Saturday, December 16, 2006
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
CBC Radio has a panel that recommends kids books a couple of times a year. Here are the December panels and their picks. Check them out, including my most recent review of Alphabetter by Dan Bar-el, one of Ken Setterinton's picks. Also check out my earlier review of The Thief and other Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner which you can find by author's I have reviewed on the sidebar to your right.
Suggestions for Young Adults
Phyllis Simon's picks
* "Ziggy and the Plugfish", Jonathan Harlen, Allen & Unwin
* "Alone on a Wide Wide Sea", Michael Morpurgo, HarperCollins
* "The Talent Thief", Alex Williams, MacMillan
* "Gatty's Tale", Kevin Crossley-Holland, Orion
* "The Story of Salt", Mark Kurlansky, Putnam
Michele Landsberg's picks
* "The Book Thief", Markus Zusak, Knopf
* "The Thief", "The King of Attolia", "The Queen of Attolia", Megan
Whalen Turner, Greenwillow
* "Kids Cook 1-2-3", Rozanne Gold, Bloomsbury
* "A Very Fine Line", Julie Johnston, Tundra
* "Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen", Glen Huser, Groundwood
* "Hello, Groin", Beth Goobie, Orca
* "The Little Black Book for Girlz" by youth for youth, Annick Press
* "I Found a Deadbird: The Kids' Guide to the Cycle of Life and Death",
Jan Thornhill, Maple Tree Press
Pre-Teen Book Panel
Emmy Chahal's Picks:
1. My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult (Atria Books)
2. Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Alborn (Random House)
3. A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray (Random House)
Maddie Porter's Picks:
1. Who is Bugs Potter?, Gordon Korman (Scholastic)
2. Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls (Scholastic)
3. Turnabout, Margaret Peterson Haddix (Aladdin)
Patrick Jeffery's Picks:
1. A Series of Unfortunate Events, (series) Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel
Handler) (Harper Collins)
2. Angels and Demons, The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown (Random House)
3. Uglies, Scott Westerfield (Simon Pulse)
4. Falling Up, Shel Silverstein (Harper Collins)
CHILDREN'S BOOK PANEL - Children's Picture Books
2. "Jousting with Jesters", Martin Springett, Orca
3. "Snow", Joan Clark/Kady MacDonald Denton, Groundwood
4. "Jurassic Poop", Jacob Berkowitz/Steve Mack, Kids Can Press
5. "Listen Said the Donkey", Jean Little/Werner Zimmerman, North Winds Press
6. "Fox Walked Alone", Barbara Reid, North Winds Press
7. "Mommy?", Maurice Sendak, Scholastic
Michele Landsberg's Picks
1. "When Owen's Mom Breathed Fire", Pija Linderbaum, R&S Books
2. "So Sleepy Story", Uri Shulevitz, Farrar Straus Giroux
3. "Ancient Thunder", Leo Yerxa, Groundwood
4. "Flotsam", David Wiesner, Clarion Books
5. "Blue 2", David A. Carter, Little Simon
6. "Walter Was Worried", Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Roaring Brook Press
Phyllis Simon's Picks
1. "Pirate Bob" by Kathryn Lasky, Charlesbridge
2. "While You Are Sleeping", by Alexis Deacon, Hutchinson
3. "The Scallywags", by David Melling, Barron's
4. "The Fairy Doll", Rumer Godden, Macmillan (2006 edition)
5. "The Story of Holly & Ivy", Rumer Godden, Viking (2006 edition)
6. "Lucy Willow", by Sally Gardner, Orion
Monday, December 11, 2006
I have always loved both counting and alphabet books. A few years ago I wrote A Pod of Orcas: A Seaside Counting Book, but I never did manage a decent alphabet book. If you are a fan of these books, you will be as delighted to crack the cover of Alphabetter by Bar-el and Graham Ross as I was. Bar-el, puts twenty-six girls and boys in various predicaments with the solution to their dilemmas a mere letter away. Each of the characters is named after one of Bar-el’s students which adds a multicultural flavour to this quirky story.Vladamir, Umar, Mateo and Joo Pyo are a few of the kids who will be thrilled to see their names in print.
Bar-el’s words are brought to riotous life by Ross who has Frieda feeding her football fish food in a fish bowl while Gwendolyn has a goldfish hanging from her tool belt where a hammer ought to be. Of course the solutions are obvious―all except for one. The final letter of the alphabet has no one to give her what she really wants, or does she?
Ross’ illustrations are hilariously accumulative, but there is more. Each page has a hidden letter, making this alphabet a bit of a mystery. Some of the letters are tough to find, but the answers can be found at Orca Books if you have trouble.
In my estimation, it is most unfortunate that there are only twenty-six letters in the alphabet!
