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This is the Boat that Ben Built Reviews

Posted on December 13th, 2021 by pajamapress

CM Magazine

“Montreal-born artist Maggie Zeng has filled the pages with digitally-produced illustrations which show a tranquil waterway flanked by inviting woodlands. Misty tones dominated by green and peach may at first seem to make the outing appear to be a child’s perfect dream. But wait: readers can see that Mom and the family pooch are following along, continually watching from the bank as Ben floats, dips a bucket, naps and uses his binoculars to spy something that needs more careful examination. (And – safety first! – he is seen to be wearing a life jacket throughout). All of the animals are brought to life by the active poses that have been employed which let readers know this a fully-realized adventure. One of the most engaging spreads shows Ben leaning over the side of the little boat with a scoop net while all around fish big and small rush through the bubbling teal water.

Extensive back matter discusses the ecosystem of a northern river and offers a page of information about each of the animals introduced in the body of the text.

This Is the Boat That Ben Built is a collaboration that exudes a sense of happiness. It is the meeting of pleasant story and informative nonfiction that will be useful in primary classroom and library collections.”

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YA Books Central

“What I loved: The illustrations are really lovely and capture the river and its animals in a way that is sure to appeal to children. The buildable story is great for toddlers and preschoolers who will appreciate the repetition and understanding the way that things begin to relate to each other in the story. There is a lot of simplicity to this story that works perfectly for this age group. The backmatter is a nice addition, with some additional context and basic facts about the animals.

The font is easy to read, and I appreciated that the color changes as needed with the background to make it easier to see. Although the story builds, the amount of text on each page is relatively brief, making the pages turn quickly, which is great for the youngest of picture book readers. With the backmatter, this would work well for classrooms or at home learning about ecosystems, animals, and the ways in which we interact with them….

Final verdict: A beautifully illustrated picture book, THIS IS THE BOAT THAT BEN BUILT is a fun, buildable story that teaches about river animals and ecosystems.”

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Birds on Wishbone Street Reviews

Posted on September 21st, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews Starred Review

“Del Rizzo illustrates with elaborate clay modeling combined with other media; the three-dimensional look ignites interest and gives the pictures a special warmth. The story centers care for others and nature as well as focusing on people’s shared humanity. While it does not detail Sami’s refugee experience or the various backgrounds of Wishbone Street’s diverse community, its content provides many possible openings for further learning and discussion. The diverse protagonists are all capable, resourceful individuals who may be sad sometimes but have an immense ability to enjoy life.

An exquisite book, in content and illustration, about love, movement, and shared humanity: a keeper.”

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Publishers Weekly

“Maureen, also known as Moe, a light-skinned Irish Canadian child, narrates this warm slice-of-life picture book, which portrays the developing friendship between Moe and Sami, a light brown–skinned new neighbor from Syria, as they bond over a shared interest in birds. Moe meets daily with young neighbors Mei, cued East Asian, and her brother Omari, who reads as Black, as well as adult residents. Del Rizzo’s colloquial prose emphasizes collective pursuits, as Moe compares bird-related treasures (“multi-colored feathers… and bird leg-bands too”) and includes Sami in wintry activities.”

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The Horn Book Magazine

“Del Rizzo’s illustrations are made with polymer clay and paint, achieving a realistic variety of skin tones and a vibrant, three-dimensional quality. She uses the clay to create lots of textures such as the knitting on hats and mittens, as well as natural elements like snowflakes and trees, and she provides varied perspectives. The story is loving and gently paced, with the two children coming together to rescue a cardinal we have already seen in several pictures, each sacrificing a treasure to do it. An author’s note includes instructions for making suet bird feeders and pouches woven from twigs for winter bird shelters.”

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CM Magazine

Birds on Wishbone Street is a heartwarming story that brings forth the importance of simple things in life, such as treating one another with kindness and embracing the treasures that nature has to offer. It ends with a simple recipe for bird suet treats and winter roosting pockets which provide birds with food and shelter during the winter months. Additionally, author Suzanne Del Rizzo provides an “Author’s Note” with the backstory of her real-life experiences leading to the inspiration for this picture book.

The story, itself, is beautiful, but the immaculately detailed illustrations are worthy of their own praise. Del Rizzo creates exquisite, three-dimensional illustrations using polymer clay art, acrylic glaze, and other mixed media. The blending of colours, fine textured details, and other creative varieties of dimensional layers, arrangements, and perspectives are awe-inspiring.

Del Rizzo is a New York Times Notable author/illustrator who published My Beautiful Birds in 2017 and Skink on the Brink as her first picture book. A scientific researcher turned children’s book author and illustrator, she brings rich imagination to her award-winning literature.”

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BookPage

“Del Rizzo’s unique art adds dimension to the book’s warm, welcoming neighborhood scenes. She creates illustrations with polymer clay, acrylic glaze and other mixed media, giv­ing depth and texture to each page. Snowflakes truly seem to float in the winter sky, and the blanket used to swaddle the cardinal has realistic folds and wrinkles.

Del Rizzo also excels at presenting a community full of many intertwined familial and social connections while capturing the smaller details of the devel­oping friendship between Moe and Sami. She expertly balances the hustle and bustle of lively outdoor scenes with more intimate indoor moments, such as when the pair share their treasures—drawings of birds, special feathers and other trinkets—with each other. In a lovely touch, Del Rizzo depicts Moe’s and Sami’s collections of keepsakes on the book’s opening and closing endpapers.

Birds on Wishbone Street (Pajama Press, $18.95, 9781772782196, ages 5 to 8) is a bighearted book that will leave readers eager to discover the many treasures that new friendships hold.”

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YA Books Central

““‘Birds on Wishbone Street’ by Suzanne Del Rizzo is a beautifully illustrated book that shows how different people can live together and get along, all with the benefits of getting to know each other and what they have to offer. From speaking different languages to learning different aspects of others’ cultures, there is always something to gain from talking to others. It is important to learn about what other people know, have done, and want to do in order to find connections and form relationships with them. One can never know what one might have in common with someone else until a conversation occurs.

The illustrations in this book are very interesting. They have a sense of realism in them that other illustrations in other books do not have, from their bright colors, to the way the angles don’t necessarily always look directly at people, but sometimes view characters from above, or even from behind. It’s also a nice touch that there is a recipe and a craft in the back of the book for readers to take the book to a whole new level, using the themes within the story to further explore how one’s interests can foretell kindness and the birth of similarities with others.”

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The International Educator

“Based on a real street in Toronto, Canada where many immigrant families settled, Birds on Wishbone Street by Suzanne Del Rizzo is a beautiful story  of people coming from different cultures. They share their food and their stories. But newly arrived Sami is not talking much. Until a bird needs his special attention and brings back memories and stories from home. Illustrated in clay and mixed media, the glorious art is a joy to explore. The book works on many different levels and even offers instructions on how to make your own winter bird treats.”

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Canadian Children’s Book News

“Wishbone Street, an actual street in Toronto, is a welcoming neighbourhood to immigrants who have come there from all over the world. Friends with everyone of any age, Maureen, or Moe for short, is eager to meet Sami, a young boy who has just arrived with his family from Syria. She notices him bird watching in the parkette and surmises that he loves nature and birds just as she does. A friendship between the two gradually develops, although Sami is reluctant to share his past. His experience with birds comes to the fore when a cold female cardinal is discovered lying in the snow. Taking leadership to save her, Sami reveals that he raised pet pigeons in Syria and studied wild birds while at a refugee camp. Together with several neighbours, they make bird suet treats and winter roosting pockets to feed and shelter winter birds. “New friends, new treats, new homes… fresh start for Sami and for our neighborhood birds… We are all neighbors on Wishbone Street.”

Suzanne Del Rizzo has written a touching sequel to My Beautiful Birds, which relayed Sami’s experience through the Syrian refugee crisis. The life story of Sami and his family continues in Canada as readers witness his fading anxiety and gradual acceptance of his new neighbourhood, this due to simple acts of kindness and the discovery of a kindred spirit. This uplifting story will resonate with young readers, especially those who are new to Canada.

Del Rizzo’s stunning illustrations, created from polymer clay, acrylic glaze and other mixed media, introduce readers to the inhabitants and geography of Wishbone Street from a variety of perspectives. Not only are the fall and winter scenes within this book filled with a myriad of delightful details, but one can almost feel the rich textures of what is being portrayed on its pages.”

Oakville News

“Wishbone Street is a special kind of street – and yes, there is one in Toronto – everyone seems to have come from somewhere else and all manner of languages are spoken. So Moe, a friendly and curious girl, is excited when she learns a new boy has moved in.  He has come from Syria and is called Sami.  Moe wants to get to know him.  But Sami is shy and reluctant to talk although he shares Moe’s love of birds. Then winter arrives and the neighbourhood children enjoy playing in the snow at the local parkette.  When they come across a scarlet cardinal stunned by the freezing cold, who comes to the bird’s rescue but Sami using his knowledge of looking after pigeons in Syria.  By this simple act of kindness Sami begins to feel more at home.

Oakville author Suzanne Del Rizzo has certainly scored another triumph with this delightful story about kindness and how the simple act of rescuing a bird can strengthen the bonds of community as newcomers to this country share friendship and understanding.

Del Rizzo set out on a career in medical scientific research but left it when she began having children.  The urge to get back to her childhood love of getting her hands dirty resurfaced, and thus began her new career, first as a children’s book illustrator and then progressing to writing her own stories and illustrating them herself.”

