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Posts Tagged ‘canadian-childrens-book-news’

Canadian Children’s Book News reviews Skydiver

Posted on July 23rd, 2014 by pajamapress

Skydiver_C_Dec5.indd“Because of the effects of the now-outlawed pesticide, DDT, few peregrine falcon chicks were hatching in the wild in the 1970s, which resulted in the breed’s disappearance from much of North America. This story describes the challenges a mature male and female peregrine falcon face when raising their young in the wild, and the determined efforts of scientists and volunteers who appropriate their first clutch of eggs to a sanctuary where the chicks will have a better chance of survival.

Author-illustrator Celia Godkin, renowned for her award-winning picture books concerning environmental issues, once again inspires young readers with an informative account about the natural world – in this case the successful conservation of a species. The operation of a bird sanctuary is outlined, from the arrival of the peregrine eggs to the release of the chicks. Also included are additional facts and websites about these magnificent birds.

Godkin’s beautiful and dramatic oil-on-canvas illustrations, be they of the sweeping vistas in the wild or of the skyscraper-filled cities where peregrines thrive, depict these fascinating creatures from a variety of perspectives. Readers will gain a deeper understanding of the fragile balance and immense survival challenges facing this breed from egg to chick to adult, and how humans, ultimately, have the power to right the wrongs of the past in order to help these raptors, the fastest birds in the world, to flourish.”

— Senta Ross

Learn more about Canadian Children’s Book News here.

Canadian Children’s Book News reviews “riveting” Moon at Nine

Posted on July 23rd, 2014 by pajamapress

MoonAtNine_C_Oct5.indd“Growing up in Tehran in the 1980s, Farrin’s entire life has always been filled with secrets. As secret supporters of the Shah who was overthrown by the Revolutionary Guard in 1979, Farrin’s parents’ illegal activities in support of the Shah could land them all in serious trouble. Her mother has always warned her not to draw attention to herself. Consequently, Farrin has never had close friends at school where she endeavours to keep a low profile. But everything changes when she meets a new girl named Sadira. Sadira’s friendship brings colour and brightness to her days, and soon Farrin knows that her feelings for Sadira are stronger than friendship. But this is Iran, and being gay is considered a crime. Farrin and Sadira cling to a desperate hope that the can somehow be together. But when the truth about their relationship is discovered, they are confronted with the harsh and terrible penalty that they must face for loving one another.

True to form, Deborah Ellis has crafted a stark, riveting and uncompromising account of life in a country and era that is markedly different from our own. Even the day-to-day details of Farrin’s life – the cruel, ever-suspicious school monitor always looking for an excuse to report her to the principal; her father’s driver stealing food from Farrin’s house to feed the other Afghan workers – create a strong sense of the political and religious climate of this time and place. Although the evolution of Farrin and Sadira’s relationship is not shown or explored in any real depth, their plight is nonetheless dramatically depicted. The strength of this novel is in its ability to highlight the social injustices that are still sadly present in our world today. Its heartbreaking and unflinching honestly will both engage readers and create heightened awareness.”

– Lisa Doucet

Learn more about Canadian Children’s Book News here.

Community Soup has “the perfect ingredients”—Canadian Children’s Book News

Posted on February 20th, 2014 by pajamapress

CommunitySoup_LR“It’s soup day at a Kenyan schoolhouse. While the teachers stir the broth, the children gather vegetables from the community garden. All except for one. Little Kioni is looking for her missing herd of goats, only to discover that they have followed her to school and are now wreaking havoc in the garden.  A frustrated Kioni announces, ‘These pesky goats make me so mad… I’d like to put them in the soup.’ This statement turns out to be a ‘eureka’ moment in that the wayward goats do make a contribution to the soup… with their milk!

Alma Fullerton has incorporated the perfect ingredients to create an engaging and charming picture book. With its conversational tone, including a dash of questions and exclamations, Community Soup makes for an excellent read-aloud. One section is similar to ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ which adds to the fun: ‘Kioni has a herd of goats/with hair of calico./And everywhere Kioni goes,/those goats are sure to —/ GO!’