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
My Mom Loves Me More Than Sushi is a delightfully delicious picture book put out this year by Second Story Press. It's simple familial message of parental love is paired with culinary dishes from around the globe made by a mother daugher team. Combining affection and food is hardly new, but Filomena Gomes' mix of a reperetitive refrain with and a kid who lines chutney up like trafic lights "green, yellow and red," to bake a perfect picture book. Gomes is aided by Ashley Spires quirky illustrations which include a menagerie of pets, precariously piled dishes, and best of all, lots of yummy food like sushi, louska, couscous, jambalaya, samosas and more. Eat it--oops, I mean, read it today.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
The last while our Children's Literautre Roundtable has been collecting books for our local Single Parent Association. Sorting through boxes of books, I have come across several old favourites, one of which is Mr. Hiroshi's Garden by Maxine Trottier with illustrations by Paul Morin.
As a child, Mary comes to stay with her grandmother on the west coast. Mary discovers that Mr. Hiroshi, her grandmother's neighbour, has a most unusual garden; a garden of gravel paths and stepping stones, clipped evergreens, and blue irises surrounding a koi pond. "I began this garden before you were born...I started with one flower and a few perfect stones. Such things take time. But a garden must begin somewhere." Mr. Hiroshi explains to Mary. Then, one day Mr. Hiroshi who was born in this country and lived in the same house his whole life, was taken away to an internment camp. Mr. Hiroshi and his garden became casualties of a WWII even though they were far removed from the crack of gunfire or the explosion of cannons. Before the new neighbours move in though, Mary and her grandmother rescue the koi and dig up a few of the precious irises. Mary also pockets a single stone. Later when she goes back to her prairie home, she begins a new garden for Mr. Hiroshi. "It was a small thing. But then, a garden must begin somewhere."
I love Mr. Hiroshi's Garden. I love the rich but spare language. I love the illustrations which are equally rich in tone, content and perspective. I love it that a book about a garden can bridge cultural gaps. I love it that a book about a garden can bridge generational gaps. I love it that a quiet book about a garden can teach so much about tolerance and in so few words. If you've never read it, today would be a good time to pick up Mr. Hiroshi's Garden.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Not many posts lately as I have spent so much time touring. Aside from judging a writing contest for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, hosting our speaker for the last Children’s Literature Roundtable meeting of the year, and, of course, writing, I am not busy. Can’t even garden since everything is covered in at least a foot of snow; yes this is the West Coast! So, I hope to catch up on my reading and book blogging..
I did manage to read Sylvia McNicoll’s A Different Kind of Beauty but haven’t had time to write about it until now. It is apparently a sequel to Bringing Up Beauty, which was published in 1999 and won both the
A Different Kind of Beauty has two narrators. The story begins with Liz who is fostering a lab for the Lions Foundation who trains dogs for the visually impaired. Beauty is the second dog that Liz’s has fostered and this time she is determined not to have her heart broken when it’s time to give the dog up. The turmoil of a pregnant older sister who has moved back home to get away from her abusive fiancé, and an ex-boyfriend who sends mixed messages melt her resolve to keep Beauty at arm’s length. When Beauty turns out to be terrified of sudden loud noises, Liz can’t hold back. She has to give Beauty her all even if it means breaking her heart again.
Kyle is the second narrator, and his story begins in
Kyle and Liz cross paths on several occasions, but it takes loss and Beauty to bridge their differences. McNicoll skillfully weaves their tales together without being predictable. I liked the fact that there were no pat solutions, only real characters with real lives that involved real problems. Secondary characters were just as well developed and believable. I haven’t’ read McNicoll’s earlier book, but I’ll definitely put it on my list.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Picture a man whose life’s work has been to uphold the law. Picture that same man with a childhood secret that could have sent his family to jail. Now picture
“Many years ago, when the world and I were younger, my family defied the government.” begins Judge Scow’s story. The narrator, Watl’kina tells us that in 1935, an Indian Agent (government representative) warned his parents that the Potlatch and the dancing that were a part of a Potlatch ceremony were illegal. Watl’kina’s family knew that the Potlatch was an essential part of their cultural identity. They used a fishing trip to disguise a visit to family in a nearby village hosting a Potlatch. They were careful to keep the reason for their visit secret even from their children. Their attendance at a Potlatch ceremony could result in the adult members of the family being jailed and their children being taken away. As the oldest child, Watl’kina was charged with looking after his younger siblings while his parents attended the village long house. But, the drums from the long house called him and Watl’kina could not resist. He crept through the night to the long house where he witnessed not only the unforgettable ceremony, but a familiar figure dancing. It was his father.
