December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

Look for new posts beginning January 8, 2013.

December 20, 2012

Canadian classic holiday story

The Olden Days Coat
by Margaret Laurence

Ten-year-old Sal is disappointed when she and her parents spend Christmas at her grandmother's house, instead of at home like they always did. In order to pass the time, Sal explores the contents of an old trunk. While searching through the old photographs, she finds a girl's coat, tries it on, and is transported into the past where she makes an unexpected connection to her heritage and her grandmother.

Margaret Laurence's imaginative story was made into a 1981 television movie starring a young Megan Follows. A Canadian classic, The Olden Days Coat used to be read and seen every Christmas. It deserves to be seen again.

December 18, 2012

Christmas in Nova Scotia

A Bluenose Twelve Days of Christmas
by Bruce Nunn
illustrations by Doretta Groenendyk

Celebrate the holiday season with true Nova Scotian flair in this cheerful picture book. Fishermen, fiddlers, coal miners, rug hookers, and lighthouse keepers cavort with happily smiling fish, geese and lobsters.

Sure to become a Christmas classic.

December 13, 2012

Eldritch Manor

Eldritch Manor
by Kim Thompson (Dundurn Press)

When twelve-year-old Willa meets the old folks at Eldritch Manor, she can't help thinking that something's not quite right over there. She suspects that they're all prisoners of their sinister landlady, Miss Trang. Only when Willa is hired on as housekeeper does she discover the truth, which is far more fascinating.

Eldritch Manor is a retirement home for some very strange beings. One of them is a mermaid. Another is a fairy. And they're all rather eccentric, rude and cantankerous. However, they're forced to come together when ominous signs appear on the horizon. Then Miss Trang has to depart on urgent business, leaving Willa in charge.

Willa soon finds herself dealing with some dangerous forces. Temporal rifts are tearing the house apart and its inhabitants are no longer safe. In an exciting, action-filled climax, Willa discovers a courage she didn't know she had, and a secret about her own past.

Thompson's fast-paced fantasy is sure to appeal to young readers who love myth and magic. The open-ended finale, filled with wonder and intrique, will have them waiting eagerly for the next installment.

December 11, 2012

Jane Silver, girl pirate

Little Jane Silver
by Adira Rotstein (Dundurn Press)

Little Jane Silver is the twelve year-old granddaughter of notorious Treasure Island pirate Long John Silver. Growing up on the Pieces of Eight, the pirate ship of her parents, Captains Bonnie Mary Bright and Long John Silver II, Little Jane is increasingly frustrated with being thrust below decks whenever any real pirating action takes place. Wanting to prove herself, she tries to take a more active role onboard, but finds herself running afoul of traitorous Ned Ronk. 

Ned manages to turn the crew against her, which is a bit surprising since Jane pretty well grew up on the Pieces of Eight and Ned was only hired on later. You'd expect her to have more allies. Anyway, before Jane can warn her parents about Ned, he leads them into an ambush. The Pieces of Eight is destroyed, her parents captured, and Jane barely escapes with her life. 

Rotstein has crafted a promising adventure tale with hints of more to come. The only drawback is the novel's shifting perspectives - Little Jane's, her father's, a magistrate's, a doctor's - and their extensive background stories. It takes the focus away from Little Jane, and makes you wonder when she'll actually get to do something. To find out, you'll have to read the next book, since the story is deliberately left unfinished.

Little Jane and the Nameless Isle

In the continuing tale of Little Jane Silver, pirate hunter Fetzcaro Madsea and his crew have taken Long John and Bonnie Mary prisoner. Madsea's forcing the pirates to guide them across the Nameless Isle, hoping to steal their treasure. To stall him, Long John and Bonnie Mary use their secret knowledge of the island’s dangers to thin out their foes. Meanwhile, Little Jane, with a bit of help, rushes to the rescue. 

