a glimpse

Owls See Clearly at Night “is a small glimpse, from A to Z, of some of the sights and sounds of the Michif language and its speakers. The language of the Metis, Michif is a combination of French and Cree with a trace of other regional languages. Once spoken by thousands of people across the prairies of Canada and the northern United States, Michif is now so little spoken that it might disappear within a generation. This alphabet book is part of a resurgence to celebrate and preserve the traditions of the Metis people. Here Michif and English words combine with images from Metis culture to introduce all generations to the unique Michif language. The book even includes a brief introduction to the language’s history, a pronunciation guide, and a list of references for those interested in learning more about Michif.

–from Indiebound’s book description.

Owls See Clearly at Night coverOwls See Clearly at Night/Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer

A Michif Alphabet/L’Alfabet Di Michif by Julie Flett

Simply Read Books, 2010. Hardcover Picture book,

Owls See Clearly at Night could work for a small child’s alphabet primer, but I enjoyed how mindful it is of its older readers/learners.  Flett’s work in contrasts, whether stark or soft; the depth of the colors, blue, red, black; the swoop of lines, is striking.

Owls See Clearly at Night interior 5
pages from Owls See Clearly at Night by Julie Flett

“A Atayookee! Tell a Story!” and that is what each letter does, and I’m intrigued enough to want to know more. What story does that letter and its image tell of the culture that speaks this language? It would be lovely if there was a spin-off, of Metis readers relating their reactions to the pages as they encountered them. I’m thinking of what was done with Chris Van Allsburg’s Harris Burdick.


Owls See Clearly at Night interior
page from Owls See Clearly at Night by Julie Flett
from Owls See Clearly at Night by Julie Flett

If you read the Introduction, entries like J (“La jig/Jig”) and V (“Li Vyalon/Fiddle”) will not be unexpected. Owls See Clearly at Night accounts for a dynamic history; one of intersections and inclusion. Note, too, how Flett doesn’t default to a he or she “is picking berries” or “goes” and doesn’t signal gender via illustration either.

“Z Lii Zyeu/Eyes” will return us to the image of the owl, but it is also a reminder that language involves all the senses. A language engages the listener/reader and reveals something about its culture: images, impressions… Once seen it cannot go unseen.


Owls See Clearly at Night interior 3
page from Owls See Clearly at Night by Julie Flett

Owls See Clearly at Night is a treasure. Flett’s artwork is delightful and any lover of languages needs to have this book.






life is a picnic

Alexandra-Boiger-Storytime-Books-Inc-Alameda_0Max and Marla are Having a Picnic by Alexandra Boiger

Putnam, 2018. Hardcover, 40 pages.

Max and Marla are Having a Picnic is a quaint story of a friendship between Max (the Boy) and Marla (the Owl) reads like a PBS program. It’s gentle and sweet. Too, you notice that the protagonist is a boy, picnicking, in a sensitive nurturing role.

max and marla
interior pages from Max and Marla are Having a Picnic by Alexandra Boiger
max marla interior
interior pages from Max and Marla are Having a Picnic by Alexandra Boiger

Max and Marla had been looking forward to this picnic and it really does look like it’ll be perfect. There is so much care in the preparations, and really, you can’t imagine anything better. And then you see the squirrels, and poor Marla, and you can see how Max might be frustrated.

You’ll notice framed photographs of past excursions of the two. You learn how much joy and care goes into their time together, how considerate and rewarding. And Boiger finds the sweetest possible way for an apology, and a creative solution in how to have that perfect picnic after all.

max marla interior2
interior image from Max and Marla are Having a Picnic by Alexandra Boiger

A favored line: “They manage to finish it all just fine. Even with Marla’s help.”

The hues are suited for spring, yet nothing too boisterous: the blues, reds, greens in watercolor. One of my favorite illustrators, Alexandra Boiger has the prettiest illustrations. Don’t let her effortless appeal keep you from appreciating her skill.

Max and Marla are Having a Picnic is a study in how the layout of the pages and spreads contribute to the energy and tone of the story, to say nothing of her compositions. It took serious restraint to not do a walk through, but just be mindful on your second reading.

line clipartRecommended for that quiet read, with a picnic of your own planned. An easy enough adventure and message for younger listeners, and details grade schoolers can enjoy. For those of us Harry Potter fans who wish we, too, had an owl. And those who would respond positively to the word: wholesome.

Of Note: There is a first book of their adventures called Max and Marla (Putnam, 2015).

