Category Archives: Canadian_books

The Secret of Grim Hill by Linda DeMeulemeester

Time for something on the spooky side of things…

Cat Peters hates her new school. She’s in trouble from the first day at Darkmount High, for everything from not knowing the dress code and wearing the wrong sort of jeans to the total lack of any sports teams for her to join. She desperately wants to go to the private girls’ academy on Grim Hill, Grimoire School where her mom is working as the school secretary, but there’s no way her recently-divorced mom can afford the tuition. So when she hears that the prize for the winning team at the Halloween soccer tournament is a full scholarship, she jumps at the chance. And when she makes the team, she becomes a local celebrity.

However, her next door neighbour Jasper and her little sister Sookie are sure there’s something strange going on at Grimoire, but Cat doesn’t want to listen—not even when bad things start happening to anything that would stop the soccer team from practicing. Her teammate Amarjeet has Punjabi school Saturday mornings… until the school burns down. Mia needs to attend rehearsals for her sister’s wedding, until the engagement is called off. Emily spends the weekends with her dad, until he gets transferred out of town. But the only thing that would keep Cat from practice is babysitting Sookie… Cat needs to figure out what forces are at work behind the mysterious school and how it all ties into a diary from seventy years ago, before she loses everything.

This is a great mid to upper elementary series for budding fans of mysterious-type fantasy stories. The build-up is nicely ominous and creepy, and I am such a sucker for folklore elements!

You can read the first chapter on the publisher’s website, and check out the whole series. Other reviews in various places: Wands and Worlds, a blog for fantasy and science fiction for children and teens, the Montreal Review of Books

It’s also been a nominee for various reader’s choice book awards like Red Cedar, Diamond Willow, Hackmatack, and was the winner of the 2008 Silver Birch.

New Things I Want to Read

Lots of good stuff on the horizon…

Arthur Slade’s Hunchback Assignments series will continue with a third book Empire of Ruins, in January 2011. Click for the cover art!

It would not not surprise me to learn that Jill Maclean’s third book, Home Truths, follows The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy. I’ll find out once we start reading for next year’s RMBA shortlist, I suspect…

As much as I like Nancy Werlin’s psychological thrillers like The Killer’s Cousin and Rules of Survival, I am thrilled that her latest book, Extraordinary is along the lines of her last book, Impossible, a modern spin on the traditional ballad “Scarborough Fair.”

Yay! New book from Cornelia Funke, Reckless is coming in September: “The story is about Jacob Reckless, who escapes to another world behind a mirror, where witches haunt the forests and fairies and dwarfs roam. It’s also a world locked in a deadly war. Jacob’s secret is safe until one day his younger brother, Will, follows him-with disastrous consequences. The brothers are forced to race against time to find reverse a curse before one of them is lost forever.”

And getting to some of my favourite authors…

Woo-hoo! New Tamora Pierce! A short story collecton this time, Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales.

Also cause for anticipation, new Terry Pratchett in October! I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth Tiffany Aching book.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to hear that there is a new Bordertown anthology coming out! Not convinced? Check out the line-up: “Terri Windling’s groundbreaking urban fantasy shared world is back in an all new Borderlands anthology, WELCOME TO BORDERTOWN, to be edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, featuring new stories from many of the original writers including Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Midori Snyder and Charles de Lint, as well as new work by writers who were inspired by the original series, including Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Kelly Link and more.”

Over on the adult fiction side of things, a new Newford collection from urban mystic fantasy master, Charles De Lint, Muse and Reverie.

Mmm. New book anticipation.