Fullerton’s colourful three-dimensional art, which integrates paper sculpture and mixed media collage, draws readers into that lovely far-away community garden where cooperation, sharing, and commitment are so very important. One can almost feel the textures emanate off the pages. And, as a bonus, a recipe for pumpkin vegetable soup is included…”
—Senta Ross

Canadian Children’s Book News ranks Rory Stowaway with Stuart Little, Arrietty

Posted on February 20th, 2014 by pajamapress

The Stowaways by Meghan Marentette

“Rory Stowaway is a young mouse yearning for adventure. He wants to explore the World Beyond like his ancestors but, ever since Grampa disappeared during one such expedition, his family feels differently. Papa believes his father was eaten by a cat and Gran insists that her travelling days are over. Rory is not so easilydisuaded and soon enough the entire Stowaway family finds itself embroiled in a mouse-sized fantasy bigger than even Rory could have imagined.

Like Arrietty of The Borrowers or Stuart Little, Rory Stowaway is a pocket-sized hero set against rather large odds…When Rory discovers evidence that his Grampa may still be alive, plenty of action ensues. Young readers will delight in Rory’s miniature mouse world and cheer on Rory, Gran and the rest of the Stowaway family as they battle against cats, escape scientists and survive a hurricane.

Meghan Marentette’s debut story is nicely paced and hearkens back to a simpler time—Rory and the ‘Weedle’ mice live in a world without Google, Xbox or iPhones. The Stowaways are thoroughly human despite being mice and young readers will easily relate to the sibling rivalry, family conflicts and Rory’s frustration with his parents as he tries to become the mouse he wants to be. The book itself will appeal to youngsters with its glossy hardcover, a red ribbon bookmark and lively illustrations by Dean Griffiths.

The Stowaways is an engaging story which would also be a wonderful read-aloud book for younger children at home or in the classroom. The book’s endearing characters, exciting plot and the central themes of family and growing up would be fertile ground for classroom discussion.”—Tracey Schindler

Graffiti Knight “a riveting page-turner”—Canadian Children’s Book News

Posted on February 20th, 2014 by pajamapress

GraffitiKnight_MedExcerpt from the article “Exploring History through Fiction” by Rachel Seigel, Canadian Children’s Book News Winter 2014

“History is the succession of events that shape our present and our future, and one of the best ways to engage children in learning history is through historical fiction. Good historical writing offers insights into people and events from the past, and helps children to understand how the world we live in has been shaped by those events…

The last book, Graffiti Knight by author Karen Bass, takes readers to Soviet-occupied Germany in 1947, and is a riveting page-turner that readers will find impossible to put down.

Sixteen-year-old Wilm and his family live in Leipzig, Germany, a town scarred heavily by WWII and now occupied by the Soviets who are brutal and oppressive. The war has also left its scars on his family, but Wilm is finding his voice, sneaking out at night to leave messages on police buildings. What he’s doing is dangerous but exciting, and Wilm feels justified considering how much his family has suffered. When one mission goes too far, Wilm finds he’s endangered the people he’s tried most to protect, and he’s forced to take drastic action to keep them safe.

The setting is detailed and richly drawn, and Bass successfully creates an atmosphere of tension and fear. Wilm’s family are no strangers to Soviet brutality, and after witnessing a group of soldiers terrorize his crippled father, he decides it’s time to act.

His minor acts of rebellion give him a sense of power and control that he lacks in his daily life. The more he succeeds in angering the police, the more his game escalates, until it culminates in one final act that puts him and his family in a life-or-death situation.

The spelling of ‘knight’ in the title is a clever play on words, as Wilm’s acts take place under the cover of night and, at the same time, implies heroism. Wilm is a complex and fascinating character and readers will be left to decide whether his actions are heroic or simply reckless.

A skilled storyteller can bring history to life, and while the four highlighted books span different countries, cities, and historical periods, all effectively present these events through the eyes of the children living in them, and more deeply connect readers to the past.”

Hoogie and Tweezle “explore the wonder of childhood”—Canadian Children’s Book News

Posted on February 20th, 2014 by pajamapress

HoogieInTheMiddle_LRAward-winning author Stephanie McLellan has drawn inspiration from her own three children and created Hoogie in the Middle, a sneak peek into the world surrounding Hoogie, the middle child. The author playfully uses rhythm, alliteration and similes to delineate Hoogie’s character and exhibit how the middle child feels: “Pumpkin is the big, big girl,” “Tweezle is the itty, bitty baby” and “[Hoogie] feels like the hole in the middle of a donut.”

Whatever Hoogie does is not right. When Tweezle squishes food, “Everyone laughs.” When Hoogie does it, she is told to “not be such a baby.” Similarly, she is “too small” to help dad. “Too big. Too small. No room for me at all,” sums up the pain she feels. In the end just like “the sun in the middle of the solar system,” Hoogie isn’t so invisible anymore. McLellan finishes her story with a deliciously sweet simile!

