April 23, 2019

Wings of Olympus

Written by Kallie George
HarperCollins Canada
978-006274-152-3
224 pp.
Ages 8-12
March 2019

It is the journey that is most important. (pg. 107)

Young Pippa adores working with the horses at an Athenian stables but, when she is distracted from her chores after catching a glimpse of Zeus's steed Nikomedes in the sky, she is fired. A foundling, abandoned by her parents with only a coin engraved with a winged horse, Pippa trudges off, needing to find food and shelter. But when she awakens, she discovers she has been transported to Mount Olympus with other children to compete in the Winged Horse Race, an event that takes place every 100 years to choose Zeus's next steed.  Each child has been selected by a god or goddess to ride their winged horse, and Pippa, the only child without an impressive family, has been chosen by Aphrodite to ride Zephyr, a small horse "like a moonbeam." (pg. 40) The other children include Basileus who is to ride the powerful Kerauno for Ares, the shy Timon riding Skotos for Hades, the only other girl, Sophia, rider for Athena, Theodoros riding for Poseidon, and the arrogant Khrys riding for Apollo.

Under the direction of Bellerophon, the hero who'd tamed Pegasus, the child riders learn the many rules for the race, how to train, and how to deal with their gods and goddesses who are constantly squabbling and are willing to bend the rules or even cheat in order to be honoured with having their winged horse selected to replace Nikomedes. While Pippa is falling in love with Zephyr, who is easily distracted by butterflies and such, she is the only one who has not had an opportunity to meet her goddess. Upset with this slight, she and Zephyr fly off and get lost, only to meet the Fates, one of whom suggests Pippa will not win. Pippa is desperate to stay on Mount Olympus and care for Zephyr and so she comes up with a plan to help herself and some friends out. But how will Mount Olympus's immortals react when their rules are ignored, even for a good reason?

Taking a trip to ancient Greece and to visit the immortals who inhabit Mount Olympus is a treat with Kallie George's expressive text and extraordinary story.
The sky was her home now: blue ceilings, courtyards of clouds, and, if she was out late, stars so close and so numerous it was like they were woven tight as linen. (pg. 107)
These are worlds mythological and singular in their attributes but Kallie George invites us into that reality as welcome visitors to see the wonders of Mount Olympus and the imperfection of its inhabitants and the parallels between children then and now. There is the bully who threatens and cheats, the know-it-all child, the boy who misses his family, and the orphaned girl whose heart is teeming with love for horses and specifically Zephyr. They may be wearing belted chitons and sandals but they are young people most of us will recognize. And Kallie George's messages about love and trust are universal and perpetual.

Like the other middle-grade series Kallie George has written, including Heartwood Hotel and Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Wings of Olympus is fated to take off as a new series. There are animals and a unique time and setting and a diaphanous sheath of fantasy. I look forward to seeing where the next books land.

"Nikepteros," she whispered. "Victory in flight." (pg. 107)

••••••••••••••••

Kallie George is launching Wings of Olympus this Thursday in Vancouver for those of you who know any middle-graders who love horses or mythology or a great story. Details here.

April 22, 2019

Mya's Strategy to Save the World

Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Puffin Canada
978-0-73526-525-7
200 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2019
Reviewed from Advance Reader's Copy

She may be dealing with her mother's prolonged absence tending to her ill grandmother, a comic but persistent misunderstanding about her sister's shin pads, a communication project with an annoying boy, and a mission to convince her parents to get her a cell phone, but Mya is still out to save the world because it seems to need it.

Twelve-year-old Mya, eight-year-old sister Nanda and their father seem to be a little lost when Mom heads to Myanmar to tend to her ailing mother. Mya, who aspires to work for the United Nations, uses all her skills in conflict resolution, patience, forgiveness and more to handle the ever-imploding household that can't balance meal preparation, laundry, cleaning and child care. But Mya is also a globally conscious and compassionate girl who, having organized their Kids for Social Justice group with best friend Cleo, worries about many issues, including the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. However, while she would love to have the support of Cleo, her friend has just been gifted her first cell phone and is way too involved with texting and her crush Drew.

