Goodnight, Rainbow Cats

It is very, very rare that I write about a book without having that book in front of me.

But.

This is a book I love and have given to over half-a-dozen kids so far. And since I keep giving it away, I don’t have it in front of me.

And last night I had a guest over and we were (rather, I was) talking about books for the potential small child expected in said guest’s life (I may have burbled excitedly for a while). I named many you’ve come to expect from me, but also a new one:

Goodnight, Rainbow Cats, by Bàrbara Castro Urío. (Link to the Brookline Booksmith because: a) it’s in stock there and not everywhere, and b) they’re my local book shop and I love them.)

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Just looking at that cover makes me want to buy it all over again.

This is a subtle book. It’s not a big, explosive story. It’s not a bubbling cauldron of emotions. It’s not LOUD.

That’s exactly what I love about it. And why I keep buying it for every baby and toddler I meet.

You see, I don’t know whether you know this about me, but I actually love quiet. (Hide your surprise.) I’m not a fan of crowds and conventions, exactly, unless I have approximately two people to talk to away from the action. And while I like books that bubble with emotions and plot and character and activity

I love books that accomplish the same thing in a subtle, quiet, maybe quirky and creative way.

This is that. It’s a book about cats going to bed. That’s it.

But as each little coloured cat comes up to the big white house, each bright hue popping, one at a time, against the white background… that’s a little, tiny pop of excitement. And the reader discovers in each little cat a little cat’s story. The Crimson Cat is yawning. Little Dark-Blue Cat is ready for bed. You turn the page, slowly, admiring each coloured kitty…. and discover where each cat goes to sleep! Then you turn the final page and, wow! There’s a page of ALL THE CATS sleeping in their little nooks!

The whole book is quietly animated by minute peek-holes to enchant little ones– and probably older readers, too, if we’re being honest.

Hear me now: Quiet does not have to mean boring. And this book proves it.

It is clever, it is beautiful, it is exciting, it is creative, it is enchanting. And I think it belongs in every child’s bedroom.

I really hope we get to see more work from Bàrbara Castro Urío.

Wild Honey from the Moon

Do you ever get cravings, readerly cravings? I do. Sometimes they’re easy to satisfy because they’re broad and general: humour, wistfulness, or whimsy. Sometimes they’re much, much harder: “I want the experience of reading Joan Aiken for the first time again.”

Dream on, girl.

Well, guess what I wanted? I wanted a fairy tale. But not just any fairy tale! A fairy tale that was truthful within its own world, felt old but was new and original, and had a perfect balance of serious need, magic, and practicality.

Whew, quite a laundry list! (And yes, doesn’t that sound awfully like A Necklace of Raindrops?)

But I satisfied my craving:

Wild Honey from the Moon

Courtesy of Kenneth Kraegel by way of Candlewick, Wild Honey from the Moon, a fairy tale for any age.

It’s an interesting book in that it’s long for a picture book, short for a chapter book, simple in diction but elevated in style. So who is the audience? (Apart from me, that is!) Candlewick says ages 4-8, preschool to Grade 3. I think that’s right, but that’s an interesting jump in ages, I want to encourage everyone to give it a go, especially for a family read in the evening.

The story is very family-oriented: a mother shrew worries about her sick son, Hugo. She consults her medical book and it calls for one teaspoon of wild honey from the moon. So she tells Hugo she has to go to the moon to get him what she needs, she grabs her umbrella and, defying all sorts of dangers, she goes to get wild honey from the moon. I won’t spoil all of her adventures for you, but you know as well as I do that a mother who loves her child will do what is necessary– and this mother shrew does.

The book is a true fairy tale: truthful within its own lore (to get wild honey from the moon, you have to, well, go to the moon!) and truthful to any reader (suffice it to say: owls hunt shrews). It is also practical: a mother in a hurry does what she needs to do and gets frustrated by any delay– OK, I may not personally have bitten an owl trying to hunt me when I was getting my child wild honey from the moon, but I have lost my cool once or twice, haven’t you?

