December 18, 2014

Antarctic rabbits

Tom Crean's Rabbit: a True Story from Scott's Last Voyage

by Meredith Hooper & Bert Kitchen

Tom the Sailor is trying to find a nest for his pet rabbit. It can't share a hammock with the cat, sit on a perch like the parrot, or live in the cold, dark hold. Eventually he finds Little Rabbit a nest in the hay, next to the ponies. It's Christmas in Antarctica, and Little Rabbit has a present for Tom - seventeen babies!

Crean was part of Robert Falcon Scott's fateful 1910 expedition aboard the Terra Nova. This story is based on an entry in Scott's diary. 

The Antarctic landscape is the perfect backdrop for an appropriately wintry holiday read. 

December 16, 2014

Mexican Christmas legend

Here are two different versions of a Mexican Christmas legend. They tell the stories of two young girls who do not have a gift for the baby Jesus. Both gather weeds to bring into the church and since they are gifts from the heart, the weeds miraculously transform into the brilliantly-coloured poinsettia.

The Legend of the Poinsettia
by Tomie DePaola

Lucida is the young girl whose prayer at the altar turns weeds into flowers. De Paola's folk-style artwork lend warmth to his words.

The Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story
by Joanne Oppenheim
illustrated by Fabian Negrin

In Oppenheim's story, the transformation occurs as Juanita carries the weeds down the aisle. Negrin's beautiful pictures are dark and luminous. 

Both stories are wonderful additions to any holiday-themed library.

December 10, 2014

Fishy Christmas story

Carl the Christmas Carp
by Ian and Vladyana Krykorka

Not everyone eats turkey for Christmas. In Prague, Czech Republic, the usual fare is fish. In this tale, a boy named Radim helps his father pick out a nice fat carp for Christmas dinner. They keep it in the bathtub. Radim soon names it Carl and starts feeling sorry for it. When Christmas Day arrives, he decides to set Carl free.  

A charming holiday story that will appeal to those who love animals. As well, the lovely, wind-swept pictures cheerfully evoke the scenery and people of Prague.

December 3, 2014

Rabbits celebrate the season

Winter Moon Song
by Martha Brooks
pictures by Letica Ruifernández

If you look carefully at the moon, you may see the image of a rabbit. How the rabbit got there is revealed in this quiet, thoughtful picture book. A young rabbit prepares to sing in an annual concert to lighten the darkest time of the year. The song is performed beautifully, but the rabbit feels that it can be better. So begins a new tradition.

Martha Brooks' version of the Moon Rabbit creation story has the tone of an ancient story told by a wise elder. Meanwhile, the serene watercolors by Letica Ruifernández provides an air of timelessness. The combination makes for a tender bedtime story.

November 26, 2014

Teen spy

Shadow on the Mountain
by Margi Preus

Shadow on the Mountain takes place in Norway between 1940 and 1945. The Germans have invaded the country and are issuing all sorts of ominous directives. But the Norwegians have found many ways to resist. Fourteen-year-old Espen is one of the resisters. He and his schoolmates find many ways to show their displeasure - wearing red hats, staging walkouts, stealing ration cards. But Espen goes one step further. He becomes a courier, delivering secret messages by ski or by bicycle. Then he becomes a spy.

Dangerous missions, compromised friendships, thrilling chases; readers will be on the edge of their seats. Another bonus: it's based on a true story!

Highly recommended.

For more books about spies, go to my nonfiction blog at

November 19, 2014

Missing in action

Against the Odds
by Marjolijn Hof

Kiki's father likes to go to far and dangerous places. He's a doctor who treats people injured in war zones. Kiki would prefer that he stay home, but her mother assures her that the odds of his being killed are small. She points out that Kiki only knows of one child who does not have a father. But Kiki's anxiety only increases. She decides to lessen the odds. Her reasoning goes something like this:

I knew three children with a dead cat. And two children with a dead dog. And one child with a dead mouse. 

I looked at Mona [her dog]. I did not know anyone with a dead dog and a dead father. A dead dog and a dead father! That almost never happened. My mother would say that it was against the odds. And it would be even more against the odds for someone to have a dead mouse, a dead dog and a dead father.

So Kiki gets a pet mouse. When it doesn't die, she gets another mouse that will die. That way, she's increased her odds that her father will be okay. However, when her father really does go missing, Kiki thoughts start turning in a startling new way.

Originally written in Dutch, this English version is translated into simple prose that children can easily relate to. The descriptions of a family going through an extremely stressful situation is believable and honest, and Kiki's feelings of fear and anger are real and sensitively portrayed.

A very thoughtful book.

November 12, 2014

The horror of war

War Brothers
by Sharon E. McKay

Jacob is the son of a wealthy landowner. Oteka is a night commuter - one of the many children from villages or displacement camps who sleep on the streets of Gulu, where Jacob lives. They fear the Lord's Resistance Army (the LRA) who kidnap children and turn them into soldiers. Jacob believes he will be safe at school because of the extra guards. But the very first night back, the LRA invade the dorms and take Jacob and his classmates away. Beaten, starved, and forced to walk unendingly through the jungle, Jacob fears for his life and those of his friends, especially Tony, who wanted to be a priest. It is Tony who is broken and forced to kill. As the weeks pass, Jacob realizes that no one is coming to rescue them. With this knowledge, he and his friends, along with Oteka and a young girl named Hannah, plan an escape.

A gripping, disturbing book that focuses on the continuing plight of child soldiers. Its depiction of violence and brutality is unflinching, destroying any fanciful beliefs that war is exciting. An important book that deserves a wide audience.

War Brothers is also available as a graphic novel, with images that convey the horror with searing immediacy. Unforgettable.