Meanwhile, Mya has been partnered with Ian to work on a communications project for English. As they pursue their project, sometimes in sync and sometimes not, Mya begins to learn a little bit more about effectively interacting with others to get her points across although not without a few misunderstandings and occasional strife. Oh, and did I mention the issues surrounding the mining of cobalt–war, child labour, safety, etc.–which is a key component in electronics like cell phones? Can Mya use all her diplomacy to find a friendly resolution to all the issues–environmental, social justice, family and relationship–with which she is concerned?

Wow, this girl has a lot on her plate: family, friends, school, boys, the world. (Did I mention she gets her period while her mother is away?) Yet, she never curls up and hides her head under the blankets. She's other there doing her bit and trying her best. Even when it seems like no one appreciates her efforts or takes them seriously, she manages. Taking advice from her father,
...if people take small steps in the right direction, the world will slowly shift. (pg. 158)
Mya continues to crusade for herself, others and our world. But Tanya Lloyd Kyi never makes Mya a saint or a tedious rah-rah cheerleader.  Rather, Mya is a stalwart advocate for doing one's best. Moreover, there is a freshness to Mya's social activism and her coming of age story. Tanya Lloyd Kyi could have weighed down the story with social issues that are heart-breaking and alarming or she could have steeped Mya's navigation into puberty with angst and confusion. Instead, she chose to offer hope that those small steps would lead somewhere positive, making those baby steps the first steps to social change and, on  a personal basis, to being a teenager.

••••••••••••
 
Tanya Lloyd Kyi launches Mya's Strategy to Save the World this week in Vancouver. See details here.

Wings of Olympus & Mya's Strategy to Save the World: Double book launch (Vancouver, BC)

While I'm getting ready to post reviews 
of both these wonderful novels, 
get this Vancouver book event on your calendars
for a double-dose of middle-grade youngCanLit goodness!

••••••••••••••••

Join authors

Kallie George


and

Tanya Lloyd Kyi


for the launches of


Wings of Olympus
 Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Fiona Hsieh
HarperCollins Canada
978-0-06274-152-3
224 pp.
Ages 8-12
March 2019


and


Mya's Strategy to Save the World
Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Puffin Canada
978-0-73526-525-7
200 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2019

 on

Thursday, April 25, 2019

at

7 p.m.

at

Kidsbooks
2557 W Broadway 
Vancouver, BC

••••••••••••••••
 
 Look for my reviews today and tomorrow 
for a glimpse at the rich stories of 
Wings of Olympus and Mya's Strategy to Save the World

April 18, 2019

Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair

Written by Alice Kuipers
Illustrated by Diana Toledano
Chronicle Books
978-1-4521-5233-2
112 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2019
Reviewed from advance reader's copy

Little Polly Diamond continues to find the magic in words and the writing she does in her turquoise notebook which she affectionately calls Spell. That's because each time she writes in this book, her magic book, it writes back to her–displayed as bold text in the book–and makes amazing things happen.
From Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair by Alice Kuipers, illus. by Diana Toledano
Polly's school is having a book-themed fair to support family literacy and she has lots of ideas. Pop-Open-A-Book-Corn popcorn, Cotton-Cloud-Candy, Book Carousel, Book-Face-Painting, and more. And as she comes up with ideas, she plays with similes, alliteration and synonyms and even creates her own words.
From Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair by Alice Kuipers, illus. by Diana Toledano
But Polly wants to make it even more special so it truly becomes the "stunning" and "spectacular" event she's looking for it to be. Popcorn popping out of books is one thing but requesting, of Spell, that the character face painting be realistic results in fairies zinging from the face of her toddler sister and Anna's own transformation into a fairy. Moreover, classmate Dawson becomes a dragon, a teacher becomes Merlin, and their babysitter Shaylene becomes a squirrel! Still Polly and her friends continue to enjoy the fair with its indoor roller coaster, carousel of book characters like the Cheshire Cat, and a magic carpet ride to London. However, mayhem abounds and Polly can't write it away because she can't find Spell.
     I love novels and poems and true stories and dictionaries.
     But in Spell, I can write anything. With my book, I can go anywhere. I can be anyone. Now Spell is lost. Disaster.
(pg. 89)
It will take some detective work and a confrontation with a Puddle Monster before Polly can locate Spell and write a story about the end of the school fair to give it the happy ending it needs.

Alice Kuipers introduced readers to this young writer and lover of words in Polly Diamond and the Magic Book (2018), the first book in this early reader series. However, I believe that Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair is even more irresistible, like Polly herself, charming us with the magic of reading and books and words. This child knows the value of books and the power of words to enrich life and vanquish monsters. She's imaginative and creative and a wordsmith. She is certainly the darling that Spanish illustrator Diana Toledano has envisioned her to be. But in all that fun and festivity, Polly doesn't lose sight of the capacity for writing to make things happen and make things better. This is something older readers will know but it's a message that younger ones will be delighted to get after Polly casts her own spell upon them.

April 16, 2019

My Forest is Green

Written by Darren Lebeuf
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-930-3
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2019

Earth Day will be upon us soon and the wonders of the natural world will call. For some it calls from an apartment balcony while for others it's from the ground beneath a canopy of deciduous or coniferous trees, and for one little boy, it's both.
From My Forest is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illus. by Ashley Barron
A little boy looks out from a high-rise balcony over a forest, perhaps park or ravine or woodland green space. But he also has an inside forest of artwork depicting that world.  He has seen the contrasts of height and textures, size and sound, and colour, through different seasons and weather. He sketches it, paints it, collages it, makes cut-paper art, sculpts snow, takes photos, and combines mixed media to capture the essence of the forest.
From My Forest is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illus. by Ashley Barron
This is BC author Darren Lebeuf's first picture book and he gives life to a child's appreciation of the forest as the child uses all his senses to gather information about it before depicting it in his artwork. It's evident how much the child enjoys exploring the forest of his neighbourhood, seeking out the wonders above and below, from milkweed pods to resourceful ants, making bark prints and using rocks and leaves to create his own forest of art. The child accepts the dynamics of a world rich with life, plant and animal, and appreciates that his impression of the forest will change with its evolution.
My forest is so many things...
I can't wait to see what my forest is tomorrow.
From My Forest is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illus. by Ashley Barron
The child's art is all the more lavish because it is the artwork of Ashley Barron. Her cut-paper collages have graced many a picture book including Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones (Owlkids, 2017) and Kyle Goes Alone (Owlkids, 2015), but now she goes beyond that style to show how a child interprets the natural world through his art. From his leaves taped to paper, or his sponge-painted moss and Polaroids, Ashley Barron brings his perspective to us, from a child's eye to a reader's. It's detailed and colourful, like nature itself, and takes us all on a walk into a forest that is mostly green but much more.
From My Forest is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illus. by Ashley Barron

April 15, 2019

The Cold Little Voice

Written by Alison Hughes
Illustrations by Jan Dolby
Clockwise Press
978-1-988347-11-0
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
February 2019