Rotstein's sequel is a great improvement on the first Little Jane adventure. This time, Jane takes a much more active role, finding her voice and the courage to save her parents. The violence is more severe this time out, though Rotstein holds back from actually dispatching her victims. Readers will be disappointed that Madsea doesn't meet a more gruesome fate. 

Little Jane and the Nameless Isle is a better, more satisfying read than Little Jane Silver. But together, the two books make for a rollicking adventure that will appeal to all lovers of pirates, pterodactyls, and seekers of treasure.

December 6, 2012

Living amidst change

Crossing Stones
by Helen Frost

Muriel Jorgensen lives on one side of Crabapple Creek and Emma Norman lives on the other. Their families have been intertwined for as long as they can remember, connected by the crossing stones that span the water. 

It is the beginning of the First World War and Frank Norman, Emma's brother, has enlisted. Muriel's underage brother, Ollie, enlists too. In this carefully structured novel in verse, Helen Frost captures nine months in the lives of two families as they struggle to stay together while the world changes around them.

Muriel's poems flow like a creek, mirroring the uncertainty she feels about her future and that of other women. Her Aunt Vera plays a key part in the American women's suffrage movement, a cause that Muriel begins to support. Other voices are also heard: Frank and Ollie in letters home and Emma as she waits for war's end. Ollie's and Emma's poems represent the crossing stones, linked by a rhyming scheme that represents their growing love.

Moving and romantic.

December 4, 2012

Delving into unsaid memories

by Helen Frost

When Wren and Darra meet at age fourteen, they recognize each other instantly, even though they have never actually seen each other. Six years ago, Darra's father stole a car and drove it home, unaware that Wren was hiding in the back. Darra was the only one who knew that Wren stayed hidden in their locked garage for two long nights.

Now they're roommates at Camp Oakwood and each do their best to avoid the other. But when their Lifesaving instructor introduces a game called Drown Last, Wren and Darra have an intense underwater encounter that leaves them finally wanting to talk.

Using different poetic structures for each girl's voice, Helen Frost reveals what lies hidden in this poignant story of memory, friendship and forgiveness. Highly recommended.

November 29, 2012

In living colour

A Mango-Shaped Space
by Wendy Mass

Thirteen-year-old Mia Winchell has always seen colors in sounds, numbers, and letters, a fact she has kept secret since she was eight. She had always assumed that other people had the same ability, and was embarrassed when she discovered the truth. Even now, she still remembers the teasing. However, when Mia fails two math quizzes, she realizes that she needs help. Her parents don't understand, and makes her see a doctor. That's when Mia learns that her condition has a name: synesthesia. From then on, she's obsessed with connecting with other synesthetes and trying new experiences. This distances her from her friends and it takes the death of her cat to make her more aware of those around her. 

Mia's description of the vivid world she sees, filled with streaks of color, is fascinating. Even acupuncture creates a personal light show:

Tiny gray balls float in front of my eyes. ... [They] turn silver, bright silver, and there are swirls of yellow mixed in. The needle goes in my other earlobe, and small bubbles, like multicolored marbles, enter from the left and zoom in front of my face ... The bubbles are now undulating and forming the most incredible streaks of color.

A very interesting coming-of-age novel that will have readers wishing that they had synesthesia too.

November 27, 2012

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away
by Wendy Mass

Mass has created a refreshing and entirely different take on the standard Beauty and the Beast tale in this thoroughly entertaining book. In her version, Beauty isn't quite as beautiful as her name would suggest, and Riley is a prince who would much rather study science than rule. Fortunately, the future king will be his elder brother Alexander, who's taller, more athletic, and more attractive to girls. Beauty also has an older sister who is prettier and gentler than she. Clarissa, however, is easily distracted.

Made destitute after their house burns down and their father's business falters, Beauty is forced to find a job. She finds work in an apothecary shop, but shortly after, agrees to help a young girl find her mother. As for Riley, he and his family have an unfortunate encounter with a witch, who turns him into the Beast and makes his family invisible. This causes a lot of bickering, for the king and Alexander are practical jokers, and their antics are quite exasperating for the beleaguered queen. Especially when the king stops wearing clothes. 

