A Good Home

Myrtle and the Big Mistake

Note from Cynthia: What a gift!  Felicity Sidnell-Reid — author, poet, radio host and retired educator — reviewed not just one book, but all 4 in the Myrtle the Purple Turtle series for children. Huge thanks to Felicity and to Chris the Story Reading Ape, who first published this excellent review. 

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What makes a picture book special? Perhaps, in this case, it’s a “marriage of true minds” between two authors who love children and the bond they have developed with their illustrator, Jo Robinson.

 

Cynthia S. Reyes

and

Lauren Reyes-Grange

illustrated by

Jo Robinson

The series is dedicated to building children’s self-esteem and confidence, achieving self-acceptance and celebrating difference. Myrtle’s adventures illustrate the importance of friendship, of supporting those who are facing difficulties, of giving and receiving help and encouraging empathy.

Myrtle and the Big Mistake is the fourth book in this successful series which takes on important topics in a way that engages the hearts and minds of young children, but also appeals to older siblings, parents, teachers and grandparents, offering opportunities for discussion about problems that many children face every day and giving young listeners an opportunity to develop their own ideas about how to tackle these.

Myrtle is a loveable character, self-aware and serious but at the same time friendly and curious. Each story extends Myrtle’s experience of the world and expands her community of friends. In the first book she is hurt when a bullying stranger turtle claims she can’t be a turtle since she is purple. She longs to be green like others in the Big Pond. Her friends however point out that each of them is different —one is a brownish colour, one has spots, another has a differently shaped shell and that they all love her purple shell.

In Myrtle’s Gamethe turtles’ favourite game is a form of water-soccer. When they discover that some of the woodland animals play a similar game on grass they encourage Myrtle, their best “blocker” to ask if she can play. When the team tells her that turtles can’t play soccer, she and her friends get together to help her to become an even better player. After training hard, she asks if she can try out for the woodland team and they admit she is a good goalie so she plays with them, cheered on by her turtle friends. As she leaves the field she invites the team to come over and try playing water-soccer with them in the Big Pond.

In the third story, Myrtle Makes a New Friend, a fox family moves into the neighbourhood and some turtles become suspicious and angry. Adults say things that make Myrtle and her friends afraid. Myrtle is nervous but, when she meets young Felix Fox; he is hiding behind a bush and crying because he thinks that all the children will hate him. Myrtle kindly insists that this is not true and says she will be his friend. When Myrtle tells Felix, she is going to be late, he gives her a ride on his back to school, where Myrtle is able to introduce him to the others as her new friend and he becomes part of their play group.

The fourth book examines the fallout, when one of Myrtle’s classmates mishears and spreads a false story about another member of their class. This time Myrtle immediately steps up to defend her friend, Snapper, and tells the gossiper that the story is untrue. But the gossip spreads quickly and Myrtle and her friends have to track down the source of the story, Garret the parrot, and set the record straight. Garret tells all the animals he is sorry and that he made a big mistake. Still feeling bad and unhappy he is about to leave, but before he can fly away, Myrtle and Snapper to his surprise invite him to play. Children are engaged here in understanding complex problems and solutions, allowing them to sympathize with the characters and appreciate Garret’s remorse and his honesty at the conclusion to the story.They can also share in his relief and the happiness of the group of friends as they all go “off to play together”.

Myrtle, and her friends, new and old are deftly developed by the authors into characters who are hard to forget and easy to love. Jo Robinson’s well designed and colourful illustrations capture the emotional moments and turning points of these appealing stories. Young listeners will want to hear these tales repeated over and over again and will, no doubt, be anxious to hear the about Myrtle’s further adventures.

Note: The books in the Myrtle the Purple Turtle series make excellent Christmas gifts and are available at both Amazon (links above) and Chapters Indigo

 

Felicity Sidnell Reid

 

A Good Home, Book Reviews, Books, Maya and the Book of Everything, New Books

Un-Put-Downable: Maya

You know when you’re reading a book – even a mostly interesting book — but you reach a paragraph or page that’s over-written, over-described, over-dense, confusing or just plain boring?

Yes?

Me too.

So I can’t praise highly enough the novel that I finished reading last week. “Maya and the Book of Everything” kept me glued to its pages right to the end.

Blog Photo - Maya and the book of everything

This shouldn’t be. There are many different characters, the book skips from one time and place to another and takes fantastical twists. And yet, the storytelling is seamless, the characters compelling, the dialogue convincing, the quest believably and skilfully portrayed. It was a pure pleasure to read this book.

What makes me even more pleased? This book about a teenaged girl who takes on a seemingly impossible mission is from a small press, and authored by Laurie Graves, a blogger you may know.

With this book, Laurie demonstrates formidable gifts and skill as a novelist.

“How did you make the characters so believable?” I asked Laurie.

“I originally envisioned Maya as more timid, but when I thought of all she’d have to face, I knew she couldn’t have a timid character. Maya wouldn’t have survived her adventures. So then I reimagined her as a fiery young woman, a girl of action—unlike me!—and I immediately knew this was the right way to think about Maya.

