Window – Marion Arbona

As a girl walks home from school she wonders what’s taking place behind the windows she passes. Using details she can see as clues, she imagines scenes that include vampires, a deep sea diver, a jungle and a collection of masks.

This wordless picture book encourages the ‘reader’ to use their own imaginations to tell the story of what’s happening in each room. While there’s an overall theme to each room there are other stories taking place if you look closely, like a frog roasting a marshmallow.

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I’ve also found Alice in Wonderland references in two illustrations (so far). I will definitely look again to see if I missed any the first time around.

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I love the idea of children telling their parents the story of what’s happening behind each window.

Although adult me can appreciate black and white illustrations, kid me would have wanted the entire rainbow. I’m not sure if it’s my eyes or the illustrations, but I had trouble identifying some of the smaller elements in a few pictures.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this wordless picture book, extraordinary things are happening behind the windows of the city.

A young girl is walking home from school in a big city. As she gazes up at window after window in the buildings on her route – each one a different shape and size – she imagines what might be going on behind them. By opening the gatefold, readers will get to see inside her imagination. An indoor jungle. A whale in a bathtub. Vampires playing badminton.

Alien Nate – Dave Whamond

Nate is setting out on an intergalactic search. His mission?

🍕 Find pizza.
🍕 Eat pizza.
🍕 Bring pizza back to his planet.

The tastebuds of his fellow Vegans are depending on him.

Soon after crash landing on Earth, Nate meets one of the locals, Fazel.

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Eluding capture by representatives from the Men in Black Beige, Fazel manages to hide Nate at his house. Fazel introduces his new friend to more of Earth’s delicacies, including donuts, and all of the other wonders Earth has to offer.

The Men in Beige aren’t going to give up their search for this purple alien easily though.

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This is a cute story about the importance of friendship, teamwork and using your imagination, although the narrative felt a bit disjointed at times. While younger readers will probably really enjoy seeing Nate trying to fit in at school and discovering new things, some of the pop culture references are likely to fly straight over their heads.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nate’s on a mission to Earth from the planet Vega. His goal: eat pizza! Luckily, soon after he crash-lands on Earth he meets Fazel, who helps him create a disguise, learn the ways of Earthlings and, most importantly, stuff himself with pizza! Nate quickly discovers there are lots of things to love about Earth and Earthlings besides pizza. He’s having a blast! There’s only one problem. Two Men in Beige (government agents) are desperate to capture him and bring him to their lab – and they’re starting to close in. Will Fazel and Nate manage to elude the Men in Beige while they find fuel for Nate’s spacecraft so he can head home? And will Nate have had his fill of pizza by then? 

Here’s a sidesplittingly funny graphic novel from multiple-award-winning writer, illustrator and cartoonist Dave Whamond. With its irreverent humour and high energy, it’s a perfect pick for emerging readers. Along with the fun, the lovable main character models an eagerness to learn new things and broaden his horizons and, together with Fazel, is able to look past surface differences to find friendship and a shared sense of adventure. There are terrific character education lessons here on adaptability, inclusiveness (even of “aliens”) and teamwork.

The Leading Edge of Now – Marci Lyn Curtis

I don’t think I’ve ever agonised about a book review as much or for as long as I have for this book. See, I’m conflicted. I absolutely loved the style of writing and most of the pieces that made up the main character. I also highlighted so many sentences that I want to read to you so you can sigh with me about how perfectly they capture the feel of the story. I want to bathe in sentences that are simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking like these:

Now would be the proper time to speak. But I’m pretty sure that my mouth has been blown apart and then reattached backward and inside out, a couple of miles north of my vocal cords.

I can feel all the loose ends in my life tangling around my ankles like seaweed, threatening to pull me under.

Memories are like land mines that I step on everywhere I turn.

At the same time, this book pushed so many of my buttons. I don’t expect other readers to feel the same way as I do about the niggles I had because hopefully your experiences have been different than mine, but I try to write authentic reviews and I can’t do that if I gloss over the not so shiny things in life.

