Jane, the Fox, and Me

This is a bit of a rare occasion. I’m writing a post about a book without the book immediately beside me.

You see, I saw it at my beloved local library, and recognized Isabelle Arsenault’s stunning art, so I read it while my daughter browsed. Then we rushed home for Yom Kippur, leaving it behind for someone else to enjoy.

It was on my mind all Yom Kippur. I slightly regret not borrowing it, but it was right to leave it for others. (Still, I need my own copy!)

Which book is this? Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. It’s sort of a graphic novel– more on that below. The advantage of being late to the game is I can point you to Maria Popova‘s excellent summary and account of the book, already there on the internet for you.

jane the fox and me.jpg

I’m going to suggest you read Popova’s piece first, and I’ll simply highlight a few aspects here: it’s a book about cruelty and bullying, about adolescence and growing up, and about learning friendship and kindness in the face of that cruelty.

Why did it linger in my mind over Yom Kippur? Well, partly because it was a deeply moving read that caught me right in my adolescent insecurities, and it was going to dwell with me whenever I read it. But it felt appropriate to read it over the days of repentance for several reasons:

a) As a parent, I worry for my girl. What if someone else makes her feel insecure or scared? (What if, I catch myself in worse horror, she does the same to someone else?)

b) As someone who grew up with bullying, how do you move past it and grow in kindness and security, helping others rather than dwelling in the past?

c) As someone hurting from pain inflicted by others, how do you repent and grow?

To point (a): I don’t really see the Changeling as the sort of person who will ever be deliberately cruel, and I won’t borrow trouble. She is decidedly the sort of person who takes comments personally, however, and already has. It’s my job to help instill strength and self-confidence in this growing person and help ensure she has the tools to deal with unkindness and face it with grace. But that’s not (yet) what I want to address right now.

To point (b): Thinking about (a) helps me address (b). I feel that grace and radical kindness is the correct response to bullying. Not overlooking the past, but saying, “I’m going to pay off that old feeling by pushing more positivity into the world.” Naive? Maybe. It works for me. That’s also not what I’m talking about right now (yet).

To point (c): If you go into Yom Kippur with pain from others’ on your mind, are you doing it wrong? Aren’t you supposed to be thinking about the wrongs you’ve committed, not the wrongs done unto you?

Well, maybe. I am not a rabbi, nor do I play one on TV.

But I have been made to feel small, feel like being myself is inadequate, and feel frightened. And I do know that every time I’ve made a misstep of which I’m acutely conscious, it has come out of those feelings of inadequacy and low self-confidence. (Obviously there may be things I’ve done of which I’m unaware. What I don’t know of I can’t speak to, though, so I’m focusing on what I do know.) I’ve said things which I regret– almost always when I’ve been frightened for myself, or when I’ve been put down and am trying to climb up, or for a hundred reasons which have to do with not knowing who “Deborah” was any longer.

I’m not going to go into all of that in detail. I’m thinking back to my childhood here, which is deeply personal and not for public consumption. But trust me: if someone says something angry-sounding and you don’t know why? Maybe it’s because they’re just mean, but maybe it’s because they’re feeling lost and alone.

Now, what does that have to do with Yom Kippur and Jane, the Fox, and Me? After all, the protagonist of the book does not act out when she’s been put down. She’s silent in the face of humiliation. And on Yom Kippur you’re really supposed to think about the times you’ve acted out. Right? “I sinned by doing This or That.” Acted perniciously, obstinately, disobediently.

I think, though, and, again, I am not a rabbi, or a maharat, or anything of the sort, that the protagonist of Jane, the Fox, and Me and I have a misstep, if not a sin, in common: we lost faith in ourselves. We were both made, as we all are, in the image of God. If we listen to people telling us we’re inadequate, and internalize that hurt, we are losing confidence in who we are. And that is someone wonderful.

Jane, the Fox, and Me is in no sense a religious work, and if you’re not religious, either, then you can read it, enjoy it, and learn from it regardless. But if you are, and if you’re in a mood of self-reflection before a major religious event in your life, I recommend it. It’s a good counter-charm to flagellation and self-recrimination, if, like me, you feel you’re pretty good at that on your own…

This is a book of kindness, of acceptance, and of perpetual beauty.

