Showing posts with label perseverance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label perseverance. Show all posts

March 14, 2019

The Dog Who Wanted to Fly

Written by Kathy Stinson
Illustrated by Brandon James Scott
Annick Press
36 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2019

A chattering squirrel just out of reach is the frustration of many a dog. Though a chase may be all that is wanted, but unlikely to happen when the squirrel remains out of reach, that mocking babble is taunting, and Zora is determined to find relief. If only she could fly!
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Tully the cat may be the voice of reason, stating quite clearly that "Dogs can't fly" but Zora is resolute. She bounces as high as she can and she crashes. She flaps her ears and her tail and she crashes. She tries to springboard from a teeter-totter and she crashes. She considers using an umbrella but that idea is thwarted by a human. She fashions herself into a plane with ears, paws and tail extended but she cannot will herself "up." Still, when Tully begins to fall from a perch on a branch, Zora zings to the rescue.
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Zora's story is that of author Kathy Stinson's own dog Georgia to whom she dedicates the story, but it really is the story of every dog who watches wistfully at chase fodder a.k.a. squirrels. But, like anyone with big dreams that may be preposterous–let's face it: dogs can't fly–there still may be a way to achieve versions of those goals and that's what Zora does when her friend is in danger.  Kathy Stinson, who can write everything from picture books to YA novels, tells Zora's story with words and logic that young readers will understand and enjoy, ending it with the subtle humour that children will appreciate, sure to laugh themselves silly.
And the squirrel was very quiet.
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Brandon James Scott is an accomplished animator, creating the Emmy-nominated "Justin Time" TV series, but his artwork really shines when giving visual life to Kathy Stinson's story. He endows Zora with the cuteness to sweeten her story and the attributes of determination, imagination and compassion to carry it forward. Her expressive eyes and eyebrows, mouth and body language always speak to Zora's intentions, just as Tully and the squirrel voice their own views. (Check out the final illustration directly above.) Even Zora's backyard of fenced-in greenery is lush with light and life.

Here's to Zora who doesn't let logic keep her from her dreams and to the squirrel and Tully who will have to rethink what a dog can and cannot do.
Zora, The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott


Annick Press, the publisher of The Dog Who Wanted to Fly, just posted this sweet book trailer for it on YouTube.
Uploaded by Annick Press to YouTube on March 12, 2019.

December 03, 2018

The Ice Chips and the Haunted Hurricane

Written by Roy MacGregor and Kerry MacGregor
Illustrated by Kim Smith
HarperCollins Canada
167 pp.
Ages 7-10
September 2018

Many readers grew up reading Roy MacGregor's extraordinarily successful Screech Owls series of middle grade novels about the peewee hockey team. For adventure and mystery and, of course, hockey, these were the go-to books for kids. Now, for a slightly younger set–let's say early middle-grader–Roy MacGregor has teamed up with his daughter Kerry MacGregor to take their minor hockey team, the Ice Chips, on the road but through time and history too. And, in The Ice Chips and the Haunted Hurricane, the kids meet a hockey hero and a few ghosts as well.

Lucas Finnigan a.k.a. Top Shelf and his friends and teammates Swift, Edge and Crunch decide to recreate their initial magical experience of time slip that had them meeting Gordie Howe. They know that after Scratch, the magical Zamboni, resurfaces the rink with its magical flood and they skate across the centre line, they will be transported ... somewhere, sometime. But, as the Ice Chips are again matched up against their ice nemeses, the well-equipped and moneyed Stars, they know they are at a significant disadvantage, especially having lost valuable time waiting for the Riverton Community Arena to reopen. So Lucas, Swift and Edge, this time prepared with walkie-talkies, a camera, boots–they can't walk around in their skates everywhere–and other tools, and Crunch staying behind as tether with a walkie-talkie, jump back in time and into their newest adventure.

Strangely, the kids find themselves on a boat in the middle of a storm and it's two other Ice Chips, Bond and Mouth Guard, who unknowingly followed the trio of time-travellers to Nova Scotia, who meet a young hockey player and introduce him to the others when they're finally reunited. Though the kids don't connect the dots about this young star from Cole Harbour until near the end of the book, they're still impressed by his determination and drive, especially after taking them through some intense and very worthwhile hockey drills at the Citadel in Halifax. There's also a few encounters with ghosts including a sea captain from the Halifax Explosion, making The Ice Chips and the Haunted Hurricane a bona fide story of the Maritimes.