While Secret of the Dance is fictional, the danger of being caught at a Potlatch would have been all too real. It created a blanket of silence during Judge Scow’s childhood and a climate of secrecy. Secret of the Dance is another step in throwing off the blanket of silence over a shameful chapter in our history, and one that nearly destroyed the rich cultural heritage of Coastal First Nations. Healing can only happen when a wound is exposed and treated. Stories like Judge Scow’s are a long needed medicine for wounds too long covered up. It is a compelling story that brings recent history to life.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Pump! by Sharon Jennings
RL grade 2.2, IL grades 3-10 ISBN 1-897039-19-0
High interest, low vocabulary books are hardly new, but publishers of high/low books have recently been attracting at lot more attention. While there has always been a need for high/low books, the demand seems to be increasing. Fortunately truly talented writers are beginning to turn their attention to this special class of books. Sharon Jennings best known for her wonderful picture books like Into My Mother's Arms is one such author. Pump is an example of a high-low title with enormous appeal for intermediate boys who may be reluctant to pick up a book.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Back after yet another tour. I can just about count the number of days I've been home this fall on one hand...which has meant that I have been mostly too busy to read. Well, not entirely, but airplanes tend to bring out the worst in my reading choices. I've read more than a few murder mysteries and 'who done its'. One book that I did read which is a must for parents and educators despite it's grim content is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It is probably one of the most disturbing books that I have read for quite some time as it's about the recent phenomena of school killings. Told from the point of view of the mother of a fictional high school sociopath, it is frighteningly real; almost documentary in style. Each entry is a letter written by Kevin's mother, Eva Khatchadourian to her husband. Eva's letters are a way for her to try to understand what went wrong with their son. The reader is privey to the most intimate of questions that she asks about herself and her relationships with her son, and her husband. She does not spare herself consequently, the reader is not spared either. The entire book sent shivers up my spine in part because Shriver does not shy away from the pain, anguish and inevitable guilt that must result from raising a child who turns out to be a killer. Eva's letters to her husband are stark, honest and gut wrenching. The twist at the end was heart wrenching. While it is not an easy read, I would highly recommend it.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Fall is the time of the year when awards are as numerous as falling trees (at least out here on the west coast with our wild wind storms). Here are a few Canadian awards just announced. I find that when I'm pressed for time, reading the award books as well as the books short-listed is a good way to keep abreast of what's going on in kid's books. So, the list of award books below should keep you busy for a while...
A WINNING NIGHT FOR CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOKS
The Canadian Children's Book Centre Announces Winners of
Four Awards at Celebration at Toronto’s Design Exchange
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (Toronto: October 20, 2006) – Last night, the Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) announced the winners of four book awards at the Canadian Children’s Literature Awards Celebration at Toronto’s Design Exchange. The TD Bank Financial Group, Dr. James Fleck, Marilyn and A. Charles Baillie and staff and board members of the Canadian Children's Book Centre announced the winners and celebrated an evening of outstanding books for children and teens by Canadian authors and illustrators.
And the winners are…
Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
The Crazy Man
written by Pamela Porter
The Bilson jury called The Crazy Man…“A poignant and touching novel written with a unique voice…this spare and intense writing really evokes life on the Prairies and the resiliency of a young girl…it recreates the experiences and maturation of Emaline in a compelling and highly readable way…The Crazy Man is wonderful, powerful and so different.”
Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made
written by Bill Slavin and Jim Slavin, illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press
The Fleck jury called Transformed … “A window into complicated subjects…Slavin presents difficult information in a humorous and appealing way … Each process is described in such a way that you understand everything … The illustrations and text are one … Transformed satisfies a young reader’s hunger for answers.”
Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
The Baillie jury called Caramba… “An engaging, exquisitely written story that captivates you from the very first page … Gay uses humour and warmth to introduce young readers to this wonderfully original new feline friend…This is Marie-Louise Gay at her best.”
TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award (English-language)
The Crazy Man
written by Pamela Porter
The TD jury called The Crazy Man… “Beautiful and powerful… This book depicts the possibility of a world filled with humanity and healing... so carefully and lovingly crafted… has a strength and power that is different than most books… an amazing, rich storyline... The Crazy Man is exquisite.”
. . .
Pamela Porter was the big winner of the night taking home both the $1,000 Geoffrey Bilson Award prize and the $20,000 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award prize for her novel The Crazy Man.
Bill Slavin and his brother Jim Slavin accepted the $10,000 Norma Fleck Award prize for their collaboration Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made.
Marie-Louise Gay won the inaugural $10,000 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award prize for her latest book, Caramba.
. . .
The following are the honour books for each award:
Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
The Death of My Country: The Plains of Abraham Diary of Geneviève Aubuchon
written by Maxine Trottier
written by Barbara Haworth-Attard
Four Steps to Death
written by John Wilson
Kids Can Press
Turned Away: The World War II Diary of Devorah Bernstein
written by Carol Matas
Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction
Coming to Canada: Building a Life in a New Land
written by Susan Hughes
Maple Tree Press
Hiding Edith: A True Story
written by Kathy Kacer
Second Story Press
My Childhood Under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary
written by Nadja Halilbegovich
Kids Can Press
Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS
written by Deborah Ellis
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award Honour Books
Bearcub and Mama
written by Sharon Jennings, illustrated by Mélanie Watt
Kids Can Press
written and illustrated by Mireille Levert
Lullaby Berceuse: A Warm Prairie Night
story and songs by Connie Kaldor and Carmen Campagne, illustrated by Brian Deines
La Montagne Secrète
written by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave
Earth to Audrey
written by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Stéphane Poulin
Kids Can Press
Mella and the N’anga: An African Tale
written by Gail Nyoka
written by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is a national, not-for-profit organization, founded in 1976 to promote the reading, writing, and illustrating of Canadian books for young readers. The CCBC provides programs, publications, and resources for teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers and parents. For more information about the CCBC and the Bilson Award, please visit the CCBC website at www.bookcentre.ca.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Provocative definitely describes Exit Point, Laura Langston’s new YA novel in the Orca Soundings series. Gripping is another way to describe it. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. The premise is that there are various points that we can exit or die at, and we in fact have a choice about those points of exit.
