March 31, 2011

A town with secrets

by Joyce McDonald

Strange things are happening in the town of Bellehaven - a plague of frogs, murders of crows, and sudden weather changes. Then Simon Gray crashes his car into the Liberty Tree. Meanwhile, Simon's friends are getting anxious. They'd bullied Simon into hacking the school's computers to manipulate their grades. Now they're afraid he'll spill the beans. But Simon's in a coma, where he meets Jessup Wildemere, who was hanged from the Liberty Tree two hundred years ago. 

McDonald has written a very eerie, mysterious and suspenseful story. She is especially good at capturing human behaviour and emotions. Each of Simon's friends deal with their guilt in different ways. Devin, the popular girl, gradually falls apart, Liz spends her days keeping an anxious vigil, Danny can't stop worrying, and Kyle might pull the plug. As for Simon, caught between parallel worlds, he's coming to terms with who he is, and trying to right a terrible injustice. 

This book will appeal to mystery lovers and those who like slightly scary stories.

March 29, 2011

Memories of Summer

Memories of Summer
by Ruth White

Thirteen-year-old Lyric and her older sister Summer are adjusting to city life in Flint, Michigan, where their father hopes to find work in one of the new car factories. Used to their small-town Virginian upbringing, it takes a while for the family to get settled. Lyric eventually makes new friends, but not Summer. She drops out of school, neglects her appearance, and has conversations with people who aren't there. Lyric loves her sister but finds herself feeling increasingly frustrated, embarrassed and angry about Summer's schizophrenia. When Summer becomes too difficult to handle, her father is forced to institutionalize her (the story takes place in 1955). Lyric is left with her memories of how Summer used to be.

Readers may be upset at the sad ending, but it doesn't detract from the novel's strength. Lyric's emotions are very honest, as are the reactions of strangers, who are unintentionally cruel. But the family's friends are kind and the doctors are understanding and compassionate. A very thoughtful and tender book.

March 24, 2011

A difficult and challenging read

Arilla Sun Down
by Virginia Hamilton

Arilla Adams is a mixed race girl who is trying to find her place in the family. Her mother is black, is a dance teacher, and seems wholly American. Her father is part black, part Native American, but keeps his identities separate.  Her brother, Jack Sun Run, identifies himself as wholly Native American. Arilla doesn't quite fit in, which leads to conflicts with Jack, who seems to resent her.

It's an interesting book, but it's also a difficult book. The sledding event in the first chapter occurs when Arilla is five. Written in the first person, she speaks in incomplete sentences, yet recalls adult conversations,  which makes it hard to understand what she is describing. Later chapters are written from Arilla's twelve-year-old perspective, which uses more natural language. This back-and-forth view can be disorienting, and the length of each chapter, from ten to twenty pages (or more) is daunting. Many kids will probably abandon this book very soon. However, persistent readers will be rewarded in the final chapters when Arilla saves her brother's life after a horse-riding accident and discovers her true name.

March 22, 2011

Not really a diary or very exciting story


Royal Diaries: Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490

In an author's note, it says that Anacaona's diary is not really a diary because the TaĆ­no people didn't read or write. So this is really a collection of Anacaona's thoughts. This premise a little confusing and prevents us from really getting into the story. Anacaona tells us about her life, which is pleasant, but boring. She sings and dances and gets married into a neighboring tribe. Then some pale-skinned men arrive and war breaks out. This would have been more exciting if she had taken a more active part, but she is like a distant observer. An epilogue describes what happens to her after Columbus shows up, and we all know it wasn't happy.

I want to be an engineer

Interested in construction and engineering? Here are some good books:

March 17, 2011

Explore different cultures

Ted Lewin's evocative paintings draw readers right inside some of the bustling marketplaces around the world. You can almost smell the fruit in the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market (Bangkok, Thailand), sense the crowds in the Evening Bazaar Flower Market (Madras, India), and hear the train moving through the Agua Calientes Market in Peru. 

A quietly mesmerizing book.

March 15, 2011

Interactivity without an iPad

Press Here

Just follow the book's instructions! Press the yellow dot, tap a blue dot, shake the book (the dots slide around), blow on them (not too hard!), or clap your hands (the dots get bigger). 

A really fun experience that parents and kids will enjoy.

March 10, 2011

Human behaviour made fun

You Just Can't Help It! Your Guide to the Wild and Wacky World of Human Behavior
by Jeff Szpirglas

Szpirglas provides an amusing look at human behaviour: how we sense the world around us, how our emotions affect the way we act, how we communicate (using words and gestures), and how we interact with others. The behaviours mentioned aren't really wacky, since they're mainly automatic (and thus quite normal). But the book's design is definitely wacky (in a good way), with lots of pictures, colours, fonts, and text boxes. Kids will enjoy the scientific experiments, one of which is appealingly disgusting (it involves smelly diapers).

March 8, 2011

Travel with the Garbage Barge!

Here Comes the Garbage Barge!
by Jonah Winter

The true story of the Break of Dawn, a tugboat hired to haul 3,168 tons of garbage from Islip, New York to Morehead City, North Carolina. Unfortunately for Cap'm Duffy St Pierre, no one wanted his stinky cargo! Poor Cap'm Duffy was forced to sail the garbage barge up and down the coast for six months until the matter was finally resolved.

A very funny tale made even better by the amazing three-dimensional sculptures of Red Nose Studio.

March 3, 2011

Two stories, two cultures

by Jeannie Baker

I like the design of this book, which allows you to read two stories simultaneously. The stories show a day in the life of two families in two countries - Australia and Morocco. Since the stories are wordless, it allows readers to closely scrutinize both cultures to discover their similarities and their differences; to look at ourselves in a mirror. It's a good book to share with others of all ages.

March 1, 2011


by Virginia Frances Schwartz

When Nana's father, chief of the Kwakiutls, declares war on the neighboring Salish tribe for breaking taboo, it threatens future salmon runs. To save the salmon and feed their tribe, Nana and her twin brother Nanolatch must fulfill their preordained destinies. For Nana, this means marriage to another tribe; for Nanolatch, to become a great warrior chief. 

Nana chafes at her lack of choice, while Nanolatch struggles with his sorrow and anger. Observing them is Noh, a young Salish shaman, now slave. Their story is told in three separate voices; through their words, their emotions are deftly captured. With elements of myth, nature, and transformation, Virginia Frances Schwartz has created a story that is magical, compelling, and haunting.