It is also a book, to glance back at point (a) above, for parents to read. It’s a book for helping you help your child be stronger within, more self-confident, less prone to flagellation. I can recognize, now, occasions on which I’ve told my daughter her interests were silly (even if I thought they were) and ridiculous (again, even if I thought they were). That was wrong. Make that crinoline dress for your girl. Help her feel stronger.

I want to end with a word about the format, because I think that’s relevant. It’s called a graphic novel, and I suppose you can call it that. But to me, it’s an adolescent book, partway out of being a picture book, but not yet fully grown into a full-on graphic novel. (NB: That’s a problematic statement, assuming as it does that picture books are for little kids, and graphic novels for older folks. Pretend with me for a minute.) It’s inter-genre, just as the characters hover between ages, just as in identity they hover between who they want to be and who they are.

Just as I, as the reader, hover in self-image between who I was and who I am today.

And it is all, completely, beautiful.

Final, final note: Go back to the Popova piece for the pictures and page views. I linked to it because I don’t have the book with me, and I want you to see the inside of the book. That’s important. So if you haven’t yet read her post, if you don’t even want to read it, scroll and look. Then go to Indiebound or your local book shop or library and drink in the whole book, think about who you were growing up, and think more about who you are today, and how you can be yourself more fully.

Dammit, now I want to snuggle my Changeling.


The Witch Family

Back we go to preparing for Hallowe’en! It occurred to me while I was pulling together my Hallowe’en posts that most of them were picture books. What about older readers? Well, off I trotted to the book shop to ask them what they thought, and when they suggested Eleanor Estes’s The Witch Family, I was hooked.

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I love Eleanor Estes. The Hundred Dresses simultaneously broke and healed my heart, my favourite book feeling.

The Witch Family is utterly, utterly different, but written deftly and with a light touch. There’s no heartbreak here; just humour and mischief. The story is of two girls, Amy and her friend Clarissa, who banish the local Old Witch to a glass hill for her great wickedness.

But what of Hallowe’en? they wonder. So they decide that they really need the witch back on Hallowe’en, or what good is Hallowe’en? So, provided that the Old Witch is good the rest of the time, she can come back and be wicked on Hallowe’en.

The rest of the novel is about the deep, philosophical struggle between wickedness and goodness, between when wickedness, and what sort of wickedness, is permissible, and when one must be very, very good.

The Old Witch, for example, needs a family in order to be good– witches can’t be alone. So first comes a Little Witch, Hannah, and then Weenie Witch, the witch baby. But then Hannah needs a friend– so she finds a mermaid in a lagoon, named Lurie. And it all starts to sound very idyllic, really…

But is it, quite? What of the Old Witch’s ultimate, deep, existential wickedness? What of her desire for rabbits?

The whole novel is rollicking good fun. The issues at play (wickedness and goodness, obedience and disobedience) are handled so lightly that they let you think without stressing your poor brain, and the Hallowe’en hurly-burly itself is just a delight.

This is the perfect MG novel for children of about age 8 and up who want to enjoy Hallowe’en without being made to shake in their shoes. It’s not remotely scary, and has only the occasional tiny spooky bit.

We’ll have more Hallowe’en stories soon! Some old favourites will be back…

On the Virtues of Re-Reading, and October Giveaway

Dear Readers,

It’s no secret to those who know me that I love reading books I love over and over again. Ask my parents about Pride and Prejudice, for example. Ask my husband about The Secret Garden (every. single. spring.) and Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard and all of Tolkien. Oh… and the Moomins.

Some re-readings are a little more measured, thoughtful, perhaps casual: I hadn’t read Haroun and the Sea of Stories in over a decade and couldn’t remember it well, so I read it again. (Just as glorious the second time around. You should all read it, and I plan to write it up eventually.)

Some are more… compulsive, instinctive, and burning with need. This doesn’t make the books better or worse (can’t get much better than Haroun, I wager!) but there’s a form of passion involved that means I’m tearing bookshelves apart to get at the necessary volume.