Sixteen year old
But, Logan discovers that his death isn’t the only thing troubling his little sister. By exiting too soon, he
All I can say is read this compact YA novel which has flashes of brilliant insight. It may not answer any questions, but it certainly will push you to pose some of your own—about life, about death, and most especially about what may or may not come after. Who could ask a novel to do more?
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Teachers and parents are always on the look out for great seasonal kid’s book titles, so I thought I’d pass this one along. Omar’s Halloween is hot off the press. This time, Maryann Kovalski’s never perfect, but always loveable bear, is having a Halloween party after trick-or-treating with his friends. Omar is beyond excitement. He plans to have the scariest costume ever. But Omar finds out that scary isn’t easy to do. At first he thinks he might be a spider. All those scary legs make him shiver, but his friend explains how helpful spiders are in controlling the bug population, putting a kybosh on Omar’s scare. He even tries painting himself green, but finds that he still looks like himself only green! In the end, he ends up dressed as a ghost. No no one is the least bit frightened of him.. What’s worse, is when it starts to rain, Omar finds himself tripping and getting tangles in the sheet that his mother has made into a costume for him. Soon all of Omar’s friends have outrun him leaving poor Omar to trudge home alone wet and dirty and discouraged. He doesn’t’ realize that he is nothing like the cute ghost who left the house. By the time he gets home, everyone is already at his party! When he opens the door, Ormar is greeted by shrieks and near-feinting. Rain and mud and twigs sticking to him have transformed. He is SCAREY. And, despite the rain and mud, and arriving late at his own party, this is his happiest Halloween ever.
Friday, October 13, 2006
For Lemony Snicket fans out there, today, Friday 13th, is the release of the final in A Series of Unfortunate Events, appropriately entitled #13:The End. My kids and I have loved these books that followed the misadventures of the unfortunate Baudelaire orphas and Count Olof from the time the first one was released seven years ago. None of us loved the movie as much as the books. I read that the new book has a whopping 2.5 million book print run.
I think I have mention before that my all time favourite was The Unathorized Autobiography, but I admit that my girls didn't like that one quite as much as I did. I probably won't read this one immediately, but I'll definately get around to it despite thinking that the series has gone on a little too long for my taste. Still, misadventure has never been so much fun, and I so want to find out what is in store for this most unlucky of families!
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Just finished The Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams by Tanya Lloyd Kyi. I can't believe it took me so long to read it! I've had it in my bedside pile (an ever growing pile I might add―yikes!) since it won the BC Book prize for Illustrated Children's Book back in April of this year.
Blue jeans have been around for more than a century. While they began as tough-wearing work pants, over the years, they became synonymous with groups as diverse as cowboys, rebellious teens, and high fashion designers. The impact of blue jeans on economic, social and cultural history can be felt around the globe. Who knew that so much was woven into blue denim threads? I love the way Kyi teases out each of these threads in such a easy to read style. Old ads and plenty of old and new photographs, sit easily alongside “pockets” of facts and asides. The Blue Jean Book is packed with information that is both interesting and provocative, but what I liked most about the book was that the author doesn’t shy away from difficult issues. She tackles toxic chemicals, sweatshops and advertising and explains the way in which we as consumers can impact the industry. And book’s design fits like a snug pair of jeans. What more you want from this superb team of author, editor, designer and publisher...just another superb title.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Just finished Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. It’s one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages; or at least since it came out in 2003. It was a Nerwbery Honor Book, an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults for a very good reason. It’s really really really good.
To start, I loved the cover which is simultaneously soothing and provocative; so like the story. Twelve year old Martha opens the door the day before she and her family are to leave for summer vacation to find a stranger, with a disturbing message from the grave. She is Olive’s mother and she is there to thank Martha for befriending Olive, and to deliver a page from Olive’s diary. But Martha barely knew Olive, a classmate who was recently killed when she was hit by a car while riding her bike. But, with a page from Olive’s life before her, Martha realizes that they might easily have been friends. Thus Olive becomes a messenger from the grave; a catalyst to changes in the way Martha looks at herself, and her world, including her aging grandmother.
