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October 1, 2015

Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds by Marianne Dubuc


We are a little bit crazy for Marianne Dubuc in our house, which is interesting because she does something very different with every book she writes, but what all her books have in common are elements of whimsy, unabashed absurdity, rewards for those who are attentive to detail, and an all-engaging strangeness. And in Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, she has written a book about the mail, and so naturally I am totally obsessed. As are my kids, because, well, look right there on the cover: there is a rabbit pooing. Sitting on the toilet reading, no less. And this glimpse into the rabbits’ hidden world is what’s so entrancing about this book, exploring these animal abodes that Dubuc has dreamed up: the bear’s house has honey on tap from a hive on the roof; the snake’s long skinny house is outfitted with heat lamps; the squirrel’s got a clothesline and sleeps in a hammock; the mole house has a kettle on the stove.

It’s the kind of book a kid can read with her finger, tracing along the Postmouse’s route and in and out of the houses he delivers to. While the illustration style is very different, we love it for the same reasons I loved Jill Barclay’s Brambly Hedge books when I was little, tiny worlds magnified, access into hidden corners, such incredible attention to detail. And yes, it’s funny. There’s the poo (and the flies’ house is actually a giant piece of much poo, much to everybody’s delight). And there are abandoned shoes, mitts and candy wrappers littering the animals’ neighbourhood, and just what’s going on in each of these dwellings? Each house containing a story of its own, so that you can read Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds over and over again and—which I know from experience—the young reader will continue to keep exploring its pages long after the reading is done.

March 19, 2015

The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc

the-bus-rideWe’re becoming big fans of Marianne Dubuc’s books at our house, having enjoyed In Front of My House and Animal Masquerade. You will recall that picking up the latter title resulted in our entire family eventually assembling on the couch, gathering together captured by the book’s magic, and laughing hysterically at the surprises and absurdity. Dubuc’s latest book, The Bus Ride, similarly engages and surprises, and while it’s is very loosely based on the Little Red Riding Hood narrative, a more fitting descriptive for the story would be “curiouser and curiouser.”

The Bus Ride is the story of a little girl’s first ride along on a city bus to visit her grandmother’s house. Her mother sees her off at the bus stop, ensuring she’s got a snack and a sweater in case she gets cold. And from there the rest of the story is of the bus ride, the bus’s interior each two-page spread. Passengers embark at the front doors and alight through the back. The little girl narrates what she sees in a sentence or two, although the real story is happening in Dubuc’s illustrations. A cat is knitting a scarf that grows ever-longer, a mouse is reading a tiny book, a family of rambunctious moles (I think?) climbs on board and end up swinging from the overhead bars (and one chews on a piece of gum he finds on the floor). A family of wolves boards the bus and the little girl makes friends with the wolf-boy who’s about her age—they share her cookies. A sleepy sloth snoozes the ride away. Someone’s hiding behind a newspaper whose headlines are ever-changing and reference what’s going on the pictures. I admired in the stolid bear in his big blue boats.

busThey pass through the forest, through a tunnel. Children run amuck. The fox keeps sleeping. The owl woman in the hat seems quite uncomfortable, and characters keep turning up in different places. The turtle gets nervous and hides in his shell. A wannabe pickpocket—a fox, of course—boards the bus, and and the little girl helps to divert a crime. And what is the beaver carrying inside his really big box?

While The Bus Ride is first a story of one girl’s first independent journey into the world, it’s fundamentally a story of how interesting the world is and how fascinating it is to be in the midst of it all. At the end of the bus ride, the little girl reflects on all the stories she has to tell her grandmother now. Hers is an apprenticeship in narrative, but it is for the reader as well, who assembles her own story based on the curious scenes depicted in Dubuc’s illustrations, which are detailed and accessible, appealingly rendered in pencil crayon. And like all the very best picture books, it’s completely different with every encounter.

January 25, 2019

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader

Confession: There are some beautiful books in my house that I have never read. Oversized coffee table volumes with gorgeous design, ribbon bookmarks, incredible illustrations, fascinatingly edited, but they’re more furniture than literature. Or maybe they’re aren’t, but I’m unlikely to ever find out, because while I appreciate these books as objects, nothing has ever compelled me to sit down and start reading them. But A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick, a beautiful book with endpapers to die for? Reader: I read it all, many parts aloud. A book that’s as good as its package; even, a book for the ages—all of them.

This collaboration is a “labour of love” between Popova (of Brainpicker) and Bedrick (publisher of Enchanted Lion Books), with all proceeds benefitting the New York Public Library system, and situated as a demonstration that “a life of reading is a richer, nobler, larger, more shimmering life.” It’s a collection of letters from readers—who also happen to be writers, rock stars, astrophysicists, artists, business moguls, philosophers, Lemony Snickett, Shona Rhimes, activists, composers, radio producers, Judy Blume, and more—about the role of reading in shaping their lives. There’s Rebecca Solnit, and Maud Newton, and Mary Oliver, and Leonard Marcus, and Ann Patchett, and Yo Yo Ma, and Shirley Manson, and Jane Goodall, and Ursula K. Leguin, and so many others, each letter paired with an illustration by artists including Maira Kalman, Isabelle Arsenault, Liniers, Olivers Jeffers, Marianne Dubuc, Shaun Tan, and more.

It’s a beautiful, thoughtful, inspiring book, and the greatest thing I got from it was company. Because while I appreciate the solidarity I share with my bookish friends online and in the world, I have increasingly, lately, wondered if we are outnumbered in the general population. As I read statistics on how few adults read for pleasure, about declining book sales, as I hear one more person who binge-watches Netflix talk about how they just can’t find the time to read. I despair for a future in which people don’t understand the value of reading and the riches that books can deliver us… but then this beautiful book is a reminder that it’s not all lost. Not yet. That these riches are still abundant, and foundational, they bring us together, and they remind us that the world is amazing. Still.

January 27, 2015

Serendipity, Family Literacy and Animal Masquerade

animal-masqueradesI don’t know that a family can enforce literacy as much as create the space to let a love of reading just happen. Serendipity plays such a role in it all, as it does whenever anybody discovers a great book. I was thinking about this tonight as I was reading to Harriet from the big pile of books we signed out of the library this afternoon. I was reading Animal Masquerade by Marianne Dubuc, which has been lauded by the likes of Leonard Marcus AND Julie Booker. I’d never read it before, and was enjoying it, and so was Harriet, the animals in disguise quite funny and a twist every now and again but never quite where you’d expect it. And then Iris wandered in, and climbed up beside us, and Stuart followed soon after, intrigued by the sound of this strange book in which a starfish dresses up as a panther. And two thirds of the way in, we were all in love with the story, finding it wonderful and hilarious, all of us perhaps for very different reasons, but regardless, it worked. It’s hard to find a book that hooks 4 people whose ages range from 1 to 35, but this one did, and it was a wonderful moment. The perfect way to mark Family Literacy Day, and I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

Pre-Order my New Novel: Out October 27


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