The Whale in my Swimming Pool by Joyce Wan

Whale in Pool

I discovered Joyce Wan‘s adorable, charming board books not long before I had the Imp and they were a staple of his babyhood. We still read them sometimes, especially the yummy You Are My Cupcake. So I was delighted when I found out that she was writing her first full-length picture book! I love her style, which she describes on her website: “I am inspired by Japanese pop culture, Scandinavian design, modern architecture, and everyday things that make me smile. In my perfect world everything would be cute, round, and chubby.” Hey, that’s my perfect world, too!

This is a whale of a book for summer reading, with large, cute, cartoon-like illustrations and a fun story. I just love the whale – as you can see from the cover, he’s so happy and content to hang out in the tiny pool. He’s such a mellow whale. The little boy’s increasing frustration and attempts to get the whale out of the pool are funny and a compromise in the end makes everyone happy… until the boy discovers another creature has taken over inside the house. There are some touches that make it fun for grown-ups, too, including a shark fin in the pool next door and his mother’s completely oblivious response when he tells her about his dilemma. Even the endpapers are charming, with the whale at the beginning and the new animal nuisance at the end.

I’m definitely looking forward to more large-scale stories from Wan – maybe a winter one for next Christmas! 🙂

Library Fairy by Rebecca BenderReviewed by The Library Fairy

(review copy from library).


Sometimes I Like to Curl up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill, Illustrated by Charles Fuge

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Paul Fuge and Vicki Churchill

Sometimes I Like to Curl up in a Ball is a beautifully illustrated board book that’s both fun and sweet. Each page is a delightful exploration of all the things Little Wombat likes to do:

Sometimes I like to jump high as I can, to see how much noise I can make when I land… Sometimes I like to stand still as a tree, and watch everyone rush around about me.

The energy and activity in the story is fluid and fresh, moving with ease from one moment to the next, but not always in the most expected ways (“Sometimes I like to scream ever so loud, Not that I’m cross, I just like how it sounds.”) Little Wombat can get up to some busy, noisy, and messy play but it’s all good-natured, honest exploration and delight in new discovery. I like that Little Wombat finds equal fun in “standing still” and in “running ever so fast” and that Little Wombat acknowledges “I sometimes come first, but I sometimes come last.”

There’s one spot where I feel the text loses its strength, where I’ve often been thrown off rhythm when reading out loud, but I’ve learned to remedy this by omitting a word (“Sometimes I like to just walk round and round, I pigeon step, pigeon step, till I fall down.”) I must confess that I also say ‘until’ rather than ’till’. For me, this makes for a better read.

Apart from the text, the illustrations offer extra layers of story–particularly in the area of Little Wombat’s relationships. Here we meet his friends and see how they participate in– or are effected by–Little Wombat’s antics. Charles Fuge flawlessly infuses humour and beauty into the story bringing to life the most meaningful moments.

Whatever activity occurs in a day, when the sun starts to fall Little Wombat does what he does best of all: he “finds somewhere soft, somewhere cozy and small and that’s where [he] like to curl up in a ball.” And that, of course, is at home nestled in the arms of Mama.

My primary appreciation of this book is that it helped make a book-lover out of my resistant reader. Granted, my daughter was young–not yet two– but she would push away books whenever we tried to read with her. I began to wonder if this would be a long-term tendency and (honestly) became a little lazy with my efforts, waiting for her to be the one to express interest. Her dad, however, persisted. Instead of trying to simply read the book (which she’d push away) he had our son come and act out what Little Wombat did. As my husband read, my son would curl up, jump, land, scream, walk in circles, fall down, stand still, poke out his tongue, make funny faces, mime a mess of his hands and chest, run fast, and finally curl up in a cuddle. My daughter loved this! And it was our daily routine until she eventually opened up to all sorts of stories.

My kids have since grown beyond board books, but this one remains on our shelf and still comes out every once and a while. It’s a keeper.

Reading in the Woods by Rebecca BenderReviewed by K.C. Darling

(review copy personally purchased).



The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher

The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larson
The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher

This picture book tells the story of Theo and her grandfather, who have always loved gardening together. When Poppa’s move to an apartment forces change, they find a creative and colourful way to transform his new balcony into an imaginary garden. When Poppa has to be away for a while, he leaves Theo in charge. She not only tends the garden, but adds a thoughtful surprise.

