Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nonfiction: Never Smile at a Monkey

You probably know that you shouldn't swim with sharks, or tease a lion, or stick your head in an alligator's mouth. But did you know that many smaller animals can also be deadly - especially if you do exactly the wrong thing?
This fact filled picture book tells kids all about some of the animals that you might not know are dangerous. From kicking Cassowaries to electrified caterpillars, kids will be amazed at the inventive (and deadly!) self defence mechanisms that animals have evolved.
This is a great general interest book about animals, and would be suitable for kids in grades 3-5. With its high interest subject matter and brief, simple text, reluctant readers would find this an appealing read.
Grades 3-5
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Easy Reader: The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow

Author Andy Griffiths is a master of writing books for boys. His wildly popular chapter books for tweens include "The Day My Butt Went Psycho", and the newer "Schooling Around" series. In this easy reader (for kids in grades k-3) he tries his hand at books for new readers.
True to form, this title is absolutely full of slapstick humour, including exploding cows, a Rock'n'Roll mole named Noel, and boys falling out of 100 decker beds. The silliness and whimsical rhymes are great for kids who like Dr. Seuss.

The text is large and clear, and the black and white pictures give lots of support to learning readers. This book is perfect for reluctant readers, and kids who love lots of humour. Get ready for hysterical giggling!
Easy Reader
Grades k-3
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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fantasy: Dragonbreath

Danny Dragonbreath has big dreams: he wants to be a fearsome pirate, and sail the seven seas! He's got a long way to go, though, since he still can't breathe fire, and spends his time fending off the bullies who want to pick on him for his miniscule stature.
Realizing he knows absolutely nothing about the ocean (which is something Pirates should all be familiar with!) Danny decides to visit his cousin Edward, a sea serpent who lives in the Saragasso sea.
Along with his friend Wendell, Danny gets up close and personal with exploding sea cucumbers, sharks, and hostile mermen. They do manage to learn some neat ocean facts before they come across a giant squid and have to fight for their lives. Will Danny manage to save Wendell from an untimely, tentacle death? More importantly, will he ever get his report finished?
This hilarious story is written as a half graphic novel, half text book. The comic style black, green and white pictures add lots of appeal for boys and reluctant readers.
Fantasy (humour)
Ages 7-10
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Graphic Novel: Lunch Lady and the league of librarians

Lunch Lady is a superhero under her apron, and she's an expert at sniffing out crimes wherever they may hide! She's sure that there's something fishy happening in the library, because the normally friendly school librarians have become cold and secretive.
With the help of the Breakfast Bunch (5 feisty grade schoolers), Lunch Lady discovers that the librarians are aiming for nothing more than WORLD DOMINATION! And their terrible plan is to start by DESTROYING ALL VIDEO GAMES! These are truly evil, evil librarians.
Lunch Lady to the rescue! With the help of some taco night vision goggles and some truly appalling puns, Lunch Lady saves the day. Librarians will be especially fond of this title, because there's lots and lots of inside jokes that may whiz right over the heads of kids; but the funny art and likeable characters will be a sure hit with all.
Graphic Novel
Ages 8-10
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Science Fiction: The Sky Inside

It's rare to find well written science fiction books for kids or younger teens. Somehow, this genre is largely ignored by children's authors, which is a shame!
The Sky Inside, by Clare Dunkle, is an appealing new read for kids that are interested in futuristic novels. Martin is one of the older kids in suburb HM1. Like everyone else, his parents scrimped and saved up enough credits to qualify for a child; Martin was shipped out to them on the train, like all the other babies. They could barely afford to get his sister, Cassie, because she was one of the new super babies: genetically engineered to be the smartest, cutest, nicest kids ever.
Everything is perpetually stable and sunny under the blue dome of their suburb. They all gather in front of their TV every morning to vote on the president's latest intiative (for example, what colour his drapes should be) and then they all head off to jobs, or school. But Martin can't believe that that's all there is: it feels like there should be something more. Something bigger than his suburb. He starts poking around, and discovers some truly disturbing things about his so-called idyllic home.
When an outsider from the government arrives to take the superbabies away, Martin is torn. He wants Cassie to have a great education, and it's true that she's obviously not getting as much teaching as she needs from the ordinary people in HM1, but can he trust the government to take care of his beloved sister?
When Martin uncovers the government's horrible plan, there's only one way to save Cassie: break out of the Dome, and brave the wasteland that lies outside.
Science Fiction
Ages 10-13
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fiction: The Magician's Elephant

