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New picture books from JonArno Lawson and Natalie Nelson, Tyler Clark Burke, and Kelly Collier

Uncle Holland

By JonArno Lawson and Natalie Nelson

Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $17.95

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Many writers have looked to their own lives for creative inspiration, but truly clever storytellers will go one further and mine their extended family for ideas (sometimes to the bane of the family, depending on what is unearthed). The Uncle Holland of this book is based on the real Uncle Holland of author JonArno Lawson. As a child, Holland was a rabble-rouser. Although he never told a lie, he had a problem when it came to petty theft. His kleptomania landed him in trouble when a police officer caught him and gave him a choice: jail or the army. And so, while stationed down south in the army, Holland found an outlet for his creative energies and began to paint pictures of marine life. Uncle Holland is an origin story of how a young man turned his life around to pursue a passion for the arts, but more than that, it's a piece of Lawson's family mythology, turned outward to meet the rest of the world.

Bill Bowerbird and the Unbearable Beak-Ache

By Tyler Clark Burke

Owlkids, 32 pages, $18.95

The bowerbird, closely related to birds of paradise, is a species found in Australia and New Guinea. But the jubilant creature that graces Tyler Clark Burke's polychromatic pages could be a fantastical creation, so larger than life is he. Bill has a beak-ache and, with no idea how to fix it, he does the only thing he knows how: He reaches out to friends for a solution. The crayon-coloured owl offers Bill a drop of honey, while a pair of pink-and-purple zebras wonder if he should borrow their stripes. (To what end? Who knows! They're just happy to help.) Bill meets up with the town-hall clerk walrus and some beavers jumping rope with a frog, a yak and a grouse. Although none is able to solve his problem, they all try their best, and the sense of a community offered to Bill provides a comfort that lasts long after the beak-ache goes away.

A Horse Named Steve

By Kelly Collier

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Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $18.95

Steve the horse thinks he is fine, but wants to be better – exceptional, even. He's heard of horses that get to wear ribbons, but Steve lives in the forest and will have to take matters into his own hooves. When he finds a horn on the ground one day, Steve realizes this is what he has been waiting for to take his life to the next level. Attaching it to his head, he rushes off to show the woodland creatures his fancy new look. As a character, Steve is delightful: ambitious, proud, excitable, flamboyant and wholly original. Kelly Collier has crafted a hilarious and interactive book with subtle gags and rollicking digressions that will lend itself well to classroom story times and repeat bedtime readings. Steve's larger-than-life antics and slapstick foibles will put him right at home alongside other iconic and beloved children's book characters.

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