Otis & Peanut

Hrab, Naseem. Otis & Peanut. Toronto: Owlkids Books, 2023.
Otis and Peanut, a guinea pig and a mole rat, join the pantheon of fictional best friends in three little stories told in graphic novel format. They go shopping together. They play on the swings together. They remember happy times with their friend Pearl and talk about their sadness now that she’s gone. They encourage each other and learn how to find joy in life again. A wonderful book – with a recipe for baked potatoes at the end – for readers seven to ten years old. 

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Small in the City

Smith, Sydney. Small in the City. Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2019.
The best picture books have illustrations that are an integral part of the story. The best stories let you feel what it is like to be in someone else’s situation. Small in the City starts with four pages of pictures showing a bundled-up little boy on a bus before the first sentence appears – “I know what it is like…” – and continues as he walks along cold snowy streets, looking everywhere – in alleyways, in fenced yards with angry dogs, under bushes and up in bare-limbed trees, past a fishmonger’s and an empty lot, by a red brick church and a bench in a park – as the snow gets thicker and thicker. Finally, in a sign he’s posted on a light standard, we discover to whom he is talking: his cat, who is lost. The words in the story become fewer again and the illustrations become snowier until the hopeful words, “But I know you. You will be all right.”
The design of this book is brilliant. The style of the illustrations, the size and style of the font, the placement of the sentences on the pages are all perfect. The concept of this book is powerful: a main character imagining life from the point of view of someone else whom he loves. Readers will feel the desperate worry mixed with hope that everyone who has ever had a pet can all too vividly imagine. Most highly recommended for anyone who loves picture books (or cats).

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You Hold Me Up

Gray Smith, Monique. You Hold Me Up. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2017.
What does it mean to be an encouragement to others? This thoughtful picture book – colourfully illustrated by Danielle Daniel – provides the answer in simple yet profound sentences perfect for listeners and readers four to eight years old. Highly recommended for parents and grandparents, as well. A story sure to start a conversation about what it means to be part of a family.

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African Proverbs

African Proverbs for All Ages. Collected by Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Nelda LaTeef. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2021.
“Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
“If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today.”
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.”
“Like the turtle, each one of us must stick out our neck if we want to go forward.”
Dozens of proverbs are vividly illustrated in this gorgeous picture book that will inspire conversations among readers of all ages. 

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