A stolen kiss, a near drowning, baby food jars of coloured water that refract the ligh, a stolen video tape, and sea water in a jar. These are the materials that Henkes weaves into a most poignant of novels.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Read a very cool item from Children's Bookshelf. On September 28th, middle school students in Florida broke the Guiness world record for "Most People Reading Aloud Simultaneously in Multiple Locations".Three hundred thousand kids read Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson breaking the previous record set in 2004 by students in the UK. Who even knew there was such a record to be broken! Now that you do though, wouldn't it be a fabulous thing to give a go at. I wonder if someone in Canada might be interested in taking up the challenge...
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
So, what do you non-writers think?
Monday, October 02, 2006
Know is a relatively new science and technology magazine for the 6-9 year old crowd, and it really is a treasure. Kids will love the cool experiments and activities such as how to make an edible magnifying lens. They'll also love having their burning questions like "How are crayons made?" answered; although I predict that the parents and teachers of inquisitive kids will be even happier with this regular feature. The magazine has something for everyone ―from accessible age-appropriate science articles, to a "Di-know" section. Puzzles, games and contests round out the content. Of course the web presence adds to magazine's appeal, and it even features a blog. And best of all, when kids outgrow Know they can move straight onto Yes, the award-winning sister magazine for 9-14 year olds. Check them both out today.
Are You Psychic? The Official Guide For Kids
by Helaine Becker. Maple Tree Press
Backyard Birds: An Introduction
by Robert Bateman. Scholastic Canada
The Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams
by Tanya Lloyd Kyi. Annick Press
Media Madness: An Insider’s Guide to Media
by Dominic Ali. Kids Can Press
Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS
by Deborah Ellis. Fitzhenry and Whiteside
Terry Fox: A Story of Hope
by Maxine Trottier. Scholastic Canada
Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made
by Bill Slavin. Kids Can PressI am in the middle of Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About Aids by Deborah Ellis. Very compelling and often times heart wrenching reading so far, with kids as young as 8 and 9 telling their stories. I'll report back when I'm finished.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Just finished Grist by Heather Waldorf on my daughter’s recommendation. I haven’t been reading as diligently lately what with work, helping my daughter move out of her apartment in preparation for a year in
Grist is one of those coming of age stories that ring true. Charlie, the sixteen year old narrator is a keep-your-head-down sort of girl who takes pains not to stand out, especially now that her best friend Sam has moved to
Of course, things only get worse. Her teacher has a sudden heart attack and her father announces that he’ll be working in
At first Charlie manages to keep those “snap, crackle, pop” kissing sessions a secret, but eventually, her grandmother catches them in the act, and that’s when the fireworks really start. Sound predictable? Well it isn’t, but I can’t reveal Waldorf’s twist. You’ll just have to read it to find out. But let me start you off with the novel’s opening passage.
“It was a sticky, last-day-of-school afternoon. The halls of Springdale High were ripe with sweaty bodies, old lunch wrappers and the anticipation of summer.”
Talk about creating a scene. You can smell the place, including a whole high school population’s desire to fly through those double doors to get out into summer. Now, you’ll just have to do the rest on your own.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
The Baabaasheep Quartet by Leslie Elizabeth Watts is nothing short of delightful, not to mention down right hilarious.
Imagine four friends moving to the city and leaving small town life behind. Decorating a new apartment, trips to the opera and fancy restaurants are all exciting at first, but, the four find they never quite fit in. Of course, it doesn’t help that they are sheep. So, they decide that getting jobs is just the ticket. Lloyd’s Lawn care seemed like a natural, but oops…they clipped more than the grass a little too short. Yumm...tulips! They try knitting sweaters for babies at the hospital, but the hospital isn’t expecting any babies with four legs! The discouraged friends get caught in a downpour, but one of them sees a poster that pique’s his interest. Bits of the poster are missing, but it appears that it is an advert for a Baabaasheep Quartet. Not only will they be able to meet other sheep in the city, but the poster promises “Great big prizes!!!”
The four can hardly believe their luck and set to practice their singing immediately. They are determined to make a good impression. They are determined to fit in. They sing in the shower, on the balcony, and even on the phone to their friends back home. When the big day arrives, they dress in their fanciest clothes and head off to concert hall only to discover that the contest is for Barbershop Quartets, not Baabaasheep Quartets. What a terrible mistake…or is it?
In the end,
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Whether movies or books, sequels are often just not as good as the first time around. Nothing could be farther from true with Sarah Ellis’ Ben books. Big Ben was perfect, and so is Ben Overnight. Ellis has a way of honing in on the things that are most important to kids, the things that are important to them like being a pirate or “lighter than air.” She seems to be able to crawl inside both the kid and parent psyche, and she cuts to the chase with such creative flair that you can’t help but love her books. “The one thing that Ben can’t be at Peter’s [Ben’s best friend] is a sleepover-nighter.” Who else could sum up the issue at the core of a book while being creative; and all in a single line? But Ellis’ books are filled with these well crafted gems. Jumping on a bed is referred to as “…defy[ing] gravity.”
