A Small Merry Christmas

Best wishes from me and from small Henry and his brilliant creator Julie Morstad. 
In some ways I feel we are both mothers to this imaginary child....


When Mako Mori Was Small

Cory Doctorow was kind enough to write a thoughtful review of When I Was Small that ran on Boing Boing a little while ago. One of the comments suggested that the picture of Dot was reminiscent of the young Mako Mori character in Pacific Rim.

Last night I finally watched the film with my son and then he drew this for me.

Mako Mori in the style of Julie Morstad's Dot. There have been a number of homages to Julie's work around here over the years but this may be one of my favourites.

Here's little Mako (played by Mana Ashida) hiding from the Kaiju.

Maybe we need to get The Henry Books into the hands of Guillermo Del Toro.


CBC Canada Writes Twitter Challenge

I'm hanging out on twitter today, helping out with a CBC Canada Writes contest for Cozy Classics

Since I'm tethered to my computer for the next while, I thought I'd share a selection of beautiful and covetable items on the theme of children's literature from The British Library online gift shop. The British Library is currently running an exhibition titled Picture This: Children's Illustrated Classics.

Here are a few items that I am loading into my virtual cart.

And the Animation Studio from Aardman Studios looks pretty fab.

Conspicuous by their absence in The British Library shop, however, are the beautiful board books from Cozy Classics (hint, hint). 



Mo's Mustache by Ben Clanton (Tundra Books) arrived the other day. Son reported it was the best thing anyone ever sent me in the mail ever. If you've got a young reader who is also of the "show me the funny" temperament you might want to seek out a copy (still time to buy before Movemeber rolls around again.)

This is a nice little story about individuality: Mo is a monster with a moustache. Everyone likes Mo's moustache. Suddenly everyone has a moustache just like Mo's and on it goes. It's kind of like a less creepy version of The Rainbow Fish.

For me the real joy in the book was in the details. When you take off the dust jacket (and as I recall small children LOVE to take off dust jackets) there's a nice little surprise on the inner cover.

Also, printed on the inside of the dustjacket is a poster giving tips on mustache maintenance.  (For those who like novel approaches to dustjackets see also Robin Mitchell Cranfield and Judith Steedman's Windy and Friends books.)

Highly recommend this one, although I'd like it just that little bit more if they'd gone with Canadian spelling on the title as Mo's Moustache would be more visually euphonious.  I also wished it had come with a moustache or two.  This would be a nice little promo item: a sheet of cardboard punch-out moustaches. But all in all this is a very stylish little addition to the library.  


Happy Dahl Day: Twits and Eejits

In keeping with this year's Dahl Day theme of Mischief and Mayhem, I offer up this little video via my son.

This also reminds me that we still need to find a copy of The Eejits (there's a look-inside at that link if you are curious).

The Eejits, of course, is the Scots version of Roald Dahl's The Twits done by Matthew Fitt and produced by Itchy Coo and Black & White Publishing.

Around here we are still dreaming of the Scots versions of The Henry Books!

For more Dahl-ingness, see my next post on the wonderful work of papercut artist Jayme McGowan.


Paper Dahls

These papercut illos for Roald Dahl stories by Jayme McGowan are pretty gosh-darned wonderful.  You can buy prints at her Roadside Productions shop and you can see the whole series in the wonderful LMNOP magazine.

The Fantastic Mr Fox

*re-posting from earlier in honour of Dahl Day.


Back to School

All the pictures people are posting online of their children's first day back to school have reminded me of a perfect back-to-school book I meant to mention this week. 

Noni is Nervous by Heather Hartt-Sussman with illos by Geneviève Côté is about a little girl starting school for the first time and worrying about all the little things that seem huge when you are that size. Great gift for first week of school. 


Illustrating Wisdom from Adam Rex and Oliver Jeffers

I've been thinking a lot about illustrators and illustration lately and wanted to share a few things here.

The first is a lovely piece by Adam Rex on how he makes a picture book. It provides an interesting look at process in taking a picture book from being purely text to so much more.  Rex writes: " I only have the most rudimentary notion what each page is going to look like, but this is where I usually discover the ideas that will make this my book as opposed to a book that was merely illustrated by me."  It's such a great distinction!  Go over and take a look if you are interested in seeing how this alchemy occurs. 

