Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sophie’s Fish

I like it when a picture book takes a common subject (in this case, pets), and offers up something fresh for readers. That’s what you’ll find with Sophie’s Fish, a delightful pet story with understated humour and fantastic illustrations just right for the quirky tale.

When Sophie asks Jake to take care of her fish for the weekend he says yes without thinking much about it, but as the time approaches, he starts thinking a lot. What happens if the fish gets hungry? What do fish eat? (Maybe strawberry worm cake?) What happens if he wants a bed time story? What stories do fish like to listen to? (Herring Potter? Charlotte’s Tank? The Invention of Catfish Cabret?) The more he thinks about it, the more he worries. Sophie arrives and…

You’ll need to read to find out. I will tell you that the ending is fun, appropriately silly, and satisfyingly creative. The kids will be laughing, guaranteed.

A.E. Cannon and Lee White make a dream team for this one.  Cannon’s text has a simple structure based around the types of questions that imaginative kids would ask in Jake’s situation. It feels real in the way it builds as Jake gets himself more and more worked up about the potential pet sitting disasters. The illustrations have a unique quality that make me want to go out and read every book Lee White has helped to create. A little collage, a little watercolour, so much to look at. It all blends so seamlessly it’s hard to believe that it isn’t the work of a single author/illustrator.  Don’t miss Sophie’s Fish. It’s a captivating little book.

Sophie’s Fish is published by Viking.


Book Speak! Poems About Books

Whenever I come across a great new picture book poetry collection, it takes me no time at all to think of all sorts of possible lesson ideas for the small people I hang out with everyday. One of Laura Purdie Salas’s most recent books, Book Speak! Poems About Books, has to be every Teacher Librarian’s happy place. A book filled with poems about books? Yes please! It is loaded with read-aloud possibility. It would be a wonderful book to integrate into library welcome tours in September. Guess I’m ready for next year already. Check!

The collage artwork by illustrator, Josee Bisaillon, offers a quirky and whimsical counterpoint to Salas’s clever and thought-provoking verses. Some of the subjects for the poems include: the sadness of an unread book, cliffhangers, falling asleep while reading, book plates, conflict, and what happens when the lights go out at the bookstore (which we already know about, thanks to this).

I think the book trailer is pretty adorable – great concept that links perfectly with the title and I think could easily inspire kids to write a poem or two in the voice of a book:

Book Speak! Poems About Books is published by Clarion.

Author Interview: Joanne Rocklin

I’m delighted to be hosting Joanne Rocklin, author of The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook, for an interview today. You can read my review of the book here. Joanne is also the author of another middle grade novel that is sure to knock your socks off, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (loved it!). Joanne is here to chat about writing, cats, and telling whoppers. There’s a giveaway on offer as well. Read to the end of the interview to find out the details. Welcome Joanne!

1) If you had to choose 5 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?

My mother times 5. She died thirteen years ago, surrounded by all of us, as well as the big pile of picture books she was donating to her beloved class of Kindergarteners. She read to me very, very early, introduced me to the library, Louisa May Alcott, Anne of Green Gables, Little House in the Big Woods, Beverly Cleary, and hundreds of other authors and stories. She gave me the freedom to read and scribble diary entries and my own poems and stories whenever I wanted, which meant turning a blind eye to the easy-to-spot flashlight under the covers. She marched to my school in a huff when a third grade teacher criticized my poems for “poor handwriting”. She saved every scrap of paper with anything on it written by me. With fierce support like that, what else could I grow up to be, but a children’s author!

And when I was an adult, an unpublished author, she was the one who told me about the wonderful Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

I tried to recreate the joy of those bookish moments with my own two sons, I continue doing so with my grandchildren, and every day of my life I speak to that long-ago reading child, deep inside of me. And it’s all because of her.

Joanne’s mother reading to Joanne’s sons. (ca. 1978)

2) What part of this novel are you most proud of?

I could say Oona’s voice, which made me laugh and feel strongly as I was “channeling” it, or her silly stories, which express so much for my character and make the book a bit different. But these elements came easily to me, in this particular novel. I think what I’m most proud of is the structure, or plot (or whatever-you-want-to-call-it, when everything comes together to form a cohesive whole). For me, that’s the hardest part of writing a novel. Oona accepts life’s changes, as well as death as a part of life, and Zook helps her do all that. I wasn’t sure, when I began, how Zook would help her, but I knew he would.

Now that I ponder your question, “proud” isn’t the right word. “Grateful” is a better word. Frankly, I don’t know how that “coming together” happened. And it only happened after many, many drafts. So I guess I’m most proud of keeping my bottom in my chair, until it did.

3) What is something you learned through writing this novel (about writing, about the world, about cats…)?

About writing:
It’s the details that make writing come alive, and I hang on to them for dear life, because it’s the details that also eventually give me insight into my characters, plot and theme, yes, just like puzzle pieces fitting together. I don’t know why that happens, but I guess the writing brain struggles to make sense of everything, to make everything connect. See my answer to #8 for how this is evident in THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK.