Ben does give a sleep-over at his friend’s another chance. While lying in bed that night he thinks about all the fast ways he could get back home if he needed to. He could be “
Of course Kim Lafave’s illustrations are the perfect match for Ellis, and with dozens of awards and countless books (four of them mine) under his illustrative belt Lafave knows how to bring a character to life. One can only hope that the two will be paired for many many more Ben books to come.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Last night we had our first Children's Literature Roundtable meeting for the 06-07 season. Check out the link for info about Canadian Children's Literature Roundtables for any who don't know about them. Our speaker was Diane Swanson. She was so fabulous. Her talk was entitled Toenails and Tunnels That Get Kids Reading and I can't tell you how engaging she was.
Her volunteers were asked to act the part of flatworms all in the name of science and I can say that the teacher and the libarian who were quasi volunteers did a superb job! Later, Swanson had a writer from the audience take on the role of a sibling with a bone to pick and four boxes of chocolate and a few rubber insects, Swanson demonstrated how statistics can be manipulated. Swanson is in fact, a master at getting kids (and adults) to think critically about bogus science. But Swanson's real joy is in getting young people to share her sense of wonder in the world around us. For example, she a student helicopter her arms as pretend wings as fast as she could before Swanson explained that she wasn't coming close to keeping up with a hummingbird whose wings beat 40 times per second, so fast, that they could, in fact, even fly upside down for several seconds. It's no wonder they need to eat 60 times a day! Swanson explained how to hush a room full of people with a mere penny (not with magic, but with science) and how to create the atmosphere of a tunnel with nothing but chopsticks, kids, and a blindfold. And, she made toenail clippings seem like the most interesting thing on the planet.
With 66 books and over 400 magazine articles to her credit, it's no wonder Swanson is a sought after speaker. The real reason though has to lie in her passion for science. It shines through bright and clear, and both kids and adults can't help but be inspired. So, run, don't walk to a bookstore near you to buy one of her engaging books, some of which include: A Crash of Rinos,A Party of Jays, Nibbling on Einstein’s Brain, Burp! and The Wonder in Water. And for you teachers out there, consider having her do an author visit. You won't regret it, and neither will your kids. I guarantee it. Her newest title is pure fabulous. Buy it, you'll love.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Baby Grizzly by Aubrey Lang and Wayne Lynch is one of more than a dozen in a primary animal information series put out by Fitzhenry & Whiteside. The simple informative text is paired with fabulous photos by Lynch, whose work has appeared in numerous magazines such as Canadian Geographic and Owl. My favorite is a close-up of razor sharp grizzly claws, although a shot of two grizzly cubs at play in the snow is a close second. The table of contents, “Did You Know?” facts and an excellent index contribute to the quality. Baby Grizzly, is a must for any school or public library.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Back again. No I haven't been lazy, just away working. Taught a Writing for Kids workshop in Whistler, BC, and did school readings. I had the most wonderful time. I love going into schools to read/talk to kids about books; not just my books, but about books in general. The teacher in me misses all those shiny faces, although not some of the headaches that go along with today's classrooms.
My course was in conjunction with the Whistler Writer's Festival. One of the things I loved about the Festival, and about writer's festivals in general, is the opportunity to hear and meet other writers. Maude Barlow read one of the evenings. What a powerhouse she is; so articulate, and so compelling. She is the National Chair of The Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest citizen’s advocacy organization, and has been a social activist for years. She is also the founder of The Blue Planet Project, which is dedicated to stop the commodification of the world's water. She was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, don't pass it up. But, if you don't get the opportunity, definately read one of her many books; especially Blue Gold: the Battle Against Corportate Theft of World's Water.
I also had the pleasure of hearing Joseph Boyden read from and speak about his new book, Three Day Road. I bought the book but have not yet finished it. For those who are feint of heart, please note that Three Day Road is not light reading. Told mainly through flashbacks, Boyden juxtaposes the experiences of two Cree World War I sharp shooters, Xavier and Elijah, with Niska's story of escape from the horrors of Residential School. The title refers to the three day paddle by canoe that Niska and Xavier undertake to get back home from where the train has dropped off the injured and near death veteran. Sadly, it is a journey that Elijah will never be able to make.
I think one of the things I have liked most about this story so far, and it's true that I'm not yet finished, is the implicit message of the healing power of story and of the land that are at the core of this most elequent of novels. And, as far as I can see, reading it is most definately a journey worth taking.
A kids' book review is coming next. I promise.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Last night I asked my daughter to bring me home a few books from the bookstore where she works to add to my collection. One of the books she brought me was The Water Hole by Graeme Base, who also happens to have written one of my all time favourites, Animalia. Although The Water Hole isn’t new (published in 2001 by Puffin), like all of his other books, it is pure genius.
The story is a simple one, about various animals which come to water hole to drink. As the book progresses, the hole, which is a cut out in the page and looks like a progressively smaller series of ripples in the water, gradually shrinks until it finally disappears. Of course the wasteland that is left is no place for animals, and they too disappear. But, Base knows the importance of leaving young readers with a positive message. A shadow that falls across the sun is caused by a cloud. From that cloud, a single drop of rain falls eventually replenishing the water hole and signaling the return of the animals.