You’re all thinking, “Uh-oh,” right now, and I don’t blame you. First, I suppose I sound a little crazy. (I own that. I am a little crazy.) Second, I bet you’re all worried about what I’m compulsively reading right now.

The weird thing is, despite my strong belief in the high values of re-reading books, I actually haven’t been compulsively re-reading anything lately, and I miss it.

I miss what you learn from re-reading books. (Craft, nuance, and compelling characters. If it’s not a book which inspires warm re-readings, it probably lacks compelling characters.)

I miss the glorious feeling of reveling in plot. (Again, books without some form of really good plot don’t compel me to re-immerse myself. I do not mean it has to be a rushed plot: Martin Pippin is slow and weird! But it has to have a good, immersive story.)

I miss the feeling of being drawn on by the Pied Piper, whether I will or no.

But just lately I’ve been hearing the beginnings of a tune, and I can’t tell whether I’m being called to one or the other of Cat’s books:

The Glass Town Game

Is this what the Pied Piper wants me to read? Or is this set what the Pied Piper wants me to read?

Right now I’m letting it go, finishing up another book, and letting the piping grow more and more insistent, but I’ve discovered something…

I want friends to read with me! And you know what that means:

Fellow readers, I want you to enjoy and revel in the pleasures of Cat Valente’s worldbuilding with me. Here are the rules:

a) I will send THREE readers each ONE paperback of one of Cat’s books. The usual rules apply. I will ship anywhere in the world, and I will pay for shipping. Seriously. I’ve sent books everywhere. Just ask.

b) Email me at deborah@childrensbookroom.com with your choice. Don’t apologize if, say, you want The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. Maybe you own the first three, and just need #4. That’s OK! Just be honest.

c) If you need a recommendation? Ask! Maybe you’re new to Cat’s MG fiction and don’t know where to start.

d) Yes, this is (mostly) for Cat’s MG. I adore her adult fiction, too, and would happily talk to you about it. But this is really to promote The Glass Town Game and Fairyland. THAT SAID… I do want you to experience Cat’s fiction and if you’re stumbling over the MG, well, we can talk. You never know. Point is– if you want to read something by Cat and don’t know where to start, email me! deborah@childrensbookroom.com

e) No deadline, first come, first served. Once I’ve mailed three books, we’re closed. (Probably.) But email me any time in October to check!

So, let’s get reading! Tell me what you want to read, and we’ll all get started. October is Cat Valente season round these parts: Let’s get reading!

Straw into Gold

Things have been… interesting. Don’t get me wrong: the Changeling is brilliant fun, my family is great, and I always have good stuff to write, here and elsewhere.

But some things can be discouraging even while everything is going well. (Hint: I’m job-hunting with a humanities PhD. Easy? No.)

So I’ve been doing more than my fair share of whining about stuff not being brilliant, really, and looking for fun encouragement on the side. Then the wonderful Lizza Aiken wrote on Twitter about Straw into Gold, a story collection by Hilary McKay (whom you may remember from… everything… on this blog, I’ll leave it to you to search and find), and being in an emotional state I almost wept over how much I love those stories. Then my mother and I in another conversation happened across the same collection. And I recommended it to a friend. And… then– well, I realized I should share it here:

Straw into Gold.jpg

OK, I hear you. I hear you loud and clear: “Why do we need more fairy tale retellings?”

Granted, I disagree with the basis of your question. Asking such a question implies that we have enough fairy tales and I think that’s like saying we have enough ingredients or yarn or notebooks or, I mean– anything you use to make other stuff. Fairy tales are soul material. You need fairy tales to make souls. Cute funny ones for littles, like Gail Carson Levine’s; dark adult ones, like Theodora Goss’s Snow White Learns Witchcraft. I don’t care who does it, to be honest: retelling fairy tales is a godlike act of creation, breathing soul into clay.

What? No. I don’t think I’m being heretical or extreme, why do you ask?

But maybe we can reframe your question a bit: “What does this collection of fairy tale retellings do that others don’t do?”

Well, that’s an interesting question and the answer is complicated and comes down to literary quality and variety.

Oh, don’t jump down my throat: I’m not saying “literary quality” as in “Hilary McKay writes better than others” (though she sure as hell writes better than I do!), but “Hilary McKay has a literary quality to her work which is higher-toned than some and earthier and more humorous than others.”

Let’s talk specifics:

Patricia C. Wrede and Gail Carson Levine jump to mind as retellers of fairy tales for children in twisted and funny and often feminist fashion. I adore both of them! Highly, highly recommended.

Both take the stories in fairly straightforward fashion and, working within the genre, twist this, push that, and come out with something funny, thought-provoking, and just great for, in particular, growing young women who maybe don’t need another story about beauty and docility winning the prince. Wonderful stories!

Hilary McKay challenges even that.

She skips a generation, maybe: take her story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Now, that’s a favourite story of mine in the original! You will pry K. Y. Craft’s edition from my cold, dead hands. (Hey, Mum, if you’re reading this– that gorgeous edition you have that I haven’t yet successfully stolen from you? Put it in the comments, the illustrations are too good for my readers to miss.)

Do you know who else clearly loves the story? Hilary McKay. She writes of it in “Things Were Different in Those Days” with wistful affection, represented by her attitude to the king. But as I said, she skips a generation– in this case, literally: she jumps forward, and bypasses the issue of that blasted marriage question, always so complicated.

Even her first story, the heart-wrenching rendition of Rapunzel, “The Tower and the Bird,” complicates marriage. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a story about miserable marriages. It’s just… nuanced. Still warm. Still beautiful. But very deeply nuanced.

My favourite? Why are you asking such hard questions? Well, I don’t have a clear favourite, but I’ll tell you a story of my own.

I love the story of Rumpelstiltskin with a passion unspeakable. My favourite is Paul O. Zelinski’s edition. I’ve read it approximately ten million times in my life, bought it at least five times for various reasons, and have read it aloud to the Changeling before she was remotely ready over a hundred, at least.

I wrote my version of Rumpelstiltskin when I was about sixteen. (I reread it recently, and it’s not even that bad! Cute and funny. Not a huge amount of substance.)

So I was REALLY WORRIED about reading Hilary McKay’s version because, well, I’m mildly attached to my own memories of Rumpelstiltskin. Let me put it this way: Hi, Disney! You’ve done most fairy tales out there! If you choose to do Rumpelstiltskin, though? I’ll need you to call me.


Dear Lord, is the Hilary McKay version, “Straw into Gold,” exquisite! I savoured every word. Every note. It feels as much like a song as like a story.

My one issue is that this collection reads quickly. That’s not a problem with the writing, or with the length, or with anything, really– just that it’s eminently readable and over too fast. I suggest it as bedtime reading. Whether you have a kid the right age and can read a story a night, or whether you like it for yourself and read a story a night. Just don’t gobble it up, as I did. Read it, perhaps, while travelling, to ease the pain of airports and hotels. Or if you’ve had a long day and are feeling stressed by painful, minor issues (cough), read a story instead of crying. Well, no guarantee you won’t cry anyway, but it will be more cathartic.

This isn’t just a collection of stories. It’s a song-cycle. So enjoy it as such, slowly, one here and one there, and revisit them as necessary.

As I said above: fairy tales are soul material. This collection grew my soul in a fashion I didn’t even know was possible, and I can’t wait to share it with my Changeling.

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years

I… I don’t have a problem.

Granted, I was trying to figure out which book to write about here today, which was problematic because there are SO MANY good choices. So I did what I do.

I went to the Children’s Book Shop and said, “I NEED A BOOK.”

The lovely lady there didn’t even stand up. She had a little stack of books beside her. She just looked up and said, “Oh, I was about to call you. These came in.”

I won’t tell you about the second book (I have to read it first), but the first was this:


Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field. A book I read when I was about twelve years old, in love with my porcelain dolls, in particular, and rather lonely when it came to, you know, real live human beings.