The Giant Slayer by Iain Lawrence

giant slayer cover The last place Laurie Valentine’s father would ever want her visiting was the polio ward. It’s 1955, and he’s part of the team trying to find a vaccine for the epidemic, and because of his fear for her safety, Laurie leads a very sheltered life. Her only real friend is her neighbour Dickie. When she sees the ambulance outside Dickie’s house, she is sure the worst has happened—and it has. Dickie has polio, and her outgoing, rambunctious friend has been confined to an iron lung. Laurie’s father forbids her to go anywhere near the polio ward, but Laurie can’t abandon her best friend. She sneaks away while her father’s at work and goes to visit him. She can’t give him a healthy body back, but what she can do for him is tell stories. Before she knows it, Laurie is making regular visits to Dickie and the other iron lung patients. Because Laurie’s life is only half the book. The story she tells, of Jimmy, a boy wished into being small forever by his selfish father, a swamp witch, a giant and a destiny foretold, will have a profound effect on all the children who hear it. And when Laurie is prevented from finishing the story, her listeners take up the threads themselves, determined to find the best ending they can.

This is a fantastic book to lose yourself in on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Iain Lawrence, you rock my socks! On one level, you’ve got a tale of peril, adventure and fantasy, on the other, you’ve got a complex, nuanced coming of age story. It would also make a great read-aloud, at home or in a classroom. It’s on the shortlist for this year’s Rocky Mountain Book Awards, and the question came up, will it appeal to kids who’ve never heard of polio before? I think it will. It also has adult appeal too–one committee member talked about the memories of his school being closed through most of his grade one year because of polio. Laurie and Jimmy are both strong, appealing protagonists and I think the combination of historical fiction and fantasy will broaden the audience for the book.

Further reading: try Peg Kehret’s autobiography, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio, In the Clear by Laurel Anne Carter for a sports story take (quintessentially Canadian–it’s a hockey story!), or a new one from Kathryn Lasky,, Chasing Orion.

There’s an interview with Iain Lawrence at Through a Glass Darkly, and you can also visit his own website and blog.

Reviews in the Globe and Mail, from Book Ends (the Booklist blog), and many, many book blogs: Eva’s Book Addiction, kidsread.com, Buxtolicious Blog O’Books, Kiss the Book, YA Books Central, Lindsey’s Library, Classroom Book of the Week, Book Trends…

Canadian First Nations Girls Rock!

June 21 is National Aboriginal Day! Here’s a round-up of some of the newer books I’ve come across lately about Canadian First Nations kids, and a few other links. (Caveat: I can only speak to their authenticity about the people and cultures they are about based on professional resources like reviews and such, not first-hand knowledge. Any comments from anyone who knows more are that welcome…)

The inspiration of my subject line comes from a book I’ve already talked about Lacey and the African Grandmothers, a book based on true events about a Siksika Blakfoot girl from Southern Alberta who manages to make a difference in the lives of people halfway around the world. Lacey’s awesome, and so is the book. Go read!

Another recent read is The Contest by Caroline Stellings, which is quintessentially Canadian as only a book about a half-Mohawk girl who wants to enter a Anne of Green Gables look-alike contest can be!

Goodbye Buffalo Bay coverLest you think I’m leaving out the boys, another recent(ish) title is Goodbye Buffalo Bay, by northern Alberta Cree author Larry Loyie, an autobiographical story that continues on from As Long As The Rivers Flow, which takes place the summer before he leaves for residential school, and the prequel When the Spirits Dance. Goodbye Buffalo Bay is split into two halves. The first is about Larry’s time in the harsh residential school, and the second is about his life afterwards as a young man. It’s a matter-of-fact look at adversity that doesn’t shy away from any harsh realities, but man, there are some laugh-out-loud funny moments here, too. Also, you can find an interview with Larry Loyie over at Paper Tigers.

Shi-shi-etko coverFor another look at residential schools, BC Salish, Nsilx and Métis author Nicola Campbell has two stunning picture books, Shi-shi-etko and a sequel, Shin-Chi’s Canoe. There’s also a short film version of Shi-shi-etko and you see the trailer on Youtube. Shin-chi’s Canoe was a finalist for a 2008 Governor Generals award for illustration, and Shi-shi-etko was a finalist for the 2006 Ruth Schwartz Children’s Book Award.

There is a new book in the This Land is Our Storybook series from Fitzhenry & Whiteside, a series about the daily lives of kids living in the Northwest Territories. I love ’em! They meet my “shiny with lots of colour photos” preference for kids’ nonfiction, the text lets the kids speak in their own voice about their own lives and culture, and is much more personal (and interesting!) than your standard report-writing type nonfiction. The books are all bilingual, in English and the traditional language of each kid’s family. Come and Learn With Me/Éwo, séh Kedįdįh is about Sheyenne Jumbo, who lives in Sambaa K’e (Trout Lake), and is written in English and Dene. The sheer exuberance of Sheyenne in the photo on the cover just makes me grin right along with her!

On the teen side of things, I attended a great conference session on aboriginal books for teens by Edmonton librarian Lindy Pratch, who has shared her line-up of titles on Shelfari. Take a look for a fantastic bunch of books, from middle school up through adult fiction and poetry.

I was quite thrilled to discover Eagle Crest Books, who do levelled readers featuring First Nations kids (I think they’re based in BC) in both English and French. I think they’re potentially most useful for schools and classrooms, but are also a good addition to a public library beginning reader collection, too!

Another thing that thrills me is the First Nations Communities Read program… though it worries me a bit that the most recent info on the site is still from the 2009 program. I hope it’s still running in 2010… you can see previous years’ featured books at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Jolted by Arthur Slade

Jolted coverNewton Starker is cursed. Lightning has killed every member of his mother’s side of the family, except for Newton, and his great-grandmother Edith. (Newton’s theory is that she’s too mean to die.)

Newton and his dad live in a lightning proof house. He has a set of rules to keep him safe (Rule one: Check the weather constantly. Two: Check the sky before exiting a building. Three: When thunder roars, run indoors. Four: Beware of cumulo-nimbus clouds. Five: Do not take a bath during a lightning storm….) But the rules didn’t save Newton’s mom. So he’s enrolled at the Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, hoping that a school that emphasizes wilderness survival, banned neckties from the school uniform because they interfered with outdoor activities (some students were using them to snare ground squirrels) and encourages always carrying a sharp knife will teach him how to avoid the family curse.

But Newton breaks rule number six (Do not under any circumstances become angry. Count to ten. Breathe in. Breath out.), and before he knows it, he’s challenged one of his fellow students, Violet Quon, to a boxing match. And then there’s the matter of a slight mix-up surrounding Culinary Arts and exactly how Newton ended up with a pet pig named Francine, and an approaching outdoor expedition to the Cyprus Hills.

But no matter how busy he gets, Newton had better not forget Rule thirteen: Check the Weather. Check it again.

Jolted is a decidely tongue in cheek sort of story, as you may have figured from the lightning curse, pet pigs, and wilderness survival academies. It’s a quick-moving book with short chapters and plenty of great moments of goofy humour. But underneath it all is a suprisingly bittersweet story about Newton coming to terms with the death of his mom. The ending leaves me expecting a sequel, but Arthur Slade’s latest, the Hunchback Assignments, is definitely a series. (And awesomely steampunk!) Will we see more of Newton? I don’t know…

If you head over to Arthur Slade’s website, you can listen to the author himself reading a clip from the book.

All-Season Edie by Annabel Lyon

All Season Edie cover This book is a year in the life of Edie Jasmine Snow.

Edie lives with her mom and her dad and her older sister Dexter, who mostly she hates (like when Dexter tells her there are spiders in her attic bedroom, and Edie tried to curse her for Halloween using MacBeth as an instruction manual), but sometimes Dexter surprises her by doing something nice, like even though she doesn’t want Edie to go to ballet like Dexter because she’s convinced Edie will embarass her, Dexter tells their mom than Edie should take flamenco instead. And not just because of the mortification factor–she thinks Edie would like it better, because there’s a lot of stomping. And just for the record, Edie LOVES flamenco. But that doesn’t mean that Dexter wants her at her best friend Mean Megan’s Halloween party…

First off, the blurb caused me some needless anxiety–I will tell you straight out, her sister does not die! Her grandfather is sick right from the beginning, however… The splashy green and pink cover has been catching the eye of a lot of pre-teen girls in my library. (I will admit that at first glance, I thought that rubber boot was a cast, and kept waiting for Edie to break a leg.)

