April 21, 2017

Stop Feedin' da Boids!

Written by James Sage
Illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-613-5
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2017

I wish I could review more books illustrated by Pierre Pratt. Unfortunately for me, his illustrations often accompany French-language texts and I am reluctant to reveal my lack of skill reviewing French books.  So, although author James Sage is British, I am delighted to be able to review an English-language text that is fortunate to be illustrated by Montreal's Pierre Pratt, a man whose bio includes copious nominations and awards, including the Governor General Literary Award for Children's Book Illustration, Le Prix TD, Bratislava's Golden Apple Award, and the UNICEF-Bologna Book Fair Illustrator of the Year Award.
From Stop Feedin' da Boids!
by James Sage
illus. by Pierre Pratt
In Stop Feedin' da Boids!, Swanda and her dog Waldo and her family move from the country to Brooklyn.  Though she misses the wildlife, she soon finds herself enamoured with the birds that flock outside their apartment onto the iron fire-escape.
From Stop Feedin' da Boids!
by James Sage
illus. by Pierre Pratt
Providing the birds with a bird feeder, more and more pigeons come to visit, much to the dismay of her neighbours who are displeased with the mess.  Swanda seeks help from so-called experts–a pest control officer, a zookeeper and an exotic bird fancier– but it's not until Lexi from the deli tells Angelo who tells another neighbour who shares with another neighbour and so on and so on the titular advice that Swanda rids the building and neighbourhood of her countless feathered friends. But Swanda's story doesn't end there. A chance sighting and a lot of heart finds Swanda discovering some new wildlife to welcome into her home.
From Stop Feedin' da Boids!
by James Sage
illus. by Pierre Pratt
James Sage weaves a light-hearted story about a little girl who likes animals perhaps a little too much but whose intentions are always charitable.  But it's Pierre Pratt's artwork that provides the context for Swanda's love of animals and the neighbourhood that envelops her.  She is part of her community, whether it be the countryside or a diverse neighbourhood of people, animals and urban life. They are both detailed landscapes of colours and textures, solitude and activity.  Look for the dogs or cats looking out windows, or Mr. Kaminski's two-toned shoes, or the mega-armed bodybuilder.  There's a 1920s feel to the Brooklyn of Stop Feedin' da Boids!, and Pierre Pratt uses strong strokes and bold colours to create a cityscape of tall angled buildings and community of diverse people, all different in size, colour, shape, expression and dress.  It's wild and it's homey.  It's the same style that charmed readers in Gustave (by Rémy Simard, Groundwood, 2014) and No-Matter-What Friend (by Kari-Lynn Winters, Tradewind Books, 2014) by bringing an intensity to the storytelling and readers into the story's setting.

Go ahead and read this one aloud–get that Brooklyn accent right!–but be sure to share the illustrations to get the whole story behind why Swanda should "Stop Feedin' da Boids!"

April 20, 2017

Phoebe Sounds It Out

Written by Julie Zwillich
Illustrated by Denise Holmes
Owlkids Books
978-1-77147-164-0
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2017

Too many children like Phoebe avoid that which seems difficult or problematic especially in school.  So it’s not surprising that the young girl would prefer to play with her rain boots and a pencil rather than practise writing her name as instructed by the teacher.  Even though she has her name written on her backpack to use as a guide, she knows the letters don’t match the sounds that she is able to distinguish in her name. (Her Mama must have made a mistake.)
From Phoebe Sounds It Out
by Julie Zwillich 
illus. by Denise Holmes
So, Phoebe carefully chooses the sounds and letters that would make sense in her name and, for a child in kindergarten, she is absolutely en pointe!  She’s not copying her name out; she’s sounding it out and spelling it as the sounds dictate.  Moreover, she’s led by her heart to use letters that fit but still she chooses those that might have special meaning or add a little something extra like companionship for lonely letters.
Maybe she could borrow the letter that was at the end of Nicky’s name.  It sounded right.  Nicky wouldn’t mind.”
And though her teacher could chastize Phoebe for incorrectly spelling her name, she instead celebrates all the children’s attempts with glitter glue and a clothespin display for all to enjoy.

