The weather is getting (sort of) colder, the decorations are up, and we would like to wish you all a very happy holiday!
2015 has been an amazing year at Groundwood, and while we celebrate the season, we are also looking back on all the wonderful books we published. The best-of lists are still trickling in, so for now we would like to celebrate the books that have received starred reviews this year.
One Starred Review
Starred Review by Canadian Materials
“All elements of the book come together to create what could very well become a classic in children’s literature.” — Canadian Materials
Grant Wood believed that to be a real artist, he had to live in Paris. But once he got there, he realized that to be a great painter he needed to return to the people and places—and even animals—that he knew and loved the best.
Inspired by the life of artist Grant Wood, this is the sensitively imagined story of the great American painter and a cow named Tillie. Skillfully mixing fact with fiction, Monica Kulling’s text explores the making of an artist, while Sydney Smith’s illustrations echo Grant Wood’s own techniques. The result is a gently wise picture book that will encourage young readers and artists to trust the love that is sometimes only found close to home.
written and illustrated by Isol
translated by Elisa Amado
Starred Review by Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Tender and funny, a celebration of the hard work that takes place on both sides to settle the complicated little traveler into its new world.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
A book for babies and their parents about the whole new world that they both encounter when the baby arrives.
When the new baby arrives, both the baby and the parents are in for a steep learning curve. In this book, born out of personal experience, internationally renowned author/illustrator Isol brings us a dual narrative and guide. For babies, there’s a rich range of images of babies and all their functions to look at. From crying, to nursing, to peeing and pooing, to looking, to hearing, to deciding that this weird new world they’ve entered is worth staying in (because they finally recognize that in every grown-up they see a former baby), there are hours of fun and amusement, since babies love nothing better than looking at and talking about themselves.
For parents, this is a wonderful exploration of the new world this stranger-baby brings with them. Amusingly written, the text presents in a humorous, wry way all the facets of the new baby’s reality. A great gift for new parents both before and after baby is born.
by Jorge Argueta
illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Starred Review by School Library Journal
“A completely satisfying offering. A delectable work of art perfect for food-themed, bilingual, and Día storytimes.” — School Library Journal
In this cooking poem, Jorge Argueta brings us a fun and easy recipe for a yummy salsa. A young boy and his sister gather the ingredients and grind them up in a molcajete, just like their ancestors used to do, singing and dancing all the while.
The children imagine that their ingredients are different parts of an orchestra — the tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums, the onion, a maraca, the cloves of garlic, trumpets and the cilantro, the conductor. They chop and then grind these ingredients in the molcajete, along with red chili peppers for the “hotness” that is so delicious, finally adding a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt. When they are finished, their mother warms tortillas and their father lays out plates, as the whole family, including the cat and dog, dance salsa in mouth-watering anticipation.
Each book in the cooking poem series features a talented illustrator from the Latino world. In Salsa the text is complemented by the rich, earthy illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. His interest in honoring the art of the past in contemporary contexts is evident in these wonderful illustrations, which evoke the pre-Columbian Mixtec codex.
Starred Review by Quill & Quire
“Reminds readers of the importance of critical self-reflection and of our connection to the animal world — two ideas worth championing at any age.” — Quill & Quire
In this introduction to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals, young children explain why they identify with different creatures such as a deer, beaver or moose. Delightful illustrations show the children wearing masks representing their chosen animal, while the few lines of text on each page work as a series of simple poems throughout the book.
In a brief author’s note, Danielle Daniel explains the importance of totem animals in Anishinaabe culture and how they can also act as animal guides for young children seeking to understand themselves and others.
Strange Light Afar
by Rui Umezawa
illustrated by Mikiko Fujita
Starred Review by Quill & Quire
A bitterly jealous brother, a samurai who makes the ultimate sacrifice, a cold-hearted husband, a monk who mistakes desire for piety, a fraudulent merchant who meets his match in a supernatural river otter — the motives underlying these traditional Japanese folktale characters are explored with haunting results.
