by Andrea on December 12th, 2011
Moving is hard. Especially for Mattie. She’s shy, she moves often and has lost confidence in her one anchor, writing, after a bullying incident. So for this latest move Mattie has cooked up an ingenious plan for avoiding other children.
She will become her Uncle Potluck’s custodial apprentice and spend recesses and lunch helping him rather than with her classmates. She has four days to get ready. To prepare for this plan, she uses her notebook to record Custodial Wisdom. “Do not let mops sit overnight in water.” “When going to investigate a leak, bring a bucket. But Uncle Potluck is outgoing, cheerful, a good listener and philosophical. Every child would benefit from an Uncle Potluck in their life. As the book progresses, she realizes her notes contain as many life lessons as practical skills. “Fix things before they get too big for fixing.” “Sometimes one is all you need.” With his guiding hand, this move is going to be different.
Linda Urban’s Hound Dog True is a tender book about family, friendship and trust that shy children and writers will especially enjoy.
by Andrea on December 5th, 2011
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” So begins every chapter in this delightful early chapter book of a girl and her family growing up in Africa.
It’s exciting to have a chapter book for children that portrays the wonders and ordinariness of life in Africa and is not issues-based. Anna plays, plots and worries just like American children. Each chapter can be read as a self-contained story. “Anna Hibiscus Sells Oranges” touches on the poverty and disparity in Africa, but the overall focus is still on growing up as her grandfather helps her see the error of her ways and make amends. But her idea of ordinary is very different from American children’s. Living with her large extended family, she is horrified that her Canadian mother had a room of her own as a child. Anna reassures her, “Don’t worry, Mama. You have all of us now. You will never be alone again.” Her many cousins are as much a part of her life as her twin brothers, Double and Trouble. Her grandfather’s efforts to preserve African traditions in the family introduces these traditions to the reader while making clear that there are choices in modern Africa.
Atinuke is Nigerian and the setting is clearly somewhere in West Africa, but it is disappointing that a specific country is never named thus perpetuating the image of Africa as a country not a continent. Otherwise this is top-notch realistic fiction for young readers with the bonus glimpse into another way of life. Once you’ve read Anna Hibiscus, you’ll want to try out Atinuke‘s other stories about Anna including a picture book, Anna Hibiscus’ Song.
by Andrea on October 24th, 2011
Spies and magic combine in this thrilling fantasy by Maile Meloy, her first book for younger readers. Apothecary begins in McCarthy-era California where Janie lives a contented existence with her screenwriter parents. To avoid testifying for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, her parents move to London where they can continue to write without the threat of being labelled Communists. Almost immediately, Janie is plunged into a world of intrigue and magic.
Her classmate, Benjamin, enlists her to help him play-spy on a Soviet, but the game quickly turns dangerous when Benjamin’s father, the apothecary, meets the “spy.” Shortly thereafter, the apothecary disappears, but not before giving Benjamin a potions book that he directs Benjamin to protect. The search for Benjamin’s father leads them down a path filled with double agents, fantastical formulas for invisibility and transformation as well as a secret network of scientist-magicians. Delightful characters such as the quick-witted street boy, Pip, add humour, but who can Janie and Benjamin trust? What was the apothecary up to before he disappeared? And, is it really possible to fly like a robin when being chased by an evil teacher?
by Andrea on September 19th, 2011
Like much of the world, I was captivated by the successful rescue of the miners trapped in the San Jose mine for 69 days in 2010. It was a marvelous feat of physical and emotional survival as well as technological ingenuity. In Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2000 Feet below the Chilean Desert, Marc Aronson provides a historical account of this incredible event for teens.
From geological events to the desperate poverty of the region to the Chilean mining industry, he lays out the setting of the mine disaster. From there, with the miners trapped, Aronson alternates between events on the surface and those inside the mine. This maintains the tension even when the eventual outcome is known. It is truly amazing that they survived the first seventeen days with the minimal resources they had. Aronson is open in his admiration of the decisions the men made and the leadership that allowed this to happen. While below ground, the decision to choose leaders was critical to the men’s survival, above ground it was the decision to allow 3 different types of drills to reach the miners at once that proved wise. The “winner” of the race to the miners was the relatively unknown drill from the small company, Center Rock, that probably would never have been chosen had only drill been allowed to attempt such a feat.
