I loved Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin and when I saw Uegaki back on the lists with Ojiichan’s Gift, I had to have read for myself. Here comes another special relationship between grandfather and granddaughter. And I may have teared-up a little.

ojiichan_s_giftOjiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki

Illus. Genevieve Simms . Kids Can Press, 2019.

Hardcover Picture book, 32pp.

The story opens with this:

When Mayumi van Horton was born, her grandfather built her a garden.

It sat behind a tidy brown house nearly halfway around the world, and it was unlike any other garden she knew.

Mayumi would spend two months of every year with her grandfather, Ojiichan, learning to care for the garden and enjoy a bento lunch upon their sheltered bench. And when she wasn’t there, but longed to be, she would recall it to mind until the next visit. Until one visit when she (and the reader/listener) sees how the house and garden have gone untended, Ojiichan no longer able to tend either.

ojiichan interior 1
interior page from Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki & Genevieve Simms

There is a beautiful scene where Mayumi sits on the stairs holding a picture frame, its shape left in a print of dust on the wall near her head. Beside it’s vacated place is a photograph of Ojiichan and Mayumi and a birthday cake. We’ll see that photo on Mayumi’s bedside back home. The photograph’s theme, as well as the garden, contributes to the overall conversation of beginnings and endings. It’s a conversation that isn’t without conflict.

Mayumi isn’t ready for what her grandfather’s change in state means. Simms composes a gorgeous overhead shot where we see Mayumi’s shadow in an angered pose–feet apart, arms out with fisted hands—cast across the gravel of the garden. She is facing off with the largest rock and she is determined to upend it. And it is unmoving—unmovable. Hers is a storm before she is able to calm—completely understandable…and beautifully rendered in text and image. Uegaki and Simms capture a great deal of emotion and meaning that telegraphs Mayumi’s will and helplessness, and the nature of life itself. Mayumi finds a way to move about the rock and incorporate it/return it to something of beauty and importance in the garden. And she comes up with a very clever gift.

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interior page from Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki & Genevieve Simms

The title of the book becomes two-fold as Mayumi now has a gift for her grandfather. And she creates something for them both in this new chapter that will keep them tied to the past. Neither of them can stay/return to that house with its garden. They will find other ways to carry its meaning, lessons, relationship forward.

Uegaki isn’t precious in the telling of a story that speaks to such a significant change. It’s an emotional journey that isn’t cloying, just deeply loving. You can sink into the themes or just let the joy of Ojiichan and Mayumi’s relationship just wash over you.

One of my favorite illustrations? The one at the close, on the colophon (where the copyright info, etc. is). They are a pair of rakes, different in size, hanging on pegs. Are they retired, or waiting? It’s a perfect closing image.

I sometimes encounter folk who want a story with more than a few larges words on each page: Ojiichan’s Gift is a good one for those longing for a story with many a word on the page to tell it—something that attracted me to the book after a quick flip through. Uegaki knows how to write a story, with such a steady lyrical rhythm; full of images and depth of feeling as she builds a relationship with family and the natural world. Simms was a marvelous addition to this stories creation. I can’t recommend the book enough.


Chieri Uegaki is the author of Rosie and Buttercup, Suki’s Kimono and Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin. Her books have garnered such honors as the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. Chieri lives on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.

Ojiichan’s Gift is the first picture book for award-winning illustrator Genevieve Simms. Her illustration clients include House of Anansi Press, the Walrus and the Boston Globe. Genevieve lives in Toronto, Ontario.



the many colors…

harpreet coverThe Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar

Illus. Alea Marley .  Sterling, 2019.

Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pp.

Oh, my, but this is the sweetest book. Easily one of the loveliest and most effortless Family-Moving picture books I’ve seen. The gentle transitions in the story paired with an equally attractive style of illustration was/is a delightful experience—just pretty and rich.

harpreet interior 1
interior pages of The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar & Alea Marley

We learn that Harpreet Singh loves expressing himself through an array of colors. The colors could reflect a mood, or bolster one. Colors take on a meaning and build a context that tells us a great deal about Harpreet’s emotional state of being. This is one of the places where the words and pictures work so well together.