The story begins with Grace moving in with her only living relative, her uncle Rusty, who has been MIA from Grace’s life since her Dad died. Grace has been in foster care for the past two years and has been dealing with her grief by herself, as well as the impacts of a sexual assault she experienced a few weeks before her father died.

The aftermath of sexual assault is painfully authentic in Grace’s character. The lingering shame, self doubt, fear, anger, grief and many other legacies of sexual assault are explored. I loved Grace’s resilience and bonded with her over her ability to speak sarcasm fluently. She thinks she knows who raped her but, because of medication she’d taken, that night is almost entirely a blank. As a result she doesn’t know who to trust and I wound up suspicious of almost everyone at some point in the book so I felt the author did a great job of creating an atmosphere of uncertainty.

While this book tackles some big issues the swoonfest diluted their impact for me. Boy wonder was a sweetheart but I would have liked him much more if he wasn’t so frustratingly perfect. As a huge romantiphobe I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book had I realised that swooning was going to be as prevalent as it was.

Longing, fiercer and more powerful than ever, is a hand on my back, propelling me toward him.

Had I bypassed this book I would have avoided sentences like that one and been relieved of some annoyance and nausea, but I also would have missed out on some stellar ‘I have to highlight this!’ writing. I wish that the lovey dovey parts had been replaced by friendship and banter between Grace and boy wonder but I expect most readers will love the romantic interludes. What really annoyed me was that it seemed that no matter what Grace was facing everything eventually boiled down to whether boy wonder still liked her or not.

I felt that where Owen was mysteriously going at exactly the same time every Saturday fell within Captain Obvious’ jurisdiction and there were a few other developments that I picked up on well before they were revealed. I mention this only because I usually suck at knowing what’s going to happen in a book before it does.

So, this is probably where my review will start to sound like a therapy session. Apologies in advance.

Some of the characters seemed to waft into a scene to impart the knowledge required for the next step in the investigation before disappearing from the book entirely and the mystery of who raped Grace unfolded too easily for me. I almost stopped reading the book when I found out who the rapist was because I didn’t find it believable that it was this particular person.

I despised Rusty’s character even though I think he was supposed to be sweet, if misguided. When the care of a traumatised teenager has been entrusted to you then irresponsibility is never going to be cute or endearing. I wanted to yell at him or smack him off the page or something.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible to envy someone’s experience in foster care but apparently it is. Grace only has two foster placements in two years and the second set of foster parents sounded like they should have been nominated for Foster Carers of the Year. While it’s refreshing to hear that good foster parents do exist the foster kids I’ve known haven’t lived in any award winning homes. It would have been more realistic to me if Grace had had some dodgy placements before hitting the foster kid jackpot.

The takeaway seemed to be (to me but you may not read it like this) that if you are raped it’s your responsibility to report it to the police to protect that person’s other potential victims. This puts so much pressure on a person who is already traumatised and while I’m all for reporting if that’s what the person wants to do it is their choice. While it would be incredible if the justice system actually dispensed justice in these cases it can be harmful to someone who has experienced sexual assault to attach their healing to an outcome for the perpetrator. On RAINN’s website there are statistics that I thought of when the characters were trying to push Grace to go to the police.

“Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. 310 are reported to police. 57 reports lead to arrest. 11 cases get referred to prosecutors. 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction. 6 rapists will be incarcerated.”

I don’t quote this to discourage anyone from reporting sexual assault. I’ve personally reported some sexual assaults but not others so I can see the benefits and pitfalls of both options. I only want to say that if you have experienced sexual assault it’s your choice whether you report or not. Reporting is not the only path to healing.

Content warnings include sexual assault, alcoholism, drug abuse, foster care, and grief.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Just when Grace is beginning to get used to being an orphan, her estranged uncle suddenly comes forward to claim her. That might have been okay if he’d spoken to her even once since her father died. Or if moving in with Uncle Rusty didn’t mean returning to New Harbor. 

Grace once spent the best summers of her life in New Harbor. Now the place just reminds her of all she’s lost: her best friend, her boyfriend and any memory of the night that changed her forever. 