Continuing in this series, TweezleintoEverything_MedTweezle into Everything follows in the footsteps of the typical baby of the household where Tweezle is the “last yummy cookie.” Charming similes and playful dialogue express Tweezle’s adorable character, constantly trying to prove he is big: “I not baby…I big boy!” He believes he is all grown up he messes his father’s tool shed, or enhances his older sister’s paintings. However, Tweezle is made to feel like the “…mud on the bottom…” of his sister’s shoes. Yet he refuses to give up: “I not bottom.” The book has an unpredictable and heart-warming ending, showing that what Tweezle unexpectedly does is indeed a “big deal.”

This loveable family comes alive with Dean Griffiths cuddly personified monsters. Vibrating hues painted in pencil crayons and watercolours evoke an expressionistic style with realistic elements. The clever use of negative space adds dimension and energy to the characters as well. Consistent rendering makes switching from each book in the series a seamless transition. The difference is the focus on the title characters, e.g. Hoogie holding a donut over one eye exaggerating the fact that she feels “like the hole in the middle of the donut” or Tweezle holding a large beach ball reinforcing his babyish stature.

Hoogie in the Middle and Tweezle into Everything explore the wonder of childhood and the average day-to-day dilemmas and real-life emotions of children with siblings. Wonderful books to read aloud that provide an opportunity for discussion among parents and children.—Lara Chauvin

Canadian Children’s Book News calls Namesake “a gem”

Posted on November 1st, 2013 by pajamapress

Namesake_C_Dec13v2.indd“Jane Grey is a student in Nova Scotia preparing a history project on her namesake, Lady Jane Grey, who was the queen of England for nine days in 1553, a political pawn in the intrigues of the Tudor era. Jane discovers Lady Jane’s Book of Prayre mixed in with her research books from the library and it carries her back to Lady Jane during the last few months of her life. The two teenagers become friends and confidants, helping each other through everything that happens in both of their lives.

MacLeod uses words sparingly and lovingly in Namesake, revealing just enough to carry the reader through the lives of both Janes, just enough to capture the imagination and draw us into the story. Her descriptions of High School ring completely true as do the times when Lady Jane is trying out modern language. The abuse suffered by both girls is also treated gently, realistic without being harrowing.

The modern Jane is strong and inventive, carrying on an active inner life and finding a way to improve her own life — even when her attempts to change 16th century events fail.

Without a misstep, Namesake proceeds from a tantalizing prologue to the satisfying conclusion. Perfectly constructed, this book is a gem.”

Willow Moonbeam is a math professor and librarian.

Click here to learn more about Canadian Children’s Book News.

Sylvia Gunnery profiled in Canadian Children’s Book News

Posted on April 18th, 2013 by pajamapress

“Author Sylvia Gunnery on learning, writing, eavesdropping, teaching”

by Kathleen Martin
(reprinted with permission from Canadian Children’s Book News Vol 36 No. 2, Spring 2013)

Sylvia Gunnery had to turn her writing desk away from the ocean. “I was getting distracted too much,” she says. There are trees outside the window next to her desk now, and on the day we talked, a group of ducks wandered past, peering in at her in an inquiring way.

Above Gunnery’s desk in her home at Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, there is a small basketball hoop and ball. “They were on a huge cake (fellow writer) Nancy Wilcox Richards had as part of the launch for my book Out of Bounds at Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay.”

The hoop hangs on a framed print from the Writers’ Trust of Canada that is signed by Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton and Graeme Gibson.

“They are the writers who did the groundwork for the rest of us to continue on,” says Gunnery, her tone momentarily serious. “It is a big reminder for me that they made space for us.”

Gunnery built her writing studio after she retired from teaching and after years of working in “a little corner of a space.” This studio, she says, “is wonderful. And it is full of nice things that remind me about what I care about and who I am.”

In this space, Gunnery completed her most recent novels, Emily for Real and Game Face. And, in this space, a stone’s throw from the Atlantic, Gunnery is — even after publishing 15 books — working hard at continuing to develop her skills.

How has being retired changed your writing process?

I taught because I loved teaching young people. Still do! I was not a teacher to financially support my writing. But there are lots of bonuses to being a retired teacher. The biggest bonus is time. I loved teaching and made sure I always did the best job I could possibly do to inspire my students to care about reading and writing and all the other ways in which we get to know who we are and how we fit into this world. That meant a big commitment of time. Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to write all those books during the 80s and 90s. The two months of summer were a gift! Now, I come to my writing studio in my home every day to write, to read, to research, to revise, to connect online with other writers, and on and on… And that’s a gift, too.

