Tag Archives: Kids Can Press

I heart Binky, Maru’s brainy cousin

binkyIf you ask me, Binky is what might happen to Maru if he focused less on boxes, and more on the possibility that aliens could be trying to attack his family’s space station (house). Those who know me, know how much Maru means to me, so that is perhaps all I really need to say to tell you how much I love Binky, the crazy cartoon kitty, created by the always stylish, super-talented Ashley Spires.

But honestly, I have many more reasons why I think The Binky Adventures are pretty much purr-fect (absolutely could not help it). Let’s make a list, shall we?

1. It’s got huge kid appeal, for boys and girls. Not just sayin’ this folks, I’ve got the banged-up, always coming-and-going copies in my school library to prove it. Some girls might be picking it up because Binky is just so darn cute, but they’ll stay because he is hilarious. There’s sweetness, but there’s also a little potty humour. In Binky Takes Charge, Gordon the dog may be leaving coded messages for the aliens (flies) in his business (um… poop). Now that will make kids laugh.

2. An average kid reader could finish a Binky book in one sitting, not rushing, just having a good time.

3. Spires’ artwork has such clean lines and a neutral colour palette that the expressions on the characters’ faces really stand out. Also, the uncluttered design of the panels will help readers to hone in on the story all the more. Plus, there’s something about Spires’ illustration style that feels modern and hip – and we all know how important it is for kids these days to feel modern and hip (*wink wink*). Perhaps I should say that Binky will score their hipster parents’ seal of approval?

4. It is becoming harder and harder for me to track down and stock enough graphic novels for the library that are appropriate for smart, book-devouring younger readers. I’m talking about kids in Grade 2/3/4 who are desperate to leap onto the GN bandwagon and who are really not ready for the content, length, and language in some popular GN series. Binky is perfect for that kind of kid. So not only are hipster parents cheering, it also gets the Cool Librarian’s Seal of Approval.

5. When you read a Binky book, you feel like Ashley Spires gets how cats think. Ask any cat lover and she (or he!) will tell you that their cat could be Binky, and this is at once thrilling and terrifying. (Now that I think about it, Yoyo has been spending more and more time lately lying on top of the heating vent. Perhaps he thinks the aliens are going to break in via the magic hot air?)


The little rotter

In conclusion, Binky is for everyone from Grade 2 right on up to your crazy cat lady relative. Read all four and you’ll heart Binky too.

Binky Takes Charge and all the others in the series are published by Kids Can Press.


Day 28, book 28 (a little late): The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood

Yesterday was the kind of day that left me so tired that all I could manage by 10:00 pm was slouching over my computer keyboard watching animal videos (exhibit a, exhibit b). Sometimes when this happens I am stuck for a long time in the land of adorable, so I am happy to report that I am back with Picture Book 28, a little late, but so it goes.

The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood is rather lovely. It makes me long for Paris and for the picture books of my youth, the ones that had lots of words so that they lasted long enough to disappear into them for a while. On a side note, I think it’s sad that it seems longer picture books are becoming rarer all the time. First off, I refuse to buy into the argument that parents don’t have the time or inclination in their jam-packed days to read them to their children. But even if you do believe that, what about kids reading them all by themselves? (*gasp*). I did. Some of my best reading memories from childhood are of the afternoons I hung out leaning against the bookcase in our basement, rereading all of my favourite long picture books. Books like this one:

I think that The Tooth Mouse could be this kind of book for many young readers. It’s a sweet fable about the quest of one small mouse to become the successor to the old Tooth Mouse. Sophie, an orphan mouse, lives high up in an ancient cathedral in France. She is full of spirit and she has dancing feet. One day, when the Tooth Mouse announces she is too old to continue her work exchanging coins for children’s baby teeth, Sophie could not be more excited. She is sure she could be the next Tooth Mouse. But it is not so simple as wanting it. The Tooth Mouse has created three tasks that will reveal the best mouse for the job, one who is brave, honest, and wise. It turns out Sophie is all of these things. She trusts her heart and finds her way.

Hood’s story and style is charming, old-fashioned but with enough flair to captivate a modern audience. The French asides scattered throughout add to the atmosphere and will surely add drama to story time. Who doesn’t love quest tales? There’s something supremely satisfying about seeing the cream rise to the top as the best mouse finds a way where others couldn’t. It’s a classic formula, and it’s done beautifully here.

Speaking of beautiful, the softness coupled with the fine lines and detail in Janice Nadeau’s illustrations will inspire readers to slow right down and notice every whimsical moment. The illustrations make me feel like this story should be brought to life in another form as a ballet for children.

