February 25, 2015

Lives at stake

Best Friends through Eternity
by Sylvia McNicoll

Fourteen-year-old Paige, in an attempt to avoid the school bullies, takes a shortcut across the railway tracks and is hit by a train. Suddenly, she finds herself on a sandy beach where she meets her former best friend Kim, who died seven years ago. Not willing to give up her life and wanting to help her current friend Jazz, who is also threatened by the bullies, Paige is granted seven days to fix things up and maybe change her fate.

McNicoll has tackled the afterlife conundrum previously in an earlier book, Dying to Go Viral.   While the protagonist in that book tries to enjoy the time she has left and ensure that her family will be able to go on, Paige has to deal not just with saving Jazz, but with coming to terms with her own past. Abandoned as an infant in China and adopted by a Canadian couple, Paige struggles with her cultural identity and the knowledge that her parents haven't always been truthful with her. At the same time, she tries to be nicer to people; even to Vanessa, the mean head bully. Paige's efforts aren't entirely successful, so she needs multiple tries to get it right. Events culminate in one final, desperate scene.

Full of twists and turns that mirror the uncertainty of life, this is a heartfelt, emotional novel. Teens will readily relate to the strong, believable characters and situations that so many of them encounter in real life.

Highly recommended, this is one of McNicoll's best.

February 18, 2015

Young Rumpelstiltskin

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff

In The Kingdom, your name is your destiny, and twelve-year-old Rump's destiny really stinks. His mother died before she could say his full name making Rump small and short and the target of everyone's jokes. But his luck starts to change when he finds his mother's spinning wheel. With no wool at hand, he tries spinning straw and is astounded when the straw turns into gold. 

At first, Rump's gift seems wonderful. He can now trade his gold for whatever he needs. His friend Red warns him that magic causes trouble, but Rump discovers this too late. He finds himself trapped in a curse that can only be broken by a purer, stronger magic. So Rump sets out to break his curse, with many adventures along the way.

Shurtliff's unique take on the Rumpel fairy tale is a refreshing delight. Her characters are sympathetic, appealing and funny, even the villainous ones. And her trolls steal the show.

Highly recommended.

February 11, 2015

How the armadillo came to be

The Beginning Of the Armadillos
by Rudyard Kipling

Stickly-Prickly the hedgehog and Slow-and-Solid the tortoise live along the banks of the Amazon River. Also living there is Painted Jaguar, whose mother teaches him how to eat hedgehogs and tortoises. He must drop hedgehogs into water and scoop tortoises out of their shells. But since he can't tell the two animals apart, Stickly-Prickly and Slow-and-Solid have no trouble getting away. To further ensure their safety, Stickly-Prickly practices how to swim and Slow-and-Solid practices how to curl up. Eventually, they both discover that they are no longer the same animals as they were before. They have become armadillos.

A very fanciful creation story told in uniquely affectionate prose. However, armadillos are actually not related to hedgehogs and turtles. Their closest relatives are sloths and anteaters! To learn more about armadillos, visit my other blog Interesting Nonfiction for Inquisitive Kids.

February 4, 2015

Real snow people

by Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert's snow people fill vertical double-page spreads in her wonderful book, Snowballs. Made in her signature collage-style, she shows her young audience how to create fun pictures out of paper, buttons, twigs, seeds, bottle caps, popcorn, and mittens. She ends with a brief definition of snow and why it snows. She also includes photographs of actual snow people with all their natural charms (much better than using those generic, fake snowman decorating kits you buy in a store).

To learn how Ehlert creates her wonderful books, read her autobiography, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. A review of the book can be found on my other blog, Interesting Nonfiction for Inquisitive Kids.