Who Can Fix It? Written and illustrated by Leslie Ann MacKeen. Book Review.

The premise of the story is very clever. Jeremiah T. Fitz drives his crank up car every Sunday for dinner with his mother. When his car breaks down a series of animals offer suggestions on how to fix it. The ideas are humorous and clever.

The kangaroo suggests he check the jumper cable. The elephant suggests he check for a peanut in the trunk. The camel suggests he check for water. Some are a bit of a stretch such as the gorilla suggesting he hang around until Fitz thinks of an idea or the bear suggesting he scare the problem out of the car.

I really enjoyed the misinterpretations such as skipping rope with the jumper cable and removing his pants belt to fan the car. I think the book would have been better if there were fewer animals and the suggestions were expanded a little more.

The misunderstandings in this picture book remind me of the old Amelia Bedelia books. However, the vocabulary and situational humour suits older children since not many picture book readers would know much about radiators, fan belts, oil tanks and spark plugs. This would be a delight to a child who is informed and interested in cars. Although, I am not sure they would be satisfied with the idea that the spiders web stopped the motor from working.

The illustrations are bright and often humorous. I wonder, though, if it might interest children more to use a contemporary vehicle and driver. At times, the text was a bit of a tongue twister and I think simplifying the names would make it easier for a child to read.



Refuge Cove by Janet Dailey. The New Americana Series. Book Review.

Refuge Cove is a 291 page romance. This gentle suspense love story is for adults and young adults.
Emma, lonely schoolteacher, has been tricked into leaving her home and career, travelling to Alaska, and entering a sham of a marriage by a con artist named Boone. When his evil intentions become clear, Emma sets his trailer on fire and flees for her life. John Wolf sees her crawling across the bog and rescues her starting a complicated and suspenseful chain of events involving his estranged, strange, family.
Although the story evolves slowly there are enough foreboding incidents to alert the reader to upcoming drama and danger. Janet Dailey connects a complicated and highly dysfunctional family in surprising ways leading some to reconciliation and some to punishment. It is a satisfying conclusion. Love and heroism save the day and readers  who crave a happy ending will smile as they close the last page.

Silly Scientists Take a Tip-Toe with the Tadpoles by Lindsey Craig. Illustrated by Ying Hui Tan. Book Review.

The silly scientists are a bizarre variety of aliens. Their mission is to ensure Taddy the tadpole hatches from an egg, develops into a tadpole, and then into a frog.


This is a wild and fantastical book for children who enjoy extensive zany detail while they learn a little about animals. The pages are fairly bursting with vivid characters. There are seven brightly colored aliens, numerous pond plants and creatures, and ten tadpoles. Younger children might find the illustrations a bit challenging but those that enjoy examining pages with a lot of content will be satisfied.


Although the story is fiction, there are text boxes that explain, in rhyme, the life of a tadpole. The last two pages explain metamorphosis, producers, consumers, and decomposers.


There are moments of humour in the book. Many readers will enjoy the mixture of fact, storyline, and silliness.




Brandon Makes Jiǎo Zi (餃子) by Eugenia Chu. Book Review.

It is great to see more books bridging different cultures.

Eugenia Chu has written a picture book about Brandon, a boy of Chinese heritage, who makes a heritage food with his grandmother and then gives it his own special touch. Brandon is a gleeful and active little boy who loves working with his grandmother in the kitchen. Children of all ethnicities will be late to the creation of goodies with a grandparent.

The book begins with a preface that explains the Chinese alphabet and characters and the sounds they make. It also shows the importance of tone in changing the meaning of a word. Throughout the story, there are Chinese care characters and translations for Mandarin words important to the story. The story ends with the glossary of Mandarin words and the numbers from 1 to 10.

The writing itself could use some tightening. For example the author has a habit of slowing down the text with phrases like “started to”. The illustrations are very simple pencil crayon drawings done in a child-like style.

This book would be of interest parents, teachers, and children, interested in multiculturalism. The author also has audio available for those who would like to check the pronunciation.

