A Desperate Road to Freedom: the Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson (Red Cedar Club Book)

A Desperate Road to Freedom: the Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson by Karleen Bradford

Julia May Jackson was born a slave in Virginia just before the American Civil War.  She is servant and companion to the masters daughter and unbeknownst to anyone, has learned to read and write. Her three older siblings have been sold, and there are rumors that her older brother, Thomas, will soon be next.  Late one dark night her parents wake her, tell her to grab her things and keep quiet.  It is the beginning of the family’s journey along the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.  Julia May keeps a journal of their experiences – a journal that could cause serious repercussions should it fall into the wrong hands.

This book had a strong beginning that grabbed my attention and pulled me into the story.  Julia May is a spunky spirited girl who I liked a lot.  I desperately wanted her family’s journey to be successful. They make it to Toronto, but while free, are still in danger of being kidnapped by slave hunters.  Eventually they move to Owen Sound where they put down roots. 

I really liked how this book portrayed history in an exciting format.  I knew something about the underground railway of course, but this book helps us to understand more about what it was like once these people made it to Canada.  They may have been ‘free,’ but they still faced considerable prejudice once they arrived. 

This is a great addition to the Dear Canada series!

What Happened to Harris Burdick?

I know, I know, I should probably be doing another Red Cedar Club review since we are starting next week.

It's just that I am just so excited about getting my ticket to see Chris Van Allsburg on November 9th! Chris Van Allsburg is an amazing author and illustrator! His many books appeal to children of all ages from 3 to 93. I first came to know his work many years ago when our family woke up one Christmas Eve morning to discover that Santa had brought our family an early gift of The Polar Express. (In my opinion the book is much much better than the movie ever was!) Over the years Van Allsburg has written many provoking tales including, Jumanji, (also a movie) Just a Dream, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, The Sweetest Fig, and many others, but most recently Queen of the Falls. However, his most perplexing tale was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick!

What has got me so excited is that on the 9th, I will finally get to find out what happened to Harris Burdick. For those of you who don't know the story, Burdick delivered a set of images and captions to a publisher. The publisher was very interested and asked Burdick to come back the next day. Unfortunately, Burdick never returned. The publisher, Peter Wenders, told Van Allsburg about it and in turn Van Allsburg told the story in his book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

If you have never heard this story, we do have one copy in the library, and I personally have a collection of the pictures that I will happily share with you.

It seems that on the 9th, the mystery of the stories will finally be revealed! Lemony Snicket, renowned author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, (also turned into a movie) has attempted to figure it out himself. If you are interested in finding out more about Harris Burdock, I recently discovered a website called The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. I urge you to check it out and watch the documentary created by Snicket himself.

If you you are interested in seeing the great man himself, you should contact Vancouver Kidsbooks as soon as possible before tickets sell out.

After the Fire (Red Cedar Book)

After the Fire by Becky Citra
If you like realistic fiction, you will like this book.

I am a fan of Becky Citra’s writing so I knew I would end up enjoying this book. Still at first I wasn’t sure if it was going to work for me. Thankfully, it didn’t take long til I was completely captivated. So much so that I read this book while walking to and from school. In fact while reading on the bus I missed my stop and had to walk back. (Of course I read while I walked back to my stop!)

It is the story of 11 year old Melissa, her little brother, Cody, and their mother, Sharlene. Sharlene has not been the best mother, but is trying to turn her life around. Melissa doesn’t trust her. She has been let down too many times before. She wants to go to art camp, but Sharlene intends to take the family on a month long summer vacation to a remote cabin on a lake. Melissa is a shy loner who has never had a friend. Her mother is an exuberant extrovert who makes friends of nearly everyone. There is tension between them. Will Melissa ever forgive her mother?

Melissa doesn’t want to go, but really has no choice. At the lake, she meets a girl named Alice. Alice becomes Melissa's first best friend. In their time at Dar Wynd, an island in the lake, she encourages Melissa to be braver and to take risks. Alice seems to enjoy Melissa's less than perfect family. Melissa wishes she could have Alice's life, but Alice has secrets of her own and is not quite what she seems.

You will have to read the book to find out how it ends, but I will tell you that I came to care for all the characters and was very satisfied by this book. It is a fine story about friendship, family, and overcoming tragedy. Becky Citra didn’t let me down.

Choosing my favourite red cedar club is going to be very hard this year. They are all turning out to be great reads!