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Sherylbooks

“A heart-warming story about kindness, inclusion and belonging, by the creator of My Beautiful Birds. Love the endpapers and love the value added craft activities parents or grandparents can do with their littles after reading the book…bird suet treats and winter roosting pockets.”

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CanLit for Little Canadians

“Wishbone Street is more than just a bunch of houses. It’s a multicultural community, welcoming and supportive of all. And when a cardinal is injured, that community brings them all, newcomers and long-time residents, together to do good….

Suzanne Del Rizzo‘s polymer clay art has always impressed, giving new textures and colours to already-strong stories. But when she illustrates her own stories, Suzanne Del Rizzo shines. There is a synergy of her words and art that elevates both into something truly extraordinary. In Birds on Wishbone StreetSuzanne Del Rizzo honours her own family and those of all immigrants to Canada, and upholds the idea that communities are based on an appreciation for our differences and acknowledgement of our commonalities. With that sense of community, great things can happen: a newcomer feels at home, a bird is helped, and important learning can happen. And with her magnificent art, created with polymer clay, acrylic glaze and other mixed media, Suzanne Del Rizzo takes us to Wishbone Street, into the parkette and into the snow, to bird-watch with Sami and Moe, to yearn for cannoli and churros shared between neighbours, and to feel those first snowflakes on our faces. We’re there on Wishbone Street, watching as a world unfolds and enfolds, making one community out of many.

There may be snow in Birds on Wishbone Street and on our streets today but this picture book will serve as inspiration year round to promoting the joys of including everyone in our communities to the benefit of all.”

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Book Time

“Moe loves birds, climbing trees and hanging out with her neighbours on Wishbone Street who come from all over the world. She is excited to meet the new boy from Syria, but shyness wins over until the children bond over a female cardinal found lying in the snow.

“Sami uses his experience taking care of pigeons in Syria to help rescue the bird, which also helps Sami feel more at home.”

Birds on Wishbone Street is by Suzanne Del Rizzo and Pajama Press. Wishbone Street, said Del Rizzo in her author’s note, is based on a real street in Toronto where her husband grew up.

“Many immigrant families settled there. Just like Moe and Sami, they know we are better together.”

I love the plasticine illustrations in this book, particularly the snowflakes.”

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Storytime with Stephanie

“Any story featuring birds and plasticine artwork is a book I want to read. The Birds of Wishbone Street by Suzanne De Rizzo is a story about birds and a special community….

We love the community feel of this story. It wraps you in a warm blanket of kindness. The people in the community are kind and generous, all from different places around the world. Collecting treasures is an important part of life on Wishbone street. Moe welcomes Sami to the community by sharing a bird’s feather with him, before even knowing about his own collecting of treasures from Syria. The treasures help the children learn more about each other and build friendships. The children of Wishbone Street are so welcoming. When a bird is in trouble, they band together to save this cherished member of the community. The support and love the members of the community feel for each other is evident on each page. It’s a story that obviously come from the heart and extends a hand to readers.

The plasticine illustrations will blow you away! The amount of detail and love placed into each spread invites readers into the community. There are not many spreads that are missing birds somewhere in the picture and readers will have a fun time trying to spot the beautiful cardinal pair throughout the book. Plasticine art is inspiring and readers will be eager to take out their own plasticine and create. Or perhaps will want to follow the instructions at the end of the story to make roosting baskets and/or bird suet treats for their feathered community members.

According to Suzanne Del Rizzo’s author’s note, Wishbone Street is inspired by a real street in Toronto where her husband grew up. A beautiful connection to her whole family and a reflection of why this story is so special.”

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Sal’s Fiction Addiciton

“Wishbone Street is a very interesting place to live for those who live there. They come from many different countries, with unique histories and languages. Their stories reflect their lives before they moved there. Maureen, called Moe, has an Irish background. When a new family moves in nearby, Moe wonders about the boy she sees outside her window….

Following the story, Ms. Del Rizzo provides careful instructions for making the treats and pockets that Sami and Moe make. The illustrations, made using polymer clay and acrylics, will have readers in awe of the details, the ever-changing perspectives, and the wonders of the season as the two friends learn more about each other and how much they are alike. An author’s note about real-life events in her life adds interest.

This is a truly wonderful story about friendship, community and being kind. It should be shared in all early and upper elementary classrooms.”

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Windy Days Reviews

Posted on August 25th, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews

“Kerbel follows the wind through the seasons, setting scenes with strong descriptive language in two-line verses with simple rhymes or near rhymes, all filled with movement and joy. A diverse cast of young children interact with the wind, which is depicted throughout as streaming white lines pushing through the air in Sato’s wonderfully textured mixed-media collage illustrations that seamlessly match the scenes described. Readers will want to touch the children’s sweaters, pick the luscious-looking apples hanging loosely on the tree, and jump into that beckoning pile of leaves. The concept of wind in all its varieties is explained simply and beautifully with just enough information for curious young readers.

Feel the wind in your hair and enjoy. ”

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Booklist

“Windy days come in all sorts of whimsical forms. Kerbel and Sato’s energetic picture book takes a closer look at just how alive the wind can be. Bouncy, perfectly rhyming couplets capture its varying nature, from gentle and steady to swirly and gusty; breezy enough to fly a kite or strong enough to make whistling sounds on a stormy day. Sato’s elaborate, meticulous cut-paper collage artwork depicts the motion of wind in fascinating vignettes that beautifully capture its movement, featuring cheery, softly rounded kids portrayed with just as much dynamic movement as the book’s subject. The image on each double-page spread expands on the words, helping young readers grasp the concept of each type of movement. Easy to read for beginners, this book will introduce little ones to such words as sweep, blast, blow, blister, roar, spin, dance, sway, swirl, and icy.”

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School Library Journal

“As readers have come to expect from Kerbel, rhyming text and beautiful, textured cutout collage illustrations drive this book about the wonders of windy days throughout the seasons. A cast of children of many races and skin colors marvel at the power of the wind, benefit from the power it gives, and joyfully participate in wind play. The wind, cleverly depicted as a variety of curved, straight, and “curly cued” lines, create movement throughout the pages in tandem with the weather event/season illustrated. In addition, the inclusion of various types of clouds throughout the spreads establishes the relationship among the wind, cloud movement, and weather changes. Sato’s use of various textures creates a three-dimensional, tactile vibe that is sure to pique and sustain the interest of children.”

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CM Magazine

“Wind and leaves takes centre stage in an engaging homage to our fall days in this lovely collaboration between Kerbel and Sato. A variety of leaves flying across the page will entice readers from the front flyleaf into the actual book. Preschoolers will be enchanted by this force of nature.

Delightful rhyming couplets help describe both the work and the fun that winds provide. The economy of words in the text, yet the frequency of expressive adjectives, such as “blustery, gusting, whistling, swirling, roaring”, are used to highlight the sensation of the wind. The result is a treat to all the senses.

There are many books about the concept of wind for early readers, but what makes Windy Days standout is the skillful artwork. With Sato’s using mixed media and paper collage, textiles, and embroidery silk, the illustrations fairly jump off the page with their tactile feel. Sato’s use of joyful expressions on the faces of the diverse youthful participants is another attractive feature. The depth and visual interest of the colourful drawings fit well in this sturdy book with its extra thick paper, rounded corners and padded cover.”

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Metroland Media

“Toddlers will have fun reading about wind and autumn with this nicely illustrated, rhyming story featuring a book with a padded cover, rounded corners and thick pages. The back of the book contains some experiments that young children can do on a windy day.”

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Youth Services Book Review

“Rhyming couplets describe the sensory experience of wind through the seasons. Kids with various skin tones examine milkweed seeds, fly kites and manage a blown-away umbrella. The heavy duty pages are not quite board book weight, but seem very sturdy. It’s nice to see STEM activities listed at the end which can reinforce the understanding of the science, including names for different kinds of clouds. It’s a perfect title for a science unit on weather.

The art is collage with paper, textiles and embroidery silk. The composition and vibrant colors lend themselves nicely to reading aloud to a class. A great addition to story time or classroom study of weather for the preschool and kindergarten set.”

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YA Books Central

“What I loved: This was a great poem that was perfectly paced with a couplet on each page. This rhythm is great for young ears, who will enjoy listening to it read aloud. The illustrations are really gorgeous, made out of different textures, featuring young children in different scenes, such as at a fair, on Halloween, stuck inside on a rainy day, and more. This book is perfect for fall with recognizable odes to the fall weather.

The book format is great for young readers and ideal for young toddlers and preschoolers. The pages are thicker than typical picture books as a step in between board and picture books, and the soft cover is fun to touch. Toddlers can turn the pages easily and explore this on their own, as a lead in to typical picture books. The font is easily legible, making it great for reading aloud, and the backmatter adds some educational context for at home, daycare, or preschool.”

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The Kid Lit Mama

“The companion to Snow Days and Sunny Days, this board book featuring collage art and descriptive language is a true joy.”

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Olivia (Goodreads)

“What I loved: This was a great poem that was perfectly paced with a couplet on each page. This rhythm is great for young ears, who will enjoy listening to it read aloud. The illustrations are really gorgeous, made out of different textures, featuring young children in different scenes, such as at a fair, on Halloween, stuck inside on a rainy day, and more. This book is perfect for fall with recognizable odes to the fall weather.

