March 03, 2015

Masterminds

by Gordon Korman
HarperCollins Canada
978-1-443428726
323 pp.
Ages 8-12
February, 2015

Don't be fooled by the 185 cheerful residents and the social perfection–no poverty, no crime, no unemployment–of Serenity, New Mexico, with its mandate of honesty, harmony and contentment. Behind all that sunniness hides a darkness of secrecy that would shatter the town's status as #1 in the USA for the standard of living.  And it all starts to fall apart with a simple, innocent bike ride beyond the town limits.

Eli Frieden is the only son of the town mayor and school principal, Felix Frieden, and best friend of Randy Hardaway, a less-than-perfect thirteen-year-old who is definitely not a poster-boy-for-the-town. When the two ride out, Eli succumbs to a blinding headache and nausea and the police, the Surety a.k.a. the Purple People Eaters, the security force for the Serenity Plastic Works, miraculously fly in by chopper and rescue the two boys. And then Randy is sent away.

Meanwhile, twelve-year-old artistically-inclined Tori Pritel, a girl with whom Eli finds it really easy to talk, is drawn into supporting Eli while her own best friend, Amber Laska, the school's overachiever and list-making teacher's daughter, is secretly asking her own questions.  When two arborists come into town, Amber notices a newspaper in their truck and, with permission (she is a perfect Serenity student), she reads about things with which she is totally unfamiliar: murder, terrorism, power, war, homicide. On the other hand, her nemesis, the annoying Malik Bruder, the doctor's son, has always been negative about the town and its rules, determined to leave as soon as he is old enough.  His pint-sized sidekick Hector Amani, whose parents generally pay little attention to him, is happy to follow his supposed best friend.

A secret letter from Randy, a fiasco with the WiFi, and some late-night reconnaissance at the Serenity Plastic Works, the largest employer in town, have the kids demonstrating all the negative behaviours that have been eliminated from Serenity: lying, cheating, sneaking around, breaking and entering, stealing, and opposing authority.  And, I have to tell you, readers will be completely supportive of their actions!

Where does Gordon Korman come up with his ideas?  Masterminds is yet another completely unique series from the master of middle-grade plotting.  No way will the reader see what's coming.  There are so many subplots and threads of characters' experiences that need to come together to provide that exclamation of understanding.  And writing Masterminds in the voices of the five kids allows Gordon Korman to make it all mesh so perfectly.  With humour and suspense, too.

While this first book in the new series ends well-that doesn't mean a happy ending, though–Gordon Korman flawlessly sets the kids up for their next adventure in Book 2, a book already on my radar.

March 02, 2015

Sidewalk Flowers

by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-431-2
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
For release March, 2015


On a walk from the grocery store with her distracted father, a young girl in a red-hooded jacket gathers an assortment of flowers–a dandelion, an aster, a vetch, heal-all–that poke their way through the sidewalk cracks.  Unlike her father whose focus is often on his cell phone, the little girl notices everything: a dead sparrow, a man sleeping on a bench, a dog on a lead.  Using the flowers she collects, the child finds a way to commemorate, cheer and share with those she knows and doesn't.

Sidewalk Flowers is a wordless picture book, which has the feel of a graphic novel with multiple frames and black-and-white illustrations and occasional splashes of colour.  This format works to emphasize the sombre landscape of normalcy so that the girl's flower gifts are beacons of life, like scattering seeds of joy. Author JonArnoLawson ensures that the young girl's efforts are initially depicted in high contrast to her surroundings but then they are augmented with her arrival home where her joyful scatterings are the norm, while illustrator Sydney Smith appropriately uses coarse and bold lines for the encompassing milieu, softening and colouring those elements that are significant to the young girl's journey and her light-heartedness.

 A story of a child's compassionate and playful activities in the overloaded and unavailable world in which most of us work and live, Sidewalk Flowers reminds us that, when we stop and smell the flowers along the way, we can improve the lives of others as well.

