Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

I am late to discover Terry Pratchett, you might even say that I am nearly of age with the old crones starring in this novel. Having discovered him, I have fallen in love with Pratchett's sense of humor, and am awed by his sly commentary on life. If you have read my post about Tiffany Aching, the young witch, you will already know this.

I take stories seriously: so seriously that I spent part of one summer at the University of Minneapolis studying Fairy Tales and Critical Literacy.

Therefore, I loved the introduction that dealt with the role of stories.

"... on the Discworld people take things seriously.
Like stories.
Because stories are important.
People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around.
Stories exist independent of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power.
Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling ... stories, twisting and blowing through the darkness.
And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper.
This is called the theory of narrative causality and it means that a story once started, takes a shape. It picks up all the other workings of that story that have ever been.
This is why history keeps on repeating all the time.
So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods. A thousand wolves have eaten grandmother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story.
Stories don't care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.
It takes a special kind of person to fight back, and become the bicarbonate of history."

It is of course the admirable witches from the Discworld: Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, and Granny Weatherwax, who take on this role. I love the interaction between them. I love their bickering, their bawdiness, and their interpretations of foreign places and foreigners. But mostly I love their humanity and their integrity.

Perhaps this wasn't quite as scintillating as I would have liked, but I still enjoyed reading it. A Lot. 

Alas it is probably a book for adults rather than kids in my elementary school. I doubt children, and even teens, have the sophistication to understand and appreciate the many nuances that make this book a keeper.

The Fault In Our Stars By John Green

I am a John Green fan. I should get that out of the way right off the top so you will know that I am slightly biased when I talk about his work.

I read Looking For Alaska while on a five hour road trip. My poor partner looked at me askance more than once as I sobbed uncontrollably next to him in the front seat of our car.

While I have enjoyed many of Green’s other novels since, nothing until The Fault in Our Stars, has had the same impact on me.

It is the story of two teenage cancer patients who fall in love.

It is about trying to find out what happens after the story ends.

I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the book for you.

I loved the characters. I am sure that half the people who read this book will fall in love with Augustus Waters and the other half will fall in love with Hazel Grace.

It felt authentic to me. These people were real. Their experience was believable.

I loved the profound discussion about living and dying. You can’t read this book and walk away not having thought more deeply about your own existence and reason for being.

There are so many beautiful quotes to pull from it.

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.”

“Sometimes people don't understand the promises they're making when they make them..... But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is”

“My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”

“The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”

“...while the world wasn't built for humans, we were built for the world.”

It took John Green 10 years to write this book. 

It was worth the wait. 
I will get it for our grade seven shelf.

Sensational Seasonal Books

Great seasonal books can enhance any celebration! There are a number of recently published titles out there, but in my mind, there are some classics that nothing really equals.

One of these is Elijah's Angel written by Michael J Rosen and illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson. It is a story that is both a Hanukkah book and a Christmas book. I love how it illustrates the power of friendship and love across faith and cultures. As an additional bonus, the story is rooted in reality.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated Trina Schart Hyman is another classic. It is one of those books that is just a great read aloud no matter what time of year it is! You can see the book and hear Kimmel reading it here.

One of my new favorite Hanukkah books is The Hanukkah Hop! written by Erica Silverman, and illustrated by Steven D’Amic. Reading this one out loud is a treat for both the reader and the listener. Everyone wants to get up and dance before you are done.

I adore Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. This nearly wordless comic book is scrumptiously illustrated so that the tale unfolds step by step. It will keep little ones occupied for ages. (At least it did mine many years ago)


Unless you have been living in a cave for the last few decades you already know these other classic Christmas narratives that continue to entertain children of all ages: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.


All these are lovely, but the Christmas yarn that I enjoy reading out loud most is The Cat on the Dovrefell: a Christmas Tale, translated from the Norse by Sir George Webbe Dasent and illustrated by Tomie de Paola. Jan Brett tells this story in Who's that knocking on Christmas Eve? but de Paola's version is just superior.


Pete the Cat Saves Christmas by Eric Litwin and James Dean might just become one of my new favorites. One of the best things about any Pete the Cat book is that it comes with a song that you can listen to for free. 


No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve

Brock, the dragon slayer, and his mute assistant, Ansel, travel from village to village in search of dragons to defeat. At first Ansel is torn between esteem for his master and fear of actually meeting up with one of the beasts.  Then Brock reveals that there is no such thing as a dragon and he is nothing more than a conman. Fortunately, there are a lot of superstitious people who will pay to get rid of their fear of a dragon.