November 5, 2014

Soldier's story a must-read

Generals Die In Bed
by Charles Yale Harrison

Charles Yale Harrison was an American who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I. Harrison's stark, straight-forward prose pulls readers directly into the action, capturing life as it truly was during a time of unimaginable horror.

Highly recommended.

Here's an excerpt from the book. The unnamed narrator is in a trench, on sentry duty.

Something leaps towards my face.
I jerk back, afraid.
Instinctively I feel for my rifle in the corner of the bay.
It is a rat.

It is as large as a tomcat. It is three feet away from my face and it looks steadily at me with its two staring, beady eyes. It is fat. Its long tapering tail curves away from its padded hindquarters. There is still a little light from the stars and this light shines faintly on its sleek skin. With a darting movement it disappears. I remember with a cold feeling that it was fat, and why.

October 29, 2014

The mummy walks

Walking with the Dead
by L. M. Falcone

Alex's father is reopening his museum of oddities. Its main attraction is an ancient Greek corpse. But after Alex gets struck by lightning, the corpse comes to life! It needs help moving on, so Alex and best friend Freddie decide to take action. Soon they find themselves battling minotaurs, harpies, and gorgons. Clever and funny, Falcone turns Greek mythology into a well-paced, lively romp. 

A perfect Halloween read.

October 22, 2014

Newfoundland shipwreck

Ann and Seamus
by Kevin Major
art by David Blackwood

Ann Harvey lives in a remote Newfoundland community with the ominous name of Isle aux Morts - Island of the Dead. Her life is filled with endless work. She often dreams of other places and a different life.

Seamus Ryan is a young Irish teen hoping to find a future in new world. Bound for Quebec City on the brig Despatch, he may not make it there. The ship runs aground off Isle aux Morts and the lives of 160 souls are in peril.

Told in verse, this is the story of a dramatic rescue, young love, and hope for the future.

The wreck of the Despatch is a true story. It occurred in 1828. Ten years later, Ann Harvey and her family also saved the crew and passengers of another vessel, the Rankin. Ann's personal story, however, has been imagined by Major, who wished to commemorate not only a brave heroine but the steadfastness of early Newfoundland and Labrador settlers.

A raw and heartfelt book.

October 15, 2014

The birth of Canada

Born! A Foal, Five Kittens and Confederation
by Deirdre Kessler
illustrated by Brenda Jones

Nine-year-old twins Gabriel and Grace help their parents run the Great George Street Livery Stables in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. It is 1864, and a circus is coming to town. Politicians as well. The twins are more excited about their favourite horse, who is about to have her first foal. But visits from their friend, fourteen-year-old artist Robert Harris, who's also a musician, gives them an insider’s peek at the meetings that lead to Confederation.

Deirdre Kessler blends fact and fiction to provide a reasonably entertaining story about the biggest moment in Canadian history. In having to explain all the key events, Robert's dialogue is often long and unwieldy, which interrupts the story's flow. But at least his information is accurate. As for the rest of the story, a cat obviously has its kittens and the horse its foal. But it's up to the reader (or listener) to decide if the foal is male or female.

October 8, 2014

A Newfoundland tale

The Queen of Paradise's Garden
adapted by Andy Jones
illustrated by Darka Erdelji

Three brothers named Tom, Bill, and the youngest, Jack, set out to find the Queen of Paradise's Garden, where they hope to find a magic fruit that will make their elderly parents young again. In the manner of all tales, only Jack has hope of succeeding.

This is an unusual, lovely tale, ideal for reading out loud. It's charm lies in its musicality, for the words have the cadence of Celtic song and the lilt of the Newfoundland storyteller. The whimsical illustrations, drawn with a deft hand, provide a fine accompaniment.

PEI Oyster Fest

The Village that Loved Oysters
by Dustin Milligan
art by Meredith Luce

Prince Edward Island's Tyne Valley Oyster Festival has been growing strong for fifty years. In commemoration of the event, Milligan and Luce have created this rhyming picture book. With all the oyster imagery, I'm surprised the book wasn't oyster-shaped. It's nice enough, but  I suspect that for most kids, oysters are an acquired taste. Especially if they don't live near the sea. They're likely to view The Village that Loved Oysters with amused puzzlement. Far better would be to attend the festival in person. 

For more information , go to

October 1, 2014

Morgan's Boat Ride

Morgan's Boat Ride
by Hugh MacDonald
pictures by Anna Bald

A bored little girl gets into a leaky rowboat and drifts out to sea. The people she passes along the way - a couple digging for clams, a fisherman, some big kids, a sailor - shout warnings to her that she never hears. So why does this book leave me with a feeling of meh? Nothing really happens. Morgan happily waves to everyone she passes and is eventually rescued, all without a clue that she was ever in danger. Maybe if the boat had actually sunk, or if the birds had sounded the alarm (the cover illustration implies a more fantastical adventure), it would have been more interesting. As it is, the pictures are better than the words.

August 13, 2014

Break until October

It's time for a break. New posts will appear sometime in October.

August 6, 2014


A Practical Guide to Dragons

A Practical Guide to Dragon Riding

Everything you ever wanted to know about dragons are compiled in these handy reference books. The first book provides important facts like physical characteristics, breath weapons (fire, gas, frost or acid), favorite foods, favorite habitats, and preferred treasures. The second book offers practical advice on dragon rearing, dragon training, rider apparel, and combat techniques. It also contains extensive notes about dragonkind - ghost, rust, faerie, and skeletal dragons to name a few, as well as draconians (evil dragons capable of imitating humans).

July 30, 2014

Imagine you're a horse

Ghost Horse of the Mounties
by sean o huigin

In 1874, a violent storm panicked a herd of RCMP horses. All but one of the horses were found. This story written in verse has the reader imagine that he or she is that missing horse.

Dramatic words and pictures capture the sights and sounds of wind, rain, and stampeding hooves.