But, as in the first book in the series, The Ice Chips and the Magical Rink, Roy MacGregor and Kerry MacGregor's new book promotes lessons about getting the kids to work together, seeing beyond their weaknesses and looking towards empowerment with strategies to make their playing and their lives better while still immersing young readers in the hockey culture of today and then. Moreover, with the diversity of kids on the team–boys and girls of different ethnicities and physical and intellectual abilities including Swift who has a prosthetic leg–all children will see themselves in the Ice Chips. (I love that most of the teammates call each other by their nicknames and the gender of the player is rarely discussed.)

Hockey fans will definitely love the scrimmages on the ice, well told by Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Roy MacGregor and journalist Kerry MacGregor, but they'll be grabbed by the story of kids finding themselves in new circumstances, getting guidance from hockey greats and working together to find their way home. With Calgarian Kim Smith's illustrations to give the story some graphic spice, The Ice Chips and the Haunted Hurricane will be taking home a win. Though it will still be a few more months until The Ice Chips and the Invisible Puck comes out in April of 2019, I'm pretty sure that authors Roy MacGregor and Kerry MacGregor, who plan to make Swift's idol, one of Canada's most decorated Olympians, the focus of that story, will be able to keep up their stickhandling magic.
From The Ice Chips and the Haunted Hurricane by Roy MacGregor and Kerry MacGregor, illus. by Kim Smith

August 02, 2018

Raw Talent

Written by Jocelyn Shipley
Orca Book Publishers
138 pp.
Ages 11-14
August 2018

Everyone wants to help out Sunflower Farm, the family farm of Stonehill High students Vanessa and Heath. Since the death of their father, their mother has been struggling to keep the farm running and the school community is coming together for Farmshine, a performance and market fundraiser.  Raw Talent's narrator, Paisley who is Heath's Grade 9 classmate, intends to volunteer with her best friend Jasmeer but what Paisley really wants to do is perform. Her ambition is to be a singer-songwriter and she has no problem posting videos of herself performing but her stage fright is discouraging her from signing up to sing at Farmshine.  With a mother who is an accomplished flutist with the symphony and a university music teacher, Paisley is just not sure she can cut it on stage.

With celebrated singer-actor Maxine Gaston staying at Jasmeer's parents' B & B while her local home is being renovated and she is performing at the Stratford Festival, Jasmeer arranges for her to coach Paisley to help get over her performance anxiety.  Maxine Gaston is a great help but Paisley, who has much to overcome because of a disastrous audition at age 10 with the award-winning Sweetland Singers, is being harassed online, by phone and in person by Cadence, the self-important girlfriend of Heath and soloist with the Sweetland Singers.  Can Paisley get beyond her insecurities about her lower singing voice and Cadence's nastiness to stand up in front of an audience and do what she loves?

Raw Talent is a feel-good hi-lo novel for older middle graders and young teens. While written at an easier reading level, Raw Talent's story, part of the Orca Limelights series based in the performance arts, will resonant with young teens aspiring to new endeavours but unsure of their abilities. Jocelyn Shipley makes sure that the reader realizes that having a dream is futile if you don't set goals to achieve it.  It's up to Paisley to decide what she can and cannot do. Not her mother, not Cadence, not the director of the Sweetland Singers. Just her. She might have been devastated when she didn't get into the Sweetland Singers but she found a way to continue singing and performing albeit in the privacy of her room while still sharing it publicly. Then, with Maxine's coaching, she has the opportunity to take steps forward. Though not easy, especially with self-doubt and bullying that erodes her confidence, Paisley steps up. Jocelyn Shipley doesn't just hand Paisley the opportunity, though.  She makes sure the girl works for what she wants. Maxine Gaston is encouraging but she is not effusive and she makes it clear that, if Paisley isn't willing to put herself out there, she's not going to bother coaching her. That could be an "ouch" moment, but it's not because it's a challenge that Paisley accepts. Similarly, the bullying that Paisley experiences via Cadence is nasty but impactful and still she finds the means eventually to toss it off with a "Whatever". 

Whether Jocelyn Shipley intended, she's affirming Nietzsche's belief that "That which does not kill, makes us stronger".  Paisley's performance anxiety and Cadence's bullying can't stop her and, in fact, they give her the opportunity to be more than she could have imagined for herself.

