I Love Lucy

We don’t buy a lot of books at our house because we really don’t need to – everything we need to read is right here on the WPL shelves or, if we want to dip into something off the beaten path, it can usually come to us through the joys of an interlibrary loan.

Once in a while we do buy books and it is most thrilling if it can come through an interaction with the author. I know, from comments made by authors online, that they enjoy these conversations even though book tours can be exhausting so I try to keep the chats brief but sometimes it is so hard to keep that in mind. A favourite author (maybe I’m obsessed) of mine is returning to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this year and she will be signing copies of her latest book Kid Gloves: nine months of careful chaos and I am buying a copy of that one. Even though I have already read it. I read it straight through the very first day that I picked up my hold and then read it through again. She is that good.

The first Lucy Knisley book I came across was Relish: my life in the kitchen which she published in 2013. I think I found it while I was looking for inspiration in our own mealtime – a constant battle – but found so much more than cheerfully illustrated recipes she includes at the end of each chapter. It’s about Knisley’s relationship with food, complicated but optimistic, and how that is tied up with how she feels about her parents and herself. It’s definitely a helpful reference for a young cook, and includes clever tips with gorgeous illustrations, but it’s the kind of book that mixes facts with autobiographical references so a reader can use it as a chance to reflect on their own relationships with family and food. The two are inextricably linked and Knisley uses a combination of humour and honesty to make this clear. She will make you think, enjoy your meals more, possibly try something new, and you might even connect differently with family members.

Relish was such an unusually pleasant book – a great mix of comfort and challenge – that I went to the catalogue to see if we had anything else from this author and I was thrilled to find an earlier book she wrote called French Milk. In this graphic novel Knisley is celebrating her 22nd birthday while her mother is celebrating her 50th. They head to Paris to enjoy the beauty and food of the city they both love. It’s a wonderful travel journal because she includes photographs as well as her own illustrations of their six week journey but it is also a poignant story of a mother and daughter. A story that is sometimes difficult – all mother-daughter relationships have some tension, right? Travel just brings it into focus for both. The author brings the same honesty to this novel that she did to Relish and you really do ache for her as she describes disagreements with her mother, the turmoil of her own romantic life, and what she is feeling as she realizes that it is time for her to become an adult.

Knisley hits adulthood at high speed in Displacement: a travelogue which is another travel journal but entirely different French Milk. In this novel she volunteers to go on a ten-day cruise with her grandparents. Both grandparents are in their 90s when this trip happens and, wishing that she had more time to spend with them, Knisley decides this is the perfect time to bond and maybe ask her grandfather some questions she has about his WWII memoir. She is also realistic about the possibility of the trip becoming the topic of another graphic novel.

Early in the book Knisley describes the trip as possibly being “comedy gold”, “a bonding trip with my grands”, “a frustration fest”, “a worrisome glimpse into decadent first-world irresponsible luxury”, “a depressing insight into my grands’ deteriorating health”? And then she answers herself with “all of the above”? It turns out that she is right. It is possible to laugh while reading this book but the realities of caring for her grandparents gives Knisley constant anxiety throughout the trip and even her cheer falters more than once. This book can hit very close to home if your life has ever taken you down the path of caring for an elderly relative or friend and if that hasn’t been your experience I’d suggest you pick it up for the chance to see and feel it as close to first-hand as possible. Well, experience it while trapped on a ten-day cruise.

Turning to the other end of the life cycle Lucy Knisley published (after considerable excitement online) her latest book Kid Gloves. This book is getting a lot of attention from librarians and book reviewers – it has joined many of her other books by making it onto the New York Times Best Seller List – debuting at #13! Kid Gloves is a memoir of her experience with fertility, conception, pregnancy and the first few days with her child (she calls him ‘Pal’ in an effort to give the baby some privacy) and it is raw and so honest. As she has done with her previous novels she chooses to blend her autobiographical storyline with something ‘more’ and this time she is taking on the mounds of misinformation in history and science about reproductive health. She weaves in some fascinating and important facts while battling misconceptions that are worth attacking.

Kid Gloves is a book that could be on a reading list for expectant parents, health-care professionals and anyone who supports them. So, it’s a book for everyone. I wish you could reach down under your chair right now and find a copy of this book. Like Oprah used to do. “You get a book! You get a book! You get a book!!” A fan favourite at book signings because she goes the extra mile for readers, Knisley included a playlist for this novel on her website – it even includes Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine” from Waitress. Perfection. I really can’t wait to meet this author and try to act cool about it. If you can’t make it to TCAF2019 you can read her books and meet her that way. Reading is a great way to make a new friend.

— Penny M.

March Break Reads

There are thousands (and thousands and thousands) of great junior fiction books just waiting to be read on March Break. Here’s my Top 4.

Missing Mike by Shari Green

Missing Mike is a love story between a little girl and her canine best friend Mike. Mike Wazowski isn’t much to look at. Mike has one eye, an ear-and-a-half, four legs and a tail. He’s named after the one-eyed green monster from Monsters Inc. At the breeders he sat at the back of cage, behind a pile of adorable puppies, probably because he didn’t think anyone would want him. But one little girl did. She saw something special in him. You see, Mike is a survivor. He came from somewhere but got lost and ended up in a fight with coyotes. That’s how he lost his eye (and half an ear). However, Mike didn’t give up. He was eventually found and came to live with Cara Donovan and her family in Pine Grove.