A blend of old and new, familiar and quirky, The Tooth Mouse should live happily on children’s bookshelves (and in their laps) for a long, long time.

The Tooth Mouse is published by Kids Can Press.

Day 27, book 27: Toads on Toast by Linda Bailey

There’s nothing better than a good breakfast. I can celebrate any meal of the day, but breakfast is perhaps the best. All breakfast lovers have their perfect brekkie. Mine is a sit-down, knife and fork, sausage and eggs and toast and jam and roasted tomato and bottomless coffee, kind of breakfast. Recently I had all that with sautéed mushrooms and some delish maple baked beans too. Now that was a breakfast.

My ideal breakfast does not involve toads. EVER.

Linda Bailey’s new picture book, Toads on Toast, should make readers consider branching out into new breakfast territory, away from Rice Krispies and PB on toast and oatmeal, all the way to something they might never have considered before: Toad in the Hole.

Fox is tired of his usual recipe repertoire: “Catch a big fat toad. Bring it home. Skin it. Boil it. Eat it.” He needs a change. He finds inspiration at the cookbook store, in their extensive toad section. Apparently small, young, tender toads are where it’s at. One night, he captures some toadlets and brings them home. Just when things are about to get messy, Mamma toad arrives to save her babies and put a stop to Fox’s terrible plan. Mamma teaches Fox a secret family recipe for, you guessed it, Toad in a Hole. At first Fox is skeptical, but in the end, everything turns out deliciously. The book finishes off with a do-it-at-home recipe for Toad in a Hole (no toad required).

I am crazy about the cover. Colin Jack got it absolutely right with this image. Each one of the toadlets has a different expression, from pleading to clueless to terrified. The little details are really funny – one toad’s buck teeth, another’s wee baseball cap, and the bow in one girl toad’s hair. You know just by looking that the story is going to get you laughing. Kids will be hooting before they even make it to the first page, for sure. Those hilarious details continue throughout, particularly when Mamma toad arrives and all the little ones start creating chaos in Fox’s kitchen (buttery food fights, cupboard climbing using pieces of licorice tied together, using a gravy boat for a slide…).

Linda Bailey makes this one just as funny and sweet and kid friendly as her beloved Stanley books. Who knew toads could be so cute? I think I’ve mentioned before that a book gets immediate bonus points for me when it includes a recipe (or a whole stack of them). I like what the story suggests about the power of food to make friends of characters you’d never think could get along, let alone share a meal.

Toads on Toast is a delightfully silly, culinary romp that should, like all the best dishes, get better and better the more times it’s enjoyed. Best served with breakfast.

A final word on the glories of breakfast. Any breakfast fan should pop over to simply breakfast, the beautiful photography blog all about savouring the morning meal.

Toads on Toast is published by Kids Can Press.

Day 17, book 17: Larf by Ashley Spires

I like Ashley Spires‘ sense of humor, and I can tell you that kids do too. It’s understated, a little wacky, and sweet. Small Saul, Spires’ tale of pirate diversity, was the overall favourite of the Blue Spruce titles at our school last year. We were rooting for it to be the big winner, and while it wasn’t, I’m sure that when kids read Larf they’ll be just as delighted and the Spires fan club will get even bigger.

Like Spires’ other creations, Binky the wannabe space cat and Saul, the Martha Stewart of pirates, Larf is an outsider. That happens when you’re a sasquatch. He is a gentle giant, living a simple life in the woods with his bunny, Eric. (Let’s stop right there. A bunny named Eric? You’re laughing, right?) Larf is sure he’s the only sasquatch, and he’s fine with that because he’s shy, and he’d rather jog or take walks with Eric or do some gardening. Then one day when he’s reading the paper, Larf learns that a sasquatch is scheduled to make an appearance in a nearby city. He’s a little uncertain if it’s the right thing to do, but Larf eventually decides to go see if it’s true. After all, how can he not want to meet the only other sasquatch in the world? Turns out, the whole thing is a stunt. Larf realizes it straight away: “Something doesn’t seem quite right. Why are its eyeballs not moving? Is that a zipper down its belly?” There’s a happy ending in sight for Larf, however, and it turns out that like man, no sasquatch is an island.

Larf is a feel good story. There’s not a lot of tension, but I don’t think that matters. There’s plenty of charm and trademark Spires humour. One of the parts of Small Saul that the kids at school liked most was the way that Spires inserted funny details into her pictures that were just as funny as the jokes in the text. That’s here this time as well, like Larf’s #1 Sasquatch mug and his hilarious bunny pack for carrying Eric. Plus, you gotta love the looks on everyone’s faces when they spot Larf walking along the city streets. Priceless.