But you have lost daily access to your target audience!

In the late 70s, I had a few stories published in literary magazines, so I thought I was on my way down that path. Then, a close friend changed my direction when he said, “You’re always telling stories about your students. Why don’t you write teen fiction?” Two weeks later, a new student was brought to the door of my Grade 8 classroom. Immediately I wondered what might have brought her to our school halfway through the school year and how might she feel about what’s happening in her life. I’m Locker 145, Who Are You? started at that very moment and it was published a year later (in 1984) by Scholastic. I’ve been stealing stories from students’ lives ever since!

 

As for having daily access to my target audience, like any other writer, I watch and listen. No matter where I am — in an airport, on a bus, in crowded school hallways, walking on the beach, waiting in a line-up — I’m always eavesdropping on teens, wondering why they’re saying what they’re saying or doing what they’re doing.

When you first began writing, you had the good fortune to bump into some of Canada’s greatest writers.

In 1976, I went to the Banff Centre for the five-week summer writing session. My focus was on short fiction for adults, and one of the session mentors was Alice Munro. Serendipity multiplied by 1,000! I’ve had so many lucky gifts in my life. Budge

Wilson, who lives less than an hour away in the summers, and Joyce Barkhouse were two of them. I met Joyce Barkhouse first, in Halifax. She was 30 years older than me. We lived in a little house on Birmingham Street where my apartment was in the basement and hers was the middle one. She could hear my noisy parties, and she’d say to me, “I’ll just put my good ear to the pillow.” When I had my first short fiction published in

Canadian Fiction Magazine, she said, “Sylvia, you are a real writer.” My spine straightened up because Joyce Barkhouse had said this. We had a wonderful friendship. We spoke of writing so much. Writers don’t come out of a vacuum. You come out of your experiences and the support of your community.

Did you always plan on writing?

Being from the north end of Halifax and reading only British and American authors in school, the idea of becoming a writer didn’t occur to me. I didn’t go to Banff until I was 30. But I always wrote, even as a little kid. I am from a storytelling family. We would sit around the table until the leftover food turned to glue because we were talking. There was constant storytelling. And when I was little, my older sister, Barb, would read to me from thick hard-covered books at night. And then we’d turn out the light and she’d say, “Okay Shrimp, tell me a story.” I’d make up stuff to tell her — always about hope and strength and moving on and joy.

You have done a lot of writing about how to teach young people to write. You’ve written two books on the subject for educators. What is your advice to people — teachers and mentors — trying to inspire new writers?

At Banff during that summer writing session, I discovered a significant barrier to successful writing in schools — choice. As well meaning and thoughtful teachers, we were always trying to come up with the best writing topics to engage our students and make them care about writing. But they were our topics. Our choices. Unless the writing themes truly belong to the students — not as a group, but individually — the writing will simply be an assignment done for marks in a course. There’s not much room for the kind of commitment necessary to real writing. When I go to schools to do writing workshops, teachers sometimes say that I shouldn’t expect much because the kids just don’t like writing. Those teachers always seem really happy when I prove them wrong. It’s not magic — it mostly comes down to choice.

I’m interested in why we choose to write the stories that we do. What do you think it was that drew you to Emily for Real?

What I started with, before I even imagined Emily herself, was the idea of family secrecy, especially the effects of secrets on the people who don’t realize the secrets even exist. My theory — and I had enough evidence for this in memoirs I’d read or from personal stories shared with me by acquaintances — was that secrecy would eventually rot a family from the inside out. But as Emily told her own present-tense story, my theory about family secrecy changed. I came to see that the family would not necessarily rot from the inside out if they all truly loved each other and demonstrated that love.

Emily’s extended family does that. Like my own did. Our house on Hillside Avenue in Halifax was home to Mom, Dad, my older sister, my grandfather Gunny, and my godmother we all called Tettie. If I fell backwards, there was always that cushion of love there to break my fall. As Emily tells her story, she comes to see that her life will not always make sense and that there’ll be lots of surprises, but she also recognizes the support that love offers.

You’ll be talking about Emily for Real as part of this year’s TD Canadian Children’s Book Week. I have also heard you speak passionately about Nova Scotia’s Writers’ in the Schools program. Why do you think these kinds of opportunities matter?

