I have read a lot of beautiful picture books this month, but anyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for dragons so Gondra’s Treasure may be a favourite.

Illustration of a baby dragon sitting on the tails of two different dragons.
Dragons from the east meet dragons from the west in Gondra’s Treasures.

Gondra’s Treasure

Gondra’s mom is from the west, her dad is from the east and Gondra herself with a bit of her parents mixed in. Her dad breathes mist and her mom breathes fire, which is pretty boring….ahem pretty, but Gondra can breath both, but can only breathe fire when her mom or dad are present. Her mom’s ancestors lived in caves with treasures they defended from humans, while her dad’s family lived in clouds or lakes, were respected by humans, and controlled the weather with with their one treasure – a magic pearl.

Throughout the story we learn the difference between the dragons from the east and from the west, while Gondra’s mom and dad tease each other about their differences. We learn the family may no longer live in caves or clouds, but they have something more valuable – each other.

In Linda Sue Park’s author’s note, she talks about the differences between western and eastern dragons and how people on both sides of the Earth would have come up with the idea of a dragon – likely dinosaur fossils, which are found on all seven of Earth’s continents.

I quite liked learning about the different dragons and how families can look very different, but are the same.

Gondra’s Treasure is by Park and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt ($25.50, Raincoast Books, Houghton Miffling Harcourt).

Colourful illustrations of a herd of elephants surrounding a purple baby.
Beautiful illustrated book based on the true story of Paseka, A Little Elephant Brave.

Paseka A Little Elephant Brave

Paseka A Little Elephant Brave ($19.95, Raincoast Books, Page Two Books) is based on the true story of Paseka, a little elephant whose mother was killed by poachers.

In Ruth James’ book, little Paseka is being chased by a pack of hyenas, who are biting at her legs. Paseka is chasing after her mother, who she thinks she sees in the distance. Instead, she actually runs into humans, who rescue the baby who requires 11 litres of milk each day to survive, bringing her to an elephant rehabilitation centre where she is introduced to a herd of elephants who each has a say on whether this new baby will be accepted.

The story is beautiful, filled with interesting information about these amazing animals, and the illustrations by Kent Laforme are wonderful – so different from what you usually see.

In an author’s note, James talks about Canadian school teacher Anna Pearson who founded the African Children’s Book Box Society to provide stories written by African authors, written in both English and Kiswahili, into village schools in Kenya. James is a director and volunteer of the project and met Paseka.

“In lots of ways Paseka is a metaphor for all the young human orphans needing love and support from their communities, too.”

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the African Children’s Book Box Society. For details, visit www.africanbookbox.org

Plastercine illustration of a mother humpback whale and her baby under the oean with a pink sky above.
Before You Were Born is a love letter from parents to their new babies.

Before You Were Born

Before You Were Born by Deborah Kerbel is a “love letter” from parents to the new baby in their lives, shown through Plasticine illustrations by Suzanne Del Rizzo of animal parents and their offspring ($21.95, Pajama Press).

I like the illustrations – the work that it must take to create each page impresses me. I am not a huge fan of how the “love letter” was told.

Illustration of a little kakapo bird karate kicking her way out of the page.
Great lessons and cute illustrations in Karate Kakopo.

Karate Kakapo

Kakapo is crazy about karate and practises hard every day so she can be good at all her kicks – side, running, jumping and flying kicks. Well, not flying kicks because kakapos can’t fly and surely the senseis who would be testing her for her black belt would understand that.

“Told with charm and humour, Karate Kakapo encourages little chicks to take flight and look at problems from a different perspective.”

So I looked up a kakapo, also called an owl parrot, which is a nocturnal bird from New Zealand that can’t fly. But in this book by Loredana Cunti and illustrated by Stacy Curtis ($18.99, Kids Can Press), Kakapo tries her hardest and does her best. I love the illustrations and the lesson of this story.

Illustration of a purple pterodactyl with a turban.
What a fun alphabet book.

P is for Pterodactyl

P is for Pterodactyl The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter ($25.50, Raincoast Books, Sourcebook Jabberwocky) offers parents and kids a look at some of the more ridiculous words in the English language such as A for aisle and I, which is not for eye.

The beginning of the book tells readers – and listeners – there are many words that start with a silent letter, but other words in the book don’t follow the rules. Luckily for readers and listeners alike, the back of the book offers “The Worst Glossary Ever” including the pronunciation and meaning of a number of words used during the explanations.

For example, “D is for Djibouti. The boat race begins when the handsome judge from Djibouti drops his handkerchief from the bridge.”

In the worst glossary, “The tiny African nation of Djibouti – pronounced ja-boo-tee – is mostly desert, but the country is also home to Lake Assal – one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world.”

The illustrations aren’t my favourite, but I love the idea of this book and the words within it.

Illustration of a little girl standing on a giant child's painting of a sailboat.
I liked the book, but disliked the book. Loved the illustrations.

Paula Knows What To Do

Paula wakes up one morning and waits for the smell of hot chocolate and coffee. Once she can’t wait any longer, she goes to her dad’s room and asks if he wants to get up. He tells her he is too sad and wants to stay in bed today as he misses Paula’s mommy. Paula does too, but staying in bed is just “nonsense” (said just like her mom would have said) and she knows just what to do.

“Using the power of a child’s imagination and magic of paint, Paula creates a world or rolling seas and blue skies and a little boat for her and her Daddy to go on a sailing adventure.”

On the one hand I love this book by Sanne Dufft. It’s imaginative and wonderfully illustrated, both beautiful and fun. On the other hand, the story makes me sad and a bit mad. I understand the father is in mourning, but as a parent you don’t just get to lie in bed and decide you don’t want to do it today. You put the needs of your child first, particularly one who has lost her mother. It wasn’t Paula’s job to show her father there was a way to still be happy. It was the father’s job to show the way.

Paula Knows What To Do is $21.95 and is published by Pajama Press.

Illustration of a quail looking at a caterpillar.
Cute story about knowing when to go slow and when to go fast.

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up

Queenie Quail is not like her mama or papa or her brothers and sister who do what quails do by rushing from place to place. Queenie Quail gets distracted by fascinating feathers and pretty butterflies and stops to take a look. Most days her family tell her to hurry up and Queenie tries, but doesn’t often succeed until one day she must.

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up by Jane Whittingham and illustrated by Emma Pedersen ($21.95, Pajama Press) is an adorable book in words and pictures. I love Pedersen’s illustrations and I love how Queenie stops to enjoy the little things in life, but knows when she has to hurry.

Illustration of a brown boy in a yellow raincoat and hate looking up at the sky with a squirrel standing beside him.
Nice ending to this imaginative book.

Tomorrow Most Likely

Tomorrow Most Likely shows the reader what will likely happen in the world tomorrow – from seeing a squirrel, who is likely named Stu, to touching something gooey and hearing something odd. While most of this book rhymes, some does not and some unfortunately does. The picture book by Dave Eggers with illustrations by Lane Smith ($25.50, Raincoast Books, Chronicle Books) also offers various possibilities for kids with just the right amount of imagination.

I like the story, particularly the end: “Tomorrow most likely will be a great day because you are in it…”

These books are courtesy of Kids Can Press, Pajama Press and Raincoast Books
for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

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