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Review: Olivia the Spy by Ian Falconer, Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith, The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi

Town Is By the Sea

By Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

Groundwood Books, 52 pages, $22

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An undertold portion of Canadian history is vividly brought to life in this story that takes place in a Cape Breton mining town during the 1950s. A young boy wakes up every morning in his seaside home, with every new day containing vast, sweeping potential for new adventures. Meanwhile, his father goes to work underground in the mines.

The story alternates between the two settings, and takes advantage of the book's wide-paged format to indulge in immersive landscapes. The mines are dark and claustrophobic, with the work of the miners squished into the bottom of the two inches of the page. The outdoor scenes are bright and airy, and Smith's watercolour illustrations allow the Atlantic Ocean to truly shimmer.

The text rolls along like a song, with refrains to set up the parallels between father and son's wildly different days.

Olivia The Spy

By Ian Falconer

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $22

Since the lively and precocious character of Olivia the Pig burst into children's literature in 2000, she has become something of a brand, lending her name and face to merchandise, early reader books and a television program.

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Yet, these other incarnations of Olivia are incomparable to the original series by Ian Falconer (who doubles as a costume designer for the ballet, and whose flair for the elegant always shines through in his illustrations).

In Falconer's first book in five years, Olivia is as clever and sassy as ever. Wanting to find out what others are saying behind her back, Olivia becomes a spy, fashioning disguises so she can blend in amongst her parents' Rothko paintings or zebra-print rugs. With expert pacing and Falconer's singular humour, Olivia The Spy fits right in with the Olivia canon in a way its spinoff series never quite managed.

The Way Home in the Night

By Akiko Miyakoshi

Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $19

Toyko-based writer and artist Miyakoshi's books consistently make for excellent bedtime stories; her soft charcoal and acrylic illustrations are like visual lullabies that would calm even the most restless young readers. Her latest is particularly languid. An anthropomorphic rabbit is drifting off to sleep while being carried home by her mother through the city streets at night.

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They pass by shops and restaurants closing up for the night, other patrons commuting home, neighbours returning home after busy days. As the young narrator is put to bed, she imagines the nighttime routines of the other animal characters she passed by earlier: a goat brushing its teeth, a bear writing in its journal before calling it a night. The city never quite shuts down for good.

Outside the bunny's bedroom, there are snaking trains and flickering skyscrapers that show up as flashes of yellow against the night. Yet, the young bunny accepts that everything must shut down eventually, and doesn't try to fight the inevitable. On the final page, cozy in bed, she wishes the reader good night.

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