From Phoebe Sounds It Out
by Julie Zwillich
illus. by Denise Holmes
Julie Zwillich’s picture book is based on a very familiar premise though not all teachers and parents would recognize it as so or be as accommodating as the children’s teacher Ms. Martha.  As daunting a task as writing your name for the first time, so is reading. Imagine needing to decipher letters before you can even put the sounds together to form words.  Still the story is very straightforward and told in an uncomplicated text so that young children just learning to read will want to attempt to decipher the words, especially since they’ll see themselves within Phoebe’s story.  Everyone is in this book, courtesy of illustrator Denise Holmes who creates a diverse class with students of different races, ethnicities, abilities and challenges, whether they be eyesight or mobility or spelling.  Judging by the names of students displayed (looks like there’s a Lakshmi, Maria, Finch, Ali, Aaron, Miguel, Hazel, Sam, Nicky, June and, of course, Phoebe), Ms. Martha’s classroom is wonderfully rich in diversity, inviting readers to empathize with her students and  respond to Phoebe’s circumstances with understanding.

There’s a wonderful Teachers’ Guide for download that encourages  activities with reading comprehension, writing, and the alphabet, but just reading Phoebe Sounds It Out will suffice to foster discussions about trying and making mistakes as a part of learning.

April 19, 2017

Water's Children: Celebrating the resource that unites us all

Written by Angèle Delaunois
Illustrated by Gérard Frischeteau
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-015-4
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2017

Of course water is important.  Everyone knows it is the basis for life.  But water is so, so much more than just the liquid that sustains life. It enriches, energizes, moves, alters and drenches and Water’s Children is truly a celebration of that life force in a global context.

From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
Quebec author, visual artist and publisher Angèle Delaunois takes the reader across the world to witness the importance of water to the children of different countries.  Each child describes their experiences with getting water, using water, and what water represents, with a final summation statement.  Canada is represented by two spreads, one from Quebec and one from Nunavut, both which speak in terms of what is most familiar to young  Canadian readers.

For me, water is everywhere:
the tap that I turn on without thinking,
the bathtub full of bubbles,
the sprinkler that greens the grass,
the lake that summons us for vacation fun.
For me, water is a burst of laughter. (pg. 7)

For me, water is winter:
the ocean and the river trapped beneath the ice,
the snowflakes that blur the horizon where earth becomes sky,
the frost that whitens my lashes,
the solitude and silence of the long polar night.
For me, water is a perfect crystal of snow. (pg. 8)

While other texts and illustrations will be familiar or at least obvious such as the Russian child of a fishing village and the rain experienced by an urban child in Germany, many spreads will rouse thoughtful discussions of unfamiliar depictions of water.  There’s the flooded lands after a dam is built, the Brazilian rainforest, the orange groves on lands that were once desert, and water trucks in Mauritania.  Imagine worlds in which water is  “an outstretched hand” or “a cup of mint tea.”  The ultimate word goes to an unborn child for whom “water is the song of my mother” and who speaks for the world declaring that “For me, for all of us, water is a matter of life.

From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
The artwork of Montreal animator, graphic artist and illustrator Gérard Frischeteau rings with authenticity, depicting each global child in both personal and expansive landscapes, often providing details about daily life and family.  From the scarlet macaw of the rainforest to the bowler hat of the South American girl with her alpaca, each spread provides a glimpse into another world in which water is life.
From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
In fact, “Water is Life” is a special touch in Water’s Children. On watermarks adorning each spread, the term “water is life” is translated into a corresponding language, including French, Inuktitut, Catalan, German, Portuguese, Tamil, Arabic and Wolof with a final listing of all regions and languages represented in the book.

I know I’ve listed the reading audience as 4 to 8 years of age but don’t follow that.  Water’s Children’s audience should read “All ages” or “Everyone” because it is an extraordinarily inspirational examination of the importance of water throughout the world.  You can save it for World Water Day (March 22) but I recommend it for this weekend’s Earth Day (April 22) and anytime meaningful attention be paid to a global resource i.e., always.

April 18, 2017

NemeSIS

Written by Susan Marshall
Blue Moon Publishers
978-1-988279-32-3
204 pp.
Ages 13+
April 2017

I know that sisters can be as close as best friends (I have a wonderful younger sister who is just this for me).  Sisters can be there to support you through familial strife and guide you through the uncertainties of growing up.  As the middle of three sisters, I know what can be but I also know what is.  Susan Marshall’s debut YA novel, as the name suggests, is about that tenuous relationship between sisters, a mixed bag of bullying and bond.

