Pajama Press

Archive for August, 2016

Canadian Children’s Book News praises Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles

Posted on August 16th, 2016 by pajamapress

RootBeerCandyAndOtherMiracles_WebsiteIn Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles by Shari Green, 11-year-old Bailey knows spending her first summer with Nana Marie is just one more sign of many that her parents’ marriage is in trouble. While they go on a retreat to try and salvage their relationship, Bailey and her younger brother, Kevin, are left to deal with the tension and fear of a possibly imminent divorce. Life in Felicity Bay challenges Bailey to look outside herself, however, when the local ice cream man, Jasper, makes a series of startling prophecies. Finding herself drawn into the heart of a town steeped in misery, Bailey keeps her faith in the goodness of others and looks for miracles to help heal the wounds of the past.

Writing in verse, Green aptly captures the journey of a girl faced with her first real heartbreak—the likely dissolution of her family. Bailey’s openness to confronting her reality while still believing in the extraordinary adds to her charm, as does her growing realization that heartache affects many others in her life as well. The colourful and mysterious small town of Felicity Bay and the ocean it borders offer the perfect backdrop for Bailey’s awakening to the larger world around her. With a renewed sense of connectedness and a greater understanding of family, Bailey emerges from her summer of change hopeful for the future.

Canadian Children’s Book News calls The Hill “wonderfully creepy”

Posted on August 16th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_Website“When the private jet that Jared is aboard crashes in Northern Alberta, Jared is “rescued” by a Cree teenager who’s spending the summer with his grandparents and younger brother at their summer camp. The plane’s pilot is badly injured and there seems to be no way for Jared to make contact with the outside world, his computer smashed beyond repair and his cellphone without reception. There’s a big hill nearby, and Jared is sure that if they can just get to the top, he’ll get a signal, but Kyle warns Jared that climbing that hill is dangerous. His Kokum, his grandmother, has warned Kyle to stay away from the hill; it is haunted by evil spirits. But Jared won’t listen and, having mounted the summit, the boys suddenly find themselves in an alternative reality faced with a Windigo, a cannibalistic evil spirit that begins to pursue them through the wilderness. And this is not just any Windigo, but the Wîhtiko.

Karen Bass has created a riveting novel that beautifully blends a fast-paced adventure with a wonderfully creepy horror story, using First Nations’ mythology to tie the two stories together. What is particularly striking is not only the way that Bass weaves the cannibal-hunting Wîhtiko into the story but also the one mythological figure who has defeated this creature, Wesakechak, the Cree trickster, who helps the teens out. Bass not only makes readers see the limitations of settler society’s understanding of First Nations’ cultures and traditions but she also allows her First Nations teenager to learn something from his interaction with Jared. The Hill is a novel about making connections, finding ways to work together and be mutually respectful in terms of interpersonal relationships and different cultures. Bass provides readers with a glimpse into how she approached using Cree mythology in an excellent author’s note.”
—Jeffrey Canton

Going for a Sea Bath “will have kids hooked”—Canadian Children’s Book News

Posted on August 16th, 2016 by pajamapress

GoingForASeaBath_Website“In the whimsical picture book Going for a Sea Bath, Andrée Poulin takes young readers on a trip to the ocean…right in the bathtub! Leanne does not want to take a bath because baths are boring, and there is nothing to play with in the tub. Her father, undaunted by his daughter’s reluctance, has an idea to make bath time more fun. He runs all the way to the sea and returns with one turtle. When the turtle doesn’t do much, Leanne’s father returns to the sea, bringing a succession of expressive sea life for her to enjoy in the tub. From two eels and three clownfish up to nine starfish and ten octopi, Leanne’s bathtub gets so full there is no more room for Leanne! Munsch-esque prose paired with Anne-Claire Delisle’s delightfully playful illustrations will have kids hooked.

