Thursday, July 27, 2006

Yeah Ms. Fizzle

It's hard to believe, but the fictional Ms. Frizzle is celebrating her 20th year of science field trips in The Magic School Bus. Oh how my kids loved those books and as a former elementary school science teacher, how I loved them too. The book was so popular that it even became a TV series supported by the National Science Foundation. I totally loved Lily Tomlin as Ms. Frizzle —Usually I'm not a fan of books turned into movies or TV shows, but I this one scored high in our house. It's hard to believe that 131 titles of this fabulous series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen have been created. Even more fabulous is that more than 58 million copies have been sold. Congratulations to Cole and Degen! Here's hoping for another 20 more years of kids reading and riding The Magic School Bus. Here is one was one of my favorites. Check it out, or look for one of the many other titles covering a myriad of science topics. I'm sure you'll fall in love with both science and Ms. Frizzle.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Noodle Up Your Nose by Frieda Wishinsky

There are some writers that kids just love... Robert Munsch, Kevin Henkes, and Marie-Louise Gay come to mind. I'm pretty sure that Frieda Wishinsky is headed down the same path even if she hasn’t quite arrived yet. Books like Jennifer Jones Won’t Leave Me Alone, Oonga Boonga, A Bee in Your Ear, and A Noodle Up Your Nose, all speak to kids. Quirky titles, snappy dialogue and adept handling of real kid issues, all contribute to Wishinsky’s success.

Take A Noodle Up Your Nose. What seven year old kid wouldn’t want to crack the spine of a book with a title like that? And what kid hasn’t been ordered by their mother to invite someone to their birthday party, the dilemma that the book’s protagonist faces. Of course Kate’s protest of, “I can’t invite Leo…He shoots spitballs into my hair at recess.” is brushed aside by her parents. But, worse comes when rumours fly through the school about Kate’s pirate-themed party. Kate is worried that no one will want to come, and she is almost relieved when bossy Violet who her mother also insisted that Kate invite, shows up. Her relief is short-lived, but you’ll have to get a copy of this Orca early reader to find out how the party turns out. Besides, seven year olds aren't the only ones who’ll want to know how noodles and noses figure into the story.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Shrimp by Rachel Cohn

I finished Shrimp by Rachel Cohn a few days ago, and am finally getting around to writing about it. Of course I have been raving to my daughters and their friends, or at least any who would listen! I love Cohn who has the rebellious teen voice down to an art. She easily makes you forget that Cyd Charisse (aka CC) and her pint-sized, surfer boy friend, Shrimp not real kids that you actually know. Man she’s good.

At first I thought this might truly be Shrimp’s story which is at least as interesting as CC’s . The book’s title doesn’t deceive for long though. Cyd Charisse is as ‘front and centre’ here as she was in Gingerbread. In fact, she is the narrator, so Shrimp is seen through her eyes, and as anyone who has ever spent time around teenager knows, they tend to be a smidge self-absorbed. Shrimp starts out with CC’s end of summer return from NY where she has met her bio dad Frank and step siblings. She is determined to devote the last year of high school to her ‘true love and soul mate,’ Shrimp. Problem.— Shrimp broke up with her at beginning of the previous summer, so she has to convince him of said true love. Shrimp is nowhere to be seen the first week of school. CC meets up with a few of Shrimps friends, both girls. The jealously may be expected, but Cohn’s adept handling of budding friendships is not. It is truly a measure of her skill that she turns the predictable into an unexpected twist which adds depth to the novel and to CC’s character. When Shrimp finally does show up, he thwarts CC with the ‘lets-just-be-friends’ line. While hooking up with Shrimp drives CC her new single status allows her a first time ever opportunity to hang with her new found girlfriends.

The push and pull in the relationship between CC and her mother, and later on in the novel, between Cyd Charisse and her step-dad gave me flashbacks of when my kids were teenagers. The depth is something that adults and kids will appreciate alike, although some adults may balk at occasional four letter words. Still, Cohn never uses offensive language gratuitously; unlike so many of the films teens watch where gratuitous language, sex and violence are the norm. In fact, the way Cohn handles sex in the novel could be the topic of a ‘how to’ course for wanna be writers.

The thing I liked most about this book is the growth in Cyd Charisse. By novel’s end, she is a very different girl than the one who came back from NY with the sole aim of reestablishing herself as Shrimp’s girlfriend. While she has no problems breaking out of parental plans for her, Shrimp’s are another matter. So does CC hook up with her soul mate and live happily ever after? Sigh…I’m not telling. You’ll just have to read it to find out. I promise, though, it will be a treat.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Crooked Little House

Sorry sorry sorry. I should have posted something days ago, but I am getting to be a total slacker about reading, although my garden is looking mighty fine and so is my friend’s on Galliano Island where I spent 4 days soaking up the sun, working on her garden, and doing a little writing.

I haven’t quite finished Shrimp,the sequel to Gingerbread (see previous post) not because it isn’t wonderful, (see excuses above). Hopefully will do tonight for bedtime reading.

