November 30, 2011

2012 Hans Christian Andersen Awards

    As this blog's Awards Page states, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Canada submits nominations for IBBY's International Awards, one of which is the Hans Christian Andersen Award. This award is given to a living author and illustrator whose work has made a significant and meaningful contribution to children's literature.  On their website, IBBY maintains that the
    "...Hans Christian Andersen Award is the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children's books." (1)
    The 2012 Canadian nominees for this award are author Tim Wynne-Jones and illustrator Stéphane Jorisch.

    Tim Wynne-Jones
    Tim Wynne-Jones' writing can range from playful to tragic, but always with richness of imagination and heartfelt voice.  And, because his body of work is so extensive, I can only list those titles with which I am familiar and that's still a fair chunk:

    Picture Books
    Zoom Away (Douglas & McIntyre, 1991)
    Zoom Upstream (Douglas & McIntyre, 1993)
    The Last Piece of Sky (Douglas & McIntyre, 1993)
    Pounce de Leon (Red Deer Press, 2008)

    Short Story Collections
    Lord of the Fries (Douglas & McIntyre, 1999 )
    The Book of Changes (Groundwood, 1994)

    Rex Zero, King of Nothing (Groundwood, 2007)
    Rex Zero, The Great Pretender (Groundwood, 2009)
    Rex Zero and the End of the World (Groundwood, 2006)
    The Uninvited (Candlewick, 2009) 
    The Thief in the House of Memory (Groundwood, 2004) 
    The Boy in the Burning House (Douglas & McIntyre, 2000) 
    The Maestro (Groundwood, 1996) 
    Stephen Fair (Douglas & McIntyre, 1999)
    Blink and Caution (Candlewick, 2011)


    Stéphane Jorisch 
    Stéphane Jorisch's detailed illustrations are produced using water colour, gouache and pen and ink, and have earned him the Governor-General's Literary Award for Children's Illustration in 2004 and 2008.

    Books in which his illustrations can be enjoyed include:
    My Father Knows the Names of Things by Jane Yolen (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
    Mélanie Lapierre by Bertrand Gauthier (La courte échelle, 2010)
    Rosie and Buttercup by Chieri Uegaki (Kids Can Press, 2008)
    Mon pyjama et moi by Lucie Papineau (Dominique et compagnie, 2008)
    The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear (Kids Can Press, 2007)
    Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki (Kids Can Press, 2003)
    As for the Princess?: a folktale from Quebec by Stéphane Jorisch (Annick, 2001)
    Oma's Quilt by Paulette Bourgeios (Kids Can Press, 2001)

    The Hans Christian Andersen Award will be announced March 19, 2012. 

    (1) Retrieved from on November 30, 2011.
    (2) Image retrieved from on November 30, 2011.
    (3) Image retrieved from on November 30, 2011.

      The Hunchback Assignments

      A recent posting from author Arthur Slade (thank you!) shared the sad news that the fourth book of this series, due out in the summer of 2012, will the final instalment in Modo's story. Gasp! To postpone the imminent feeling of loss I will definitely feel after reading that book, I'd like to share reviews of the first three books in this series, and urge you to get your hands on these great steampunk adventures.Official Hunchback Assignments website

      The Hunchback Assignments
      by Arthur Slade
      HarperCollins Canada
      275 pp.
      Ages 12+

      The Dark Deeps: The Hunchback Assignments II
      by Arthur Slade
      HarperCollins Canada
      256 pp.

      Empire of Ruins: The Hunchback Assignments III
      by Arthur Slade
      HarperCollins Canada
      256 pp.
      Ages 12+

      In the first book, The Hunchback Assignments, Modo, the hunchback of the title, is rescued from a travelling show by the mysterious Mr. Socrates, who learned of the boy's unique ability to transform his appearance.  At Ravenscroft where Mr. Socrates has deposited Modo, he is trained in all skills, physical and intellectual, under the care and tutelage of Mrs. Finchley and Tharpa, his combat instructor.  Unfortunately, Modo also learns that his appearance can be frightening to others, but he becomes deft at manipulating it. At 14, Modo is abandoned by Mr. Socrates on the streets of London to undertake his first “assignmentinvolving a dangerous secret society, the Clockwork Guild.  The Guild, directed by Miss Hakkandottir, has recruited the evil Dr. Cornelius Hyde to help harness the anger of children to power a machine.  (It’s actually quite horrible when you think of it, but the horror is riveting.) During his assignment, Modo makes the acquaintance of Octavia (Tavia) Milkweed, another agent of Mr. Socrates, whose acting and daring impress him as much as her curiosity about him.