Kate DiCamillo is the much loved author of The Tale of Despereaux, and Because of Winn Dixie. Her trademark writing style is showcased again in this new book about an orphan boy seeking his lost sister.
Young Peter Augustus Duchene spends his guardian's scarce coins on a fortuneteller instead of food. He is excited by her news: his long lost sister, separated from him at birth, still lives! However, the fortune teller's advice of "follow the elephant" seems improbable. Where would an elephant come from in their Baltese?
But magic is at work in the opera house, and an elephant does appear. Soon the various threads of townsfolk weave together to bring each of them solace and peace in the cold winter.
This atmospheric, elegant tale is similar in tone to The Tale of Desperaux. It has the same faint feel of a fairy tale, and it makes no effort to hide the fact that children and adults can be sorrowful, and can endure great suffering. In the end, I was very glad to see that DiCamillo pulls a satisfyingly happy ending out of the magician's hat.

Kids who like thoughtful, quiet books may find this one appealing. The mood is altogether restrained and somehow cool, so those who prefer fast plot driven action will look elsewhere. Again, this is a terrific book for the right kid, but one that will demand much of the reader.
Grades 4-7
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Picture Book: The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear

Every once in a while, you come across a book that will surely change the face of childhood. This one is it! Remember Rock Paper Scissors? Kiss it goodbye. It's being replaced with Ninja Cowboy Bear!
This book tells the legend of three friends: ninja, cowboy and bear. They usually live harmoniously, but one day they all get in an argument about who's the best.
When they devise some tests to find out who's the best, of course they each win a different competetion. The cowboy is quick; the bear is strong; the ninja is agile.
After some thought, the friends decide that they are each best in their own way. The book ends with a visual description of how to play Ninja, Cowboy, Bear. Unlike the hand-based Rock Paper Scissors, playing Ninja Cowboy Bear is a whole body experience. Players stand back to back, then walk three paces as they count 1, 2, 3. On "turn", they turn around and pretend to be their chosen character. Ninja strikes a kicking pose; cowboy pulls his guns, and bear towers threateningly. Ninja beats cowboy, cowboy beats bear, and bear beats ninja!
Now you know; go forth and play childhood's newest tie breaking game! A fantastic pick for active kids, with a nice little moral hidden in the story.
Picture Book
Grades 2-6
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Nonfiction: Thumb Wrestling Federation

Thumb wrestlers, unite! This official handbook is your guide to the TWF, complete with thumb profiles, mask and outfit pictures, and top level training tips.
Those who are serious about thumb wrestling will find out how to create their own logo and costume. Full of hilarious and fun photos, this book is a great quick nonfiction read.

Grades 3-6
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Fiction: Jolted

Arthur Slade is the Canadian author of Dust and Tribes. This book for younger readers has the same crackling energy and tension as his young adult books.

Newton Starker has always known that he will die by lightning. Every Starker relative except his mean, bitter great grandma has died by lightning strike, including his mother.

Newton is determined to fight the odds, so he signs on for the Academy for Survival, a boarding school in remote Saskatchewan where kids are taught wilderness and emergency survival skills alongside math and english.

But Newton has trouble dealing with the other students, rather than inclement weather. Although he's generally successful at avoiding deadly electricity, he's not having much luck making friends and keeping out of trouble. Things come to a head during the semester's final Wilderness Trip, and Newton has to decide who he can trust while the clouds gather!

This is a fast paced book with unique, standout characters. Great for boys or reluctant readers.