Here is my favourite bit from what he has to say:  "When I turn in the art I'm worried that it's totally inadequate.  When the book arrives in stores a year later I only see mistakes.  A few months later I love it."

Adam Rex illo for Neil Gaiman's Chu's Day.

I also really liked this little bit from a Today's Parent interview with Oliver Jeffers.
I made a decision when I was doing How to Catch a Star that the books were not going to be set anywhere and the boy was going to be as vague as possible so that anyone could apply themselves to the story. And because he’s vague and because the landscapes are vague, it means that people all over the world think that the boy is one of their friends and that the geography is where they’re from. And that allows people in and to fill in the details with their own personal details. So he’s a little bit of me, a little bit of everyone else who’s reading the story.
You can buy a limited edition print of  the Lost and Found cover here. You know you want to.


Godzilla Versus Mr. Darcy

File under things my kid has made me.

And in case anyone missed the news story: giant Mr. Darcy statue installed in Hyde Park.


Children's Bookfest at Canada House, Trafalgar Square

Happy to see the wonderful Simply Read Books represented at London's Children's Bookfest this weekend.  

Here are some recent releases from Simply Read:

Oh yes, and also:


How To Dress a Bookshop Window

Just look at the window that the fantastic Vancouver Kidsbooks has done for Julie Morstad's new book How To (Simply Read).  

Kidsbooks is one of the things I really miss about Vancouver.  We had some great times at events there when my firstborn was young and they did a beautiful window for When I Was Small.  Kidsbooks is precisely the kind of neighbourhood bookshop we all need and they do a brilliant job of handselling books.  

How To is getting great buzz right now. I think it's the best work Julie Morstad has done (although I am rather partial to her Henry books).   It's simply a beautiful book and once you see it you're going to want one for yourself and one for someone you love.  Trust me.

If you want to leave a comment telling me what you like about Julie Morstad's books I will enter your name to win a copyof How To from Simply Read Books and their Canadian distributor Raincoast books.  

UPDATE:  I've contacted one lucky reader for their address and they will be receiving a copy of How To in their mailbox one day soon.  Thanks all for playing.

How to share the joy.

FURTHER UPDATE:  I have since learned that Kathy Traeger is the name of the artist responsible for the design & dressing of that window.  You can see more of her work here


From A.A. Milne & Christopher Robin to Darth Vader: Picture Books for Father's Day

I've made a board on Pinterest where I am collecting picture book suggestions for father's day.  Some titles: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Night Cars by Teddy Jam (Matt Cohen), and When You Were Small by my shameless, self-promoting self.  Further suggestions always welcome.  

Here's a recording of  A.A. Milne reading from Winnie-the-Pooh in 1929.  

And here's a beautiful image of father, son and the toy bear named after a real bear named after a soldier's home town of Winnipeg.

Christopher Milne in later life wrote about how he was never terribly happy about having been the model for Christopher Robin.  A cautionary tale for writing parents, I've always thought.

Jeffrey Brown is onto a very good concept with Darth Vader and Son and Vader's Little Princess.  We've only read the first but it was pretty charming.  Here's the book trailer for it.

Finally, a shout out to book blog Read It Daddy and their campaign to get more Dads (and Mums) reading to their small people.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there.  If you are still lucky enough to have a small child about the house do yourself a favour and read them a book today.  


Give a Kid a Classic

Recently I was trying to explain the Cozy Classics concept to someone and they just weren't getting it. I was actually shocked. How can you not love this idea.  Great classics of literature reduced to 12 word board books and illustrated with beautiful needle-felted figures. I wish I'd thought of it! Not that I could needle-felt to save my life.

Holman and Jack Wang are the Vancouver-born brothers behind this fantastic series. I happen to share a publisher with them (Simply Read Books) so I was lucky enough to get an early peek at the the first two books they produced: Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice. And it was pretty much besottedness at first sight.  They have since added Les Miserables and War and Peace and Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist are in the works.  There's no end to the wonderfulness in store.