Together they travel to a remote mountain village where the inhabitants are purported to be terrorized by a dragon.  Along with a local priest they head up into the hills expecting to hang out for a few days before killing a sheep and faking a dragon’s death.

On their way they find traces of a human sacrifice left by the villagers to appease the dragon. When they crowd into a shepherd’s cave to escape a violent storm they discover the girl alive. They assume she is delusional when she carries on about a dragon’s eye. 

No wonder, seriously, no one in their right mind believes in dragons.

Except that early in the morning, while outside to relieve himself, Ansel looks out and realizes a dragon is stalking him. He barely makes it back to the shelter. The creature in its fury batters itself against the wooden door till it manages to kill and grab one of their horses.

It appears that there is indeed such a thing as dragons.

The motley crew first attempts to flee the mountain, but is hampered by a landslide that decimated the trail.  Then the dragon returns; hunting once more. The survivors of this attack realize that they must climb up before they can come down.  It looks like they might make it until Brock gets it into his head that he will atone for his many sins when he kills the dragon.

I started this book because I am a sucker for Philip Reeve.
I finished it because not only is it a rollicking great adventure tale, it has hidden depths.   Sly truths about the human condition are slipped in midst the treachery, terror, and hair breadth escapes.

I liked that Reeves created realistic and fallible characters. He made me care about all of them, including the dragon. I admit to having some reservations about the priest, and I was often appalled by some of Brocks actions, but I still rooted for him to survive.  

This is one I will most definitely recommend to dragon fans. 

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

I loved this book.

It is a charming story about friendship, family, and how our family stories pass down from generation to generation.

Grace Lin grew up as one of the few Chinese American students in her school. She loved to read, but never found herself represented in the literature in her school or public library. This novel is part of a growing collection of books that remedy this.

It is set in Upper New York State where Grace and her family are celebrating the Lunar New Year and onset of the Year of the Dog. Grace hopes that this year will bring her some awareness of what she will be when she grows up.

Along the way she makes another best friend, has a crush on a boy, goes away to camp, and ultimately discovers herself.

I loved the stories with in the novel. I loved how Grace negotiates her way between her Taiwanese heritage, and her American reality. Grace is the kind of girl you would like for your own best friend.

I am looking forward to more of her books in our library.

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, by Ying Chang Compestine, is the story of Ling Chang, a young girl growing up in China in the 1970’s, the time of the Cultural Revolution.  She lives with her father, a western trained surgeon, and her mother, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. They are an upper class (bourgeois) family living in an upper class apartment near the Wuhan hospital where both of them work.  This story, based on the author’s own experiences of that time, is told from Ling’s perspective.  Much of what occurs is at first confusing and unfathomable to her.
The family’s comfortable life begins to disintegrate when one of their rooms is taken over by Comrade Li, a political officer of the Communist Party.  Bit by bit their lives are filled with escalating suspicion, fear and betrayal.  At school Ling’s hopes to become a member of the Red Guard are destroyed because of her family’s status. She is bullied and harassed at school by her classmates who have become members.  Loud speakers blast revolutionary slogans constantly. One by one other tenants in the apartment are publicly humiliated and begin to disappear.  The Chang family is forced to burn their English books and decorate their house with Mao posters and slogans.
It isn’t enough. In spite of everything they do they are still targeted by the revolutionary guards and accused of being anti-revolutionary.  First Ling’s father loses his status as a surgeon and is forced to work as a janitor in the hospital. Their home is ransacked a number of times and eventually he is taken away.  For the next few years Ling and her mother are left to struggle to find enough food to survive.  They have no idea where Dr. Chang has been taken.  It turns out that he has been taken to jail, but is called in to operate on top party officials who won’t trust themselves to the ‘barefoot doctors’ trained by the party.
This is a stellar book on many levels.  It is well written and compelling.  It is an engaging story of a strong girl growing up and coming of age in extremely difficult circumstances.  It is an historical novel that educates the reader about the events in China in this time period. There is an authenticity to the element of sadistic violence in the name of Chairman Mao that is chilling.  Yet at the same time as it speaks to our human capacity for cruelty, it reminds us that we also have the capacity for kindness and survival.
This book pairs up perfectly with another children’s book about China at the same time, Chu Ju’s House by Gloria Whelan.  Whelan’s story is set in the country instead of the city.  Chu Ju’s family were poor farmers. Her father was one of the ‘barefoot doctors’ referred to in Compestine’s novel.  While Chu Ju’s House hints at potential violence and corruption, Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, spells it out much more clearly.  Both are wonderful reads.

This book has been on my to read list for a long time.  I am so glad I finally got around to it!
I think we need a set for literature circles.