Funny and irreverent, with believable characters and a more realistic plot (even if it is a fairy tale), this is an enjoyable romp that girls and boys will definitely fall for. They'll also want to check out the other books in the Twice Upon A Time series: Rapunzel: The One With All the Hairand Sleeping Beauty: The One Who Took the Really Long Nap.

November 22, 2012

Living with ADHD

by Sis Deans

Rainy is nervous about attending summer camp. She's never been away from her family before and she doesn't know what to without them. They help make sure that she doesn't run off, lose her things, or lose focus the way she usually does. Her excess energy, seemingly random thoughts and sometimes shocking outbursts exhaust both her cabin mates and her camp counselors. At first, you wonder if they even know that Rainy has ADHD. Things improve when Rainy finds sympathetic friends and people who admire her unique abilities. Sports and nature have a calming effect until sad news from home shakes her up. To get over it, Rainy sets off to climb a mountain, not realizing how dangerous that can be.

Author Sis Deans also has ADHD. Growing up in the 1960's, there was no supports or drugs that could have helped her out, but her struggles gave her a tenacity that served her well. No wonder that she was able to create such a likeable, sympathetic character. Rainy's funny observations, especially in her letters home, show a girl who is sensitive, kind, and thoughtful. 

A heart-warming read.

For those living with ADHD, or who want to know more about it, see my blog

November 20, 2012

Understanding ADHD

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza is a bundle of energy. He has great difficulty sitting still, and careens from one calamity to another. His teachers can barely control him, and his mother's patience is at an end. Joey has ADHD and finds life's rules hard to follow. It's even more difficult when adults don't understand his condition. Their well-meaning attempts to rein in his behaviour rarely work, especially when they exclude him from everyday activities. Smart and sensitive, Joey is initially discouraged when he's sent to a special-ed school, but with proper support for a change, and better meds, he's able to make a comeback.

Joey's strong and clear voice provides a good glimpse inside the mind of an ADHD person. He is a very sympathetic hero; his feelings are honest, funny, painful, and courageous. Kids with ADHD and their parents will relate wholeheartedly with Joey's struggles. 

Other titles:

For books that offer help to children struggling with ADHD challenges, see my blog

November 15, 2012

Lightning boy

Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules For Survival
by Arthur Slade

Nearly every member of Newton Starker's family has been killed by lightning strikes, including his grandfather, his uncle, and his mother. Except for his ornery great-grandmother Enid, Newton is the last of the Starker line. Understandably, his most important rule of survival is to check the weather constantly. To further improve his chances, he enrolls at the Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival. The Jerry Potts students all carry knives and wear kilts because there's nothing tougher than a Scot in a kilt.

The Academy is strict, though not overly so, and Newton is quite happy there. He'd get on better if he wasn't so self-centred and antisocial. Part of it was his late mother's "no friends" rule, which protects bystanders from second-hand lightning strikes. The other is Newton's high opinion of himself and his determination to out-perform the other students. It puts him into conflict with Violet Quon, whom he believes (falsely, as it turns out) of making his kilt fall down. Only when Violet is injured during the Outdoor Expedition does Newton realize that some of his rules need tweaking. He also gets help from a pig named Josephine.

Flashes of humour and eccentricity abound in this interesting book. Newton is not very likeable at first, but he gradually grows on you. The ending is very satisfying.

November 13, 2012

Grade six superhero

Simon Bloom, the Gravity Keeper
by Michael Reisman

Sixth-grader Simon Bloom's superpowers literally fall onto his head. Lured into Dunkerhook Woods by a refreshing Breeze, he inadvertently summons the Teacher's Edition of Physics, a book of mathematical formulae. These formulae allow Simon to bend the laws of physics. By reciting them, he can alter gravity, friction, velocity, and space-time. Soon he's able to float in midair, skate on dirt, and leap over tall buildings. But a book this powerful is coveted by others with malicious intent. With the future of the universe at stake, Simon and his friends must wrack their brains and master the formulae to keep these evil forces at bay. 

