Tag Archives: annick press ltd

Not My Girl

29 Jan

Today’s review is for Not My Girl, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, published by Annick Press. It is scheduled for release on February 18, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of the book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Not My Girl book cover

In this beautiful picture book memoir, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton recounts her return to her family after spending two years at a Canadian residential school. When Margaret steps off the boat to return to her village, her mother uses her limited English to declare “Not my girl.” This is the beginning of Margaret’s journey of re-integrating to her familial culture after two years of assimilation. She finds that she has forgotten most of her language and fumbles at chores that used to be easy. Even her father’s sled dogs, with whom she used to share affection, treat her as an outsider. This is a moving story that opens a window to a troubling period of history. However, its uplifting ending will reassure children that no matter how much they grow and change–they can always return to the love of their family.

Although I had heard about residential schools for First Nations children, this was my first time actually reading about their impacts. While it seems that the staff at the school treated Margaret with kindness, her narrative reveals that they still caused unintended harm to many children. The pain of facing rejection by their families after returning as outsiders must have left psychological scars. I am thankful that she chose to share her story, thus giving younger generations the chance to learn about a piece of history that seems not to be discussed very often.

The writing has a plainness and clarity to it, which is punctuated by moments of poetic imagery. It’s a style that works well. The narrative voice captures the emotional tone of a 10-year old girl, overlaid with the reflections of a grown woman. Children should be able to connect with the voice of the child, while parents will appreciate the perspective of revisiting the past.

Grimard’s soft illustrations provide a beautiful complement to the story. The abundance of orange-tinted light in her pictures perfectly captures the feeling of Arctic winter, where the sun is always low on the horizon. At the same time it also creates a sensation of familial warmth. Most of all, I loved how deeply expressive the characters were. Every face evoked a strong emotional response. Whenever she drew Margaret as a sad young girl, I felt an ache in my heart. I love when an artist is able to elicit such a reaction.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m giving it a full 5 stars for being such a powerful and moving work. It provides abundant opportunity to talk with children about history, Inuit culture, assimilation programs, geography, and family dynamics. The book is targeted to readers in grades 1-4, although I think it could be enjoyed by a much wider audience.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

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It’s a Feudal, Feudal World

20 Nov

Today’s book review is for It’s a Feudal, Feudal World: A Different Medieval History, written by Stephen Shapiro, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, published by Annick Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

It's a Feudal, Feudal World book cover

It’s a Feudal, Feudal World is an innovative book that explores medieval history through infographics, cartoons, and lively text. It covers a wide range of topics, from life expectancy to siege methods. Throughout it makes a point to emphasize the contributions of both women and men, and to highlight the intercultural influences on the period. As a bit of a medievalist myself, I was thrilled to see how much detail was fit into such a short volume.

Shapiro clearly knows his material. Each page is filled with information to stimulate and engage young minds. It’s hard to find history dull, as presented by the author. That’s because all of the information is accompanied by jokes and bits of humor. The reason he’s able to include so much information is because rather than get bogged down in explanations of everything, he opts to use infographics to convey important data and ideas. After all, why read a description of a Viking longship when you can look at a diagram instead?

There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’d say that in this case, it’s absolutely true. Kinnaird’s illustrations give life to this history. His cartoons grabbed me from the beginning and made me want to keep reading. They also helped me to understand concepts, such as how mills could be powered by various sources. And I loved the image of the librarian chained to his books–maybe because I could relate a little.

The book also contains a glossary, selected bibliography, and index to enhance the ways students are able to engage with the book. It has a great design and format.

I think this would make a great addition to a classroom or library that serves grades 4-7. It’s the sort of book that I wish had been around when I was growing up. It looks deceptively simple–it’s mostly pictures, and many of those are cartoons. However, anyone who reads it is sure to come away knowing far more than when they began. I’m giving it 5 out of 5 stars. It’s always nice when a book is able to successfully combine education and entertainment.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: The Man With the Violin

5 Oct

Today’s book review is for The Man With the Violin, written by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričić, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Man With the Violin was inspired by the story of Joshua Bell, a world famous violinist, who played his Stradivarius in a Washington, DC metro station for 43 minutes in January 2007, while dressed as a regular street musician. During that time period over 1000 people passed, but only 7 stopped to listen for more than a minute. However, it was observed that many children tried to stop and listen. The main character of the story, Dylan, is not a real child–but he represents the children who wanted to listen that day.

Stinson crafts a compelling narrative from the outset with her opening juxtaposition: “Dylan was someone who noticed things. His mom was someone who didn’t.” She tells the story of one child’s love of music and his desire to revel in its beauty. Any number of situations could have been used as a vehicle for the story–but by using the Bell story, Stinson drives her point home in a way that even the busiest of parents can appreciate. The resolution of the story is wonderful and should inspire the parents and caregivers who read it with their children.

However, it’s Petričić’s illustrations that made me fall in love with this book. They are full of movement and noise and magic. He starts with detailed pencil illustrations and then adds color sparingly. The effect is that the presence of color makes those aspects of the pictures take on a special life and energy. It draws us in, makes us notice and appreciate beauty in the little things. It’s also used to signify the presence of music–the sound moving through the world and making everything come alive. These images resonate with me on an emotional level. They make me gasp and tingle as I begin to experience what Dylan experienced.

Sometimes you stumble upon a book that touches you in unexpected ways. I feel like this was one of those instances. As I’ve been going about my days, I keep returning to it–thinking about the story, picturing the illustrations, telling others about my experience with it. And for that reason it gets 5 out of 5 stars. I want to read it over and over again. I want for others to read it. I want for schools and libraries to use it to teach music appreciation. I want it to get attention, lots of attention, because that’s what it deserves.