To Stand On My Own: The Polio Diary of Noreen Robertson by Barbara Haworth-Attard (Red Cedar Club 2012)

This is the diary of Noreen Robertson, an eleven year old girl from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in 1937. The country is in the midst of a polio epidemic. In the heat of the summer Noreen, Edmund, her brother, and Bessie, her best friend, disobey their parents and go to the public swimming pool to cool down.  Shortly after this Noreen comes down with polio.
The book follows Noreen's progress with the disease throughout the next year. At first she ends up in the isolation ward in the hospital in Saskatoon. Then after a time of recovery at home, Noreen is sent to a special rehabilitation facility in Regina. 
It is a difficult time for Noreen. Bessie, her best friend, abandons her but she discovers a true friend in someone she once thought beneath her. Her new friends at the facility help each other to become strong in spite of the obstacles they have to overcome. 
 I liked that in spite of everything, Noreen grew in many ways over the year.
Like all the books in the Dear Canada series, the reader gets a personal perspective of history. I was born at the end of the last polio epidemic in Canada so it was interesting to read what it was like before we had vaccines. It was also interesting to read about the controversy surrounding best treatment for survivors. 
However, this book didn't excite and wow me in the same way that Exiles from the War by Jean Little, another Dear Canada book and another 2012 Red Cedar Club nominee did. Neither was it half as exciting as The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence, a candidate from last year's club, and a book about polio. I don't think this is a terrible book. For me, it just didn't hold up in comparison with these other books. 

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

There are stories, and then there are stories. You know what I mean. The ones that grab you in a gut wrenching hold from the first sentence and leave you exhausted, wrung out, and ultimately a different person by their end. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is one of them.  

It is based on the true story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who after being taken from the wild, spent his first few years in a human home. Then he spent the next three decades in a cage in a mall in Washington State.

Katherine Applegate has given him a voice that enables the rest of us to begin to understand what it might have been like for him all those years.

In this fictional account of his life, Ivan has a few other animals he is close to; Bob the mongrel dog that shares his cage, and Stella the ill and aging elephant who lives in the small enclosure next to him. At first Ivan seems almost content with his life and his painting. Then Ruby, a baby elephant is brought into the mall. Ivan is forced to face deeply buried memories in order to come up with a plan to save Ruby from an existence like theirs. 

While reading this one I wept. I laughed. It is complicated: From the stories of the humans who saved Ruby, to the humans who killed her family, and Mack, the mall owner, who seemed to love Ivan as a son, yet kept him in a cage for so long. 

 All this is punctuated with moments of poignant stinging truths.

“But many days I forget what I am supposed to be. Am I a human? Am I a gorilla? 

Humans have so many words, more than they truly need. Still, they have no name for what I am. “

When describing why the picture on the billboard is not him, Ivan explains, “…I am never angry.

Anger is precious. A silverback uses anger to maintain order and warn his troop of danger. When my father beat his chest, it was to say. Beware, listen, I am in charge. I am angry to protect you, because that is what I was born to do. 
Here in my domain, there is no one to protect.”

Thank you Katherine Applegate for writing this book. I wish I had gotten around to reading it sooner.

Do yourself a favor. Read this book. Do it now.


Clone Codes by The McKissacks

Clone Codes by The McKissacks, is a dystopian novel for younger readers.
I read it because Wendy gave me her copy and told me it was good.
It is a science fiction novel set in 2170. Human clones are created to be slaves. Cyborgs, (humans with more than 60% replacement parts) are looked upon as lesser creatures.
It isn’t a bad read, but neither is it particularly stunning. While it is unfortunately predictable, it has some redeeming qualities.
In the first place I am a sucker for any book that informs the reader of history, and in this case history is revealed through pretty exciting experiential learning for Leanna, the protagonist, and thus vicariously the reader.
Second, the book is full of adventure and some suspense – something that is sure to draw younger readers in. Leanna, who has lived a life of privilege, is full of prejudice and contempt for creatures she sees as less than she is. She has a very steep learning curve when she discovers that she is not who she thought herself to be. It isn’t easy to change the way she looks at herself and the rest of her world.
Third, the book is full of futuristic technology and creatures called biobots. Imagine something akin to flesh eating police dogs, but much much nastier. 

While this simple story is not particularly well told, that is not my complaint with it. It is one of those books that doesn’t really have an ending. I hate books like this. I don’t care if books are part of a series. Each book has to feel satisfying and this one just doesn’t do it for me. On the other hand, this is just what keeps kids coming back for more, so really, who am I to complain?

