July 31, 2014

Jackpot: A Swindle Mystery

by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Press
200 pp.
Ages 8-13
January 2014

Jackpot is Book 6 in Gordon Korman's Swindle series which began with Swindle (2009), Zoobreak (2010), Framed (2011), Showoff (2012) and Hideout (2013), all sporting covers with the quintessential Luthor.  And if you don't know who Luthor is, I recommend you read Books 1 through 5 first.

Darren Vader is a career bully (for a kid in middle grade), showing up in each of the previous Swindle books and causing untold grief to Griffin Bing and his friends Ben, Pitch, Logan, Melissa and Savannah. But things take a turn when Darren's mother, a lawyer, begins helping Griffin's father apply for a patent for his invention, the SweetPick.  When Darren gets up to more mischief, Griffin takes the blame for it, all to prevent Mrs. Vader from getting off track and Griffin's dad from becoming more anxious.

Feeling the need for getting even, Griffin enlists the help of his friends to prank the money-hungry bully with a news story about a missing lottery ticket (true) being lost in the garbage of their town (not true).  In an unforeseen twist, garbage hunters flock to Cedarville in search of that lottery ticket and wreak havoc, and Griffin and friends are given community service for their mischief and Darren warps himself into the role of the victim.

Griffin's moniker goes from "The Man With The Plan" to bully, even raising the ire of new student Victor Phoenix who has an answer for everything and becomes the new Man With The Plan.  No matter how Griffin tries to resurrect his friendships and reputation, he ends up looking more and more like a bully, just as Doberman Luthor does when around Victor's cat Penelope who is temporarily housed at Luthor's house.  Not surprising that Griffin and Luthor find themselves teaming up to try and make things right, even if it does include Darren Vader and that lottery ticket again.

Gordon Korman has long been successful at getting children reading, from his adventure (Dive, Everest, and Island), thriller (On the Run and Kidnapped) and humour (Macdonald Hall) series. In the Swindle series, the emphasis is on the farcical nature of friendships and perspective and Jackpot is no exception.  From the kids' views on themselves and others,
"No offense, Griffin, but stuff a sock in it," muttered Logan.  "I ought to have my head examined for following you and your cockamamie plans.  It's only a short step from community service to community theatre.  My talent belongs to the world, not some podunk playhouse." (pg. 32)
to  the fantastic imagery
The interior made the chaos of the porch seem neat.  Griffin had never been to the rain forest, but he'd always imagined it looking like this.  Long macramé planters and hangings dangled so low from the ceiling, and random stuff was piled so high on tabletops, that barely any light penetrated from the windows. (pg. 108)
the text oozes with atmosphere of levity and colour.  Coupled with the brisk dialogue and plotting, Jackpot is a fun and accessible read for young people, another example of Gordon Korman's knack for enticing new readers.

 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 

I see Unleashed, Book 7, is set for release in January, 2015 so, if you haven't already, it's best to get caught up on your Swindle reading now!

July 28, 2014

The Blackwell Pages: Loki's Wolves (Book 1), Odin's Ravens (Book 2)

Twinning ancient mythology with a contemporary novel has become more popular in the last few years, but doing it well is a craft, and I can only say that there are few authors whose knowledge and writing can flawlessly weave time periods together.  However, we do have several authors whose take on the myths are always far greater than any I have ever read before.  One is Lesley Livingston, whose two young adult series, Wondrous Strange and Starling, are richer in characters and mythological detail than anything I have ever read. And now Canadian author Kelley Armstrong and American YA author Melissa Marr have collaborated to bring a similar distinction to a middle-grade series called The Blackwell Pages.