With her parents going through a marital separation, fifteen-year-old Nadine could certainly use the support of her older sister, Rachel.  But seventeen-year-old Rachel is too egocentric to see anything, including her parents’ separation, in any terms other than those related to her. Between her parents' separation, and Mom establishing a new life as a realtor, and Rachel vacillating (can you say moody?) between kind and cruel, Nadine needs someone in her corner.
Like Voldemort, Rachel was a monster of the dark arts.” (pg. 41)
While trying to avoid Rachel’s wrath, like the dumping of ice water on Nadine while she sleeps and plugging her nose with a clothespin (painful!), Nadine begins to adopt a plan of steps, similar to the AA twelve-step program, to help “dig herself out of the hole she was in.” (pg.  18) Undertaking to become part of the school and make a friend, she meets Anne Lavery,  new to Elgin High School, and younger sister of wildly popular senior Matt Lavery and his twin Cameron.  With that one step, Nadine’s life expands to include a lunch buddy, a love interest,
Cameron was the sun, and I was this speck of intergalactic dust being pulled toward him, close enough to bask in the warmth of his rays but not so close as to get burned” (pg. 35)
and a place on the field hockey team where she meets a new friend Mei.  But while Nadine’s relationship with Anne brings many positives into her life, it also draws Rachel’s attention.  Not surprising that the manipulative Rachel uses her sister’s friendship with Anne to get close to Matt but Rachel can’t decide whether to cultivate her relationship with Nadine to her own end or threaten the girl about keeping mum about her bullying of Nadine.  And what Nadine learns is that bullying is bullying, whether it is by a sister, a team mate or an opponent, and avoidance is not an effective option.

As a reader, I often wonder whether all writers have first hand knowledge of that which they write.  I’m pretty sure Susan Marshall knows something about sibling bullying, though she tempers the viciousness that can be had at the hands of an older sister.  Still, the psychological torment of bullying and trauma inflicted by Rachel, and other bullies in the story, are very real and impactful, and Susan Marshall makes it clear that dealing with bullies does not have one solution.  The confusion of dealing with a bully who could turn kind or cruel in a split second may be rationalized by mental health issues but the care with which they select when, where and how to inflict that cruelty suggests a psychopathy beyond moodiness.  I think Nadine is far more generous with her sister than other bullies and more than Rachel deserves but it’s amazing what you can forgive family.  Susan Marshall conveys all that mixed up turmoil of shame, anger, resolve,  and expectancy convincingly and still provides a guarantee that things can and do get better.  It may not be fast enough or easily enough for many victims of  bullying, sibling or otherwise, but when you have a NemeSIS, it’s a long-standing relationship that can come to an end with a shocking bang like it does for Mei and her bully, or a soft closing of a door, perhaps as it will be with Nadine and Rachel.  Go with the door.  It hurts less.

April 17, 2017

Forest Kid Committee: Applications due April 30, 2017


Do you 💖 reading?
Are you in Grades 4-8?
Do you live in Ontario?
Do you want to help choose books 
that other kids will want to read?

Then this is the group for you!


 Join the first ever Forest Kid Committee!


Who?:       The Forest of Reading is looking for enthusiastic readers in Grades 4 to 8 
What?:      To help develop a summer recommended reading list for Canadian children 
When?:     Meeting June, 2017
Where?:    Ontario Library Association offices in Toronto


Applications are due April 30, 2017
and can be completed online here


The Forest of Reading Kid Committee is a 2017 pilot project. If successful, more opportunities for readers to get involved will be tested in future years. Stay tuned!

Hannah and the Magic Eye

Written byTyler Enfield
Great Plains Teen Fiction
978-1-927855-68-3
165 pp.
Ages 8-12
April 2017
…taking her on a tour through the last three-thousand years of Israel’s major religions–from Judaism, to Islam, and lastly to Christianity–all of them locked together by a shared history in this solitary, enchanted city and a magical ring once worn by its wisest king.” (pg. 135)
Think The Da Vinci Code for middle-graders and you have Edmonton author Tyler Enfield’s Hannah and the Magic Eye.  Entombed in archaeology, a secret society and secret codes, it's a thriller which takes place in Jerusalem, one of the oldest and historically richest cities of the world.

