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book review

Can You Find My Robot's Arm?

By Chihiro Takeuchi, Tundra Books, 40 pages, $22

Japanese artist Chihiro Takeuchi has built a successful international career around her intricate paper cutouts. With her first picture book in English, she opts for a simple story (a robot has lost its arm, where can it be?) but goes wild with the illustrations. The robot and his pet … mechanical dog? vacuum cleaner? – travel from setting to setting in search of the missing arm, while the smiley little pet offers alternative solutions: Sure, the arm isn't found at the futuristic amusement park, but will this lollipop do? It's not at the steampunk aquarium, but maybe a fish bone can take its place? Working entirely with black-on-white paper cutouts, Takeuchi manages to transform a series of silhouettes into something quite impressively sprawling, dreamy and tender. Every location that Robot and his pal visit, one can imagine the page being set in motion and almost hear the mechanical whirr underscore the story.

Seamus's Short Story

By Heather Hartt-Sussman and Milan Pavlovic, Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $17

Seamus is tired of being short. He imagines that tall people get to live in an entirely different world, one with access to chocolate milk stored on the top shelves of fridges and all the best elevator buttons. His frustration will be palpable to any reader who has felt that all the best things in life are just slightly out of reach and that growing up is a process that takes far too long. Seamus finds a creative solution when playing dress-up in his mother's closet and discovers her high heel collection. He learns that by stuffing the toes and taping the shoes to his ankles, he can strut off into the world a few inches taller, ready to reach things to his heart's content. There has been a recent surge of socially conscious picture books that feature boys drawn to dresses and other traditionally girly clothes; while those books serve an important function, Seamus is not trying to experiment with his gender. Instead, Seamus's Short Story skips the identity question altogether. Clothes are completely depoliticized in Seamus's world; he just wants to push the elevator buttons.

Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament

By Anne Renaud and Felicita Sala, Kids Can Press, 40 pages, $19

"The story you are about to savour is a fictional tale with a helping of truth" informs (warns?) the first page of Mr. Crum, before delving into the much disputed but wildly entertaining history behind the history of the potato chip. In 1853, the story goes, a cook named George Crum encounters a difficult diner at his restaurant. Filbert P. Horsefeathers (this is when the embellishments happen) twice sends back his fried potatoes for being too thick and bland. Crum, in a moment of playful exasperation, slices his next potato paper thin before frying and salting them. Horsefeathers is thrilled and Crum has a hit on his hands. True, the afterword points out, there have been recorded instances of people cooking potato chips before 1853. But this lighthearted piece of overlooked black history (Crum was African-American and native) makes for the best story.

Algonquin comic book creator and TV producer Jay Odjick responds to the idea that diversity in comic book storylines is to blame for falling sales. Odjick is the creator of Kagagi, a superhero comic book series and TV show