Loki's Wolves
by K. L. Armstrong and M. A. Marr
Little Brown and Company
364 pp.
Ages 10-14

Odin's Ravens
by K. L. Armstrong and  M. A. Marr
Little Brown and Company
352 pp.
Ages 10-14 
May, 2014

In Blackwell, South Dakota, Matt Thorsen isn't just the son of the sheriff and the grandson of the mayor. He, and all the Thorsens, are the descendants of the Norse god, Thor. And the amulet of Thor's Hammer that he wears on a silver pendant around his neck is a key link to that heritage.  But if the heat of his amulet and the power Matt unleashes from Thor's Hammer against trouble-maker Fen Brekke, a Loki descendant, when the kid and his cousin Laurie attempt to steal the shield off the Viking longship in town aren't enough of an indication that something is up, then hearing his grandfather proclaim Matt as the closest embodiment of Thor solidifies that concern for the thirteen-year-old.  How could he be the champion who would fight the Midgard Serpent and save the world from Ragnarök? Sadly, eavesdropping on his grandfather and the other Elders, Matt learns that his grandfather expects him, instead, to be defeated and to fail to stop Ragnarök.

In Loki's Wolves, with advice from some unlikely sources and using knowledge of the Norse myths, Matt tries to assemble the band of the living embodiments of other Norse Gods, starting with Fen and Laurie, Loki's descendants, and retrieve key tools such as Mjölnir, Thor's Hammer, and the shield, to ultimately fight the Serpent. Battling the Raiders, the shape-shifting wulfenkind, outwitting and escaping from a variety of trolls, eluding the police who've tagged Matt as a runaway, convincing descendants of their roles, and just trying to survive have all become the kids' mandates.  Oh, and learning whom to trust.

In Odin's Ravens, Matt, Fen and Laurie continue to fight monsters, but inside as well as outside of the underworld of Hel, sure that if they can rescue Baldwin, then everything will change and Ragnarök cannot happen. Unfortunately, nothing is ever as simple as it would seem.  With the involvement of Helen, ruler of Hel and aunt to Laurie and Fen, as well as the Valkyries, some goats, lots of zombie-like Vikings and all types of animals, both mythological and real, more and more layers of action and humour get added to the story.  But as the title indicates, it is Odin, or rather his champion Owen, and his acrobatic Beserkers who almost steal the story.  Not only is Owen and his group the saviours in key struggles, the all-seeing Owen knows much more than he can say, complicating already difficult relationships.

Whew! I feel like I've told you too much but perhaps not enough.  It's so hard with books such as Loki's Wolves and Odin's Ravens which have subplots hidden in other subplots, and they are all important to the main plot of Matt trying to stop the end of the world. I can tell you that the characters are so magnificent, well-developed and complicated that you'll go back and forth trying to decide for whom you'll cheer or you hope gets thwacked by a troll.  And the humour!  If you've read CanLit for LittleCanadians over the years, you'll know that humour, and great writing, trump all else for me.  In Loki's Wolves and Odin's Ravens, I suspect the kids often use humour to hide their fears and tension.
"I'll do what you tell me, because while saving the world and all would be great, I'm not keen on the dying part, either.  I'd like to live long enough to get out of middle school." (Loki's Wolves, pg. 91)
And this, Matt realized, was what their world had come to. A week ago, his biggest worry was failing his science fair project. Now he was taking comfort in the thought that he faced only one fifty-foot-tall, fire-breathing giant. (Odin's Ravens, pg. 1-2) 
The Blackwell Pages is not your typical myth-based novel series. Thank goodness.  It's better.

July 26, 2014

Do You Know...Dinosaurs? Hyenas? Komodo Dragons? Praying Mantises?

Young readers of French non-fiction have been lucky to have Savait-tu...? books (from Éditions Michel Quintin) available since 2001 with at least 50 different titles available.  But since 2013, Fitzhenry & Whiteside has been publishing the series in English, called the Do You Know...? series, with the same authors and illustrator together.  I reviewed the first in September 2013 but here are volumes 9-12 and I'd like to remind readers about these non-fiction gems.  Non-fiction can be so...o...o dry but there are only a few authors that consistently present it in informative and entertaining formats.  Some key youngCanLit authors of non-fiction include Elizabeth MacLeod, Monica Kulling, Susan Hughes, Rob Laidlaw, Bill Swan, Keltie Thomas and Helaine Becker with each having their own specialty. History, biography, animal rights, justice, sports and trivia are usually well-covered but the trio of Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin and Sampar bring a refreshing perspective to animal non-fiction and young readers love it. I'd love to get more teacher-librarians, teachers, parents and readers as excited about this series as I am!

