Girl Man’s Up – Diversekidlit

girlTitle: Girl Mans Up

Author: M-E Girard

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016

Ages: 14+

Themes: gender, queer, gender fluidity, LGBTQIA, Portuguese Canadians, friendship, loyalty, respect, family dynamics

Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review




There are four of us dudes sitting here right now, and I kick all of their butts when it comes to video games- and I’m not even a dude in the first place.


All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty. But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth–that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up (Goodreads).

Why I like this book:

This story is a hit for me from the title onwards. As a teen I would so have related to Pen’s struggle to express her gender identity–wanting to look more masculine while still identifying as a girl. I would not however have had the knowledge nor sensitivity in the 80’s that Pen has of correcting the transphobic people in her life who mis-label her and yet doing so in a way that embraces the trans community. Girard tackles the space between the binaries and not wanting to conform to the norms of our genders with sensitivity and compassion in this novel.

It is so cool to see a female protagonist struggling to express herself in a masculine way through means that are not all ‘traditionally’ male. Watching Pen grow into her identity while also dealing with a toxic home environment based on archaic gender and societal norms was both painful and satisfying. Girard doesn’t hold back on the narrow mindedness of the parents both towards Pen and their son, entrenched as they are in the norms of their subculture and their own needs to be accepted there. Some readers will certainly find their own suffocating home experiences in these pages.

Though she doesn’t always quite know how to define herself Pen’s self confidence in her gender expression is refreshing. I did find it hard to have much empathy for Colby, her best friend, but appreciated his role in the story as one who for Pen at least validates her queerness.

Two balancing and rewarding secondary characters are Pen’s older brother (also bucking cultural norms in his own way) and Blake, the girl she hooks up with. Girard offers a stark and needed contrast between Blake’s accepting home life and Pen’s stifling one. Their romance is hawt, funny and enduring, which is a huge plus in this story.

There’s a good smattering of action but truly it is a character driven novel for me, and the cast is full and well developed. I appreciate the geeky girls just hanging out, playing games with their friends, chatting about their varied interests, sharing experiences. Just a super great portrayal of female friendships.

This is a terrific addition to the (LGBTQIA) YA shelves. It is a compelling novel and one I read in one sitting. I believe many teens will eagerly read Pen’s story too. We still need the coming out stories but I welcome a a protagonist who is already out but her entourage can’t always accept it. It’s also neat to see a lesbian couple that is in love, and proud to be.

It’s okay to feel bad about how things went down, but it’s not okay to drown in guilt and regret every day for having made decisions other people don’t agree with. At some point we all have to man up and decide to do what we have to do, despite the people around us who try to get in the way.”


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Toby – Perfect Picture Book Friday & Giveaway


TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Title: Toby

Written and Illustrated by: Hazel Mitchell

Published by: Candlewick, September 13th, 2016

Themes: dog adoption, single parent families, companionship, transition, loneliness

Ages: 4-8


“Hey bud, can you help me unpack?”

“Sure. Dad…”          “Can we get a dog?”

“Well, if you promise to take care of it, we can.”


A young boy and his dad move home at the beginning of winter. While unpacking, the boy comes across an ad for the local animal refuge and asks his dad if they can adopt a dog. They soon visit the rescue and the boy bonds with the most timid looking dog in all the cages. They take Toby home but Toby refuses to respond to all attempts to play or even treats. The dog’s adjustment goes from disinterest to destruction and the reader will wonder if Toby will truly be able to make this his forever home.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Why I like this book:

This heartwarming dog adoption story told in the first person by a little boy touches on many themes: loneliness in a new neighborhood (and maybe as an only child of a one parent family), perseverance, empathy, the bond between a dog and its owner, one kid+one parent families. Toby’s initial shyness will be relatable for many children when facing new situations, as well as the ensuing mishaps and mischief as Toby’s confidence and desire to please develops (peeing inside and accidentally breaking dad’s glasses). The little boy demonstrates an adorable desire to ensure  he can keep Toby through really following through with diligent training, sacrifice and love. Toby proves himself too, through his own act of kindness and ingenuity and the end suggests a relationship of commitment between boy and dog, which can only get better with time.

