December 21, 2011

Pop-up fairy tales

The familiar fairy tale is brought to life by colourful, oversized pop-ups. I was attracted by Rowe's characters, which have a wide-eyed, appealing look to them. Here's a page from the book:

Rowe has also created pop-up versions of Red Riding Hood

December 15, 2011

More books about dance

Marie was a little known ballet dancer who was chosen to pose for Monsieur Degas. He taught her how to soar like a butterfly and made her beautiful.

The story is nicely told and the illustrations are wonderful. Sure to please ages 4 and up.

by Noel Streatfeild

Anna, Francesco and Gussie Docksay’s parents and grandparents are killed in a Turkish earthquake. With the assistance of archeologist Sir William Hoogle, they are sent to Fyton, England, to live with their Uncle Cecil and Aunt Mabel. Cecil is a humourless retired bank manager who dislikes fun and real flowers (his garden is made of plastic!). His meek wife Mabel is very “like a mouse,” as Gussie describes her, “afraid to move in case a cat is coming.” 

Cecil makes no attempt to hide his dislike of the children, and Mabel shrinks from trouble, so their home feels more like a prison. Worse of all, Cecil thinks dancing is a sin. This is a blow to Anna, who is determined to be the dancer that her grandfather wanted her to be. How the children make friends in spite of their uncle’s disapproval and earn money to pay for Anna’s dancing lessons is the focus of this unusual story.

It's unusual in that Cecil is a charities treasurer, yet he is the most uncharitable man. It is also curious that Jardek, the children’s late grandfather, did not allow Anna to dance; only to practice ballet exercises. He had said she must wait until she was older (she's eight). This means that she refuses to take a role in an upcoming dance performance. It makes ballet seem very serious and not much fun. Yet Anna stubbornly adheres to his wishes.

The strength of the novel are the well-drawn characters and the children’s charming manner of speaking. Smart, outspoken, and rebellious Gussie is particularly memorable. The story is wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly, but it is a very interesting and even thought-provoking read.

by Veronica Tennant

Nine-year-old Jennifer Allen longs to be a ballerina. After immigrating from England with her family, she’s enrolled in ballet classes in Sault Ste. Marie. But Mr. Vincent, the cigar-chomping teacher, doesn’t even show her the moves. But then she finds out about the Professional School of Ballet in Toronto. She auditions, and is accepted! Thus Jennifer embarks on real ballet training, with all its joys and difficulties. 

As realistic as the book is, ballet training is sure to have evolved quite bit since it was published (1977), which may make it a bit less relevant today. However, the characters are very relatable, except for Jennifer's much older friend, Danielle, who is seventeen. She tries to temper Jennifer's impatience to dance onstage by constantly reminding her about the less glamorous side of ballet. Considering their age differences, I think Tennant should have had Danielle speak less didactically. 

The book ends with Jennifer making her stage debut in a production of “Cinderella”. I found it baffling that Jennifer did not meet the dancer playing Cinderella until the final rehearsal. But Tennant's description of the backstage chaos is very exciting.

December 13, 2011

Space cat fights aliens!

by Ashley Spires

Binky is a certified space cat and member of F.U.R.S.T. (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel). His mission: to explore unknown places (the backyard) and battle alien creatures (bugs). Binky, however, has never been outside the space station (his house). This does not stop him. He must protect his humans. So he trains very hard and secretly builds a rocket ship. But just before he blasts off, he realizes that he's left something very important behind.

A fun and hilarious graphic novel, perfect for reluctant readers. Binky's endearing shape, not to mention the hairballs and space gas, will charm ages 4 and up.

Other titles in the Binky Adventure Series:

Binky accidentally falls out the space station porthole (bathroom window) and into outer space (outside). When he discovers that his copilot Ted (his stuffed mousie) is trapped under an alien warship (wasp nest), Binky must launch a dangerous rescue mission. 

An adorable new kitty named Gracie has invaded Binky's space station (his house)! Not wanting to share, Binky tries to get rid of his unwanted guest. But then he makes a shocking discovery about Gracie's true identity, putting his space cat skills to the ultimate test.