There are many wonderful parts to this book. The illustrations are rich and lush, and evocative and filled with detail. The author/illustrator has chosen to use each illustration to depict a different ecosystem with the common thread being the water hole. Thus, young readers see the animals and plants dependent upon water holes in Africa, India, China, and Australia to name a few. By doing widening the breadth of his subject, he has created a world rather than regional focus, and drawn our attention to the importance of a balanced ecosystem.
The Water Hole not just a beautiful art book, or an ecology book for the young, although it is each of those. Base’s real talent lay in his ability to fuse the afore-mentioned elements with a counting book and puzzle book to create something uniquely wonderful. Children will return again and again to the lush illustrations to search for hidden animals, as well as to the sepia and black panels that line the top and bottom of each page.. Kids will never tire of it, nor will adults.
Each time I open one of Graeme Base’s books, I wonder why more authors and illustrators of children’s books aren’t following his creative lead.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Before I tell you about Eric Walter's book, I have to comment on the most amazing exhibit. I came over to Vancouver yesterday to see the Vancouver Art Gallery's Haida art exhibit which will only be here for another week. It was a wonderful combination of historical and contemporary work culled from various exhibits and private collections around the world. Some of the pieces I had seen before but many were new to me. The focus was on Raven, an important and recurring theme in Haida art. There were masks, jewelry, large and small carvings, bent boxes, and smaller totem poles as well as a dugout canoe and seven paddles carved by young artists currently being mentored. I particularly enjoyed the last room which was contemporary. I loved Robert Davidson's more modern work that has tended toward abstract but with clear ties to Haida. There was also some wonderful clothing with bold Haida influence gracing thick folds of black draping wool fabric. Another contemporary piece I enjoyed was a large hanging series of prints that told a sort of picture story; except that each picture was a provacative blend of cartoon and Haida art. It was stunning, and had also been created in book form; rather like a comic book if that makes any sense. An added treat included watching Reg Davidson carve. He is a master carver, and although I have never met him, I have two of his early numbered prints.
But, on to Eric Walter's book. As I mentioned in my last post, I have had We All Fall Down as an advance copy for some time, I think since last January. But, because of it's 9/11 subject, I have been reluctant to pick it up. With that time of the year rolling around again, I have found myself thinking about the whole question again, and about how it has truly changed the way we look at things; at least here in North America. Walter's wisely stays largely away from preaching, although he does sometimes border on it. What he does do is personalize a terrible and dark day in our collective history.
Will, the main character in Walter's story, is your average 14 year old kid, with girls, sports, and music on the brain. He is resentful that his father is always working, but other things occupy him; until a school-based job shadow forces him to drag his butt out of bed early one morning and accompany his father on the train to the Twin Towers in downtown Manhattan where his father works as a trader. Of course Will would rather go on a more exiting job shadow, like his friend who is going to a firehall where his dad is a firefighter, or that hot new girl whose brother works for MTV.
All that changes though, when Will catches a glimpse of a distant airplane. Moments later, a loud crash shakes the World Trade Center buildings and it's occupants. It changes everything, Will's relationship with his father, the face of Manhattan, and history. The timespan in this novel is short, a mere two days. There is no shortage of drama though. The way Walter's describes the bank of trader televisions switching from stock market news to a plane crashing into the World Trade Centre is chilling. The scene where Will witnesses two people falling or jumping to their deaths is equally chilling, and one I recall watching in horror on television along with millions of others around the world. It is a scene I would rather forget along with the scene of a second plane crashing through glass and steel. Walters gives the sense that Will, his father, and his father's co-workers are all watching too, only they are inside. He gives a sense of their horror, their confusion and helplessness, and finally of the bravery and resolve some of which we learned of later, some of which we will never know. Will and his father's climb down the stairs toward the floors where the plane crashed rather than away from it, is gripping. Their rescue of Ting, an injured woman who must be carried down 78 flights of stairs is not without drama either. Just when we think that all is well, the building collapses. This too is a mirror of what happened on that terrible day. While Will, his father, and Ting survive, there were so many who did not.
Whatever your politics, 9/11 is one of those days that won't easily be forgotten. Walter's We All Fall Down is a window into a shocking day a young generation of young readers will now have the opportunity to learn about. One can only hope that they never have to live through a similar event.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The gist was yet another apology for being too busy to read, much less review. It's all about work though, so no slacking off here in sunny Victoria. I did, however, finish Norah McClintock's Password: Murder, which is a great read and a must for wanna-be writers not to mention those of us already in the bus. Great dialogue, not just crisp but helps move the action forward. One of the things I like best about McClintock though is the internal dialogue isn't contrived the way it often is in mysteries. Oh and I love the way she breaks rules. Man I will definately be reading more of her.