“Somehow the characters just came, and it wasn’t all that hard to keep track of them. For me each character has a vivid voice and a distinctive way of speaking.”  

 

Blog Photo - Laurie Graves MCU

Where did the idea for the book originate? I asked.

Laurie got the idea for the book while editing a small literary magazine that she and her husband published.

“I used the Chicago Manual Style, not always an easy book to use. One day, I was tackling a knotty grammatical problem, and I said to myself, ‘I wish I had a book of everything.’  Then came the question: What if there were a book of everything? Where would it come from? What would it do? What kind of danger would it be in? Obviously, many people would covet a true book of everything. From this question came Maya and the rest of the story.”

Blog Photo - Laurie reading VasselboroMaya170604

Laurie is Franco-American. Her ancestors came to Maine from Canada. It was important to her that Maya and several other characters share that background.

“It is the place from which Maya springs, and her heritage, along with place, is one of the things that ground her.”

There is a  real place in both Maya’s and Laurie’s stories.

“The street shot (below) is of East Vassalboro, a classic New England village where my mother lived for many, many years and one I came to cherish. It is also where Maya’s grandparents live, and East Vassalboro and its library are essential to the story.”

Blog Photo - Laurie Vasselboro main street

There are subtle but impactful messages woven through this book. Good leadership is one.

“The big messages are that facts do matter and that a place will suffer under a bad leader. The corollary is that good leaders are essential. On a more personal level, I wanted young girls to read about a plucky heroine who turned her face to the wind and faced difficult challenges.”

It’s a great read.

Look out for Book 2: Library Lost, coming next fall.

 

 

A Good Home, Author Cynthia Reyes, Children's Books, Children's Story, Illustrations by Jo Robinson

Behind the Scenes of A Picture Book

Jo Robinson lives and works in South Africa.

I worked there repeatedly in earlier years. (I even bought this favourite tablecloth in Johannesburg.) But I live in Canada. 

Blog Photo - Dining table with tulips
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Jo and I have never met in person.

Well-respected in the independent publishing world, Jo is an author, editor, book designer and illustrator. I follow her blog so I’d seen this small photo of her there.

Blog Photo - Jo Robinson

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In early January I told my husband: “I’m sending Myrtle to Chris Graham as a guest post for his blog.”  

The printed story of Myrtle the Purple Turtle had been in my desk drawer for 27 years, surviving our family’s house moves.

Hamlin shook his head. “I’m telling you — it should be a book.” 

I sent it to Chris in the UK anyway. 

Chris replied quickly: “I think your husband is right – you should get an illustrator to help you get this made into a children’s picture book.” 

“Trust you men to support each other!” I told Hamlin, hiding a grin.

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On Chris’ recommendation, I sent the story to Jo Robinson. 

Jo quickly replied:  “I love your story and would love to have the opportunity to illustrate it!”

Within days, she sent a few sketches, including this one:

Blog Photo - Myrtle1

And our family knew: this was Myrtle.

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I had difficulty describing the images I wanted.  So back I went to Hamlin, pouring on emotional blackmail: “Since you and Chris are the ones who got me into this trouble, can you help? Pleeease?”

Blog Photo - Garden White Lilac Flowers in Vase
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Hamlin runs a busy company, but he knows photography. Studied it, worked in it and now is my blog photographer.  He understands images. So, next thing you know,  Jo was working with Hamlin and me both… entirely by email.

Our daughters and sons-in-law also have an eye for these things.  So when Jo sent us sketches, I asked their opinions too.

Poor Jo! She was now working with a whole family! (Except for the pets.) 

Blog Photo - Jerome sitting.jpg
Photo by Tim McCarthy

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In August, Jo sent us several versions of the book cover. The picture of Myrtle was the same, but titles and fonts can make a cover look very different.  

We narrowed it down to two then chose one.

Hooray!

I dashed off an email to Jo.

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Minutes later, my friend Jean called.

“I have a vanload of kids here,” she said, sounding breathless — as you’d expect from a woman surrounded by 7 grandkids on a very hot day. “Did you decide on your book cover yet? Would you like me to ask which they like?”

Seven kids, ages 3 to 7. Girls and boys.

Sounded like a focus group from my target readership! 

“I’ll ask them individually, so they don’t influence each other,” Jean said.

I sent her two covers, almost sure which they’d like.

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Are you ready for this?

Every child chose the one the adults had rejected!

Back to Jo I went.

“The kids have spoken!” I said. 

“Fabulous!” she replied.

It was the first version she’d created.

Myrtle the Purple Turtle Cover

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Daughter Lauren, an expert in digital marketing strategy, took over next.

She and Jo devised banners for my social media platforms, finalized the text and illustrations — and other stuff that I don’t really understand.

Blog Photo - Lauren profile picture

It meant that Jo was now working with the person for whom this book was written 27 years earlier.  Wow. 

laurenreyesgrange_cynthiareyes_blackdoll
Photo Credit: Toronto Star Newspaper

Big thanks to Jo!

And to Chris, Hamlin, Lauren, Dan, Nikisha, Tim and Jean for your contributions.