Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Wall by Peter Sís

Sometimes a book comes along that sends shivers up and down your spine. The Wall by Peter Sís is one of those books.

It's not a typical picture book that draws the eye with flashes of color. The deceptively simple cover has a homemade look that invites you to open it's pages as if it were a child's school project to merely flip through. And yet, once you crack the cover you are immediately transported by the map to Sis' childhood home in Prague, Czechoslovakia. You enter Peter's world at infancy where he is already clutching the implements of the artist in his fists. This is the beginning of Sís' autobiography told as much in his illustrations and design as it is in text which is drawn from both memory and selections from his journals. They tell the story of his life growing up in Czechoslovakia under Soviet rule. Once children went to school, they were told what to draw and encouraged to report on their families. "He didn't question what he was being told.." Sís tells us until "...he found out there were things he wasn't told." There is gradual shift at this point in the illustration style and layout which mirror's Sís' inner growth. Fluidity, color, and themes begin to shine through, to grow and change until they culminate in a psychedelic Beatle-influenced two page spread in the centre of the book. This reflects a time of growth where everything seems possible to the artist.

Then another change takes place. Suddenly, that hope is quashed and Sís' art art shifts again to a mere line drawing followed by a tribute to "The Scream" explicated by simple text that states, "Russian tanks were everywhere." A glimmer of the artist remains in his dreams which he must keep to himself until eventually, he realizes that sharing his artistic vision is the thing that gives him hope. Since only sanctioned art is allowed, a gorilla art form starts to show up on public walls. Artististic freedom is considered an enormous threat though, and the practice is fraught with danger. The story ends, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Sís telling us, that "Sometimes dreams come true."

One of the things most powerful about The Wall is that, although Sis is telling his own story, he chose not to tell it from a first person point of view. In fact, he is telling the story of repression of the artistic if not human spirit as well as his own story. Thus he chooses not to end the story with his own escape from behind the Iron Curtain in 1984, but with the Berlin Wall's fall in 1989. If ever there was a picture book for older readers, this is it. If ever there was a picture book that speaks volumes, this is it. If ever there was a picture book that you should read, THIS IS IT!

A plethora of Readers Choice Awards

If you're looking for a way to keep your students motivated, look no further than the many kids readers choice award programs. The 2008 shortlist for the Ontario Tree Awards has been announced so check them out. Here on the west coast, we have a couple of different options for younger readers: The Chocolate Lily Book Awards and The Red Cedar Book Awards. For teens there is The Stellar Awards. But, don't forget about the Pacific Northwest Library Association's Readers Choice Awards for kids from grade 4 through high school in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and Alberta. If you aren't from any of these areas, simply go to your state or province's library's website and see what is available for kids in your area.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

GG's for kids books announced

More children's book news on Book Awards. The short-list for the GGs in children's literature in both text and illustrations are out and we have couple of west-coasters among them; John Wilson and Iain Lawrence. Now what I'm trying to figure out is why was Margaret Atwood on the jury for illustration? Ain't life strange!

Children’s Literature English-language Finalists (Text)

Hugh Brewster, Toronto, for Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting, illustrations by John Singer Sargent
(Kids Can Press; distributed by University of Toronto Press) ISBN: 978-1-55453-137-0

Richly evocative in word and image, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is a fictional account of the creation of a painting, which also tells the larger story of the creative act. As he paints, artist John Singer Sargent is meticulously observed by young Kate, who longs to be immortalized in a great work of art – a beautiful book.

Christopher Paul Curtis, Windsor (ON), for Elijah of Buxton
(Scholastic Canada, distributed by the publisher) ISBN: 978-0-439-93647-7

Elijah Freeman, the first child born of freed slaves in Canada, is the protagonist in this tale which is by turns hilarious and tragic, and always an engaging historical adventure. Christopher Paul Curtis’ creation stands shoulder to shoulder with Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Iain Lawrence, Gabriola Island (BC), for Gemini Summer
(Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House; distributed by Random House of Canada) ISBN: 978-0-385-73089-1 (trade) / 978-0-385-90111-6 (glb)

Gemini Summer is an exquisite portrayal of two brothers’ fascination with the Gemini missions at the height of the space race in the early 1960s. A spiritual bond with a stray dog and complex issues of family, life, and death are at the heart of this beautiful novel by Iain Lawrence.