When people can see that somebody values something enough to call it a “Week,” that’s a gigantic huge message in itself. I think it’s important for the public — people going to libraries, kids in schools — to hear the language around author visits, illustrator visits, storytellers, and to realize that it’s part of their environment too. A friend visiting me said recently, “When I was in school, words were everywhere. But now — words aren’t anywhere anymore.” That’s true for a lot of people. And unless we have these celebrations and they are not token — not “book minutes” but “book weeks” — people in Canada can lose words. If we don’t say these things, they will be gone. And to be one of those messengers sent out across the land — it’s just thrilling!

—Kathleen Martin is a writer living in Halifax.

Click here to learn more about Canadian Children’s Book News

Nix Minus One is “complex and engaging” —Canadian Children’s Book News

Posted on April 18th, 2013 by pajamapress

At 15, Nix Humbolt is taller and leaner than in his “Fatty Humbolt” days, but he still keeps a low profile at school. He finds refuge in his father’s workshop where he builds intricate boxes and tables – and avoids arguments with his older sister Roxy. When Roxy starts dating Bryan Sykes, Nix knows he’s bad news – but what can he do? The only battles he ever fights are on his Xbox – until the day he finds the nerve to fight for Swiff Dunphy’s neglected dog. When things start to spin out of control, this dog might just be the one who saves him.

Award-winning author Jill MacLean uses verse to tell an emotionally resonant story of an extremely introverted teenager. Nix still thinks of himself as the bullied fat boy, and he struggles to find his voice. He’s fiercely loyal and intelligent, and has a strong sense of justice, but when it comes to acting on it, he feels helpless. The one area where he can do something is to take care of the neglected and abused dog, whom he calls Twig.

While never explicitly stated, MacLean draws a subtle and effective connection between Roxy and Twig in Nix’s mind. The more out of control Roxy becomes, the more desperate Nix is to save Twig. Just when he thinks he’s failed at that, too, it’s Roxy who surprisingly gives him the strength he needs to fight for what matters to him. Nix Minus One is also a story about transformation, and MacLean skilfully parallels Twig’s transformation with Nix’s. As Twig transforms from a skittish, unhappy animal to a happy, healthy dog, Nix gradually is able to come out of his shell and emerge as a stronger, more confident boy.

MacLean’s books demand a lot from their readers, and Nix Minus One is no exception. Her characters are extremely authentic, and they will make the reader root for everything to turn out OK. The story is complex and engaging, and the deep themes make this an excellent novel for study and discussion.”
—Rachel Seigel is Selection Manager at S&B Books – a division of Whitehots.

 Click here to learn more about Canadian Children’s Book News.

Canadian Children’s Book News recommends A Good Trade

Posted on January 25th, 2013 by pajamapress

“Every morning at dawn, Kato leaves his Ugandan village to begin his challenging barefoot hike to fetch water. Carrying two jerry cans, the boy traverses through grass, down hills, and past cattle in fields guarded by soldiers. When he reaches the village well, he fills the cans with a day’s supply of water. After splashing his weary, dusty feet, Kato begins his long trek home, conveying the heavy containers on his head and in his hand. An aid worker’s truck near the village square catches his attention. The child becomes so excited by what he spots inside the vehicle that he dashes home to look for something special to present to the aid worker in exchange for the life-altering gift… a single white poppy from his garden for brand new shoes!

Alma Fullerton introduces us to the life of a young boy living in a war-torn country. Readers will quickly deduce that Kato’s days are fraught with hardship and danger as well as joy. The text is brief and subtle, yet descriptive enough so that we can feel Kato’s energy as well as his weariness, hear the splash of water and the laughter of the children, and sense the menacing presence of the watchful soldiers. Witness Kato’s elation when he finds the perfect gift to give to the aid worker: “Rushing through his chores, Kato runs to the garden and stops when he spies the single white poppy. Tenderly, he kneels to pick it. Between bouncy children, Kato weaves, cradling the poppy, careful not to crush it.”

Karen Patkau’s evocative digital illustrations provide further illuminating details about Kato’s environment: the Ugandan village where he lives, the territory traversed en route to get water, the changing hues of the sky, the brilliant colours of the children’s clothing, the friend with the artificial leg, the exquisiteness of the white poppy. The artwork is a perfect match for Fullerton’s understated text. Together they provide an enriching insight into one boy’s life in a distant country, and the preciousness of peace and goodwill.”

—Senta Ross is a former elementary teacher and teacher-librarian in Kitchener, Ontario.

For a subscription to Canadian Children’s Book News, visit the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.