Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tuesday, May 8, 2018: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Megabat

Tundra Books: Megabat by Anna Humphrey, illustrated by Kass Reich

Tundra Books: Megabat by Anna Humphrey, illustrated by Kass Reich

Tundra Books: Peanut Butter and Jelly (Narwhal and Jelly Book #3) by Ben Clanton

Puffin Books: Clara Voyant by Rachelle Delaney


by Anna Humphrey, illus. by Kass Reich

Daniel Misumi is not pleased about his family's move from Toronto to a new town three hours away. He's left his friends, his soccer team and his old house, and he's worried that at his new school "he [won't] even know where the bathrooms [are]--let alone who to play with at recess." His new house is spooky, with "creaky floors" and "weird wallpaper" and, possibly, a ghost. On his first day in the house he slips in a puddle on the floor at the top of the stairs leading to his attic bedroom. Even after he and his parents mop it up, the puddle returns, although there's no sign of a leak in the roof. Not only that, but there are strange sounds coming from the rafters at night, a small, sad voice asking for... buttermelons?

When Daniel discovers there's a tiny talking (and weeping) bat in his room, his first reaction is to beg it not to suck his blood. "Yours said what?" the bat responds. "Blood? Yours is drinking blood? Dust-gusting!" After this brief discussion muddied with misunderstanding, the bat makes clear his dietary preferences by dive-bombing Daniel's jelly roll. "Yours gots red smoosh-fruit!" he exclaims, in his batty patois, and proceeds to devour the jelly roll, "snorffling like a pig at a trough."

The bat is lonely--"'Mine is got no bests and noooo friends'"--and not particularly quiet about it. Eventually, he tells Daniel his story: "'Mine was napping on a tree one sunny day when, out of nowheres, mine sleeping-papaya was plucked and made to plummet into a crate filled with mores papayas... which mine gobbled most hungrily. A bat journeyed many days. First in a rolling rectangle, then in the belly of a roaring beast."

Daniel does a little online research about fruit bats, aka flying foxes, aka megabats, and names his homesick new buddy Megabat. "It's almost like a superhero name," Daniel says to the bat. Megabat loves it. Daniel also discovers that Megabat's supposed homeland, "the land of Papaya Premium," is actually Borneo; "Papaya Premium" was the label on the crate in which Megabat traveled to Canada. As these details are being worked out, Daniel introduces Megabat to Star Wars and juice boxes, and a friendship is born.

Of course, friendships are often fraught with problems, and this interspecies one is no different. For starters, Daniel cannot let his parents know that he is harboring a bat from Borneo, even though he ultimately plans on finding a way to get Megabat home. And although his new neighbor Talia is on board to help with this plan, her annoying brother, Jamie, is a problem. In exchange for his silence about the secret "talking bat" situation, Talia must be his servant for a month, calling him "Grand Master Jamie of the Universe" and fetching him chips and salsa. And then there's Birdgirl. The smitten pigeon fell in love with Megabat during a misadventure in a homemade (by Jamie, naturally) trap and her affection for the bat repeatedly places her in Daniel's way. She proceeds to foil Daniel's plans to smuggle Megabat into the purse of a Borneo-bound traveler and has to be coerced to leave his side when another potential plan to get Megabat home is hatched. Things look grim, but one should never underestimate the power of a butterfly-sized bat with a drinking-straw lightsaber. Nor of friendship.

Fans of Junie B. Jones (especially her malapropisms), Amelia Bedelia and early-chapter books by Kate DiCamillo will "muchly" love the madcap adventures in Megabat, the first in Anna Humphrey (Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea; Mission (Un)Popular; the Clara Humble series) and Kass Reich's (This Little Hamster; Hamsters Holding Hands; Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest by Sarah Hampson) series. Reich's adorable graphite illustrations of Megabat tucked into Daniel's sock, striking a pose in his imaginary battle against Darth Vader or being piggybacked by Birdgirl in a wild escape from an adult waving a "'thwacky'" broom, are enough to make a bat lover of every reader. The book will also appeal to any child (or bat) who has felt lonely in a new setting. Daniel and Megabat find each other at the exact perfect time--Daniel is the new kid in town, uncertain of what his life is going to look like from now on, and Megabat has been uprooted from the only home he has ever known. But both learn that home is not necessarily one fixed location, and that friendship and love are more important than an address. When Megabat finds out that he won't be able to return to Borneo, but that he is loved by Daniel and Birdgirl, he stands tall and says, "Then Megabat is not needing the land of Papaya Premium... Megabat is home."

As they turn the final page of Megabat, readers will be relieved and excited to know there's "mores" to come in future volumes! --Emilie Coulter

Tundra Books, $12.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 7-10, 9780735262577, August 7, 2018

Tundra Books: Megabat by Anna Humphrey, illustrated by Kass Reich

Anna Humphrey: A Way with Words

photo: Christine Saunders

Although she's never had a truly exotic secret pet, in Anna Humphrey's new chapter book series she has no problem capturing the homesickness and sweet toothiness of a Southeast Asian fruit bat stranded in Canada. Megabat (available August 7, 2018, from Tundra Books) is the first title in the series. Humphrey is the author of several young adult and chapter books, including Rhymes with Cupid; Mission (Un)Popular; Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea; and the Clara Humble series. She lives in Ontario with her husband, two sons and a few secret ladybugs.