      Modo continues to grapple with his deformity in The Dark Deeps while struggling with his growing need for companionship, brought on when he and Octavia must act as husband and wife to investigate the activities of French spy Colette Brunet and something called Ictineo. Without revealing too much, Modo uncovers an underwater steamship, a burgeoning underwater community, and an invisible saboteur.

      In Empire of Ruins: The Hunchback Assignments III, Modo, Octavia, Mr. Socrates, Tharpa and Mrs. Finchley travel to Queensland, Australia to discover the nature of the God Face, associated with an Egyptian temple filled with treasure but attributed to driving men mad. In their ship, the Prince Albert, Modo and company, including the crew led by local balloonist, Lizzie, must deal with the Clockwork Guild in their airship, the Prometheus, and their arsenal of weaponry which now includes vicious mechanical birds capable of poisoning. The quest for the temple and the God Face may direct the plot, but it is the relationships between friends and foes and natives that fuels it.

      Arthur Slade’s foray into steam-punk provides a brilliant vehicle for merging the sensibilities of Victorian England and the riveting science of the future while sharing the passage of Modo from a pawn but highly-skilled agent of Mr. Socrates to a young man who discovers (creates?) his identity, one solidly based in moral obligation and kindness.

      And if those details aren't enough to make you delve into The Hunchback Assignments, then the deficiency is in my telling of their stories. Maybe the trailers created for Books I and II (see below) will sway your attention.
      Uploaded by slade67 on Nov 10, 2009 on 

      Uploaded by slade67 on May 14, 2010 on

      November 29, 2011

      The Forest of Reading®: Promoting reading in Ontario

      As the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading® gets underway for another year, I wanted to share these videos to demonstrate how great this program is and how fanatical the kids (from Kindergarten through high school) are about these programs. (N.B. Just as great are their Evergreen™ and Golden Oak™ programs for adults which are beyond the scope of this blog.)

      The first video has young readers sharing their feelings about the Forest of Reading®. [By the way, that's author Kevin Sylvester dressed in a chef's outfit, channelling his character Neil Flambé from his 2011 Silver Birch® Fiction Award-winning book, Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders (Key Porter, 2010)]

      This video from last year's Festival of Trees™, the awards ceremonies of the Forest of Reading®, demonstrates why authors love coming to these ceremonies.  Each year, the cheering children and the smiling authors reiterate the idea that our Canadian children's authors deserve to feel like rock stars.

      Le Prix Tamarac

      When I posted the nominees for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading® awards program, I chose to post only those relevant to Canadian youth.  However, I was negligent in not publishing information for Le Prix Tamarac, the youth reading program based on the best Canadian fiction and non-fiction published in the French language in the past year.  I amend that error here. Vous voudrez bien m'excuser.


      Anne Frank: une jeune écrivaine   

      Marie Sylvie Legault

      Éditions du Renouveau Pédagogique Inc.

      Le Cristal qui pousse

      Steve Proulx, Vincent Giard
      Les Éditions du Trécarré

      Les échecs

      Sylvie Roberge, Gabrielle Grimard
      Dominique et Compagnie

      L’étrange affaire du 413

      Nadya Larouche
      Éditions Vents d’Ouest

      Une Fin de semaine mouvementée

      France Lorrain
      Éditions Caractère

      Le garçon qui aimait les contes de fées

      Lyne Vanier, Julie Rocheleau
      Éditions Pierre Tisseyre

      Philibert Tanguay: L’ère glaciaire dans la glacière

      Sylvie Desrosiers, Rémy Simard
      la courte échelle

      Secrets de Famille

      Sylvie Marcoux
      Éditions du Phoenix

      Vlad et moi et les nids-de-poule

      Brigitte Huppen

      La Zone: Les Adventures D’Edwin Robi

      Stéphanie Hurtubise
      Éditions Michel Quintin

      Connais-tu? Maurice Richard
      Johanne Ménard, Pierre Berthiaume
      Éditions Michel Quintin

