June 27, 2013

A gentle death

Dying to go Viral
by Sylvia McNicoll

Jade is dead. But she's not ready to accept that yet. She still has things to do. And her father and brother haven't gotten over their mom's death just six years ago. Granted an opportunity to relive the last week of her life, Jade's determined to make every moment count. She makes a list - get her dad a girlfriend, help her brother plan his future, do something as a family, get kissed by a boy. 

Knowing that Jade can't prevent her death lends a poignancy to the story, especially in the little things she does to show her family how much she cares about them. But the sadness is tempered by the comfort in knowing that Jade enjoys the time she has left.

June 25, 2013

A little person with spunk

Earthly Astonishments
by Marthe Jocelyn

Josephine is tiny - only 22 inches high. Her parents charged people a penny to look at her until the headmistress of the MacLaren Academy for Girls paid more to buy her. Miss MacLaren wanted a seamstress. Five years later, Josephine is a much-abused slave. After one beating too many, Josephine runs away. She gets taken in by R. J. Walters, who runs the Museum of Earthly Astonishments. There, among the other human curiosities, Josephine finds a family to care for her. But when her past catches up to her, Mr. Walters suddenly seems more like a jailor than a rescuer.

An intriguing tale of 19th century Manhattan, with a sympathetic and brave heroine. Its themes of friendship, life, and human curiosity are told with honesty and compassion, while the story itself contains danger and thrills in equal measure. 

June 20, 2013

Strange families

Northward to the Moon
by Polly Horvath

A sequel of sorts to My One Hundred Adventures,this book starts off nearly where the last one ended, in Saskatchewan. Jane's stepfather Ned has just been fired from his job as a French teacher (he doesn't speak French) and the family is once again on the road. Jane is still up for adventures, and she encounters some strange ones. In searching for Ned's brother, who's left him a bag full of cash that may or not be legal, they end up at Ned's mother's horse ranch in Nevada. When Ned's mother breaks her hip, he and his sisters force her into a nursing home. Meanwhile, Jane's sister Maya is having growing pains and may be suffering from a mental illness.

The rather grown-up subject matter makes this book more suitable for teens rather than middle graders. The adults are as irresponsible and unreliable as always, especially Ned, whose efforts to escape grow more desperate chapter by chapter. Through it all, Jane makes wise observations about the unpredictability of life and the people who inhabit it.

June 18, 2013

Life-changing adventures

My One Hundred Adventures
by Polly Horvath

Twelve-year-old Jane is longing for adventures. While she loves her family and their cozy house by the sea, she yearns to explore the know-not-what - the place where things happen that will change her world. Unusual adventures do happen to Jane. She drops bibles from a hot-air balloon, helps a deluded preacher find a psychic poodle, and is conned into babysitting a bunch of Gourds. She also discovers three possible fathers.

Jane is an interesting character; her observations are sensitive and thoughtful, often making her sound much older than she really is. It's a Horvath specialty, as are the eccentric, irresponsible adults, from Jane's romantic mother to hypochondriacal Mrs. Parks, who's determined to have more ailments than all her elderly friends. The hilarious moments perk up the story's slow pace. A good choice for teens who appreciate philosophical musings.

June 13, 2013

Incredible Journey

The Incredible Journey
by Sheila Burnford

The classic Canadian story of three pets - a Labrador retriever, a bull terrier, and a Siamese cat - making their way home through nearly 300 miles of forbidding wilderness. Encounters with wild animals, treacherous waters, and unfriendly humans abound, but the animals' loyalty, friendship, and concern for each other lift the spirits. Throughout, they remain wholeheartedly dog- and cat-like; the realism of the story captivates like no other.

An incredible adventure and an incredible book, with one of the most emotional endings of all time.

June 11, 2013

Acadian romance

Evangeline for Young Readers
(Nimbus Publishing)
by Hélène Boudreau
illustrated by Patsy MacKinnon

Evangeline is the Acadian heroine of the epic poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It tells the story of Evangeline's search for her lost love Gabriel after the forced deportation of the Acadians from Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia. Romantic and tragic, the poem became one of Longfellow's most well-known works. It also did much to honor Acadian history and identity.

Evangeline for Young Readers is a prose retelling of Longfellow's poem by Acadian author Hélène Boudreau. Her simple, yet lyrical words echo the rhythms of Longfellow's metre, while the division into chapters make the poem easily accessible and understood by young readers aged six and up. Boudreau manages to capture the feelings and emotions of the people of Grand-Pré, aided by MacKinnon's gentle watercolours.

For those interested in the original poem or would like to have a French version, visit the Nimbus website at http://www.nimbus.ca/Search.aspx?k=evangeline.

June 6, 2013

Ingrid and the Wolf

Ingrid and the Wolf
by André Alexis

Ingrid Balazs is a lonely. She has friends, but her parents discourage her from socializing with them after school. One day, a letter arrives from her grandmother, inviting her to stay at her mansion in Hungary. Ingrid's grandmother is a countess with a long title: Countess Liliane Montesquieu von Puffdorf di Turbino de la Louve des Balazs. An imposing woman, the countess sets a trial for Ingrid to overcome in order to prove that she is a true Balazs. She must successfully find her way out of the labyrinth beneath the mansion. In the labyrinth, Ingrid encounters the wolf Gabor, who reveals much about her family's history of which she has been unaware.

A compelling, dream-like tale; haunting, yet not frightening. Perfect for children who like fairy tales.

June 4, 2013

Joy despite suffering

A Company of Fools
by Deborah Ellis

A Company of Fools is vividly narrated by a young choirboy at the Abbey of St. Luc, near Paris. Quiet and sickly, Henri has lived with the monks ever since he was orphaned at five years old. Into his orderly life comes Micah, a rough street urchin who sings like an angel. He and Henri become unlikely friends. Micah pulls Henri out of his shell, getting him into all manner of amusing and boyish scrapes. 

When the plague sweeps across France, the boys find themselves performing in St. Luc's "Company of Fools", which bring laughter to the sick and, however briefly, releases them from pain and suffering. But when the crowds of Paris become convinced that Micah is a saviour whose singing can cure the Black Death, even the sheltered world of the abbey begins to crumble.

Ellis paints a vivid picture of life in a French monastery, illuminating the world of monks, both good and bad. A thoughtful, compassionate book.