Category Archives: girls_rule

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.

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.

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.

Lacey and the African Grandmothers by Sue Farrell Holler

Okay, speaking of race and representation and kids getting to see themselves, I have read some great books lately! Take a look…

Lacey and the African Grandmothers coverHere’s what the publisher’s blurb says:

Can a sewing project make a difference half-way across the world?Lacey Little Bird loves spending time with Kahasi, an elder on her reserve who is like a grandmother to her. From her Lacey is learning about their people, the Siksika Blackfoot tribe of Alberta, including the art of beadwork.

Lacey hears about a project to help grandmothers in Africa who are raising their grandchildren because their parents have died from AIDS. Even though Africa is far, far away, Lacey wants to help and emails the grandmothers with a plan to raise money by selling beaded purses.

What difference can a young Blackfoot girl from North America make in the lives of grandmothers in Africa? A lot, as Lacey discovers. Her decision to help will bring about amazing changes in her life and her community.

Here’s a review from CM which is more school-focused than me (the review, not CM in general). I do see that the book would be useful in a classroom, but I also think that its appeal as a book and a story rather than a curriculum tool shouldn’t be underestimated. (And that kneejerk reaction is why I work in a public library rather than a school. Teachers, I know many of you who are truly awesome, but I was not cut out to be one of you. I gravitate towards reading for fun…)

Lacey is an appealing kid, who’s not perfect, but is thoughtful and determined. She goes to school and helps out at the outreach high school for teen parents from her community. The author doesn’t shy away from the reality of life in Lacey’s community. Lacey’s family has a lot of mouths to feed and not a lot of money, and home is especially chaotic with seven kids in the family, her mom sick and her dad on the road with his band. Lacey likes to slip away to the quiet of her grandmother’s house, where her Kahasi is teaching her traditional beading techniques. (I’m not sure why the publisher’s blurb says she’s like a grandmother to Lacey when she is her actual grandmother, and tells her stories of how the other person in her family who does fantastic beadwork is Lacey’s dad…)

Her sister is dealing with a short-tempered, potentially abusive boyfriend, a baby, and the decision whether to finish school and try to go onto college or stay home. There’s violence too–Lacey’s not sure it’s worth the project of growing plants to beautify the high school because she’s sure someone’s just going to come along and wreck them.

But she’s a determined kid, and is set on making bags and purses to help the African grandmothers even when she doesn’t know how she’s going to do it or where she’s going to get the materials. She has her moments of doubt and frustration, but ultimately, it all comes together into a fantastic story about how one person can start something that involves a whole community and truly makes a difference.

And the best bit? Lacey and the African Grandmothers is based on true events, real people, and the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign.

Yesterday’s Magic by Pamela F. Service

Book six of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge! I’m going to use up all my blogging capabilities today, and by tomorrow, will be down to three word reviews. “Liked this book.” “This one bad.” “Book of awesome!” “V. boring book.”

yesterdays-magic Okay, I was quite thrilled that this sequel came out! I read Winter of Magic’s Return and Tomorrow’s Magic years ago when they first came out and I was an impressionable barely-teenager. Happily, the first two books are back in print, in a single volume as Tomrrow’s Magic.

The series is uncategorizable as either fantasy or SF, because it’s about Merlin and King Arthur coming back to a post-apocalyptical world. Yes, really!

The first book begins with three misfit students at a post-Devestation boarding school, in a nuclear winter made dangerous by roving mutants. There’s bookish, excitable Heather, solid, short-sighted Welly (short for Wellington), and the loner Earl Bedwas. If you’ve read the first two books, you know that Heather has wild magic and can talk to animals, Welly is on his way to becoming a famous warrior (much to his embarrassment, because he sees his bravery as pure, dumb luck and the growing stories as rampant exaggeration), and Earl is really Merlin. Yes, that Merlin, pulled out of his magical sleep as a toddler on the low end of the spell that preserved him in an endless loop of aging and rebirth.

All should be well. Merlin has his memories back, is on the way to reconciling his ancient magic with the undercurrents of this new world, and is engaged to Heather. King Arthur has returned, and is engaged to Queen Margaret of Scotland. And lo, there was much rejoicing. But Morgan LeFay is also back. And after the events of the previous two books, she definitely has it in for Merlin and his friends. She swoops in with her own nefarious plan, kidnaps Heather, and Merlin and Welly are off (with a dragon!) on a chase around the world.

If you’re sensing any damsel in distress vibes, don’t worry. Heather is a resourceful sort of girl, and does every bit as much work as Merlin and Welly to get herself out of harm’s way. This is a fun romp, and Blanche the persnickety young dragon is a entertaining addition to the cast. There were a couple of coincidences that were a bit too convenient, and there weren’t really any big revelations in this book. The first two were much broader in scope and there was a lot more at stake. Still, it was an enjoyable return to a beloved book-world, and I’m especially glad that this means that the first two books are back in print with a shiny new cover.

Going Places by Fran Hurcomb

Going PlacesThough the title is vague, the cover immediately lets you know what this book is all about–girls’ hockey! Refreshingly, it’s set in the Northwest Territories, and isn’t about the Inuit way of life, though some of the kids are of First Nations or, like Jess, Metis decent.

Jess and her friends have been on the boys’ hockey team for years. With only two hundred kids in the K-12 school in the Northwest Territories town of Fort Desperation, there have never been enough players for the girls to have their own team. But the new RCMP officer’s three daughers played in an all-girl league in Newfoundland, so Jess and her friends decide that they should see if anyone else is interested. It’s not just because they’re tired of the body-checking, taking turns changing in the bathroom, or the action movies and farting contest during road trips to tournaments. Okay… maybe it is about the tournaments. While the initial draw of having their own league is the prospect of a girls-only road trip, these girls are definitely serious about their hockey. With the addition of a couple of figure skaters and a star soccer goalie, they manage to get enough players to start practice, and rise to all the challenges that present themselves, from finding a coach and equipment to the challenges of an outdoor rink when the zamboni breaks down. But then, deliberate acts of vandalism, targetted specifically to keep the girls’ team from playing.

Refreshingly, this doesn’t turn into battle of the sexes, or the story of underdog team triumphing over impossible odds. The book actually ends as the girls are on the bus on their way to their first tournament game in Grande Prairie, although we do get to see them play at least one game, against the boys’ team. (For another twist on the small-town sports team facing impossible odds, try Ken Robert’s Thumb on a Diamond.) There’s a strong sense of community, and of place. (You know it’s truly a Canadian novel if the landscape develops into a character in its own right!) There’s not a whole lot of deep and complex characterization, and everyone turns out to be genuinely good person. Even the notorious Hockey Vandal comes around in the end. The whole mystery feels a little bit like an afterthought, but the characters are engaging, and I’m always on the lookout for decent hockey books for the library. (Which are harder to find than you’d think, given that the American publishing industry is far more interested in football, basketball and baseball. Not surprisingly, most of the good stuff is Canadian, and you can never have too many–just like dinosaur books!)

For older middle school readers, I’d suggest Power Plays by Maureen Ulrich, which has a lot to appeal to your die-hard girl hockey players. Going Places is not as hard-core, which understandable given the younger target audience. Accessible, and a good balance of sports and mystery.