Giraffe and Bird & Don't Laugh at Giraffe by Rebecca Bender

Friendship is complicated.

Giraffe and Bird are unlikely best friends as we discover in Giraffe and Bird. “Spat, scrap and squabble - they almost always get on each other’s nerves. The funny thing is, you rarely see them apart.” When they are apart they miss each other terribly.


In Don’t Laugh at Giraffe, Giraffe is having trouble getting a drink of water and the other animals end up laughing at him. Bird understands that this makes Giraffe feel bad, and goes out of his way to make them laugh at him. In the process, he ends up getting Giraffe laughing and overcoming his fear of the water.


Thank you Rebecca Bender!

These books are perfect for fans of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books!

The Mask Wearer by Bryan Perro (Red Cedar Club 2012)

Ok, the truth is that fantasy is not my favorite genre.
So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this book didn't grab me by the throat and hold me down til I was finished. It took me a while to get into the story and even then, I had no trouble putting it down to do other things. That said, I don't think it is a terrible read.
The idea of the story is intriguing. It is one of those good versus evil tales. I liked the introduction of the humanimals, the integration of mythical creatures, and fairy tale elements.
The main character, Amos, and his parents are forced to leave their cottage (but not before Amos tricks their overlord out of money and horses)
Along the way Amos gets a message from a dying mermaid and a quest to deliver a white stone and become The Mask Wearer.
The family comes across a land filled with statues of people and animals. Amos meets up with Beriot, a humanimal that can transform into a bear. This turns out to be lucky because this leads to the family escaping when the rest of the inhabitants are turned into stone by a wicked sorcerer. 

Eventually Amos makes it to the mysterious land of Tarkasis where the Fairy people live. After he receives his mask from them, Amos has to figure out how to defeat the wicked overlord and his slave medusas before the world is destroyed. 
Perhaps if I had read it in the original French I would have appreciated it more. Perhaps if it didn’t seem so much like a video game I would have been more excited by it. 
I concede that I did eventually want to find out how it would end. However, I will not be holding my breath for the next book in the series to be translated. 
I hope to be completely in the minority with my poor opinion of this one.

Count Me In by Sara Leach (Red Cedar Club 2012)

This is an adventure novel set in the mountains near Squamish BC. Tabitha, her widowed Aunt Tess and two cousins, Cedar and Ashley, set out on a Thanksgiving weekend hike to spread Uncle Bruce’s ashes overlooking a bluff. It is Tabitha’s first hiking experience and she doesn’t want to be there. It seems like her cousins don’t want her to be there with them either.
I liked the tension that arouse from the environmental conditions. You can’t spend time in the wilderness around here without having a healthy respect for bears. When Tabitha has a run in with a bear I was right there with her. You can’t spend much time in the Pacific Northwest without having a healthy respect for the rain. The parts of the novel when the group are in danger or trapped because of the weather and ensuing high waters in lakes and rivers are frightening realistic.  These aspects of the novel kept me reading til the end. 

I didn’t like the tension between the two girl cousins. It didn’t feel authentic to me.  I don’t much like those girls bullying girl books. Unfortunately this book often felt too much like one of them. I am sure that Leach wanted this to be about a girl who learns what she is capable of, and learns to stand up for herself. For me however it was too much about a girl being a victim. 

I would have liked this book much more had Leach made this more of an adventure novel with more realistic relationships between the characters.  

That said, I am sure that there are many readers who will find this an engaging and satisfying read.

Exiles from the War by Jean Little (Red Cedar Club Book 2012)

This is a lovely coming of age tale set at the beginning of WW2 in Ontario.
When Charlotte Mary Twiss turned 12 in 1940, her sister, Eleanor, gave her a diary and made her promise to use it to document the events in what Eleanor avowed would be a significant year in her life. Eleanor even promised her a treat if she could keep it up to the end of the year.
This book is Charlotte’s diary. In it she confides her hopes and dream, joys and sorrows. At first she thinks she will have nothing of significance to record, but with war in the background, it turns out she is mistaken.  Through Charlotte’s diary we see that a war that seems very far away has repercussions on the home front in numerous ways.  When the family sponsors war guests, Charlotte has to come to grips with no longer being the baby in the family and learn to share her siblings and parents.  She tries to understand her best friend, Barbara, when she is filled with worry about her Jewish relatives in Europe. Then Charlotte's brother joined the navy and after flurries of letter writing back and forth, there were no missives from him.
Charlotte is a sensitive realistic character and over the year we see her mature and become aware of others.
I love how Jean Little seamlessly integrates historical events into the novel format through Charlotte’s eyes.
I truly enjoyed this book. In case you don't know, Jean Little can really write.
I know a few readers who are going to enjoy this one as much as I did.