What better way to introduce young children to a unit on sea life than to read this book aloud and have students talk about all the animals that live in the sea. Leanne’s father brings ten different creatures home; can students think of other animals that live in the sea? Have any of the students visited an ocean? What sea life did they see? This book would make a perfect segue for a class trip to an aquarium (or the ocean, if you are lucky enough to live on one of Canada’s coasts). There are wonderful opportunities to incorporate math (counting, adding, etc.) and art into a unit on sea life and the oceans—create a classroom mural, with each child drawing or crafting his or her favourite creature from under the sea.”

Bad Pirate a “lively discourse on the possibilities of courage and difference,”—Children’s Bookwatch

Posted on August 12th, 2016 by pajamapress

Bad Pirate by Kari-Lynn Winters and Dean GriffithsBad Pirate features lovely color drawings by Dean Griffiths as it tells of Barnacle Garrick, a bold pirate captain who has a shy daughter who likes being helpful. Augusta doesn’t fit in with the crew and her helpful ways are a problem, until the crew gets in trouble. Dog characters who form the crew and the dilemma of one who doesn’t fit in makes for a lively discourse on the possibilities of courage and difference in a pirate’s set ways.

Next Round is a CBC Books’ pick for Olympic reads!

Posted on August 12th, 2016 by pajamapress

Next Round: A Young Athlete’s Journey to Gold takes the podium as one of CBC Books’ selections in their “15 Books for Young Readers during the Rio 2016 Games.”

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Helen Kubiw reviews Next Round on CanLit for LittleCanadians, “a story like no other”

Posted on August 12th, 2016 by pajamapress

NextRound_WebsiteThe 2016 Olympics are on in Rio and the media will be trumpeting the success stories of many an athlete, but Chechen-born Canadian boxer Arthur Biyarslanov has a story like no other.  And it’s a story that John Spray, benefactor of the TD Children’s John Spray Mystery Award, tells with inspiration and appreciation in Next Round: A Young Athlete’s Journey to Gold.

Arthur Biyarslanov’s story begins as a three-year-old escaping with his mother, Alla, twelve- and eleven-year-old sisters Bariyat and Bella, and nine-year-old brother Rustam from their war-stricken village of Gudermes in Chechnya to meet up with his father, Hairuddin, in Azerbaijan.  Facing soldiers with rifles and tanks and grenade-launchers of the Russian forces attempting to seize the Chechen republic was hardly an idyllic childhood for Arthur, affectionately called Borz, Chechen for wolf.  Their harrowing escape reunites the family in the windy city of Baku, Azerbaijan where he and his brother play with a makeshift soccer ball of socks and electrical tape to escape the austere conditions of their apartment and new life amongst strangers.  Soccer becomes Arthur’s salvation, helping him to learn the Azerbaijani language and fit in.

After the death of his father, the family deals with their new poverty by moving to even small quarters in a tough neighbourhood where Arthur, the new kid and target of bullies, becomes known as a fearless fighter but competitive athlete.  Though soccer is his sport of choice, Arthur often spars with his brother and sister Bella who were both karate champions, becoming a proficient wrestler, albeit a clumsy one.  And then his mother decides a fresh start is needed for the family and Canada would be it.

In Toronto, Arthur continues with his soccer, making new friends, learning English and becoming even more athletic,  including running and basketball in his many activities, though soccer is still his first love.  But a broken leg at the beginning of Grade 7 and subsequent slow recovery has Arthur concentrating on sports that demand more from his upper-body strength, leading him to boxing.  Though he knows he has lots to learn–he gets beat up regularly at sparring sessions–his brother Rustam knew “the Chechen Wolf would be a champion boxer.” (pg. 74)

The rest of Arthur’s story, peppered with numerous photographs, documents the young man’s rise in the boxing ring under the coaching of former Olympian John Kalbhenn and working with trainer Danny Santagato, whom Arthur affectionately calls Uncle Danny. From his first bout in 2008 to a rivalry with Zsolt Daranyi Jr. and having to choose between soccer and boxing, Arthur makes boxing his vocation, training tirelessly, and focusing on getting gold at the 2015 Pan Am games.

John Spray’s intent in writing Next Round is heartfelt and clearly evident from his dedication:

For all those children who escaped the horrors of war to find peace and new beginnings…and for Arthur, who replaced the sound of gunfire with the smack of leather on a punching bag.