Grades 5-7

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Graphic Novel: Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest

This fun graphic novel for younger kids follows the adventures of Sticky Burr. Yes, that's right: he's a prickly burr, and he lives in a village with the other burrs in Burrwood Forest.
Sticky Burr's adventures usually begin when he gets stuck to the tail of one forest animal or another. Sometimes it's a bird, sometimes it's a wild dog; but always, Sticky Burr has an exciting time getting back to his friends in the village!
In this book, Sticky Burr gets lost in a maze, and has to lead the lightning bugs (also lost) to safety. There's lots of fun, sweet humour in this short comic, and younger kids will love reading about Sticky Burr's adventures.
Graphic Novel
Grades 2-5
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Cook Book: The Star Wars Cook Book II: Darth Malt

If you've been wondering how to get your preteen boy to read, look no further than the Star Wars Cookbook set. These books feature easy and delicious recipies with star wars related names. Each recipe comes with an illustration of the food, and a related star wars figurine.
Recipies include Sith Speeder Sunrise Granola, Forceful Fritatta, Pickle Jar Jar, and Hideous Sidious Sorbet. There are lots more corny names to choose from, and recipes range from breakfast foods through main courses, right up to dessert.

The recipies are fairly simple, abut many will require an adult's assistance (chopping, use of blenders, etc. all require a grownup's help). There's plenty for kids to like in this book, and it combines two all time favourite topics for boys: food and Star wars!
Grades 3-6
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Nonfiction: Learn to Speak Music

This unique and fun book is a guide for kids who want to play their own tunes. For kids who want to start a band, this book lays out the steps that need to be taken to make it to stardom.
We start by finding out about some different types of music, and learning how to form a band and find space and time to practice. Next, we cover songwriting, playing live (tech requirements are highlighted!) and recording tunes. Finally, kids might want to think about getting word out about their band through advertising and media.
Most of the sections have tons of great information, and this book will make a great starting point for anyone thinking about playing in a band.
Grades 5-10
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Graphic Novel: Binky the Space Cat

Binky is a cat with a purpose! His mission? To fly into OUTER SPACE! He's all ready to go, now that his official space cat certification has arrived in the mail (courtesy of a postcard he found in his cat food bag). It's very important that Binky get into outer space, because he wants to fight aliens!

Of course, Outer Space is the space outside the house, and aliens are those flying creatures that dumb humans keep referring to as bugs. Binky does a great job of keeping his dumb humans safe inside (he chases and crunches up any bug he finds) but he knows it's time to go straight to the source of the problem.

Once Binky builds his rocket ship, there's nothing to do but fill it up with rocket fuel, climb onboard, and check his important list of things to bring one last time...uh oh! He forgot his humans! What to do?

This is a funny and simple graphic novel for the under 12 crowd. Anyone who likes garfields will love Binky!

Graphic novel

Grades 2-5

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Fiction: Amelia's Guide to Babysitting

The Amelia's Notebook series is written by Marissa Moss, and it's aimed at middle school girls. The notebooks start when Amelia is in fifth grade, with subsequent notebooks following her as she passes through sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

In this book, Amelia is in grade six. She's decided to try her hand at babysitting to make some extra cash. Little does she know...babies can be hard work!
The book is written in what looks just like a standard school notebook, complete with lined pages and periodical tables/measurement charts at the front and back. Amelia has recorded her babysitting adventures in diary style format, with liberal use of colour cartoons and notes. The writing and art look just like a sixth grader's work, and this is a great book for encouraging kids to start keeping their own diary/comic notebook. What an excellent way to support writing skills! This is a fun, fast read for middle school girls, and most will identify easily with Amelia and her troubles.

Grades 4-8
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Nonfiction: That's Why We Don't Eat Animals

Talking about dietary choices is an important part of teaching kids healthy habits, and some families believe strongly in eating a vegetarian diet. This short nonfiction book is a resource for vegetarian families, and it aims to show that animals deserve the same protections and care that we show people.

The book talks about the differences between animals' natural lives, and their lives when they are raised for food; it points out the natural behaviours that resemble those of human families, and suggests ideas for living sustainably and mindfully.