The Listening Tree by Celia Barker Lottridge (Red Cedar Club 2012)

It’s the 1930’s on the Canadian Prairie. After five years of no rain, Ellen’s father left the farm to search for work out west. A year later Ellen and her mother headed east on the train to Toronto to stay with her mother’s sister, Aunt Gladys.
Aunt Gladys runs a boarding house where Ellen and her mother are made welcome.  Toronto is a strange and active environment compared to Ellen’s quiet, solitary life on the prairie farm.  It takes her a while to adjust to these new surroundings.  
There are children living next door, but Ellen is too uncomfortable to go and introduce herself.  After she has finished her morning chores of dishes and feeding the chickens, she climbs out her bedroom window and onto a large tree limb.  There in that world of rustling green, she listens to the goings on of the world below.
Then one day she overhears a couple of men plotting to evict the neighbors.  She is forced to finally connect with Charlotte, Joey and Gracie, the children she has been listening in on, to tell them what she has heard.  Then it is up to the children to come up with a plan to save Ellen’s new friends’ family.

I liked this book. The characters were beautifully portrayed.  It alludes to, but doesn’t address the harsher realities for many families at this time, but it does introduce younger readers to aspects of history in an enjoyable way.
Up until this book, my favorite novel by Celia Barker Lottridge has been Ticket to Curlew, another historical novel that turned many of my grade three/four boys into readers. I hope The Listening Tree has the same effect on my Red Cedar Club readers today.

Saving Arm Pit by Natalie Hyde (Red Cedar Club 2012)

I loved this book!

So far I have enjoyed everyone of the 2012 Red Cedar Club books I have read, but this one has hit a home run for me.

I loved that it is a baseball story.

I love that it is funny.
I loved that it is a story about a small town trying to survive.
I loved the characters.

I love that it is about a bunch of kids working together to make a difference.
I love that in spite of some setbacks, they succeed!

The Harmony Point Terriers Baseball Team are established losers. Other teams harass and laugh at them whenever they get on the field. Someone has even painted out the letters in the town sign so that it now reads ARM PIT.

Then the local postmistress retires and the new postman, Mr. Blackmore, takes on coaching their team. Just as the team seems to be improving, word comes that Canada Post is going to get rid of the local post office and people will have to travel to the nearby city to pick up their mail.

Mr. Blackmore may have to leave, and to make matters worse; it looks like romance is in the air between him and Miss Apfelbaum, town baker extraordinaire. If he leaves, most likely so will she.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The team starts a letter writing campaign to increase amount of mail passing through the local post office. Because of this, things start to happen and the baseball team begins to see itself as potential winners. Unbeknownst to them, their letter writing actions end up being more important than they can imagine.

There is so much I loved about this book.

The letters that punctuate each chapter are fabulous. One of my favorites was the letter from the school regarding PS days. (Here we call them Pro D days) The teachers were “taking courses and attending seminars including “Monday Morning Panic Attacks” and “Countdown to Summer Vacation.” (I want courses like this at our Pro D days!) Later on, the letter from Sea Chimps in Space was a hilarious and profound example of how the children were able to make their own learning environments a richer place.

This book is sure to be a winner in as many ways as the Terriers Team is.

Emily Included by Kathleen McDonnell (Red Cedar Club 2012)

So many of us have no idea who Emily Eaton is. Even those of us with some understanding of what it might be like to live with a disability have probably never heard of her. But it is because of her courage, and the determination of her family, that as a society, we look at people with challenges of all kinds differently.

Emily Eaton was born with cerebral palsy.  This didn’t deter her parents and three older brothers who treated her like any normal sister.  When she started kindergarten in a regular classroom, her parents had two important goals in mind. First, they felt that Emily would learn more if she was in a learning environment with peers who were not disabled. Second, they wanted the other children to become more aware of individuals with disabilities. This was going to be the community Emily would be a member of when she was an adult. They wanted her peers to get to know Emily, and for her to get to know them and the best place for this to happen was at school.
Emily loved school. She spent kindergarten and grade one at Maple Avenue School in a regular class.  Her first educational assistant was understanding and supportive. Emily made friends and it seemed like everything was going well.  Then the special needs tribunal decreed that Emily had to go to a special school.  Her parents challenged this ruling, but afterwards, Emily’s new assistant turned out to be very different.  It seemed like Emily was being set up to fail.
Twice the family, with the support of ARCH, The Advocacy Resource Center for the Handicapped, fought the ruling and lost.  After the second loss Emily was moved to a new school that supported the integration of students with special needs. Even though it might be too late for Emily, the family continued to fight the ruling on behalf of all disabled people.
In December, 1994, they went to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Many groups were now involved in the case, including the school board lawyers, the Canadian Disability Rights Council and the Ontario Association for Community Living. Emily and her group won! However, this judgment was challenged by the school board (and representatives from the governments of BC, Ontario and Quebec) Eventually the case was presented to the Supreme Court of Canada where the judges decreed that school boards had an obligation to do everything they could to integrated children like Emily and put them in special classrooms only as a last resort.

