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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