About cats, kids, and love
The love that people have for their pets is not a “lesser” love. Most of us only discover this when we become pet owners. Pets become members of a family. I knew this on some level, of course, but writing the novel made me know it consciously. Oona finally realizes this, too, as she ponders the meaning of “true” love. I’ve always felt that when a child and a pet grow up together, that child is helped to be more empathic, responsible, emotionally responsive, and imaginative, as she projects her feelings and words onto a loved and loving pet, who needs her. Middle graders understand that a pet’s physical health can fail, indeed, that a pet will die. I’m not sure, but it seems to me that we worry more about the reaction by children in primary grades. Are more picture books than novels published on this topic? I began to wonder whether middle graders grieve harder, because of their true understanding of life’s vicissitudes, and death’s finality. Continue reading

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook

Joanne Rocklin’s The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook is pretty special. It’s about cats and family and sibling relationships and home and loss and community. It packs a lot of depth into a short, poetic, and often funny narrative. It made me cry. It made me think. It made me want to hug my cat and never, ever let him go. (He’s good with that, by the way).

Wait a sec, now we must pause for picture of said remarkable kitty:

That’s my Yoyo. He’s beautiful, right?

So the book introduces us to Oona and her little brother Fred and at the beginning they are coping with the tough experience of leaving their beloved cat Zook at the vet. Zook is really sick and the vet is doing what he can, but from the kids’ perspective, it’s not enough. The siblings are sure that Zook needs to come home to get better and they come up with a plan to break Zook out of the vet. Alongside this, Oona does her best to reassure / distract her brother from worrying about Zook by telling him “whoppers,” or stories, about Zook’s imaginary past lives. There are connections between the stories and what is going on in the kids’ lives and what has happened in the past, including their father’s death two years ago. I think the book trailer really captures the whimsical and kind of homespun feeling of this book. Take a look:

One of the many impressive things about Joanne Rocklin’s work is how she manages to explore difficult topics head on like the death of a family member or a dear pet, but she does it in such a thoughtful and gentle way that you feel the complexity and sadness without being overwhelmed by it. This is not a depressing book. It’s not an issue book, best shelved alongside other books for kids that “deal with death.” It’s much more layered than that and so I think it will appeal to a wide audience. It’s for a kid who loves stories about animals, or who wants to become a writer, or who is experiencing changes in his or her family and doesn’t know how it will all turn out. It’s hopeful and honest and it will make readers want to reach out to the people in their lives and appreciate what they have. You might need kleenex in a few places, but by the end, you’ll be smiling. This is a good one folks. Don’t miss it.

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook is published by Amulet Books.

The American Heiress

What is a girl to do while waiting for Season 3 of Downton Abbey? (Because it’s going to be a looong wait people… a long wait). Well I have something that might make the time pass a shade more quickly. Daisy Goodwin’s debut, The American Heiress, could not have come at a better moment. I’ve watched Seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey enough that the hubs will have nothing more to do with it. The American Heiress is made for pining Downton fans, and it is deliciously rich in historical detail, drama, and romance. It oozes atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, I think this review could use a little background music:


(I must mention that I recently entered the 21st century and got an iPhone. Do I need to tell you what my ringtone is? Let’s just say that Downton imbues even the most ordinary phone call with serious drama. It’s important to make your own fun in this life).

Goodwin’s book introduces us to Cora Cash, an incredibly wealthy American heiress whose mother will stop at nothing to get her daughter married to a Brit with a title. She imagines Cora as a duchess and she soon finds a way to make it happen. After a courtship so speedy it’s nearly indecent, Cora gets married to a handsome and highly eligible duke and becomes the Duchess of Wareham overnight. Naturally, hers is far from a simple marriage and everything quickly turns messy and secretive and page-turny. Cora discovers that her money can accomplish a great deal but it cannot secure happiness. She must depend on her ingenuity and American spunk to navigate the tricky waters of English society.

It’s a pleasure to read a book that is in the end, all about fun. It reads like Goodwin had a good time writing it and you feel like you are meant to just soak up the stylish details and the scandal and enjoy being entertained. It’s lush and evocative. You can really see the world that Goodwin describes. I’d say that it’s light on the downstairs drama, which sets it apart from Downton in one respect. However, there’s plenty of betrayal and many hidden agendas upstairs to keep you interested, so not to worry. With such a strong sense of place and a main character who is spirited and complex enough to be memorable, I’d say that The American Heiress will more than satisfy your longing for a little more Downton. Perfect reading when your hubby has gone out for the night and you are home alone with a cat and a box of bonbons. Seriously, I speak from experience.

The American Heiress is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Elephant on trampoline

I’m not going to pretend this post is about anything other than an elephant on a trampoline. I mean, why would I?


I am only the 5 millionth person to see this, but I had to post it because I think every Monday should start with videos of bouncy cartoon animals. Yes? Yes!