The book format is great for young readers and ideal for young toddlers and preschoolers. The pages are thicker than typical picture books as a step in between board and picture books, and the soft cover is fun to touch. Toddlers can turn the pages easily and explore this on their own, as a lead in to typical picture books. The font is easily legible, making it great for reading aloud, and the backmatter adds some educational context for at home, daycare, or preschool.

Final verdict: A lovely poem, WINDY DAYS is a fun way to begin to talk about the weather with toddlers and preschoolers. Intriguing textured illustrations and fun autumn scenes make this a great one for little ones to explore.”

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Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“We have experienced a lot of winds this summer and fall. Some are warm and gentle, others are cold and jarring. Then, there those that are simply bothersome and seemingly endless. Wind is inevitable through the season. As little ones are invited to share this book, they will recognize the many ways that wind helps, and hinders a variety of activties.

In the spring it scatters milkweed seeds; in summer, it powers pinwheels, and causes flags to flutter; it can also worsen powerful storms. Autumn winds inspire geese to begin their long migration to warmer places, and kites to drift in cloudy skies. Winter wind keeps children inside, or bundled up against its icy blasts.

Ms. Kerbel uses effective, rhythmic vocabulary to give her readers a real sense of the movement, power, and joy that wind provides. Miki Sato’s gorgeous, mixed-media collage artwork perfectly matches the text and provides a glorious feeling of constant motion. The textures will have readers wanting to touch the pages to feel what is shown there. Charming!”

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Fab Book Reviews

“As ever, Deborah Kerbel’s storytelling by way of sweet rhyming couplets and Miki Sato’s textured collage artwork make for a lively, tactile reading experience. Not only a lovely, gentle way to introduce concepts of weather to a young audience/young readers, but also, quite simply, a genuinely beautiful and clear rhyming story that gorgeously captures the childhood wonder in experiencing the natural world. Readers who have already read and enjoyed Snow Days and Sunny Days, other similarly short rhyming stories, or picture books about the seasons, might especially adore this. Back matter includes ideas for child-friendly wind-related science experiments, as well as a concise rundown of types of clouds.”

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Storytime With Stephanie

“Deborah Kerbel and Miki Sato have once again created a perfect preschool gem of a book in Windy Days, part of their series of weather related picture books.

What a gift to be able to share the joy of description with our youngest little readers. In Windy Days, adults and children will experience all of the fun of a windy day through the lyrical, rhyming and descriptive text. This book just rolls off your tongue making it perfect to share as a read aloud with a big group of children. Readers will then be inspired to get outside and discover all of the things they can do in the wind.

Although the age range for this book is 2-5, I would encourage parents and teachers of older readers to grab this book to inspire descriptive writing or science experiments with the wind. Deborah Kerbel includes fun experiments and activities at the back of the story to help extend the learning and fun. Also the book is incredibly durable. It has a soft, puffy cover and thick pages making is not quite a board book but more durable that a hard or soft cover book so if you have little readers who like to eat their books, this one will stand up to hours and hours of reading and play.”

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CanLit for Little Canadians

“When a picture book, a two-dimensional source, can evoke weather such that the reader feels the bite of the wind or the slash of the briskness of leaves against skin, it’s doing something terrific. I may be able to feel the wind by just stepping outside right now but I’d much rather experience it through the text and paper collage of Deborah Kerbel and Miki Sato‘s latest collaboration.

In Pajama Press’s Toddler Tough format of padded cover, rounded corners and thick pages, Windy Days explores children’s experiences with the wind in the autumn, from fun fall fairs to Halloween outings. There are their encounters in the natural world with gentle breezes scattering milkweed seeds and tossing leaves, to creating energy with wind turbines and flying kites. Some of those winds are soft air movements while others are blasts of cold that practically toss little ones off their feet. Whatever their form, they’re there, especially at this time of year, and reminding us of weather as our constant, bringing sound and movement and consequences.”

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Sherylbooks

“Rhythm, rhyme and alliteration make this an attractive toddler read. Illustrations that are paintings overlaid with textured layers of collage, create a sense of depth and movement to the active, expressive children depicted. The puffy cover, and rounded corners are perfect for little hands. Bonus activities and information at the story’s end will especially appeal to parents and caregivers.”
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A Sky-Blue Bench Reviews

Posted on August 3rd, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews Starred Review

“Gently but poignantly, Collins’ richly hued, cartoon-style illustrations convey Aria’s discomfort, determination, and joy; family members’ and friends’ warm eyes and sympathetic faces are reassuring. Background characters bustle in a rainbow of jewel-toned clothing, their faces bearing a variety of expressions. Though Aria’s accident is unspecified in the simple primary text, an author’s note reveals that Aria’s story, partially based on Rahman’s childhood during Afghanistan’s civil war, honors Afghan children whose lives were changed forever by unexploded ordnance. Most characters’ complexions, including Aria’s, are varying shades of brown.

A timely, eye-opening portrait of resilience, community, and hope.”

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Seattle Book Review Starred Review

“This is a touching and timely book that portrays the hardships many children in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries face. The author illustrates this beautifully and adds an informative and heartfelt “Author’s Note” that’ll leave a notable impression on young readers. He writes of attending a presentation in first grade in which Afghan students were taught to distinguish land mines from toys.

When youngsters read this, they’ll feel for Aria and her classmates, and they may even step away with an extraordinary feeling of gratitude. Additionally, they’ll be awed by Aria’s bravery and ingenuity. Those aged six to nine will be enlightened by this story.”

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Foreword Reviews

“Aria, a young girl in Afghanistan and an amputee, is nervous about going back to school. With all the benches being burned for warmth during the war, the girls in her school have no choice but to sit on the floor, which is unbearable for Aria and her “helper-leg.” Together with her mother and brother, Aria decides to build a bench herself, painting it skyblue: the color of “courage, peace and wisdom.” DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (November / December 2021)”

Quill & Quire

“Aria, an Afghani girl, is eager to return to school, but her new prosthetic “helper leg” makes sitting on the classroom floor far too uncomfortable. So Aria decides to build a bench for herself. Ontario-based Peggy Collins illustrates this heartwarming story about a resilient young girl who faces a barrier to her education.”

CBC Books

“In A Sky-Blue Bench, Bahram Rahman, author of The Library Bus, returns again to the setting of his homeland, Afghanistan, to reveal the resilience and resolve of young children — especially young girls — who face barriers to education. Illustrator Peggy Collins imbues Aria with an infectious spunkiness and grit that make her relatable even to readers with a very different school experience. An author’s note gently introduces an age-appropriate discussion of landmines and their impact on the lives of children in many nations, especially Afghanistan, which has the highest concentration of landmines of any country in the world.”

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Canadian Children’s Book News

“Aria, a young Afghan, is excited to return to the girls’ school following a long stay in hospital due to a land mine accident. Unfortunately, her new prosthetic “helper leg” makes sitting all day on the classroom floor extremely painful. The wooden benches and desks had been used as firewood during the war. Aria resolves to remedy her discomfort by building a bench herself. After collecting discarded wooden boards, broken pieces of furniture, and nails and screws from around the city, she seeks the advice of a carpenter, who kindly loans her some of his work tools and presents her with a can of sky-blue paint—the colour of courage, peace and wisdom. A weekend filled with construction follows. Aria’s classmates are so impressed that they too, wish to build additional benches, tables and even a bookshelf. “Aria thought about her can of sky-blue paint. There was still plenty left. ‘Yes,’ she said, with a smile as wide as the sky. ‘We can build everything we need, together!’”

Told from his personal experiences growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, Bahram Rahman has written a poignant story recognizing the resilience and determination of young children, particularly girls, living in war-torn countries. One admires the ingenuity and perseverance of Aria as she strives to improve the quality of life, not only for herself but also for her classmates. An age-appropriate Author’s Note briefly introduces readers to the danger of land mines.

Peggy Collin’ vivid artwork, created digitally, illustrates a way of life and school experience that will be unfamiliar to many young readers. Yet Aria’s courage, in the face of adversity, will resonate with children, no matter what their background, as will the significance of the colour blue, a symbol of hope.”

Youth Services Book Review

How beautiful and heart-breaking to read this lovely picture book about a young girl, crippled from an UXO device, who finds a way to be comfortable at school by building her own bench. The ingenuity and determination of Afghani women and girls is explored as Aria finds that she can not sit comfortably on the floor of her all-girls school. After briefly considering not going back she decides she will build her own seating. Thus, with a little help from the local carpenter, Aria and her mother build and paint the sky-blue bench.”

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Bookishrealm (Goodreads)

“Wow! This was a powerful book. A Sky Blue focuses on a young Afghan girl, Aria, as she attempts to go back to school after receiving a prosthetic leg due to mine explosion. When Aria gets to school she’s extremely uncomfortable finding a way to sit during class because of her “helper leg.” Not only does the author address the danger that Afghan children face due to mines left all over the country, but they also weave discussions about the barriers that young Afghan girls and women face in relation to their education. Aria knows that unless she is able to build a bench to help her feel more comfortable in class she won’t have access to the tools she needs to learn how to read and write. The narrative was powerful and impactful and drew specifically on some experiences the author had growing up in Afghanistan.”

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Little Bookworm Club

“Aria a young girl from Afghanistan is returning to school after an accident that resulted in a prosthetic leg. She is nervous about returning and having to sit on the classroom floor all day. Her fears are confirmed when she finds it extremely difficult to get up and is very uncomfortable on the ground. She decides to make a bench, like the ones that were in schools before the war. Despite her classmates skepticism, she collects discarded wooden boards, visits a local carpenter, and gets to work. The carpenter gives her a can of sky blue paint that symbolizes courage and peace. When everyone returns after the weekend they see the bench and are in awe. All the girls want to learn to build too and they make a plan to build all the furniture for their classroom. This is inspiring story of resilience, determination, and grit.”