Fans of Rick Riordan will love this book. It's packed with all kinds of destructive mayhem, including chases, explosions, and an excellent game of dodgeball. Plus it has kids beating bullies and fighting off grown-ups. Great fun.

November 8, 2012

Life on the homefront

Flight Of the Tiger Moth
by Mary Woodbury

Jack Waters lives in small town Cairn, Saskatchewan. It's 1943, and a flight training school has been set up nearby. Jack wants to become a fighter pilot but not only is he underage, his poor eyesight prevents him from being accepted. So he works as an aircraft cleaner and mechanic. Secretly, he's been up in the air with his sister's fiancé, Sandy, who teaches him the basics in the bright yellow Tiger Moth. Sandy gets sent to England, where he begins night missions over Europe. Flo, Jack's sister, also heads to England, where she's going to work in a military hospital. Meanwhile Jack makes friends with flight trainees Trevor and Basil. Together, they hang out, swim, and take part in a musical fête.

If all that doesn't sound terribly exciting, it's because the book isn't about the fighting overseas. It's mainly about the effects war has had on the homefront. So it lacks a certain amount of action. Many pages are devoted to Jack's rescue of an abandoned puppy and his overprotective mother's anxieties. Her worries are further exacerbated when Sandy is listed as missing in action, and Flo is injured during a bombing raid. 

Conflicts do arise - between Jack and a local bully, and the town boys and the RAF boys - but they're quickly resolved. Tragedy occurs when Trevor is killed, though the grief is kept short. This is not as callous as it seems; so many fliers were killed in training accidents that people probably became inured to them after a while. The story only picks up when Basil's plane is struck by a goose. That's when Jack overcomes his own fears so that he can fix the plane and fly Basil to safety. 

Overall, Flight of the Tiger Moth is a slow-moving story with a few unresolved plot points. We never learn Sandy's fate, and Flo's few letters are censored (though we're reassured that's she's all right). In the endnotes, the author says she researched war nurses and their experiences, but she doesn't use the information in the story. As for Jack, he's an okay character, but he's mainly an observer, only springing into action in the last two chapters. Since there's 26 chapters, that's a little too late for most readers. At least it ends somewhat happily when Jack gets to keep the dog.

November 6, 2012

Girl's wish comes true

Last Chance Bay
by Anne Laurel Carter

Meg Christie dreams of flying right out of Cape Breton Island, but she knows it will never come true. Only boys get to fly. There's also a war going on, and all the pilots are in training. Feeling left out, Meg dares to take her brother's place in the coal mine with her father. The experience helps her see that she can do anything, and that being a girl is not so bad after all.

A satisfying, light-hearted, yet moving read. Meg is a likeable character; intelligent, funny, and spirited. The other children are equally well drawn, from the bully, Jason, to Meg's cousin, Caleb, and the residents of Last Chance Bay. They clearly show the hopes and dreams of a mining community.

November 1, 2012

Inuit ghost stories

The Legend of the Fog

In this traditional Inuit story, a simple walk on the tundra becomes a life or death journey for a man named Quannguaviniq. When he is abducted by a tuurngaq (a giant evil spirit) who wants to eat him for dinner, Quannguaviniq's quick thinking and magic power helps him to escape. The destruction of the tuurngaq's wife releases the first fog over the land.

A mysterious tale with dark, foreboding images.

The Qalupalik

Qalupaliit (pronounced ka-loo-pa-leet) are strange watery beings that can turn into any kind of animal. They like to kidnap children who stray too close to the ice. In this very short story, an orphan scares a qalupalik (ka-loo-pa-lick) away.

Not terribly scary because the qalupalik is stupid and easily tricked. The pictures are much creepier than the words.