Things I love about this book:

I love the close relationship between Theo and her grandfather. I love that they take pleasure in facing the challenge of the missing garden. I love the touches of humour, like when Poppa buys them new gardening hats to wear as they work on painting their imaginary garden. Or when Poppa announces spring’s arrival by painting a robin, which Theo promptly feeds by painting a worm.

I love that Theo is empowered by her grandfather’s trust in her ability to both tend the garden according to plan, and to listen to her own heart and discern what needs done. I love that, in this age of instant gratification, their project takes time to complete, and I love Irene Luxbacher’s illustrations, which capture the feel of the story so well. And I also love the way gentle everyday teaching is completely integral to the story. (NOT cleverly hidden, just naturally there.)

For example, when Theo and her grandfather begin to paint they start with the garden’s back wall, because “the vines will need to hold onto something as they reach for the sun.” Later Poppa teaches Theo to mix black and white paint to make gray for the bricks. Similarly he describes how to make brown for the soil. BUT the story does not suddenly get dropped or side-lined in favour of a plant physiology class or colour blending lesson with example after example. Ideas are introduced only to the extent they are part of the story.

In a similar way, we learn a bit about what order spring flowers appear in, and what colours and shapes they are. When the spring robin “appears” it is revealed step by step as Poppa uses simple shapes and brush strokes to create it. A slightly older child might like to try following those steps to make their own robin.

In that way I think this book is especially wonderful for reading when there are slightly older and younger children listening at the same time. A younger child could follow the story, while an older one might find lots to think about besides just the story itself. The book would also lend itself as an introduction to a variety of activities (painting, planting seeds, going for a walk to look for and name spring flowers, learning about bird migration etc.)

Is The Imaginary Garden perfect? Of course not. That’s another one of the things I love about it.

Turtle by Rebecca BenderReviewed by Susan Jean

(review copy from personal library).

Put on Your Shoes by Dan Stiles


Put on Your Shoes by Dan Stiles

When I read a review of this board book that mentioned Stiles’ retro-modern art style, I knew I wanted to see it. I asked for it to be ordered for the library.

Bringing Put on Your Shoes! home, I suspected that I’d like it more than the Imp. I was ready for his signature shove-away move. But to my surprise, he loved it! It became such a favourite that we had to buy our own copy. He was in a shoe-obsessed phase at the time, so that made it even better! We’re still at the point where we put the Imp’s shoes on for him, so we don’t have the “Put on your shoes”/”No!” battle too much, but I’m sure that we will very soon and you can tell that Stiles has had this struggle himself.

As I expected, I do love the retro style and bright colours. It’s a very cool-looking book that appeals to adults as well as little ones. I love that it shows the child’s wild imagination (one of the reasons she can’t put on her shoes is that she’s caught in a tornado) and the parents’ patience with her. The big people in the family are shown from the toddler’s point of view, that is, only their legs and feet. The humour and here-we-go-again ending are such fun and there’s lots to see in the illustrations. The Imp loves to point out the rug (or rather, “wug”) on each page and little details like a frog and a tornado-tossed car.

Stiles has a new board book out called Today I’m Going to Wear… and I can’t wait to get my hands on it as well!

Reviewed by The Library FairyLibrary Fairy by Rebecca Bender

(review copy personally purchased).

Fox Walked Alone by Barbara Reid

Fox Walked Alone by Barbara Reid

Fox Walked Alone is one of my favourite books. The Plasticine pictures look like they come off the page. I like how more and more animals keep coming into the story. I also like how Fox finds a partner at the end. I hope Barbara Reid writes another story about Fox and his family.

Reviewed by Eagan


I clearly remember my first encounter with Barbara Reid’s Fox Walked Alone. I was at an author/illustrator’s breakfast hosted by the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable. Barbara was a featured guest speaker. Standing at the book table, I was drawn to its title and captivated by the cover image of a stunning red fox etched out of Plasticine, of all things. Without any further context for the story I began to read:

Night after night, Fox walked alone,

Came home to a bed made of feather and bone.

He hunted at night and slept through the day,

Fox walked alone, he liked it that way.

However, when Fox wakes up he senses something strange. Then animal after animal begins to journey past him. At first, Fox follows at a distance and safely out-of-sight, wondering what’s going on. But as the story progresses so does Fox’s sense of urgency.