John Wilson, Lantzville (BC), for The Alchemist’s Dream
(Key Porter Books; distributed by H. B. Fenn) ISBN: 978-1-55263-934-4

In this engrossing historical adventure, John Wilson paints a vivid picture of a bygone era involving Henry Hudson’s fateful search for the elusive Northwest Passage, an alchemist, mysterious passengers, and enigmatic maps. The Alchemist’s Dream fascinates from start to finish.

Eva Wiseman, Winnipeg, for Kanada
(Tundra Books; distributed by Random House of Canada) ISBN: 978-0-88776-729-6

In Nazi-occupied Europe, fourteen-year-old Jutka dreams of the Canada she has seen in a book, but before her family can flee to safety, the Nazis invade Hungary and Jutka and her family are sent to Auschwitz. There she engages in a daily battle for survival while never relinquishing her dream of one day making it to Canada.

The Jury: Deirdre Kessler (Charlottetown), Pamela Porter (Sidney, BC), Simon Rose (Calgary)

Children’s Literature English-language Finalists (Illustration)

Wallace Edwards, Yarker (ON), for The Painted Circus, text by Wallace Edwards
(Kids Can Press; distributed by University of Toronto Press) ISBN: 978-1-55337-720-7

Wallace Edwards’ The Painted Circus both charms and astonishes with its ingenious, detailed, colourful and excellently rendered picture puzzles. The viewer becomes a participant in the effort to solve the book’s complex mysteries.

Joanne Fitzgerald, Orton (ON), for The Blue Hippopotamus, text by Phoebe Gilman based on a story by Joan Grant
( North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada; distributed by Scholastic Canada) ISBN: 978-0-439-95260-6

Joanne Fitzgerald’s beguiling, warmly-toned and decorative series of illustrations perfectly reflects the text, helps it to tell its story, and displays the artist’s painstaking research, as well as her efforts – both in her use of colour and in her choice of detail – to accurately render the ancient setting of this tale.

Jirina Marton, Toronto, for Marja’s Skis, text by Jean E. Pendziwol
(Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press; distributed by HarperCollins Canada) ISBN: 978-0-88899-674-9

Jirina Marton’s vivid, painterly illustrations expertly and touchingly create both of the moods required by the text – the chill, snowy, shadowy exteriors of the winter scenes, and the warm, lamp-lit interiors.

Dušan Petričić, Toronto, for My New Shirt, text by Cary Fagan
(Tundra Books; distributed by Random House of Canada) ISBN: 978-0-88776-715-9 -image not available.

Dušan Petričić’s humorous, dynamic and vividly expressive pictures perfectly complement the text of My New Shirt. The device of arranging the illustrations as a series of snapshots allows the figures to move as in a flip book, and the colour choices – both subdued and vibrant – are an unusual technique for portraying the realistic but comic events of the story.

Duncan Weller, Thunder Bay (ON), for The Boy from the Sun, text by Duncan Weller
(Simply Read Books; distributed by Publishers Group Canada / Raincoast Business Services) ISBN: 978-0894965-33-0-image not available.

Duncan Weller’s The Boy from the Sun, with its striking mix of techniques, lures the unsuspecting reader away from a dark, gloomy and featureless industrial-urban milieu into a brilliantly coloured alternative world of light, colour and hope.

The Jury: Margaret Atwood (Toronto), Michael Martchenko (Toronto), Ludmila Zeman (Montreal)

2007 Canadian Kids Book Awards Announced

This was a big week for kids books in Canada. The Canadian Children's Book Centre announced CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK CENTRE AWARDS

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) is thrilled to announce the winners of the four major children’s book awards it administers. The winners were announced last night at a gala event at the Design Exchange in Toronto.

This year’s winning titles follow a young boy who uncovers secrets about his late father after he is sent to live with his grandmother and five female cousins, explore the fascinating aspects of life and death, capture the essence of being a child, and follow a young girl through the horrors of Auschwitz.
. . . .

Sponsored by TD Bank Financial Group

Odd Man Out
Written by Sarah Ellis of Vancouver, BC
Groundwood Books

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

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

I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death
Written by Jan Thornhill of Havelock, ON
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.”

