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Book Reviews Review: New picture books from Camilla Kuhn, Akiko Miyakoshi, and Monica Kulling and Qin Leng

Samira and the Skeletons

By Camilla Kuhn, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 34 pages, $22

The human body is totally, for lack of a more nuanced word, disgusting. It serves as an endless source of gross-out humour and morbid curiosity, particularly for those discovering all the ins and outs for the first time. This bizarre little book, which was first published in Norway in 2014, recognizes how horrifying the body can be. Samira loves school and learning, until one day she is terrified to find out that every human has within them a full skeleton. This information shatters her whole conception of people; soon her classmates, teacher and mother slowly begin to morph into skeletons, nonchalantly going about their business while Samira freaks out. The illustrations are bold, creepy, hilarious and delightful – an ingenious way to grab the attention of kids while subtly teaching them about the gruesome wonders of the skeletal system.

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Happy Birthday, Alice Babette

By Monica Kulling and Qin Leng, Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $16.96

On a late April morning in Paris, Alice wakes up excited: it's her birthday, and she can't wait to find out what her friend and roommate, Gertrude, has planned for her. Unfortunately, Gertrude seems to have totally forgotten about the special occasion. A dejected Alice goes about her day, exploring the pleasant wonders of her neighbourhood, while at home, Gertrude has a few surprises up her sleeve. Any similarities to another Parisian duo named Gertrude and Alice are completely and 100-per-cent intentional, although the heroines of Kulling's story have been sweetened up and sugarcoated with the help of Leng's pastel illustrations. The Gertrude here is apple-cheeked, absent-minded and cuddly. A few artistic liberties may have been taken, but the most palatable parts of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas's lives provide rich inspiration for this charming story of friendship.

The Storm

By Akiko Miyakoshi, Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $16.95

An unnamed narrator has been looking forward all week to a trip to the beach that his parents promised him. He sits restless in school, ready for the moment when he can finally leave and join the outside world. Unfortunately for him, there are ominous signs that a storm is coming as the sky slowly darkens. The boy's frustrations at being trapped inside once again quickly turn to fear as the storm takes on a life of its own, becoming both a foreboding presence and an all-encompassing funhouse of noise and mystery. Miyakoshi knows how to gradually grow a narrative, starting with a quiet tension and building to epic sweeping spreads, all depicted in moody charcoals with carefully considered bursts of colour. It's perfect storytime reading for a dark and stormy night when the weather has cast itself as antagonist.

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