In the meantime, my lovely bookstore daughter brought over a picture book for me to see. The Crooked Little House by Margaret Wild is fabulous, fabulous, fabulous and I totally fell in love with the illustrations by Jonathan Bentley which are as charming as they are quirky. Kids will love the repetitive refrains which makes it ideal as a read aloud. The story starts out in a very traditional vein. “There was a crooked man who lived with a crooked cat and a crooked mouse all together in a little crooked house.” But the story soon veers off charting it’s very own pathway. The house is besieged by a series of disturbances that range from shaking to flooding, but it and it’s occupants eventually find the perfect location to settle down. The marriage between Vancouver, BC’s Simply Read Books, a new but dynamic publishing house, and this talented Aussie writer and illustrator will hopefully produce more fine offspring in the future.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


It's a rainy summer day and I actually have a fire going in the fireplace, although I admit that I'm wearing sandals. I've sent off the last edit for my novel, my mystery writing is stalled...I may never make a mystery writer--too much inner dialogue and not enough action, and I have rewritten and submitted a picture book text. So...before I start a new project, I thought I'd just pop by the bookstore. Big mistake for keeping me on the writing track. Rachel Chohn's Shrimp is in soft cover so how could I resist? You'll rember how much I raved about Gingerbread and if you didn't read that entry, do it now! Sid Cherisse is one of those incredibly memorable characters that seems as real as the kid next door. I can hardly wait to read about Shrimp, her surfer boyfriend--no, not one of those tall blond TV surfer boys, but a pint sized, normal sort of guy who works in his brother's beachside cafe. He's got attitude, and is so cool in an opposite to the 'high school in crowd' sort of way. Anyways, a full reveiw coming...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Massive by Juia Bell

Back from a trip to Vancouver where I went to watch a track meet. Yes, I am a closet, or not so closet track fan. Of course it helps that two of my daughters are track athletes, but even if they weren’t I’d love it. I always watch the Worlds, Commonwealth Games, and definitely the Olympic. I try and make locally held meets, and am a timing official for the local high school meets.

The ferry trip over to Vancouver is about an hour and a half and aside from being famous for scenery and orcas sightings, it is perfect for reading. I almost always get a book read between the trip over and back. So, on this trip, I managed to read Massive by Julia Bell. It’s one I’ve had around for a while having been published first in 2002 by Young Picador of London. This edition was published in 2003. The stark black cover with a set of weigh scales on the front is practically enough to scare anyone with weight issues off, so I had been holding off reading this one as I had the uneasy feeling that it was very much an “issue book.” But, I was much mistaken, and should have read it sooner. In fact, I suspect that Julia Bell will be one of those writers whose next book I will automatically pick up no matter what the topic.

Massive might at first appear to be a book about eating disorders, a topic that seems to be all the rage in the media, hence my hesitancy as I really don’t like issue books. What I adore, and always will, is a good story well told. I was pleasantly surprised to find that that’s exactly what Massive is. Carmen is a relatively normal fourteen year old kid, living with her mum and step-dad in a small community. Candy bars and Playstation are Carmen’s distractions when her best friend is too busy with a new boyfriend to hang out. Meanwhile, Carmen’s mum, Maria, is recovering from an unnamed illness. It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out that her mother’s problem is an obsession with being thin. Before long, her mother has left her husband and moved them to the city where Maria grew up. Carmen’s grandmother has her own food issues, and Carmen finds herself bouncing between two extremes. Kids at her new school reinforce the ‘thin is in’ ‘fat is failure’ message. Carmen’s Aunt Lisa and her mother’s childhood friend Billy are quasi guardian angels, and it is no surprise that she turns to them when things get desperate.

Don’t expect pat endings from Bell. The characters are as real and troubling as they might be in real life. While the reader is hopeful that Carmen will recover, this is by no means certain, and Maria’s recovery is even more doubtful. Bell does offer hope in the form of Carmen’s Aunt Lisa, and in the Barbie Barbeque that closes the story. This scene alone is worth the price of the book. Watch out for her second novel, Dirty Work to be released in January o7. I know I'll be reading it when it comes out.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

2006 Canadian Information Book Award Shortlist

The Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada proudly announces the

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 Press

Congratulations to all the finalists. Roundtable members across Canada will be voting for one of these fine information titles in October of this year, with the winner being announced during Canadian Children's Bookweek in November.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

I had my computer guy over who helped me put my new book cover in a format that I could post, so check it out.

Ok, so it's been a while since I've blogged, mainly because I am either writing, gardening, or reading mysteries. I have read two Donna Leon books recently. The latest was Through a Glass, Darkly. It's another Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, which is set in Venice. I love them, and since I have one more waiting in the wings, and then I have a Sara Paretsky which I had started but dumped in favour of Leon, so I'll go back to it when I'm all Veniced out. I think I'll try and read some Norah McClintock after that if I'm not totally fed up with mysteries as she's fairly well regarded in the teen mystery field and mysteries are perfect for light summer reading.

On the kids news front, this year Queen Elizabeth celebrated kids books by inviting a bunch of kids authors of note: Michael Morpurgo, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Shirley Hughes, and pretty much anyone who is anyone in the kids' book field for a huge celebration recently. I think it's cool that the Queen has enough insight to figure out that reading is worth encouraging. So, I'm wondering why other political (or royal) types have yet to figure this one out yet?

All for now.