Monday, September 24, 2007

Alone on a Wide Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo

I have been a Michael Morpurgo fan for years. His Dear Olly remains one of my all time favourites and he constantly amazes me with the breadth of subjects and the sensitivity with which he addresses them. He is as prolific as he is highly acclaimed and has written more than 90 books. Not only has he served as one of Britain’s Children’s Laureate, but he was instrumental in getting creating the office. A master storyteller, now Morpurgo has tackled the subject of displaced War orphans. The characters he has created in Alone on a Wide Wide Sea are so real that it’s hard to believe they have grown not from flesh and blood, but are grown from imagination, meticulous research, lyrical craft, and an astute eye for detail.

Alone on a Wide Wide Sea, is the two stories and both are deeply moving. The first is the “Story of Arthur Hobhouse”, and it begins with these words, “I should begin at the beginning, I know that. But the trouble is that I don’t know the beginning.” Dying of a brain tumor, Arthur looks back on his life. His journey from little boy orphaned by the WWI and separated from his sister to the old man telling his story to his eighteen-year-old daughter is heart wrenching. Arthur is one of hundreds of children sent on a ship halfway around the world to Australia. Alone, frightened, and dreadfully seasick, Arthur is fortunate to be taken under the wing of a slightly older boy named Marty. The two become like brothers and they are among the unlucky ones who end up being physically and emotionally abused at an isolated farm. It takes several brutal years and the death of one of the other boys before they escape. With the help of Aboriginal people, the boys find their way to the eccentric Aunty Meg takes in strays until they are well enough to return to the wild. Aunty Meg nurtures the boys and sets them on a path to the sea where they learn boatbuilding. A drop in the shipping industry throws the boys into despair and leads to the death of Marty and to Arthur’s despair. Love, the sea and ship building revive him, but just as he is about to set out with his daughter to try to locate his long lost sister, he discovers the tumor. His death ends the first story.

“The Journey of the Kitty Four” is the second story. It is the journey Arthur’s daughter takes on the boat her father designed and her grandfather built in search of Arthur’s long lost sister in England. The solo journey on a small sailboat from Australia to England is nearly as grueling as Arthur’s life journey, but the results are equally satisfying. In the end, Allie completes her father’s story, and begins a new story, her own.

This was a difficult but moving. It may be fiction, but it follows the all too true stories of displaced children who were sent thousands of miles from their homes to Canada, New Zealand and Australia after WWII. Some of the children found loving homes; others had terrible harrowing experiences like those of Arthur and Marty. Morpurgo doesn’t sugar coat pain and suffering, but he does manage a bit of magic. He stretches the love between family across oceans and through time, and demonstrates the deep human connections it inspires in all of us.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways by Laura McGee Kvasnosky

Anyone on the look out for great chapter books for young readers can't go wrong with Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways by Larua McGee Kvasnosky. In fact, it was the winner of the first Theodor Seuss Geisel Award*. Each of the three chapters is a stand alone story, exciting yet simply written yet with universal appeal. Kids will enjoy the familiar themes of running away to the backyard as well creating secret concoctions in the kitchen. The more exotic idea of a time capsule is also sure to appeal. Each page has colorful spot or full page illustrations which enhance the story and encourage young readers to turn the page. And best of all, there are more Zelda and Ivy books to continue on to.

*The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is a relatively new American award which honors the best in beginning readers. It was established in 2004 and first presented in 2006 at the ALA annual conference.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Canadian Children's Book Centre announces awards...

The Canadian Children's Book Centre has just announced a wack of short-lists for Canadian Children's Book Awards. So exciting! You will definitely want to read them all!

Sponsored by the TD Bank Financial Group

I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death
Written by Jan Thornhill
Maple Tree Press

“Fascinating and one-of-a-kind… This book is groundbreaking… Complimented by wonderful photographs, this book covers a difficult subject in a beautiful way.”

Johnny Kellock Died Today
Written by Hadley Dyer
HarperCollins Canada

“This story moves like a meandering, enjoyable summer full of wit, humour and honesty… Dyer is a stylist, an exquisite writer.”