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Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“The world has heard much about the unexploded weapons that were hidden during armed conflicts in world communities. Aria is one of the Afghan children whose life was forever changed when she stepped on one of those devastating weapons….

“Sky-blue is for courage, peace and wisdom.”

Peggy Collins fills her spreads and endpapers (front and back) with digital artwork that reveals the emotions felt, the support of community, and the determination of a child to make a difference for herself and others as Aria navigates a new normal following such an overwhelming event in her life. An author’s note shares his experiences growing up in Afghanistan, and writes this story to honor those whose lives have been impacted by land mines and UXO.”

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Book Time

“In this author’s note, Rahman talks about how four decades of war in Afghanistan has left a country littered with land mines or unexploded ordnances (UXO), waiting for unsuspecting children. The author remembers being taught in Grade 1 how to differentiate between a toy and a bomb. How awful.

“A Sky-Blue Bench honours the resilience of Afghan children in the face of great personal loss and injury caused by land mines and UXO…She, like many other children in  Afghanistan, confronts life as it is and solves her problems with creativity and hard work. She won’t give up until life is better for her and the people are her.”

Beautiful story, beautiful lessons and beautiful illustrations by Peggy Collins.”

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Kirin (GoodReads)

“Aria has to find a way to sit in class because she wants to learn, and lack of wood working experience, resources, and doubt that a girl can do it from her classmates, isn’t going to stop her.  Over 32 pages, early elementary age children will meet a determined young girl as she pieces together scraps to build a bench.

Aria has been in the hospital for a while after an accident took her leg.  She is excited to be back at school, but quickly realizes it is hard to sit on the floor with her new helper leg.  She tries leaning on the wall, standing even, but just getting up and down off the floor is really difficult.  At home when she mentions it to her mom, her mom reassures her that she can get through it and her little brother offers to help her carry her things.

That night Aria considers how much she would miss school if she isn’t able to figure something out.  Then she has an idea, she’ll build a bench.  At school the next morning, classmates tell her “Girls don’t build benches,” but Aria responds, “I can do anything a boy can.””

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Israa (GoodReads)

“A strong girl with a prosthetic leg in Afghanistan does not let anything prevent her from going to school. I love her determination and ingenuity. The illustrations are colorful, and the text is easy for elementary students to read and understand. I will definitely recommend this book for our school library.”

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Storytime with Stephanie

“In another love letter to his home country of Afghanistan, Bahram Rahman gives readers the story of a courageous young girl who must build a bench to make school accessible for her and other children like her. A Sky-Blue Bench illustrated by Peggy Collins provides readers with a glimpse into life in Afghanistan and especially what it’s like for young girls trying to go to school and learn….

Readers will see the lengths that children must go to ensure a comfortable learning environment. We take for granted our tables and chairs and cozy carpeted areas in North American classrooms. Readers also gain perspective about physical disabilities, like Aria’s, that require prosthetic limbs and how limiting they can be at times. Readers will see the importance of accessible spaces for everyone. They can also learn more about the country of Afghanistan and why so many children there require “helper” limbs. The story is an example of strength and self advocating.

Peggy Collins’ illustrations are bold and bright. She gives us many close ups of people’s faces and the bright shining eyes of all the people in the story. This is a vibrant beautiful story filled with vibrant beautiful illustrations that will immediately grab the readers attention and hold it through to the end.”

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CanLit for Little Canadians

“Though Bahram Rahman makes it clear from his notes about circumstances he and others experienced in his homeland of Afghanistan, he does not dwell on the horrors of land mines or the challenges of living with a civil war. Instead Bahram Rahman speaks to a girl’s determination to get an education, be proactive and resourceful, and to challenge herself to meet her own needs. It’s a brave commentary on focusing on what you can change, not on what you can’t, and Aria demonstrates that the possibilities can be inspiring.

While there is a brightness and a child-like quality to her art, Peggy Collins (Harley the Hero, 2021) stays firmly in realism, but without immersing her art in the adversity of the situation. Aria’s prosthetic leg is barely visible under her black dress and the challenges of the civil war are obscured by the vibrancy of the community in its activity and colour. Peggy Collins takes us into the Afghanistan of Aria’s life, not of news reports: her school, her helper-leg, her mother and little brother, and her community. Her sky-blue bench is as assured as she is.

A Sky-Blue Bench may be a story from Afghanistan but its lessons about self-reliance and resourcefulness will speak to all children, especially those facing their own challenges, and encourage them to find solutions. With a desire, some hard work and a little wisdom, Aria was able to build something worthwhile, with wood and with vision.”

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@alissareadsabook

“The illustrations in this one are simply charming. I also really like that there are a lot of ways that parents can use this book as intro conversations with their children. The book doesn’t go into any detail about why Aria has her “helper leg” or the inequities and barriers to education for girls in Afghanistan, but the illustrations and text give clues that parents can use to open the doors to these conversations should they desire. Or it can simply be read as a story of resiliency, community, and hope.

Note about disability rep: I really appreciated how this was addressed – the challenges that Aria faces as an amputee are shown honestly, her emotions and struggles depicted realistically but not in a way that showed her as helpless – she decided what she wanted, she solved her own problems. There was no “savior” for Aria here – she received help, but she was not treated as a fragile doll. She had agency and voice. More of this representation please.”

Click here to read the full review

The Undercover Book List Reviews

Posted on July 27th, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews

“Two 12-year-olds confront their vulnerabilities.
A light-skinned girl with brown hair in a ponytail sits atop a cloud with a book in her lap and dozens of pieces of paper falling down from her cloud. Below her is a light-skinned boy with orange curly hair who is sitting atop some pillows, is also reading a book, and is receiving all pages that are cascading down on him.
Told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of seventh graders Jane (in the first person) and Tyson (in third-person omniscient), this story unfolds with clever aplomb. Although they are in the same class, Jane and Tyson don’t hang out together. Top-student Jane loves to read—especially mysteries—and misses her best friend, Sienna, who has recently moved across the country; underachiever Tyson pulls pranks that get him sent to the office and plays video games obsessively at home, to the detriment of his schoolwork. But when Sienna leaves an anonymous farewell note/clue in the school library for Jane, it is Tyson, hiding in the stacks, who sees Jane find the note, and he decides to jump in to the correspondence, also anonymously, as a prank.”

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Publishers Weekly

“Alternating chapters catalogue Tyson and Jane’s earnest perspectives (“It feels like people are always leaving me”) in Nelson’s (Harvey Holds His Own) gentle yet well-paced story. Featuring the duo’s interspersed missives, the narrative explores what it means to be accurately perceived, by both others and oneself, while simultaneously serving as a satisfying love letter to Louis Sachar, Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Woodson, and other cherished authors, and emphasizing books’ transformative power. Back matter includes their Undercover Book List.”

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Booklist

“With her father posted in the Middle East and her best friend moving away, Jane’s seventh-grade year is unsettling. Still, she follows through on a suggestion for making a new friend: in a particular book at the school library, she places an anonymous note recommending her favorite titles and inviting the next reader to reply by doing the same.

Nelson, a Canadian author, offers an appealing dual narrative that switches, chapter by chapter, between the two very different classmates’ points of view. The writing is straightforward but lively. Early on, Tyson sums up Jane in this wry sentence: “Teachers probably arm-wrestled each other to get her in their classes.” Both characters are convincingly portrayed in this rewarding middle-grade novel.”

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Foreword Reviews

“The book’s narration alternates between Jane and Tyson’s points of view, exploring themes of transformation, and of the strength it takes to embrace change. Tyson and Jane learn that change brings strength, too, once it’s been embraced. Their transformations are fast: both exhibit understandings of human psychology of the sort that eludes many adults. The obstacles they face, including vandalism and illness, are handled in a straightforward manner, but without sacrificing emotion (though a story line concerning a classroom activity is unresolved). Both strong Jane and sensitive Tyson prove to be excellent role models by the book’s gratifying ending. In the diverse novel The Undercover Book List, two classmates overcome their initial antagonism to find commonalities, which lead them to unexpected solidarity.”

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Quill & Quire

The Undercover Book List, like Nelson’s Harvey novels, takes an honest look at the emotional lives of preteens. Jane is dealing with loss, fear, and loneliness, while Tyson struggles to shake off his reputation to allow his true self space to grow. Nelson approaches their inner lives with respect and empathy, using books as the healing agent that brings them together.

The plot races along, switching between Jane’s and Tyson’s points of view with each successive chapter. Jane’s chapters are in the first person, while Tyson’s are in third person, which has the effect of making Tyson’s character seem distant in comparison to Jane.

The Undercover Book List will resonate with children who feel unseen, who dream of a friend who understands them, or who are figuring out what kind of person to be. It’s an absorbing, entertaining, and sensitive story that champions reading and the love of books.”

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CM Magazine

“This is every mother’s dream situation! Confiscate your kid’s game box and have him turn to reading as a compensation? Wow! Tyson isn’t stupid, but, until now, he’s not been motivated to do anything that takes more effort than a quick joke would. The anonymity of communicating by letter is a way for him to be a different sort of person and without having to worry about being laughed at or teased. So what if the situation is a bit idealistic rather than realistic — every life can use a bit of fantasy (and it doesn’t have to be in the form of a video-game avatar)!