This is a really hard book to summarize, since it’s very episodic. The story’s biggest weakness is that there isn’t one strong plot thread pulling the whole thing together. There are some great moments though–like when Edie is dragged along on a Christmas shopping trip to the mall with her mom and sister. No-one realizes Edie’s running a fever, and then she starts to hallucinate that the Greek gods are at the mall too, doing their shopping… Or the argument between Dexter and her parents over taking her little sister along to her friend’s party. The horror! What ties it all together is the family’s reactions to her grandfather’s sickness and death.

The story’s biggest strength was the strong character voices. The emotions and tension between Edie and her ring true remarkably. I say this as an older sister, albeit one with younger brothers. Some things are universal. It’s a fantastic middle school point of view. (Okay, I’m harping on the point of view because the book I read just before this one was published as young adult fiction, but should have been an adult memoir. Anyhow.) This book captures delicate balance of fondness and infuriation between siblings perfectly. Even though it’s episodic, thematically, everything fits together. Give this one to girls who have ages out of Judy Moody, Ramona fans, or any nine or ten year old girl who’s drawn in by the green and pink cover.

Other reviews from (inevitably) CM Magazine, Sheryl McFarlane’s Book Blog and Welcome to My Tweendom.

Danger in Dead Man’s Mine by Dave Glaze

Yay! Canadian kids’ historical fiction that doesn’t involved a) wilderness survival, b) immigrating and finding a home, c) time travel, and especially d) a boring cover. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of the aforementioned–except boring covers–but I have had my fill of them lately.

Danger in Dead Man's Mine cover This is a story about Mackenzie Davis, who is twelve, and visiting his aunt and uncle in Lethbridge, in 1912. His mom has come to stay and help out until her aunt has her baby. His uncle a coal miner and has been sick, and is waiting to be cleared by the mining company doctor to go back into the mines. The whole family’s hoping that it’s not black lung from years of breathing in coal dust, which would keep him out of the mines for good. (Annnd I’m not going to link to any pictures associated with black lung; you can google it yourself, or just trust me that it’s pretty gross.)

Even Mackenzie picks up on the family tensions right below the surface. Then, soon after he arrives, his older cousin disappears, and has most likely run away from home. His middle cousin Ruth resents having to do all the house work, and there’s something strange going on with his youngest cousin Francis, too. Francis keeps disappearing and comes home exhausted and dirty, but with everything else happening, Mackenzie is the only one who notices, and Francis isn’t telling him anything. The only one who can tell him more is the old fisherman who says he’s going back to the sea–which is quite the claim, from the middle of the prairies.

Although this is book three of a series, you can pick it up without having read the first two. There’s a lot of historical details about things like coal mining and the High Level Bridge (which turned one hundred last year!), but because Mackenzie’s new to the area, it makes sense in context that people would be telling him about all these things. It helps too that it’s the interesting sort of historical details like how afterdamp can kill a miner rather than what feels like a history lecture.

A nice touch of historical context comes from the 1912 newspaper excerpts from the Lethbridge Herald in between chapters, inserted straight from microfilms of the original newspaper to preserve the font and layout. I think kids will find it neat to see something that comes from almost a hundred years ago–I know I would have and still do! There’s a good sense of time and place, but first and foremost, this is really an adventure story–there are mysteries and cave-ins and rescue missions–that zips along at a quick enough pace to keep the book focused on the story rather than the background history. Give this one to grade four or five kids who want an adventure story, and might not read something historical otherwise.

Head over to CM Magazine and Prairie Fire for more reviews, and you can find the rest of the series on the author’s website.