Hitty was very comforting. I don’t fear spoiling this story for you: the story is the story of a doll’s life through her first hundred years on this glorious, dangerous, crazy planet. There are other doll stories, and plenty of them: some of them draw on the story of Hitty (think of the Kate DiCamillo’s wonderful story The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) but others are independent of Hitty (“San Fairy Ann” by Eleanor Farjeon in The Little Bookroom collection is extraordinary in its own right).

But there’s just something about Hitty, isn’t there? I never was one to personify my dolls– although I’ll be honest: Bea was very special to me– and yet I related to Hitty as strongly as to a person. More strongly than to the girls in my class who scared me.


There are many possible answers for many people, I imagine, but what jumps out to me today, revisiting this text, isn’t Hitty’s gentleness (my first thought) or her patience (my second thought), but her strength and perseverance.

Consider pp. 58-9, when the ship she’s on is destroyed and she’s convinced that she, too, will come to an end– first she hopes for rescue:

“Once I was sure I saw Phoebe point back toward the ship. I knew her gesture was meant for me and just for a moment hope stirred in me again. But the boats continued steadily on their way.” (p. 58)

In a children’s book! Remember this isn’t just a doll: Hitty is a her not an it, and she’s the beloved protagonist– on the point of death. And yet…

“‘Only a miracle can save me now,’ I said to myself.

I had heard someone say that once, but it did not seem likely that one would come to my aid. […]

‘Well,’ I remember thinking as I took the plunge, ‘at least I shall not be burned up. Water is kinder to wood than fire and I have heard that salt is a great preservative.'” (p. 59)

A few things to note:

a) Hitty is not able to act because, frankly, she’s a doll. But she’s able to feel. And she feels fear in her situation. That’s real. And scary for the reader, too.

b) Hitty doesn’t back down in her fear. She reacts with humour and strength. Humour is strength, in fact. Her humour is grim. I don’t remember thinking it was very funny when I was about 12, but that’s because it’s not meant to be. It’s humour, nonetheless, and you have to be strong to recognize the quirky, odd, funny sides of your situation.

Hitty’s story isn’t a sweet little story about a cute doll. It’s a story about a girl going through hell and coming out on top. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.

It’s as much a story of endurance as Shackleton’s Journey and as much a story of courage as Truman and over and above all of that, it’s about a girl-who-becomes-a-woman, by a woman, for… well… everyone, I hope, but the presumed audience feels primarily female. (I think young gentlemen would be better off for reading it, too, but that’s a post for another day.)

Having read it as a young woman who was struggling socially to overcome and endure, I think I can say for sure that it was helpful to me, and I hope it will continue to be helpful to others.

Why did I buy it when my daughter is only 6 years old, doing fine socially, and not yet ready for a book I read at age 11 or 12?

I got it for three reasons:

First, I love it and wanted to connect to Hitty again after all of these years.

Second, I want it to be home and ready for the Changeling when she’s going to be a young woman.

Third, I’m going through a transition (from PhD student to job-hunter) as surely as Hitty did. I think I needed Hitty again right now.

And she’s here for me, strong and persevering, as she always has been. And will be for you and your children. I suggest you seek her out.

Hitt’s bravery at work: Scared, but determined!

Ghosts in the House!

Let’s get back to Hallowe’en chat with a wonderful little board book for younger Hallowe’en enthusiasts!


I was reminded of Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara when the owner of my lovely Children’s Book Shop in Brookline said, “Oh, I need to get in that wonderful little board book for Hallowe’en!” and I said, “THAT ONE, YES!” and she said, “Exactly.”

We talked about it in this post, back in 2016, and I still love it today. It lingers on the very brink of potentially being spooky, without ever making that leap. It’s about the domesticity of Hallowe’en and makes you giggle rather than shiver. The ghosts have enormous personality despite never speaking, the witch is clever and practical, and the cat is just a cat. Cats are like that.

Note that Macmillan lists it as being for ages 3-6. You might be thinking, “A board book for a six-year-old? Pshaw!” Please open your mind! This is a brilliant story, and even if your kid’s reading independently, why shouldn’t they enjoy a good board book? My Changeling is reading Ramona and lots of marsupial nonfiction, but I know I plan to pull this out this Hallowe’en for her.