Fox walked until his paws were sore–

He’d never walked so far before…

The sky was odd, the wind was wrong.

Fox thought he’d better tag along.

From the first page through to the last, I am caught up in the mystery. What’s going on? I feel compelled, like Fox, to follow. And by the end of the book, a narrative I know so well (Noah’s Ark) is fused with new life and energy, wonder and expectation.

After countless readings with my kids, Fox Walked Alone never fails to stir this skin-tingling anticipation within me. I’m tempted to keep talking (and raving!) about the book, but I will leave off discussion of some of my other favourite components of the story, such as the ravens and the doves, in order to allow you to discover and experience this wonderfully rich, multi-layered narrative on your own terms. It is one of those rare gems, a must-buy book.

Needless to say, I love this story! (And after reading Eagan’s review I realize, for him, it’s also very much a love story).

Reading in the Woods by Rebecca BenderReviewed by K.C. Darling

(review copy personally purchased).

Where Did Bunny Go? by Nancy Tafuri

Where Did Bunny Go?

Where Did Bunny Go? is a really great book for the right age group and I love the plot. In the story Bunny and Bird are best friends and love to play, but when Bird doesn’t know where Bunny is the story takes a turn for the worst.

I thought the pictures were very detailed and cute.

If I wrote this book I would change a few things. For example, I would give all the characters names.

The thing I most liked was the character Bird. She was kind and cute and she got so worried when Bunny was lost. Where Did Bunny Go? is a good book.Elephant by Rebecca Bender

Reviewed by Erin

(review copy from personal library).


I think Erin really nailed it when she said “this is a really great book for the right age group.” The book is wonderful for kids aged approx. 2-4, who need a simply told story but are ready for the “complexity” of a problem rooted in relationship and misunderstanding. They would also need to be at the stage where they can, in a basic way, picture things from the perspective of different characters. (Not in a deep or profound way, but enough to understand why Bird can’t see Bunny even though they can.)

The illustrations are gentle and appealing, and simple enough to help keep the focus on the main events of the story.

Our kids loved to read this book over and over again, and enjoyed being “in the know” when Bird struggled to find her friend, though this enjoyment was tempered by their sympathy for her upset and an eagerness to get to the page where things are resolved.

Will You Be My Friend?I am embarrassed to admit that in all the years this book has been on our shelf, and the dozens and dozens of times I’ve read it, it was only as I sat down to respond to Erin’s review that I noticed Where Did Bunny Go? is actually a sequel to another story called Will You Be My Friend?.

Turtle by Rebecca Bender

Reviewed by Susan Jean

(review copy from personal library).

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Please Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

There seems to be a trend these days towards slightly edgy picture books and I approve! So do many of my colleagues. The best example is probably I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, which was a smash hit a few years back and remains a favourite with just about every children’s library person I know.

Please, Mr. Panda is another such title. Released January 2015, it was immediately put into our storytime cupboard at work. We also had to order an additional copy for the public. It’s deceptively simple. The illustrations are large and mostly black and white, the only colour comes from Mr. Panda’s box of doughnuts, which makes it visually interesting and makes you really want a doughnut. (It actually took me about 3 readings to realize this, that all of the animals were black and white creatures!) Mr. Panda is adorably grumpy and he’s not about to give his pastries away to any animals who aren’t polite. Every animal who doesn’t ask nicely is told “No, you cannot have a doughnut. I have changed my mind.”

I’ve read this book for at least four storytimes and the kids always guess right away that the animals are denied doughnuts because they’re not saying please. When a cheerful lemur finally does use the magic word, he gets the whole box and we learn that Mr. Panda isn’t quite as altruistic as he seemed. The ending, like the disappearance of the rabbit in I Want My Hat Back, is usually only really gotten by the adults and older kids, but younger ones definitely enjoy knowing that the animals should say please. And the artwork is terrific, particularly the crying orca whale.

This book won’t be for everyone – I’ve seen some bad Amazon reviews because Mr. Panda himself isn’t overly polite while teaching manners – but for families with a quirky sense of humour who don’t take things too seriously, it’s a hoot.

Library Fairy by Rebecca Bender

Reviewed by The Library Fairy

(review copy borrowed from the library).