A Girl Like You

Title: A Girl Like You
Author: Frank Murphy and Carla Murphy
Illustrator:  Kayla Harren
Published By: Sleeping Bear Press, 2020

I have a confession to make: when I was pregnant, I knew my daughter, Vivi, was going to be a girl. And I felt…relieved. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my nephews. They’re sweet and wonderful and little boys are super-awesome.


Somehow, deep down, I always figured I’d make a way better girl mom. And, lucky for me, I have two daughters! My girls are the greatest, and I love them more than anything in the world. They’re funny and clever and talented. They make up really witty jokes (sometimes at my expense) and they’re surprisingly fashionable. (Surprising because they’re my children. Fortunately they got their style sense from their dad.)

One of the books I bought when they were little was called Dear Girl and it never failed to make me cry. It was so affirming and positive and excellent. That’s why I was delighted to find A Girl Like You at the library. I thought that maybe, maybe, it could live up to Dear Girl. And guess what?

It totally did.

This book is wonderful from start to finish. Let’s start with the art. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I love the way Ms. Harren has depicted girls of all different sizes, backgrounds and abilities. The scenes she depicts complement the writing perfectly. A-plus!

And the text. Well. Let me just say: if you have a little girl, you need to read her this book. I think that sometimes we assume kids pick up on the fact that they’re great and special and whatnot, but we don’t explicitly say HOW they’re great and special. Or WHY they shouldn’t be afraid to let their light shine. This book lays it all out: “The world needs a girl like you.” It then goes on to explain WHAT kind of girl you are:

A brave girl. A bold girl. A strong, caring girl. A girl with passions and talents. A girl who isn’t afraid to fall and get back up. A girl who isn’t afraid to have disagreements with people. Who apologizes when she’s wrong, but doesn’t OVER apologize. (Hitting close to home here, authors.) A thoughtful girl (the art on the page where the little girl’s cat has died literally made me cry). A girl who is empathic, smart, caring. A girl who has feelings and can turn to others if the feelings get too big.

It’s amazing, this book. I am going to buy myself a copy because:

a) My girls need to hear these things. Even though I try to reinforce these specific lessons, it’s nice to have them laid out in a book, perfect for reading and discussing.

b) I need to hear these things. Heck, I think most adults need to be reminded of these things. Be strong, be brave, be kind, be gentle.

This is one of the books I’m going to get mamas with girls. It’s amazing and I absolutely loved it. (And, not to worry, if you’re a boy mama, there’s also A Boy Like You!)

Jess’ review: 5/5 stars

That Time I Won An Award…

Just a little time out from the usual reviews (more coming next week, I promise) to discuss something awesome that happened. It’s this!

A Wee Boo was selected as one of the Children’s Book Council’s 2023 Favorites! I was so excited to find out — and when I saw who else was on the list, I just felt so…delighted. Kid lit authors and illustrators that I adore. People whose books I read all the time…right there, on the VERY. SAME. LIST!

It’s been a good week, is what I’m saying. 🙂

Tuesday Reviews-day: Winter Round Up!

As most of you know, I not only love to review books, but to write them too! In fact, my first book was published last year. But it wasn’t the first picture book I’d ever written. No. Not by a long shot.

I’ve been writing for years. I’ve been paid to be a children’s entertainment writer for 19 years, but I hadn’t been *officially published* (read: not self-published) until last year.

And publication? Well, it was magical.

So I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I’m in the final stages of editing my latest picture book and, frankly, it’s good.

They haven’t all been gems, though. Usually, when I get an idea for a new book, three things happen:

  1. I think it’s the most brilliant thing I’ve ever thought of and I write down a rough (very rough) draft.
  2. I look up the idea to see who else has written something similar to it (to make sure I’m not just rehashing something that’s already been…hashed).
  3. I write the story. Then I write it again. Then I print it out, draw big, angry lines through the text and write it in new words. Then I type it again. Then I leave it for a few days. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. Make a dummy (a mock-up of the layout of the book). Edit, edit, edit. Until finally…there’s nothing left to do.

    Except pray someone publishes it. I’m almost at this stage right now. It’s the worst stage.

Anyway, this latest story idea is related to winter, so I decided to see what was out there in the realm of ‘winter-based picture books.’ There are the obvious ones, of course: The Mitten (by Jan Brett), The Snowy Day (by Ezra Jack Keats), Stranger in the Woods (by Carl R. Sams) and The Snowman (by Raymond Briggs). But I wanted to read books that I wasn’t familiar with.

To the library!

I got out five books. I read them to Lily. Here’s what we thought (in four sentences or less)!

Ten Ways to Hear Snow (written by Cathy Camper, Illustrated by Kenard Pak): This was Lily’s favourite out of all the books. She liked it because (and I quote): “It’s an actual story with an actual plot and characters!” (Note: several of the other books had these features as well, of course, but she just enjoyed this one the most). I liked the idea of hearing snow differently, the caring relationship between grandmother and granddaughter, and the evocative descriptions used when discussing winter/snow.

Owl Moon (written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr): Okay, okay, so I picked ONE classic. Owl Moon has been around since I was a kid. This Caldecott winner is a wonderful, peaceful journey with a dad and a daughter, wandering in the nighttime woods looking for an owl.

Little Red Gliding Hood (written by Tara Lazar, Illustrated by Troy Cummings): This story was a bit of a wild ride! It honestly felt like a cartoon made into a picture book — it had movement and excitement and bright colours…and a satisfying ending. I enjoyed it, and so did Lily!

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter (by Kenard Pak): I really liked this book. I liked the art (excellent), the prose (sparse but effective) and the concept (one season leaving, another arriving). If I was teaching kindergarten, I would 100% use this book to discuss seasonal transitions.

Snow (by Sam Usher): This was more a ‘series of events with a punchline’ sort of book than a complicated story. Basically, it snows and a little boy is trying to get his granddad out of the house and to the park to play. When they get there, they’re in for a big surprise (hint: they’re not the first ones to arrive).

And one more for good luck!

Bunny Slopes (by Claudia Rueda): I immediately recognized Ms. Rueda’s illustration style from the beloved Cat books we’ve read (over and over again). This story is meant for a really young audience, and gives similar vibes to Press Here by Herve Tullet. If Lily had been four years old, she totally would’ve been into this story (but she’s eight now, so…you know, too cool for interactive picture books).

I’d recommend any of the books we read, but I’d say Ten Ways to Hear Snow, Little Red Gliding Hood and Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter were my top three.

Happy wintertime reading!

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.