October 30, 2012

The true story of Hansel and Gretel

A Tale Dark and Grimm
by Adam Gidwitz

Fairy tales, Adam Gidwitz, tells us, are boring. That's because all the things that make fairy tales awesome - namely blood and violence - tend to be removed in subsequent retellings. So to put the awesome back in, Gidwitz presents us with the real story of Hansel and Gretel, complete with beheadings, mutilations, and one very vicious dragon. Terribly disturbing, yes, but at least you're being warned. And you'll be rewarded. For what makes the tale utterly original and different are Gidwitz's witty asides that add much levity to the proceedings. He alternately warns, chastises, and criticizes the situations and the characters with aplomb, for a thoroughly entertaining read.

October 25, 2012

Questioning faith and belief

by Pete Hautman

Suffering from summertime boredom, and fed up with his mother's hypochondria, and his father's religious devotion, Jason Bock invents a new religion - Chutengodianism. Their god? A water tower. 

Jason recruits a small group of worshippers, including his best friend Shin, and Henry Stagg, a violent, unpredictable, some-time bully. Jason thinks his new religion is almost a joke, but Shin takes it far more seriously. He starts writing a new bible, and even starts channeling the water tower's voice. But Henry manages to turn the faith into an illicit and dangerous activity. The resulting fallout has Jason questioning his faith and what he really believes.

An interesting book that can foster much discussion about the nature of religion, the act of worshipping, and the power of charisma. Jason doesn't tell the others what to do or what not to do, but they're quite willing to go along with him. Henry also has a certain dangerous charisma which can be attractive, especially for another acolyte, Magda. As Jason tries to sort out his feelings towards Magda and Henry, he finds his religion being twisted into something else entirely. In the end, he is left alone to seek his own path. 

October 23, 2012

Religious mythology

Out of the Ark: Stories from the World's Religions
by Anita Ganeri
illustrated by Jackie Morris

Strange, frightening, violent, and fantastical, this collection of stories is sure to puzzle a lot of kids. The stories are retellings derived from several different religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. They are further grouped according to themes like creation stories, flood stories, animal tales, and stories about Buddha, Abraham, and Jesus. 

As with most story collections, some tales are better than others, subject to individual taste. Also, the inexpressive illustrations do not complement the text very well. Still, the book may be useful as an introduction to religious mythology.

October 18, 2012

The Gravesavers

The Gravesavers
by Sheree Fitch

In the aftermath of a family tragedy, thirteen-year-old Minn Hotchkiss is sent to spend the summer with her cantankerous grandmother in the tiny seaside town of Boulder Basin, Nova Scotia. Almost as soon as she arrives, Minn discovers the skull of a human baby on the beach. Her grandmother adds the skull to her collection of bones, relics of the most tragic shipwreck in Maritime history before the Titanic. 

The gravesite of the S.S. Atlantic's lost passengers is slowly being washed out to sea, and no one seems interested in preserving it. Minn feigns disinterest at first, but as she reads more about the disaster, she becomes obsessed by the fate of one of the passengers, Thomas Hindley, a boy her own age. Through flashbacks, we learn more about Thomas and his family, and what happened on the night of the sinking.

Minn dreams up a risky plan to save the graves, helped by a boy named Max, who is not who he seems. In an interesting (though obvious) twist, his true identity, when revealed, turns a coming-of-age novel into a rather scary, yet credible, ghost story. 

Best known for her light-hearted poetry, Sheree Fitch has crafted a haunting, moving novel of sadness, love, and tragedy. Even with prose, her words are poetic and beautiful. Leavened with doses of humour thanks to Minn's overactive imagination, she has crafted a very remarkable first novel. Entrancing.

For more stories about shipwrecks, see my other blog Interesting Nonfiction for Inquisitive Kids.

October 16, 2012

Heroic dog saves ship passengers

The Wreck of the Ethie
by Hilary Hyland

On December 11, 1919, the SS Ethie was caught in a fierce blizzard off the west coast of Newfoundland. Unable to reach safe harbour, the captain was forced to run the ship aground on the rocks near Martin's Point, where it was battered by strong waves.  All 92 passengers and crew were saved when a Newfoundland dog hauled a lifeline from the ship to the shore. 