March 01, 2015

The Blind Boy and the Loon

by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril
Illustrated by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Daniel Gies
Inhabit Media
978-1-927095-57-7
48 pp.
Ages 6-10
2014

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril makes it clear from her preface that the story of The Blind Boy and the Loon, first developed into her film Lumaajuuq (National Film Board of Canada, 2010), is both just a small part of an epic story told by her Inuit elders and simply her version, with its mistakes and omissions, "which our elders would never have committed." (pg. 3) Honouring their telling of the story, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has compressed it into just a few minutes of film and a mere 48 pages of impressive text and illustration to tell a story of cruelty and revenge and the origin of the narwhal.

Living with his sister and mother in the far north, a blind boy endures his mother's resentment and cruelty. With the return of spring, he gets his sister to lead him to the lake to visit with the loon, a creature with formidable eyesight.  In addition to learning that his mother was responsible for causing his blindness, the boy regains his eyesight after repeated divings into the lake on the loon's back. Fully-sighted again, the boy resumes whale-hunting and uses an outing to exact revenge on his mother, whose plunge into the water turns her into the narwhal, her braids twisted into its characteristic tusk.

The dark tale within The Blind Boy and the Loon is nurtured by the highly-stylized elements of the illustrations, from the simple lines of the boy in his parka, to the hills and waters of the harsh landscape. Using shades and tones of greys, dark teal and taupe,  The Blind Boy and the Loon is rich with uncompromising elements of unkindness, deep waters, and expansive tundra, all essential in supporting the story within.  While Alethea Arnaquq-Baril may undervalue the content or interpretation of her telling of this origin tale, The Blind Boy and the Loon is an accomplished and breath-taking rendition.

If you want to see the animation of the stunning beauty that is The Blind Boy and the Loon, sneak a look at the original short film Lumaajuuq (National Film Board of Canada, 2010) upon which the picture book is based.  You will not be disappointed, but rather stunned by the starkness of its richness.

February 26, 2015

The Fight for Power: The Rule of Three, Book 2

by Eric Walters
Razorbill
978- 0-670-06706-0
352 pp.
Ages 12-18
January, 2015

When Eric Walters left readers at the end of The Rule of Three (Razorbill, 2014), the community of Eden Mills was managing rather well in the aftermath of a major power outage which affected all electrically-powered and digital devices. Under the leadership of Adam Daley's police captain mom and their elderly neighbour Herb Campbell who was possibly a former spy, and with the support of a multitude of residents with an assortment of skills, the community has organized into a relatively efficient entity with the mandate of survival.  They have food, water, communications, medical care, engineering, transportation, weapons, and a burgeoning societal structure that is learning to tame the chaos.  But, The Rule of Three left readers and community on the brink of an attack by the residents of a militarized compound, heading to the bridge that would lead to Eden Mills.

The attack is thwarted but, even though almost 500 persons from the compound are killed, leaving only about 100 left behind, the neighbourhood knows it is still vulnerable.  The decision to counter-attack, using intel from a captured compound soldier, Quinn, leads them to 47 imprisoned women and children whom Brett, cop and team leader, almost murdered in his zealousness to launch an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade).  Two dilemmas are revealed by that incident: the wisdom (or not) of bringing others into the community already taxed with limited resources, and Brett's bravado and insistence on offensive measures.  In fact, with reports of well-armed roving gangs becoming more violent, Brett and a group of nine other young men begin patrolling outside the walls of the neighbourhood on a nightly basis.

The realization that,
We need to do more than just survive.  We have to keep being human. (pg. 266)
becomes an important focus for Adam and others and a theme for The Fight for Power.  Is living worth it if you know your actions have caused the death of others or are devoid of charity? How does power manifest itself:  in strength, in winning, in happiness, in surviving?  Eric Walters does a masterful job of depicting the chaos of this new world and those who fight for power. As the catch line on the book cover suggests, The enemy is everywhere, including within, so Herb is right when he declares over and over again, "Pray for the best, prepare for the worst." (pg. 127)

The Fight for Power will take the reader from horrific chaos, to moments of calm, to occasional jubilation, and even to devastating loss.  I can only advise you to hold fast because the ride is a bumpy one but the journey that Eric Walters takes us on is worth it.

February 25, 2015

International Day of the Polar Bear: February 27


Whether you're interested in learning more about these magnificent mammals and their natural history or read about fictionalized accounts of their relationships with humans, this book list of youngCanLit titles should provide enough variety of fiction and non-fiction, picture books and novels, and even film to appease any reader interested in honouring the polar bear on February 27.


