Mr. King’s Things

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MR. KING’S THINGS – view on Amazon

by Geneviève Coté; published (2012) by Kids Can Press

Let’s talk recycling. Another lesson for Mr. King (of Mr. King’s Castle) who likes NEW things.  LOTS of new things.  As soon as anything gets old, he tosses the old thing into the pond.  In goes a teapot, a tuba, a chair.  Splash goes the wheelbarrow, and this and that.  When Mr. King isn’t buying NEW things (or tossing away the old) the pond is a peaceful place for fishing.  But …. Mr. King is almost rocked out of his boat by a  sudden tug…

….Up comes the scariest-looking thing Mr. King has EVER seen!

Though he doesn’t  know it yet, it’s a colossal  jumble of all the things he’s ever thrown away.  A colossal CLUMP!   What a catch!  And a catch for his furry friends, as well.

“Look!” says Skit. “We found a table, a teapot, six chairs, a tuba…”

“…and we saved some nice things for you!” says Skat.

Mr. King is embarrassed.  He eyes his old things in a whole NEW light.  He has ideas to make NEW things out of the old.  And everyone is happy, and so am I.

This is a fresh and cheerful book with a worthwhile message, and a good one to recommend.


Mr. King’s Castle

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MR. KING’S CASTLE – view on Amazon

by Geneviève Coté; published (2013) by Kids Can Press

An environmentally conscious theme about Mr. King who likes BIG things.

Mr. King lives on top of a BIG hill; he wants to build a BIG castle. The bigger the better. Chop! Chop!  Chop!  Mr. King has chopped down the BIG hill on which he lives, block by block. But at his BIG castle window….

“Hmm… there isn’t much of a view,” says Mr. King.

There isn’t much of a hill, either.  It’s gone and his friends aren’t happy!

“What happened to my favourite napping spot?” says Harriet.

“Where are the flowers?” wonders Old Jim Elk.

“What happened to the grass I eat?” asks P.J. 

“…where’s our secret stash of nuts?” cry Skit and Skat.

Everyone is staring at Mr. King looking on from his BIG, BIG window.  Suddenly, he isn’t feeling big at all.  And he’ll have to make a BIG decision, one that saves the day.

Good job, Mr. King!  Good job by author Geneviève Coté, too, bringing home this all important message. No preachiness, just plain sweetness and fun with the utmost simplicity.  Mr. King, all smug smiles and innocence, is adorable.

Amongst her many other wins, Geneviève has won the Governor General’s Award for illustration (Canada’s highest honor).

Click here for Geneviève’s website.

Read an excerpt of Mr. King’s Castle at Kids Can Press (one of my favourite publishers) or here, at Amazon.



Loula is Leaving for Africa

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by Anne Villeneuve; published (2013) by Kids Can Press

Once in a while a gem comes along, like LOULA IS LEAVING FOR AFRICA, by Anne Villeneuve. Tender and sensitive, touching and tasteful, sparse and balanced, it is, in my opinion, a perfect book.

Loula is leaving for Africa, getting as far away as possible from her three mean, horrible, stinky brothers.

“Just don’t catch a cold,” says her opera singer mom.

“…don’t come home too late,” says her absent-minded dad.

But Africa, as it turns out, isn’t so very far away – it’s in the front lawn, up in a tree.  The most wonderful family chauffeur possible, Gilbert, plays up to Loula’s imagination perfectly.

“But Mademoiselle Loula, first you have to take a ship,”  he says (meaning the family car), “or else you will never get to Africa.” 

“Okay then, I’ll take a ship,” says Loula.

“Good.  Do you have your ticket?”  says he.

“No… but I have my best drawing.  Will that do?”  says Loula.

“It will do just fine,” declares Gilbert.

And it is a long trip.  They’ll have to cross a jungle (park), ignoring the enormous snake in the tree, of course.  They’ll have to make do with simple ostrich egg soufflé and grasshopper sandwich (ice cream) and cross a desert (a sandbox) and take a plane (a seesaw) and ferry across the park pond where they will sip Loula’s make-believe tea from a mini tea set tucked away in her suitcase.  The African sunset is glorious, orange and grand…

“They have the nicest sunsets in Africa,”  murmurs Gilbert.

Gently he coaxes little Loula back home.  Gently, one exquisite line and amusing, tender image after another, I was coaxed into this story too, with a feeling of wonder at this beautiful book.  I cannot imagine anyone being indifferent to it.

Bone Button Borscht

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by Aubrey Davis; illustrated by Dusan Petricic; published (1995) by Kids Can Press

Did I say Aubrey Davis  is the best reteller of tales?  I’m saying it!  And he is!

BONE BUTTON BORSCHT is a retelling of Stone Soup with a Yiddish twist.  A lovely book. The  message is excellent, the writing sparse, clean, strong.  An absolute gem.

On a dark winter’s night a ragged beggar hobbles along.  It’s snowy and bitter cold, and there’s a little town at the bottom of a hill.

…  “Ah, there is nothing like being a beggar,” he thinks. “Such good it brings out in people. They share. They give. And me?  I get a little something too. It’s perfect!”

But the town he finds is a stark and silent town. Everywhere he knocks, he’s sent away.  He follows a line of light in the snow, to a synagogue. The caretaker, the shamas, huddled in a corner, won’t talk or respond, so the beggar has an idea. He grabs at the bone buttons on his coat and he  tugs. Tchk! Tchk! Tchk! Tchk! Tchk!  Five buttons!

“Oy,” says the beggar, loudly,  “IF ONLY I HAD ONE MORE BUTTON!”

“Oy,” says the beggar, louder,  “IF ONLY I HAD ONE MORE BUTTON!”

“OY,” …….!”

The shamas says, Nobody in this town will give you a button….. we’re poor, Mr. Beggar. We don’t give to each other any more.  So why should we give even a button to a stranger?”

“Why? Because with one more button,” says the beggar, I could make us a soup.  I could make a nice hot borscht.”

Well, the shamas is curious to see this miracle. The townsfolk are curious to see the miracle. And if you know Stone Soup, then you know what happens next. The townsfolk, bit by bit, are each finessed into giving a little something for their soup – in this case, for their bone button borscht. They give a little sugar and a little salt, some pepper and garlic and carrots and beets. And while everyone is gathered around for the miracle, the miracle is already happening.

Though they eat and they laugh and they make a great deal of merry, the miracle is not the borscht and they don’t need a single button to make a soup. In times of scarcity, they need each other. And that, writes Davis, is “.. the real miracle the beggar left behind.”

So you probably know Stone Soup.  And so many other versions.  But this one is truly delicious.

Simply Ridiculous

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SIMPLY RIDICULOUSby Virginia Davis; illustrated by Russ Willms; published (1995) by Kids Can Press

When I first read this book, way back in 1995, I was utterly wowed by it.  Reading it again yesterday, I wasn’t so utterly wowed.  I wasn’t even slightly wowed.  I was surprised by the ridiculousness of its plot and its silly, simply ridiculous characters.  Yes, I know that’s the whole idea, but I think it was just a tad too ridiculous.

So why write about it?  Because (she said, sheepishly)  I still like it!  I like its illustrations and I like the writing and, even though every twist and turn of the story is rather predictable, it did keep me reading.

It’s a story about Willy and his wife who are about to have a child.  Willy is a rather silly man, as the story goes, and here’s how the story goes:

In a village, far, far away, there lived a young man who was sometimes a little silly.  One day his wife came to him and said, “Willy, we’re going to have a child.”

“Oh, wife,” Willy cried happily, “what kind of a child will we have?”

“Well, husband, I don’t know,” she replied.

“You don’t know?” grumbled Willy.  He thought for a time and said, “But I want to know now.  I will go to see the Wise Old Man. He will tell me.”

The wise old man takes a jar of beans and throws the beans to the ground.  Hmmm… ohhh…..ahhh..:  “You will have either a girl or a boy,” he predicts.  Saw it coming, didn’t you?  Ridiculous!  Anyway, Willy’s elated and, sure enough, the baby is born and it’s a boy.  A boy without a name because they can’t choose a name that’s good enough.