This would be an excellent read for teachers, students and their families, who are about to, or already have a special needs child in their classroom. Emily reminds us that inside each of us is someone who just wants to communicate and belong and if we take the time to make it happen, it will be well worth it.

Nutz! Written by Virginia Frances Schwartz and illustrated by Christina Leist (Red Cedar Club 2012)

This book is a delicious romp. Narrated by Amos, a precocious half-Persion, half-ally, rescue cat, it abounds with chuckle out loud moments.

Amos’ pampered life is disrupted when Tyler, Amos’ owner and BFF, rescues a baby squirrel from Bruno, the brutish boxer from next door.

Tyler has the uncanny ability to hypnotize and tame just about any animal and human except Mrs. Chu, their neighbor. Thank goodness because she brings Amos all kinds of delicious treats like gizzards and sushi from the market where she works.

Everyone in the house ends up paying attention to the baby squirrel and forgetting about poor abandoned Amos. His life is made more miserable because Francesca, Tyler’s mother, has him eating diet cat food called ‘Fancy Feasties for Fat Beasties… It smelled like bad breath. The label read NON-FAT RECYCLED FISH HEADS. ADD WATER FOR A CAT TREAT DELIGHT.” Amos is not impressed. At least Mrs. Chu understands poor Amos’ predicament and attempts to help him.

Just as Amos predicts, the baby squirrel wrecks havoc in the house. But no matter how hard he tries; Amos can’t convince them to get rid of the rodent. At one point Amos realizes he is doomed. “Francesca lifted the baby squirrel up in the air until they were eyeball to eyeball…. The two of them were locked in a circle of quiet. Cats know things. We are psychic. Here’s what I know. It was love at first sight.”

The family has even more trouble than dealing with a squirrel loose in the house. Their rent is overdue, and Mr. Stinky Feet will soon arrive demanding his money and the removal of the rodent.

You will have to read the book yourself to find out if Amos and Nutz, as the squirrel eventually becomes named, reach an accord and if they come up with a way to save them all from ending up on the street.

The illustrations by Christina Leist perfectly compliment the text. She captures the main ideas of each chapter in cat like drawings that add to the hilarity of the narrative.

Cat Boy by Eric Walters (Red Cedar Club 2012)

Taylor and his new friend, Simon, were taking a short cut home across a junkyard when they came upon a colony of feral cats. While they were watching the group, three bullies arrived and began throwing rocks at the cats. Taylor tried to intervene and stop them, only to have the bullies focus their attention and rocks on the two friends. Luckily, Mr. Singh, the security guard, interrupted the altercation. It turned out that Mr. Singh was a cat lover. As they fed the cats bits of their leftover lunches, Taylor and Mr. Singh became friends. Eventually more of Taylor’s classmates became involved in feeding the cats.

Simon developed a bond with a cat he named Hunter. When Hunter got injured, Simon called upon a veterinarian who was part of a group taking care of feral cats. Simon and Hunter’s relationship deepened when Hunter, trapped in a cage, had to stay with Simon for a few days until his foot healed and the infection cleared up.

Eventually Simon returned Hunter to the colony and it seemed like their lives had returned to normal.

Then one day, everything changed. Mr. Singh informed them that the yard had been sold, and the new owners had already begun clearing out the yard. He warned them that as soon as the cats were discovered the new owner would destroy them.

Taylor had two weeks to come up with a solution to save the cats.

This was a good book. I was engaged in the story right away and admit to having the odd tear in my eye as I too got caught up in the need to save the cats. I liked that the cultural demographics of Simon’s school and neighborhood is reminiscent of the multicultural community where I live and teach.

I finished this book wondering if there are any feral cat colonies around Vancouver, and if there are, where they might be found.  

That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore (Red Cedar Book 2012)

I have to be completely honest here. I am a Rachna Gilmore fan. Seriously, I have never read anything of hers I did not love. One of my all time favorite books is A Group of One. If you haven’t read it go straight to your local book store or library and get it. (After you read this of course)

So it was weird that I wasn’t sure at first if I would like That Boy Red. It starts out slow and the historical setting is different from what I am used to with her work.