Picture Books

The Bear That Had No Bump of Locality
by Galt Denham
Illustrated by Bettie Kerkham
Vantage Press
30 pp.
Ages 6-9
1983

Ben and Nuki Discover Polar Bears
by Michelle Valberg
MV Photo Productions
38 pp.
Ages 7-9
2012

Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear
by Lisa Dalrymple
Illustrated by Elizabeth Pratt
Tuckamore Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
2013

Mikissuk's Secret
by Isabelle Lafonta
Illustrated by Barroux
Scholastic
40 pp.
Ages 6-8
2008

My Arctic 1, 2, 3
by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak
Illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 3-7
1996
The Orphan and the Polar Bear (Unikkaakuluit series)
by Sakiasi Qaunaq
Illustrated by Eva Widermann 
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
2011

Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay
by Peter Cumming
Illustrated by Alice Priestley
Annick Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
2004

Penguin and the Cupcake
by Ashley Spires
Simply Read
48 pp.
Ages 3-7
2014

The Polar Bear's Gift
by Jeanne Bushey
Illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-7
2000

The polar bear in the rock: two windows on the world = Nanuk ujagammi: unikkausikkut kaujimajunullu kaujisautinga
by Derek H. C. Wilton
Illus. by Cynthia Colosimo
Labrador Institute of Memorial Univ.
24 pp. 
2010

A Polar Bear Night of Stars and Light
by Jennifer LaBella
Windermere House Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
2008

Snow Bear
by Liliana Stafford
Illustrated by Lambert Davis
Groundwood/Douglas & McIntyre
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
2001

When Wishes Come True
by Per-Henrik Gürth 
Lobster Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-7
2009








Fiction
Frost
by Nicole Luiken
Great Plains Teen Fiction
158 pp.
Ages 14+
2007 

Frozen
by Lori Jamison
Illustrated by Charlie Hnatiuk
H.I.P. Books
75 pp.
Ages 11-17
2012

Ghosts of the Pacific
by Philip Roy
Ronsdale Press
251 pp.
Ages 11-14
2011

The Middle of Everywhere
by Monique Polak
Orca Book Publishers
208 pp.
Ages 12+
2009

Northern Exposures
by Eric Walters
HarperCollins
Ages 10+  
256 pp
2012

Payuk and the Polar Bears
by Vita Rordam
Borealis Press
44 pp.
Ages 8+
1981

The Pole
by Eric Walters
Penguin
256 pp.
Ages 10-14
2008

Sharla
by Budge Wilson
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
168 pp.
Ages 12-15
1997


Trapped in Ice
by Eric Walters
Viking/Penguin
205 pp.
Ages 9-13
1997

Trouble at the Top of the World (Screech Owls, #22)
by Roy MacGregor
McClelland & Stewart
127 pp.
Ages 9-13
2008

www.walkwithapolarbear.com
by Mercedes Montgomery 
Your Nickel’s Worth
125 pp.
Ages 9-13
2008










Non-Fiction
Arctic Adventures: Tales from the Lives of Inuit Artists
by Raquel Rivera
Illustrated by Jirina Marton
Groundwood/House of Anansi Press
48 pp.
Ages 8-12
2007

Arctic Icons: How the Town of Churchill Learned to Love Its Polar Bears
by Ed Struzik
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
212 pp.
Ages 15+
2014

Ava and the Little Folk
by Neil Christopher & Alan Neal
Illustrated by Jonathan Wright
Inhabit Media 
41 pp.
Ages 5-11
2012



Baby Polar Bear 
(Nature Babies series)
by Aubrey Lang 
Photography by Wayne Lynch
Fitzhenry & Whiteside 
35 pp.
Ages 5-7
2008


Bärle’s Story: One bear's amazing recovery from life as a circus act
by Else Poulsen
Greystone Books
227 pp.
Ages 14+
2014

Bears: Polar Bears, Black Bears and Grizzly Bears
by Deborah Hodge
Illustrated by Pat Stephens
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-11
1996

Canada’s Arctic Animals 
(Canada Close Up series)
by Chelsea Donaldson 
Scholastic 
44 pp.
Ages 6-8
2005