The Trick to Being Fearless by Sally Huss. Book Review.

Everyone has fears. The way adults cope with fears and the way children cope is different. The approach in this book seems feasible for young children and could be a useful tool for them to cope on their own.

The little boy in the story, Josiah, “was afraid of everything, but mostly he was afraid of being alone.“ He sees a speaker on television and adopts the concept of swallowing fearful thoughts. The picture book go step-by-step through Josiah’s increasing empowerment as he uses this technique.

It wouldn’t hurt to try the strategy with a child who is afraid of the dark or being alone or has other harmless fears.

The illustrations are cartoonish and effective. The text started out taut and intriguing. However I felt parts were a bit too long and some of the text was too mature for young children who would benefit from this book. For example “who had been assigned the duty of us sitting with Josiah, he saw a program that aroused his interest.”

With adult assistance, fearful children might benefit from this story. At the very least, it is a good launching point for discussion and the development of a coping strategy.

S.T.A.G.S. One Deadly Weekend by M.A. Bennett. Book Review.

S.T.A.G.S. stands for St. Aiden the Great School name for a Saint who made a stag invisible so the hunters couldn’t kill him. I couldn’t decide if it was ironic or deceptive that the school was called S.T.A.G.S. because the halls and rooms were filled with animal heads and the wealthy students participated heavily in a hunting for “sport” culture.

The protagonist, Greer, comes from a modest  background and is one of the targets of the Medievals, upperclass, traditional, anti-technology students who seem to run the school. Inexplicably, Greer receives and invitation, along with two other shunned students, to a weekend at the Medieval leader’s home for “Huntin’ Shootin’ and Fishin”. The wording struck me as odd since tyhese people prided themselves on being upper class and traditional but it may have been a touch of snide subtly directed at the three students being invited.

The three main characters, the bullied ones, we’re likable, understandable, brave and hopeful, the way real teens are. I especially liked Shafeen, an East Indian prince, who gave the villains their real challenge. Greer was well written, naive but smart, courageous but flawed, and mature enough to interest adult readers.

Although the plot was a little predictable, the author kept our suspense. Even though we had a pretty good idea of what the three teenagers would have to overcome, we did not know how this would unfold and whether they would all survive. The tension was built well but the ending went in the expected way. I would’ve preferred a less obvious twist.

While it seems believable and a small group of people could indeed engage in psychopathic behaviour it seems a little far-fetched that so many people were involved and so a large part of the community supported and covered for them. There seemed little purpose for it all.

In spite of my questions, if you’re looking for a suspenseful and scary book, this is a great read. I kept turning those pages long into the night.

Buy link http://a.co/ipBSzyi

Recycled Sundays – Footwear Has a Life of Its Own

People have often entertained the idea that inanimate objects can move, talk, and adventure. Jim Hansen was a marvel at bringing toys, plants and even shapes to life. Disney saw nothing wrong with making flowers, trees, and crockery sing and dance.

TVOntario runs a children show called Readalong. The star has a crush on a pink shoe. But, no need to arrange therapy, since he is a boot. This is no surprise to me. Considering all the anthropomorphism we indulge in, footwear has always seemed the most likely to me to live a life of its own.

I remember the year my son had to share a locker with another classmate at school. By the third week of September, his left shoe had walked away. It was not in any of the three full coffin-sized lost and found boxes, the mud rooms, the classrooms, the office, or the schoolyard. I know. We searched.

We bought him a new pair of shoes.

I think it is unfair that we have to buy shoes in pairs. Why is that? We don’t have to replace all four tires when one is ruined. I felt even stronger about this when my son lost another shoe before Christmas, the left one again. Talk about two left feet.

We bought him a new pair of shoes.

In April, he informed me that there was a “small” hole in one of his shoes. I insisted that it needed to last to the end of the year. Three pairs of indoor school shoes in one year would be outrageous.

