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Review: New picture books by Mélanie Watt, Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, and Jan Thornhill and Ashley Barron

Bug in a Vacuum
By Mélanie Watt, Tundra, 96 pages, $24.99

A fly in the prime of his life gets sucked into a vacuum and trapped there. He struggles to get out and then accepts that there is no escape. Let's not mince words: this is a book about death. There's even a scene where the fly finally gets free of the vacuum after it's thrown into the dump and breaks, and he follows the light to a pile of garbage (i.e. fly heaven). This book is so eloquently written and illustrated, so carefully and tenderly crafted that neither Phoenix or Frida realized that death was the subject they were reading about. They were sad, and at points maybe a bit scared, but when learning about death, even metaphorically, shouldn't they have been? Highly recommended.

The Day the Crayons Came Home
By Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, Philomel Books, 48 pages, $21.99

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Even at the ages of nine and seven, Phoenix and Frida understand the inherent risk of a sequel. The Day the Crayons Quit is one of our favourite books ever. So it was with no small degree of trepidation that we cracked open The Day the Crayons Came Home. Is it as good as the original? We didn't think so. We really thought that Neon Crayon was great. We really liked the book. We agreed that if this book had come first, we would have loved it. And maybe that's the problem with sequels, whether it's second books or second loves – it's almost impossible to recapture the spark of the first time around.

Kyle Goes Alone
By Jan Thornhill, Illustrated by Ashley Barron, Owlkids 32 pages, $18.95

We all loved this book, mainly because it is entirely constructed around an obscure fact about an obscure animal. It is a slightly gross but little-known fact that sloths only go to the bathroom once a week and the only time they climb down from the trees is when they do it. The story follows Kyle as he makes his first trip all the way to the ground, all on his own. The illustrations are in the cut-out style and give depth and warmth. It's all pretty cute but the reason we liked it the most was, as Phoenix put it, "Sloths are just cool."

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