The Curse of Akkad: Climate Upheavals That Rocked Human History
by Peter Christie
Annick Press
144 pp.
Ages 11-14
2008

The Life Cycle of a Polar Bear 
by Rebecca Sjonger and Bobbie Kalman
Photographs by Marc Crabtree
Crabtree
32 pp.
Ages 8-11
2006

Nanook and Naoya: The Polar Bear Cubs
by Angele Delaunois
Translated by Mary Shelton
Photographs by Fred Bruemmer
Orca Book Publishers
48 pp.
Ages 8-11
1995

Polar Animals 
(Who Lives Here? series)
by Deborah Hodge 
Illustrated by Pat Stephens
Kids Can Press
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
2008

Polar Worlds: Life at the Ends of the Earth
by Robert Bateman with Nancy Kovacs
Scholastic Canada
48 pp.
Ages 8-12
2008

Vanishing Habitats 
by Robert Bateman 
Scholastic 
48 pp.
Ages 7-12
2009



Film
Arctic Circle = Cercle Arctique
Directed by Takashi Shibasaki, Atsushi Nishida and Wally Longui
Produced by Wally Longui, Cindy Witten and Toshiro Matsumoto
National Film Board of Canada
80 min.
Ages 12+
2009

Land of the Ice Bear
Directed by Andrew Manske and Albert Karvonen 
Produced by Albert Karvonen and Jerry Krepakevich 
National Film Board of Canada
46 min., 10 sec.
Order Number: C9199 224
Ages 15+
1999


February 23, 2015

Princess Pistachio and the Pest

by Marie-Louise Gay
Translated by Jacob Homel
Pajama Press
978-1-927485-73-6
48 pp.
Ages 5-8
For release March, 2015

Pistachio Shoelace may have been disappointed when she learned the true nature of her royal status, or lack thereof, in Princess Pistachio (Pajama Press, 2014) but the little red-haired wonder of Marie-Louise Gay's newest series has unforeseen challenges to address in her second adventure, Princess Pistachio and the Pest.  And we're so delighted to share in it with her.

Waking up from a horrible school dream in which she is humiliated when she can't answer a simple addition problem, Pistachio is thrilled to realize it's the first day of summer vacation.  She's ready for adventures with her friends Madeline and Chichi exploring a local cavern. But "Pistachio's heart falls to her belly button" (pg. 12) when her mother instructs her to take her baby sister Penny to the park.

Dragging a wagon loaded with Penny, a tower of toys and the hidden dog, Pistachio continues to daydream about exploring the cavern and what she might find.  Meanwhile, Penny dressed in her rabbit-ear hat and Superman cape, proclaims herself to be Super-Rabbit and repeatedly demonstrates that her super-powers are of the unorthodox kind: pilfering fruit from Mr. Pomodoro's grocery stand; climbing up on a wall and falling into Mrs. Oldtooth's garden; and scavenging treasure from the park's fountain.  Unfortunately, Pistachio is taken as responsible for Penny's misdeeds.

Courtesy of her baby sister, Pistachio is never bored and, upon returning home, realizes that there are worse ways to spend a day than babysitting Penny.  But, it's Pistachio herself, with her imaginative daydreams to compensate for missed adventures and with her reactive diatribes to unexpected turns of events, who makes the day eventful.  Her fiery temper may share each disappointment but it's her exuberance for life that mitigates any annoyances the readers may have about her exasperation.  After all, it was the first day of summer holidays and Pistachio's mother knew to use her "maple syrup tone" (pg. 12) to attempt to sway her daughter.  I suspect the girls' mother, with her own fiery red
hair and foxy twinkle, knows well enough what Pistachio feels.  And luckily, Pistachio may feel many things–embarrassment, disappointment, irritation, fear, inspiration–but never boredom.  

Again, Marie-Louise Gay takes our Pippi-Longstocking-esque young character and places her in classic childhood scenarios to which Pistachio must adapt.  Babysitting younger brothers and sisters during summer vacation is not uncommon for children.  But by taking Pistachio into a neighbourhood of colourful people, diverse friends, and lively interactions, young readers may find the means to endure, even enjoy, surprises that arise during the crazy, lazy days of summer when anything can happen, as it does in Princess Pistachio and the Pest.