On one page we learn: Harpreet “wore red when he needed an extra boost of courage.” And on the following page, when he learns they’ll be moving across country, he is wearing his red patka.

hapreet interior 2
interior pages of The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar & Alea Marley

At his new school, we see a girl wearing a yellow hat and I was remember what yellow means to Harpreet. “He wore yellow when he felt sunny, spreading cheer everywhere he went.” The illustration to accompany that quote places him at the beach, with other people, and drawing a smiley face in the sand. The face looks remarkably like the smile on the girl’s hat–the similarity accentuated when he finds it in the snow (the polar opposite of the beach scene).

The meaning of colors becomes shared and the new friendship coaxes Harpreet back into trying his colors again. The meaning of colors also proves capable of change. Where white initially signaled his desire to disappear, white would become a reminder of the snow…where he found the hat that would find him a friend. I enjoyed how, when he returns the hat, he offers a simple, gentle correction when she compliments his hat. It’s a patka.

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interior pages of The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar & Alea Marley

For Harpreet, we learn that he likes to have and wear different colors of patkas, but when his parents are trying to encourage him to wearing something other than his white patka, they are holding other articles of clothing. It’s through the patka that he chooses to express color. The book offers a note from Simran Jeet Sing, a Scholar and Professor of Sikhism briefly explaining Sikh religion and the role of the turbans (of which a patka is one). It’s beautiful, oh, and informative.

I highly recommend The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh. It’s a delightful book about change, and about expression to which any child can relate. No Family-Move required. Bonus points for it telling the story with a character and culture we do not have the pleasure of experiencing often (if ever) in picture books.

Allow the book to inspire curiosity…and some play with color and expression.


Born and raised in the Midwest, Supriya Kelkar learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Her books include American as Paneer Pie, The Sandalwood Pyre, and Ahimsa.

Alea Marley is a children’s illustrator who is is currently based in North England. Her illustration clients include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sterling, American Girl, Little Bee, and Macmillan.



one thrilling picture book

coverOne Fox: A Counting Book Thriller  by Kate Read

Peachtree Publishing, 2019.

Hardcover Picture book, 36pp.

One Fox is delicious. A must. It’s a clever read, and beautiful visually. I marvel at the level of drama/thrill Read is able to elicit in both composition and very few word. The alliterations are good. I was also charmed by what we were asked to count (e.g. “8”)…and that unexpected number on the final pages.

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interior pages of One Fox, illustrated by Kate Read

I had to ask the question: is this a I Want My Hat Back (by Klassen) experience. Is it…?  Oh, but I would’ve owned this one with my small macabre-loving child.

one fox interior
interior pages of One Fox, illustrated by Kate Read

One Fox is a fantastic addition to the Counting Book collections.

Note: Nicely bookended endpapers


Illustrations: Mixed media collage and painting

Kate Read graduated in 2018 from the renowned MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. Winner of SCWBI Undiscovered Voices 2018. Kate lives with their long suffering partner in sunny Norfolk (UK). We have three hilarious, beautiful daughters who inspire and exhaust us in equal measure.




Ping by Ani Castillo

Little, Brown, 2019.

Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pp.

Ping was a source of curiosity, that cover and how it landed it on all the lists. Oh, my. Think how picture books like Yamada’s question series (What Do You Do with an Idea?a Problem?, etc.) resonate with an adult readership, to say nothing of the child audiences. Ping is one I will be recommending to my creative friends who’ve put themselves out there on social media.