Now, then, my little plea for easy reading is over, and I want to ask what you’re reading for autumn? I’m re-reading Cat Valente’s Fairyland books! I eat them up, I love them so, and they’re perfect for the fall, which is why you should expect a post about them again next week…


I felt so bad after realizing yesterday that I’d never reviewed Truman by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins that I’m going to take a quick break from talking Hallowe’en to talk about a little tortoise named Truman.

IMG_20190801_152709 (1).jpgThat’s Truman and Sarah, smiling at each other. Aren’t they cute?

Yes, yes they are.

Truman is a rare gem of a story: managing to be sweet without ever becoming cloying. The story is of the friendship between Truman (the tortoise) and Sarah (a little girl), told from the perspective of Truman when Sarah is gone for longer than usual (you know, because she’s gone to her first day of school). Truman is distraught and realizes he has to go after Sarah, but, well, he’s a small tortoise in a tank. How can he do that?

Being a tortoise of unusual grit and determination he makes it pretty far before Sarah finally returns and they find each other again with full joy!

So it’s a story of separation anxiety, of the pain of losing your friend and the joy of finding each other again. There’s the wistfulness of Truman missing Sarah, and the silliness of thinking about a tortoise climbing out of his tank to go find a girl, and my favourite moment of all: Truman’s BRAVE DETERMINATION TO GO AFTER SARAH!!!

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(Yeah, that’s Queen of the Sea back there… it was a good book day, I admit.)

But ultimately, the story is about love and reunification, not about the ache of separation. Sarah comes back. Sarah will always come back. And Truman will always be there for her.

How, I ask myself, does such a sweet story manage not to be cloying?

Well, in large part it’s because of the tenderness and realism of the story. The love is there, but it’s grounded in realistic moments: Sarah kissing her finger and touching it to Truman’s shell is lovely and entirely plausible. While Truman’s daring escape and bravery are anthropomorphic, for sure, Jean Reidy never has him doing anything a tortoise can’t do. It’s all very grounded and sensible, just part of a story.

But I also credit Lucy Ruth Cummins’s art with creating an atmosphere that is perfectly child-friendly and perfectly unsentimental. You see above that I couldn’t help but capture that moment of Truman’s bravery for you. I almost feel bad about that– I cracked up the first time I flipped the page and saw that picture, and I worry I’m spoiling the moment for you!– but I had to show you the glorious determination that overtakes Truman!

I’ve got to run (to the book shop) but I couldn’t let another day go by without giving you a heads-up about this sweet, cuddly, warm-hearted book. Read it with your four-year-old, then try to resist their proposal to get a pet.

Good luck!

(Get a pet. Pets are good for kids.)

Stumpkin Redux

I had so much fun talking Hallowe’en yesterday that I want to come back with an older book my daughter and I enjoyed last year! I wrote about it at the time, but it’s worth revisiting and reminding everyone how good it was.


Stumpkin is by the stupendously good Lucy Ruth Cummins. Clever and sweet with a vintage feel, Stumpkin became an instant favourite with both me and my daughter. This is a great book for kids who adore Hallowe’en but aren’t so much with the scary story thing yet.

What I love about it, personally? To me Hallowe’en is all about everyone fitting in. Everyone can be someone else on Hallowe’en. And by being someone else, you can be yourself. And find a place. EVEN A STUMPKIN CAN FIT IN, GET IT? Yes, you get it.

So does Lucy Ruth Cummins, and your kid, reading this story, will get it, too, and feel reassured.

And the art? Warm, timeless, cuddly– it’s so good. If you have a kid (or a neighbour’s kid, or whoever) who feels a little out of place or scared or just needs a tad bit of reassurance, get them this book.

(And a note that Lucy Ruth Cummins also illustrated one of the loveliest recent books I should have reviewed, but somehow haven’t gotten around to? Truman, by Jean Reidy. Get that one, too, while you’re at it– and apologies to both author and illustrator for neglecting to review it yet. I’ll get there! I will!)

Alfred’s Book of Monsters

Are you ready for Hallowe’en? My Changeling certainly is! (And I love Hallowe’en, always have, always will.)