Twelve-year-old Hannah travels from her home in Brussels, Belgium to visit her famed archaeologist grandfather, Henri Dubuisson, in Jerusalem.  When she arrives and Henri is not there to meet her, she only has a cryptic note he’d sent her to guide her.  She discovers a secret online message from her Grandpa Henri about a treasure beyond her wildest dreams and a secret society called the Cancellarii in search of the same treasure. Convinced Henri has been kidnapped and attempting to avoid several nefarious characters who attempt to follow her and grab her, Hannah, with the help of a Palestinian boy who likens himself to George Clooney, uncovers an ancient journal by ancestor Julien Dubuisson.  Hannah and Clooney must decipher the seven illustrations within, using a camera and a lot of ingenuity about historic sites in Jerusalem and environs, if they are to decipher the mysterious treasure map and discover a treasure that once belonged to King Solomon and save her grandfather.

No stops for deep breaths on this adventure.  Tyler Enfield has plotted a story so intricate and action-packed that young readers won’t have time to take breaks to learn about the historic details woven into the story (though they will surely be googling King Solomon, the different quarters of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock after finishing the book).  Clever Hannah is like a young Indiana Jones with her loyal sidekick Clooney who gets her both into and out of trouble.  With Hannah’s code-breaking skills and historic knowledge along with Clooney’s familiarity with their exotic location, Hannah and the Magic Eye is a thrilling course of intrigue that captivates and captures, inviting young readers to travel with Hannah and Clooney on their adventure, even on camel back. And judging by the conclusion of Hannah and the Magic Eye, they have a subsequent treasure hunt in Cambodia with Hannah and Clooney assisting Henri, all courtesy of Tyler Enfield's elaborate plotting and savvy for telling an exciting middle-grade story.

April 13, 2017

The Banana-Leaf Ball

Written by Katie Smith Milway
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-331-8
32 pp.
Ages 8-12
April 2017

Most picture books are thirty-two pages in length but packing a story that includes escape from war, near starvation, separation from family, life in a refugee camp, and troubles with gangs into those few pages is an accomplishment.  The Banana-Leaf Ball’s story has all of that and even reconciliation and hope for the future.
From The Banana-Leaf Ball 
by Katie Smith Milway 
illus. by Shane W. Evans
When Deo Rukundo and his family are driven from their farm by war in Burundi, the child becomes separated from them.  Rescued by a fisherman, Deo is taken to Lukole, a refugee camp in Tanzania.  The camp which is not dissimilar from a village with a marketplace and school also has limited resources like water and food and the presence of gangs.  Deo tries to avoid Remy, a gang leader, who steals and bullies but especially after Remy  steals some of Deo’s carefully worked banana twine for the banana-leaf ball he makes and hides away.  When a man arrives with a coveted leather soccer ball and puts the teams into Shirts and Skins to encourage a game,  Deo is made a captain and Remy is on his team.  With a little teamwork and a lot of encouragement, all the boys, Deo and Remy included, are able to put away their differences and learn a bit about playing soccer, making banana-leaf balls, and becoming friends.
From The Banana-Leaf Ball 
by Katie Smith Milway 
illus. by Shane W. Evans
The Banana-Leaf Ball is Kid Can Press’ newest addition to its CitizenKid series of books and Katie Smith Milway’s fourth book in the series. Like its predecessors, it’s a story of empowerment that comes from dire circumstances but told in terms of the children who rise above.  Though most young readers will have no first-hand knowledge of being driven out of their homes by war and separated from family, as well as living in a refugee camp, many will understand the conflict with a peer that pervades daily existence.  The message that play and sport can override that conflict and provide the basis for inclusiveness is a positive one that children the world over need to know.  To further that message, The Banana-Leaf Ball includes notes about the real Deo and an amazing section called “How Kids are Learning to Trust and Include Others” which includes links to relevant organizations and descriptions of games to foster working together.
From The Banana-Leaf Ball 
by Katie Smith Milway
 illus. by Shane W. Evans
Award-winning American illustrator Shane W. Evans (Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, We March, and The Way a Door Closes) who primarily works in pen and ink and oils with computer lends a simple power to the story.  The illustrations are weighty but energetic with the strife of escape and bustle of life in a refugee camp.  Colour and shape and even size help convey Deo’s situation, dark and shadowy when escaping and isolated, while bright and larger, coming to life when playing soccer.

Through words and art, The Banana-Leaf Ball continues to fulfil CitizenKid’s mandate of inspiring global citizenship but, by basing it on a true story, it also demonstrates the potential for good to come from bad and the importance of empathy, teamwork and resilience to further that good.


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Check out Kids Can Press' book trailer for this new book:

The Banana-Leaf Ball - A New CitizenKid Book
Uploaded to YouTube by KidsCanPressMovies on March 28, 2017.