The illustrations in Toby are filled with subtle warm shades except for an intentional use of red for certain items, which I would encourage children to look for and ask why. Some pages, such as the evocative front and back end pages are full page story spreads (Hazel talks about this in her interview), others are four panels more in a comic storytelling style. Mood and movement sweep the reader in, especially Toby’s adorable expressions. His transformation from timid to playful pup is delightful. A big aw factor. I also loved seeing a single dad in this story and his relationship with his son.

Adopting a dog can have many challenges and this story shares both the cost and reward and would make a terrific read for any family wanting to rescue a pet. The reciprocity of any relationship makes it worth while.


Interview with the author, where she speaks more of the adoption of the real Toby. Hazel Mitchel – Illustrator Interview

Google local rescues and have children pick a pet whose story they will tell through pictures and/or words.

Lucky Kids Club is designed to involve kids in our mission of rescuing homeless and abandoned animals, primarily dogs from rural high-kill shelters where they don’t have a good chance of survival.

There are activities, posters, teacher’s guide etc on Hazel Mitchel’s website.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

                             GIVEAWAY OF SIGNED COPY OF TOBY                                                               (Sorry, only available to North American addresses)

To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment about your favorite animal adoption story, if you have one, or about a pet before midnight on Thursday, 29th.

Hazel Mitchel – Illustrator Interview

Hazel and Toby

Hazel and Toby

Hazel and I go way back, to a time when pocket money was 10p and for that you’d get you a bag of candy as large as your fist;  and London was overrun by wonderful creatures called wombles. Seriously, I have known Hazel since before our first in person meeting at the Hyatt bar at my first SCBWI bash in LA, 2011. I have watched her create warm and whimsical artwork for many authors and am more than thrilled to be part of her blog tour as she launches her debut picture as author and illustrator, TOBY!

I will also admit to being one of the few to have petted Toby, and he actually sat next to me on the couch (albeit anxiously) a couple of times this summer!

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[HM] I usually begin with pictures. Given that Toby is my first published book as an author and illustrator I can only describe my experience so far with this book. Really I started sketching Toby idly and the story came from there. The words came as I went along (and changed a lot throughout the process!)

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[HM] I am originally from Yorkshire, England. So my roots in children’s literature and art are very much in the English tradition having been raised on AA Milne, Enid Blyton and classics like Wind in the Willows, The Tales of Beatrix Potter and the like. I love old style illustrations from the 40’s and 50’s (Edward Ardizzone, EH Shepherd and Pauline Baynes) and later illustrators like Quentin Blake, Ralph Steadman and Raymond Briggs. But when I moved to the USA in 2000 and began to get serious about illustration I discovered a whole world of American illustrators. Up until then I do believe I only knew Dr. Suess and Disney. Shocking!

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[HM] I can’t remember not drawing or making things. It was an escape as a child and all I was really good at in school – along with English. It’s probably all I am really good at now! After I left school I attended art college in York and Sunderland in England, studying fine art. But I wasn’t a good student. Looking back if there had been an illustration course readily available back then, I might have been illustrating books a whole lot sooner! As it was no one seemed to even have heard of illustration at college. In the end I drifted and dropped out. Luckily I then joined the Royal Navy and they taught me to be a graphic designer and I got to work with a lot of very talented civil servants in design work. So it was a kind of apprenticeship. It has served me well! When I was a kid, I always wondered who did the illustrations in books. It took me a long time to really find out. I came from a working class background where being an artist for a living was not on the agenda. That only happened in London and the like. I left the Navy after several happy years and worked as a commercial designer running my own business. It wasn’t until I came to the USA that I finally found my way to illustration and, along with commercial illustration, I began to put together a portfolio for children’s illustration. And lo and behold in 2010 a publisher gave me my first book! (After I joined the SCBWI I may say, and worked out how publisher’s worked! Ever thankful for that society.

[JM] You were fostering the real Toby when you started this story, was this before or after he got lost and it felt like the whole of FB was mobilized to help find him?

