, following this logic, Bob opens a birdseed restaurant on his nose, which is kind of brilliant. (Truly, some of the smartest people I know are creative out of the desire to do less work.)   His goal is to get enough money to purchase diamond teeth and a gold hat. A lofty goal, but if that’s what gets you out of bed in the morning, so be it.

Lucky for Bob, the birds flock to the restaurant and eat a lot of seed and spread the word to more and more birds. Bob’s devious plan was working!

Or was it?

What Bob hadn’t really counted on was that the birds would build a town around him.
Or that he’d want to sponsor the basketball team.
Or that he’d join the book club.

Basically, those birds Bob had his stomach set on had become his friends. And you can’t eat your friends, right?


When a thunderstorm threatens his feathery pals, Bob offers them shelter…in his mouth. Now, I figured that at this point, the story could either go the same way as A Hungry Lion (A Dwindling Assortment of Animals), or that perhaps Bob might make good on his friendship and NOT eat the birds.

I don’t want to give away the ending (it’s funny and sweet), but Bob turns out to be a pretty okay guy after all. (Okay, fine. So I totally gave away the ending.)

This book was hilarious and fun and a terrific pun on Bob Shea’s name. (Chez Bob/Bob Shea…get it?!)

I recommend it and give it five crocodiles (or alligators?) out of five.

My Book

You guys, guess what?
I’m going to be a published author. I’ve known about this for a couple of years, of course, but I’ve kept it under my hat. But now? Now it’s on Indigo AND on Orca’s website (coming soon!), so here goes nothing:

Meet Wee Boo!

Isn’t she the cutest thing?

It’s my book. That’s my name. (And the name of my awesome illustrator, Brooke Kerrigan. I haven’t met her in person, or talked to her on the phone, but this is our book! Isn’t publishing weird?!)

This has been a total dream come true. I love the art, I love the book, I love the fact that I can tell people a little bit more about it. I was going to do a review, but I think I’ll wait until it’s really, truly available in stores (as opposed to ‘for pre-order’). Then I’ll give you my 100% unbiased opinion. 😀

Until then, I’ll be here grinning like a fool. Because sometimes, kids, dreams do come true.

Dear Dragon

Title: Dear Dragon
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Rodolfo Montalvo
Published By: Viking Books, 2016

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a big fan of rhyming books. There, I said it. I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love them. (Side note: also a big fan of rap. And what are rhyming books, if not the rap of kid lit?)

When my kids were little, Sandra Boynton was my go-to. Anything she’s written is brilliant, but I especially love Perfect Piggies and Hippos Go Berserk. Why? Her rhymes are amazing. They’re tight. They’re catchy. They never, ever leave your head…even five years after last reading one of her books.

Who else can throw down rhymes? Andrea Beaty. She’s the author of Rosie Revere, Engineer, Iggy Peck, Architect and various other rhyming stories. I love the rhyme schemes she uses and the clever word pairings she creates. She could teach a master class in rhyming picture books.

But today’s review isn’t about Andrea Beaty or Sandra Boynton. No, it’s about Josh Funk’s book, Dear Dragon. I took this book out from the library on a whim, after doing some research about ‘funny picture books’ (very long entry coming in the future on that topic). And, great news, I wasn’t disappointed.

The general idea is that a little boy, George, has a school-assigned pen pal (we’ve all been there) and, unbeknownst to him, it’s a dragon! (A cute little dragon-kid, but a dragon nonetheless). Throughout the year, George and Blaise (the dragon) write to each other, sharing facts about their lives and things they’re interested in. At the end of the school year, they meet at a picnic and…shocker! They realize that they’re not exactly as they’d envisioned each other to be!

But, of course, who cares if one is a dragon and one is a kid? No matter. They’re still friends and that’s honestly all that matters.

The art is perfectly suited to the story. It’s cute and whimsical and friendly. A+ for the art.

This would be a terrific book to use at the beginning of the school year to promote inclusivity among classmates, or sometime during the year to remind kids about being kind to each other. Overall, this is a sweet, funny story that I highly recommend.

Little Brothers & Little Sisters vs. Just Because

Since this year is probably going to be just as weird and different as the last two, I’ve decided to try something new for the ol’ bloggy: once a month, I’m going to get a random “you choose for me” bag from my local library. (Which, incidentally, is closed due to COVID, but is still offering curbside pickup because librarians are rock stars).

From that bag of randomly selected books, I will randomly select two stories to review. This month, I have chosen:


Title: Little Brothers & Little Sisters
Written & Illustrated by: Monica Arnaldo
Published By: OwlKids Books, 2018


Title: Just Because
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault
Published By: Candlewick Press, 2019

I’m going to read each book once and then react. Ready? Ready! Let’s do this!

First up, Little Brothers & Little Sisters. So, right off the bat I really liked the art. It’s really friendly and bright and cute. It’s eye-catching and colourful. A+ for the art. The story is really, really simple: little brothers and sisters just want to be part of your world, older siblings. They want to get into your clubhouse, sit with you on the couch, not have to pull you around in a wagon.

(Just a quick interjection here: as an older sibling, was I doing it wrong? Like, was I too soft on my little brother? I never prevented him from joining me in our treehouse, he always had the best spot on the couch and he never, ever pulled me around in a wagon or anything else for that matter. I pulled him! Dammit, I think I seriously blew this ‘I’m the big sister so do what I say’ thing. I wonder if it’s too late now?)

Anyway, the good news is that even though the little sibs in the story don’t get to do WHATEVER they want (unlike my little brother, apparently), they do get older sibling love/help when it’s needed. So there’s a sweet ending to the story. Aw.

Do I think my kiddos would’ve liked it as little ones? Maybe as REALLY little ones. The story would’ve been too thin for them after the age of about three. Also, with their rivalry, I’m not sure how well they could relate to these siblings. Sigh. Working on that.

Next up: Just Because.

The art is good. I like how it goes from fairly monochromatic on the room pages, with only the circle behind the question being coloured in, and that the circle colour predicts the background/dominant colour on the following double-page spread. Nicely done!

The story: guys, I have a confession to make. I’m a giant nerd. That is, I love science and non-fiction stories. I watch SciShow or Crash Course every night on YouTube. I often fall asleep to Hank or John Green’s voice. I love facts and knowing the answers to questions.

That said, I’m also a creative writer who makes stuff up for a living. So, I love imagination as well. The thing that kind of irks me about this book is that I get it but I don’t LOVE it.

Here’s why: the story is about a little girl who is stalling at bedtime. She keeps asking her dad legit questions, like: Why is the ocean blue? What happened to the dinosaurs? What’s a black hole? And, instead of giving the kid legit answers, the dad totally makes things up.

Which, you know, I get it. Dad is tired. He wants to go downstairs and watch some kind of sporting event on television. Maybe have some wine? Probably. He doesn’t really want to get super in-depth on the topic of bird migration or the lifecycle of deciduous trees. I feel you, Dad. I FEEL YOU. But…little nerd-Jess is struggling with the lack of answers. As a kid, I would’ve been annoyed with my own father for just making stuff up. I would’ve been all “Ha, ha! The dinosaurs floated out to space. Hilarious. Now, what really happened? For REAL.”

And all THAT said, I know I’m not the target audience. This *theoretically* could be a good jumping-off point for a discussion with your kid about real vs. fantasy/good information vs. bad information/people being experts vs. people just randomly having theories with no actual basis in reality.

Would my kids have liked this book? Well, I think they’re both too much like me. They would’ve listened patiently and then been like “Okay, once more…this time, just the facts.”

Little Brothers & Little Sisters: 4/5 stars

Just Because: 3/5 stars