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interior illustration from Ping by Ani Castillo

Ani Castillo uses the game of Ping Pong to talk about the call and response of relationships. Our Ping may receive a Pong in response and that response can be any number of “feelings, intentions, or ideas” (jacket copy).  What I love is how Castillo reminds us that “although it’s good to image the best possible Ping. It helps to remember that it is not up to you.” She acknowledges how Pongs aren’t always going to be positive, but continues on, herself, in the positive, encouraging the reader to Ping “freely”, “curiously”, “mindfully”, etc. And she includes the reminder that after we Ping, there is a time to wait for the Pong. As with the game, after we Ping, we anticipate a Pong, and Castillo takes time to explore what that could look like.

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interior illustration from Ping by Ani Castillo

The illustrations are bright and expressive, as straightforward and as certain as the text (which is big enough for your beginning readers). The inspirational listings of how we can Ping are accompanied by simple action-focused-images that could translate into adding options of your own.

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interior illustration from Ping by Ani Castillo

Castillo’s use of my favorite color notwithstanding, I’m so excited about this picture book. I would’ve owned it with the daughter (I might still with her aged 19.) It’s a good gift, to yourself, or to anyone one special in your life whether they are an adult or child.

Recommended for all the libraries.


Ani Castillo is a cartoonist, illustrator, and teacher who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and now lives in Canada.



“Something in my core will be different: my body was broken and I nearly lost myself in the mending. Something about God will be reset along with my bones. I will learn what it is to be an ordinary miracle.” –Sarah Bessey, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things


Miracles and Other Reasonable Things : A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God

by Sarah Bessey. Howard Books (imprint of S&S), 2019.

Hardcover Nonfiction, 219 pp.

Put the kettle on, grab some tissues and plan to read this one all the way through. Remember the footnotes, memorize the epigraphs, and engage with your own underlines and margin scrawls, but this is one to enjoy the act of listening through first.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things is the story of a devastating car accident, the Pope and other unexpected encounters in Rome–and the aftermath of both. It contains the stories Bessey told herself and was later forced to confront and set aside; the process modeling a greater, continual process of a faith deconstructed. She knows her anchors (Jesus, family, community) and finds her metaphors (herons, lakes, gates) amidst the uncertainties After (aka Life) brings.

“I remember church services where healing was spoken of as a certainty, as a formula to enact.  […] We simply needed to expect the bombastic, supernatural, eleventh-hour miracle because we all knew God is never late or early, only right on time.

[…] I began to realize we valued the victory, not the struggle. We wanted the testimony of God’s faithfulness so badly that we didn’t know how to engage in the work of miracles and healing. The victory either came or it didn’t by God’s magic—there was no middle-place theology, a theology of tension, of “yes, and” for those of us who, yes, believed in the supernatural and in miracles and needed a muscular theology of suffering and unanswered prayers.

[…] a theology without language for lament and sorrow was insufficient. (128-9)

If you like Bessey’s earlier books, writings, talks…you’ll continue to delight in Sarah. These books are travel logs, sharing both the experiences and the wisdom she has gleaned from both her life and those with whom she has intersected. Her conversational style deeply resonates, even as it charms the reader. Bessey continues to strive for authenticity, concerned with the gloss spiritual leaders apply to mask the unpleasant and/or inconsistent.

I don’t know if we are doing folks any favors if we act like when we become Christians or when we follow Jesus, all we do is win. I think it’s okay to say that we mess up, that we let people down, that we overpromise and underdeliver, that we go to therapy, that we take our meds, that we go for walks to remember everything good and true, that we’re still in the midst of figuring out where God is in the middle of all this, that we’re learning our capacity and God’s goodness the real way: by living our lives and experiencing both victories and sorrows in the midst. (130)

She demonstrates her own impulses to minimize her suffering, “I’m fine, so very fine.” Much of the book is her coming to terms with how her mind resides within matter. She doesn’t just live in her head, but in a body that also exists in a physical relationship with her environs and other people.

Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul that will rise but the body, glorified.” This has always astonished me, too. I used to feel a guilty sort of understanding for the gnostics […] After all, how could the divine be part of this—our flesh, our dirt, our mess, our urges, our desires, our pain, our slobber, our curves, our hunger, our orgasms? Is my body…blessed? As it is, right now, blessed? Part of shalom’s community? (193)

Miracles moves to talk about embodiment with a lighter, seeking touch than I’d encountered with others and so Bessey will continue to be one I recommend for new seekers of a voice and idea outside of their more conservative traditions. I especially love sharing Sarah Bessey with women. In Miracles, she tells stories as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend; as a woman of faith seeking other women both ancient and present to thrive alongside. She gestures with and towards things deeply understood…familiar.

While Miracles and Other Reasonable Things will feel familiar to fans in the way it explores as much as asserts, Miracles will read more like a story than the previous books, which read closer to collections of essays. That said, placing the story into IV Parts allows for a shift in how the story is told/recorded. Bessey shares her experiences and then her reflections and as the book builds its narrative context the reflections take greater focus. It is self-conscious of the fact that we create narratives, tell stories following any experience.

I ticked all the boxes in public, portrayed myself as resolutely fine, performing not only what I felt Christians expected of me, but also what I expected of myself. I had wanted to have more control of my narrative of God; I wanted to get ahead of the story, to set the time lines and parameters of my own healing. But I couldn’t’ fake my way to the narrative I wanted to believe. I couldn’t heal myself. I couldn’t fix myself. I couldn’t rescue myself from the darkness. (156)


I had failed to be curious about my own healing. I had returned to a one-sided, narrow, restrictive story of miracles. (157)

Miracles is also self-conscious of the fact that we hide in narratives and spiritual explorations—which can prove impractical.

In this turn of transformation now awaiting me, a transformation into the self that would be able to live in the tension of God’s Both/And instead of our human need for Either/Or, I needed to figure out how to embody shalom practically. (168)


Bessey shares moments and offers insights valuable to stepping into a more abundant life. I know I will be revisiting her conversation on Self-care versus Self-comfort. Her son’s drawing. Her realization and subsequent confession leaving the lake. That moment in the early hours in her kitchen taking that bottle off the shelf. The story of the birth of her youngest…. Bessey is vivid, deep in imagery.  I know I will be thinking on the metaphor of the heron for a good long while. As well as that exhilaration of the coastline and the wind.

Bessey’s courage to step through the gate into the wildness of God is inspiring; as is the reminder that God resides on both sides of the gate and is ready and able with a “tender acknowledgement of [our] pain” (171).

While the style of Bessey’s writing is approachable, it doesn’t mean it makes light difficult subjects.  I appreciate how she navigates the differences of wallowing and grief. Bessey speaks of surrounding herself with friends who are both comforting and ass-kicking (that unicorn card is the best); she does the same in the book as a friend to herself and her readers. She, too, is a mother and her addition of God as Mother into her relationship with God is marvelous. I love her approach to it (and her footnote). An excerpt:

Knowing my own father […] gave me a straight path to run on to see God as a good and loving father. But just as my own father gave me a glimpse of God’s good character, so did my mother. She could not be erased from the goodness of God’s expression. Her energy, her nurture, her fierce mama bear protectiveness, her joy and laughter, the ministry of her hands in my hair smoothing away the stress. (172)

[…] I began to picture that strong, wise, capable, patient, non-nonsense, deeply loving mother present in my choosing of life. After all, a peer might indulge my avoidance or self-neglect or selfishness, encourage me to do what feels good instead of what creates good.