So I thought I’d try to hit some new and classic notes for Hallowe’en in the next month and a half before Hallowe’en actually arrives. That means you might get some shorter posts like this one to highlight some books we’ve seen before, some new ones, so that you can have some time to do some thinking and shopping for your own little monsters– or yourselves!

Alfred's Book of Monsters.jpg

Now, this is a very new one, from one of my favourite independent Boston-based publishers, Charlesbridge: Alfred’s Book of Monsters by Sam Streed. (You’ve seen Charlesbridge often here before, but usually in the context of nonfiction books– here’s proof they do amazing fiction, too.)

Now, Alfred would hate for me to say this, but it’s a perfectly delightful story!

You see, Alfred lives with his aunt, who wants him to have tea with her. Alfred, on the other hand, wants to read about monsters in his big old Book of Monsters in the study. So what happens when Alfred loses his patience with tea parties and delightful things altogether and decides he just has to meet the monsters…?

Well, I’m not going to tell you!

What I will tell you is that quickly shuttling back and forth between the pages of the Book of Monsters and the aunt’s tea parties will shake your child up and get them to adjust quickly to new fonts and new images. Alfred’s antics are amusing and just a little bit shocking, spooky without being altogether scary. In other words, a perfect Hallowe’en story for the pre-scary-story crowd! I think the sweet spot is probably for 5 years old, but an adventurous 3-year-old could certainly handle it, and I know my unadventurous 6-year-old will also enjoy it.

Being absolutely honest: I know that I’m hoping my Changeling gets really into the book so I can organize a Perfectly Terrible Monster Tea Party for her to go with the story…

So let’s get ready for Hallowe’en with monsters galore!

Small in the City

There is an event for this book. If you live in or near Toronto, you should go. I can’t, since I live in Boston, so I called the store and ordered a signed, personalized copy. They were very, very nice about it. 

Then I got the call from my local shop that the copy I’d preordered there had come in, so I picked it up.

Yes, all of this was sight unseen for this book. But, listen: Sydney Smith, right? Remember The White Cat and the Monk? Remember Town Is by the Sea?

Small in the City.jpg

See that cover? Yes, I knew it was an important book.

Because Sydney Smith, that’s why. I knew him as an illustrator, yes, but I had a hunch that he’d be equally as important as an author.

I wasn’t wrong. I was more than right.

This is a book everyone needs, child or adult. It is wise and straightforward, advice from a child to someone close to that child who needs help.

Who is that someone? I’m not going to tell you that. Buy a copy (or two) and find out.

But it’s about vulnerability. The child is small in a big city. That makes the child vulnerable, in some sense. But also wise: able to give advice to someone else who is small in a big city. That makes the child strong, in some sense.

Now, I’m not going to tell you much more about the book itself, for fear of spoiling its beauty as a first read for you. But I’m going to tell you a secret:

I was once a small child in a big city and felt very vulnerable. I would wager a considerable number of precious books that I’m not alone in that feeling. It took me a while to feel strong and wise, and one of the defining events for me was locating “safe spots”: my favourite libraries and book shops and cafés near libraries where I could sit and read my books. Then I was able to recommend these spots to other people. Then I felt wise and strong.

But I will always, always feel heartbroken for the child I was: small in the city.

If you, too, were that person? And I’d wager many of you were? You will feel connected to this book.

But I also recognize, sitting here now, relating my story, how fortunate I was. The people I advised on lovely book shops were strong and wise in turn. They were not small and vulnerable.

And now, as an adult, looking around me– it’s the small and the vulnerable who break my heart.

And so, if you were once small in a big city. If you feel heartache for others who are small in a big city. If you were or are vulnerable and want to reach a hand to those who were or are vulnerable…

This book is for you.

This is where I’m desperately, desperately trying to find a page of artwork to show you Sydney Smith’s glorious ink and watercolour and gouache art… but I don’t want to spoil any of the surprising twists in this beautiful story for you. So I’m going to keep this short.

Just trust me, OK? And trust Sydney Smith. It is beautiful. You need it. You will love it.

And it will probably make you cry, in the best way possible.

Please write to me about it!