An added bonus is the book list at the end, giving all the titles that Jane and Tyson discuss as well as the ones that just got a mention. It would make for a wonderful display in a school library, a Tyson-path and a Jane-path, with arrows leading from one book to the next to the next; I only wish I were still working in a library. Give The Undercover Book List to a reader and open up a whole new bunch of possible authors to be enjoyed or give it to a non-reader and see what happens. You might be surprised!”

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Canadian Children’s Book News

“When her best friend Sienna moves away, Jane wonders how she will make it through seventh grade without her. But Sienna has devised a clever way of helping Jane find a new friend by leaving a note in a book in the school library. When bad-boy Tyson Flamand finds the note, he decides to play along by making book suggestions for Jane. But he soon finds himself reading and, to his tremendous surprise, enjoying the books that Jane recommends in her replies. They each become increasingly invested in this secret book club. Then, Jane’s Kid Lit Quiz team needs a new member, and she wonders if her new book friend might be the perfect person. And Tyson surprises himself, along with everyone else, when he discovers that he may truly be that perfect person… and that he is more than just the prankster that he has a reputation for being.

With emotional depth and sensitivity, Colleen Nelson captures the struggles and uncertainties that both of her protagonists wrestle with. By alternating between their two points of view, she skillfully brings readers into their minds and hearts. Jane’s loneliness and anxiety as she misses Sienna and worries about her father, who is posted overseas, are poignantly depicted. At the same time, Tyson’s sense of resignation and feeling of being misunderstood are genuine and thought-provoking. The anonymity of exchanging notes gives them a greater sense of freedom to be themselves and to be more candid, allowing them to see themselves and each other in a new light.

The story is accessible and engaging, an insightful exploration of being open to new experiences and to the wonders of self-discovery. It is also a heartfelt celebration of the power of books to heal and to bring people together.”

Youth Services Book Review

“Told in alternating chapters from each main character’s perspective, The Undercover Book List is a treat for book lovers as it recommends titles such as Harbor Me, The Book Thief, and several others.  Both characters learn and grow a great deal over the course of the book and readers will really enjoy their development.  Jane grapples with separation, from Sienna and from her military Dad, with worry about her grandfather, and anxiety about her social status at school.  Tyson wants to find his niche between his overachieving siblings and to shed his reputation as class clown without losing his cool guy friends.  The two bond over books and help each other through these challenges with humor and genuine friendship (it is noteworthy that romance between the two is never suggested), supported by a wonderful cast of secondary characters including friends, family members and school staff.  The author includes a list of the book suggestions that Jane and Tyson share.”

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CanLit for Little Canadians

“Readers know the richness that stories can bring into their lives. We meet new friends, travel to different places and times, and we learn.  By bringing together a reader and non-reader, Colleen Nelson, an astute writer and undoubtedly understanding teacher, has written about every child out there. The ones that love books will always find something to read but can get so much insight from the perspectives of others. Those that haven’t become readers yet often just need the scaffolding of the right book or the right person to bring them to reading. With the Undercover Book Club, Tyson and Jane both find their people among those they would have dismissed originally and enrich their lives beyond just reading.

Colleen Nelson has a natural skill at giving young readers characters who are real, though not always likeable at first, and who are able to change with their experiences and perspectives. ”

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The International Educator

The Undercover Book List, Colleen Nelson is a fabulous middle grade novel. It’s a story grounded in a school library and books, focused on friendship. Jane loves to read but misses her best friend who moved away. Tyson is into video games and does not like to read. But through the secret messages left in books in their school library, both main characters change and make new friends. A great story for book worms and kids who have to move and make new friend.”

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Book Time

“I really liked this book and it’s on my to-be-read-to-my-son pile. And while I liked Jane, the main character in the book, it was Tyson I liked the most and who I saw the most change in. My heart actually broke for Tyson a couple of times. Not only do his teachers believe the worse, so too, do his parents who laughed when Tyson said he read a book; they didn’t believe him. No wonder the kid can’t be bothered. I loved how hard Tyson tried and how it changed him in the end.”

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kathiemacisaac

“I loved the idea of two kids getting to know each other through notes left in books. Tyson had a reputation as a prankster and poor student, and watching his transformation was my favourite part of the story. I also loved Jane’s willingness to stay connected with Sienna and how they supported each other through their transitions. Both Jane and Tyson have challenges at home that ring true to middle-grade experiences and add depth to the character’s stories. There are some excellent ideas to use in the classroom, such as the Other Words for Me board and starting a Kid Lit Quiz team. The short chapters and overall book-length of 258 pages will appeal to a wide range of readers, and I would recommend this story for Gr. 4-7.”

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Storytime with Stephanie

“Coming just in time for the start of the school year, Colleen Nelson’s brilliant and charming new middle grade novel, The Undercover Book List, will inspire the readers and non-readers in your life.

I love that The Undercover Book List is written from two perspectives, Jane and Tyson. They are both incredible characters, going through their own struggles which shape their outlook on life. Tyson has no self confidence and always goes for the easy laugh to protect from being vulnerable. He doesn’t realize all of his potential. Jane is the sweetest person, kind and generous and is confident. When she takes a chance on Tyson, she helps him see himself in a more positive light.

I really enjoyed Tyson. He was such a great character and it was wonderful to watch him grow in confidence and understanding throughout the story. There are many Tyson’s out there. Children who just see themselves as one thing instead of multitudes. He becomes a leader and a good friend. Jane is a character who knows what is right and fights for it. She is a fierce friend and doesn’t give up on people easily. The two of them, Tyson and Jane, teach each other a lot over the course of the story an help each other navigate the tricky middle school dynamics, unbeknownst to each other.

All of the book recommendations within the story are stellar! I loved seeing the familiar titles pop up and even got a couple to add to my list. Colleen Nelson added shout out to books written by some of our most favourite Canadian authors. Honestly, I would have loved an undercover book club when I was a middle schooler. May have made the lonely eighth grade year more tolerable. Heck, I would love to have an undercover book club now! Perhaps I will start leaving notes in my library books!

The Undercover Book List is an awesome story, fabulous for the start of a new year to inspire readers and non readers to just pick up a book and enjoy.”

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Julie (Goodreads)

“One of my favorite kind of books are books about books…and this one did not disappoint! By the end I wanted to join both an Undercover Book Club and a Kid Lit Quiz team. I particularly enjoyed the unlikely friendship and how their story revealed the power of books.

Also, this quote…”flexing their intellectual muscles by firing off the names of the Newbery Award winners in chronological order,”…I am OBSESSED with it! It’s the answer to the prompt, “Tell me you’re a reader without telling me you’re a reader.””

Laurie Hnatiuk (Goodreads)

“I love the way Colleen has tackled a friend moving away. The unique way in which Colleen Nelson sets this up is a breath of fresh air. Instead of focusing on the friend who moves away, the author focuses on the friend who isn’t moving. Ms. Nelson reminds us that the friend staying behind also faces challenges and periods of difficulty, things that sometimes we may overlook.
Readers also meet a familiar character. We all know someone like Tyson Flamand. The clever individual who acts one way because they are not confident to show us their true selves. In The Undercover Book List, readers see the growth of Tyson as he gains confidence and realizes he can contribute and doesn’t need to hide behind the elaborate pranks. I appreciated the honesty of showing how Tyson knows how to suggest relevant and current books for Jane to read when he doesn’t consider himself a reader. Some individuals will see themselves and make connections to both Tyson and Jane. What a great way to talk about how we can get around from working to fake read and know excellent books to recommend to finding books that will engage those individuals who see themselves as nonreaders.

Using the duo perspective, readers get to know Jane and Tyson individually while speculating how they will become friends without the characters knowing they will be friends. Kids will enjoy this aspect of the story and will be able to connect and share with their personal stories. Writing from this dual perspective keeps readers engaged and wanting to learn more about each character and the storyline moving.”

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Michelle Kadarusman (Goodreads)

“Book nerds unite! The Undercover Book List provides a simply wonderful premise for young book lovers – and for those who don’t think they are bookish, they will be by the end of the story. Love, love, love the depiction of friendships old and new that grow and blossom under Nelson’s deft hand. A heartwarming page turner that achieves what all exceptional literature does, it inspires the reader to read more. All the stars for this middle-grade gem.”

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Kids’ BookBuzz

“Jane and Tyson send notes to each other. At first, Tyson thinks it’s a joke, but it actually leads him and Jane to the Kid Lit Quiz team, and a possible friendship…

I liked this book a lot! At the end of the book there is a list of book recommendations, but not just any book recommendations… The Undercover Book List recommendations! If you are looking for something interesting to read, this is the book that you’re looking for!

Reviewed By: Viviane – age 9″

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Jill’s Book Blog

“In this book, the kids compete in a Kid Lit Quiz, which is a trivia competition about books. I don’t think that was around when I was a kid, but I would have loved it. I haven’t read many of the books mentioned in this story and I’m curious to read them now. I loved that the book club and quiz in this story turned Tyson, a reluctant reader, into a book lover. Whenever someone tells me they don’t like reading, I just say that they haven’t found the right book yet. That was true for Tyson in this story.

This story had two narratives, a first person narrative from Jane and a third person narrative about Tyson. It wasn’t obvious to me why Jane told her own perspective while Tyson’s narrative had a third person narrator. Jane had a more complex storyline, so maybe that’s why, but I’m curious why they didn’t have the same kind of narrator.