Listening or not listening to the voices in your head is a skill that we develop with time, practice and experience. Telling the difference between valuable instinct and unproductive doubts is crucial and The Cold Little Voice is all about helping children know how to silence a negative one.
From The Cold Little Voice by Alison Hughes, illus. by Jan Dolby
The purple-haired child in The Cold Little Voice could be any child. It's a child whose bad-tempered blue voice, like a black cloud raining on a child's joy, points out anything that might be perceived as a weakness.
It points out that I bite my nails, laugh too loudly, trip when I run upstairs, talk too much, blush, cry too easily, make smacking sounds when I chew, sing off-key, get the hiccups too often, and have sloppy writing.
From The Cold Little Voice by Alison Hughes, illus. by Jan Dolby
The child plugs their ears and tries not to listen but sometimes that voice is far too insistent.  In response, the child stops being who they are.
I become small and still and grey.
And not me.
Fortunately, a new voice, a warm voice of yellow is heard, encouraging the child to look for goodness in cuddles with creatures, in the sun in the blue sky and in a supportive community. And if that cold little voice tries to speak again? Well, the child pities it and soothes it until it can become a big, warm, kind voice that whisper-shouts affirmations and helps turn others' cold little voices into big warm ones too.
From The Cold Little Voice by Alison Hughes, illus. by Jan Dolby
Just like the warm voice that sends positive messages and encouragement, The Cold Little Voice, the book, is transformative, inspiring light from dark thoughts and support rather than isolation.  Alison Hughes, who has helped children deal with anxious thoughts in her picture book The Creepy-Crawly Thought (2019), recognizes that there are voices in most of us that tell us that we're not good enough as we are and that these voices prey on our insecurities and fears. But Alison Hughes doesn't just negate those thoughts. She helps transform them into positives and reassurances.
A voice that says:
"You can do it!" 
or "Who cares if it's silly – 
you're having fun!" 
or "Everybody makes mistakes!"
Similarly, Jan Dolby, who illustrated Lucky Me (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2018) and Gabby, Wonder Girl (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2016) among others, brings that metamorphosis to her artwork. From the sombre blues and greys of the cold, little voice to the yellows and lime greens and pinks of the warmth of good thoughts, Jan Dolby carries young readers from a dark place to one of hope.

Negative thoughts that become doubts and apprehension cannot always be silenced immediately. But The Cold Little Voice will be very reassuring to children as they learn that it is possible to influence those thoughts to becoming good ones that can boost not belittle.
From The Cold Little Voice by Alison Hughes, illus. by Jan Dolby

April 11, 2019

The Tallest Tree House

Written and illustrated by Elly MacKay
Running Press Kids
978-0-7624-6299-5
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2019

Mip, the red mushroom-capped fairy, is a true kinesthete. She's always on the move, singing, flying and building. Her impetuousness has her challenging Pip, her book-loving, contemplative fairy friend to a tree house race after she sees him reading a book on architecture.
From The Tallest Tree House by Elly MacKay
Mip is all at it immediately, determined to make the tallest tree house ever and by sundown. Pip, on the other hand, sits on his rock among the Trillium, Erythronium and Aquilegia, and plans his build with precision and thoughtfulness.
From The Tallest Tree House by Elly MacKay
Slowly the two tree houses start to take shape, as Mip frantically and rather haphazardly builds and builds while Pip slowly but methodically creates his own.
From The Tallest Tree House by Elly MacKay
When "Gusts of wind send sprays of mist over the rocks" and "The leaves began to dance," Pip suggests Mip secure her tower. Of course Mip sees this as a ploy to slow her down and continues building. But when the wind and rain topple her tower into Pip's tree house and traps his wing, Mip comes to the rescue. Then, after the storm has passed, the two work together on a new tree house that incorporates both their structures into "a winning piece of architecture."

As her website's name and Twitter handle can attest, Elly MacKay truly creates theatre in the clouds. Through a laborious process that may appear to be like play–see full details at her website hereElly MacKay blends inked figures and other structures cut from paper into a theatre in which she can manipulate the layers and lighting. It's a stunning blend of two-dimensional creations with three dimensions. Children are fascinated by the textures that come from her artwork and have been charmed by it in her picture books from If You Hold a Seed (Running Press, 2013) to her latter works including Butterfly Park (Running Press, 2015) and Red Sky at Night (Tundra, 2018). Couple that art with fairies and a competition that transforms into cooperation and partnership and The Tallest Tree House becomes a winner for all readers.
From The Tallest Tree House by Elly MacKay