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children’s books

Detail of an image from Willow Finds a Way.

Willow Finds A Way
Written by Lana Button and illustrated by Tania Howells. Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $18.95

In a kid's world there is little more important, stunningly hierarchical or which carries more potential for heartbreak than the birthday party. Any child who's experienced the thrill of invitation and/or the agony of exclusion will love Willow Finds A Way, written by Lana Button and illustrated by Tania Howells. Kristabelle is planning what all agree will be the birthday party of the season. Willow is excited to be invited. Kristabelle has sent her whole class an invitation – but then she uses the threat of uninviting them to make everybody do what she says. My kids, Phoenix, who's seven, and Frida, who's five, have never been quieter or sat more still for any story, ever. It's easy to forget that my kids think their problems are as massive as I think my own are. Button never does. To her enormous credit, she's written a book that speaks directly to their experience.

Mr. Flux
By Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Matte Stephens. Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $18.95

I'm a sucker for a "stranger comes to town" story, and it turns out my kids are too. Martin is a boy who doesn't like change and avoids it at all costs. One day his life is forever changed when Mr. Flux arrives, speaking gibberish and presenting him with a unopened, somewhat magical box. Conformity vs. self-expression, solving problems by harnessing creativity vs. staying with what you know works – these are huge themes to put into a picture book. Yet somehow they fit, and Stephens's illustrations manifest the book's ultimate message: embracing the unusual can make the world a better place.

In the Tree House
By Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $18.95

Frida didn't want to read this book because the cover made her think it was going to be scary. But In the Tree House wasn't scary and maybe that's the problem. The story is hard to summarize and that's kinda the problem too. There's a boy who wants a tree house and a dad who helps him build it and a brother who starts hanging out with older kids, and then there's a blackout. Every page is beautiful and every story beat is beautiful too, but it lacked a sharp focus.

That Is NOT a Good Idea
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Balzer & Bray, 48 pages, $19.99

This book mimics movies from the silent era and does so perfectly. The villain Fox wears a top hat, the noble Mom a kerchief over her head and the dialogue is presented like title cards. It's a lot of fun and my kids didn't need to get the silent-era framework to get the story. With a twist ending that Phoenix proudly saw coming, and which made Frida giggle when it happened, this book was a pleasure. Plus, it's really short and can be quickly read for those nights when Daddy's just a little tired.

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