July 11, 2017

Stealth of the Ninja

Written by Philip Roy
Ronsdale Press
225 pp.
Ages 10+
March 2017

When Alfred Pynsent set out in his twenty-foot, diesel-electric submarine three years ago, he was an explorer. He's navigated the Maritimes near his home in Newfoundland, the St. Lawrence River, the Atlantic, Arctic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, South Africa, India and saw more in a few short years, both travel-wise and experientially, than most people do in their whole lives.  And he's just on the cusp of turning seventeen.  But, Al has turned from explorer to eco-warrior having seen the desecration of the oceans first hand.
I know that the sea is dying.  I mean, the water will always be there, of course, but the life in it won't.  And even though there are still days when whales breach in front of my sub, and dolphins race playfully past, and flying fish soar over my head with the funny whispering of their fins, there are much longer stretches  when I see nothing on the water but garbage and torn nets with rotting sea animals, as if the sea were nothing but one humongous human garbage patch. (pg. 2)
Heading to Japan, Al is apprehensive, as months earlier (Eco Warrior, 2015) he had helped the Sea Shepherd Society prevent a tanker from refuelling Japanese whaling ships and he was accused of sabotaging a Japanese tanker in Australia (he didn't).  But, when he discovers an old barnacle-laden freighter, seemingly abandoned, six hundred miles southeast of Japan, it's the beginning of a new adventure for Al that has him learning the ways of ninjutsu, being tossed around in his sub by a tsunami, robbing a new acquaintance's home, and saving a life.

Aboard the rusty freighter, Alfred meets Sensei, a 100-year-old Japanese man, a ninja, who has made the ship his home, growing a garden and collecting the plastic detritus of the oceans within the holds.
His face was gentle, kind and wise.  It was cut with laugh wrinkles, which meant he had probably spent most of his life laughing.  And yet there was something about him that was sad, as if he carried happiness on the outside, but sadness on the inside. (pg. 11)
Sensei teaches Alfred the ways of the ninja– jumping, stealth, stick fighting–and instills in him the disciplines of meditation and exercise, though the perseverance and determination Alfred demonstrates are all his.  When they witness a tsunami encroaching, Alfred and his canine first-mate, Hollie, seek the shelter of the sub but cannot convince Sensei to join them.  Except for a few cuts and bumps on the sub explorers, the submarine survives but the old freighter has flipped and is sitting between 130 and 140 feet below the surface.  Alfred is convinced the plastics have buoyed the ship and that Sensei is still alive.  Heading to the port of Choshi for help, Alfred finds the streets almost deserted because, he soon learns, of the tsunami's impact, most notably on the Fukushima nuclear reactor.  How will he get the help he needs to save Sensei without putting his own life in jeopardy, without getting caught by the authorities looking for him, and without breaking an agreement he made with Ziegfried, his friend and engineer of the submarine?

Stealth of the Ninja is the eighth book (!) in the Submarine Outlaw series and it is as riveting and fresh as any book in the series.  Still amazing is that, although I encourage you to read the whole series because it is so engrossing, Stealth of the Ninja and all its predecessors can stand alone as adventure novels, rife with action and extraordinary characters.  And those characters are truly extraordinary.  From Alfred and his first-mates Hollie and Seaweed to Sensei (whose name we never learn or even need to know) and the Japanese men Yoshi and Hitoshi whom he meets, the characters are so real that I could imagine finding photos of them online and recognizing them instantly.  Moreover, Philip Roy always bathes his stories in such distinctive settings that they are virtual characters.  From the submarine and Sensei's ship to the ocean and the streets of Choshi and Okinawa, Philip Roy creates worlds to which readers can travel in their minds to experience Alfred's  ventures and vicariously face dangers beyond the norm.  Still, though they are wonderful adventure stories, Philip Roy has much to tell us about the oceans and the world and the impact we have on them.  Alfred may seem disheartened at times–though he finds some hope at the conclusion of Stealth of the Ninja–but I think Alfred himself is a source of hope that there are amazing young people out there who care about this world and, recognizing its problems, see themselves as part of the solution. They may not all do it as stealthily as Sensei and Alfred but there's still hope that it's getting done.  By telling the stories of the Submarine Outlaw, Philip Roy gives us all hope as well.

