Category Archives: kids_books

On a snowy solstice night

I have been a remiss and distracted book blogger as of late. Work and home life have not left a great deal of time for just about anything else. Also, I am teaching myself to knit. It’s remarkably hard to read and knit at the same time, I’m just sayin’.

But tonight, it is clear and cold and crisp, and all silver in the moonlight. Very shortly, I’ll be bundling up in jacket and mitts and toque and scarf to go stand outside and watch for the lunar eclipse.

I’m sure there’s something new and shiny and thematic that would be a great related title, but the book I found myself reaching for (metaphorically speaking) is Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.

I know from life at the library that it’s a favourite with teachers, but for now, ignore curriculumn tie-ins, ignore related activities, and just sit down with your favourite person who likes (longer than toddler attention span) picture books read to them, and soak in the quiet beauty.

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…

Bookish links

Man, opening a new library branch is a lot of work! That’s what I’ve been up to lately… less than a month to go!

Here are some things that have been kicking around my zillion open tabs for a while…

Roger Sutton, editor in chief of the children’s lit journal The Horn Book, is awesome. Conference swag that I covet, via his blog, When A Is for Xbox: 26 Ways to Prevent Summer Reading.

An essay from G. K. Chesterton’s book, All Things Considered, on the morality of fairy tales.

Greenwillow’s blog continues to be awesome. Check out Megan and Eugenides Tour Tinseltown and Come Home With their American Express Cards Safe (and as far as we know, Gen didn’t steal one single thing while we were there) to see a couple storyboards for a hypothetical The Thief movie.

How did I not know about the Sunburst Awards? “The Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award based on excellence of writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Named after the first novel by Phyllis Gotlieb (1926–2009), one of the first published authors of contemporary Canadian science fiction, the awards consist of a cash award of Cdn$1,000 and a medallion which incorporates a specially designed “Sunburst” logo. The winners receive their awards in the fall of every year.” My to-read list just got even longer–although to be fair, about half the nominees that I haven’t read are aleady on it.

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.