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.