Note: You can see Holman talk about the books on Global News here

Now, I'm not a huge proponent of flashcard parenting. I don't think babies need to learn their times tables before they learn to walk and I don't expect them to be able to write an essay about Jane Austen based on a board book. But there is absolutely nothing po-faced or enrichment-flavoured about the Cozy Classics approach. What there is in its place is something as simple as joy.

Reading these books it becomes apparent that you are never going to get all of Moby Dick into twelve words. Surprise! But what you can do is introduce some of the characters and elements of the story. What you can do is make Ishamel and the Pequod part of your child's lexicon and how can that be a bad thing?

Sharing the books you love with your little one is a huge part of parenting and Cozy Classics just shows us that this sharing can take myriad forms.

all images property Cozy Classics

It may seem that I am displaying bias in promoting books published by the same house as publishes my own picture books. But really, what Simply Read Books has always done well is occasionally produce books that are so beautiful that to see them is to want them. I'd just like as many people as possible to see them.

For your further browsing pleasure:

~a good article from Vancouver Sun on the brothers and the books
~more on this blog
~the Cozy Classics website
~Simply Read Books
~Cozy Classics on facebook



I haven't been posting much lately and while there's hardly been a clamour of frenzied fans wondering why, I thought I'd offer an explanation. 
     I always think it a little sad when bloggers apologize for the infrequency of their posts. It's not a job, I think. I've had jobs and this is different.  This I do when I feel like it.  And here I can talk about books by people I know without feeling I need to explain. I can talk about books that came out this week or twelve years ago. I can talk on and on and on, although I hardly ever do. (I've found I tend to be my verbose when I'm being paid by the word.)
     Anyway, here's my explanation: I've been doing other things.  Life is like that.
     One of the things I've been doing is working on a book with my young son.  We're having a great time doing it. I email him my latest from the other side of the room and can listen to him laughing to himself as he reads. Then he sends it back with improvements and additions and it makes for the most enjoyable form of conversation.

     I may post something from the book here soon, but in the meantime here's an animation made by my boy. His patience amazes me as the drawing and editing of this three minute clip took about twelve hours. And for six of those we were on an overnight train. It seems to me that someone with this level of dedication is a good person to write a book with.  
     Wish us luck!

(My favourite line: Forgot to buy a vorpal sword to face the jabberwock!)


Briefly Noted: Beautiful Alices, Bookshops, and New Books

I'm of the school that believes you can't be too rich or own too many copies of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  I know I'm not alone in this which is why I wanted to share this beautiful edition with wood engravings by George S. Walker produced by Porcupine's Quill.  I spotted it on display last night at Montreal's Argo Bookshop,  a lovely little broom closet of a bookstore (200 square feet!) with a fantastically curated stocklist.  Argo has been part of Montreal's literary landscape since 1966 and is currently owned and run by Meaghan Acosta, Jesse Eckerlin & J.P. Karwacki. 

I may have to go back and pick up a copy of this for myself to keep my other Alices company.  This, however, was my purchase last night:

It's a great joy to visit the website of Lemony Snicket and be greeted with this:  "Dear Colleague, Welcome to this website.  Please leave."  You can read an excerpt on the site or you can go straight out and support a local bookseller by buying a copy.

While on the subject of author websites here are a few more you might want to check out.  Betsy Bird, children's librarian and blogger extraordinaire now has taken to wearing another hat: picture book writer.  Her first book Giant Dance Party pubs this week and you can find her online here.  Oliver Jeffers, a perennial favourite around here has a great website where he talks about his picture books and other projects.  And today on twitter he gave a sneak peek of his latest book.

From bookshops to one of my other great loves: libraries.  One of the things that makes the place where I live feel like a community is our community, volunteer-run library.  To my mind, it's practically everything a library should be.  The Hudson War Memorial Library is self-supporting and actually generates enough money through book sales and weekly thrift sales to support local charities.  Pretty impressive.

Finally, you can now listen to Neil Gaiman's keynote address from this year's London Book Fair.  His advice to those in publishing: "try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. And succeed in ways we never would have imagined a year or a week ago."


Picture Book News

Very happy to report that there is a new book on the way from the wondrous Sophie Blackall. It's called The Mighty Lalouche and is written by Matthew Olshan.

Read about her process here and flip through a slideshow of images.  Also click on her name above to browse around her website.  Or find her on facebook.