What I love, however, is that this is, as I said, both a fairy tale and family-oriented. It is not alone in being a fairy tale with a quest for a life-saving medicine, as any reader of fairy tales knows! Nor is it alone in telling the story of a mother protecting a child. Both of these are common fairy tale motifs.

However, a child-oriented picture book demonstrating an urgent mother on a quest for a miraculous remedy for a mysterious ailment for her child in true fairy tale form is new to me, let alone one as beautifully illustrated in ink and watercolours as this is. Moreover, by taking it out of human form, rendering it all as an animal story, Kenneth Kraegel tells a fairy tale out of the usual cultural pigeonholes.

I have to admit that I picked it up on a whim, to satisfy my craving, from the Brookline Booksmith. I will also confess that I was completely judging a book by its cover. But, having read it, I want to encourage families everywhere to read it. Every mother with a sick child should read it before heading out to the pharmacy for another dose of Tylenol for the kidlet. Every child lying feverish in bed should read it and feel warmed by the maternal love.

And everyone, everywhere, who needs a new fairy tale quest story with a gutsy mama shrew saving her child’s life (isn’t that all of us?) needs to curl up, put a spoonful of honey in their tea, and read.

Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript

Hi, everyone!

Today I am so very excited to share some great news with you. First, I have something new yet classic, old yet original to share with you. That’s exciting in and of itself.

Second, it’s quintessentially Canadian, which you know I love.

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Third, it’s a book the world has been needing for a while: a scholarly yet readable copy of the original Anne of Green Gables quite aptly titled: Anne of Green Gables: The Original Manuscript, edited by Carolyn Strom Collins. (Note: The lovely people at Nimbus sent it to me to review, which I happily undertook to do on condition they knew I’d only review it if I liked it. They agreed, I loved the book, so here we are.)

So, what is this book?

This is a transcription of the original manuscript of Anne of Green Gables, with marginal notes, additions and deletions, etc., all noted carefully and clearly. It presents, in short, the text as it sprang from L.M. Montgomery’s mind, before she even settled on Diana’s name! If you think that books came into being as they are found on bookshelf walls, this book will challenge you. It will make you rethink how books happen, and it will give you a fresh appreciation for the editorial process.

This is a book written for people like me: passionate lovers of Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery, especially ones with a strong love of manuscript history. That said, while it shows rigorous academic work and is meticulously edited by Carolyn Strom Collins, it is also both beautiful and accessible. Let me count the ways:

First, the introduction gives a coherent narrative of the manuscript history, how Montgomery worked, and why we should care about the manuscript.

Second, there is a beautifully clear guide to how to use the text in your hands. The guide to the symbols and notes Collins uses is presented at the front (not hidden at the back) makes the whole book usable by both academic readers and the rest of us.

Third, even if you want to ignore the marginal notes, the text itself is laid out nicely and readably so you can just scan the main text, only glancing at the margins if you really are curious.

Granted: I have been an academic for years. So I didn’t trust myself to judge clarity. I therefore trotted myself over to my local book shop to gloat– sorry, to lend the book shop people this book (I may also have gloated a bit, sorry, it’s a really special book and I was just so glad to have it!) and see what they thought.

The report was exactly as I thought: it is a smart book, yes, but it’s also transparent. It’s usable on many levels. You can flip through to find your favourite scenes and see how they evolved, or you can read from the beginning and meticulously follow the careful scholarly work that’s gone into it.

I highly recommend it as a gift for any lover of Anne. It does have a more “grown up” feel to it, as the presentation is distinctly suitable for a nice mahogany book shelf, but I think it’s understandable by any smart reader of Anne’s life (think how Anne herself would feel knowing she was in such a “grown up” book– and now think about a smart 12-year-old getting a lovely book like this!). It would be a great companion to House of Dreamsor is a lovely gift on its own.

So here’s that link again: but note that online it says it’s coming out in the USA on January 28.

Welcome, Wombat Giveaway Update

Hi, folks! Good news: I just got back from the Harvard Book Store where I picked this little gem up!

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That, right there, is the shiny new copy of Welcome, Wombat which I’ll be mailing to one of you, whoever wins it in the giveaway.