The Undercover Book Club is a fun middle grade story!”

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Shaunterria (GoodReads)

“A near perfect love letter to books and the kids that read them, The Undercover Book List is a well-written ode to the best middle-grade lit has to offer. Wrapped up a story of loss and self-discovery, tween readers are going to enjoy sharing this story with fellow bookworms (and it includes a ton of excellent book recommendations as well).”

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A Smile Reviews

Posted on July 27th, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews

In paper collage art, three children with light-coloured skin walk in a row along a cobblestone path. The eldest in front carries a parcel, the little boy in the middle carries a daisy and walks with a big smile on his face, and the girl at the end of the train carries a cake. A brown cat follows behind them, and a beaming yellow sun smiles down on the children.“Using brightly colored forms, cheerful collage illustrations provide a lively, child-centric, visual context for this uncredited English adaptation of the poem “Un sourire,” attributed to Follereau, a French humanitarian who worked with people who had Hansen’s disease. Opening with smiling parents waking their children in the morning, the simple text reminds readers “a smile costs nothing” and can be given to others.”

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School Library Journal

“Every sentence reads as truth, and Hadadi, working in a primary palette of good cheer, welcome, and bright colors, invites readers into the pages. Three joyful children go on a walk, visit a bakery, espy an older man giving someone less fortunate coffee and pastries—and more importantly, conversation—and witness how a smile given freely can change the tenor of the day. The publisher’s note explains Follereau’s philosophy, and helps anchor this airy work to serious goals. VERDICT A quiet idea, amplified, that to be kind, all children need is a smile.”

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Independent Book Reviews

“This is a gorgeous children’s picture book about smiling.
Simply perfect for anyone at anytime – it will certainly make you smile!”

North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award

“Whilst accompanying the poem, the illustrations tell their own story as well, showing the kindness, hope and joy a simple smile can bring to everyone. Each spread is bright and bursting with life, full of details to notice and enjoy. Hoda Hadadi’s pictures showing a day in the life of two smiling children would make a wonderful starting point for story telling and collage work.”

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Picture Book Snob

“This is perfect for gently introducing children to the importance of kindness and altruisim, as well as easy ways to practice what they’ve learned. It’s a fabulous bedtime story and Hoda’s art will encourage young people to be creative themselves. This is ideal for use in a classroom and for basing activities around too. This book would also make a marvellous and memorable gift, for adults as well as children. It’s sure to put a smile on the face of anyone who reads it.”

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Library Lady

“The cover depicting a trio of smiling children beneath a beaming sun and jolly smiling clouds instantly lifts your spirits and the endpapers continue the theme with a garden of flowers each of them smiling happily. The reader follows the children as they spread their smiles among the people they meet; the rich man with his downcast face, the young unemployed man lost in sadness and the little girl with the burst balloon. As we turn the pages we watch as their days are transformed by this small act of kindness.”

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@janekwhittingham

“A SMILE was gifted to us by @pajamapressbooks (with whom I work as an author). It’s an illustrated translation of a poem by French poet and humanitarian Raoul Follereau, who I must confess I knew nothing about before reading the afterword. The text is nice (the basic premise being “smile and the world smiles with you” ), but it’s the illustrations by Hoda Hadadi that really make this work shine. Each page is bursting with joy and colour, and detail, and A. just adores gazing at each page.”

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Listen Up! Train Song Reviews

Posted on July 8th, 2021 by pajamapress

School Library Journal ★ Starred Review

A red freight train runs along a track with a hilly and forest-covered landscape behind it.

“PreS-K–Train lovers will delight in this board book featuring photos of trains. Each spread corresponds with musical text. A refrain of “Let’s sing a…song all down the track” makes this title a perfect match for story hours about things that go. Onomatopoeic words for various trains and train parts will encourage listeners to repeat and follow along.”

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Kirkus Reviews

“Locomotive-loving storytimers rejoice! Your newest read-aloud is here. “Whoooooo! Chooooooo!”

In this bouncy follow-up to Allenby’s Shape Up, Construction Trucks! (2020), rhythm carries readers along the rails. “Where do the trains go? / There and back. / Let’s sing a train song / All down the track.” After this opening, double-page spreads introduce different train-related vocabulary and associated onomatopoeia. Large, colorful, close-up stock photographs of trains ac uses it company the different sounds they’re capable of making. The engines go “Chuff-a-gruff-a!”; the metro sings “Whoooosh! Swoooosh!”; the boxcar says “Rattle-tattle!”; and more. Participation possibilities abound with the consistently inventive train sounds, and the bright and colorful images will be easy to see from across a room….Notes at the end of the book offer adult readers different ways to connect the book to rhythm and song….

All aboard! The littlest readers with a yen for the rails are bound to bounce with delight.” (Picture book. 2-4)

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CM Magazine

“The physical hardiness of the book is noted, including a hard, padded cover and rounded corners, and extra-heavy paper, making it robust enough for frequent use by young library patrons. The title is well-suited to reading out loud in storytime settings as the text is rhythmic and repetitive, yet there is enough variety to interest young listeners from page to page. Onomatopoeia is frequently utilized in words such as “hisssss!” and “screeeeech!” which add an exciting and interactive quality. The text is greatly enhanced by the full-colour photographs which are rich in detail and successfully depict movement. Some seasonal variety of outdoor scenes would enhance the overall impression of this title as all the outdoor photographs showcase trains under partly cloudy skies in the fullness of summer or very early Autumn. Nevertheless, Listen Up! Train Song is a delightful and fun book that will be of great interest and entertainment to very young children.”

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Youth Services Book Review

“An excellent way to introduce rhyming to young readers. The book explores the different types of sounds trains and train parts make. On each two page layout you get a large zoomed in photo of a train/train part or even a railroad crossing sign. On the opposite side of the picture there is a short large-text script that asks the readers what sound the picture makes and then encourages them to make up their own song based on the photo. The book is very realistic and simple which makes it a perfect read to pair with a hands-on activity.”

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Fab Book Reviews

“Allenby’s book encourages participation and imagination, singing, and practicing rhyming, with detailed back matter that proffers “sound and rhythm” based activities that adults/caregivers/parents can try out with little ones. (My youngest proudly made up his own sweet train song after a few reads of this title!). Listen Up! Train Song is a solid, participatory read, and a highly recommended companion title for any young readers who love transportation or train books, or who have loved Shape Up, Construction Trucks!”

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Canadian Bookworm

“This picture book shows different kinds of trains, different parts of trains and connects them to different sounds. It plays with onomatopoeia by showing kids how the sounds that the trains make are described by words that sound similar and encourages them to explore this concept.

The book is written in a song pattern with repetitive lines linking the different verses. The photographs have close-ups of some of the train parts making sounds like horns and brakes. There are also some train-related items like crossings that have noise that get included here. Parts of the trains like engines and boxcars have their own particular noises.”

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The International Educator

Listen Up! Train Song, by Victoria Allenby is a board book for toddlers, turning all train sounds into a song. A story to share aloud, teaching the importance of rhyme and rhythm in poetry while having fun with onomatopoeia.”

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Alissa Tsaparikos (Goodreads)

“The sparse text is set in a simple rhythm that encourages audience participation. Back matter includes tips on practicing rhyme with children and how this acts as an early literacy activity. This book would work great in a transportation or train themed storytime.”

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Andrea (Goodreads)

“Excellent storytime book for young children. Rhyming, repetitive text is well paced. Close up pictures show the train parts being talked about in each rhyme, helping young children visualize just what makes each noise.”

Amanda (GoodReads)

“Absolutely gorgeous photo illustrations that the younger set and grownups too will love. The repetitive refrain gets old fast. Great use of onomatopoeia with train sounds. I suggest that you use your best judgment and edit this to whatever works for you.”

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The Cow Said BOO! Reviews

Posted on July 7th, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews

“Button’s rhyming text hits at just the right pace, encouraging participation from little readers. A black and white spotted cow stands on her hind legs, holding a box of tissues in one arm and a single kleenex in the other. She stands in front of a clothesline on a bright day with a jack-o-lantern pajama set on the line. Fall leaves and a pumpkin are on the ground.Kids will love being in on the joke that the cow isn’t really a ghost, and the silliness of the animal sounds when they all catch the cow’s cold will certainly elicit many a giggle. Carter’s illustrations include subtle hints at fall and Halloween even though the text doesn’t explicitly mention the season: Pumpkins dot the field, there’s a jack-o’-lantern shirt on the clothesline, and leaves float across the pages. The real visual highlight, however, is the progression of frames showing the fox sneaking through the field of snoozing animals. The glow of the moonlight acts as a spotlight on the fox, drawing readers’ attention to the action the animals don’t notice. The rear endpapers present five illustrated steps to “wash your hooves and paws!” and keep colds away.

An infectious seasonal read-aloud.”

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School Library Journal

“The rhyming text and repeated refrain are sure to engage the smallest readers and listeners. Bright, energetic watercolors show all the action and some of the funny contrasts in the story. There are also timely suggestions for handwashing and helping others stay healthy. A terrific story time read-aloud, this works for Halloween events or any time of year.

VERDICT A silly rhyming story that will have toddlers giggling along.”

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CM Reviews

“Button’s rollicking rhyming text is humorous and catchy. This simple story begs to be read aloud with gusto and presents a great opportunity for teachers and parents to encourage active participation from youthful listeners.