People say the truth will set you free, but Grace isn’t sure about that. Once she starts looking for it, the truth about that night is hard to find – and what happens when her healing hurts the people she cares about the most? 

Rosie’s Glasses – Dave Whamond

Wow! This is one of the best books I’ve never read! Both wordless and speaking volumes at the same time Rosie’s Glasses is allegedly a children’s book but I think it’s profound enough for all ages to get something from it. I’d actually dare say that the older you are the more you may need this book.

I love the idea of ‘reading’ this book with a child, taking turns telling the stories that are happening within the pages. It’s never too early to learn about perspective and never too late to be gently reminded of it. I adore the exploration of how our emotions can influence the way we see the world and interact with it.

I was talking to one of my doctors last week about how it’s easier to do the same thing over and over again. She is the undisputed Queen of Analogies and All Things Poetic and Deep in my life so naturally she likened thoughts and behaviours to grooves; water being more likely to want to travel the already well worn path. She talked about how it’s possible to carve a new groove in your life, that over time you can essentially train yourself to think and behave in physically and mentally healthier ways. We tend to get set in our grooves of how we see the world and those grooves deepen in time as we tread the same path, unless we make a conscious effort to change them. (P.S. Unlike most people I actually look forward to appointments with my doctors because I have the most profound, caring, extraordinary ones ever!)

This book reminded me of that conversation. The same thing that’s true of grooves can be said for perspective. We can inadvertently get stuck seeing the world one way when there are so many unexplored possibilities. It can take just the slightest shift in your perspective and your entire outlook can change, much like when Rosie puts on the glasses in this book and all of a sudden a world of colour and wonder opens up around her.

I love that reading the title Rosie’s Glasses made me think of rose-tinted glasses. The positivity associated with rose-tinted glasses seems to get a bad rap all around and even when I looked up ‘rose-tinted’ in the dictionary, Mr Collins told me that it’s “excessively optimistic”. I don’t know though. Is there such thing as too much optimism? I like to think that even when things in our life suck and there doesn’t seem to be any colour in sight that we can still choose to hope. Surely we can acknowledge the suckage of life (I’m not advocating denial) and still find the good as well.

I took some photos while I was sitting at the beach several years ago. Looking out across the ocean the water was sparkling, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. It was a gorgeous day. Then I looked behind me and there were angry storm clouds ready to release buckets and the sky was prematurely dark. If I showed you the photos you’d be forgiven for thinking they were different days, maybe even different seasons. Yet what the camera recorded was determined by what I was looking at at the time.

Until I opened this book, remembering the contrast between the sunny and stormy photos has been my go to in thinking about perspective. Now I think I’ll be imagining Rosie’s glasses whenever I catch myself needing an attitude realignment. If I’m seeing a monochromatic world I can remind myself that I don’t need glasses to change my perspective. I just need to allow myself to see the rest of the spectrum.

I’ve said in a number of reviews now that the illustrations bring the book alive or they are everything. In this book they really are everything. They’re deceptively simple, easy to ‘read’ but with depth that you appreciate more as you keep looking. Dave Whamond’s illustrations capture the mood and story so well that words really aren’t necessary.

So, as usual, here I am writing a review that’s longer than the actual book but at least this time I’ll have company. That is, unless someone is smart enough to post a review that simply shows two illustrations, one of Rosie’s world without glasses and one with them. Now, why didn’t I think of that?!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to discover this little gem. Kid’s book? Sure, I can see that. Yet it’s not only a kid’s book. I’m looking forward to the release of Rosie’s Glasses because in my world it’s going to be a coffee table book so kids and once upon a time kids can both appreciate its message.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this wordless picture book, Rosie wakes up in a monochrome world, with a dark cloud over her head. As she plods through her miserable, grey day, the cloud follows. Mishaps and mayhem thwart her every move, irritating noises assault her – and the pouring rain makes everything worse. But then, on her way home from school, Rosie finds a pair of strange glasses. When she puts them on, her world transforms into vivid, joyful color. All of a sudden, she can see the beauty and fun in everything around her – and her dark cloud has disappeared. Are the glasses magic? Or could it be that changing how we look at the world can change the way we experience it?

