Wednesday, December 21, 2022


By The Fan Brothers


(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022)


One of first picture books I blogged about was Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (better known for illustrating books like Shark vs. Train and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site). I loved the novelty of making a cloud a picture book character. Now The Fan Brothers have added another picture book to the cloud canon—might that include Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs?—with Lizzy and the Cloud. This time, the cloud is Milo. 


The story opens with young Lizzy heading to the park with her parents on a Saturday afternoon. The double spread showing the park looks very traditional, harkening back to an earlier time. I immediately thought of retro spinning tops I’ve seen in toy stores. While a large carousel will first draw readers’ eyes, the text calls attention to the Cloud Seller, the only person getting wet on the sunny day. He’s in a raincoat and boots because he’s holding stringed clouds which float above him much like a balloon seller in parks nowadays. 


The story goes on to explain, “Most people were in a rush to get to the new carousel or the puppet show. Clouds were a bit out of fashion these days, but not to Lizzy.” I’m with Lizzy. As the Cloud Seller and his wares get a zoom-in shot, it’s hard to conceive of why animal clouds wouldn’t be the star attraction. One boy walks off with an octopus cloud, but Lizzy wants “an ordinary cloud,” resembling nothing more than a blob but temporarily sporting a miniature rainbow below it. Way cooler than a performance with sock puppets.


Turning pages, we discover why the entire ambience feels old-fashioned. This is indeed an earlier time, the main street home to a shoe repair and a market that sells oranges for a cent. A man in a suit and top hat navigates the road on a penny-farthing while something like a Model T sedan is parked outside the radio shop. A blimp flies overhead with an “Eat at Mo’s Diner” banner trailing behind. I Googled advertising blimps, thinking this might be an anachronism but learned that the first such blimp existed in 1912, promoting Suchard, a Swiss chocolatier. Advertisers are quick to jump aboard the latest innovations.


At home, Lizzy glances at the instructions for cloud care. Rules include, “Water your cloud daily using only fresh clean water. Failure to do so may result in your cloud evaporating into thin air” and, “Clouds are sensitive, and sometimes moody. Thunderstorms are possible if a cloud is unhappy.” Lizzy and Milo coexist, even bond—at least from Lizzy’s perspective—but cloud watering makes Milo grow. He becomes too big and needs his own space in the world. The story ends with a little whimsy. 


The illustrations are exquisitely detailed, hand drawn in pencil and colored digitally. Many of them are portrayed in soft greys, with splashes of green and, more commonly, yellow drawing focus to items such as a watering can and Lizzy’s boots. This is a quiet story, enhanced by the subtlety of the art. 


Lizzy and the Cloud
 will stick with the reader just like Milo remains on Lizzy’s mind. Perhaps the next time a young reader gazes up at the clouds, they will see what looks like a parrot, a dog or, less distinctly, Milo. May ordinary clouds come to life in their imagination.





Tuesday, October 18, 2022


By Jon Klassen


(Candlewick Press, 2021)



Jon Klassen, a wry humorist and talented illustrator who sticks to a muted palette, is perhaps best known for his picture book I Want My Hat Back. In The Rock from the Sky, he sticks with what he does so well. The book consists of five quick, comical tales that build on one another with a recurring cast that includes a turtle, an armadillo, a snake, a rock and an ominous creature from the future. 


All of the text is dialogue. Only the turtle and the armadillo speak, their parts distinguished by turtle’s lines appearing in black font while armadillo’s words are in gray. Each story moves quickly, the dialogue minimal, thus allowing the reader to spend extra time finding humor in the illustrations and inferring what is about to come, often as a surprise to the particularly unaware turtle. In looking at the scenes, I can’t help but wonder if Klassen grew up watching Looney Tunes cartoons featuring the Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. The rock seems a stand-in for the old cartoon’s oft-present Acme anvil. 


This book doesn’t have the surprise factor that we got when I Want My Hat Back made its debut. We know what to expect of Klassen. Still, the book will satisfy readers and viewers. 

Monday, February 28, 2022


By Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv


Translated by Oksana Lushchevska


(First published by Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva (The Old Lion Publishing House), Ukraine, 2015)


(Published in English by Enchanted Lion Books, 2021)


Children’s picture books about war are tricky. How do you introduce such a grave topic without scaring the reader? What do you portray in the pictures? How dark? How realistic? What’s too little, what’s too much?


This book was published in Ukrainian in 2015, the year after the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and while the Russo-Ukrainian War continued, with a focus on the Donbas region. Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv are a husband-and-wife team who live in Lviv, Ukraine and the credits at the back of the book note that, “This book was motivated by the arrival of war in Ukraine in their own lifetime.” 