This is the fictionalized account of an exciting true story. The Ethie's voyage is told with drama and suspense, while the description of the dog's heroic feat will have readers on the edge of their seats. The story's end is somewhat marred by the inclusion of a dreadful poem about the wreck by E.J. Pratt. Thankfully, it is the dog that will be remembered instead.

For more stories about shipwrecks, see my other blog Interesting Nonfiction for Inquisitive Kids.

October 11, 2012

Robot trouble

Brother from a Box
by Evan Kuhlman

The shipping crate came from France, sent by the Institut d'Intelligence Artificielle. It was addressed to Matthew Rambeau, PhD, so his son, also named Matthew, knew it wasn't for him. Matthew would have left the crate unopened, but it began talking in several different languages. Packed inside the box is Norman, Matthew's new brother. Norman is - as he describes himself - a genetically enhanced, cybernetically integrated, bionically modified life-form. Meaning that he is a terrifically intelligent and supremely athletic android. So Matthew is understandably miffed that Norman is more popular at school than he is. But when Norman is nearly kidnapped by international spies, Matt discovers that he really cares about his brother and would do anything to keep him from harm.

A zany, action-filled adventure/thriller that's sure to appeal to many readers and sci-fi fans.

October 9, 2012

Laugh-out-loud adventures

The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken
by Howard Whitehouse

Emmaline Cayley was an aspiring aviator. She wanted to invent a flying machine. She just had one problem: Emmaline was afraid of flying. She needed a pilot, and found one in Robert (Rab) Burns, a boy who doesn't get bruised, scuffed, scragged or bent. But since this was 1894, Emmaline's parents thought her dream was entirely improper. So she was shipped off to St. Grimelda's School for Young Ladies, run by the horrifying Mrs. Wackett. St. Grimelda's was like a prison, with cold baths, beastly bullies, and brutal ball games. Fortunately for Emmaline, her Aunt Lucy senses things are amiss and plans a daring rescue, with the help of Rab, a butler, and a mad scientist professor.

With its cast of eccentric characters (including a hilarious, bloodthirsty princess), flying monsters, dangerous contraptions, and a complete disregard for the laws of physics, The Strictest School in the World is a terrifically wacky, laugh-out-loud escape tale that will delight readers young and old.

For those who want to know the fate of violent Princess Purnah, read the madcap sequel The Faceless Fiend: Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, His Masked Minions and a Princess with a Butter Knife, Involving Explosives and a Certain Amount of Pushing and Shoving.

October 4, 2012

Taking risks for sports

One Cycle
by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

This is book three in Nicholson's Podium Sports Academy series, which details the lives of teen athletes at an elite high school. It's a lot like Degrassi High, but with a sports backdrop. In One Cycle, we're introduced to Nathan, captain of the Podium lacrosse team. With a quick and slender build, Nathan's always being told that he needs to bulk up. Obsessed with getting a scholarship, his impatience leads to a risky decision - injectable testosterone. Now all he has to worry about are the side effects and the paranoia.

A fast, gripping read that will appeal to young readers, especially reluctant ones.

For reviews of previous books in the series, see http://sisterslibrary.blogspot.ca/2012/07/sports-books-for-teens.html

October 2, 2012

Canada-Russia hockey mockumentary

Forty years ago, a series of hockey games were played in Canada and Russia. The games are being remembered as a pivotal moment in Canadian hockey history. All members of the Canadian team agree that losing the series would have been disastrous. 

A spoof of the Summit Series, called Shadrin Has Scored for Russia!, was published in 2001. It was written by Kevin Sylvester, popular children's author of the Neil Flambé mysteries. Subtitled The Day Canadian Hockey Died, it pokes hilarious fun at one of the greatest moments in Canadian sports. In this irreverent little book, Henderson didn't score, Tretiak made the save, and Shadrin scored the game winner for Russia. Hostile Canadians turn against the team, hockey ceases to be our national sport, and our former hockey heroes are forced to play in Russia, where the Stanley Cup has been renamed (and remodelled) into the Stanislav Cup. Meanwhile, the big, tough players left in Canada are either curlers, lion tamers, or figure skaters.

Unfortunately, the book is now out-of-print, but copies may be purchased directly from the author. Contact Kevin at http://kevinarts.blogspot.ca/.

The Neil Flambé books by Kevin Sylvester:

Neil Flambe & the Marco Polo Murders
Neil Flambé and the Crusader's Curse
Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction
Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure