December 07, 2022

Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of): Guest review

This review was written by Grade 8 student Hasini K.

Written and illustrated by Kathleen Gros
Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins)
304 pp.
Ages 8-13
October 2022
From the classic story of Anne of Green Gables comes this incredible adaptation. This is a story that takes place in our modern world with the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and plot lines that improve the story and allows it to reach a wider audience in the present era.
From Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros
Anne Shirley is a teenager in the foster system, and she’s sick of it. She’s already moved from one house to another, from one foster placement to the next. Anne is tired of starting over every time she has to move. So, when Alexandra, Anne's social worker, tells the girl the exciting news that she's about to move to another place, Anne has mixed feelings. She’s so grateful that someone wants her and really hopes it will work out but a part of her wonders if she'll just end up back in the system afterwards.
From Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros
However, things don’t start off as she hopes. When she first meets Matthew Cuthbert, her new foster guardian, he seems confused. When they arrive at the Avon-lea, the apartment building where the Cuthberts live, we learn that Matthew and his sister Marilla had been expecting a younger kid. Anne is devastated and is sure that she'll be sent back, especially when Marilla calls Alexandra. Explaining about a glitch in the system, Alexandra asks them to keep Anne until they can arrange something else. Anne is determined to try her best to make sure the Cuthberts keep her.

But, Anne quickly finds herself in trouble, from physically hurting a classmate to accidentally dyeing her hair green. The Cuthberts may be cool, but Anne worries that she may be too much for them. Still, she has other worries, including developing feelings for her closest friend Diana. Anne wants to ask Diana to the winter dance but what if Diana doesn't feel the same way? You'll need to read Kathleen Gros's book to find out if Anne finally ends up finding her forever home.
From Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros
Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) is not the kind of book I usually read, but I absolutely enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to readers in Grade 6 and up. In the book, Anne struggles a lot with embracing her appearance, and I love how she gained confidence throughout the story. Kathleen Gros turned the story into something which everyone could relate to, from being the new kid to trying to find friends and fitting in. Although I haven't read the original Anne of Green Gables–I'm very tempted to do so after finishing this book–I think Kathleen Gros's graphic novel version will appeal more to this generation of readers, especially with its diversity and gorgeous artwork and very appealing colours. But most important is Kathleen Gros's message that families come in different forms, and they are all worthy of love, no matter how crazy they may be.
~ Written by Hasini K., Age 13

December 06, 2022

Do You Know Quantum Physics? (Brainy Science Readers)

Written by Chris Ferrie
Text adapted by Brooke Vitale
Illustrations by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
Sourcebooks Explore
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2022

The field of quantum physics would seem a challenging STEM topic for adults, much less for children. But one thing Chris Ferrie does very well is distilling down complex scientific ideas into manageable bites and he does the same for quantum physics with his latest in the early reader series called Brainy Science Readers. With clear and concise text and illustrations, and analogies between balls and parts of an atom, Chris Ferrie introduces young readers to atoms, electrons, neutrons, protons, energy, and quanta.
From Do You Know Quantum Physics? by Chris Ferrie, illus. by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
STEM books tend to be either extensive middle-grade non-fiction texts or picture books that embed a scientific concept within. Do You Know Quantum Physics? is very different in that it is an early reader devoted to the concept of the quantum theory of the atom at its heart. The illustrations carry the message, but the words are dedicated to explaining what an atom and its component particles are and how electrons gain or lose energy. The vocabulary is appropriate for beginning readers and the repetition of words helps highlight key ideas. Moreover, the digitally-rendered artwork by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott always matches the text directly, allowing for improved retention of the ideas. Chris Ferrie has not wrapped the learning in a story of a little electron looking for its friends or home. It's just the science of how things work. Because of that, it hits the mark. 
From Do You Know Quantum Physics? by Chris Ferrie, illus. by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
The Brainy Science series aims to "improve reading skills while immersing children into scientific theory." (pg. 1) And while quantum physics may not be on many, if any, pre-school through Grade 2 curricula, Do You Know Quantum Physics?, with its simplicity of text, ball analogy and bold illustrations, will be a fabulous introduction to the atom.
From Do You Know Quantum Physics? by Chris Ferrie, illus. by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
(Marie Curie even makes a very brief appearance.)