Award-winning author and illustrator Dave Whamond is known for his energetic, humorous and colorful art. Here he uses three different color palettes to powerfully tell a story of how moods can affect what we see. The wordless format encourages visual literacy and deeper readings of the story based on individual interpretation. It also invites nonreaders to develop vocabulary and narrative skill by reading the illustrations. This book offers a perfect lead-in to a discussion about good and bad moods. It also works for lessons on self-awareness and personal development, and as an excellent reminder to children (and adults!) that we can all exercise some control over how we see our world. 

Ebb and Flow – Heather Smith

First, an admission. I used to be a free verse snob, prejudging something I had no experience reading. That all changed the day I discovered Ellen Hopkins and realised that some of the most emotional and engaging books are written in this format, so I was excited to see what Ebb and Flow had in store for me. Beside the joy of appreciating the story and characters, it also had me ugly crying in the form of “This is so beautiful!” 😭. So, to all of the free verse authors out there, my sincere apologies. I’ve reformed and am converted now!

The past year of Jett’s life has gone from bad to worse. His father is in prison, his mother moved him to the mainland and Jett has allowed victimhood to define him and his behaviour. As a result he’s made some really poor decisions and he’s been sent to stay with his granny for the summer, a well needed time out for Jett and his mother.

I adored Jett’s cotton candy granny, whose hair colour coordinates with her house colour. She is one of the coolest grannies ever! Her unconditional love for Jett came across as so genuine. She loves him no matter what and she gives him the space he needs to work through the guilt and shame he’s carrying about the events of the past year, yet also gently pushes him when he needs it.

Jett’s granny reminded me of my Nan and that’s probably one reason why I instantly connected with her. My Nan and I also played board games (except she always played to win whereas Jett’s granny takes it a little easier on him), she’d take me to visit her friends (Jett’s granny takes him visiting as well) and she was my favourite person in the entire world (I expect Jett feels much the same). My Nan passed on her love of reading, her quirkiness and her ‘normal is boring’ attitude to me.

The most valuable thing Nan ever gave me, which mirrors what Jett’s granny gives him, was her unshakeable belief in my goodness and ability to do whatever I set my mind to. Even now, over a decade after she went to hold my seat at the canasta table in heaven, I can still hear her telling me, “I knew you could do it” every time I accomplish anything, big or small.

Without Jett’s granny I expect things would have turned out a lot differently for this 11 year old. I know he’s going to look back years from now and credit his granny and those experiences with her that summer with the man he becomes. Now I’m talking about him like he doesn’t live on pages but if any author can make me ugly cry at how beautiful their book is, their characters are going to become a part of me. Especially when I cry while thinking about them to write my review – that’s a first!

Jett’s summer is one of respite, of taking stock and learning to take responsibility for his actions. He has the opportunity to consider the kid he was before he went to the mainland, who he became once there and the man he wants to become. Shining a spotlight on how difficult it is to face up to the actions you regret and forgiving others as well as yourself, Jett’s journey is ultimately one of redemption and hope.

While this is marketed as a children’s book, it has a lot to offer adults as well. The writing is simply gorgeous and reminded me why I love this author. There’s at once a simplicity and depth to the way Heather Smith writes and as with The Agony of Bun O’Keefe I was happily motoring along, loving the book but not realising my emotional investment in her characters until the ugly cry escaped. I wound up on the final page of Ebb and Flow with a satisfied sigh and tears running down my face, and the only word I could think of was beautiful.

Heather Smith’s writing reminds me of the feeling I get reading a Billie Letts book. There’s a vulnerability, openness and loveable quirkiness in their characters, and you’re permitted access to the real person beneath the façade. As you gradually delve into Jett’s rotten year you meet Alf who is adorable and childlike and the alleged villain of the story who I really liked, and whose emotions and acts I could empathise with. Cotton candy granny will remain my favourite character in this book, but she definitely had some pretty impressive competition for that title.

Ebb and Flow is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. I half want to say that I hope schools use this book as part of their English curriculum but if schools are still like they were back in the olden days when I attended, they tend to analyse the fun out of really good books, and I’d hate for that to happen to this one.

