Yours Sincerely, Giraffe written by Megumi Iwasa and illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Published: March 2017 (Originally published 2011 in Japan) Publisher: Gecko Press Length: 104 pages Genre: Speculative fiction – early chapter book ★★★★½
I came across this wonderful little book while browsing new children’s books at the library. The discovery made me fondly recall those days when library browsing was my primary way of finding hidden gems and growing my TBR… Anyway! I enjoyed everything about this book.
Giraffe, feeling bored, writes a letter to which he instructs Pelican to deliver as far away as possible. Giraffe’s letter ends up in the hands (flippers?) of Penguin. The two exchange letters in which they try to figure out what the other looks like, culminating in a humorous meeting. In addition to Giraffe and Penguin, there are cute supporting characters like Whale and Pelican, who have their own independent motives and personalities.
“Pelican was a little nervous. After all, this was his first customer.” (p. 15)
“There were two reasons that Professor Whale was a teacher. Because he was extraordinarily big and because he was extraordinarily old. In other words, because he was, quite simply, extraordinary.
And he was especially extraordinary at spouting. No one could spout like him.” (p. 34)
This book is for young readers and doesn’t have a lot of text. The writing is simple yet creative. Though this is primarily a funny story, there are one or two poignant moments contained within. The doodle-like illustrations enhance the story’s mood.
The Bottom Line
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is the kind of creatively clever story that can delight young and old readers alike.
Today the 2017 Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards) finalists are announced! I’m ready to kick into gear in my role as a round two judge in the middle grade speculative fiction category. Mark @ Say What?, Halli @ The Winged Pen, Rosemary @ Mom Read It, Brenda @ Log Cabin Library and myself will deliberate to decide which of the following finalists will be named the category winner:
The Girl with the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Miss Ellicott’s School For the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
You can read more about each book in blurbs written by the round one judges on the Cybils website. Winners will be announced on February 14. There are 12 other categories (including picture books, young adult, and audiobooks) so be sure to check those out too.
Read and Enjoyed: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
Own voices for transwoman representation. I read both If I Was Your Girl and Brie Spangler’s Beast earlier this year. If I Was Your Girl features Amanda telling her story, in first person. Beast is the story of Dylan, who crushes on Jamie before realizing she is trans. This is not the place where I’m going to debate the trans representation in Beast. The reason I’m bringing it up is to highlight how important books like If I Was Your Girl are – books that center trans people’s voices and tell their own stories, as they wish to share them. Beast is Dylan’s story, not Jamie’s, and her role is little different from other love interests. If I Was Your Girl is wholly Amanda’s story, and for that alone I can recommend this book.
Side note: I had heard If I Was Your Girl was a pretty straightforward romance, but there were more painful and cringe-worthy moments than I anticipated. This is not an entirely light read.
Released but Not Yet Read: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín
Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until one day when warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates start disappearing from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.
The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her.
As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?
Own voices for Latin American representation (the author was raised in Chile and moved to the US after the coup. The book is translated from Spanish.) When I Lived on Butterfly Hill tackles a subject I know little about. The cover caught my eye and the description prompted me to add it to my TBR.
Not Yet Released: Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice
Part survey of the field of Indigenous literary studies, part cultural history, and part literary polemic, WhyIndigenous Literatures Matter asserts the vital significance of literary expression to the political, creative, and intellectual efforts of Indigenous peoples today. In considering the connections between literature and lived experience, this book contemplates four key questions at the heart of Indigenous kinship traditions: How do we learn to be human? How do we become good relatives? How do we become good ancestors? How do we learn to live together? Blending personal narrative and broader historical and cultural analysis with close readings of key creative and critical texts, Justice argues that Indigenous writers engage with these questions in part to challenge settler-colonial policies and practices that have targeted Indigenous connections to land, history, family, and self. More importantly, Indigenous writers imaginatively engage the many ways that communities and individuals have sought to nurture these relationships and project them into the future.
This provocative volume challenges readers to critically consider and rethink their assumptions about Indigenous literature, history, and politics while never forgetting the emotional connections of our shared humanity and the power of story to effect personal and social change. Written with a generalist reader firmly in mind, but addressing issues of interest to specialists in the field, this book welcomes new audiences to Indigenous literary studies while offering more seasoned readers a renewed appreciation for these transformative literary traditions.
Own voices for Indigenous writer representation. Non-fiction represent! I’m very curious about this book; it sounds like an excellent topic.
What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
These books I enjoyed but never reviewed because I either thought they were excellent all around and couldn’t figure out how to do justice to them in a review, or because they were excellent in a very personal way, or because they were just pretty good and I couldn’t think of much to say about them. I don’t want to let these books fall through the cracks, though, because they’re all books I would recommend! So here are a few thoughts I’ve managed to muster up.
The Break by Katherena Vermette
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
This book is #ownvoices in that Vermette is a Métis Winnipegger.
I read this book in one sitting, which I wasn’t expecting to do. The writing is sharp and the story is one that could easily pull you in.
Parts of this book were extremely difficult to read. As a Winnipegger settler myself, this book took me into lives of people I know exist, people who I’ve probably passed on the street, whose lived experiences seem like a world away from mine. But they’re not actually, and that’s the painful part. I’m not the best person to advocate for this book, which is more than a few steps away from middle grade fantasy – the reviews at The Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire do a better job at capturing why this is an important read.