Do You Know Dinosaurs?
Written by Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin and Sampar
Illustrated by Sampar
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
64 pp.
Ages 7-11
May, 2014

Do You Know Hyenas?
Written by Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin and Sampar
Illustrated by Sampar
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
64 pp.
Ages 7-11
May, 2014

Do You Know Komodo Dragons?
Written by Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin and Sampar
Illustrated by Sampar
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
64 pp.
Ages 7-11
May, 2014

Do You Know Praying Mantises?
Written by Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin and Sampar
Illustrated by Sampar
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
64 pp.
Ages 7-11
May, 2014

From Do You Know Hyenas?
by Alain M. Bergeron et al., 2014
The integration of key facts about the animal within a double-spread illustration of a humourous situation depicting that fact works so well for both verbal and visual learners who will remember that information better for that pairing. For example, in the illustration to the right, the hyena's very thorough feeding on a carcass is depicted by the few bits left over for the vulture who sarcastically thanks the hyena for, like, nothing! Eating habits, morphology, reproduction, behaviour, mobility and more are covered within these graphics. And, as a teacher, I appreciate the subtle humour that provides me with a perfect vehicle for looking at inferencing skills.

Don't read these because of their educational value, though it is there.  And don't purchase them because they're new and unlikely to be in school or children's collections.  But do purchase them for their unique presentation of information and the laughter that will have your little ones easily remembering and sharing what they've read with pleasure.

July 24, 2014

Winter Moon Song

by Martha Brooks
Illustrated by Leticia Ruifernández
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
August 2014

Embed a story about the rabbit in the moon within the narrative of a young bunny's questioning about the magic of life and winter, then add the sweetness of a traditional song and illustrate with tender watercolours by Spanish artist Leticia Ruifernández and, like magic, you have Martha Brook's first picture book, the heartfelt Winter Moon Song.

Accompany a little rabbit "not so small as to be a still-doted-upon baby, yet not big enough to be noticed in any significant way" as he makes his way home from a choir practice of the ancient piece "Winter Moon Song".  In the stillness of the winter cold, he contemplates the upcoming gathering, the aging singers in the choir and the rabbit in the moon, and asks his mother how the rabbit got there.

After his mother shares the legend of another young rabbit's sacrifice to the Great Mother, Creator Rabbit, the bunny of our story recognizes that the "Winter Moon Song" can be "a magical path lighting the darkest month" and he sets about to make it so.

Winter Moon Song is as magical as the song within, lyrically written by Martha Brooks and set to the music of cool colour washes by Leticia Ruifernández.  As refreshing as it is share this picture book now, I encourage lovers of youngCanLit to purchase it and reread it with family and children during the dark months of winter when Winter Moon Song will truly raise its voice.

July 23, 2014

The Night is Found: Book Launch (Halifax)

Saturday, July 26, 2014
1-3 p.m.



Kat Kruger

for the release of

The Night is Found
Fierce Ink Press
978-1-927746-59-2 (epub)
978-1-927746-60-8 (Kindle)
301 pp.
Ages 14+

 the final book 
The Magdeburg Trilogy


Indigo Chapters
Bayers Lake Power Centre
188 Chain Lake Drive 
Halifax, Nova Scotia 

Read my review here and see why you really should attend!

July 22, 2014

Haunted Canada: Ghost Stories

by Pat Hancock and Allan Gould
Illustrated by Andrej Krystoforski
Scholastic Canada
172 pp.
Ages 8-13

Though most readers would think this a perfect read for Halloween (and I will be sure to add it to an October post on spooky youngCanLit reads), ghost stories are also the perfect choice for an end-of-night campfire, when the darkness has settled in, the quiet is heavy in the warm humid air, and the company is just a little wary of occasional unfamiliar sounds and shadows.  That's the time to bring out one of Scholastic Canada's Haunted Canada series books, like their newest Haunted Canada: Ghost Stories.