Submarine Outlaw series by Philip Roy

April 20, 2017

Phoebe Sounds It Out

Written by Julie Zwillich
Illustrated by Denise Holmes
Owlkids Books
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.

February 21, 2017

Liam Takes a Stand

Written by Troy Wilson
Illustrated by Josh Holinaty
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
March 2017

In the aftermath of Family Day here in Ontario, I think little Liam would have a thing to say about family and brothers in particular.  Twin older brothers actually. And brothers so overwhelmingly competitive that nothing else matters.  Fortunately Liam is an insightful child who is determined to “win” his brothers’ attention and, though they are too busy outdoing each other, Liam perseveres, making for a happy family in the end.
From Liam Takes a Stand 
by Troy Wilson 
illus. by Josh Holinaty
Lester and Lister’s competitive spirits take them from sports activities to creative endeavours and finally to entrepreneurship when they each open lemonade stands for the summer.  It’s Lester’s Lemonade Universe vs. Lister’s Lemonade Multiverse, and Liam wants to help but is told he’d just told them back, ostensibly from winning this latest venture.  So Liam, determined to show his brothers how hard he can work, takes on a series of neighbourhood jobs, paid in cash by all but Mrs. Redmond who pays him in apples.
From Liam Takes a Stand 
by Troy Wilson
illus. by Josh Holinaty
While Lister and Lester continue to grow their businesses to outrageous proportions, trying to outdo and to outsell the other, Liam works hard, saves his money and eventually opens Liam’s Apple Avenue.  He takes a soft touch to his business, though, unlike the hard sell and gimmicks of his older brothers, and Liam’s business becomes a resounding success.  Hard-pressed to be outdone by their little brother, Lester and Lister start their own apple drink stands, too busy with hype to work on making the best product possible.

Fortunately, Lester and Lister recognize what they must do to win even a little bit, and Liam is smart enough to hold onto what he has accomplished while getting what he’d always wanted i.e. play time with his brothers.

Troy Wilson’s take on sibling rivalry is over-the-top and yet so realistic.  Two brothers willing to do whatever it takes to succeed over the other–success itself is never the goal–and ignoring their little brother who ends up being their biggest competitor yet.  In starting to believe their own hype, they disregard all else in the pursuit of domination. And it’s little Liam who initially loses out but finally wins in the brother game of life.
From Liam Takes a Stand 
by Troy Wilson 
illus. by Josh Holinaty
While Josh Holinaty has illustrated for non-fiction books and for other media, Liam Takes a Stand is his first picture book project and his artwork is gloriously over-the-top, perfect for the story.  His big-headed stick figures and colourful displays of convoluted businesses ensure the focus is on the boys and their efforts and I can see children rolling on the floor laughing (yes, they do actually do this) with the boys’ uproarious results.  And I can see them all trying to copy Josh Holinaty’s characters, as children tend to do with favourite cartoons.

Beyond the obvious entertainment value of Liam Takes a Stand, as a teacher I could envision using the fun and hyperbolic attention of the boys to their work for lessons in advertising and economics as well as character education. That makes Liam Takes a Stand a nice little package of fun and life lessons for all to enjoy.

April 17, 2016

#CanLitChoices: Alternatives for Hatchet

by Gary Paulsen
Bradbury Press
195 pp.
Ages 11+
RL 6.3

Hatchet, recipient of the 1988 Newbery Honor Book and winner of the William Allen White Children's Book Award for 1990, as well as the basis for A Cry in the Wild film, is a favourite novel read by young people across Canada and the U.S. It is the story of thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson who must learn to survive in the northern Alberta wilderness after the pilot of his small plane has a heart attack and dies, crashing the plane.

Themes upon which teachers focus lessons include the following:
• survival (man vs. nature)
• perseverance
• attitude
• fear

But we have a plethora of youngCanLit that can fill the same novel study bill and, of course, I would like to promote them here.  Each one of these deals with the same themes but in different ways and are all the better for the variety of storylines covered.  This listing includes classics and hi-lo reads, as well as middle-grade and YA titles.  There’s something for every reader who wants an adventure story set in the wilderness, many in the wilds of Canada.