I was definitely miffed when The Break didn’t win Canada Reads (and a book that most Canadians were already familiar with, a book with no female characters, did win…). Here is a an excellent clip of Candy Palmater defending the book during Canada Reads.
Drift and Dagger by Kendall Kulper
Mal used to have a home, a best friend, and a secret. But he lost all three on the day Essie Roe exposed him as a blank. Blanks cannot be cursed or saved or killed by magic. And everyone is afraid of them—even Mal himself.
Now Mal travels the world in search of dangerous and illegal magical relics, never stopping in any one place too long. When his partner in crime, Boone, hears of a legendary dagger that can steal magic, Mal knows he finally may have found a way to even the score with Essie. Crossing oceans and continents, Mal and Boone travel from Boston to Paris to Constantinople in search of the dagger. Finding it would mean riches, fame, and revenge—but only if Mal can control the monster inside him.
I was delighted to win a copy of this book annotated by hand by the author. Drift and Dagger, a companion book to Salt and Storm, takes place some years before the events of Salt and Storm. Salt and Storm held a lot of promise for me; I loved the premise but it turned out to be more of a romance. I preferred Drift and Dagger because there’s more of an emphasis on magic and travel and adventure, and no emphasis on romance. The historical setting makes it that more fun.
Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
This is the story of what happened first…
Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.
They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.
I rated both of these books four stars on Goodreads, and I can think of aspects of the stories that I would have liked to see done differently, but when it comes to how these stories tugged at my heart, they’re both five star reads for me.
Every Heart a Doorway especially will be one of my best reads of 2017 for personal reasons, while I think Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the better written of the two.
Things I loved particularly about Down Among the Sticks and Bones: Parents, Jack and Jill figuring out their own identities, the creepiness of their bleak world.
My main critiques are: 1) the murder mystery of Every Heart a Doorway was a bit blah and 2) I would have liked to read more from Jill’s perspective in Down Among the Sticks and Bones.
I hope to squeeze in a reread of these books before the end of the year!
Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea
A wonderfully written fantasy set in the west of Ireland, which tells of the coming of the Great Queen who is bent on bringing destruction to the world. Only Pidge and Brigit can stop her, and their task seems impossible as they’re constantly trailed by the queen’s hounds. But they’re aided in their quest by a host of willing helpers – a glorious array of unforgettable characters.
I read this book over the summer at the lake. I consider it a children’s classic, which had been on my TBR for a few years.
Definitely a fantasy story, very episodic, entertaining, though it did seem to drag on at times. There are frightening parts (I particularly remember a terrifying horse, haha) and classically epic parts. And according to my notes, there is a cute baby spider part. I might have gotten more out of it if I was better familiar with Irish folklore!
What were some books you enjoyed this past year but didn’t get around to reviewing?
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.
But she’s still the fiercest creature in the mountains — and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?
The story itself is a simple one. The appeal is in the combination of elements not usually taken together – dragons, apprenticeship, chocolate making, royal politics and elitism.
Aventurine, being a young dragon transformed into a human, brings a unique perspective to this style of fantasy. Youthful energy and dragon stubbornness combine for some interesting moments in Aventurine’s human form. I enjoyed reading about her new found passion for the craft of making chocolate.
The relationships Aventurine develops as she learns to trust in the love and support of others give this story some warmth.
I would enjoy a sequel that features more of Aventurine’s dragon family and the difficulty Aventurine may face in balancing her two identities.
The Bottom Line: A fun bedtime read that served its purpose in distracting me from grad school life.
Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar
When her parents, the great marine scientists Dr. and Dr. Quail, are killed in a tragic accident, eleven-year-old Fidelia Quail is racked by grief — and guilt. It was a submarine of Fidelia’s invention that her parents were in when they died, and it was she who pressed them to stay out longer when the raging Undertow was looming. But Fidelia is forced out of her mourning when she’s kidnapped by Merrick the Monstrous, a pirate whose list of treasons stretches longer than a ribbon eel. Her task? Use her marine know-how to retrieve his treasure, lost on the ocean floor. But as Fidelia and the pirates close in on the prize, with the navy hot on their heels, she realizes that Merrick doesn’t expect to live long enough to enjoy his loot. Could something other than black-hearted greed be driving him? Will Fidelia be able to master the perils of the ocean without her parents — and piece together the mystery of Merrick the Monstrous before it’s too late?
Not quite sure where to start with this book. It turned out to be a lot more mature, and fairly dark, than I expected.
The details of Fidelia’s parents’ death alarmed me a bit. I had expected them to have died prior to the start of the story. The fact that the Fidelia had invented the submarine in which they died was tough enough. But then add the fact that she decided to ignore an incoming storm, when her mom explicitly asked if they needed to head in for safety… ouch.
I generally enjoy having adult characters interact equally with the younger main characters in middle grade novels. However, all the characters aside from Fidelia are adults, and most of the story is really their story. I often felt like Fidelia was just along for the ride. For her part of the story, she does learn to be herself again after the death of her parents, but the plot is driven by the actions of the adults.
My opinion of this book isn’t as bad as you might think! There are a lot of fun elements that made this an entertaining read – pirates, ocean faring, sea creatures, and Fidelia’s inventions.
The Bottom Line: Another fun read, but darker and more mature than The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. Not recommended for sensitive readers.
Have you read any speculative fiction releases (especially middle grade) from this year? What are your favourites?