Odd Man Out
Written by Sarah Ellis
Groundwood Books

“Beautifully written… I re-read this book as soon as I finished… Ellis skillfully weaves together a story within a story and creates a place for the reader… A brilliant ending.”

Stanley’s Wild Ride
Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press

“Bailey’s fabulous dogs paired with Slavin’s perfect illustrations make for a picture book that is successful on all levels… This book is laugh-out-loud funny… What a great ride!”

Rex Zero and the End of the World
Written by Tim Wynne-Jones
Groundwood Books
“A fabulous book about the new kid in town…I laughed, I cried… Brilliant and beautifully written… Wynne-Jones is a master writer at the top of his field.”

Jury members: Merle Harris, author and storyteller; Theo Heras, Children’s Literature Resource Collection Specialist, Lillian H. Smith Library, Toronto Public Library; Dr. Dave Jenkinson, professor, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba; Norene Smiley, author; and Maya Munro Byers, owner, Livres Babar Books, Montreal.
. . . .

Sponsored by the Fleck Family Foundation

Factory Girl
Written by Barbara Greenwood
Kids Can Press

“A fresh take on this universal topic… The research is meticulous… Greenwood expertly weaves together fact and fiction… Poignant, personal and fabulous, this book draws you in.”

Fire! The Renewal of a Forest
Written and illustrated by Celia Godkin
Fitzhenry & Whiteside

“This book demonstrates a scientific point in an enlightening way by showing examples of how wildlife not only survive but thrive after a fire… The artwork is stunning… Godkin marries fine art and non-fiction like no other.”

Written by Jane Springer
Groundwood Books

“Well-written, well-argued, well-researched…This book is part of an incredible series… Springer explores this compelling and relevant topic making it accessible to teens.”

I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death
Written by Jan Thornhill
Maple Tree Press

“Exceptional, original and engaging… The topics covered in this book are so powerful and so unusually fascinating… If you had to pick one way to explain our struggle with life and death this book would be it.”

Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together
Written by Herb Shoveller
Kids Can Press
“Compelling, touching, true-to-life and inspirational… Written with empathy for a child’s point of view, this book manages to neither make its subjects seem like heroes nor trivialize their lives.”

JURY MEMBERS: Mary Anne Cree, Junior School Librarian, The Bishop Strachan School; Polly Fleck, Governor General’s Award-nominated poet and member of the Fleck family; Frieda Wishinsky, author; Sheila Koffman, owner, Another Story Bookshop, Toronto; and Todd Kyle, branch manager, Churchill Meadows Library, Mississauga Library System.
. . . .
Sponsored by A. Charles Baillie
Abby's Birds
Written by Ellen Schwartz
Illustrated by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin
Tradewind Books

“Beautiful integration of visuals and text... This innovative picture book uses paper collage and origami to illustrate its theme about the relationships between youth and age.”

Written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt
Kids Can Press
“Watt invites young readers to explore art through her amazing, playful and luminous illustrations… The anxieties and fears of moving and making new friends are sensitively captured in this gentle tale… Watt knows exactly what her audience wants.”

Fox Walked Alone
Written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada

“A beautiful book with amazing artwork… With lovely rhythm and perfect poetry, Reid shares a unique version of the animals’ journey to Noah’s Ark... A timeless, visual feast.”

Scaredy Squirrel
Written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt
Kids Can Press

“Clever, exciting and groundbreaking, this book is a real delight... A great and interactive way to get kids reading… Kids will love this book!”

When You Were Small
Written by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Simply Read Books

“Beautifully illustrated and timeless… O’Leary takes the reader on a whimsical tour of the imagination and captures the essence of what it is like to be a child.”

Zoe and the Fawn
Written by Catherine Jameson
Illustrated by Julie Flett
Theytus Books

“A lovely and gentle picture book with a touching storyline that greatly appeals to younger readers… Beautifully integrates Native Okanagan (Syilx) words and expressions into the text.”

JURY MEMBERS: Jeffrey Canton, Faculty of Arts, York University and children’s book reviewer; Myra Junyk, literacy advocate and author; and Janis Nostbakken, writer, producer, broadcaster and founding editor of ChickaDEE magazine.
. . . .
Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund

Written by Eva Wiseman
Tundra Books

“A poignant story that depicts the horrors of life inside the German concentration camps and the prejudice and persecution which the Jewish people experienced… Wiseman’s writing style is captivating and young people will be easily swept into the story.”