In my opinion, Ashley Spires is well on her way to becoming one of the big names in Canadian Kids’ Lit. She’s a unique talent, and she’s charming kids and grown up readers alike with her quirky tales starring out-of-the-ordinary heroes.

Larf is published by Kids Can Press.

Day 12, book 12: Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell

If you’ve ever had a relative who gives you atrocious presents, then you’ll find Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters especially funny. Poor Lester. After Cousin Clara’s cottage is consumed by a crocodile, Cousin Clara comes to to stay. And she brings her knitting. The first thing Clara knits is a sweater for Lester. So begins The Shaming of Lester. He is told to say thank you and he has to wear the dreadful thing to school. Shame ensues. Later, mysteriously, the sweater ends up shrunk in the laundry. But Clara is unstoppable. She keeps on knitting. The next sweater is every bit as awful. This pattern continues until Clara, undaunted, knits a whole mountain of sweaters. Lester very nearly loses hope – and his dignity – but fate intervenes. In the end, Lester and his sweaters are saved.

K.G. Campbell’s debut is wonderfully quirky. There’s a playfulness to the language that matches the outrageous scenario:

“The next sweater was repulsively pumpkin, uncommonly crooked and had a hideous hood. It unraveled in the rain and got washed down a drain.”

Words like ghastly, dismembered, irksome, and gruesome contribute to Snicket-ish feeling of the story, so do Lester’s precociousness and his dismal circumstance. And is it just me, or does Clara have a certain devilishness to her? Check out how she’s eyeing Lester while knitting that first sweater. In fact, she’s almost always watching him, and what about her smile? She is one twisted old biddy.

Carefully placed details in the text and illustrations help Lester to come across as an odd little fellow. He makes unusual lists: Stinky Things Beginning with B, Forty-Four Foul Foods, Suspicious Stuff Starting with C. His socks need to be exactly even. He has a collection of strange lost things including a viking helmet, a toilet seat, and a single clog. I’ve read others compare Campbell’s artistic style to Gorey, and I think that’s fitting, though Campbell’s work is certainly softer. It has a classic look with muted colours.

Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters is a charmingly kooky and stylish debut. Parents, you’ll want to pull this one out when Great Aunt Sissy sends another unfortunate birthday gift, because Lester’s story should remind kids everywhere that it could be so much worse.

Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters is published by Kids Can Press.

Viriginia Wolf

A great picture book often leads me to a more intense emotional response than a great novel. I’m sure the illustrations have something to do with it, and the fact that you can take it all in in one sitting. At the same time, a great picture book is only the beginning of my response as a reader. It’s not like I read the last page and close it up and I’m finished. The story and the images slip into my head and change how I think and see the world. Of course, you don’t come across this kind of book every day, but when you do, you recognize it right away. Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is one of those rare books.

You have to wonder how Maclear came up with the idea to explore what a moment of Virginia Woolf’s childhood might have looked like in a picture book. If I were an editor, I’d probably have been raising my eyebrows on hearing the concept. It’s an original and unusual idea and it doesn’t sound like it could have much kid appeal, but the result is a story that can be appreciated without the reader having any awareness of the allusions throughout to Woolf’s life. It presents two sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, and what happens when one day, Virginia wakes up “feeling wolfish.” Virginia descends into a dark place, where everything is wrong and nothing seems to help. But it is her sister’s love, perseverance, and creativity that helps Virginia to find her way back to seeing beauty again. I am in love with the trailer. It’s perfect:


Now that is one stylish trailer.

Arsenault’s illustrations are wonderful. The way that they move from being muted and washed out at the beginning, when Vanessa is trying to understand her sister’s state, to almost completely black and white as Virginia becomes more and more wolfish, to the wild burst of colour at the end, shows a perfect understanding of the emotional rhythm of the text. There’s an article on Arsenault in Issue 14 of Uppercase Magazine which I enjoyed reading and you might want to check out.

Virginia Wolf reminds me in its themes and its strangeness, and in its emotional force, of Shaun Tan’s sad but beautifully uplifting picture book, The Red Tree. Like Tan’s book, Virginia Wolf is fantastical and a little unsettling and sad and sweet all at once, which I suppose makes sense since it’s partly an exploration of what depression looks like through a child’s eyes. It’s the sort of reading experience that pulls you away from everything around you. It convinces me that Maclear and Arsenault are a brilliant creative partnership. You finish this book with the feeling that you’ve read something different. Deeply captivating, Virginia Wolf is a unique work of art.

Virginia Wolf is published by Kids Can Press.