      Coup de théâtre à Stratford
      Mireille Messier, Marc Keelan-Bishop

      Capitaine Static: Le Maître des Zions
      Alain M. Bergeron, Sampar
      Québec Amérique Jeunesse

      Une Petite bouteille jaune
      Angèle Delaunois, Christine Delezenne
      Éditions de l’Isatis

      Peur, voleur et film d’horreur
      Sylviane Thibault, Claude Thivierge
      Éditions du Phoenix

      Pierre et les voyous
      Mathieu Boutin, Paule Trudel Bellemare
      Planète rebelle

      The Réveil du dragon chinois
      Stéphanie Decelles, Jessie Chrétien
      Éditions du Phoenix

      Rouge-Babine et l’Opération
      Jade Lili Chartrand, Marie-Pierre Oddoux
      la courte échelle

      Les Dragouilles: Les Rouges de Tokyo
      Karine Gottot, Maxim Cyr
      Éditions Michel Quintin

      Le Zaillemeur
      Marie-Pierre Meunier, Sébastien Pinard
      Les Éditions Z’ailées

      More details about the Forest of Reading® program can be checked out at OLA's Forest of Reading

      The Tiffin

      by Mahtab Narsimhan
      Dancing Cat Books
      190 pp.
      Ages 9-12

      Twelve-year-old Kunal cannot remember a time when he didn’t live with Sethji and Mrs. Seth and work tirelessly as a waiter and delivery boy for their dhaba (roadside restaurant) in Mumbai. Reminded constantly by the abusive Sethji that Kunal is an orphan and should be thankful for the life they have given him, Kunal can find little support to help him deal with the menacing, new cook, Badri, abusive customers, frightening beggars or thieving gangs. When Kunal’s attempt at stealing money for his escape is thwarted and his sale to the Beggar King, Abdullah, is imminent, Mrs. Seth provides him with some money and information about his mother before he escapes with Vinayak, the kindly old dabbawalla (deliverer of the boxed lunches known as tiffins).

      From the introductory chapter to the story, the reader learns that thirteen years earlier, a young woman named Anahita had sent a message hidden in a tiffin to her lover, Anurag. That tiffin had the auspicious distinction of being the one in six million tiffins that does not reach its destination. The reader will recognize soon enough that this is the cause of Kunal's fate. From what Mrs. Seth shares with Kunal just before his escape, it is a fate that Kunal is determined to correct by locating his mother. And his relationship with the dabbawallas is critical to his search.

      Mahtab Narsimhan’s story reads as a junior version of any Rohinton Mistry book set in India: the colours and textures, as well as the smells, both fragrant and pongy, are fundamental to scaffolding the characters and their stories. Narsimhan chooses her palettes carefully: for Sethji’s fetid dhaba, for the cacophony at Andheri Station (from which trains are used to deliver the tiffins), and for the drenching monsoon rains. Narsimhan’s powerful writing bares the despair of Kunal and others, and is sure to have emotional impact; fortunately, the reader will intuit a kernel of hope in Kunal’s story which will at least ease the overriding bleakness.

      November 28, 2011

      The Fifth Rule

      by Don Aker
      HarperTrophy Canada
      260 pp.

      As Don Aker reveals in his Author's Note in The Fifth Rule, he felt obliged (reluctantly) to write a sequel to The First Stone (HarperTrophy Canada, 2003) by the many readers anxious to learn the fates of characters Reef and Leeza. Having just completed The First Stone, I can only imagine their anticipation after eight years of waiting; my impatience was assuaged expediently in just a few hours.