December 05, 2022

Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge

We know that kids who read gain worthy skills in language, knowledge, critical thinking and far more. And writing is just as worthwhile, allowing them to express their individuality while giving them opportunities to develop their imaginations and creativity. I encourage young people, and their teachers and parents, to consider entering this free annual writing challenge from the Ripple Foundation, a Canadian educational charity that is run 100% by volunteers. Its mission is to advocate for creative literacy in young people through a variety of programs including the Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Writing Challenge. Check out the details below and get your kids writing!

Challenge: Single authors (no partners or groups) are invited to submit an original story, written in English, with a maximum of 5000 words. It can be fact or fiction, prose or poetry. (A story checklist here will help direct your writing as will these tips.) There is no entry fee!
Eligible participants:  Canadian residents enrolled as full-time students (public, private, institutional or home schools) in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 at the time of their entry are eligible.
    (There are some other restrictions related to employees, agents, and representatives of Ripple, yada, yada, yada, which you can check out here.)
What to submit:  A story of maximum 5,000 words (includes the words “a,” “an,” and “the"), typed in 12 pt Times black font and in a .doc or .docx format.
How to submit:  Entries must be made by either the parent/guardian of the minor author of the submission or by the author’s teacher with the author’s parent/guardian’s permission at the following link:

Deadline for submissions: 11:59:59 pm ET on March 31, 2023
Judging Criteria: Entries will be judged on the following criteria:
  •     Creativity and originality of plot and/or themes (40%)
  •     Story structure, characters, and setting (40%)
  •     Style and tone i.e., the quality of writing (20%)
Prize: The winner with the highest score (see judging details here) will be published in a professional e-book and paperback book by the Ripple Foundation and sold on Amazon, Apple, Google Play and Overdrive with proceeds donated to the author's Canadian charity of choice.

Prize announcement:   June 1st, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario.

December 02, 2022

How to Be a Goldfish

Written by Jane Baird Warren
Scholastic Canada
240 pp.
Ages 9-12
October 2022
Most kids will end up doing a family tree or genealogical research sometime in school. Many will have family members they can talk to or use the internet to seek details. But, in 1981, when given a family history project called "Every Family Has a Hero," 13-year-old Lizzie Ross wonders how she's ever going to manage. Her family is basically her mother Susan and her grandmother Emma. Her grandfather had died in the war, and her mother had never married the man who'd fathered Lizzie. Thankfully Lizzie does have Harry, the elderly farmer next door, who cares for her after school. Harry, on the other hand, certainly has some stories, from being sent to Canada as a Home Child to saving a man at Juno Beach. When her mom, a lawyer, heads to nearby Toronto, to help in the defence of gay men who were being harassed by the police after the infamous bathhouse raids–it is 1981–Lizzie goes digging into old family photos and memorabilia hoping to get something to present.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, eleven-year-old David Macrath is still trying to adjust to his new life after the passing of his grandfather with whom David and his mom Carla had once lived. Now they live with Mom's latest boyfriend and her boss, Cameron Kelch, above his real estate office. At home, David is dealing with Kelch who wants David to man up and play sports and forget about his comics, movies, and favourite Star Wars. In fact, Kelch would love to send David away to boarding school, especially as he has big plans to develop the land and farm which Carla inherits from her father.

When David, his mom and Kelch head out to check out the farm and find Harry living there, the two story lines come together, with the two kids becoming allies. But will their alliance help them to save Harry's farm and protect the families they want and deserve?

Because this is historical fiction, author Jane Baird Warren embeds the reader in a time of the original Star Wars, the bathhouse raids and homophobia, no cell phones or computers–hence no easy genealogical research–and more. But this really is a story of family and family secrets and thus has no time constraints. It's about making family from bits and pieces, sometimes related and sometimes not. And that is a story for all times, regardless of the setting. By making family the focus, young readers will recognize the different configurations of family as authentic, though Lizzie and David still have to deal with small-mindedness related to those families.