The lively pictures, with their abundant frenetic activity, match the fun-loving text. The rendering of the sick cow will bring giggles galore to youngsters. This original art is created with coloured pencil, water-colour and digital media.

Aided by the farm cat and friends, the endpapers of The Cow Said Boo! provide helpful hints for cold prevention.”

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Canadian Children’s Book Centre

“A cow’s congestion causes consternation on the farm. Woozy and miserable from a head cold, the bleary bovine doesn’t feel or sound like herself. Her usual genteel salutations of “moo” come out as “BOO!” When she accidentally stumbles into some washing hung out to dry and gets tangled in a bedsheet, she doesn’t look like herself anymore either. Her barnyard pals don’t recognize her and react with alarm. In the evening, too stuffed up to sleep, the cow spies a foxy intruder and knows exactly what to do to bravely save her friends.

Alice carter’s watercolour illustrations have autumnal background details, with bales of hay, pumpkins in the field, and a whimsical jack-o-lantern T-shirt blowing in the clothesline. To show their appreciation, the animals comfort their under-the-weather hero with sweet gestures: the goat offers tissues, the pig plays a song on a ukulele, and the horse brings a bowl of soup.

This boisterously fun picture book offers plenty of wordplay and a healthy dose of humor, from the rooster’s musings of “What do we cock-a-doodle-do?” to the catchy refrain of “the cow said BOO!” Perfect for reading aloud, there are many opportunities for active participation, including a review of handwashing hygiene on the endpapers to “Scare away colds.””

Seattle Book Review

“Author Lana Button has written an adorable little story that will have little listeners giggling as poor Cow tries to “Moo,” and can’t seem to do anything the way she wants. Absolutely charming illustrations by Alice Carter are filled with fun details that will keep little eyes searching the illustrations for more silliness. This book will have youngsters asking for it to be read over and over, but it’s so much fun, adults won’t mind at all.”

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Youth Services Book Review

“This is a fun story in rhyming text about a cow with a cold.  Because her nose is stuffy, the cow’s “Moo” sounds like “Boo.”

The illustrations, created with colored pencil, watercolor and digital media, are filled with detail and expression. This is a cute story for teaching hygiene to little ones. The plentiful pumpkins and autumn leaves make this a good choice for a not-so-scary Halloween read aloud.”

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Parents Magazine

“In this infectious Halloween read-aloud, the cow’s friends think she’s a ghost because her cold makes her “moos” come out as “boos.” Rhyming text and a repeated refrain swoop kids into the silly antics. The kindness that the cow receives from her pals and how she pays it forward is the real treat. Ages 4 to 7

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The International Educator

“Not specifically about Covid, but about communicable diseases in general and especially helpful in Kindergarten classes, The Cow Said Boo by Lana Button, illustrated by Alice Carter is a fun farm romp when poor cow catches a cold and can’t say ‘Moo!’ but says ‘Boo!’ instead. The other animals nurse cow back to health but once cow is better, rooster says “cock-a-doodle-CHOO!” A nonfiction back page talks about washing hands to prevent colds.”

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@jmebills

“What do you get when you cross a cow, a cold, and a bedsheet?

A hilarious picture book of course! …

I found the rhyme scheme in this book delightful, as well as the illustrations.

It is the perfect silly-fun for Halloween! (Although, I am sure we are going to enjoy it all year round 😁!)”

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CanLit for Little Canadians

“Lana Button gives us a story in which a difficulty becomes a blessing, reminding young readers that face-value is just that. Sure, the cow looked like a ghost and frightened her friends with her nasally voice but she used that to her advantage to help her farm pals in the end. Ultimately, they appreciate her efforts, cheering her and even nursing her back to health, though they all catch their own colds and speak with transformed voices. (They would be wise to follow the illustrated instructions on the back end-papers for scaring away colds by washing hands.) Lana Button gives us some silliness and some wisdom, a great way for young children to learn important lessons like how to keep colds at bay and not being too quick to judge.

Ottawa’s Alice Carter created her art with coloured pencils, watercolour and digital media to give The Cow Said Boo! the simplicity and mischievousness that speaks to young children. They know about getting colds and how it feels but Alice Carter makes it more goofy than ridiculous and definitely less miserable than the common cold. From her blue skies and sickly yellow green fields–yes, sickly is a colour–there’s some subtle messaging but the animals are the stars with their brightly-hued coats and cartoonish faces and forms. Moreover, because young children are familiar with animals and their sounds, especially on farms–even if they’ve never visited a rural community–Alice Carter’s depictions of Lana Button’s characters will make them smile.”

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Little Bookworm Club

“When Cow gets a terrible cold making all his moo’s sound like boo’s and has an unfortunate mishap with a sheet all the farm animals mistake him for a ghost. They run and hide away, but Cow finds a crafty way to reveal his true identity and save his friends from some real danger.”

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Storytime with Stephanie

The Cow Said Boo is a delightfully perfect fall story. It has a lovely rhyme to it that rolls right off your tongue. To me the best rhyming stories are ones you can just pick up and catch the beat right from the first page. Also, there is some excellent repetition throughout the story in the line, “the cow said Boo!” making it perfect for a read aloud. You can get your listeners to help you with that part of the story and even say the Boo part, which in my experience children LOVE to do. Another excellent thing about this rhyming tale is that after children have heard the story a few times, they will be able to retell it. If you are a teacher having a retelling station featuring this book would be amazing and so fun for your little readers!

Alice Carter’s illustrations are lively and colourful and very very funny. Children will love seeing the animals’ expressions when they think the cow is a ghost in the farmyard. Also, there is a lot of Halloween imagery making it a fantastic, non-scary story to share at Halloween time. Also, the illustrations are nice and bold, meaning if you are sharing the story with a group, the illustrations will be highly visible.”

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Sherly Books

“I love the story & how the end papers help kids “scare away colds” with the cutest hand-washing instructions ever. And your littles will love all the sound words like “cock-a-doodle Choo”! A perfect read-aloud, but probably not at bedtime because there will be far too much giggling! Highly recommended”

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The Kid Lit Mama

“🎃The Cow Said BOO! | @pajamapressbooks | @lanabutton & @alicecarterillustration | This playful picture book tells a story of the day a cow had a cold so bad that her “moo” came out as “boo.” The cow’s tough day will take a turn as the cow becomes a hero amongst her farm friends!”

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Fab Book Reviews

The Cow Said BOO! is energetic and fun, with a delightful refrain (perfect for chanting), the bustling, sweet illustrations that make the picture book terrific read aloud material. Perfect for Halloween or seasonal fall reading, or for readers looking for a giggly, endearing and rhyming story, The Cow Said BOO! is a delight. Endpapers at the book’s end includes an adorably illustrated spread on how to ”scare away colds” with five steps for washing ”your hooves and paws” to sparkly clean and dry.”

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Canadian Bookworm

“This delightful tale is perfect for coming up to Hallowe’en. The book begins with the cow hanging out her laundry while dealing with a head cold. Instead of saying “Moo!”, it sounds like she is saying “Boo!”, so when she stumbles into the clothesline and gets a sheet caught around her, she ends up scaring all her other farm animal friends by looking and sounding like a very large and scary ghost….

The back inside cover offers instructions on how to wash your hands (or hooves and paws!) properly to keep from getting or passing along a cold through touch.

The illustrations really bring the story to life and show the personalities of the animals.

A fun and lighthearted read about a group of friends.”

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On the Line Reviews

Posted on June 29th, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews

“To be a team player, sometimes you need to think creatively.

Young Jackson Moore comes from a family of hockey players who swap goal stories at dinner. Grandpa tells Jackson, “You’ve got Moore in your blood. You’ll be great!” But Jackson isn’t so sure, and his first efforts leave him flat on the ice. The other kids think he’s too big and uncoordinated for their team. But they have problems of their own… illustrations portray a diverse cast of characters, from the team to the audience in the stands. Bright swathes of greens and blues are punctuated by oranges and yellows, powering a vibrant, eye-catching palette…. an encouraging story for young readers who struggle with shyness and anxiety. An author’s note offers additional insight to the origin of Jackson’s story.

Believe in yourself, trust your talents, and find resilience in stories.”

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CM Magazine

“On the Line tells the story of Jackson Moore, a kid who comes from a family of hockey stars. Jackson is expected to follow in his family’s footsteps, but, as it turns out, he is “a potato on skates”. Jackson hopes to help the team another way, and he comes up with a game plan they can follow. This also fails. Jackson then sets his sights on getting his team the proper equipment, without which they will be unable to play in the tournament. Jackson succeeds in this plan and is a hero after all, just not in the way everyone was expecting. A note on team stewardship at the end hammers home that there are many ways to be part of a team….

On the Line shows that there is more to sport than athletics.”

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Youth Services Book Review

“The simple text and lively illustrations in this book celebrate being a team player, thinking outside the box, and the true meaning of stewardship. Jackson Moore comes from a family of hockey heroes.  His grandpa was an all-star and taught him how to make a game plan, hold a stick, and pass a puck. Jackson is not so sure about his hockey skills, he feels like a potato on skates and even his teammates question if he is a Moore due to his lack of skills on the ice. Jackson’s grandpa tells him he is good at making game plans and he gets to work on figuring out the team’s problem: not having the proper equipment to play in their upcoming Winterfest Tournament.

A great read aloud for the introduction of being part of a team, reinforcing perseverance, believing in oneself, and valuing everyone’s talents.  This would be nice for coaches to share with their elementary school teams.”

