Owly by Andy Runton

Owly, Vol. 1:  The Way Home & The Bittersweet SummerOwly, Vol. 1: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can’t say this with any certainty but Owly has the feeling of being written for school-aged children. The pictures are sweet and the text is minimal but the stories themselves seem to have a moral impetus driving them….like you just know there’s a lesson at the end. Andy Runton even includes this teacher resource page on his blog: http://www.andyrunton.com/teaching/in… …as if Andy Runton sat down one day and said “I have the perfect thing for those elementary teachers…” The pictures are sweet and the text is minimal which is certainly an achievement but the stories themselves seem to have a moral impetus driving them….like you just know there’s a lesson at the end. This makes the stories seem disingenuous and I have to question the validity of the purpose. However, there is a very nice storytelling moment when during their quest Owly and Wormy meet a pair of fireflies to light their nighttime path. The reader realizes that Owly released these two fireflies from a jar earlier in the story so they are repaying a favour to Owly.

And another thing….While I mostly like this cute character Owly, I’m a little miffed when in “The Way Home” that he can have worms as friends, because I think any owl with any self-worth would munch on that worm quick as can be. Owly just isn’t very ….owly. My son was given a book called “Ducklings love…” once when he was about 3 and it was super cute that the ducklings love something different on each page like: water, swimming, their Mommy and Daddy, and then the ducklings were said to love cats and dogs and I thought “Ducklings do not love cats and dogs or rabid-duckling-eating-wolves” and I threw it away. There’s something about Owly’s quirky relationships with much smaller animals that I find unnerving. Maybe the leap from personifying an animal to taking all of his animal characteristics away is just too great for me to take.

I appreciated “The Bittersweet Summer” a little more because of the natural cycles of migration that Owly discovers. I particularly enjoyed the pages where Runton conveys time passing through the calendar and the plants are starting to bloom again. Runton’s use of black and white does not diminish the emotions he’s trying to convey through Owly’s expressions. Only occasionally does Runton break his style to provide a whack of information regarding a plant or the hummingbird’s migration patterns in writing. The structure of the frames on a page is generally reliable and this would be comforting to a new reader of the comic genre.

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The ArrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The universal human experience of moving or migrating is beautifully illustrated in The Arrival. The fact that the story is told without words somehow brings more emphasis to the language of the new city where the main character travels to. Anyone who has travelled can relate to the exhilarating and wearisome experience of trying communicate your basic needs to a stranger.url





I was struck by the characterization of the city itself in Tan’s illustrations and thought immediately that it looks like New York City. There seems to be a pyramid shape to the city’s landscape that reminds me of downtown Manhattan where the Empire State Building faces the Rockefeller Center. I had the opportunity to visit New York City for the first time last year and it is possible to see this view from Ellis Island of the Statue of Liberty.





Although the book is filled with whimsical and fantastical creatures, they don’t detract from the power of our main character’s experience in setting up a new life for himself and his family. On the contrary, he meets others like himself who tell their own story of escaping some kind of hardship (like the monster in our main character’s homeland) and then being greeted by a kind stranger in the new land. The final panel in the book communicates the cyclical nature of migration.



























Brian Kelley (2010) says:
Using images and illustrations, with or without words, is one of the many ways humans communicate.        Humans are visual beings as well as oral-aural beings. To process our world not only through language, but also through viewing, thus forming a deeper understanding of life and communication when our sense merge (pp. 6 – 7).

Shaun Tan accomplishes this merging through his book. I feel as if I have a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience having read The Arrival.


Kelley, B. (2010). Sequential art, graphic novels, & comics. SANE Journal,
1(1), 1-24.

Tan, S. (2006). The arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

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Jeffrey and Sloth by Kari-Lynn Winters and Ben Hodson

Book title: Jeffrey and Sloth

Author: Kari-Lynn Winters and Ben Hodson

Bibliographic entry Winters, K.-L., & Hodson, B. (2007). Jeffrey and Sloth. Victoria, Canada: Orca Book.
Description Intimidated by the blank page, young author Jeffrey tries to write a story but can only draw.  He creates a sloth who comes to life and starts to give Jeffrey all sorts of great story ideas.
Reaction A beautiful tale of unleashing your creativity through art.  A great conversation starter about the creative process.
Recommended age level Primary/Junior
Subjects/themes art, creativity, storytelling
Curriculum connections Art: identify and document their strengths, their interests, and areas for improvement as creators of art
Awards Finalist: 2008 BC Book Prize; Winner of the ABCs of Education best books of 2006-2007; Silver Medal at the 2008 Blue Spruce Ontario Library Association award; Silver Medal at the 2009 Chocolate Lilly British Columbia Reader’s Choice Award
Miscellaneous More information on the books of Kari-Lynn Winters can be found at: http://kariwinters.com/