Alexandra Boiger grew up in Munich, Germany, as the youngest of seven children. She studied graphic design at the Fachhochschule Augsburg before working in feature animation at Warner Brothers and DreamWorks. After working in animation, Alexandra decided to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator, gathering a following as the illustrator of the popular Tallulah series. Max and Marla was her debut as both author and illustrator. Alexandra now lives in Northern California with her husband and daughter.




archie and the bear

archie coverArchie and the Bear by Zanni Louise

Illustrated by David Mackintosh

Clarion/HMH, US release 2018. UK/2017.

Hardcover, 32 pages Picture book, Ages 3-7

Archie isn’t wearing a bear suit, he is a bear. And when he tires of ignorant humans, he sets off to the forest. Here he meets a friendly bear. The bear he meets isn’t wearing a boy suit, he is a boy. Once that matter is settled, they enjoy the forest together. The bear teaches the Archie things boys do and turns out Archie’s very good at them. Archie teaches bear skills he has as a bear and turns out the bear is very good them.

interior pages from Archie and the Bear by Zanni Louise & David Mackintosh

But as their time goes, it starts to get cold and neither of their suits help either of them stay warm, even after they swap. So they head to a place where they can both be warm and enjoy the things they both like:

“Boys like warm quilts, warm fires, and honey sandwiches,” said the bear.

“So do bears,” said Archie.

At the start of the story, both Archie and the bear make all-cap-declarations of who they are. As they continue on, the story relaxes into another rhythm, one of enjoying each other’s company in unthreatening, less emotionally charged ways. They take turns taking the lead and sharing their way of moving about the world with the other, skipping stones or catching fish… Their relationship yields an effortlessness, much like the book itself. It has little interest in educating a young reader with heavy messaging of identity and acceptance and just eases into the enjoyment of two characters who simply are whom they are and want to be.

archie bear interior
interior pages from Archie and the Bear by Zanni Louise & David Mackintosh

While there is a playfulness; the consistency of characterization suggests Archie’s bearness and the bear’s boyness aren’t just two characters simply being imaginative.

The artwork evokes a simple-straightforward-this-is-just-the-way-it-is vibe, and youthful energy in Archie’s line-work. I love how solid/dense the bear is.  While it feels like a tale, the absence of flourishes relay the idea that this is not a fantasy; these are not characters simply playing pretend games. You would never mistake the boy and bear and forest for Christopher Robin and Pooh and the 100-Acre-Wood.

The pair go to Archie’s house for warmth, and the book closes with the absence of other human life. They’re probably in bed, but their absence signals not a return from wherever Archie went off to at the beginning, but a continuation of Archie. We close the book with the sensation of: this is the way it is in the world of the book—a journey we take as a reader from finding the exchanges, the declarations and pats on the head to be all too normal/familiar, to this new sensation of normal. What happened between that beginning and ending? The story of a new friendship. A story and a relationship and no real need to figure it all out.

line clipartRecommended as a nice addition to wintry reading, and for its unusual approach to just letting people be; maybe shelve alongside Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl and The Wolf by Vermette

Zanni Louise has been a storyteller since childhood. It wasn’t until she had her first child that she pursued a grown-up career as an author. She lives in Australia with her family and a cat named Mary Feather Flower.

David Mackintosh is an illustrator, graphic designer, and art director, celebrated for his bold, quirky style and his innovative book designs. David lives in London, draws a lot, has a bicycle, and loves making things, books with pictures in them, and being read to.




the forest, a life

the forest coverThe Forest by Riccardo Bozzi

Illustrated by Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidali 

Translated from Italian by Debbie Bibo. Enchanted Lion, 2018.

Paperback Picture book, 72 pages. Ages 8+

A lyrical book about the adventure of life, The Forest is also a magnificent visual work, both painterly and a technical feat of paper engineering. Here, sensory experience and the textures of the material world are rendered through die-cuts, embossing, cutouts, and two gatefolds. A beautifully considered work. –publisher’s copy.

the forest interior
interior pages from The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, Violeta Lopiz & Valerio Vidali  

From birth to death, The Forest is written like an explanation of life as adventurers on a journey, encountering ourselves and others. The tone relays a calm matter-of-factness about that which will be joyful and that which will be hard or unpleasant; The Forest is impossibly reassuring…and provides sound metaphors. The embossed human figures among the painted plant life are imprinted; both separate from and acting upon nature and yet written into the patterns of nature, of their surroundings. We belong and this is natural.

the forest interior 3
interior pages from The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, Violeta Lopiz & Valerio Vidali 

Wash your hands and dry and be ready to run hands and fingers along the heavy pages. Look through the small windows of eyes and turn the page and appreciate how much more awaits the reader; take in what the eyes are there to see, “It is said that the forest has a certain limit / if you look straight ahead, but the sides are boundless. / Here is where the explorers can venture with enjoyment and curiosity.” (I love that the face opposite this text is of a little girl (my little girl self would have burned a bit brighter here)). I love the peek-through of a growling tiger beyond the circle-wide mouth; how the eyes and nose holes reveal nothing. The continuous holes act as ellipses as they carry a thought forward through images.

the forest interior 2
interior pages from The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, Violeta Lopiz & Valerio Vidali 

The textless facing pages of embossed hands, palms up, traceable lines. The gatefolds… The Forest is a lovely, unusual experience that expresses and inspires the imagination. And it engages not only the wonderment of the mind, but the body…just as a forest would, just a life-time’s worth of journeying must.

