By Elise Gravel, Tundra Books, 32 pages, $13
According to her author bio, when Elise Gravel was 3 she founded "the Organization for the Defense of Disgusting Critters," of which she was the only member. As an adult, she seems intent on continuing her work exploring and defending everyday pests with a series of of illustration-heavy non-fiction books. The toad joins a growing menagerie of spiders, slugs and head lice in the Disgusting Critters series. Gravel focuses on Bufo bufo, or the common toad, mixing textbook-lite prose with comics-like images. She shares her obvious delight and fascination with the animal with humour and levity. Every fact comes with a punchline and there is plenty of editorializing. ("The toad sometimes sheds her skin to keep it healthy, and that's kind of gross.") If there's any downside to this series, it's that Gravel depicts her critters as being incredibly cuddly and friendly little guys; don't be surprised if your kids start bugging you about keeping a toad as a pet.
My Dad Used to Be So Cool
By Keith Negley, Flying Eye Books, 48 pages, $26.50
"This is my dad," says the little kid who narrates this book. "He seems pretty normal to me." His dad used to be pretty cool though, he says. No, really, he has proof! There's an old drum kit in the closet and a motorcycle with a "for sale" sign stuck to it hanging out on the front lawn. The boy imagines his dad in his past life as a rock star, wondering what happened to make him change. Dad, meanwhile, hangs out in the background of each bright colour-blocked illustration, folding laundry, vacuuming and driving his kid to the park, two heavily tattooed arms reaching out on the steering wheel. One imagines that the kids of an age that will appreciate this book will find their dads cool regardless; resentment for a dad's dorkiness doesn't set in till later. Still, the book is a sweet little story about father and son, while also serving as a wink and a nod to parents whose party days are behind them.
The Sound of Silence
By Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo, Little Brown & Co., 40 pages, $21.50
Little Yoshio loves the busy city in which he lives. Every day the streets of Tokyo are filled with people, cars and life, creating a symphony hall of noises. Yoshio meets a musician playing the koto, and asks her what her favourite sound is. She answers that she loves the sound of ma, or silence. Yoshio sets out to find this sound for himself, but it proves to be a tougher journey than imagined. No matter how far he tries to remove himself from the city, there are noises everywhere, be it the the sound of water dripping in a bath or the swishing of the wind through bamboo stalks. There's a lesson to be learned here about the importance of appreciating one's surroundings, and if that doesn't come through in the story, there's a two-page endnote by Goldsaito in which she explains the concept of ma through Zen teachings and the work of composer Toru Takemitsu. Illustrator Kuo based her artwork on real Tokyo cityscapes, filling it with details recognizable to anyone familiar with the city.