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
When You Were Small
Written by Sara O'Leary of Hamstead, QC
Illustrated by Julie Morstad of Vancouver, BC
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... Simply amazing!”

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 of Winnipeg, MB
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.”

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.
. . . .
These books exemplify some of the best work by Canadian authors and illustrators. The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is proud to share these titles with you. For a complete shortlist for each award, please visit www.bookcentre.ca.
. . . .
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. 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 www.bookcentre.ca.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Villianology by Art Slade

Ok, I've just been to Art Slade's website and you have to check out the trailer for his new book, Villianology: Fabulous Lives of the Big, the Bad and the Wicked. I admit that I haven't read it yet, but if it's anything like Monsterology: Fabulous Lives of the Revolting, and the Undead, you won't be disappointed. Then again, I admit that I'm a big Slade fan in general. I loved Tribes and read Dust in one sitting; I couldn't put it down!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The 2007 Moonbeam Awards

Fantastic News. The Smell of Paint is the gold medal winner of the Moonbeam Award in the Young Adult category. And, yes there's more! What's That Sound? By the Sea is a silver medalist in the Board Book category. How's that for making my morning!

Butler Book Prize

Great news in Victoria, BC. At the Butler Prize award ceremony it was announced that Bolen's Books and The Victoria Book Prize will be creating a new separate children's category for the Butler Prize. This is so welcome since there were more than a dozen children's books on this years long list and not one of them made the short-list! We have sooo many fabulous children's book authors here in Victoria.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Book Bites for Kids

Here is an interview that I did for Book Bites for Kids. This is a fabulous site where many children's book authors are interviewed. The host is Suzanne Lieurance who is a writer herself. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bookbitesforkids

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah

This is the last YA posting for this blog. I am now posting all YA book reviews and news on my new Teen Reads Blog.
I will continue to post picture book and juvenile book reviews and news here.

We read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier by Ismael Beah for my book group last month, and I was blown away. There is no pretension in this moving but disturbing real life story of the devastation and dehumanization of war on children's lives.

Now a child-rights advocate, Ismael Beah tells his own story of a childhood lost to war and destruction. It is as gripping as it is horrific. I'd say it's a must read adults and teens alike, but some might find it just too difficult. The story begins in Ishmael's small village in Sierra Leone when he is twelve. It ends after a grueling three years of war, followed by a difficult rehabilitation and finally a trip to the UN in New York as a child representative. It is a lonely and painful journey, one where trust is lost to fear and the ravages of war. It is a journey that you would not wish on your worst enemy much less a child.

Not unlike kids of the same age in Western Countries, Ishmael's world is about friends and music, with the safety net of family hovering in the background. This is where Ismael's story begins. Of course there are differences. Ismael and his brother and his friends (who are in a rap group) must walk to the next village sixteen miles away to perform whereas our kids can catch a ride with parents or take the bus. But, Ismael's innocence and carefree life ends suddenly when mutilated messengers stagger into the neighboring village where they have gone to perform. The news they bring is devastating. The boys home village has been torched and their families murdered. Worse still, the rebels are on their way. The boys scatter into the jungle along with the other villagers. Their new life becomes one of hunger and fear and endlessly putting one foot in front of the other with no real place to go to. The brutality of the civil war breeds fear and distrust even of children since both the rebels and the government kidnap children and turn them into drugged killing machines. After months aimless wandering, Ismael is taken by the government forces and turned into a child soldier as addicted to killing as he is cocaine. It is frightening to read about how a precocious twelve year old who loves music and pranks can be turned into a killer without a trace of remorse.

It isn't until Ismael has spent three years as a soldier that the UN plucks he and several other boys like him out of the army and into a rehabilitation centre. Although you might imagine this to be a welcome change, the child soldiers do not. By then, Ishmael, and others like him no longer think of themselves as children at all. Their AK-47's and killing, not age defines who are are. It is their means of survival and their power and place in the world. The psychological impact of taking their guns is even more difficult to endure than their withdrawal from the drugs that have helped to numb their humanity. The question of whether or not these children's psyches have been destroyed is an all too real one. However, the staff at the rehab centre persists and little by little, Ismael and the others begin to open up, to grieve, and to heal. In Ismael's case, is what helps to heal him.