Also there is a new book coming from Gabi Swiatkowska this spring.  It's called Please, Papa and is a companion to Thank You, Mama.  Both books are written by Kate Banks.  Follow the links to see previews of both books.  I'm a big fan of Gabi Swiatokska's distinctive style.  

There's an article in The Atlantic on picture books about where babies come from, including books on surrogacy and alternative methods.  One of my favourite reviews of Where You Came From berated me for not including a single fact in the book.

I've been banging on a lot about empathy lately.  Wrote about it here and talked about it on CBC here then wrote about it again here where I started a reading list for promoting empathy in teens.  I've just remembered a great picture book that I would recommend for the 3-5 pre-reader set.  It's called That's Not Funny and is by Adrian Johnson.  It's all about the concept of schadenfreude (seriously) and while being joyfully non-didactic is a great teaching tool for that age group. And it's very funny.

Nothing whatsoever to do with picture books, but I wrote a review of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life for the Globe and Mail and you can read it here, if you are so inclined.  Perhaps, like me you love picture books but also love being able to immerse yourself in a good doorstopper once in awhile.

Finally, I've been thinking about Julie Morstad's beautiful board book of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem The Swing.  What other classic poem for children might we like to see her take a swing at?  Leave suggestions in the comments and I will pass along.


Empathy: A Reading List

from Skim
I'm interested in suggestions for an Empathy Reading List--books that we can give to teens to help them see the world from a perspective other than their own.  Really, any good fiction can do this but here are some books that deal specifically with issues around high school bullying, cyberbullying or just plain old being different (always a tough one in high school).  I will add to the list as suggestions come in through comments here or over on twitter @saraoleary.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen
Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Gillian Tamaki
Words That Start with B by Vikki Vansickle
What I Was by Meg Rosoff
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Encore Edie by Annabel Lyon
Odd Man Out by Sarah Ellis
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
Metawars Heff Norton
Wintergirls Laurie Halse Anderson
Holes by Louis Sachar
Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
America by ER Frank
Speak Laurie Halse Anderson
Monocerous by Suzette Mayr

I haven't read all of these but I have read and reviewed several. Here is my review of What I Was. I'll try to post some of the other reviews as I find them.
Studies have shown a direct link between reading fiction and empathy in young people. There have been a number of recent articles on the subject including this one by Keith Oately in Psychology Today.  This link between fiction and empathy seems to be a good place to start in thinking about problems of bulling and cyberbullying.
I wrote here about the Pink Shirt campaign the other day, trying to work through for myself why the idea of being Anti-Bullying didn't seem terribly useful to me.   And I'm still not at all sure about demonizing bullies as a way of instilling greater compassion in our young people.
But I have been reading up on Pink Shirt Day and to be honest I'm kind of impressed. It originates with the actions of some Nova Scotian high school students and occurs annually on February 27. Rick Mercer has this to say on Jer's Vision: Canada's Youth Diversity Initiative:
It's this failure of compassion or empathy that seems almost endemic in our society that truly frightens me.  And it's got me thinking about ways to inculcate these values in our children. There's a fascinating program designed to address these problems called Roots of Empathy.  You can read the first chapter of the book about it here.  It says: 
When students in Nova Scotia saw a younger student being harassed because he was wearing pink, they decided to do something. They took it upon themselves to buy every pink shirt in town and they did it on their own dime.  The next day they handed these shirts out at school. Suddenly the bullies who were making this young man’s life miserable were surrounded by students in pink. They learned in no uncertain terms that the vast majority of kids were not going to accept their behavior. Message sent. To me, the kindness, courage, compassion and creativity exhibited by this gesture is what being Canadian is all about.
I agree that it's a good message and that those young Nova Scotians deserve kudos for what they did.  It's good to remember when the news is full of the stories of what some other young men from that area did and the consequences their actions had.  Rehtaeh Parsons was driven to suicide by the sexual assault that she suffered and the distribution of images related to that assault.  Those were criminal actions--not anything as innocuous-sounding as bullying--but part of her suffering was to do with the the ongoing circulation of those images and the cruel comments made about her by her peers through social media.  And that kind of cyberbullying is all too common right now.
The program is based on the idea that if we are able to take the perspective of the Other we will notice and appreciate our commonalities and we will be less likely to allow differences to cause us to marginalize, hate or hurt each other.
And that seems to me to be a good place to start.  Reading fiction helps children to develop emotional literacy and that means they will be better equipped to see the suffering of others and be moved to do something about it.