However, after a few pages I was riveted by the story of eleven-year-old Red MacRae and his family. Red is growing up on a farm in Prince Edward Island during the great depression of the 1930’s. While life isn’t easy for the family, they not only survive, they manage to help out their less fortunate neighbors. The book spans one tumultuous year in the family’s life. It is a collection of vignettes highlighting a number of events that play an important role in Red’s life.

Red is a spunky scalawag who is prone to getting into trouble. His hijinks will, for the most part, send you into gales of laughter. I dare you to keep a straight face while reading how Red, and his brother, Mac, drop their grandmother’s treasured lock of hair into cow manure, try to clean it and end up trying to substitute horse hair for it. At other times, like when he gets lost in a winter storm and ends up holed up in a neighbor’s outhouse to escape the blizzard, you are likely to alternate between admiration, admonishment and amusement. Unfortunately, Red’s antics are not always benign. When he and a friend tricked his little sister into thinking she had killed him, it ended up causing the community great distress and nearly led to disaster. 

Red’s parents value education. Despite the disparaging opinions of other farmers, Mr. and Mrs. MacRae took out a loan to send Ellen, their oldest child, away to school. Now she works as the local schoolteacher to earn money to pay for Alex, the eldest boy, to go away to university. As you can imagine, it isn’t easy having your older sister as your teacher. Some of the predicaments Red finds himself in are a direct result of this. 

This is a lovely coming of age tale. Readers will enjoy peeking in on this year of Red’s life as he matures, learns from his mistakes and comes to appreciate himself, his family, his community, and his own place in it.

This book reminded me of Farley Mowat’s book, Owls in the Family. If you liked it you will like this.

I am happy to say that Rachna Gilmore didn’t let me down.

Ice Storm by Penny Draper (Red Cedar Club 2012)

In 1998 an ice storm hit the province of Quebec and other parts of Eastern Canada. Montreal, a city of 3 ½ million people was extremely hard hit. This is the story of Sophie and Alice, cousins and close friends who lived in different parts of the province. Told from the points of view of the two girls, we see how this disaster slowly escalated from a minor inconvenience to a near catastrophe. Alice lived in Montreal with her father who worked for Hydro Quebec. Sophie lived in rural Quebec on a dairy farm with her brother, mother and father. Against the backdrop of the storm, Alice and Sophie have to deal with details of their own lives.

Alice loved to skate and train for hours each day before and after school. In spite of this, competitions were a nightmare for her. When she was in front of a crowd she seemed unable to do anything right. When the storm hit, her father was occupied trying to get the power grid running and left Alice alone at home. At first she was comfortable, but as the storm progressed, all bridges to Montreal were shut down. Her uncle was unable to pick her up and bring her to the farm as planned, but her father was unaware of this. As the freezing rain continued and became more treacherous, trees in her neighborhood split, power lines collapsed and Alice was truly abandoned. She rescued a cranky older neighbor when a tree collapsed onto her house and they ended up in a shelter together. This doesn’t mean that things got better.

Before the storm Sophie’s most difficult challenge was dealing with her brilliant and very weird younger brother. She bottled her feelings up deep inside and was unable to say what she wanted.  Because her parents had the foresight to purchase a generator, it seemed at first that Sophie’s family and farm animals would be fine. Then the generator failed and they were forced to watch helplessly as their farm animals began to die.

Ultimately this is a story about how disaster brings out the best and worst in humankind. It shows us how ordinary individuals not only cope; they grow and become stronger under these kinds of challenging situations.

This is the kind of book that makes learning history a pleasure.

LARKLIGHT or The revenge of the white spiders! or To Saturn's Rings and Back! A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the farthest Reaches of Space as chronicl'd by Art Mumby, with the aid of Philip Reeve

I just adore this book.

My niece told me about the series ages ago, but when I tried to get a copy of it for the library, it was out of print. When I found a copy published by Scholastic, I grabbed it!

I am so glad I did.

Philip Reeve’s creative genius has resulted in a story that is a fabulous example of steampunk. The illustrations by David Wyatt just top it off perfectly.

Any great adventure tale should have intrigue and suspense, battles and chases, and to top it off, romance and humor.

Larklight has it all and more.

Throw in a generous amount of strange mechanical devices and unique creatures from across the universe and nearly any reader who opens the first page will be hooked.

I was. I started reading and couldn’t put the book down.

