A Delightful Early Chapter Book: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe written by Megumi Iwasa and illustrated by Jun Takabatake

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe coverFormat/Source: Hardcover/library
Published: March 2017 (Originally published 2011 in Japan)
Publisher: Gecko Press
Length: 104 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction – early chapter book
★★★★½    Add to Goodreads button

 

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.

Further Reading

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Cybils 2017 Finalists

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.

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5 Books I Read and Loved But Never Got Around to Reviewing

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

The Break coverWhen 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

Drift and Dagger coverMal 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 Stormtakes place some years before the events of Salt and StormSalt 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

Every Heart a DoorwayChildren 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.

Down Among the Sticks and bones coverTwin 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

The Hounds of the Morrigan book coverA 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?
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Two 2017 Middle Grade Spec Fic Releases

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 cover and genre of this book appealed to me, but when I came to the plot, I thought “That’s a bit too quirky for me” and didn’t add it to my TBR. After positive reviews from Ms. Yingling Reads, Charlotte’s Library, and Random Musings of a Bibliophile, I decided it might be worth a shot.
  • 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

Race to the bottom of the SeaWhen 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?

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Charis Cotter’s The Painting Explores Mother-Daughter Relationships via Time Slip

The Painting by Charis Cotter

The Painting by Charis CotterFormat/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: 19 September 2017
Publisher: Tundra Books
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Middle grade time slip
Rating: ★★★½
GoodReads Indigo | IndieBound
I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Annie and her mother don’t see eye to eye. When Annie finds a painting of a lonely lighthouse in their home, she is immediately drawn to it–and her mother wishes it would stay banished in the attic. To her, art has no interest, but Annie loves drawing and painting.
When Annie’s mother slips into a coma following a car accident, strange things begin to happen to Annie. She finds herself falling into the painting and meeting Claire, a girl her own age living at the lighthouse. Claire’s mother Maisie is the artist behind the painting, and like Annie, Claire’s relationship with her mother is fraught. Annie thinks she can help them find their way back to each other, and in so doing, help mend her relationship with her own mother.

But who IS Claire? Why can Annie travel through the painting? And can Annie help her mother wake up from her coma?

Back in 2014, I was so charmed by Charis Cotter’s debut The Swallow (review here) that I nominated it for a Cybils award. Today I’m reviewing Cotter’s sophomore middle grade novel. The mention of a lonely lighthouse caught my interest. Cotter, a native of Toronto who now lives in Newfoundland, evokes crisp imagery in her descriptions of the coast and lighthouse. The atmosphere, for me, makes up for the lack of explicit ghosts.

Annie soon deduces Claire’s identity, so I don’t believe it’s a spoiler to state that Claire is Annie’s mother, some years in the past. I enjoy books that explore the familial relationships between children and adults (an enjoyment that can be traced back to my reading of Inkheart at 10 years old). The mother-daughter relationships explored in The Painting are the kind where the daughter wants one thing for herself and the mother wants something else for the daughter. Conflicts sparks as they fail to understand each other’s needs. (The Pixar film Brave also did a great job at exploring this kind of relationship.) Annie sees her relationship with Claire inverted in Claire’s relationship with her own mother Maisie – Maisie paints, Claire studies, Claire wants to attend high school in town and Maisie wants her to stay at the lighthouse. In the modern timeline, Annie finds herself clashing with Claire over Annie’s interest in art and her introverted demeanor.

A number of poignant moments are scattered throughout the story. The death of Claire’s younger sister complicates Claire and Maisie’s relationship and gives further depth to their relationship. The first person narrative of a young girl who thinks she’s to blame for her sibling’s death or who believes her mother doesn’t love her can sting to read.

If you liked the style of The Swallow, you will probably like the style of The Painting. The narrative alternates between the two girls in short segments. As with The Swallow, I found Annie and Claire’s voices to be very similar. There is less creepiness in The Painting than in The Swallow – though atmospheric, the characters drive The Painting even more so than in The Swallow.

The Bottom Line:

A touching story primarily set along Newfoundland’s atmospheric coast, Annie and Claire work together across decades to save Annie’s mother and in the process repair their own relationships with their mothers.

Further Reading:

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