Rex Zero and the Great Pretender (Red Cedar Book)

Rex Zero and the Great Pretender by Tim Wynne Jones

This is another Red Cedar book for this year.

I wasn’t really sure about this book at first. Rex starts out doing something that I knew was going to get him in trouble. That is the problem with being a grown up reading children’s books. You see the consequences and cringe – either that or you worry yourself silly over the mess these characters can get themselves into.

Thankfully, by the time I finished this book, I loved it and remembered how much I liked the first book in the series.

The Rex series is set in the 1960’s in Ottawa. While I am sure kids won’t always get the references to pop culture icons like Paul Anka, it does reveal what life was like in those times.

Rex has moved 8 times in his 12 years. In this tale, he and his family are moving again. Only this time, it is just across town, and Rex decides he doesn’t want to move schools. The family moves in the summer and his transcripts are already sent to the new school, so Rex decides to lie to his parents, and go where he can be with his friends. His life gets very complicated as he pretends to go to his new school, but instead scrounges money to takes the two buses every day to and from school across town. To make his life even more difficult, the school bully has it in for him.

At home, where Rex is one of eight children, life is crazy. His sister Annie is dealing with problems of her own and mixing up evil concoctions in the garage. His mother has taken to smoking in the garden.

I’m not going to spoil the story for you, but before it all over, Rex ends up having to go to his new school, makes peace (more or less) with the bully, and eventually, realizes how lucky he is to be in the family he is in.

Here are some fabulous new picture books we have in the library.

These Hands written by Margaret H. Mason, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

At first this seems to be just the story of a boy and his grandfather. Then it becomes the story of the Wonder Bread Bakery, the union movement, and black people’s struggle for fair treatment. It is beautifully illustrated and powerful in both images and words. It ends perfectly with Joseph showing what his hands can do and Grandpa responding with. “Look at those hands. Those hands can do anything. Anything at all in this whole wide world. Yes, you can.”

Splish Splash Splat! by Rob Scotton

Splat is back in this story of learning how to swim. All the children in his class get into the pool except Scat and Spike. At first “Splat couldn’t keep quiet any longer. 'Water is horrible!’ her blurted, hiding behind Spike. ‘Yes… yes, it’s horrible' said spike, hiding behind Splat. Water is scary … and wet!’ they cried together.“ Eventually they find the courage to get into the water and discover that water is not so horrible after all. When Spike comes over to play afterwards, Splat finds out that Spike isn’t such a bad friend after all.

Check out the free online version here.

Honey Bee Man written by Lela Nargi, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
Fred has a secret city of bees on the top of his apartment building. They are like a family to him. He loves his hives and imagines the life of his bees as they travel the city in search of pollen. He encourages the young ones on their first flight and welcomes them all home at the end of the day. Based on the true story of John Howe, founder of NYC Beekeeping , It is a delightful book full of all kinds of facts about bees and how honey is made and harvested.

The Only Boy in Ballet Class written by Denise Gruska, illustrated by Amy Wummer

Tucker Dohr loves to dance. He dances his way through his day, “leaping over marbles the cat, … and spin(ing) past his tricky, tricky twin sisters. Unfortunately it isn’t easy being a boy who loves ballet. He gets teased by the other boys who taunt him and jeer “Where’s your tutu? Dancing is for girls!” Even his “Uncle Frank shakes his head, looks at Tucker’s mother, and says, “You ought to put that boy in football.” Eventually Tucker gets a chance to show them all that ballet isn’t just for girls.
You can find out more about the author and the book here.

Tutu’s Aren’t My Style by Linda Skeers

Emma’s uncle sends her a ballerina suit. It isn’t exactly an Emma kind of outfit. She would rather be “catching frogs, roping the cat or digging for pirate treasure.” She gets advice from the mailman, Mrs Giukin, and her brother about how to dance. When she tries to follow their rules, she ends up falling in the petunia patch, the birdbath, and tripping over the garden gnome. Eventually she follows her own rules about dancing and figures out that she can be a ballerina in her own way.

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

I bet when you hear the word daredevil, you don't think of a plump 62 year old woman teacher. This is the fascinating, true story of Annie Edson Taylor who was the first person to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel. At the age of 62, with no means to support herself, Annie knew she would have to do something spectacular to make money, or she would end up in the poorhouse. She decided that if she survived she would become rich and famous. It wasn’t easy to convince people to help her, but she persevered, and to this day, is still the only woman to go over the falls by herself. Chris Van Allsburg has done a beautiful job telling her story. You can see him talking about this book here.