The purpose of the book is clear but it’s John Spray’s writing that will capture Arthur Biyarslanov’s story better than any colour commentator could ever hope to relay as the boxer reaches for gold at this year’s Olympics.  John Spray, who owns a private investigations agency and is great lover of mysteries, tells Biyarslanov’s story as the harrowing action story that it is.  From witnessing at age three the massacre by Russian soldiers of  Chechens desperately attempting to flee for Azerbaijan, to the family’s escape across the cold water of the Yujniy Gerzel River into Dagestan and Arthur’s regular conflicts with the frightening old Azerbaijani woman whose fruit tree he climbs and his contentious boxing relationship with Zsolt, Next Round: A Young Athlete’s Journey to Gold is a  gripping story whose next chapter is still untold.

But no matter what the next round in his sport may bring, Arthur’s hard work and tireless dedication to boxing will give any opponent he faces a scare when looking into the hungry eyes of the Chechen Wolf. (pg. 100)

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Read more book reviews by Helen Kubiw.

Karen Bass’ The Hill “suspensful, fast-paced and hard to put down,”—Kirkus Reviews

Posted on August 11th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_WebsiteThe crash landing of his father’s private jet in the Canadian wilderness leaves rich white kid Jared stunned and the pilot badly injured, but it soon becomes clear that those are the very least of the 15-year-old’s problems. Kyle, a Cree boy of the same age, comes to Jared’s aid but isn’t able to stop him from climbing up a tall hill that’s forbidden for the Cree to visit in hopes of getting a cell signal. Going up there literally opens a world of trouble. That world they unwittingly step into is inhabited by Wîhtiko, a legendary Cree creature that is large, strong, terrifying-looking, and determined to eat the two boys. Thus begins a four-day chase through the deep woods, with little food and growing peril. Wesakechak, a shape-shifting Cree trickster, provides occasional help, but mostly the boys are dependent upon Kyle’s well-honed woodland skills, as Jared finds that his modern tools have little to offer away from the grid. The cultural tension between the two boys is prolonged, but eventually, after Jared uses one of his few skills to save them, they make a lasting peace. The pace is relentless, the amply creepy threat is believable, and the setting is fully realized. There is enough Native American culture to add welcome flavor and depth; Bass, not Cree herself, explains her cultural and linguistic research in an author’s note. Suspenseful, fast-paced, and hard to put down. (Adventure. 11-18)

Click here to read more from Kirkus Reviews.

Publisher’s Weekly commends Sky Pig‘s art and “imaginitive energy”

Posted on August 10th, 2016 by pajamapress

SkyPig_Website“Pigs and flying are the stuff of idiomatic legend, but a porker named Ollie is determined to make it happen in this offbeat story from Coates (Rocket Man) and Del Rizzo (Gerbil, Uncurled). With help from a young human friend, Jack, Ollie tries several methods of getting airborne, such as strapping branches to his body like wings and creating a parachute/kite hybrid. Every attempt ends with an “oooooomph!” and a “plop!” Del Rizzo stages the action in three-dimensional mixed-media scenes made from plasticine, clay, and other materials, capturing the imaginative energy Jack and Ollie bring to the task (one impressive set of wings features steampunk-style gears and straps) and the stinging defeats Ollie suffers. By the fourth time readers see the pig banged up from a fall, though, they’ll probably be ready for the story to move on, which it does with the arrival of a hot-air balloon.”

Click here to read the entire review.

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Arthur Biyarslanov’s story inspires Sally Bender to shock her family and watch Olympic Boxing!

Posted on August 9th, 2016 by pajamapress

NextRound_Website“Arthur looked around the small, two-bedroom apartment in Baku, Azerbaijan, in disbelief. This can’t be our new home, he thought, a lump in his throat. There was no yard to play in. There were no fruit trees to climb. He suddenly missed his home in Chechnya very badly. He closed his eyes and saw his happy bedroom, painted blue like the sky, and his toy trucks … ”

As we look forward to the opening of the Summer Olympics I wanted to share this story of one of our young athletes, whose journey has been a most difficult one.