Still, A Long Way Gone is a difficult road to walk as a mere reader. And it is equally difficult to grasp how this young man walked it real life. The fact that he has survived, that he has written this book and that he continues to speak out against war, is a testament to the human spirit. You won't read a more disheartening and nor a more uplifting story. Read it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I have a new separate Teen Reads Blog

Ok, since the number of reviews is getting a bit unwieldy, my plan is to separate out the teen reads from books for younger readers. I've started the teen book blog so it that's your area of interest, you can hop over through this link but not all the reviews have been moved over yet so check both places for the next while.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson

I finished Kit Pearson’s A Perfect Gentle Knight a week ago, but haven’t been able to get Corrie, the story’s eleven-year-old narrator, or her perfect gentle knight of a brother Sebastian out of my mind. They are so achingly real that it’s hard to let them go.

Set in Vancouver in the 50’s, the Bell family is both ordinary and extraordinary. Two years after the death of their mother, the six children have learned to rely on each other since their grief stricken father has thrown himself into work. Sebastian, the oldest, tenuously holds his ragtag siblings together partly through a game involving the Knights of the Roundtable. The lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur for Sebastian when he truly imagines that he is the reincarnation of Sir Lancelot. As Sebastian slips deeper into fantasy, Roz, the next oldest is increasingly saddled with parental responsibilities. Torn between family and the desire to be popular, twirl baton, and have dance parties like her peers, Roz downloads to Corrie. The middle child, Corrie does her best, but she is equally torn between a new best friend and trying to juggle the needs of her younger siblings and her father.

This might read as mere melodrama in the hands of a less skilled author. However, this is where Pearson shines. The picture she paints is so rich in historical and geographical details that they anchor the Bell children, their passions, insecurities and foibles. It’s easy to get caught up in Corrie’s life, and it is equally easy to see why the Bell children’s Arthurian fantasy is both a refuge and a trap. As Sebastian’s grip on reality slips, Corrie slides closer to that place where childhood and maturity collide. It is a tough place to be in and tougher place to write about. And yet, Pearson manages it all in such a perfect gentle way.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Review of A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson is coming soon

Ok, so I had every intention of reviewing Kit Pearson's new book, A Perfect Gentle Knight this evening, but instead I'm going out to see a troop of Maori dancers/singers. It is going to be sooo cool. It's happening at the Esquimalt Long House shortly, so gotta run. But, I will get to this wonderful read tomorrow. Promise.

More coming from Garth Nix

Good new for all you Garth Nix fans. Nix will be writing a prequel AND a sequel to the Abhorsen YA fantasy trilogy, according to Matthew Thorton, of Publishers Weekly. The bad news is they won't be out any time soon, in fact, not until 20010, 20011. That will definitely call for re-reading the trilogy, which will be a pleasure since it was soooo good that it still sends shivers up my spine and it's been ages since I read the last book. A Confusion of Princes, a stand-alone fantasy, will be released first but even that won't be until 2009. Sigh...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Moonbeam Award Short-list announced

I couldn't be more thrilled. Two of my books have been short-listed for the new Moonbeam Children's Book Awards What's That Sound? by the Sea is one of five titles short-listed in the Board Book category. The Smell of Paint was a semi-finalist in the Young Adult Category.

Here are the full list of semi-finalists in these two categories.
Young Adult Fiction
The Smell of Paint (Fitzhenry & Whiteside); The Race to Eagle Mountain (Wine Press Group); The Alchemist’s Dream (Key Porter Books); Kristin’s Wilderness: A Braided Trail (Raven Productions); The Princess Mage (Sumach Press)

Board Book
What’s That Sound? By the Sea (Fitzhenry & Whiteside); My Alaska Animals - Can You Name Them? (Saddle Pal Creations); If You Were My Baby: A Wildlife Lullaby (Dawn Publications); Colorful Sleepy Sheep (Little Lion Press)

A winner (gold medalist) and runner-up (silver medalist) will be announced in each category during the week of October 15-19, and remaining semifinalists will become bronze medallists.

A formal awards presentation will be held on Saturday, November 3, in conjunction with the 2007 Children's Humanities Festival in Chicago.