While all the stories include supernatural or paranormal elements, the basis for the tales are quite varied.  Some warn, some entertain, some explain, some scare. Many of the stories, like "The Sleeping Boy" and "Golden Eyes", have ghosts that appear for the purpose of keeping others safe, whether from fire, an avalanche or a flash flood.  In "Robber's Reward", a young girl helps to right an injustice.  Several provide cautionary themes against bullying and gossiping, such as in "A Boy's Best Friend" and "Spellbound".  And the final story in the book, "Life Guard", is truly frightening or would be if a boy hadn't been an attentive big brother.

The fifteen stories within are a little scary but not horrific, not the nightmare-inducing tales that teens and adults might enjoy.  These stories read more like retelling of eyewitness accounts, the kind that one person might tell by beginning with, "Did you hear that...?" and you might believe they actually happened.  Mind you, with ghost stories, how do you know they didn't? Something to think about when settling into that warm and cozy bed and you hear something go bump in the night. 

July 19, 2014

The Boundless

by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
336 pp.
Ages 10-16
April, 2014

"ALL ABOARD... The Boundless for a mesmerizing adventure of historical proportions, with death-defying leaps of faith, Sasquatch encounters, illusions of the fourth dimension and murderous employees looking for the gold after death.  Leaving now for its first journey. Get on board now to be one of the first to enjoy this newest series by award-winning author Kenneth Oppel."

Life changes for Will Everett and his family after Will helps in the hammering of the last spike of the CPR railway in British Columbia and his father saves the life of Cornelius Van Horne, president of the CPR, in an avalanche.  Three years later James Everett is in charge of the Boundless, the seven-mile long train of spectacular design created by Van Horne, who is now ensconced in a secured and guarded funeral car near the front of the train.  And, on its maiden voyage, Will is enjoying the amenities of first class and looking to reacquaint himself with a young wirewalker/escape artist, Maren, travelling with Zirkus Dante, the circus of Mr. Dorian, the man who'd captured a young sasquatch after that avalanche years earlier.

Beyond the incredible opportunity of travelling on the longest and most powerful train in the world, essentially pulling a city of nine hundred and eighty-seven cars, Will enjoys the opportunity to experience the towns of vendors that arise to service the train's passengers, the wilds of the Canadian landscape with its supernatural creatures including the muskeg hag, the Wendigo and the sasquatch, and convince his father that he should be allowed to attend art school in San Francisco.  But Will places himself in a dangerous position when, at a stop, he recovers a key dropped by the funeral car's guard moments before the man is stabbed by a man Will recognizes.  Barely catching the caboose at the end of the train, Will must use all his skills and wits and trust a few new friends if he is to stay alive and find his way back to his father in the locomotive.

The Boundless is an endless adventure of hopping train cars, outsmarting murderous fiends, marvelling at unforeseen inventions, surviving encounters with mythical creatures and trusting some and not others, including a first love.  Never does Kenneth Oppel make you believe that Will can easily survive this drama.  Readers will be holding their breaths wondering which fall will kill Will or leave him in the Boundless' wake. Or whether Mr. Dorian's plan will save him or put others in jeopardy.  Or whether every brakeman on the Boundless is a threat.  Or whether Will's father, miles away at the front of the train, knows anything of the goings-on in the funeral car and beyond.  And I'll be surprised if you don't start wondering which pieces of Canadian history are valid and accurate. Cornelius Van Horne, Sam Steele, Simon Fraser and Donald Smith and others make appearances in The Boundless, though they are legitimate characters who helped in the making of our nation.  But what of the golden spike?