I recommend this book to anyone who understands that music is a type of magic. And to anyone who wants to encourage that feeling in children. I also recommend it to those who don’t understand, because maybe it will help them to do so.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: 50 Below Zero

27 Sep

Today’s book review is for 50 Below Zero (board book edition), written by Robert N. Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a board book adapted from Munsch’s 1986 bestselling picture book by the same title. While I have never read the original book, I found that I enjoyed the board book a great deal. 50 Below Zero is about a boy named Jason who has a sleepwalking father. Throughout the night, Jason hears noises, gets out of bed, and finds his father sleeping in the most unexpected places–including outside, against a tree, in the bitter cold. Eventually Jason grows tired of sending his father back to bed and comes up with an ingenious solution.

Munsch’s sense of humor wonderful. He delights in the absurd and recognizes that it’s a type of humor that will appeal to toddlers as much as to adults. His writing is clear, simple without being bland. It’s easy to see why his original volume was so popular.

Martchenko’s illustrations are equally entertaining. He does a fabulous job of capturing the emotions of his characters through facial expression and body language. The style of the illustrations feels slightly dated–although the details do not. Through heavy use of blues and grays, Martchenko creates a strong night time environment.

The book is nicely designed. Bold, easy to read text is placed on white background with facing page illustrations. On the pages where Jason discovers his father there are wavy strings of blue “zzz”s and the exclamation “Papa, wake up!” is highlighted in red. One children are familiar with the story, this can easily serve as a cue for them to participate by joining in with Jason’s call.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars because I really enjoyed it. It made me chuckle as I read. Even more than that, it’s a bit different from most of the fare I see in board books. A lot of board books are playful, but far fewer are actually clever. It’s nice to see a bit of variety for our youngest readers.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe

25 Sep

Today’s book review is for Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe, by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe is a companion book to Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots, which I reviewed last week. This book uses the same sort of rhyming text and colorful stock images to convey its ideas.

I’m sure that the colorful stock images will appeal to children. They a brightly colored and crisp. Many feature young children engaged in play. The book design, however, doesn’t seem as professional as its sister volume. There’s not much variety in the page layouts and the amateur blurring effect is used more liberally. And once again, we’ve got playful, but generic, text.

Worst of all, the concept for this book was a bit muddled to me. For most of the book, it seems that we are exploring squares. I was puzzled, because the title suggested that we would be exploring stripes–but then, just before the end, we got to the stripes. At this point, I wasn’t entirely clear about why squares and stripes were thematically similar. I mean, squares are composed of lines, just as stripes are… but so are triangles, hexagons, rectangles, diamonds, octagons and more.

Unfortunately, Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe earns 1 out of 5 stars. Above all, a concept book should illustrate a clearly identifiable concept. All other aspects aside, this book fails to meet even that most basic criteria. I’m sure the authors had an idea of what they were trying to accomplish, but it didn’t come through in their work.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots

18 Sep

Today’s book review is for Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots, by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots is a concept book that explores the idea of roundness. Through rhyming text and colorful stock images it introduces children to simple geometrical ideas and shows that although circles, cylinders, and spheres are different–they share the property of roundness.

The rhyming text written by the Shapiros is fairly straightforward. It has a playful quality to it and does a fair job of explaining the concepts to children. Overall, though, it has a rather generic feel to it. There’s nothing that stands out to me as noteworthy, in the positive or negative. The writing feels merely middling.

Rather than commissioning an artist to illustrate the book, the authors elected to instead use stock photographs to compliment their text. The images which were selected are brightly colored, clear and crisp.

The font selection for the book is excellent and fits well with the images. It, too, is clear and crisp. The layout of the pages is fun, using alternating designs to keep the eye from growing bored. However, sometimes when an image doesn’t fill a page, the edges of the photo are blurred, which makes things look a little amateur. The blurring effect doesn’t seem to fit with the other elements of the book which are all so crisp and bold.

This book earns 3 out of 5 stars from me. I like it okay. It does a fair job of tackling the concept of roundness. But overall, it felt a little bland to me. In a couple of weeks I’m not sure that I’ll remember it at all. If my daughter saw it at the library and wanted to bring it home, I wouldn’t object–but it’s not something I’d try to steer her toward.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews at Goodreads.

Book Review: Kenta and the Big Wave

16 Sep

Today’s book review is for Kenta and the Big Wave, written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The story starts with a warning siren, alerting the people of Kenta’s town to an approaching tsunami. While he is running to higher ground to take shelter, he loses his prized soccer ball. And so we are pulled into this thoughtful book by writer-illustrator Ruth Ohi. She weaves a tale of catastrophe and hope through the perspective of a young Japanese boy.

Ohi’s prose flows smoothly, demonstrating great skill. She sometimes repeats words and phrases to emphasize ideas, but manages to do so without sounding redundant. The text reads aloud beautifully, making this a possible selection for story time. Word choices are familiar and there is never excess description nor exposition. It keeps the focus on the story.

The text is complemented by Ohi’s soft watercolor illustrations. She uses small details to establish character and location: Japanese writing on the soccer ball, bamboo flooring, people eating with chopsticks in the background, etc. But the details are small enough that young people won’t be distracted from the more universal story.

The book has a nice design. There are so two page spreads, some full page illustrations faced with a smaller illustration, and some places where two full page illustrations face each other. This approach helps to create a sense of pacing and movement within the book. The clean and readable sans serif font was well chosen. Placement of text within the page was thoughtful and well-executed. The inclusion of the author’s note at the end opens up possibilities for extension activities with children and provides them with the specific event that inspired the author.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed it. It was moving, without being overtly sentimental. It provides a chance to talk with children about natural disasters and about Japan. I would encourage others to read it and highly recommend it for addition to any local or school library.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.