This is certainly not a book for everyone; many families who include meat in their diets will find it too preachy, and point out that it fails to talk about why some people do choose to eat meat. However, it is a rare and useful book for families who are vegetarian and vegan, or who have kids interested in exploring these ideas.


Grades 3-6

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nonfiction: Mohammed's Journey: a refugee diary

This books is the memoir of Mohammed, a fourteen year old kurdish boy who wa born in Kirkuk, Iraq. The book describes his life in Iraq, right up until his father was arrested and killed in 2000, and then his refugee journey afterwards.
Mohammed and his mother flee Iraq, and the book describes their route through Iran, Turkey, and finally into the UK. Mohammed talks about how it felt to be moving all the time, running from the police and always hungry and afraid.
Once in Dover, England, Mohammed and his mother seettled in to an apartment, and began to meet other people in the community. Mohammed talks about how important the charity services were in helping his family get started; he also talks about how great it was to meet other friendly kids in school, and to not be so afraid all the time. Although Mohammed still misses his dad and has some lingering problems from his traumatic experiences, he's hopeful for the future.
This book can provide kids with an understanding of how it feels to be a refugee. Written in plain language, the text is very accessible for kids of all ages. A great pick for schools or kids who are interested in humanitarian issues.
Grades 3-7
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First Chapter Book: Friend of Fiend? With the pain and the great one

Classic author Judy Blume has written another fun and realistic series about siblings. The Pain and the Great One are, of course, an older sister and a younger brother. Now just guess who is who! Told in alternating chapters that are short enough for budding readers to get through, this book describes the daily adventures of Jake (the pain) and Abigail (the great one).
This book tackles topics such as classroom embarassment (Jake makes a mistake in reading circle, and vows never to speak in class again), frienship (Abigail has a best friend problem) and family (why are teenage cousins so stuck up??). Kids will see their own feelings and families reflected i this book, and parents will be reminded about how simple life really was when they were 8 years old. A simple but heartfelt series, worth looking up.
First Chapter Book
Grades 2-4
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Fairy Tale: The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Author John Cech and illustrator Lucy Corvino have teamed up to retell the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. In tihs beautifully illustrated book, kids will learn the classic tale of the twelve princesses who spent every night dancing the hours away in fairyland.
The king is suspicious because the princesses wear their shoes out so quickly, so he enlists the help of a soldier to unravel the mystery. With the help of a magic cloak, the soldier follows the princesses into a magical world of beauty and dancing, and brings back a branch from a gold, silver and diamond tree to show the king.

In the end, the brave soldier marries the eldest daughter; a nice twist from the standard 'youngest daughter' plot, and the book ends with a bit of history about the origins of the tale. Most girls will love this tale, with its focus on ballgowns, dancing, and a magical fairyland.
Fairy Tale
Ages 4-6
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First Chapter Book: Flat Stanley: The Mount Rushmore Calamity

Kids everywhere know Flat Stanley as the boy who was flattened by a bulletin board, and has amazing adventures all over the world as a result! Teachers love to use Flat Stanley as a class read in grades one and two: kids can make a flat stanley out of paper, and mail him to classes on another continent.
In this book, Stanley's family decides to go on vacation to Mount Rushmore. But when Stanley and his little brother Arthur team up with a scrappy cowgirl named Calamity Jasper, their vacation turns into the Wild West experience of a lifetime! Pretty soon, they find themselves in a real tight spot; even for a flat boy like Stanley.
The Flat Stanley books are great for budding boy readers, as they use lots of humour and a silly plot twist to support their main character. Stanley is a kid every boy can identify with, even while they envy his flatness! The Flat Stanley series was originally written by Jeff Brown, but new authors are coming on board to round out the series. This one is a charmer!

First Chapter Book
Grades 1-3
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Folk Tale: Tasty Baby Belly Buttons

This Japanese folk tale has been translated into English by author Judy Sierra, a master folklorist and storyteller. It's not surprising that this book just begs to be read aloud!

The story begins with a childless couple, who find a tiny girl (Uriko-hime) inside a floating melon. The girl grows incredibly quickly, and picks up the skills her parents teach her with ease. Fortunately for everyone, her father was a great swordsman; Uriko's skills come in handy when the Oni (great monsters) invade the local village, looking for their favourite snack!

Kids will love chanting the Oni's refrain (Belly buttons! Belly Buttons! Tasty baby belly buttons!), and the descriptions of the Oni's island and the final battle are hilarious and exciting at the same time. A great story with lots of humour, but a solid plot and structure. Excellent for readalouds or storytelling.

Folk Tale

Grades k - 3

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Fantasy: Fortune's Magic Farm

Ten year old Isabelle works in the horrible Mr. Supreme's umbrella factory. She's dreamed of escaping her Rainy, Foggy Runny Cove home as long as she can remember; it never stops drizzling, and she (along with the other villagers) is forced to work long hours in on the factory floor.

Despite tihs, Isabelle is perky and optimistic, keeping the spirits of those around her bright. But there doesn't seem to be any way out for orphan Isabelle...until someone comes searching especially for her.

It turns out that Isabelle is heir to Fortune's Farm, a beautiful and sunny homestead filed with magical cherry trees that can heal all sickness, floating fronds that can make you fly, and other wonderful things. It's like a fantastic dream for Isabelle! But when Isabelle realizes that staying on the farm will mean abandoning her downtrodden friends in Runny Cove, her loyalty is put to the test.

This is a light and positive read, great for kids who like a bit of magic or fantasy in their literature. Although the reading level is about grade four, the inoffensive content makes it a good pick for advanced readers in earlier grades. It's rare to find a true fantasy book for younger kids, so this one is certainly worth noting; it's tone is reminscent of Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series.
Grades 3-5.
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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nonfiction: Gentle Reads: great books to warm hearts and lift spirits (grades 5-9)

If you're in grades 5-9 and you've been wondering what to read next, this helpful book is a great resource to keep in mind. Like other reader's advisory titles, this book aims to connect kids with the very best in children's literature. Recommended titles are newer (less than 10 years old), appropriate for kids in the target age group, and have been well reviewed in professional literature).

This book is unique in that it recommends "gentle reads". These books are ones that are inspiring, heartwarming, or in some way uplifting to a reader. The author was pushing back against the plethora of Young Adult titles that focus on the negative aspects of life: drug addiction, mental illness, and other troubles.
The hundreds of titles included in this resource are certainly top notch, and I'm sure that kids who want an uplifting read will truly appreciate the book's positive focus. Recommendations are divided into genres, and include nonfiction as well as fiction titles. The subject index at the back of the book is particularly useful for teachers and literature specialists who are looking to connect a certain type of book with a reader.

Generally, this is an excellent and useful resource. I do hope, however, that readers do not entirely ignore the wonderful selection of books that do focus on the harsher aspects of life for children and teens. Some of these books are incredibly positive, since they show kids who run up against the worst that life has to offer, and somehow pull through with grace and wisdom. As part of a balanced reading diet, Gentle Reads is a wonderful pointer for kids and parents.
Nonfiction: Reader's Advisory
Grades 5-9
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Friday, September 04, 2009

Easy Reader: There is a Bird on Your Head!

Mo Willems (author of the Pigeon picturebooks) has written another hilarious easy reader in the Elephant and Piggie series.

Elephant and Piggie are hanging out, when suddenly...a bird lands on Elephant's head! Of course Elephant can't see this, so he has to rely on Piggie's blow by blow reporting as one bird becomes two...and then they fall in love...and then they make a nest...and lay eggs...and hatch chicks!

Kids will laugh hysterically at Elephant's expressions as this chain of events progresses. In the end, Piggie suggests, "Why don't you ask them to move?" A great lesson in asking for what you want is learned...except that the birds then take up residence on Piggie's head.

This series is always funny, and is a great pick for very early readers who prefer books with a lot of humour (boys!!).

Easy Reader

Ages 5-6

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Fairy Tale: Hansel and Gretel

Former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo has written an excellent retelling of the classic fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. This extended version has lots of challenging vocabulary and extra detail to bring the story to life. The length (and the high ratio of words to pictures on the pages) make this telling suitable for older preschoolers and school aged kids.

Woodcutter Gabriel is happy with his lovely wife Lisette. Their two children, Hansel and Gretel, are at the centre of this idyllic family. However an evil witch wants Lisette's happiness, and she usurps the wife's place, then convinces the father to lead his children into the woods and abandon them. after being held captive in the iconic gingerbread house, Hansel and Gretel escape, and return home to find the spell broken, and their parents reunited.

Emme Chichester Clark's charming and whimsical art accompanies this story. It's beautiful pastels lend a french country air to the story, and little girls will adore the bright, girly colours. Most boys will enjoy the story too, but perhaps more for the witch's deservedly grisly end rather than the pretty art.

Ages 4-10
Fairy Tale
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Monday, August 31, 2009

Fantasy: Discordia

Lance is a level 19 zombie sorcerer in the online MMOG Discordia (an online multiplayer game, like Warcraft). He battles monsters with his friend, MrsKeller (level 23 hobgoblin brigand) and collects gold and experience to advance to the next level. Dying is certainly not something to seek out, but it's no big deal; his character will resurrect with no harm done. Real life seems dreary in comparison, and Lance can't wait to get home every day to play.
But when Lance and his friend are transported to the real Discordia, things become serious very quickly. Lance and Adam (MrsKeller) must complete a high-level quest, or the entire world will collapse, with them in it. Worse, Lance will soon disintegrate into the character he plays; a zombie!
Full of action, adventure and role-playing lingo, this book will have huge appeal for players of online games like runescape, WOW, and neverwinter nights. Every player has occasionally wondered what would happen if the game suddenly turned real, and this book takes the concept and runs with it. The straightforward plot and light characterization make this book perfect for reluctant readers and action fans. Best for boys or roleplayers in grades 6-9.

Grades 6-0
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Graphic Novel: Jellaby

Ten-year-old Portia meets Jellaby, a huge purple monster, when it tries to eat her flashlight while she's out in the woods iin the middle of the night. It doesn’t say anything, and is actually very timid and sweet, so Portia takes it home and feeds it a tuna sandwich. Life becomes increasingly exciting as she tries to keep Jellaby a secret.
Lonely classmate Jason discovers Jellaby's existence, and helps Portia care for the monster. When Jellaby points out a photograph from the newspaper, the kids think the monster has given them a clue to its home, but they’ll need to visit Toronto to learn more. Portia and Jason have the physical proportions of the Peanuts gang, and Jellaby is too cute to be scary, but Soo grounds the story in a fairly gritty contemporary reality, where kids deal with bullies and well-meaning adults try to help. Clear, clean lines and easy-to-follow panel layouts round out the package. An excellent graphic novel pick for kids in grades 4-7.
Graphic Novel
Grades 4-7
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Nonfiction: Down Down Down: a journey to the bottom of the sea

This fascinating nonfiction book takes the reader down to the very bottom of the ocean. Each two page spread features a different ocean strata, and provides information tidbits about the creatures that inhabit each plane. More details are provided in an appendix at the back of the book, for those who are curious (and who wouldn't be curious about the Hatchefish, or the mysterious Vent Octopus!)
The lovely collage illustrations are scientifically accurate, with even tiny details of antennae carefully rendered. Beautiful, bright colours and clear shapes make this book as suitable for preschoolers as it is for older elementary students.
A fascinating introduction to our staggeringly deep oceans. Kids will want to read more about this engaging topic!
Grades k-5
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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Book with CD: Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Music is one of those things that is so hard to explain. Sometimes you just have to hear it to understand. In this book, Hip Hop is explained through notes, written lyrics, and a beautiful CD, with unique performances by Hip Hop's founding poets and artists.
Famous artists such as Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers, and Tupac Shakur talk about their inspiration and perform their works aloud. Kids will gain an understanding of where the musical genre came from (its foundations were from slave songs in the American south) and they will recognize that Hip Hop is poetry with a beat.
This is a unique and powerful book that will appeal to many kids who love to listen. It may be a particularly good choice for boys who love to learn while they move; I would encourage listeners to play the CD and read the book while on the move: walking on a trail with headphones, dancing inside on a rainy day, or moving to the beat somehow.
Book with CD
Ages 8-14
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Easy Reader: Watch Me Throw the Ball!

Author Mo Willems has produced another Elephant and Piggie easy reader. These wry, funny books describe the adventures of best friends Elephant and Piggie. With total camp humour, Piggie and Elephant navigate the treacherous waters of friendship and feelings.

In this episode, Piggie finds Elephant's ball, and wants to try throwing it. Piggie is justifiably proud of his strong throwing arm, and he lets his friends have a go even though Piggie doesn't know the SECRET OF THROWING.
When Piggie throws a pop fly (it goes up in the air, and lands a few feet behind him) he crows that he's thrown it "so far you can't even see it!" Elephant becomes more and more irritated at Pig's boasting, until he feels he has to point out that the ball is in fact behind where Piggie threw it. But does this stop Piggle cold? NO! Instead, he's elated that he threw the ball around the WHOLE WORLD!
Kids aged 5-7 will laugh uproariously at Elephant and Piggie. The whole series is recommended.
Easy Reader
Ages 5-7
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nonfiction: Off to War

This compelling book is a series of interviews with kids whose parents are in the military. Kids aged 5-17 talk honestly about how their parents' job has shaped their family life, and how they feel about their missing parent.
The stories give great insight into the lives of military kids, and show how some families cope with the absence of a parent...and some don't. Every kid has tips and tricks that they use to fight loneliness when their parent is away, and advice on how to welcome back a parent who is returning from war. It's clear that most kids have a deep respect for their parent's job and dedication, even while they are uniformly uncertain about the military's goals in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The common theme is that all kids, both Canadian and American, miss their parent, and worry about their safety. There is always strain on the family when their parent is away, and many kids (but not all) vehemently state that they will find a civillian career when they grow up.
This is an interesting and unusual look at the effect of war on those left behind. It's an excellent tool for families or classes that want to consider the impact of war, and talk about the value of fighting for a cause. Author Deborah Ellis has written many books focusing on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and her focus is always on the experience of the kids who get caught in the middle.
Grades 5-9
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Realistic Fiction: Cookie

Cookie is the story of plain, timid Beaty Cookson. Beauty is a kind and ordinary girl with a lovely mother; however, she wishes that her life were different.

Beauty goes to a snotty private school, where all the girls think her name is ridiculous. Instead of calling her Beauty, the call her Ugly. Even worse, Beauty's dad can't seem to control his hurtful criticisms and uncontrolled rages. Even the smallest thing can set him off into a storm of shouting. Beauty and her mother try to placate him, but it becomes clear that nothing can make him accept his family as their imperfect selves. Together they discover a new hobby - baking cookies - and a new, better nickname is born.

When Beauty's dad spins out of control during her disastrous birthday party, Beauty's mom is ready to take the reins, and make a new life for herself and her daughter. This book addresses tough issues, like anger and family breakup, but it does it in a sweet and respectful way that gives hope rather than dread. You can't help but love Beauty and her mother, and author Jacqueline Wilson resists the temptation to demonize the angry father. I'm sure this charming book will be up for an award in the next year or two!

Realistic Fiction; family and friends

Grades 4-8

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Historical Fiction: Esperanza Rising

Esperanza's name means 'hope' in spanish, and that's the focus of this book. We meet Esperanza just before her 13th birthday, on her wealthy family's flourishing Mexican ranch. Her family is well off, and Esperanza's sheltered life is full of party dresses, servants and love.
All this is shattered when her father is killed by bandits, and her family's ranch burned to the ground. Suddenly, Esperanza and her Mama are fugitives, and then illegal immigrants in a California Mexican labour camp.
Despite her hardships, Esperanza struggles to retain her pride, values and culture in the midst of a hostile and unfamilar land. Her story is one of resilience, strength, and above all, the hope that can give you the courage to start all over again. A powerful book that provides deep insight into the struggles, hopes and dreams of immigrants and refugees.
Historical Fiction
Grades 5-9
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Poetry: An Awesome Book

Once you get your hands on this book, I guarantee that you will want to buy it and read it to your kids all the time. Heck, forget about your kids; you'll want to read it yourself!

