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New picture books from Angela May George and Owen Swan, Ted Staunton and Mika Song, and Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng

Out

By Angela May George and Owen Swan

Scholastic Canada, 32 pages, $15

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"I'm called an asylum seeker, but that's not my name," begins the book's narrator. The setting for this story is ambiguous – a girl and her mother leave one country for another to escape an unspecified conflict. The only clue given to the location is the vast ocean separating the two countries, which the refugees must travel by boat. The accompanying illustrations are a wash of watercolours; background characters are quite literally just that, fading into blur while the girl and her mother are front and centre, alone in their own world. Out's strength is contained in its haziness. Told in simple fragments by the young girl, it could be a book about any number of wars from the past half-century that saw people uprooted and families separated. Rather than flesh out a gripping narrative, Angela May George opts instead to create a universal parable about the emotional stakes that come with seeking a better life.

Harry and Clare's Amazing Staycation

By Ted Staunton and Mika Song

Tundra Books, 32 pages, $23

Going away on an expensive vacation rarely holds the same appeal for children as it does for adults. When you're a kid, holidays often mean long lines and longer car rides, and seeing boring cultural sites that can't hold a candle to anything on TV. Ted Staunton has penned a tribute to all the fantastic potential a week off from school can have, brought to life by Mika Song's joyous illustrations. Brother and sister Harry and Clare are never short of opportunities to make believe: In their world, there is no floor that can't be lava, no grocery cart that can't be turned into an Italian race car, no park that isn't a jungle in disguise. For parents worried that their kids might be experiencing Disneyland-related #FOMO come March break, Harry and Clare are there to show that the alternatives can be just as fun.

Walk With Me

By Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado

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Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $19

Writer-and-illustrator duo Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng are the modern masters of writing simple stories for young people with sophisticated subtext. Walk With Me is, on its surface, a lovely little tale about a girl and her imaginary pet lion. The lion is a gentle but imposing figure, towering over the humans in the story. He provides companionship to the young girl as she walks home from school, strutting down the street while other people stare at the giant creature with looks of comical terror on their faces. The details in the picture tell a more troubling tale. The young girl is walking through violent neighbourhoods, picking up her infant brother from daycare and cooking dinner while waiting for their mother to come home late from working at a factory. The lion is more than her security blanket – he is her key to functioning, surviving and thriving in a world where the circumstances are stacked against her and her family.

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