Content warnings include domestic violence and child abuse.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity read this book. I can’t wait for Heather Smith’s next book!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

One summer,
after a long plane ride
and a rotten bad year
I went to Grandma Jo’s.
It was my mother’s idea.
Jett, what you need is a change of scenery.
I think she needed a change of scenery, too.
One without me.
Because that rotten bad year?
That was my fault.

Thus begins the poignant story, told in free verse, of eleven-year-old Jett. Last year, Jett and his mother had moved to a new town for a fresh start after his father went to jail. But Jett soon learned that fresh starts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When he befriended a boy with a difficult home life, Jett found himself in a cycle of bad decisions that culminated in the betrayal of a friend – a shameful secret he still hasn’t forgiven himself for. Will a summer spent with his unconventional grandmother help Jett find his way to redemption?

Writing in artfully crafted free-verse vignettes, Heather T. Smith uses a deceptively simple style to tell a powerful and emotionally charged story. The engaging narrative and the mystery of Jett’s secret keep the pages turning and will appeal to both reluctant and avid readers. This captivating book offers a terrific opportunity for classroom discussions about the many ways to tell a story and how a small number of carefully chosen words can have a huge impact. It also showcases the positive character traits of empathy resilience, courage, and responsibility. 

The Lost Causes – Alyssa Schwartz & Jessica Etting

I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved this book! Jessica and Alyssa, please write a sequel. Also, if you could possibly start talks with some TV networks to commence work on The Lost Causes Season 1 that’d be awesome.

The Lost Causes shouldn’t have worked so well … but it did. It took on so many themes and genres that it should have read like a book that couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be when it grew up … but it worked. Now this isn’t exhaustive by any means but we had murder, conspiracy theories, addiction, child abuse, abandonment issues, trust issues, mystery, humour … yet it was cohesive. How is that even possible?! Did Jessica and Alyssa use the serum on themselves to work this magic, and where can I get some?

I was so conflicted reading this book. I wanted to read slowly because I didn’t want to miss anything yet I wanted to rush through it to see how it wrapped up. I wanted to know who we could trust but the suspense was so much fun I wanted it to last. I wanted to find a character I hated or bored me but it wasn’t to be.

I can’t think of another book where I’ve made it to the end and still haven’t decided who my favourite character was. This book was primarily written in segments focusing on each of the five Lost Causes – Z, Sabrina, Andrew, Justin, and Gabby. Now, this usually annoys me in books because I find it can disrupt the flow and make the book feel disjointed … but it worked here. It started with Z and I immediately bonded with her, partly because of her attitude and partly because she was rocking my hairstyle. I was sure she’d be my favourite character. Then I discovered that my favourite character was constantly changing, depending on who I was reading about at the time. So at this point, I give up. They’re all my favourites!

The banter between the five was realistic and I loved that their growing bond wasn’t all sunshine and roses. They annoyed and didn’t always understand each other, and why should they? They had such diverse personalities. They had no reason to become Insta-friends. Also, I cannot give enough praise for the fact that the teenagers actually spoke like teenagers!

I don’t want to give away any spoilers but suffice it to say that the plot kept me guessing, I wanted to know what happened next with both the plot and the relationships between the characters and I had so much fun reading this book. I even half expected Mulder and Scully to walk in and join the investigation.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this book. In case you missed it the first time, Jessica and Alyssa, please write a sequel!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Misfits. Outcasts. And the only ones who can find a killer.

They’re the last people you’d ask to help with anything, much less a murder investigation. The rich girl, the obsessive, the hypochondriac, the addict and the hot-tempered athlete—people think they’re beyond help. Lost causes. But where the world sees losers, the FBI sees its only hope.

With the help of a dangerous serum, the FBI erases the teens’ past problems and unlocks a psychic ability within each of them. In return, all they have to do is help find the killer who’s turned their small town upside down.

But as they close in on a suspect, they expose a conspiracy that puts them directly in harm’s way and makes them wonder who—if anyone—they can really trust.

If anything happens to them, will anyone even care?