It’s by chance that I have this incredibly timely book in my hands. I’d read a book review in The New York Times back in the fall and searched online for it at the Vancouver Public Library which didn’t carry the title. I contacted the library to request that they purchase it for their collection. I picked it up three weeks ago. What a difference between last fall and now, even between three weeks ago and now.


When I picked up the book, I hugged it. The cover is gorgeous in both color and design, red poppies popping against a muted teal background, the title in bold black font, two small images of conflict drawn in black ink—one a deployed missile sticking out of the ground, the other a rudimentary, cartoonish depiction of a tank firing at a house aflame. These two images, however, appear to be overwhelmed by the poppies.


The creators set the story in the fictional town of Rondo, presumably named after “Rondo alla Turca” (Turkish March), the last movement of Mozart’s Sonata No. 11, which, we are told is the town’s anthem. Rondo is an idyllic, arty place with clean air and well-tended parks and gardens. The town’s showcase is its Music Greenhouse where colorful, exotic flowers bloom and sing joyously at dawn each day and during concerts which draw attendees from near and far. (I didn’t notice until later in the book that these flowers are depicted with faces in side profile.)


Romanyshyn and Lesiv choose to tell their story based on a friendship between three characters: Danko, a human-esque figure, shaped and aglow like a lightbulb; Fabian, a red balloon dog; and Zirka, a tall, slender Origami bird made from a forest-themed, patterned paper print. 


The title makes it obvious what is going to happen to this gem of a town.


In Rondo, it was a day like any other. People were rushing about, doing their usual business. Danko was on his way to meet his friends. Zirka had just returned from a trip and had lots of new stories and drawings. The sun was shining, and the flowers and birds were singing. Everything seemed normal, until all went completely still.


And a whisper arose…


WAR is coming to Rondo.


The scenes that follow are portrayed with dark gray backgrounds. All weaponry is drawn in black and gray. Black flowers and “dry, spiked weeds” become the predominant plant life. The three friends are injured—Danko from a rock to the chest, Fabian from a thorned plant piercing his leg and Zirka from sparks which singe her wings. The singing flowers don’t fare well either. The injuries are enough to cause concern for a reader but, hopefully, not so dire as to spawn nightmares. Frankly, I don’t think there’s enough told about the three friends for a reader to become greatly attached to them. This probably wasn’t by design, but it turns out to be a good thing.


War, of course, doesn’t emerge victorious in a children’s book. Rondo rises up. In the end, the town returns to its ways while looking slightly less idyllic. Even after achieving peace, war has taken something. Rondo’s outdoor spaces are now dotted with the poppies shown on the cover. 


This is not a perfect book. It’s a tough subject. Still, it’s worth sharing, especially since it’s been created by Ukrainians in the midst of Russo-Ukrainian conflict.






Monday, January 31, 2022


By Marie Dorléans


Translated by Polly Lawson


(Floris Books, 2020)


First published as NOUS AVONS RENDEZ-VOUS

(Éditions du Seuil, 2018)




From the first page, I knew this picture book was especially special. The two-page spread is dark blue, as throughout the book. It’s dark in the children’s bedroom. Two boys sleep in separate beds, their heads peeking out from checkered bedspreads as a sliver of light slips in from a hallway. The text: Mama opened our bedroom door, interrupting the night-time darkness. “Wake up, you two,” she whispered. “Let’s go, so we get there on time.”


That’s all that’s needed to set things up and to make the reader begin to engage with the book. Why do they have to get up so early? Where are they going? What happens if they’re late?


The title and the next page offer more context. It’s a night walk in the middle of the night. Out goes the family. They walk across the yard and through the community. [T]he last house in the village was almost asleep. It had one eye open, a reference to a single light on the second floor. They continue to the outskirts and beyond, into a forest, up to a lake and then a clearing before the final leg of the trek. Each scene has a light source to pierce or dot the darkness—a streetlight, a few stars, the moon. The story is simple and enchanting.


As I turned pages, I thought, “Why don’t I ever do this? Why are all my mountain hikes in the light of day?” (I’ve recently had bouts of insomnia and I’ve enjoyed the different characterization of downtown Vancouver as I walk in the pre-dawn hours.) I can imagine many families following the example of this book. Haven’t we all taken to the outdoors more since COVID changed our lives? Here’s another suggestion for creating precious memories.


I won’t divulge where the family is going, but they do get there on time. Sometimes a night’s rest interrupted is well worth it.