The quiet at the end, in both the tactile and visual, will likely yield different results depending on the reader. I found it peaceful, contemplative, but I could see how such a mysterious and ecological? open-end of the journey may be unsettling or unsatisfying. But then, the book is contemplating life, the forest with the reader, not making any claims to know, or even to want to know all the answers to the mysteries.

line clipartI highly recommend The Forest, and not only for its novelty; for lovers of nature, of journey-making, of wonder; for creatives; for youth and adults alike.

A lovely review (as is expected) over at Brain Pickings

*note: the US cover will not have text, such is the uninterrupted entry that declares no author/creator…an invitation that will speak for itself?

the forest cover 2Riccardo Bozzi was born in Milan in 1966. He is a journalist for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Violeta Lopiz is an illustrator from the Spanish island of Ibiza. Her beautifully textured work is filled with personality and playfulness.

Valerio Vidali is an Italian illustrator based in Berlin. Vidali enjoys botanical gardens and spends his spare time building kites that rarely fly.

Debbie Bibo translated Marianna Coppo’s Petra



community, gardens

The Rough Patch coverThe Rough Patch by Brian Lies. Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018.

Hardcover, 40 pages. 2019 Caldecott Honor Picture book, Ages 4-7

Evan and his dog do everything together. Until “the unthinkable” happened.

The Rough Patch interior 1
interior pages from The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

Lies illustrations are always captivating. You are absolutely taken with the goings-on in every image, moved by the energy, made quiet by any stillness. That scene where “the unthinkable happened,” you feel the heartbreak. It’s everything in the lead-up and that posture, the empty bowl, that resting paw. I couldn’t look away and yet I wanted to immediately turn the page. It felt raw and private and, I mentioned the heartbreak.

What follows is an equally breathtaking portrait of life’s procession without Evan’s dog, of the grief and anger and the nurturing of weeds. Lies use of the garden and the culture of fairs is ripe for storytelling because it’s about seasons, and life, and companionship, and the pleasure and sustenance those things bring.

The Rough Patch interior 2
interior page from The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

Readers of Lies will know to look for those details, the skull drawing, the claws protruding from garden boots and gloves, the delightfulness of human activity in animal-forms.

The Rough Patch is a sweet book. Yeah, it is sad, but it’s too lovely to wait for some “unthinkable” occasion; it’s too brimming with life.

line clipartBrian Lies is the New York Times–bestselling creator of Bats at the BeachBats at the Library, Bats at the Ballgame, and Bats in the Band, and he has written and/or illustrated dozens of other acclaimed books for children. He lives with his family in a small seaside town in Massachusetts, where he tends a big and thriving garden.

When Brian visits 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.


no small thing

Lubna and pebble coverLubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour Illus. Daniel Egnéus

Dial Books, 2019. Hardcover Picture book, 32 pages

Pebble, with its drawn-on eyes and smile, is Lubna’s best friend as they sailed to and arrived at the World of Tents (aka Refugee settlement). Even as her father keeps her close and warm and safe, Lubna keeps Pebble close, warm and safe. Between the two, she seems content. Pebble listens to Lubna’s stories with a comforting smile. Her father is a near constant: close-by, holding her, often smiling. His presence makes the loneliness of Amir’s arrival seem all the more stark.

When Amir arrives to the World of Tents, Lubna will explore and play with him, but Pebble is still her best friend. But once it is time to leave, maybe the boy, Amir, could use Pebble’s friendship more. It is such a generous fare-thee-well gift; the exchange is marvelously sweet.

Lubna and pebble interior
interior pages from Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus

The wide-eyed close up of Lubna admiring her newly found pebble is echoed with Amir; so is her “hello.” There are a number of echoes and a few thematic elements. Egnéus incorporates a lot of plant imagery into the scenes. When Amir arrives, spread out on the ground before him is pomegranate tree in the monochrome of shadows; when we see this rendering again, the tree is in color. Upon arrival, his arms were folded at his chest, empty; the second image has him cradling Pebble in its box. Plant life lurks within vivid hues at the edges and within the expanse of things–a metaphor for human life and resilience. We see plant life appear vibrant against a night sky, even as the two children are silhouettes at play. The plants appear underwater, us amongst them looking upward.