      Two years have passed since Reef, the young offender from The First Stone, was judged guilty in the tragic accident that almost killed a young woman in Halifax.  Having completed the terms of his sentence (living in the North Hills Group Home run by Frank Colville, volunteering at a rehabilitation centre, and making school presentations about his actions and their consequences), Reef is living in Calgary, working in construction and helping out with street youth.  He's also respecting the restraining order keeping him away from Leeza (an order secured by her mother), although she continues to pervade his thoughts daily.

      In Halifax, Leeza has completed her rehabilitation, walking with minimal pain, although her scars keep the memories of her devastating accident and her time with Reef.  And, if the scars weren't enough, she has her controlling mother forever reminding her about Reef's criminality and her naiveté. Luckily, she is busy attending the University of Dalhousie, and still keeping in touch with her old rehab roomie, Brett, and nurse Casey, although not busy enough to keep Reef and his perceived deception from her thoughts.

      When Frank Colville is killed by a young offender gone joyriding, Reef returns, delivering an emotional eulogy to Frank.  Reef reveals the nature of his relationship with Frank (previously confidential as Reef was a minor) and the positive impact Frank had on his life and on all those fortunate to be sent to North Hills Group Home.  Disastrously, a politically ambitious Roland Decker twists Reef's story and words to support his hardline platform against young offenders.

      Through a series of missed opportunities, bad timing and misunderstandings, Reef verges on undoing all the good Frank had helped him achieve, convinced he has no hope with Leeza and that he has brought about the ruin of Frank's legacy, North Hills.  Presented with her own share of confounding and erroneous information, Leeza is attempting to sort out her feelings for Reef and for her biological father who reappears surreptitiously after many years.

      By juxtaposing Reef's story (which seems to be spiraling into despair) with Leeza's (which is based on misconceptions and presumptions), Don Aker entices the reader along, anticipating the circumstances by which the two will meet up again and the nature of that reunion.  The convergence of their story lines and their lives provides a captivating and convincing answer to the question: what happened to Reef and Leeza? 

      November 27, 2011

      The First Stone

      Written by Don Aker
      HarperTrophy Canada
      289 pp.
      Ages 14+
      Note Bene: Published before I was even a teacher-librarian (just a teacher), The First Stone won both the 2004 OLA's White Pine Award and the Ann Connor Brimer Award.  I'm reviewing it here as it is the prequel to Don Aker's The Fifth Rule, a current White Pine nominee.  I will post my review of The Fifth Rule tomorrow.
      Reef, 17, and friends, Jinks and Bigger, are not the most likeable fellows in Halifax, unless you like guys who spew profanities as easily as breathing, who think nothing of vandalizing property, and who think little beyond themselves.  Reef, a foster child since his grandmother died eight years earlier of cancer (his abusive drunkard of a grandfather died earlier), goes by his gut instincts.  Unfortunately, he makes a lot of poor choices, one which causes a horrific crash and leaves a teen broken and in a coma.

      Sentenced to the North Hills Group Home, a set-up created by ex-con Frank Colville, to volunteer hours at a rehab centre, and ultimately to present talks to schools about his experiences, Reef isn't pleased; neither are many citizens, including the victim's mother, Diane Morrison, who are convinced he got away with almost murdering her daughter.  Playing the tough-guy, Reef begrudgingly does what is required of him, including following Frank Colville's rules and repairing a greenhouse on his own, but Reef continues to share very little of himself.  That is, until he begins his volunteering at the Halifax Rehabilitation Centre, where his usefulness is appreciated by staff and patients on the muscoloskeletal floor. 

      He especially makes a connection with Leeza , a young woman dealing with multiple fractures and injuries which have her in constant pain.  Through their commonality in dealing with the death of a loved one, Reef and Leeza become closer, each having a positive impact on the other: Leeza making more of an effort in her rehab, and Reef finding it easier to respect himself and do the right thing.  

      Frank Coville's rules (respect yourself; respect others; honor your commitments; be accountable; and do the right thing) become mantras that poke their way into Reef's consciousness, steering him to ensure he doesn't interact with his victim, to help direct Jinks and Bigger into making better choices, and to recognizing his own worth.  Meanwhile, Leeza is learning to deal with her anger, fear and pain, while accepting the attraction she feels for Reef.