Camp Wild
by Pam Withers
Orca Book Publishers
104 pp.
Ages 10-14
RL 3.8
Fourteen-year-old Wilf runs away from summer camp to stay alone in the woods but ends up with a couple of unwanted followers and a fight for survival.
Teachers guide available at

Chocolate River Rescue
by Jennifer Kent McGrath
122 pp.
Ages 8-12
RL 3.9
Three boys rough housing on the ice of the Petitcodiac River in New Brunswick face danger when the ice breaks away, sending them out towards the Atlantic.

Cut Off
by Jamie Bastedo
Red Deer Press
340 pp.
Ages 12+
RL 4.0
Teen Indio McCracken is sent to a wilderness-based rehab camp, which includes a 50-day canoe trip, to help him with his tech addiction.

The Darwin Expedition
by Diane Tullson
Orca Book Publishers
128 pp.
Ages 12+
RL 2.5
After going off run when snowboarding, two boys must deal with an accident, a bear tracking them, impending weather dangers and hunger to survive.

Frozen Fire: A tale of courage
by James Houston
139 pp.
Ages 12+
RL 5.9
Determined to find his father who has been lost in a storm, Mathew and his Inuit friend Kayak brave wind storms, starvation, wild animals, and wild men during their search in the Canadian Arctic.

The Hill
by Karen Bass
Pajama Press
256 pp.
Ages 12+
RL 4.1
March 2016
After a plane crash, a privileged teen is helped by a Cree young man when his decisions have the two pursued by Wîhtiko, the legendary Cree monster.

Island: Shipwreck, Survival, Escape
by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada
144 pp., 144 pp., 160 pp.
Ages 8-13
RL 4.6, 4.9, 4.8
Six kids must survive after they are shipwrecked on a deserted island with no food and very few supplies.

Lost in the Barrens
by Farley Mowat
McLelland & Stewart
244 pp.
Ages 12-16
RL 7.1
Jamie MacNair and his Cree friend Awasin are separated from others during a canoe trip to the remote barrens and must find the means to survive the winter in the harsh environment.

by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press
206 pp.
Ages 11-14
RL 4.5
In this historical fiction, a young man awakens in the snow, knowing neither his name nor his story but find his way back to himself and survive, with the help of a young Anishnaabeg man.

April 14, 2015

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin

by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8

Having recently recommended Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin to a fellow teacher-librarian looking for picture books about perseverance, and then noting the numerous book award shortlists that have included this book, I was dismayed to realized I have never reviewed this little gem on CanLit for LittleCanadians.  My bad.  This omission is solely due to my negligence and the overwhelming number of great youngCanLit books I choose to read.  Hopefully this post will put some things to right.

During their summer trip to Japan to visit her grandfather, Hana becomes enthralled with the beautiful music he makes.  As the Second Violin in a symphony orchestra, Ojiichan plays the classical pieces of Mozart and Mendelssohn and Bach, but he could also play requests for his grandchildren and recreate sounds of the natural world like crickets, raindrops, and birds.  

Upon their return home, Hana begins to take violin lessons and, though her older brothers laugh at her efforts, she is determined and even signs up to play in the school talent show.  She may practise for her parents and her dog Jojo and even for her grandfather's photo, but she still feels nervous when her name is called, following five previous violinists!  In her mind, Ojiichan's words of encouragement, "Gambarunoyo, Hana-chan", help her to do her best and consequently captivate her audience, even her brothers.
From Hana Hashimoto, Six Violin by Chieri Uegaki, illus. by Qin Leng
Chieri Uegaki's message of trying to do your best is a global one but one that too often gets lost when children are told that they're great at everything that they endeavour.  That is a disservice we commit.  While Hana is never told she's the greatest and she can do anything to which she puts her mind, she chooses to persevere.  Her achievement in the talent show is not the success of many formulaic books that would have her winning or being showered with accolades (thank you, Chieri Uegaki) but rather in challenging herself to get up on stage and make magical music with her violin.  She does this rather successfully, just as Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng do.  Qin Leng's illustrations have that light touch that works so well with the musical nature of Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, the Japanese cultural landscape, and the little girl with the quiet strength.  

Without going over the top myself, I can sincerely attest to the faultlessness of including Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin on lists for the 2015 USBBY Outstanding International Book List, the Cooperative Children's Book Center 2015 Choices and on shortlists for the 2014 Governor General's Award for Illustration, 2016 Shining Willow, and the 2015 Christie Harris Illustrated Book Prize among others.  It seems that everyone appreciates Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin.

I've posted KidsCanPressMovies book trailer for this lovely picture book here.