John Spray writes the story of the Chechen Wolf, a young Muslim refugee from Chechnya, whose grit and determination won him a gold medal in the 2015 Pan Am Games as a member of Canada’s boxing team. It was Canada’s first gold medal in boxing in forty years. In interviews with Arthur Biyarslanov, Mr. Spray heard stories of his early life, their escape from Russia, the family’s life in a refugee camp in Azerbaijan, and finally a new life in Canada … all before he was nine years old.

The years between leaving Chechnya and moving to Canada were very difficult. His father, a dentist, made little money helping other refugees in Azerbaijan and the family was forced to move too many times. When he died, it became even more difficult for Arthur’s mother and her four young children. It led to immigration to Canada, a brand new adventure. Saying goodbye was not easy:

“Arthur knew that he had to leave most of his things behind when this family left for Canada, so he invited all his friends over and gave them his Pokémon cards and all of his toys. His friends were really happy with the unexpected gifts. They shook Arthur’s hand, patted him on the back, and wished him luck in Canada. “When you’re a famous soccer player,” the goalie said, with tears in his eyes, “don’t forget your old mates. You get to the World Cup or something, make sure we get tickets.” Arthur promised he’d never forget his little gang of friends, and with a lump in his throat, said good-bye to all his chums.”

The road from then to now, in 2016, was filled with sports of all kinds including soccer, a badly broken leg and a switch to trying his hand at boxing. His skills improved tremendously when he started working with Danny Santagato, who became coach, family friend, mentor and father figure.

“Arthur continued to fight and win tournaments throughout 2008 and entered grade eight on a real high. He was now an upperclassman in middle school and played in the city finals in basketball, volleyball and soccer. On the track team he made the city finals in the shotput, the 800 m run, and 4 x 100 relay. He helped bring to Winchester Senior School six championship banners – the most in the school’s history.”

In his final year of high school, Arthur made the difficult decision to give up soccer and make boxing his focus. Early on soccer had provided a place to make new friends, to learn new languages, and to advance his enormous athletic talent. A broken leg proved a mixed blessing when he used boxing to keep up his strength. It was a perfect fit for him. With hard work and dogged determination he became a champion amateur boxer. Right now, he is in Rio to take his place on the Canadian boxing team. What a feat!

Not one member of my family or friends will believe me when I say that I am going to keep my eye out for boxing matches during the Olympic coverage, but I will be … and that is the truth!

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Read more from Sally at Sal’s Fiction Addiction.

Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles a “lovely and poignant novel”—School Library Journal

Posted on August 9th, 2016 by pajamapress

RootBeerCandyAndOtherMiracles_WebsiteEleven-year-old Bailey keeps her eyes open for miracles. She and her younger brother, Kevin, are spending the summer with their grandmother while their parents are in a marriage counseling program. Bailey’s fear that her parents may separate along with concern about her new friend, Daniel, who has cystic fibrosis, leads her to look for magic in many forms—including a mermaid-shaped piece of driftwood that Bailey refers to as a “gift from the ocean.” Told in verse, Green’s writing captures the hopes of a young girl who is starting to recognize the complexity of relationships. Among Bailey’s new friends in Felicity Bay, a seaside Canadian town, is Jasper, a retired preacher who foresees that “a stranger from the sea will change everything.” Things do begin to change, most of all in Bailey’s life. When a chalice from the church goes missing and many of the townspeople suspect Jasper is the culprit, Bailey is determined to discover the truth. Along the way, Bailey learns important lessons about Felicity Bay that lead to healing between family members and friends and within herself. Dialogue written in italics, along with spacing between speakers, renders the narrative accessible and immediate to readers. Ultimately, Bailey makes peace with life’s inevitable challenges, and she recognizes that her time in Felicity Bay was indeed magical. VERDICT Recommend this lovely and poignant novel to middle grade readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories.

Click here to read more from School Library Journal.

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