When the story opens, it is summer. It’s been hot and dry. The smell of wildfire starts to settle over Pine Grove and the town is put on evacuation alert. When the flames grow closer Cara’s family has only ten minutes to pack and flee from the approaching fire. In the midst of the commotion, Mike disappears. There is no time to look for him. Once her family makes it to safety, the heartbroken and guilt-ridden Cara makes a plan to go back and search for her best friend.

Missing Mike brings up a lot of questions. What makes a home? Is it four walls and a roof? Is it the people we love the most? Or is a home simply a feeling of comfort and safety? Or is it a combination of all three? To eleven-year-old Cara, a home means only one thing – her dog.

The story is full of emotion and had me tearing up on more than one occasion. The love Cara has for Mike is pure and genuine and you can’t help but get pulled into her desperation to find him. It is written in verse which makes it quick to read but also adds to the beauty of the story. Missing Mike is a Silver Birch Award Nominee and definitely has my vote for Best Junior Fiction Book.

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn

Krista is comfortable in her own skin. She is a third-generation Korean-Canadian who wears jeans and t-shirts and always has her hair in a ponytail. Her best friend is a reddish-brown headed boy named Jason. She is happy with things the way they are. The problem is everyone else seems to think she needs to be someone else. Her grandma wants her to wear nice shoes and style her hair. Her new friends want her to dress fashionably and gossip. Things get more complicated when her fifth grade teacher assigns a heritage project. Her family’s roots are in Korea but her parents were born in Canada. They don’t even speak Korean at home.

Krista Kim-Bap is a very rich book that covers a variety of issues. Identity is a large theme in the book, but it also opens up a lot of discussion about family, friendship, culture and even cuisine. Krista is a very relatable character, especially to anyone who wasn’t the ‘favourite’ child growing up. I admired her confidence and ability to stay true to herself. I look forward to sharing this book with our young customers.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

No Fixed Address tackles the issue of hidden homelessness. When we think of “homeless” we tend to think of people sleeping on the street but homelessness is not always so obvious. It can be people with no permanent home who are living with family, staying in motels or relying on shelters.

Felix and his mother, Astrid, live in a van. They used to live in a condo. Then it was an apartment. Then they moved into a basement apartment. Astrid held two jobs but ended up losing both of them. Unexpected expenses came up with no extra money to cover them and pretty soon they didn’t have enough money for rent. Felix and Astrid stayed with friends for a time but ultimately ended up calling a Westfalia van home.

Life at school for Felix is difficult. He doesn’t always get to shower. He doesn’t always get enough to eat. He has to make up excuses to his best friends about why they can’t hang out at his ‘house’. But things start to look up when he auditions for the junior edition of “Who, What, Where, When” (similar to Jeopardy). If he wins, the prize money could mean putting a real roof over their heads for the first time in months.

Author Susin Nielsen, brings up another overlooked issue of homelessness: it’s not just individuals who are affected – whole families can be without a permanent place to live. Set in Vancouver, there are plenty of Canadian references woven into the story. It was a light and enjoyable read but with lots of room for discussion.

Sparks! by Ian Boothby

Sparks ComicI fell in love with Sparks! on the first page. This graphic novel is about two cats that save the world while dressed in a robotic dog suit. You see, the hero felines quickly learn that no one really trusts a cat. However, everyone does trust a dog. So the cats create a dog suit. August is the dog suit inventor. Charlie is the dog suit pilot. Together, they battle an evil alien who takes the form of a human baby. Oh, and their story is told from the point of view of their litter box.

Before they became heroes, August and Charlie were held prisoner and used as test subjects for scientific experiments. As a result, they develop super powers. They escape. August uses her super intelligence to design “Sparks” the super dog and their quest to save lives begins.

August and Charlie have an ‘odd couple’ type of relationship. August is an intellectual indoor cat. Charlie is a courageous outdoor cat. Their personality clashes make for some great dialogue.

Sparks! is pure fun and even the most reluctant readers will have a good time reading it. It’s just so off the wall, you can’t help but smile.

— Lesley L.

Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.

Ethel & Ernest

Now here’s a real charmer for you. By turns sweet, sad and funny, the animated film Ethel & Ernest will steal your heart.

I looked for this recently-made animated film at the local theatres, but didn’t spot it playing anywhere. So when a fellow library worker mentioned it had just come into WPL, I was thrilled! And I was not disappointed.

PEOPLE-PROD-Ethel-and-ErnestEthel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name by renowned children’s writer/illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, and many others) and pays affectionate tribute to Briggs’s real life parents. Ethel and Ernest are working-class Londoners who meet in 1928 and stay together until their deaths in 1971.

The movie consists of little vignettes of daily family life, told against the backdrop of changing times. The days of the Second World War are particularly fraught. The parents argue over whether to evacuate young Raymond to the countryside (“Over my dead body!” wails Ethel. “No, it will be his dead body.” counters Ernest), the family’s house and street are damaged by bombs and Ernest, working as a volunteer fireman, is utterly overcome by the destruction he has witnessed.

Ethel & Ernest packs a lot of emotion, but in an understated, maybe English, kind of way. I was a bit surprised at how involved I became with the characters, something I didn’t expect from an animated film. Watching Ethel & Ernest age and their health decline and then pass away, well, it is moving.

So yes, check out Ethel & Ernest. You might also want to have a look at the graphic novel (published in 1998). It is every bit as lovely as the DVD.

— Penny D.