What was the inspiration for Megabat?

The inspiration for Megabat came from a sad helium balloon and a mysterious puddle.

A few years ago, my family moved from Toronto to Kitchener. One of the big selling features of our new house for me was the attic. I could tell it would make a dreamy writing space, even though the first time I toured it there was nothing in the room except a partly deflated helium balloon.

The way it moved creeped me out and made me worry that the attic might be haunted. Then, not long after we moved in, a mysterious puddle began appearing at the bottom of our main floor stairs--even though there was no water damage on either of the two upper floors. What?! How?! Naturally, my brain jumped straight to the possibility of a crying bat hiding somewhere in the walls although--sadly--it ended up just being a bad roofing job around a dormer window.

Why was it important to have a "new kid" be the (human) protagonist in Megabat?

I started writing Megabat with my own kids in mind. Our family's move wasn't a big one, as these things go, but for my children (ages four and nine at the time) it was earth-shaking. Our old house was the only one they'd ever known, and we left a lot of good friends and neighbors behind. I wanted a protagonist that they (and other kids) could relate to... specifically, a little boy who was more sensitive than the boys you often see portrayed in books and on TV, since my kids are both wired that way.

How did you come up with the wonderful way Megabat has with words? I'm thinking "dust-gusting," "smoosh-fruit" and "buttermelon."

I love the English language, but it's so badly broken. I drew inspiration for Megabat's speech from listening to kids I know struggle to learn to speak it. Their "mistakes" often make more sense to me than the correct words do.

For example: my daughter used to say "sidewards" instead of "sideways." And why not? You go backwards! You go forwards! Why don't you go sidewards? When he gets new clothes, my son sometimes wails: "Mummy! This shirt is too spicy!" by which he means the material is causing a strong, uncomfortable feeling, like pepper on his tongue. And, oh my goodness--yes! I also hate spicy shirts.

Other kid-talk favorites of mine have included mixed-up or misheard words like "hosbibble" instead of "hospital" and "pollywop" instead of "lollypop." I didn't use any of those for Megabat, but I imagined if you were a fruit bat who'd somehow learned English while napping on papayas, you might also have a special way of talking that made perfect sense, if only to you. 

Do you have any exotic or secret pets?

I keep ladybugs in my upstairs bathroom. Does that count? Every winter we seem to get one or two who camp out there until the weather improves, and I just can't bring myself to smush them or kick them out into the cold. They don't have names or anything, but I look for them whenever I go in there. And I often move them behind the shampoo bottles or hide them in the medicine cabinet so the rest of the family won't notice them, since the fact that I let them live there drives everyone else crazy. 

Any hints about future Daniel and Megabat adventures in the series?

In the second book in the Megabat series, Megabat and Fancy Cat, Daniel's family gets a cat, and Megabat is not a fan. The book also features some mischievous squirrels or--as Megabat calls them--no-good puffer rats. And, not surprisingly, Kass draws the cutest evil squirrels you can possibly imagine. --Emilie Coulter

Kass Reich: The More Texture the Better

photo: Stephanie Coffey

Kass Reich has lived all over the world and worked as an early childhood educator before becoming an illustrator of picture books. Now a resident of Toronto, she works primarily with graphite, colored pencils and gouache. Her titles include Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest by Sarah Hampson; Carson Crosses Canada; Hamsters on the Go; Up Hamster, Down Hamster; and This Little Hamster. With Megabat (available August 7, 2018, from Tundra Books), she finds a perfect writing partner in Anna Humphrey, matching her adorable depictions of the bat with Humphrey's hilarious and poignant narrative.

What was your first thought when you started reading Megabat?

I remember thinking that eight-year-old me would have been 100% obsessed with this book.

Did you work closely with Anna Humphrey, or did you just take the book and run? 

Initially I just took the book and ran. I was almost finished illustrating the book when I finally met Anna in person. She was in town and we met up for coffee. Several months later, I saw her again at an event where we sat together signing advance copies of the book. We were asked multiple times if we were close friends. I guess we just gave off that vibe, even though we mostly worked on this project separately.

Did you know right away how Daniel, Megabat, Talia and the others would look?

I definitely played around with their looks. I draw out every character I illustrate about a dozen times. I think it's important to give yourself options instead of settling on the first idea that comes to mind.

Which Megabat illustration was most fun to do? Which was most challenging?

I probably had the most fun illustrating Megabat eating the jelly roll. It's the first time readers see his face in the light and I was eager to capture his overall adorable-ness. I had the most difficulty trying to figure out how Megabat's body would look when he did his Luke Skywalker-inspired moves with the juice box straw. A bat wielding a straw like a lightsaber isn't something you can easily find references for on the Internet.

What kind of research did you do in preparation for Megabat? Or were you already a fruit bat expert?

Definitely not a fruit bat expert. Don't get me wrong, I love all animals, including bats, but I had to do serious bat-related research before I started. Imagining how he would use his wing tips as hands to hold things was particularly tricky.

You do a lot of your artwork in graphite--what about this medium do you like?

I'm a big fan of texture. I love being able to see that an artist did something by hand. That's why I use graphite for work in grayscale and gouache paint layered with colored pencil for my work in color. The more texture the better! --Emilie Coulter

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