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Canadian Bookworm

“On the surface this is a tale of a young hockey player finding his place, but it is so much more than that. The central character is Jackson Moore, a boy that lives in a small town where hockey is an important part of the community. Several members of his family have been players that have been great assets to their team, described as hockey heroes. Everyone seems to be looking for Jackson to follow in their footsteps, but he has doubts. Mostly he keeps his doubts to himself while wondering what will happen if he doesn’t live up to these expectations.

The illustrations add important elements to the story, showing diversity in the community and on the team, and the level of ingenuity the kids and their parents had used to come up with workarounds on equipment.”

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Book Time

“Author Kari-Lynn Winters talks about growing up in a hockey-loving family in a hockey-loving town but being an OK hockey player: “I wasn’t the best skater. I rarely scored goals and I got even fewer assists.” What Winters came to realize, however, was that she was a team steward or leader, helping her team on and off the ice.

This a great picture book to show kids that there are more important things than scoring goals – like trying hard, being a great team player and never giving up.”

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Storytime with Stephanie

“This story gave me some very Mighty Ducks vibes and being a huge fan of the movies and the new series, I really enjoyed this book. I grew up in a hockey family but neither of my kids care to play the sport so at times hockey stories can be a tough sell for us. I know so many hockey fans who will really enjoy this story and so many parents who will love the aspect of community and giving back that Kari-Lynn Winters has built into the text. With the hockey community acknowledging the ways that teams are boosting their communities, it’s a bonus to have a story to help them along. I love that we are seeing stories about kindness and leadership off the ice as well as on the ice. We need to show readers that being a team player and a team leader is more than how they play, it’s how they create opportunities and give back off the ice too.

Scot Richie’s illustrations are colourful and filled with excellent hockey action. I love all of the team members in their various iterations of equipment, most not appropriate for playing hockey. He creates a beautiful community throughout the story that readers will love.”

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The International Educator

On The Line, Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Scot Ritchie, is the newly released story of Jackson, who comes from a long line of hockey heroes. Jackson’s not so sure he can live up to his family’s expectations. He feels like a potato on skates. But maybe his skills are not in skating but planning and organizing. When his team needs a plan, Jackson saves the day. A good story not just for hockey fans but to discuss each person’s different strengths and skills.”

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Katie Akerman (GoodReads)

“Love that being the best at a sport isn’t what makes you part of the team! Supporting your team and continuing to preserver and show up is what makes you a valuable member of any team. I really enjoyed this story. Very short and sweet.”

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Hello, Dark Reviews

Posted on June 29th, 2021 by pajamapress

Kirkus Reviews

“A new perspective combats a common childhood fear: the dark.

Beneath a flock of imaginary sheep running across a rainbow, an Asian-presenting boy lies in bed beneath his covers smiling with the company of a friendly-looking ghostly shadow.…The spare text gently narrates as the kid declares, ‘I’m tired of being afraid of you. Tonight, can we talk?’ Dark purple and blue hues saturate each detailed illustration as the child acknowledges the “good things” the dark also provides. A menagerie of animals playing in the twilight and dreamy scenes of the sky attest to how the dark facilitates life for nocturnal creatures and rest for others. The child then offers a hand to the shadow with an invitation: ‘Let’s be friends.’ In subsequent pages, the child models ways readers can interact with the dark: ‘play imaginary games’; ‘count sheep’; ‘practice breathing’; and ‘listen to music.’ Eventually, and with the help of a night light, the child concludes, ‘I’m sure we can be friends,’ and watches Dark, no longer an object of fear, head back into the closet. The young child presents as East Asian.

This tale compassionately guides young readers to face their fears.”

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CM Magazine

“Written simply and poetically in a reassuring and confident monologue, Hello, Dark will help children to understand why the darkness is necessary. The author’s note explains that this story “reframes the dark in a positive context”, something which it has indeed achieved. The illustrations transport the reader into a nighttime atmosphere and range from depicting a cozy bedroom in rich blue-green hues to the resplendent shades of purple in a starry night sky overseen by a friendly moon. The detail in some of the scenes is astounding, in particular, the picture books on the shelves and the newspaper pirate’s hat. Hello, Dark will be a comfort to children and an essential title for parents who struggle with their children’s fear of the dark. Highly recommended for all children’s collections.”

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Manhattan Book Review

“Wong’s bedtime story offers strategies to manage a child’s fear of the dark. Her Author’s Note at the end explains what inspired the book and includes other strategies such as mindful breathing or listening to music. Tamara Campeau’s richly drawn illustrations, with their dark colors and nighttime setting, bring out the beautiful details of the darkness instead of its scariness.”

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Youth Services Book Review

The very familiarity of both the child and the setting will make it easy for young listeners to identify with the narrator.  Campeau mixes up the framing of her vibrant digital artwork so that we look at the narrator and the room from a variety of angles, which heightens the book’s visual impact. 

A good choice for families struggling with bedtime fears in children ages 3-6. The use of a BIPOC child as a narrator will be of interest to those trying to diversify their bibliotherapy collections. The very literal illustrations and suggested solutions may work as good talking points for weary adults.”

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Canadian Children’s Book Centre

“In this, her debut picture book, Wai Mei Wong has written a compelling story which encourages children to gain control of their anxieties. By articulating concerns and re-imagining a negative situation into a positive one, this book celebrates the inner strength of children in overcoming their fear of the dark. A helpful note to caregivers offers support and strategies.

Tamara Campeau’s vibrant digital illustrations subtly portray the child’s transformation from apprehensive to accepting as Dark grows into a more congenial character. Of visual interest is the child’s bedroom, a comforting milieu filled with toys and a library shelf featuring picture books, two of which have been illustrated by Campeau.”

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The International Educator

Hello, Dark by Wai Mei Wong gives voice to a child who is afraid of the dark. “I hear you creak, and cast shadows all around,” he whispers, alone in bed. But soon he realizes that the dark helps animals at night, even helps the moon shine bright.”

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Storytime With Stephanie

“Wai Mei Wong is an early childhood educator and has drawn on her experiences working with young children and their families to create this beautiful resource which also includes strategies parents and caregivers can use to help ease bedtime anxiety. Working in a preschool myself, I have definitely fielded the question about bedtime/nighttime anxiety and think that this story would make a great addition to the resource shelves in daycares.

The illustrations by Tamara Campeau make the dark seem less intimidating and more like a great new friend. The rich blues in all of the illustrations add a dreaminess to the story. I especially love her depictions of the nighttime animals and the wonderful book covers featured in the child’s bedroom.

This is definitely a story I will be adding to our preschool resource shelves for the next time we encounter the bedtime questions.”

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Bookishrealm (Goodreads)

“This was an interesting picture book. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a newer title that focuses so heavily on a child’s fear of the dark. This will be great for parents/caregivers who are looking for additional support in helping their children cope with a fear of the dark. Not only does the author address the concerns of the child, but through the text the attempt to reframe the child’s perception of what the “dark” really is.”

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Bethany (Goodreads)

“Befriending the dark is a smart concept because how can you be afraid of something if it’s your friend? I love how the author addresses the fear of darkness in an indirect and positive light. Instead of focusing on the boy’s apprehension, the author twists it so the dark is the one who’s lonely and looking for a friend too. The overall dark illustrations fit the theme and I love how the illustrator portrays darkness as a shadow so it puts emphasis on it being an actual friend to talk with. Not something to be scared of.

Final Verdict: HELLO, DARK is the perfect book for children who have a fear of the dark. A parent’s job is to bring positivity into a child’s life and this author gives parents the opportunity to do exactly that.”

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CanLit for Little Canadians

“Too many parents and teachers dismiss children’s fears of the dark by telling them that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Sadly, that does not eliminate the fear. By addressing a child’s fear as something tangible, even as a dark amorphous form, Wai Mei Wong has let this child have his fear and helps him, and every child who reads this book, to cope with it. He is every child and so his solutions to deal with the dark could also belong to every child. Moreover, by having him try a variety of strategies from breathing to listening to music, using his imagination and self-soothing through talk, Wai Mei Wong offers children opportunities to make friends with the dark for themselves.

Artist Tamara Campeau could have given the night the eerie nature that many children attribute to it but this deeply-coloured book is anything but dark. Tamara Campeau, who recently illustrated the gorgeous Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me a Story, uses rich blues and purples to evoke the night but permeates the child’s room with the primary colours, even if subdued in a lack of light. From his pajamas and bed covers to growth chart and books, everything that is familiar to him is always there, even if the dark is too, and reassures children that all those much-loved playthings and familiar bedroom items will still be there in the morning.”

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Canadian Bookworm

“The illustrations show the dark as a shape, but not as a monster, more as a shadow, and I loved the details of the boy’s room and the outdoor world. His interest in vehicles is clear.

This is a book that directly addresses the fears that some young children have about the dark and allays them. I liked that the boy took control, a good message for kids about how they interact with things in their world, as an active participant.

I think this will be a useful book for many families.”

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Mr. Alex’s Bookshelf

“Written by early childhood educator Wal Mei Wong, Hello Dark, hits the sweet spot in terms of helping kids overcome an aversion to “the dark.”

A simple, sweet storyline has our hero befriending darkness, personified mostly through shadow, and employing child-led solutions to overcoming nighttime fears.

The words are simple, as are the illustrations. The pacing is brief and kept quick. However, the message resonates….”

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