Small Print: Kids’ books to start the new school season

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Small in the City, written and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood, 32 pages, $19.95, ages 4-7)

A child makes its way through the wintery city. “I know what it’s like to be small in the city,” the child confides. “People don’t see you … and knowing what to do is hard sometimes …” As the child arrives in its own neighbourhood through a blur of snow, we see the purpose of its hopeful quest: a flyer for a lost cat, and departing paw prints in the snow.

“But I know you,” the child concludes valiantly. “You will be all right.” After winning multiple awards for his illustration, this is Smith’s first solo picture book. And what an evocative, deeply felt and brilliantly visualized work it is. Everything in the understated text blooms into rich emotional meaning in images of a small person’s perspective — a towering walk sign, branches reflected in office windows, the coats and clamour of big people and traffic, and a visual cacophony of streetcar wires, scaffolding, and looming buildings. Highly recommended.

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Tundra, 48 pages, $21.99, ages 4-9)

Maclear and Morstad team up gloriously in this biography and homage to the first American children’s illustrator to depict a multiracial cast — an artist whose books are still favourites today. In lucid, quietly artful prose, Maclear tells of Gyo’s life, from her childhood love of drawing through to her lonely years as an Asian-American in mostly-white schools, from her stint with Walt Disney Studios and the anguish of her family’s internment during World War II, through to her book-changing insistence on depicting babies of different races playing together. Maclear’s lightness of touch — and Fujikawa’s own style — are beautifully rendered in Morstad’s clean, spacious pages, subtle palette, and restrained, delicate line drawings. Highly recommended.

Sharing Our Truths: Tapwe, by Henry Beaver and Mindy Willett with Eileen Beaver, illustrated by Tessa Macintosh (Fifth House, 34 pages, $19.95, ages 6-12)

This new book in The Land is Our Storybook series has all the stellar qualities of earlier volumes: a welcoming voice; Indigenous stories and traditions shared in a clear, accessible way; and a precious window onto a gentle, generous way of learning and teaching. Through a visit with their grandchildren, Cree Elders Henry and Eileen Beaver share activities and protocols of their people of Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith, NWT.

Their grandchildren learn how to harvest salt, trap and skin a beaver, and prepare for and build a teepee. All these activities are as much about what makes strong community as about technical skill: offering tobacco in reciprocity to the land; smudging to cleanse one’s spirit; understanding that the very structure of the teepee tells us something of the nature of family and relations. Like others in the series, this book is a gift to all Canadians.

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Hawks Kettle, Puffins Wheel and Other Poems of Birds in Flight, by Susan Vande Griek, illustrated by Mark Hoffman (Kids Can, 36 pages, ages 6-10, $18.99)

In poems and informational paragraphs, Vande Griek celebrates the unique flight patterns of twelve species of bird, all of which spend at least part of their lives in or near North America.

Her subjects are chosen as much for the words with which we describe their habits as they are for anything else: puffins wheel, geese skein, terns dread, peewees flycatch … Vande Griek’s quick free verse gives a precise glimpse of the bird; Hoffman’s close-up, stylized images take the viewer right into the midst of the flock and its airy habitat.

The Starlight Claim, by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick, 226 pages, $19.99, ages 11-14)

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At the height of his considerable storytelling powers, Wynne-Jones returns to the northern Ontario setting of his classic YA novel, The Maestro. Nate Crow, son of The Maestro’s Burl Crow, travels to the family’s remote cabin on Ghost Lake for his first winter camp without his father.

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Arriving to find the place occupied by three prison escapees, he takes refuge in the cabin of his summer friend Dodge, who drowned with his family only months earlier. As Nate tries to survive and escape the murderous convicts, Dodge’s death and his own family history become terrifyingly entwined. Wynne-Jones writes in prose as crystalline as the northern snow he describes, every phrase purposeful, multi-faceted and potentially deadly. This smart, propulsive thriller has enough drama and suspense to keep even the most reluctant reader on edge. And for those who notice such things, its literary and thematic nuances are plentiful. Highly recommended.



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