      Regardless of how unappealing Reef and his friends are, courtesy of Don Aker's expressive writing, the reader is compelled to read to the end, sure that Reef is one of those characters that can and will redeem himself, somehow.   Leeza can be a less sympathetic character, primarily because of her interactions with her controlling mom, but Leeza demonstrates her resiliency, grabbing the support of her readers.  Even the ending prepares the reader to accept that time is needed for characters and circumstances to resolve themselves before their story truly ends. And so, now comes Don Aker's reluctant sequel, The Fifth Rule.

      November 24, 2011

      Better than Weird

      by Anna Kerz
      Orca Book Publishers
      217 pp.
      Ages 8-12

      Aaron Waite, who first appeared in Kerz's The Mealworm Diaries (Orca, 2009) as the weird kid with whom newcomer, Jeremy, was paired to complete mealworm experiments, is trying desperately to curb his "differences."  He knows he talks too fast, that he's impatient (hence his nickname "Cantwait"), that he laughs at the wrong things, that he acts before he thinks, and needs to be reminded constantly by his Gran about everyday things like putting on his underwear.  By talking to the school counsellor, Karen, and his Big Brother, Paul, making lists and doing a lot of self-talk, Aaron is making a great effort to hold onto his friendship with Jeremy and impress his own dad who he hasn't seen in eight years.

      But, Aaron could have been the poster boy testifying that the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.  He becomes the target of classmate, Tufan, after embarrassing him publicly; the music teacher, Ms Masilo, doesn't want him participating in the choir for the winter concert; and Jeremy is losing patience with Aaron after a series of mishaps, including messing up Jeremy's fish tank responsibility, and belabouring the news of Aaron's dad's impending visit, forgetting that Jeremy's father died recently.  But Aaron does not want to be seen as a loser.

      The arrival of his dad with his new, pregnant wife, Sophie, gives Aaron the opportunity to get some answers as well as share himself with them, both critical to helping him see that he is truly "better than weird."

      Similar to Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza character (Joey Pigza Loses Control, Macmillan, 2000) as a child with behavioural issues (Joey has ADHD) and an absentee father who returns, Aaron is a classmate of all our readers, one of the numerous diverse personalities with which they will connect in their schooling.  Kerz compassionately shares Aaron's struggles and joys while illustrating the different perceptions others have of him and how these perceptions impact his own views and responses.  As trying as they may appear to be, the Aarons bring richness to our lives.  Even Jeremy recognizes that,
      "If everything goes smoothly all the time, we'll never have good stories to tell."(pg. 179)

      November 22, 2011

      The Gathering

      by Kelley Armstrong
      Doubleday Canada
      359 pp.
      Ages 12+

      When Kelley Armstrong's first book in her Darkest Powers trilogy, The Summoning (HarperCollins Canada, 2008) first came out, I was convinced that our YA readers would have a superior and Canadian alternative to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series.  I was so right.  The Summoning's plot went beyond a romance with supernatural elements. It added layers and layers of storylines with youthful protagonists (with various supernatural abilities) and adults with questionable intentions, and left the reader desperate to read the next in the series (i.e., The Awakening, 2009; The Reckoning, 2010).  Her newest trilogy, Darkness Rising, will similarly find avid readers of fantastical fiction awaiting the sequel to the first book in this series, The Gathering, a current Ontario Library Association White Pine Award nominee.

      As important as the characters in The Gathering is the setting of this book: the tiny town of Salmon Creek on Vancouver Island, a remote, wilderness-surrounded community created by the St. Cloud Corporation for its top-secret research facility and its employees' families.  Unlike the majority of the youth in Salmon Creek, Maya Delaney (16, shortly after the book begins), adopted daughter of the park warden (Dad) and architect (Mom), was born outside of the community.  Much mystery surrounds Maya, primarily because of her genesis (definitely Aboriginal, but tribe unknown), a paw-print birthmark, and her strong attachment to the forest and its creatures.