As someone who lived in the 1980s, I can attest to the turbulent times. The news was rife with protests, war, strikes, riots, homophobia, and all manner of discontent. But it was also a time of learning and understanding with the opportunity to see that diversity enriched our lives and that different did not mean bad. How to Be a Goldfish reminds us that, in the right environment and with people in our corners, we can flourish and be and do better.

November 30, 2022

Chickadee Criminal Mastermind: Guest review

This review was written by teacher Elizabeth Cook.
Written by Monica Silvie 
Illustrated by Elina Ellis
Kids Can Press
36 pp.
Ages 4-7
June 2022

A Chickadee Criminal Mastermind? This book captured my interest right away. The story is narrated by the chickadee himself and it starts with him telling the reader how the forest has a criminal living there. It is him, calling himself "a real rapscallion and all-around bad seed.” He then explains to the other animals, and the readers, how he started his life of crime in the forest.
From Chickadee Criminal Mastermind by Monica Silvie, illus. by Elina Ellis
His story starts when he was a pink, featherless baby still in the nest learning all that he could from his parents. After his long childhood of sixteen days, he flew off to start his own adult life in the forest. He quickly discovered that finding food was of the utmost importance and that it got harder and harder as winter encroached on the forest. As such, he had to start stealing from the mother lode of all treasures…a box full of bird seed hanging from the tree branches. Using a map reminiscent of Kevin's battle plan from the movie “Home Alone,” the chickadee steals his seed each day. This may have made him a well-fed “King of Thieves” in the forest…but it also made him lonely.
From Chickadee Criminal Mastermind by Monica Silvie, illus. by Elina Ellis
One day, when Chickadee hears young children gleefully watching him, he remembers one of his parents' lessons about something called a bird feeder. They'd told him that a bird feeder was a safe place for birds. Realizing this, Chickadee wonders if he perhaps isn't the "bad seed" he'd always seen himself as and that perhaps his forest peers might now become his friends. In fact, it looks like he just might make one new friend when another chickadee appears.
From Chickadee Criminal Mastermind by Monica Silvie, illus. by Elina Ellis
This picture book by BC's Monica Silvie is adorable. From the outset, I was engaged with the story of this criminal mastermind bird. Monica Silvie’s writing helps the reader see the humour in a story of our chickadee while still teaching readers quite a bit about these common birds. I found myself cheering for the little chickadee on his adventures as a “King of Thieves” and also in his quest to make friends. The story is appended with additional information about chickadees, including sources for further research. The artwork by Ukrainian-born UK-resident Elina Ellis is quite precious as she brings expressions to our dear chickadee that really help the reader feel connected to him.

This story will be a delight to share in classrooms and with children in your home. As a teacher, I am already thinking of some great activities including watching for chickadees in the forest behind my school, making bird feeders with the students, and even some creative writing from Chickadee’s perspective. This book will also tie in nicely with many science curricula. You definitely want this delightful book in your school library.

~ Elizabeth Cook is a teacher in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature.  


November 28, 2022

Cocoa Magic

Written by Sandra Bradley
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2022

There is much kindness in giving gifts in secret, in not expecting thanks or acknowledgement. It's giving for the sake of giving and not for reciprocity or reward. With the holiday season upon us, Sandra Bradley's book of Cocoa Magic, deliciously illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, reminds us of the goodness of giving.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Daniel's Great Uncle Lewis is known as the Cocoa King of Charlottetown. From a very young child, Daniel learned the magic that came from a cocoa bean when vanilla, sugar and milk were added. By the time he is eight, he is spending an hour crafting chocolate into treasures at his uncle's shop before he is delivered to school.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

When a new girl, Sarah, arrives at school, looking a little hesitant, Daniel comes up with a plan to make her feel more welcome. The day after her arrival, he slips a gold box with a single chocolate caramel into her desk. Like magic, when she opens the little box, Sarah smiles for the first time. He repeats this for several days, with a luscious vanilla fudge, a coconut cream and a piece of nougat. And each day Sarah seems less scared and more cheerful.