‘I must go again to see the Wise Old Man.  He will tell us the name of our child,” says Willy.

The old man whispers the name into Willy’s palm and he closes it.  Silly Willy runs happy but – woe is he! –  he trips on a stubble of corn, the hand comes open and the special name is gone!  He gathers the strongest (why the strongest? is he just being ridiculous?) men in the village to help the search.  The strongest men in the village can’t find it but an old woman comes wobbling along.

“Oh, old woman, this has been the worst day of my life,”  cries Willy.

Will the old woman find the forgotten name?  She will!  And you can bet it’s simply ridiculous!

You will find this old book still sold on

And you can see Russ Willms’ really cool illustrations portfolio:  here.

A Hen for Izzy Pippik

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A HEN FOR IZZY PIPPIK –  View on Amazon

by Aubrey Davis; illustrated by Marie Lafrance; published (2012) by Kids Can Press 

The first thing that attracted me to this book was its title – what a great name, Izzy Pippik!  What clinched it is when I saw its author – Aubrey Davis.  I just had to get my hands on it.  A retelling from “the Babylonian Talmud and the Hadith of the Prophet Mohammed”, Aubrey Davis, an excellent writer, is in my opinion the best reteller of tales there is.

Who knew, in Shaina’s town, where times are tough and people have little to spend, that a hen come pecking at Shaina’s toe is about to turn things around?

BEEYAK! A hen of emerald feathers and golden speckles!  Shaina finds a sign which reads:  IZZY PIPPIK:  CHICKENS AND EGGS.

“We can’t eat her!” she tells her parents.  “She belongs to Izzy Pippik!”

Everyone waits for Izzy.  Months pass, but no Izzy to claim the hen.  No Izzy to claim its eggs. Or its chicks. Or their chicks, or their chicks.  And in the meanwhile, Shaina’s mama is disgruntled, and the townsfolk, hot and hungry, eye the hundreds of chickens flapping around in the market.  But Shaina holds firm. They are Izzy Pippik’s chickens.

She is labelled “a hard-headed nuisance,” but drawn to the sight of such a flock, curious sightseers roll in by the busload.  They leave with shopping bags bursting with merchandise.  This is great business!  The townsfolk change their tune.

“Your chickens make us so happy,” they sing.  What a shock when Izzy Pippik arrives!

“Please don’t take our chickens! They’ve brought us such good fortune!” they holler.

Whose chickens are they?  The town’s or Izzy’s?

Ilustrated in soft greens and blues by Quebec illustrator Marie Lafrance, she’s created a fresh and appealing world, a nice complement to a gentle tale about doing the right thing even when it isn’t popular.


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SPORKView on Amazon

by Kyo Maclear;  illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault;  Published (2010) by Kids Can Press

He had a mum and a dad who both thought he was perfect just the way he was.  But Spork stuck out. In his kitchen, forks were forks and spoons were spoons.  Cutlery customs were followed closely.  Mixing was uncommon.  Naturally, there were rule breakers:  knives who loved chopsticks, tongs who married forks.  But such families were unusual.

That’s how the book begins.  Spork, about an odd piece of cutlery who is neither fork nor spoon and just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the cutlery world, is just great.  The idea of a ‘spork’ is delicious and original whereas the theme, well, not so much because it’s the usual protagonist can’t-fit-in-until-his-difference-turns-out-to-be-a-good-thing-for-someone kind of a story.  But I like the warmth and the quality of the writing and it’s illustrations meet my ‘two a’s” and “two e’s”  criteria:  amusing and adorable, exciting and expressive.

Alluding to biracial ethnicity and finding an identity in a world of sameness, it’s a story that  anyone who has ever felt out of place for any reason at all can relate to and, hey, who hasn’t?  Humourous and touching, sweet and smart, what a good idea – a spork!  (You had to think of it.)

Author Kyo Maclear, by the way, is a spork herself, born of a British dad and a Japanese mum.  Spork was her first picture book and in that respect, a delightfully respectable first.