Trapped is a meticulously researched introduction to this important event with indepth back matter that will be helpful to students learning about research in general as well as the Chilean mine rescue. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver the emotional punch I expected. Their rescue was an amazing feat reminiscent of the moon mission (NASA was even involved in the rescue) where the impossible came true and many lessons were learned that will help society in general. Trapped is top-notch on a factual level, but if you are looking for a book to get teens excited about the possibilities of science and human achievement I recommend Catherine Thimmesh’s Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon.
Other ICPL resources on the rescue:
33 Men by Jonathan Franklin
Emergency Mine Rescue DVD
by Andrea on August 21st, 2011
On the one hand, Masterpiece by Elise Broach is a sweet story of human-animal friendship reminiscent of The Cricket in Times Square. On the other hand, it’s an intriguing story of art theft and forgery with some rather heart-thumping moments.
Marvin the beetle lives a cozy existence with his parents and extended family behind the kitchen cupboards of a Manhattan apartment. He befriends James, the lonely boy in the apartment. James is practically invisible to his mother and stepfather while Marvin is surrounded by loving and cautious parents and relatives. Things get tricky when James’ parents mistake Marvin’s exceptional art talents for James’. Once James’ “talents” catch the attention of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, art forgery, theft and doublecrossing ensue. There is something for almost everyone in Masterpiece. It’s a rare story that captures both quiet friendship and heart-pounding adventure so deftly.
Masterpiece is one of the 2011-2012 Children’s Choice nominees.
by Andrea on August 15th, 2011
Some favourite stories for the beginning of the school year:
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. Middle school knowledge dispensed by the class nerd Dwight or the origami Yoda puppet he carries with him? Tommy and his classmates are determined to get to the bottom of the matter. Sequel: Darth Paper Strikes Back.
The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman. A machine that did your homework for you would make life easier. Or would it?
No Talking by Andrew Clements. Clements is a master at school stories. I particularly enjoyed this story in which the boys’ and girls’ challenge not to talk to each other drives their teacher to distraction.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. In verse, Jack’s initial disgust with the class poetry unit turns to curiousity and, finally, pleasure and inspiration.
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce. Nate may not like school, but finds his own unique way to excel in at least one area of school life.
And for a look at school from the class pet’s point of view, The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney fits the bill.
Wishing all area students a terrific school year!
by Andrea on July 18th, 2011
Greg van Eekhout’s The Boy at the End of the World is a gripping survival story featuring a boy and his robot. A woolly mammoth and a genetically-engineered prairie dog complete the motley crew. There is humour in this science fiction tale, but don’t let the dung-dropping woolly mammoth fool you. Serious issues arise throughout.
Far into the future the world is a barren wasteland when Fisher emerges from a gel-filled cocoon (age unclear, but I picture him around 12) with a disconcerting knowledge of the world. As far as he and Click, the robot assigned to protect him, can tell, he is the only remaining human. Click was not intended to be Fisher’s only guide and Fisher was not intended to be the only survivor. Thus they are lacking in some necessary survival skills. Click’s explanations of the world remind me of Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. Once Fisher realizes there may be some other survivors, he is determined to find them at all costs. Given that he can barely feed himself, this is quite an undertaking. Click is not at all convinced that it is the right thing to do, but is compelled by his programming to follow Fisher. The book is plenty interesting at this point, but the introduction of evolved robots determined to destroy all human survivors raises the stakes to a level that will really engage young readers.
by Andrea on July 1st, 2011
While I adore Anne of Green Gables and am pleased that she is widely read outside of Canada, I’d like to take Canada Day to introduce a few other Canadian children’s authors and illustrators. All have won at least one Governor General’s Literary Award, Canada’s most prestigious literary award.
My favourite Canadian author writing for children and teens today is Kenneth Oppel. Airborn is the first adventure in his fabulous steampunk trilogy. Silverwing and its companion books are animal fantasies that will appeal to the many fans of the Warriors books by Erin Hunter. My Canada Day reading is Half Brother in which, in the name of science, Ben’s parents bring home a chimpanzee, Zan, and expect Ben to treat Zan like a brother.
Farley Mowat was a staple in Canadian schools during my childhood. Owls in the Family is a humorous tale of unusual family pets.
Iain Lawrence writes tense and adventure-filled yarns such as The Smugglers and The Convicts.
Renata Liwska is a delightful illustrator and author best known for her illustrations of The Quiet Book written by Deborah Underwood.
Experience Canadian winter and the French language in Gilles Tibo‘s Simon et Les Flocons de Neige.
Marie-Louise Gay is a versatile author and illustrator who has written picture books, readers and chapter books, but I’ve placed her in the picture book section because I will always associate her with the delightful red-head Stella.