An Awesome Book is an exhortation to dream big. No, not just big, but HUGE! The dreams in the beginning are so wonderful that every person with even a little bit of childhood still in them will say "Oh my god, that's AWESOME!" We're talking candy cane machines, rocket powered unicorns, magical watermelon boats, tiny ant bands trained by raccoons, and a host of other silly and wonderful dreams. The message is, never laugh at your dreams, or question them, or try to make them conform or go away; they are what make us joyful and unique. A perfect and timely message for our stressed, over scheduled kids.
This book will make adults remember what it's like to be a kid, and hopefully it will encourage our kids to retain that sense of wonder and awe at our amazing world. In fact, read the whole thing online here.
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's website!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Biography: Marco Polo

It's not often that you come across a truly excellent biography for children. It's apparent from the first page that this isn't just another standard title, designed for report writers and school projects.
Author Demi has interwoven rich storytelling with luxurious, oriental illustrations. Embroidered motifs and gold overlays set off the chinese ink watercolours; each page contains a beautiful framed image inside an embroidery border. Images break out of the frames for impact, while the minimal text tells the amazing story of Marco Polo's adventures in flowing prose.

Kids looking for report material might find it hard to extract the information they need from this book; it's not set up to deliver fact bites, and this is a good thing. To me, the value of this title lies in its ability to tell a mesmerizing story that will inspire the adventurer in any reader.
Ages 8-13
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Easy Reader: Zoom! Boom! Bully

Jon Scieszka specializes in books for boys, and this easy reader title (part of his Trucktown series) is a perfect fit.
It's clear that boys read differently from girls: they tend to prefer nonfiction or fast paced stories, focus on plot rather than interpersonal drama, and have different interests than girls. Rather than fighting against this, educators and authors are starting to work with boys' natural reading preferences, to the benefit of everyone.

Scieszka's Trucktown series is set in a city where the vehicles are the protagonists. Loud, funny and excited: that's how Scieszka describes his trucks and his readers. In this title, Big Rig knocks down whatever the other trucks build. Can they show him that being a bully is not the answer?
I highly recommend these titles to motivate kids who are just beginning to read, especially boys with interests in vehicles, crashing around, or being funny. (that describes most 5-7 year old boys I know!)
Easy Reader
Ages 4-7
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Poetry: The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry

Storyteller Bill Martin (of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom) pairs up with classic children's illustrators in this essential poetry anthology. Nearly 200 best loved poems are included in this weighty book, each illustrated by a favourite artist.

The poems range from classic (Robert Frost) to contemporary, and provide kids with a warmly comprehensive introduction to the genre. I would recommend this to kids of all ages, from preschooler to tween. Come on folks, the world needs more good poetry in it!

All ages (esp. 6-12 yrs)
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Novel in Cartoons: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley's Journal

Jeff Kinney has written a book that boys will love. If you're looking for a book that your preteen boy or reluctant reader won't be able to put down, this is it!
Greg Heffley's mom is making him keep a journal. This is bad for him, but great for us! We get to follow Greg as he plays his favourite video games, tries to avoid getting beaten up by the boys at school (unsuccessfully), and generally lives the life of a sixth-grade, middle-child boy.
This whole book is written in half prose, half cartoons. There's lots of visual content (comics, diagrams, etc) and the printing resembles that of your average sixth grader. The visual layout is immediately appealing to kids.
Kids will instantly recognize the social tensions and family issues that Greg is navigating, and empathize with his goofy exploits. For more of Greg, read Kinney's sequels: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roddick Rules, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw.
Novel in Cartoons
Grades 4-8
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