Prompted by the sometimes illogical and perplexing actions of folktale characters (Why doesn’t the wolf kill Little Red Riding Hood right away?), master storyteller Rui Umezawa revisits eight popular Japanese folktales, delving beneath their sometimes baffling plot lines to highlight the psychological motivations behind the characters’ actions.
Tales of addiction, bravery, sex, greed, abuse and control — these stories take their inspiration from the great Japanese storytelling traditions, as well as from Noh and Kabuki. Sometimes laced with ironic humor, sometimes truly horrifying, these stories of the strange and supernatural will appeal to readers of all ages, but they particularly speak to teenagers.
Evocative and haunting illustrations by the stunningly talented Mikiko Fujita add to the eerie beauty of this collection. A detailed afterword outlines the author’s storytelling approach and provides source material for each tale.
Two Starred Reviews
Starred Reviews by Kirkus and Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“An immersive, believable portrait of how adolescents cope, or not, with divorce, drawn from an inside view. Powerful and deeply resonant.” — Kirkus
Charlotte’s life is changed forever when her parents’ marriage breaks up, and Charlotte has to leave her beloved house and her old life behind. Then two very different boys cross her path, and a new emotion creeps into her sadness and anger — an emotion that is both confusing and sweet.
Set in a small town on the Austrian Danube, this is a familiar story that will touch a chord with every teenager, yet it is told with refreshing emotional honesty. Devoid of the judgment, sentimentality, sitcom snark or sexual precociousness that define so many North American young adult novels about first love, this story shows a strong, open, curious girl stumbling and prevailing as she figures out how to turn away from the noise of other people’s expectations, and listen to her own heart.
Three Starred Reviews
A Year Without Mom
written and illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova
Starred reviews by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal
“Deceptively simple, but with great narrative sophistication . . . Fascinating and heartfelt.” — Kirkus
A Year Without Mom follows twelve-year-old Dasha through a year full of turmoil after her mother leaves for America.
It is the early 1990s in Moscow, and political change is in the air. But Dasha is more worried about her own challenges as she negotiates family, friendships and school without her mother. Just as she begins to find her own feet, she gets word that she is to join her mother in America — a place that seems impossibly far from everything and everyone she loves.
This gorgeous and subtly illustrated graphic novel signals the emergence of Dasha Tolstikova as a major new talent.
by Martine Leavitt
Starred reviews by Booklist, Kirkus, and Horn Book
“A fresh, funny voice that never diminishes the seriousness of schizophrenia. . . . Leavitt delivers an imaginative exploration of mental illness, examining what’s real and what’s true in this magical world.” — Booklist
In the town of Leamington, Ontario, a seventeen-year-old boy is suddenly stricken by a schizophrenic episode and wakes up in hospital. The boy’s name is Calvin, and he is plagued by hallucinations.
As the hallucinations persist, Calvin comes to believe that the answer lies in performing one grand and incredible gesture. And so he decides to walk across Lake Erie. In January. The temperatures have been below freezing for weeks. The ice should hold…
The lake, it turns out, is more marvelous, and more treacherous, than Calvin had ever imagined — populated by abandoned cars (joy ride!), ice-fishing eccentrics, psychokiller snow beings, and a not-so-mythical sea witch named Jenny Greenteeth. Not to mention the man-eating tiger that looms just out of his sight lines as he treks. But the biggest surprise of all is that Calvin finds himself accompanied by Susie, the girl of his dreams. Or is it his dreams that have conjured up Susie?
Part romance, part adventure story, part quest novel, Martine Leavitt brings her inimitable gentle wit, humor and compassion to a story about a teenaged boy struggling to gain control of his own mind and destiny.
Starred reviews by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist
“Humorous, haunting, and just a touch creepy, it’s a singular vision of the possibilities hidden in the everyday.” — Publishers Weekly
A wallet, a set of keys, a pair of glasses — these are some of the household objects that disappear and are fantastically reconstituted in Cybèle Young’s inventive new picture book. Minimal text conveys the magic of a world where even inanimate objects are constantly undergoing a process of growth, transformation and change.