      Throw in a few friends (best-friend, Daniel; mayor's daughter, Nicole; Nicole's unusual cousin, Samantha; antagonistic Hayley; newcomer and love-interest, Rafe), a couple of animals (pets Kenji, a German shepherd, and Fitz, a three-legged bobcat; old-timer cougar, Marv; a marten and others being rehabilitated by Maya); and a few parents and concerned adults, and Maya's story could be that of a "regular" teen. (But where would the story be?)  Alas, I didn't mention the bizarre drowning of swim team captain and friend, Serena, the year before.  Or Maya and Rafe finding the cougar-chomped body of visitor reporter, Mina Lee.  Or Rafe's flip-flop persona (bad boy vs. honest, affectionate boy), particularly with regards to Maya. Or the increase in cougar attacks.  Or Rafe's elusive, guardian and sister, Annie.  And what about the older Aboriginal woman at the tattoo parlour treating Maya as a pariah, first telling her she is a witch and then a skin-walker?  Not so normal anymore.

      But in the deft writing of Kelley Armstrong, Maya's story seems so plausibly intricate that the reader is compelled to read on, as if to help support Maya through her journey.  Without giving away the ending, I can say that, even as Maya moves on to a new set of circumstances and setting, she still carries her need to know herself fully, heritage and all.

      By the way, Book 2 in the series, The Calling, is due out in April, 2012, and the final installment, The Rising, is scheduled for publication in 2013.  Hope you can wait.

      Check out the book trailer for The Gathering on my Book Trailers page

      November 21, 2011

      Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature (2011)

      Congratulations to winner Iain Lawrence! 


      Sponsored by the Metcalf Foundation and judged by a jury composed of Deirdre Baker, Ronald Jobe, and Julie Johnston, the Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature recognizes a writer of a body of work in children's literature.  This year, on November 1st, the Writers' Trust of Canada awarded the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature to Iain Lawrence. 


      Check out Iain's website at Iain Lawrence for full bio, bibliography and details.

      His series The High Seas Trilogy (The Wreckers, The Buccaneers, The Smugglers) and The Curse of the Jolly Stone Trilogy (The Convicts, The Cannibals, The Castaways) have grabbed many readers with his distinctive protagonists and suspenseful adventures.  Other titles, including The Giant-Slayer, Gemini Summer (a personal favourite) and The Séance take us into the more contemporary settings of North America in the 20th century, still knitting elements of history with the trials of young people, creating great stories of suspense and atmosphere.   The Winter Pony (Delacorte, 2011) has only been out a couple of weeks and is already lauded as a valuable contribution to children's literature.

      Full details about this award and the citation of Lawrence's contribution can be found at 2011 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature.

      The Writers' Trust of Canada Awards

      The Writers' Trust of Canada, whose mandate is to advance, nurture and celebrate Canadian writers and writing, presents 10 prizes annually to writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children's literature. I've highlighted the only award specifically for writing for children.
      • Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature: awarded to the author of a body of work in children's literature
      • Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction: literary excellence in the category of nonfiction, which includes, among other forms, personal or journalistic essays, history, biography, memoirs, commentary, and criticism, both social and political
      • Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize: Canadian writers of exceptional talent for the year's best novel or short-story collection
      • Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing: annually to a non-fiction book that captures a political subject of interest to Canadian readers and enhances our understanding of the issue
      • Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award: on a writer's body of work (no less than three works of literary merit which are predominantly fiction)
      •  Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life: recognizes a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer, working in either poetry or prose in either French or English
      • Journey Prize: annually to a new and developing writer of distinction for a short story published in a Canadian literary publication
      •  RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers: annual award is given to a writer below the age of 35 who has published poetry or prose but has not yet been published in book form
      • Dayne Ogilvie Grant: an emerging Canadian gay or lesbian writer who demonstrates great promise through a body of work of exceptional quality
      • Writers' Trust Distinguished Contribution Award: annually to an individual or an organization in recognition of their long-standing involvement with the Writers' Trust of Canada
      Writers' Trust of Canada Awards

      November 19, 2011

      Love is a Four-Letter Word

      by Vikki VanSickle
      Scholastic Canada
      237 pp.
      Ages 9-13
      Clarissa, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in Words that Start with B (Scholastic Canada, 2010), continues to support her mom through her treatments, "Run for the Cure" training, and now budding relationship with her personal trainer, Doug.  But, except for her friendship with Benji, one that is experiencing its own ups and downs, Clarissa is naive about the role of love in different relationships.  