A few days later, he told me the hole was beginning to be embarrassing. I told him to bring them home so that I could check them. The sole had pulled away from the shoe for at least 5 cm. Half of his foot stuck out the front. I’d hate to see what he considered a “big” hole.

We bought him a new pair of shoes.

It seems that the constant replacing of a single shoe with a new pair is not just a Canadian phenomenon. My friend, Yuko, told me that Japanese children are just as hard on their shoes, especially when they play the traditional game of geta toss. Getas are sandal-like shoes that people wore with kimonos. Children would play a game whereby they kick one shoe each into the air, much like how we toss a coin. If the geta landed right side up it meant one decision, if it landed right side down it meant another.

Yuko, being a modern girl, wore running shoes just like Canadian children do. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t kick them in the air in a rousing game with her friends. Unfortunately, modern Japanese children have a bigger concern then those who wore kimonos and getas — heavy traffic. Her kick was a bit off-center and the shoe landed in the street  just in the right spot to be crushed by a car. That was one air pump shoe with no more air in it!

They bought her a new pair.

I don’t think they were as upset as I was when my son came home in June of that same year with only one shoe, the left one this time. Ha ha, I thought. I save the right one from the second pair. They may not match exactly, but they’re good enough to play outside in. Unfortunately, they were an entire size different. They would probably make him run in circles just like his mother.

We bought him a new pair.

Somewhere, out there, two like-new left shoes have met up with all the other missing shoes and are high-stepping in the dance of freedom. They’ve join with the partners of all the shoes scattered on the sides of the highway in mockery of those mothers on the way to the shoe store.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

March 7, 1993

NEW NOTE: This story is the inspiration for my upcoming picture book Geta Toss.

The Panchatantra Retold – Kakolukiyuum by Sonal Panse

This is a rare and fascinating collection of interweaving folk tales from ancient India. While they remind me of Aesop‘s fables, they are more complicated, with less obvious meanings, and interconnected in a intricate yet logical manner. This set of stories is written for adults.
The legend goes that a king asked a wise man to change his useless three sons into practical, competent young man. The wise man promised that in six months the boys would be transformed by his wisdom stories.
I have never read a story within story within a story circling back going forward and circling back again in the elaborate way this series does. It is an admirable feat of storytelling.
Much discussion could ensue from each little story especially with regard to psychological warfare and strategy. Basically the story is about owls continuing to attack and kill crows. How the crows decide to protect themselves is devised through discussion by exchanging short fables. There is much insight into the human psyche represented by these animals.
There is a wonderful pen and ink illustration for each story. This is a highly unusual book well worth a look.

Reuben’s Choice by Natalie Vallacot. Illustrated by Lauren Densham. Book Review.

This book is composed in the style of “pick a path” or “choose your own adventure” books.

It is written to teach young children Christian values, specifically honesty, obedience, and responsibility. Whenever the child, Reuben, chooses the ethical path he has a positive outcome. When he chooses to lie or be deceitful, he is caught out and told to ask for forgiveness from the adults and from God.

Reuben is allowed to walk to school by himself for the first time because his siblings are ill. On the way he hears howling which turns out to be an injured puppy. He wants to help the puppy and keep it as a pet. He faces a number of choices. Does he investigate the sound or go where is supposed to? Does he tell his parents about the dog?

If you are a Sunday school teacher or a parent looking for religious Christian guidance with your child, this book would be suitable. I did feel, however, that the book needed to have more suspense and surprises. I think children will find it predictable and may not engage for very long. It is best used with an adult and child together.

My Favorite Fifteen Fiction Picture Books I Reviewed in 2017

I’ve read so many wonderful picture books this year that it was impossible for me to shorten the list of favorites any further than fifteen. Click on the title to go to the review.


Monday – Favorite adult book

Tuesday – Five Favorite Young Adult Books

Wednesday – Five Favorite Middle Grade Books

Thursday – Seven Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books

Friday – Fifteen Favorite Fiction Picture Books