An introduction describing the frustration we feel when we lose something is followed by a catalogue of misplaced objects. Each item is shown first in its original form and then, through a gatefold spread, is shown in the process of transforming into a marvelous and mysterious sea creature. At the very end of the book, we see these transformed objects in their new, watery habitat, a conclusion which will leave readers astonished by the distance they — like the lost objects themselves — have travelled.
Some Things I’ve Lost invites readers to consider the inevitability of change and the power of the imagination. On finishing the book, children and adults alike will look more closely at everything they have previously taken for granted.
Two White Rabbits
by Jairo Buitrago
illustrated by Rafael Yockteng
translated by Elisa Amado
Starred reviews by School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly
“A masterpiece of understatement. In leaving readers with much to wonder about, the book packs the most powerful of punches.” — Kirkus
In this moving and timely story, a young child describes what it is like to be a migrant as she and her father travel north toward the US border.
They travel mostly on the roof of a train known as The Beast, but the little girl doesn’t know where they are going. She counts the animals by the road, the clouds in the sky, the stars. Sometimes she sees soldiers. She sleeps, dreaming that she is always on the move, although sometimes they are forced to stop and her father has to earn more money before they can continue their journey.
As many thousands of people, especially children, in Mexico and Central America continue to make the arduous journey to the US border in search of a better life, this is an important book that shows a young migrant’s perspective.
West Coast Wild
by Deborah Hodge
illustrated by Karen Reczuch
Starred reviews by Publishers Weekly, Quill & Quire, and Canadian Materials
“Hodge’s forthright narration offers details about familiar creatures like bears, cougars, and orca, but she sneaks in some surprises, too . . . [Reczuch’s] precisely drafted illustrations find majesty and beauty in the creatures, vegetation, and landscapes that make the Pacific Northwest so distinctive.” — Publishers Weekly
This stunning nature alphabet book explores the fascinating ecosystem of the Pacific west coast — a magnificent area that combines an ancient rainforest, a rugged beach and a vast, open ocean, and where whales, bears, wolves, eagles and a rich variety of marine species thrive in an interconnected web of life.
Author Deborah Hodge has spent more than forty years on the west coast, frequently visiting the Pacific Rim region, and she knows it intimately. From A to Z she describes in vivid language the rainforest, ocean and beach, and a great variety of animals that a child might see walking along the shore — from tiny sea jellies to inquisitive sandpipers to leaping orcas. Illustrator Karen Reczuch brings her remarkable talent to the book, and has created image after image that is simply breathtaking. The text and art have been carefully checked for scientific accuracy.
Four Starred Reviews
Buddy and Earl
by Maureen Fergus
illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Starred reviews by Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Canadian Materials
“Fergus’ deadpan text and Sookocheff’s simple, flowing artwork work in elemental harmony, working together to elevate the book to a subliminal sophistication that breathes something quite smart into the proceedings.” — Kirkus
Buddy does not know what is in the box that Meredith carries into the living room. But when the small, prickly creature says he is a pirate — and that Buddy is a pirate too — the two mismatched friends are off on a grand adventure.
In this first book in the Buddy and Earl series, a dog who likes to play by the rules meets a hedgehog who knows no limits. Their friendship is tender and loyal, and their adventures are funny and imaginative. Maureen Fergus’s text is witty and understated, and Carey Sookocheff’s art emphasizes both the humor and the warmth of this odd and loveable animal couple.
Five Starred Reviews
by JonArno Lawson
illustrated by Sydney Smith
Starred reviews by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Quill and Quire, and Booklist
“An emotionally moving, visually delightful ode to the simple powers of observation and empathy. . . . A book to savor slowly and then revisit again and again.” — School Library Journal
In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.
“Written” by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and brought to life by illustrator Sydney Smith, Sidewalk Flowers is an ode to the importance of small things, small people and small gestures.