What giveaway, you ask? To those who don’t know what I’m talking about, go to this post for details or read on for an abbreviated version:

Donate $20 or more to WIRES in support of the wildlife endangered by the fires in Australia. Pat yourselves on the back for having done something really good. Email me at deborah@childrensbookroom.com with your donation information, and tell me whether you want to be entered for the book or a wombat-themed t-shirt (or, you know, maybe you’re happy with either one!).

Thank you, thank you, thank you for having donated. This is a cause that matters to me as the mother of a lover of Australian wildlife, and because of my Australian friends.

NB: The t-shirt has been more enthusiastically sought after than the book, so your chances of getting the book are higher. I HIGHLY recommend the book, in fact, both because you’re more likely to get it and because it will give you something to discuss with my daughter when you next meet…!

If you have any questions at all, email me or comment here!

Welcome, Wombat + Giveaway

Hi, everyone.

Usually I try to be upbeat here, but today is going to be a little sombre. Why?

Well, because I’ve been wanting, for a long time, to write a lovely, cheerful post about my daughter’s ongoing love of wombats, her unshaken love of marsupials of all kinds– and the news from Australia has been, in a word, terrible.

I’m heartbroken, and the long, laughing post in my head has contracted into an appeal for help. Wildlife in Australia is going through a hard time, as I’m sure you all know. I can’t bear to link to the articles, so I’m not going to. You can find plenty of information out there if you want to look.

Instead, I’m going to give you some reassuring news, and some charity links, and a giveaway.

I have more reviews on the back burner: real, meaty reviews for you. I have plans to tell you about. But today? One brief, heartfelt appeal and giveaway to sweeten the deal for you.

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Let’s start with a rescue organization which is blessedly spared the worst of the fire: When I heard of the fires and devastation, my first thought was, “Please not Sleepy Burrows!”

Sleepy Burrows is a rescue sanctuary for wombats who are affected badly by many factors– and are written about in one of the Changeling’s favourite books, Welcome, Wombat by Kama Einhorn. That book is a wonderful source of information about wombats, how they grow, how unique they are, and the conflicts that humans run into in such a special environment as Australia (and, we can extrapolate– many other places on earth).

My daughter loves this book: she takes it with her on every vacation, she reads it at night until she falls asleep, and we hear about Sleepy Burrows all day every day! Sleepy Burrows gets royalties, by the way, from sales of the book.

So we are glad that, so far, Sleepy Burrows has been spared the worst of the impact of these fires.

Other animals, as we know, have not been so lucky. Koalas are faring badly. On Kangaroo Island the dunnart is doing badly. I won’t go on. We are grateful that Sleepy Burrows is OK for now, but– Here are some links for you:

a) The wonderful Sophie Blackall is holding a fundraiser, donating all proceeds from her print for Wombat Walkabout (a book I must get for my daughter!) to rescue efforts: follow her link here. (NB: I cannot afford this right now, but anyone who wants to get a print for my daughter sure is welcome!)

b) For those, like me, who can’t afford that gorgeous print, the organization she pledges to help is WIRES.

c) MY PLEDGE: I will host a giveaway here for those who donate to WIRES. There are going to be TWO PRIZES, so TWO WINNERS: 1 copy of Welcome, Wombat, described above; and 1 special wombat t-shirt inspired by the wonderful Blunderbuss, the scrap yarn combat-wombat from Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series.

DETAILS: Donate $20 or more to WIRES. Email me at deborah@childrensbookroom.com with your donation information, and tell me whether you want to be entered for the book or t-shirt (or, you know, maybe you’re happy with either one!).

I WILL SEND THE BOOK/T-SHIRT ANYWHERE, WORLDWIDE. SHIPPING IS ON ME.

Deadline: One week today, January 14, 2020. I will draw randomly from any donors, and will send you my heartfelt thanks.

Reminder: 1 book, 1 shirt of any size or colour. Deadline: January 14, 2020. Please donate to WIRES.

Thank you from me, from my daughter, from the animals.