Arthur and his sister, Myrtle, are an ordinary set of squabbling siblings from Victorian times. What is not so ordinary is that they live on Larklight, a cobbled together house that orbits around the moon.

Their ordinary morning goes awry when Mr. Webster, the visitor they have been expecting, turns out to be a monstrous talking spider wearing a bowler hat. Although they escape, their day goes from bad to worse. They are captured by a gigantic potter moth to feed to its larva, and barely saved by the famous pirate, Captain Jack Havock. They survive an attack by the royal navy, only to be attacked by the spiders again.

The children find themselves in a battle for much more than their own survival: it is a battle to save the entire universe!

Larklight is the first in a trilogy but thankfully; the ending is satisfying just as it is. (I hate books that leave me hanging – that sort of thing is ok with chapters, but not when I get to the finish)

I will buy an extra copy for the library and can’t wait to get my hands on Starcross and Mothstorm.

I suspect the text will be daunting for all but strong readers in an elementary school. It is loaded with Victorian vocabulary and the level on the back of my scholastic edition says the reading level is 8.8. However, because the story itself is suitable for younger readers, it will make a fabulous read aloud!

Powerless by Matthew Cody

I have been working my way through the pile of books recommended to me by students. I was told this was a fantastic book by a charming grade 7 boy.
He was right.

When Daniel Corrigan and his family moved to the town of Nobel’s Green to be with his ailing grandmother, he was full of nervous apprehension. It is a good thing he loved to read detective novels and dreamed of being Sherlock Holmes. Not only did it help pass time, it prepared him for his new life in Nobel’s Green.

Ok, so nothing in life could really prepare him for his new friends. They seem a bit odd, but it isn’t until one of them saves his life that he discovers that his new friends have super powers. Molly can fly. Rohan has hyper senses. Eric can fly and has incredibly strength. Simon can control electricity. Rose can become invisible.

Unfortunately there is a dark side to their lives. They must abide by four important rules.

  1. Use Your Powers To Help. Never Hurt.
  2. The North Face And The Old Quarry Are Off-Limits. Danger Waits For Us There.
  3. It Ends At Thirteen
  4. Never Ever Let Grown Ups Know
When the children turn thirteen, not only do they lose their power, their memories of their super powers and of their friendships also disappear. This is where Daniel comes in. While he may not have super powers, he is extremely good at detecting and he uses this to help his friends figure out why they lose their powers, and what they can do to stop it.

It involves breaking the rules. There are also some terrifying and suspenseful moments fighting ‘the shroud’.  I was sucked into the story from the very beginning.
It is both a book about superheroes and a mystery at the same time.
Seriously, what more could you ask for

You could ask for a sequel. You would get it. Super has just been published. Can't wait to get my hands on it. 

Chu Ju's House by Gloria Whelan

The best part of being a teacher librarian is when a kid comes in to the library holding a book against his or her heart and tells me that this is the best book they have ever read.  Sometimes these are popular fiction that everyone is reading, but sometimes they are hidden treasures.  These treasures are books that speak a personal truth and trigger something profound in a few children.  Chu Ju’s House is one of these books.  It has been on my list of books to read ever since Nancy, an ESL student from China, told me it was the best book ever, and I should read it.  This is the book that got her hooked on reading. 

I finally got around to reading it.

The thing about books like Chu Ju’s House, that are set in modern history in a different culture, is that I can’t judge the authenticity of the time, place or cultural relationships among the characters.  What I can tell you is that it felt real to me. 
The story is set In China in the 1970’s, a time when poor families could only have two children.  It begins with the family awaiting the birth of a child that they desperately hope will be a boy.  Nai Nai, (her grandmother) refers to Chu Ju as a useless girl.   
The new child ends up being another girl. 

Chu Ju is an amazing character.  She is a strong, resourceful girl.  When Nai Nai makes arrangements for her baby sister to be sold so that the family can try for a boy child, Chu Ju runs away.  At first she finds work on a traveling fishing boat.  Then she looks after silk worms with girls who have been sent from an orphanage to work for the owner.  Eventually she connects with a woman and her son on a small farm.  She ends up living with them until the son goes off to Shanghai to work and escape the farming life. 

Apart from being an entertaining adventure and coming of age tale, this book seems to open a window to the world of China in the 1970’s.  While it is a predominantly rural setting, the reader is also exposed to a flavor of city life. There are hints about what might have happened to her sister and other girl babies who were abandoned to orphanages had Chu Ju not left.  There are also hints as to what might befall a single girl on her own were it not for the ultimate goodness of many people she meets on her way. 

I too think this is an amazing book.