With the anniversary of 9/11 in mind, I'm about to start Eric Walter's We All Fall Down. Walters has a way of grabbing you that has made me put this one off for a while. It's just one of those random terrible events that I'd rather not think aobut, but I'll give it a go. This guy is incredibly prolific. I wish I had his output but I think I'm too ADD to stick to one thing; I'm all about bouncing from the computer to the garden to the laundry back to the computer, off for a snack, and then I may get distracted by buying paint for my bedroom, which by the way is now a beautiful golden yellow and much improved from the lime green it was when it was my teenage daughter's room. Don't expect anything for a few days though. I'm busy with preparing for a writing workshop I'll be giving next week then have friends visiting from Ontario for a few days. Until next time...
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I started a Nora McLintock mystery, Password: Murder last night in an effort to figure out how mystery writers do it. Of course I know what one should do, but can't seem to get to the mystery partgoing until half way through. Maybe I'll just have to give up my feeble mystery attempt, and enjoy that others like McClintock do it so well. Later.
Friday, August 25, 2006
What happens when post-high school plans suddenly change? Bass Ackwards and Belly Up happens. Becca, Kate, Harper and Sophie are best friends enjoying a last summer after high school in their home town of
Sounds good, and it sort of was, at least until about half way through when I just got bored.. This is a debut for Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, both seasoned television writers who have worked on The Shield and Angel, neither of which, I confess, I have even heard of. But then, I’m not the target audience, and I think that might be why I started out enjoying Bass Ackwards, but had a hard time finishing it.
It wasn’t the structure of the novel that I found tiresome. Each chapter contained one scene from each of the girls’ point of view. The point of view shift was clear and well handled. Each chapter began with snippets of the girls’ lives; sometimes an email from one of the girls to another, sometimes a list, or even a ticket stub.
After a while though, I realized that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly interesting. I also found that there were too many off-putting little things: the label dropping, the fact that each girl finds a hunk, the made-for-tvishiness feel to the story if that makes sense. And, after a while I found the predictability of the plot really put me off―Kate broke away from her parents, retreated after a traumatic experience, fell in love, but didn’t’ let it knock her out of the saddle so to speak. Becca got on the wrong side of her coach, fell in love with a jock at her new school, but , slept with a jerk from back home over Thanksgiving, and was forgiven by her real love, Sophie got duped by a Hollywood cad, won a speaking role in a movie while a struggling actor who is really in love with her waits in the wings, Harper wrestled with writing the great American novel in her parents basement while her hunky high school English teacher also waited in the wings for her. Like I said, predictable.
Still, my 18 year old thoroughly enjoyed it so you never know. If you like labels, hunks, and best friends this one might be for you. Besides, this writing pair has serious potential. I just wish they'd put it to better use. Mabye next time.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
At the opposite end of the kid lit spectrum, Margriet Rurrs, a fellow BC writer who is now based in Oregon, is doing a bookmarks from around the world thing. Very cool. This is how she describes it:
I have initiated an international bookmark exchange for children.
I'm looking for teachers in as many countries as possible to expand it. I have lots of schools in Canada and the US and would like to match them to schools elsewhere. If you are, or know of, a teacher in another country please pass this on.
The rules are simple:
• teacher should send me (email@example.com) their mailing address and let me know how many kids participate.
• students make a homemade bookmark. On it they write one sentence about their favorite book in English and in their own language if different.
• they will receive an address to mail bookmarks to and will receive same number of bookmarks back for their students.
It's a fun and simple way to create global awareness and international friendship through books!
We have bookmarks going out to Pakistan, Mongolia, Cambodia etc.
Thanks for your help,
For any who don't know her work, check out her website.
And now, back to my book. S.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
In the meantime, I'm reading Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain published by Little Brown. I am only 50 pages into the 386 page book, but so far it is hilarious.
More later. S.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Finally, my edits are showing up on blogger. So, as I was saying earlier, I finished Zee’s Way by Kristin Butcher. For those of you who don’t know, it’s part of a great series that Orca Book Publishers has done for reluctant teen readers. This is a fabulous series―well worth checking out, and Orca is a really good publisher. I should know, they published my first 6 books!
The thing is, it’s kind of awkward reviewing books by people you know, and I’ve known Kristin for quite a few years now; since she retired from teaching and moved to Victoria. I don’t see her much as she’s moved up island (island talk for anything north of The Malahat-a highish altitude pass just north of
Butcher has a way of expressing opposite points of view through character, which is to say without preaching. She’s also a pro at snappy dialogue which she frequently uses to move a scene along. I suspect her ear for teen talk grew out of the years she spent teaching. Another thing that I like is that Zee’s home life difficulties are integrated into the story, but don’t take it over as it might have done in the hands of a less skilled author. Zee’s Way just might have you looking at graffiti with new eyes, and perhaps some of the kids who use graffiti to express themselves might look at things a little differently too. Now that’s a lot to accomplish in a little over 100 pages. But, that is what this book, and what Orca Soundings is all about. Short, readable, relevant teen novels that are hard to put down. Check out Zee’s Way, and some of Orca’s other titles at Orca Book Publishers.