Meyers’ Rebellion
Written by Connie Brummel Crook
Fitzhenry & Whiteside

“Crook brings us an action-packed story full of historical details about real people… The characters are strong and independent, holding to their beliefs as they become involved in the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada.”

A Rebel’s Daughter: The 1837 Rebellion Diary of Arabella Stevenson
Written by Janet Lunn
Scholastic Canada

“Lunn tells a tale of the “fall from grace” of an upper society family during the 1837 Rebellion… The book is well-researched and gives authentic details of the political situation in Upper Canada at the time.”
Terror at Turtle Mountain
Written by Penny Draper
Coteau Books

“Draper has done a first rate job of describing a terror filled night at Turtle Mountain… The reader lives the Frank Slide through the experiences of the well-developed and likeable character of Nathalie Vaughan and by the seamless weaving in of several historical stories.”

Where Soldiers Lie
Written by John Wilson
Key Porter Books

“This is an absolutely terrific book… Never lagging with a credible hero and an exotic setting which should engage both female and male readers… The pacing is flawless.”

JURY MEMBERS: Albert Fowler, author and storyteller; Sharon McKay, author; Vicki Pennell, editor of Resource Links and IMPACT; and Gail de Vos (chair), storyteller and professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta.
. . . .
The TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award was established in 2005 to honour the most distinguished book of the year for children aged 1 to 13. Entries are judged on the quality of the text and illustrations and the book’s overall contribution to literature. All books for children, in any genre, written by a Canadian, are eligible for the award. The winning book receives $20,000 and there is $10,000 to divide amongst the honour books. The publisher of the winning book receives $2,500 for promotional purposes.

The Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction was established by the Fleck Family Foundation in 1999 to recognize Canada’s exceptional non-fiction books for young people. The award honours Norma Fleck (1906 – 1998), who inspired a deep love of reading in her children and grandchildren. Dr. Jim Fleck, who initiated the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, is the son of Norma Fleck. The winning book receives $10,000.

The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award honours excellence in the illustrated picture book format, for children aged 3 to 6. Charles Baillie, retired Chairman and CEO of the TD Bank Financial Group, is delighted to give the prize in his wife Marilyn’s name. As an award-winning children’s book author and an early learning specialist, Marilyn is involved in and passionate about children’s literature. The winning book receives $10,000.

The Geoffrey Bilson Award was established in 1988 in memory of the respected historian and children's author, Geoffrey Bilson. The $1,000 prize is awarded annually to the Canadian author of an outstanding work of historical fiction for young people. In 2005, an endowment fund was created to support this award. If you wish to contribute to this fund, please contact the CCBC.

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is a national, not-for-profit organization and registered charity founded in 1976 to promote, support and encourage the reading, writing and illustrating of Canadian books for children and teens. With book collections and extensive resources in five cities across Canada, the CCBC is a treasure-trove for anyone interested in Canadian books for young readers. For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact:

Charlotte Teeple
Executive Director
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre
40 Orchard View Blvd., Suite 101
Toronto, Ontario M4R 1B9
Tel: 416.975.0010
Fax: 416.975.8970

Kit Pearson and Ken Oppel are coming to Victoria

A special event is coming to Victoria hosted by Munro's Books. Kit Pearson and Ken Oppel will be reading from new works on Friday October 12th at 7:30 at The Conference Centre. It will be very cool. I will be introducing Kit and Grenfell Featherstone, a freelance editor and one of Ken's former high school teachers, will be introducing Ken. You won't want to miss these two fabulous writers. Hurry Hurry Hurry, tickets won't last long and are available at:
1108 Government Street, Victoria BC V8W 1Y2
phone (250) 382-2464 fax (250) 382-2832

Ken and Kit will be reading from their new books followed by a signing. Tickets are available at the store for $5.00 and can be used toward the purchase of Darkwing or A Perfect Gentle Knight (one ticket per book). Don’t delay as we expect this event to sell out quickly!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Cybils Awards

Sorry, no review today. It's Saturday almost afternoon, and I've spent the morning in bed reading. After a day of anxiety over the near loss of all my email files, I deserve it! I'm part way through a Michael Morpurgo title, which I will report on soon. Tomorrow the Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable (which I chair) will be voting on our pick for the Information Book Award. Our votes will be pooled with votes from other Roundtable votes from across Canada, and will be announced in November. I have held off reviewing any of those titles but will do once our votes are in. As well, I confess to having been distracted by Kathy Reichs Break No Bones. Yes, I have an addiction to forensic type murder mysteries, and Reich's Temple mysteries are a favourite. But, soon I'll be back to reading kids books.