I've written about empathy here before and I'd like to once again direct readers to this article by Nikhil Goyal about empathy on the Globe and Mail site. The article gives some alarming statistics:
Today, there is a dearth of empathy in young people. After analyzing data among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years, a University of Michigan study two years ago concluded that college students are 40 per cent less empathetic than their counterparts in 1979. Indeed, the most significant drop has been in the past decade. What’s more, cases of bullying and suicides are climbing at an alarming pace. That means empathy education is needed more than ever before.
Happily, empathy education is being addressed in at least some of our schools.  I learned today about The Empathy Factory which is a fantastic initiative out of Nova Scotia.   According to their site:  "The Empathy Factory was founded on the belief that by instilling empathy in our youth, injustices will be stopped, communities transformed and hope inspired."  

So there are reasons to be hopeful.  And I will be doing my best to think pink.


Why I'm Not Wearing a Pink Shirt

I've been trying to articulate my hesitation about Anti-Bullying and Pink Shirt Day and what it comes down to is that I don't think I really am anti-bullying.  Which sounds absurd, but the thing is that I don't see the point.  ("Bullies!  I hate 'em!  If I see one, I'm going to....")

Bullying exists. Bullies exist and wearing pink is not going to scare them away.

What I am is Pro-Empathy.  Let's have a pro-empathy day.  Let's encourage our kids to watch out for their friends and to watch out for the kids that aren't their friends too, because somebody has to.  Let's encourage them to stand up and not to be a bystander.

Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who recently took her own life in response to cyberbullying following on a sexual assault, apparently made a number of plea for help type posts on her Facebook.  In one she quoted Martin Luther King, Junior: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."  In a very sad story, this to me was one of the sadder elements.  

Let's do our best to teach our kids how to be good friends to others.  When we talk about Anti-Bullying, I don't think that any of us ever believe that one of our kids could be the bully.   

I've posted before about empathy and I've written a little about the link that seems to me to exist between reading fiction and empathy. Since this is a blog about reading and about children's books, I'd like to bring this back on topic by recommending once again an excellent YA novel by Susin Nielsen called  The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen.  It's an intelligent, funny novel in which a family faces the unimaginable when one of their own goes from victim to instigator of violence.  (And really, are bullies born or made?)

If, as parents, we're not capable of imagining our children as the bully then perhaps we can do them a service by helping them to imagine what it is like to be one of the victims of bullying.  Perhaps this is the way to make a difference.

And really, apart from not liking pink, I've nothing against this campaign.  I just think that there's a lot more we need to do.  Wear pink ... stop bullying?  If only.


How To

There is just one problem
with Julie Morstad's  new book
How To
(Simply Read Books).

How to choose a favourite page?
Here are a few sneaky peeks at the book.  For a closer look visit designer Robin Mitchell's page at Behance or visit Julie's own site.  While there you might want to pop by the shop and treat yourself.

I've been working with Julie for the past seven years and she continues to amaze me.  This book is simply beautiful.


Trailer Park: The Dark by Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen

I love this trailer for The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen.

The first time I watched it I was very impressed by the voice talent and then learned at the end that it was Neil Gaiman reading, so that explains that.

Everything works together on this trailer - the reading, the use of children to show the demographic, the fact that it's clearly a beautiful book in terms of both text and illustration, the music, and the brevity.

I've got a board on Pinterest called Trailer Park where I am collecting some of my favourite children's book trailers.  Suggestions more than welcome!


International Women's Day Book Choice: Scribbling Women by Marthe Jocelyn

A Ginger Dot & Wee Henry

Was thinking today of the many things my darling boy has made me in relation to my books.  There has been a Henry doll, a sequel to the first books (written when I was too slow producing one), an audiobook version of WYWS, a pop-up prototype (a gift to Julie Morstad on her last visit to Montreal). 

Now he's producing Scots versions of all three of The Henry Books.  

Here's Whaur Ye Cam Frae and When Ah Was Wee.