Yep.  The Boundless has all that and more. And only reading Kenneth Oppel's newest steampunk will allow you some opportunity to answer those questions or at least make an attempt at it. So get on board with reading The Boundless, a phenomenon of engineering and text, courtesy of the imagination and pen of one of Canada's finest writers for young people. 

July 17, 2014

Eden Mills Writers' Festival 2014: youngCanLit authors

Interested in listening to some of Canada's finest authors read their work? Want to get an autographed book for a Christmas gift for your favourite young reader?  Love learning about new writers in a spectacular outdoor setting?

Then set aside
Sunday September 14th, 2014
12 noon – 6pm

to join us at

The Eden Mills Writers' Festival

in the village of Eden Mills
(15 min. south-east of Guelph, Ontario)

Details about the schedule will be up in August, and other FAQs about prices, adult authors, the poetry slam, and other events can be read at http://edenmillswritersfestival.ca/web/

Children's Authors and Storytellers

Jo-Ellen Bogart

Hélène Boudreau

Zachary Collins
Retrieved from http://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/

Lisa Dalrymple

George Murray

Patricia Storms

Janet Wilson

Brad Woods, storyteller

Authors of Young Adult Books

Patrick Bowman

Wesley King

Maureen McGowan

Emily Pohl-Weary

Morgan Rhodes

Richard Scarsbrook

Jocelyn Shipley

Michael F. Stewart


See you at the EMWF!

You'll come for the words 
but you'll stay for the experience!

July 16, 2014

Bear on the Homefront

by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5+
September 1, 2014
For sale August 19, 2014

Anyone who minimizes the value of a toy during stressful times needs to read Bear on the Homefront, as well as its prequel A Bear in War (Stephanie Innes et al., 2009), not to mention the recently reviewed Soldier Doll.  In fact, any object that can lend emotional support to both children and adults during times of war is more than a toy–it's a treasure. 

Teddy Bear, CWM 20040015-001
Image from http://www.warmuseum.ca/
This little teddy bear had its simple beginnings as a good luck charm and keepsake that Aileen Rogers sent her father Lt. Lawrence Browning Rogers in 1916 when he was fighting in France.  Though her father did not return home, Teddy did, having been found in her father's jacket when he died at Passchendaele.

Now Aileen Rogers is grown up and a nurse, contributing to efforts in World War II to keep British children safe by evacuating them to Canada. The story is told by Teddy who is Aileen's keepsake now, speaking to her from the pocket of her uniform, as she accompanies children across the ocean and then to find their way to their transport and chaperones.  

Upon their arrival at Halifax, Aileen introduces herself to two of the smallest children, Grace and her five-year-old brother William, who look lost and afraid. To reassure small William, Aileen lets Teddy keep him company as they begin their train journey to Winnipeg.  Unlike many children who seem to enjoy the freedom and adventure of their travels, Grace and William quietly endure the experience, worrying about their future home.  Not surprisingly, upon their arrival and introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Dent, whose farm they would stay at, William is reluctant to leave.  But Aileen compassionately bestows Teddy on the little boy, instructing him to take good care of the children.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending for all, though five years of war keeps them separated from those they love.  Inspired by events recounted in Aileen Rogers' diary, Bear on the Homefront takes Teddy out of the war zone but still working to comfort those impacted by war. And by giving Teddy a voice, Stephanie Innes (the great niece of Aileen Rogers) and Harry Endrulat have endeared the little bear with even more heart than his simple form may suggest.  His longing for Aileen and his honest reflections are not dissimilar to the children's own, though they all recognize the value in perseverance, even if it is difficult.  

The text and atmospheric oil on canvas illustrations of Brian Deines lend an authenticity to the memories held within Bear on the Homefront.  Teddy has an important story to tell, and his voice and demeanour are appropriately not the cutesy, anthropomorphized bear of so many upbeat picture books, though the book's message is heartening. For his heroic efforts in comforting and giving voice to others when their own words and thoughts probably failed them, Teddy is now safe and treasured at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  So, Bear at the Homefront gives us one more happy ending from a time when there weren't many.