[HM] It was before he got lost. (I hate thinking about that time!). The story in the book is not about him getting lost (even though I think a lot of people imagine it is!). So many people were following the story of the fostering of Toby and when he was lost they felt personally involved – it was amazing the support we had! I’m just thankful that Toby came back to us. If he hadn’t I don’t think I could have illustrated his book. It would have been too sad. I fictionalized the setting for Toby’s book, he gets a different family, but really it’s a retelling of how Toby overcame a lot of his fear and learned to love. It’s all about trying again when things get hard. Children really relate to that theme in the book.

[JM] I know Toby came from a horrible abuse situation. How is he doing now?

[HM] He’s doing great! It’s been three years now (unbelievably) and we’re still seeing changes all the time. At first he was completely frozen for several months. He would creep around, scared of his own shadow. He’d had no contact with people and had been kept in a basement with a lot of other poodles. He’d never been outside. He hardly knew how to stand up to pee. It was so sad. But with love and time he’s now a real personality. He’s very bossy and tells our other rescue poodle off (she is very good and humours him). Now he loves cuddle time and treats and watching the world go by out of the window. He’s still very scared of leaving the house and that’s something we are working on. But he’s making strides. Sometimes I look at him and can’t believe he’s the same dog. I think having his own book has given him a lot of self-confidence. He doesn’t let us forget it!

Toby, first photo

Toby, first photo

sniffs - now

[JM] I can so attest to the transformation yours and Mike’s love have brought to Toby. Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of TOBY, and the process of creating this picture book?



Sure. As I said, this is my first book as author AND illustrator, so I was on a learning curve. I’ve illustrated several other books, but working with someone else’s manuscript is a different thing altogether, you’re weaving around the author’s words. Writing your own words and illustrating them is a whole different ball game. Scary, but exciting. When I started to think about Toby’s book I always knew it’d be in a fictionalized setting. There was no real story arc with me and my husband as the secondary characters. So I gave Toby a boy and a dad who adopt him and explored that relationship … which turned out to be a great triangle of emotion. I love to explore emotions with mood, colour and setting in my work.


I went through several different drafts of the dummy with my editor (Liz Bicknell) and art director (Ann Stott) at Candlewick Press (who is my dream publisher by the way!). I think I did about five drafts in all before I got to final art. The finished story is much simpler (and therefore better for young readers!) than my first draft. I learned a lot about flow and what words were needed and when to create a book that children (and parents I hope) will want to return to many times.

I used a style I hadn’t really explored before. It feels more ‘English’ to me. It’s quiet and moody and looser and the colour palette is more subdued than in my previous books, which suits this story. I used red to connect the boy and Toby, (on the boys shoes and Toby’s collar), it echoes their emotional bond. I used graphite and watercolour in one colour to create the underdrawings of the spreads and then gave a colour wash over them, digitally, in photoshop. I like the marrying of traditional and digital techniques in my work.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

[JM] Are there any sequels in the works? (Full disclosure—I have just spent time with the real pup and am a tad biased!)

[HM] Ha! Yes, I have another story in mind, (can you guess what? It may involve another dog …), but we’ll have to wait and see how the first book does first.

[JM] What does your workspace look like?

[HM] Right now it looks pretty chaotic!

[JM] At what point in your process do you consider the end pages design?

[HM] In Toby it was an integral part of the story, because it is a 40 page self-ending book (meaning the story begins and finishes on the end pages). I was thinking about the end papers right at the start. They lead you in and out of the story and are probably the most complicated spreads in the whole book. Usually, though, you wouldn’t think about the end papers until you have finished the interior art.

[JM] I love the story in the end pages in TOBY!

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                           [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[HM] Kew Gardens in London, UK.

[JM] How many dogs have you owned in your life?

[HM] 15, not including fosters and dogs I looked after on a regular basis in various places.


[JM] Those lucky pups! Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[HM] I’m an introvert.

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[HM] Extrovert

[JM] Hahaha! Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

Yorkshire Tea.


Hazel, we continue to wish you and Toby and TOBY great success and we certainly hope for a sequel. Look out for my review of TOBY this Friday, as part of Perfect Picture Book Friday when I will be doing a giveaway of a copy of TOBY!

Links for Toby: