Top shelf - An insider's take

Helping to raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice and cool finds.
The village: helping raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice, hacks and cool finds

LEARN

Top shelf: an insider's take on great reads for kids

By Wendy Wayling, Children’s Librarian
WESTMOUNT PUBLIC LIBRARY


PICTURE BOOKS
As a children’s librarian, it should come as no surprise that I absolutely love picture books! A great picture book should charm and delight readers of any age with its language and illustrations. Classics like Where the Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak, Frederick (1967) by Leo Lionni, and Bark, George (1999) by Jules Feiffer are just a few classic picture books that can be shared over and over again. Here are some of my new favourite picture books to read aloud to your little ones!




The Barnabus Project by Terry, Eric & Devin Fan
Tundra, 2020

I am always excited to see a new book by the Fan Brothers: their illustrations are simply stunning and can be pored over for hours. Their newest story, The Barnabus Project, is about a creature who is half elephant and half mouse that lives in a secret lab below a store called Perfect Pets. One day, Barnabus discovers that he has been labelled a “failed project” and is destined to be recycled and turned into something else. From that moment, he is determined to escape the lab with all the other failed projects, so that they can discover the world above. It’s hard not to get caught up in this wild adventure and cheer on the not-so-perfect but lovable creatures!

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press, 2021

This is classic deadpan humour from the master – Jon Klassen. At nearly 100 pages in length, Klassen’s latest picture book is made up of five short stories that feature brief conversations between a turtle and a mole (sometimes referred to as an armadillo), as well as occasional visits from a mute snake and an alien. Ruminative conversations about the imminent future, the distant future, sunsets and friendship leave the reader with lots to ponder. Fun fact: many of Jon Klassen’s books were inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense!



Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier
Kids Can Press, 2021

I knew I would love this book as soon as I saw the cover! A speedy squirrel, a slow sloth, and slippery pickle jars make for some hilarious antics in this story about two unlikely friends who band together to find a job in the hopes of earning some money to buy a bike together. With a few surprises along the way, your kids will laugh out loud reading this one!


I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Nathalie Dion
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2020

I fell in love with this poetic and beautifully illustrated book by two well-known artists in the field of children’s literature. Jean E. Pendziwol wanted to write a story to give kids hope in a world that can sometimes feel confusing and unpredictable. Her lyrical text paired with the delicate illustrations of Nathalie Dion is a meditation on the natural world. While exploring the environment around them, a child and her playful cat notice how one can always find hope in Mother Nature, from a shadow that disappears and reappears, to a cherry tree that is bare in the winter and in full bloom by the spring.  

Mel Fell

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor
Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2021

From the same author/illustrator who gave us the delightful Snail Crossing (Balzer + Bray, 2020), Mel Fell is a whimsical book about animals being true to their nature. One day, while his mother is away from the nest, Mel decides that it is time he learns to fly. The reader is taken on Mel’s first solo flight down the side of a tree, as the neighbouring squirrels, owls, and spiders all try to lend a hand to the falling bird. Little ones will enjoy the surprise ending and may even learn something new about this baby bird who turns out to be a kingfisher.

FICTION FOR 8-12 YEAR OLDS
Here are a few terrific new chapter books for children who love a good story – they are perfect to read to oneself or to be shared as engaging read-alouds.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Harper Collins, 2020

Amy Timberlake’s latest chapter book about two unlikely roommates is reminiscent of the classic illustrated chapter books by literary icons like A.A. Milne and Arnold Lobel. Badger is quietly working in his very comfortable home when he hears a knock at the door. With much annoyance, he finds himself not only opening the door to a stranger - Skunk - but being obliged to accept him as a roommate because he has been sent by his Aunt Lulu – the owner of the house. So begins the charming and witty story of Skunk, Badger, and dozens of noisy chickens. A perfect read aloud! I am eagerly awaiting the second book in the series due out this September: Egg Marks the Spot.




The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman and illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop
(Little, Brown and Company, 2020)

This is Lev Grossman’s first novel for a younger audience and it does not disappoint! If your kids are looking for a thrilling adventure story full of twists and turns, place this book in their hands. When Kate’s eccentric uncle arrives at her dull 11th birthday party, he surprises her with an amazing gift: a magical steam engine called the Silver Arrow. Before her very nervous parents can refuse the gift, Kate and her brother hop aboard and are taken on an adventure of a lifetime, visiting exotic landscapes and meeting talking animals. Although the book is full of zany and hilarious situations, there is also an underlying environmental message about the importance of taking care of our planet for future generations.


When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
(Random House, 2020) Winner of the 2021 Newbery Medal

A heartwarming story about a girl and her family who have just moved back to California to live with their grandmother. Told from the point of view of 8-year-old Lily, who often feels invisible and is called QAG (quiet Asian girl) by her older sister, the story reflects the difficulties of growing up as a shy kid. A touch of magic realism sets this book apart. When Lily realizes that her much-loved grandmother is sick, she strikes a deal with a tiger from the Korean folktales her grandmother has shared with her over the years. Keller is a masterful storyteller perfectly capturing the voices of her characters in this moving coming-of-age story.


NON-FICTION

Working in a public library over the years, I have noticed a marked improvement in the quality and quantity of non-fiction books for children. Adults will often come to us to find a children’s book about a particular subject because the information is succinct and the illustrations are well-presented. Here are a few new titles that will spark the imagination of all children through the informative text and superb illustrations.

Your Place in the Universe by John Chin

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin
Holiday House, 2020

Jason Chin takes a complex scientific subject and makes it not only understandable but also fascinating for kids. The book explains the size, scale, and distance of the universe by using clear, fun facts and vivid illustrations. He starts out by comparing the size of a typical eight-year-old to the size of the book they are reading, then moves on to the tallest bird, animal, tree, etc. all the way to the size of the universe. Well-researched and beautifully illustrated, this book taps into the curiosity and wonder of children. I highly recommend all his picture books about science.




How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020

This 256-page, oversized book is simply fascinating and chock-full of beautiful illustrations. Readers of all ages will marvel at the behind-the-scenes work that led to NASA's 1969 Apollo program, in which three people walked on the moon. Kids will be inspired by the thousands of people, including engineers, mathematicians, seamstresses, welders, and factory workers, that played an integral role in the mission's success. It also comes as no surprise that author/illustrator John Rocco worked for many years as creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering and dreamed of working as an engineer for NASA.


Into the Forest: Wander Through our Woodland World by Christiane Dorion and illustrated by Jane McGuinness
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020

Originally from Quebec, author Christiane Dorion works as an education consultant in the UK for environmental organisations that develop programmes and resources for children to inspire them to explore their world and take action towards a sustainable future. Together with illustrator Jane McGuinness, Dorion has created a gorgeous and accessible guide to the forests of the world. A true celebration of the natural world to share with all children!

LEARN

Top shelf: an insider's take on great reads for kids

By Wendy Wayling, Children’s Librarian
WESTMOUNT PUBLIC LIBRARY

PICTURE BOOKS
As a children’s librarian, it should come as no surprise that I absolutely love picture books! A great picture book should charm and delight readers of any age with its language and illustrations. Classics like Where the Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak, Frederick (1967) by Leo Lionni, and Bark, George (1999) by Jules Feiffer are just a few classic picture books that can be shared over and over again. Here are some of my new favourite picture books to read aloud to your little ones!


The Barnabus Project by Terry, Eric & Devin Fan 🇨🇦
Tundra, 2020

I am always excited to see a new book by the Fan Brothers: their illustrations are simply stunning and can be pored over for hours. Their newest story, The Barnabus Project, is about a creature who is half elephant and half mouse that lives in a secret lab below a store called Perfect Pets. One day, Barnabus discovers that he has been labelled a “failed project” and is destined to be recycled and turned into something else. From that moment, he is determined to escape the lab with all the other failed projects, so that they can discover the world above. It’s hard not to get caught up in this wild adventure and cheer on the not-so-perfect but lovable creatures!

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen 🇨🇦
Candlewick Press, 2021

This is classic deadpan humour from the master – Jon Klassen. At nearly 100 pages in length, Klassen’s latest picture book is made up of five short stories that feature brief conversations between a turtle and a mole (sometimes referred to as an armadillo), as well as occasional visits from a mute snake and an alien. Ruminative conversations about the imminent future, the distant future, sunsets and friendship leave the reader with lots to ponder. Fun fact: many of Jon Klassen’s books were inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense!


Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier 🇨🇦
Kids Can Press, 2021

I knew I would love this book as soon as I saw the cover! A speedy squirrel, a slow sloth, and slippery pickle jars make for some hilarious antics in this story about two unlikely friends who band together to find a job in the hopes of earning some money to buy a bike together. With a few surprises along the way, your kids will laugh out loud reading this one!


I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Nathalie Dion 🇨🇦
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2020

I fell in love with this poetic and beautifully illustrated book by two well-known artists in the field of children’s literature. Jean E. Pendziwol wanted to write a story to give kids hope in a world that can sometimes feel confusing and unpredictable. Her lyrical text paired with the delicate illustrations of Nathalie Dion is a meditation on the natural world. While exploring the environment around them, a child and her playful cat notice how one can always find hope in Mother Nature, from a shadow that disappears and reappears, to a cherry tree that is bare in the winter and in full bloom by the spring.  

Mel Fell

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor
Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2021

From the same author/illustrator who gave us the delightful Snail Crossing (Balzer + Bray, 2020), Mel Fell is a whimsical book about animals being true to their nature. One day, while his mother is away from the nest, Mel decides that it is time he learns to fly. The reader is taken on Mel’s first solo flight down the side of a tree, as the neighbouring squirrels, owls, and spiders all try to lend a hand to the falling bird. Little ones will enjoy the surprise ending and may even learn something new about this baby bird who turns out to be a kingfisher.

FICTION FOR 8-12 YEAR OLDS
Here are a few terrific new chapter books for children who love a good story – they are perfect to read to oneself or to be shared as engaging read-alouds.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Harper Collins, 2020

Amy Timberlake’s latest chapter book about two unlikely roommates is reminiscent of the classic illustrated chapter books by literary icons like A.A. Milne and Arnold Lobel. Badger is quietly working in his very comfortable home when he hears a knock at the door. With much annoyance, he finds himself not only opening the door to a stranger - Skunk - but being obliged to accept him as a roommate because he has been sent by his Aunt Lulu – the owner of the house. So begins the charming and witty story of Skunk, Badger, and dozens of noisy chickens. A perfect read aloud! I am eagerly awaiting the second book in the series due out this September: Egg Marks the Spot.




The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman and illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop
(Little, Brown and Company, 2020)

This is Lev Grossman’s first novel for a younger audience and it does not disappoint! If your kids are looking for a thrilling adventure story full of twists and turns, place this book in their hands. When Kate’s eccentric uncle arrives at her dull 11th birthday party, he surprises her with an amazing gift: a magical steam engine called the Silver Arrow. Before her very nervous parents can refuse the gift, Kate and her brother hop aboard and are taken on an adventure of a lifetime, visiting exotic landscapes and meeting talking animals. Although the book is full of zany and hilarious situations, there is also an underlying environmental message about the importance of taking care of our planet for future generations.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
(Random House, 2020) Winner of the 2021 Newbery Medal

A heartwarming story about a girl and her family who have just moved back to California to live with their grandmother. Told from the point of view of 8-year-old Lily, who often feels invisible and is called QAG (quiet Asian girl) by her older sister, the story reflects the difficulties of growing up as a shy kid. A touch of magic realism sets this book apart. When Lily realizes that her much-loved grandmother is sick, she strikes a deal with a tiger from the Korean folktales her grandmother has shared with her over the years. Keller is a masterful storyteller perfectly capturing the voices of her characters in this moving coming-of-age story.


NON-FICTION

Working in a public library over the years, I have noticed a marked improvement in the quality and quantity of non-fiction books for children. Adults will often come to us to find a children’s book about a particular subject because the information is succinct and the illustrations are well-presented. Here are a few new titles that will spark the imagination of all children through the informative text and superb illustrations.

Your Place in the Universe by John Chin

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin
Holiday House, 2020

Jason Chin takes a complex scientific subject and makes it not only understandable but also fascinating for kids. The book explains the size, scale, and distance of the universe by using clear, fun facts and vivid illustrations. He starts out by comparing the size of a typical eight-year-old to the size of the book they are reading, then moves on to the tallest bird, animal, tree, etc. all the way to the size of the universe. Well-researched and beautifully illustrated, this book taps into the curiosity and wonder of children. I highly recommend all his picture books about science.




How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020

This 256-page, oversized book is simply fascinating and chock-full of beautiful illustrations. Readers of all ages will marvel at the behind-the-scenes work that led to NASA's 1969 Apollo program, in which three people walked on the moon. Kids will be inspired by the thousands of people, including engineers, mathematicians, seamstresses, welders, and factory workers, that played an integral role in the mission's success. It also comes as no surprise that author/illustrator John Rocco worked for many years as creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering and dreamed of working as an engineer for NASA.


Into the Forest: Wander Through our Woodland World by Christiane Dorion and illustrated by Jane McGuinness
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020

Originally from Quebec, author Christiane Dorion works as an education consultant in the UK for environmental organisations that develop programmes and resources for children to inspire them to explore their world and take action towards a sustainable future. Together with illustrator Jane McGuinness, Dorion has created a gorgeous and accessible guide to the forests of the world. A true celebration of the natural world to share with all children!

About the author: Wendy Wayling is the head of the children’s department at the historic Westmount Public Library in Montreal, where she has had the pleasure of working for nearly three decades. Surrounded by fascinating books, inspiring children, and the occasional sprinkle of glitter, she feels lucky to be part of an environment as magical and enriching as the library.

About the author: Wendy Wayling is the head of the children’s department at the historic Westmount Public Library in Montreal, where she has had the pleasure of working for nearly three decades. Surrounded by fascinating books, inspiring children, and the occasional sprinkle of glitter, she feels lucky to be part of an environment as magical and enriching as the library.