Then Daniel notices Ben watching Sarah enjoy her treat and decides to surprise the boy too with some magic. Was it the chocolate that made Ben a little kinder that day? Everywhere Daniel looks, it seems someone needs to be touched by a little cocoa magic. With a tearful classmate and an injured boy and more, Daniel enlists his uncle's help in delivering little boxes to the whole class.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Then his uncle goes away to the World's Chocolatiers' Conference in Switzerland and must close the shop for five days. Daniel is devastated. He misses his uncle, working in the shop and he worries that without their secret chocolate gifts, the joy would disappear from his classmates. He's wrong. In fact, his classmates bring the magic to Daniel when he needs it.

What a wonderful story of empathy! Daniel understands Sarah's nervousness at attending a new school, one which he himself finds cold and lonely, and then sees what his other classmates are feeling. He sees their distresses and finds a way, his way, to make them feel better. Sandra Bradley, a clinical social worker and therapist, makes the story of Cocoa Magic one of kindness without expectation of reciprocity. She shows the positive nature of giving both on the recipient and the giver. It is only when children feel safe and secure that they can appreciate the emotional needs of others and Daniel, embraced in the warmth of his uncle and his chocolate shop, has the capacity for that empathy. But by showing empathy for his classmates, Daniel gives them the capacity to feel for others. That is magic in itself.
From endpapers of Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Gabrielle Grimard's illustrations, created with watercolour, gouache, coloured pencil and digital media, are filled with the sweetness of love, kindness, generosity and confections. (The endpapers are filled with an assortment of confectionary delectables too!) Though Gabrielle Grimard transports readers to the 1920s when boys wore knickerbockers, school desks had lift-tops and inkwell holes, and a special treat didn't need to be expensive or extravagant, she makes Sandra Bradley's story contemporary enough that young readers will see themselves in the diverse students who feel fear, sadness, pain and especially joy. 

There may be magic in the cocoa and the sugar but most of it comes from the empathy demonstrated through the gift giving. Perhaps at this time of year, that's the important message to cherish from Cocoa Magic.

November 23, 2022

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature

By Briana Corr Scott
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
All Ages
November 2022
It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas out there: snow on the ground, nip in the air and Christmas songs on rotation. It may be a little early for counting down the advent calendar or the twelve days of Christmas–technically between December 25 and Epiphany–but the joy of art in Briana Corr Scott's new picture book is a lovely way to herald the joy of the season in the natural world.
From The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature by Briana Corr Scott
Nova Scotian artist and author Briana Corr Scott maintains the traditional symbols of the twelve days: the partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings, geese a-laying, swans a-swimming, ladies dancing, lords a-leaping, pipers piping and drummers drumming. But she embeds them in a natural world of birds and other animals, playing with the words and their meaning. For example, though the milkmaids are often depicted as young women at their farm task, Briana Corr Scott has eight monarch butterflies working milkweed. The drummers are northern flickers, a common drumming woodpecker of Canada. And the ladies are ladybugs on flowers of echinacea and mums among other plants. The words are familiar, but the images are uniquely of the natural world–as explained by Briana Corr Scott in her afterword–and bustling with the life of the outdoors.
From The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature by Briana Corr Scott
Briana Corr Scott uses gouache and oil paints to create these lovely double-spreads of ethereal scenes of fauna and flora, often using rose, teal, and gold to emulate the warmth and coolness of nature. As with her earlier books–Mermaid Lullaby, Wildflower, The Book of Selkie, and She Dreams of Sable IslandBriana Corr Scott keeps us in the outdoors, contemplating the interactions between plants and animals and the interrelationship of all living things. This could have been a counting book for young kids–and it could still work that way–or a fun predictable read because of the repetition of lines, but when the detailed art is the highlight, with amaryllis, Christmas cactus, cygnets and more hidden in the illustrations,  The Twelve Days of Christmas becomes the celebration of nature Briana Corr Scott intended.
From The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature by Briana Corr Scott