      Always aspiring to be an actress, Clarissa envisions herself in a leading role in a local young people's theatre production of The Wizard of Oz, coercing Benji to accompany her to the auditions.  Unfortunately for Clarissa, she is not chosen but Benji is selected to play the Cowardly Lion.  So while tending to her bruised pride, Clarissa has to find a way to uphold her part in their intense friendship even though Benji is finding success and new friends without her.

      Then, Mattie, a friend whose crushes seem to change weekly, makes Clarissa consider her feelings for boys, specifically Michael, a classmate who may like her.  Clarissa is unsure about her interest in Michael and learns through a series of missteps how careless comments can hurt.

      Finally, Annie, Clarissa's mom, is finding love for the first time since Clarissa was born.  Before it was just Clarissa and her mom and her mom's hair salon, and Clarissa thought that had always been good enough.  But, Doug seems to be around a lot now, and Clarissa can't seem to balance her fears for her mother's health with her worries that she's losing her mom and that secrets are being kept.

      VanSickle's writing gives her young characters, especially Clarissa, the clear and honest voices of youth, hopeful but laden with anxiety. Clarissa makes a lot of mistakes as she attempts to understand the different loves she sees and experiences, using trial-and-error to choose what she should be feeling or doing.  So, with some suitable direction from her supporting cast of youth and adults, plus a lot of apologizing, Clarissa seems to find a path that may work for her, at least for now.  After all, even if Clarissa doesn't know it yet, love can also be fickle (sorry, that's six letters).

      November 18, 2011


      by Nicole Luiken
      Great Plains Teen Fiction (imprint of Great Plains Publications)
      227 pp.
      Ages 12+

      Being different, whether it be in books or in the “real” world, is not always appreciated.  Lissa Foster who can cross the dreamline into the dream world anytime has had to deal with her “difference", learning to accept being friendless, to keeping what she learns to herself and to fighting the formless shadows called wulfdraigles that prey on people’s fears and twist dreams into nightmares.   And now the wulfdraigles seem to be scheming something big for her town of Grantmere.

      However, being a pariah in high school becomes more difficult after a new (very cute!) boy, Mitch Kincaid, and his wealthy, former software-developer, now motivational speaker, dad arrive in town.  First, Lissa realizes that Mitch is like her, a dream-come-true and one who can cross the dreamline (although he really doesn’t know it, believing he’s crazy instead).  Secondly, because of her reclusiveness, Lissa’s parents are forcing her to attend the charismatic Mr. Kincaid’s program, “Building Confidence, Building Dreams."  There she learns that Mr. Kincaid is a conduit, a human who acts as the wulfdraigles’ agent in the real world (in exchange for something he wished).

      The network of intersecting plotlines (Mitch learning about his dreamline ability; Lissa trying to determine the wulfdraigles’ plan; Mr. Kincaid’s relationship with his son; Lissa’s encounters with the wulfdraigles; etc.) made for a thrilling read.  Knowing that the ending to the story would be complicated and worrying that it would not be satisfying (i.e., not happy), I was thrilled at how Luiken effortlessly plaited the storylines, while leaving the reader breathless through the final scenes.

      Irrespective of the fantastical elements of this thriller, Lissa is a wholly empathetic character, enduring ridicule from her peers and adults’ misinterpretations.  But she carries on, finding the means to brave all agonies, physical, emotional and supernatural, even conceding to the rare pleasure of closeness. 

      With such strong writing, both content and craft, evident in Dreamline, I look forward (or is it backward?) to reading Nicole Luiken’s Dreamfire (Great Plains, 2009), the prequel to Dreamline