In the meantime, the Cybils Blogger Children's and YA Literary Awards for 2007 are in the works. The organizers are in search of bloggers to read read read, so if you are over 13, are a kid's book lover, and are a blogger, check them out. Alas, I'm too busy with other things at the moment so can't participate. I will definitely read the books on the short-list though.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle will be missed.

Sadly, Madeleine L'Engle died yesterday. She was the author of more than 60 books, some of which have been my all time favourites. She was 88. Here is the link to her obituary in the New York Time. She will be missed by so many fans.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

So, if you happen to be looking for a nice light read, and enjoy both teen and spy novels, you’re in luck. I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter has just hit the press, and it is a total hoot. Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy For Exceptional Young Women. While the name implies the epitome of snooty girls’ private school, it is anything but. Not only are the girls all geniuses, the Academy is a covert operation for young female spies in training. The girls get extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. PE involves advanced martial arts. And science class teaches the latest in chemical warfare. All the training in the world doesn’t help Cammie when it comes to dating though. She may be able to speak fourteen languages, kill a man seven different ways with her bare hands, or follow him without detection, but she gets weak in the knees when it comes to ordinary boys, especially one by the name of Josh Abrams. Of course any self-respecting spy is aware of the danger of infiltration, so Cammie’s friends decide to check Cammie’s potential new boyfriend out just to be on the safe side. Breaking into his house, hacking into his computer, and checking out the family trash are just a few of the tactics hilariously employed.

Carter’s book is a blast. She’s obviously has a solid handle on the James Bond variety of spy fiction as well as her target audience. This was a fun read, which has, by the way been optioned by Walt Disney so don’t be surprised when it arrives at a movie theatre near you. In the meantime though, Ms. Carter is working on a sequel, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. I can’t wait to read Cammie’s further adventures with her friends, with boys, and with the whatever mission Gallagher Academy For Exceptional Young Women or life throws her way.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Potter Puppet Pals in

For those of you who love Harry Potter, have already read the 7th book, and are up for a chuckle, check out "The Mysterious Ticking Noise."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Canadian Flyer Adventures

Canadian Flyer Adventures is a cool new historical adventure series put out by Maple Tree Press. The books are written by Frieda Wishinsky, and wonderfully illustrated by Dean Griffins.

This weekend, the last before school started up again and sadly a rainy one, I read two of the four now available, Crazy for Gold and Beware Pirates. The series is aimed at grade two or perhaps grade three, and each title is a stand-alone, content driven historical adventure designed to inform as well as entice. The stories feature Emily Bing and her new friend Matt Martinez . Together they discover a magical sled in the attic of the house Emily's parents have inherited from her Great Aunt Miranda. Time travel adventures quickly ensue. The first book in the series involves an encounter with one of Queen Elizabeth's privateers, Martin Frobisher and his search for the fabled Northwest Passage. The children find themselves on his ship, are ordered to swab the decks. Instead, they befriend a native, visit his home, witness a kidnapping, carry out a rescue, and make it back to the safety of Emily's attic. Another of the adventures finds the children Klondike bound. They face hunger, bitter cold, the grueling climb to the Chilkoot Pass summit and a dangerous trip through rapids before reaching the gold fields. They even meet Samuel Steele, one of the first to join The Northwest Mounted Police, who kept the peace through the gold-frenzied rush.

One of the features of the series that will appeal to both kids and teachers is the information section at the back of the book. It is cleverly divided into "Emily's Top Ten Facts", "Matt's Top Ten Facts", and "So You Want to Know: from Author Freida Wishinsky". To find out more about other titles in the series, visit the Canadian Flyer Website.