The angle of the illustrations is an intriguing choice. We are most often either at level or looking upward toward Lubna (just shorter than her). There are few overhead. We are kept to some distance, but always close enough and never superior in perspective. I wonder at how this suits the gentle tone the author brings; the angles certainly emphasize the expressive postures of the characters. The rich blue and green tones are soothing; you’re reminded how warm they are when the wintry scenes come to call.

Lubna and pebble interior 3
interior pages from Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus

Lubna and Pebble is a beautiful in color and texture and expression. Meddour will not wax eloquent in order to create emotional impact, she just places her short sentences carefully and chooses her words just as thoughtfully. The absences are noted. For example, Lubna speaks of brothers, but where are they? Why was she arriving on a beach at night? Note the word choices here: Lubna “clutches” her Daddy’s hand and “grips” the pebble; no holding or cradling or hugging. After arriving in a World of Tents, Meddor starts this sentence—”she knew they’d keep her safe”—with “somehow.” There was nothing in the world she’d awoken to that suggests she should feel as safe as she does in that moment; that she could be so certain as to just “know.” The sentence is further complicated in how it follows the sentence where Lubna “clutches” and “grips”…she can’t let go or any certainty or safety will be completely lost to her. Her stability is reliant upon her Daddy and Pebble—which, of course makes her generous gift all the more moving at the end.

Where at the beginning we notice how Lubna is often curled inward, we see her opening in posture and limb with the presence of Amir; until she is handing him a box with the pebble. He holds it “tight.” Lubna is sharing what she can with someone she can empathize with, someone she has come to care for—and it is no small thing, even if it is the size of a pebble. And you are grateful he has it when that final page comes. You are grateful for them both.

line clipartRecommended for all the libraries, and those collections of immigrant/refugee books. for children who understand how treasures and friendships with inanimate objects work (e.g. all children).

Wendy Meddour‘s debut children’s book, A Hen in the Wardrobe, was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for Outstanding First Novel. Wendy is also the author of the Wendy Quill series, which have been translated into over 10 languages. She lives in England.

Daniel Egnéus is a Swedish artist who recently illustrated Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Quartet as well as the picture books Raven Child and the Snow Witch and The Thing. Daniel lives in Athens, Greece.




another coverAnother by Christian Robinson

Atheneum, 2019. Hardcover Picture book, 56pp.

What if you…
encountered another perspective?
Discovered another world?
Met another you?

What might you do?

another interior 2
interior pages from Another by christian robinson

In this textless, mixed-media picture book, a portal opens after bedtime. The mirror image of the red-collared black cat snags the red toy mouse before disappearing back through the portal. The cat and the girl (with a planet on her pajamas) follows it.

another interior 1
interior pages from Another by christian robinson

A topsy-turvy trek takes them to an open space where children play with their counterparts, differentiated only by the color of their clothes or accessories. The children represent different races, cultures, abilities, and personalities/interests. You begin to wonder where our protagonist’s double is?

The blue-collar black cat leads them to the girl’s double who returns the mouse toy and restores the balance. The punchline of the final page is a punctuated smile.

I like the decision to set the story at nighttime when not only the universe becomes more visible, but at time when young readers have been told other planes can be reached: dreamland in particular. It is another space that invites the imagination, possibility, and is less guarded.

Robinson’s offering in Another is one of imagination and wonderment. It’s also an invitation to consider another that could/would function as a counterpart. Where an other isn’t a complete stranger but a potential playmate, friendly companion, someone who shares your interests or values.

The planetary imagery, the repetition of circle, the variety in color all vivid against the expanse of white in the interstitial or the black backdrop of nighttime in the protagonist’s world. Robinson is expressive in his illustrations and confident in his audience’s ability to engage—to be his “another”—rendering text unnecessary.

another under cover
book cover under dust jacket of Another by christian robinson

Below the dust jacket, we see that the circle on the cover (the first letter of Other) is a portal to another place/plane: brilliant attention to detail. Too, we notice those endpapers: the scientific conversation they, her pajamas, and the back cover of the book bring.

Robinson has created a picture book that inspires both the imagination and thought. I hope to see this on the 2019 awards circuit.

line clipartRecommended for all the libraries, for young children’s into grade-school, for STEM and STEAM; bedtimes or classrooms. It may be a nice one to place among stories engaged in conversations of race, immigrants, refugees, gender/sexuality…any one a culture might try to “other.”