December 8, 2011

Visits to the ghost realm

by Michael Boughn

Every culture in the world has stories about legendary places beneath the earth. Very often, these underground worlds belong to the dead. This fascinating book takes you into these forbidden realms, where you will encounter powerful gods, terrifying creatures, and violent demons. 

Comprised of myths from many different cultures -among them Greek, African, Aztec, Celtic, Egyptian and Mayan - readers will delight in the familiar (the story of Persephone) and the new (the Zuni Spirit Wife).

December 6, 2011

Ghost stories

Give Up the Ghost

Cass McKenna prefers ghosts over “breathers”. Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable. And they know the dirt on everybody. Cass likes dirt. She uses it to take revenge on the bullies and poseurs in her school by exposing all their secrets. It gives her power and ensures that they leave her alone. But when Tim, student council vice-president (and poseur), discovers Cass’s secret, things start getting out of control. Tim wants to contact his recently-deceased mother and gets Cass to help him. As she gets to know Tim, she realizes that he isn’t too bad. But he’s a lot more troubled than she thought. As Cass begins to care, she learns that living friends are more important than dead ones.

Crewe has written a uniquely entertaining novel, both funny and tragic. She realistically captures the emotional turmoil of teens and the problems of high school. Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson would enjoy this book.

Teresa fell in love with Brother Rush the first time she saw him. He stood out from the regular dudes on the street, with his pinstriped suit and high gloss shoes. Every time she saw him, she fell for him more and more. But when he suddenly appeared in her home, standing through the middle of a table, she knew he was a ghost. 

Rush holds an oval mirror that reflects another place in time. When Tree goes through the mirror, she experiences her family’s unknown past, and the secrets her mother never told her. Denial and guilt run deep in this family, directly affecting Tree’s older brother, Dab, who suffers from confusion and pain. When Dab passes away, Tree’s grief, anger and loneliness threaten to consume her.

Virgina Hamilton’s novel is very complex and challenging. The characters, especially M’Vy, are ambivalent and contradictory. Their emotions rush out in a torrent of slang and incoherent thoughts. Yet their struggles are real and deeply felt, making the book a very worthwhile read.

December 1, 2011

Strange and beautiful

by Wolf Erlbruch (Gecko Press)

Duck was scared stiff, and who could blame her? Death is standing behind her.

"You've come to fetch me?" (she asked).
"Oh, I've been close by all your life -- just in case."
"In case of what?"
"In case something happens to you."

Death assures her that he doesn't make things happen, life does. He and Duck talk. Death is actually quite nice. When the time comes, Death sends Duck on her way, the tulip on her breast.

A quiet story that lingers in the mind for a long time.

November 30, 2011

Books for ballerinas

November 29, 2011

Paper flowers bring faith

by Peter H. Reynolds

Rose, a collector of seeds, travels the world in a fantastic teapot. In the middle of a bustling city, she finds a forgotten stretch of earth. There, she decides to plant her seeds. But when she returns to her teapot, she finds that birds have eaten most of the seeds. Nevertheless, she sows the remaining seeds and waits for them to grow. Nothing happens for a long time. While Rose patiently waits, children bring her paper flowers, adding colour and stories to her bare plot. Rose's faith is rewarded when she discovers real flowers growing among the paper ones.

As always, Reynolds' delicate, minimalist illustrations are the perfect backdrop to a charming little story.

November 24, 2011

Books vs iPads, part 2

I recently had a conversation with a young twenty-something woman who insisted that all print books should be replaced with electronic versions or apps. She claimed that her friends don't give books to their kids anymore, they just hand over an iPad. She failed to take into account that some books, like picture books or pop-up books, could never be replaced by an electronic device, and that there are a lot of people who can't afford a pricey tablet computer.

 I will never stop loving printed books; the advantages of books over ebooks is best exemplified in Lane Smith's It's a Book. 

As a gorilla sits reading quietly, a donkey pesters him about this strange thing: Does it need a password? Can it text? How do you scroll down? The gorilla always replies No, it's a book. The donkey may be a complete ass, but he finally comes to understand the value of a good book.

For parents concerned about the language, Smith also created a board book for younger audiences.