The Midnight Library

Thanksgiving is staring Americans right in the face, and we’re visiting family in the DC area. I should probably post about something Thanksgiving-sy, but the fact is that I’m born Canadian and, well, frankly– you know me. My aunt took me and my Changeling to the library this morning and while we were there I was attracted by something shiny, and that’s what I’m going to post about!

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Yes, the author of Ghosts in the House!, Kazuno Kohara, wrote The Midnight Library, a similarly slightly offbeat, whimsical, yet adorable adventure in a place that doesn’t quite meet your expectations.

The Midnight Library opens only at night and is run by a little librarian, extremely good at her job, with her three assistant owls. These hardworking library employees guide a band of squirrels to the activity room, calm a wolf sobbing over a sad story, and assist a tortoise who needs a library card. Of course, the final task of the day must be to find a special book for three sleepy owls…

Not at all spooky. Not at all creepy. Never going to disturb the most refined sensibilities.

And yet… there is something deeply compelling about both story and art. I think that even Neil Gaiman, master of the slightly spooky, slightly creepy story would find something to inspire him in this book. It takes place at dark, in a library, a place of infinite possibility, where anything can happen…

And indeed, at the child level, almost anything does! Oh, I don’t mean that it’s crazy; rather, it is ruthlessly logical: who better to assist in a midnight library than owls, who are wise and active at night? And of course the tortoise slowly and laboriously makes his way through an over 500-page book! It makes perfect sense.

But the logic assists the wildness of the story. It has to be a slightly absurd, offbeat place, with sobbing wolves and rowdy squirrels! It’s a midnight library, where things are going to be slightly strange… that’s only logical.

And both child and adult know, as they turn the last page, that the next story about the Midnight Library will be stranger yet.

It opens doors, as libraries do, you see– and I want to see the stories children will write about the Midnight Library themselves. What happens in their midnight libraries? And what will they plan for libraries as they grow older…?

So, maybe it’s almost Thanksgiving and I shouldn’t be posting about spooky, wild libraries. But I’m deeply thankful for libraries, and strongly recommend that any library-lover read this book!

CONGRATULATIONS, SYDNEY SMITH!

OK, it’s no secret that I maybe love books a little bit.

And some authors and illustrators I love a little bit much.

And when those authors/illustrators get recognition for excellence I…

What I’m saying is: Congratulations to Sydney Smith, author and illustrator of Small in the City, on winning the Governor General’s Award for Illustrated Book!

Small in the City

I rarely post about awards, but this one feels personal: Sydney Smith is a Maritimer (so am I!) who lived in Toronto (as did I!) but returned home to the Maritimes (sadly, I have not) and his work just speaks to me on a personal level. I want to take a moment to highlight other works he’s illustrated because, come on, let’s celebrate him!

Both are exquisite books: The White Cat and the Monk spoke to my professional soul; Town Is by the Sea spoke to my homesickness.

It’s been wonderful to watch Sydney Smith grow and develop as an artist and an author and I’m pleased as punch to see him win this award. I can’t wait to see what he does next!

 

And Then Comes Halloween: Redux

As we creep closer and closer to Hallowe’en, I’m trying to continue to highlight wonderful Hallowe’en books to read with your children of all ages. Today I’m going to focus on the pageantry of Hallowe’en rather than the spooky side. We’ve looked at this book before, And Then Comes Halloweenbut it’s worth bringing back: both for the sake of completeness in this series and for its own sake.

And Then Comes Halloween

I want to highlight a few things about this book. It’s not a storybook, or a spooky book, or a witch or ghost book: it’s really an honest, down-to-the-bones, HALLOWE’EN book. It’s not about acquiring candy, or being scared, or carving pumpkins, much: It’s about preparing for the holiday, being someone else, and investing yourself with Hallowe’enness. I love that, and kids need a book about existing in the Hallowe’en space, both on Hallowe’en and in preparation for Hallowe’en.

Which, to my mind, means: ALL YEAR. Here’s the link to the Candlewick catalogue entry, and the link to my old post.

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.

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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…