The farm team by Linda Bailey

Book title: The Farm Team

Author: Linda Bailey

Bibliographic entry Bailey, L. (2006). The Farm Team. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.
Description The animals on Stolski’s farm haven’t won a hockey game against the Bush League bandits in 50 years but they haven’t lost hope of bringing home the Stolski cup.  With some teamwork and determination, this may be their year.
Reaction Action-packed and full of sports strategies, The Farm Team will appeal to readers young and old.  This book would be an excellent choice for use with dramatization in the primary classroom.
Recommended age level Primary/Junior
Subjects/themes Hockey, teamwork, competition
Curriculum connections Language: demonstrate understanding of a text by retelling the story or restating information from the text, including the main idea
Awards OLA Best Bets, Top 10 Canadian Children’s Books 2006; Shortlist, Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, 2007; Honour Book, Ontario Blue Spruce Award, 2008
Miscellaneous Author Linda Bailey and illustrator Bill Slavin have teamed up to create six books together.



Bats: Furry fliers of the night by Mary Kay Carson (book app)

Book title: Bats: Furry fliers of the night

Author: Mary Kay Carson

Bibliographic entry  Carson, M. K. (2012). Bats: Furry fliers of the night. Bookerella.
Description This book app or bapp is a brand-new hybrid non-fiction book mixed with an ipad app.  It is broken into seven chapters starting with descriptions of bats and their habitats moving to the most amazing bats of the world.  The book app is nteractive in a number of ways to illustrate the concepts in the book like echolocation.
Reaction  This is the future of non-fiction and a must read for all people in the library world or publishing industry.  I can immediately see how this immersive experience can extend to include issues about ecosystems, climate change and adapt to current data.
Recommended age level  Pre-school/Primary/Junior
Subjects/themes  Bats, new book formats, book apps
Curriculum connections  Science: observe and compare the physical characteristics (e.g., fur or feathers; two legs or no legs) and the behavioural characteristics (e.g., predator or prey) of a variety of animals, including insects, using student-generated questions and a variety of methods and resources
Miscellaneous Created by Storyella and published through Jacob Packaged Goods

In the snow: Who’s been here? by Lindsay Barrett George

Book title:  In the snow: Who’s been here?

Author:  Lindsay Barrett George

Bibliographic entry Barrett George, L. (1995). In the snow: Who’s been here? New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
Description Barrett George explores North American winter animals through a simple repetitive theme.  The illustrations are very realistic and descriptive.  The book concludes with a fact sheet about each animal.
Reaction These books greatly appeal for their scientific predictability and are very helpful to emerging readers.  This book is part of a Who’s Been Here? series.  The structure and reliability of the book’s design has classic appeal to its audience.
Recommended age level  Primary
Subjects/themes  Nature, seasons, animals
Curriculum connections Science: investigate needs and characteristics of plants and animals, including humans
Miscellaneous  Other Who’s Been Here? books include:

In the Woods: Who’s Been Here? (1995)

Around the Pond: Who’s Been Here? (1996)

Around the World: Who’s Been Here? (1999)

Just a second: A different way to look at time by Steve Jenkins

Book title:Just a second: A different way to look at time

Author: Steve Jenkins

Bibliographic entry Jenkins, S. (2011). Just a second: A different way to look at time. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Description  Jenkins provides infographic style pictures that focus on time: the history of time, comparisons with examples of different lengths of time starting with microcosmic examples and moving to the macrocosm of the universe.
Reaction  As with all infographics, the visuals say as much as the text.  Highly interesting and very accessible to readers of all ages.
Recommended age level Primary to intermediate
Subjects/themes  Time, history, science, nature, math
Curriculum connections Science: assess the impact of various forces on society and the environmentMath: estimate, measure, and record length, perimeter, area, mass, capacity, time, and temperature, using non-standard units and standard units


Awards  Voted 1 of the best books of 2011 by brainpickings.org
Miscellaneous Non-fiction picture book

Shocking discoveries about picture books

This week I’ve been weeding the picture books in my library which date from the 1960s forward.  Luckily, I had some readings to help guide the process:  Kay E. Vandergrift’s webpage Notes for the Analysis of a Picture Book and John Sciezka’s article Design Matters.  So although I’ve been weeding the 250 picture books that we have in our secondary school library for age, wear, relevance and subject matter, I hadn’t really paid much attention to design. Sciezka’s article on design is so good that I immediately sent it to all the art teachers I know.

I particularly found Vandergrift’s suggestions for analysis to be helpful.  She suggests reading the story without looking at the pictures, and then looking at the pictures without reading the story.  That may sound simple, but few of the picture books in my collection made the cut because they didn’t have both a great story and great design.  I even discovered that *shocker* there were non-fiction books mixed in with the fiction.

Mostly I questioned why I had other picture books mixed into my otherwise secondary collection and at what point did I want to separate them out.  Why is Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival in with the graphic novels when it is clearly a picture book? Why are the picture books of myths in the folklore section rather than with the picture books?

One major thing I did decide is that the awful juvenile stickers on the picture books have got to go.  There is nothing juvenile about reading a great picture book.  Why would any sane teen pick up a book with so much stigma just in its label?  As Sciezka says:  “Design is an essential part of any…” library.