But the sort of mother I envisioned—the way my own mum had mothered me when I was small—would make sure we ate well, drank water, went for walks, took our medication, read good books, challenged ourselves intellectually and spiritually, cared about others, managed our money responsibly, all of that good stuff. A mother who truly loved us would establish boundaries and offer wise counsel and tenderness of rest. Perhaps you picture Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series. Or Sister Julienne from Call the Midwife or Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables or Marmee from Little Women. Or maybe you’ll imagine Maya Angelou in your ear whispering that when you know better, you do better. Maybe you imagine your own mum or a Sunday-school teacher or the mother of your best friend—whoever makes you feel safe and secure and cared for in your mind—and then simply do what they say. (173)


1_Yr0GPZwWiPTHaGFE3ColrwAs it warns us in the title, Bessey’s book is a story of Unlearning and Relearning God in all the places God can be found. She writes in her love-letter introduction: “We place a lot of emphasis I our culture on “right learning,” but there is something to be said for the value of “right unlearning” and “right relearning.” We have to be committed to unlearning the unhelpful, broken, unredemptive, false, or incomplete God if we want to have space to relearn the goodness, the wholeness, the joy of a loving God” (5). She offers inspiring glimpses of how that commitment looks and works. It is a messy, vulnerable life; but it looks like a life; there is something miraculous about that because it isn’t what we’re sold; it isn’t traditionally what we’ve been buying.

Bessey closes the book with a Benediction. Her final aspirational pages, turn outward to embrace the reader. The journey is still in progress, but there are things knowable…sealable with that humble touch of anointing oil. She moves to do for the reader what has been done for her. She was drawn out to remember that she was not alone and she draws out the reader and into her own embrace, into her own story. She does what she always so generously does in her writing: she invites us to walk alongside her and the good company she has found and continues to find along the way. We will unlearn and relearn both together and in our own ways.










the ranger


The Ranger by Nancy Vo

Groundwood Books, 2019

Hardcover Picture Book, 44 pp.

Three things drew me to Nancy Vo’s The Ranger. That cover. It’s the rare Western-genre picture book that looks both serious and not non-fiction. The Ranger is a girl, Annie. It involves a fox. Additionally, both Annie and the Fox have stunning portraits.

interior pages from The Ranger by Nancy Vo
interior pages from The Ranger by Nancy Vo

The landscape is a harsh one and you wonder why Annie is wandering it alone, not that she doesn’t prove capable, of course… And just because she is a girl doesn’t mean she goes soft and nurturing on the injured fox. She has the no-nonsense dialog familiar to the Western.

interior illustration from The Ranger by Nancy Vo

But the new companion does prove to be a valuable one. The arrival of the bear is as sudden and unexpected for the reader as it is for Annie. I mean, I forgot that was a plot point, I was so taken with the rhythm of the story and it’s spacious compositions.

Vo doesn’t insult the reader with hand-holding. You’ll absorb the details of the images (like the shadow casts). Vo doesn’t move to over explain why the fox snarled, why the fox was offended. A way of life is established and affirmed, and it wasn’t lonely as it is assumed at the beginning.


I’m going to hunt down a copy of Outlaw, (which is the first book in this Crow trilogy). I’m intrigued by Vo and her inspirations. The tale she tells here is one to own and share; a rarity and a delight.


all images belong to Nancy Vo.

the book trailer.


warm and wild


A Tiger Like Me by Michael Engler

Illust. Joëlle Tourlonias  Translated Laura Watkinson

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2019. Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pp.

Joëlle Tourlonias’ illustrations are worthwhile enough to hunt down a copy of this German Picture Book in translation.* Her tiger-costumed boy and his antics in and out of the house are stunning. They are feast while the reader takes on the voice of the little boy turned tiger as he takes us through his day, showing and telling us the different ways he is as a tiger. You suspect that he is also describing who he is as a human child, too.

Tiger Like Me Interior Illustration by Joëlle Tourlonias

He is fierce and funny and also vulnerable. Plenty of reader/listeners will identify with him, I mean, the tiger.

It’s nice to have a bit of a longer story, too. And it’s one you could skip a page or two if pressed for time at the end of the day. The narrator is imaginative and invites a playfulness and a tenderness that is irresistible. He also has a great vocabulary.


*(The Calvin & Hobbes vibe was a definite selling point).

Noted: the family has a craft time. That is pretty cool.