Monday, September 13, 2010

Fantasy: The Grimm Legacy

When highschooler Elizabeth lands a job as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository, she's glad of a few hours' escape from her dreary life. The Repository is a fascinating and mysterious institution that lends out rare objects to its members - everything from fondue sets to Marie Antoinette's wig. Slowly, the lonely Elizabeth starts to make friends with her fellow pages at the Repository. Because of her hard work and positive attitude, Elizabeth's co-workers begin to trust her with the true secrets of the institution.
Elizabeth finds that the Repository has secret areas that hold the rarest and most valuable items. For a girl obsessed with fairy tales, it's a dream come true to find that the Grimm Collection, hidden in a secret room in the basement, is comprised of the actual magical objects from folk and fairytales. Seven league boots, cloaks of invisibility, and many other amazing items are catalogued and filed away in a heavily secured basement.
Of course, there are sinister figures just waiting for a chance to steal these most valuable artifacts. When some of the most valuable items are discovered as fakes, Elizabeth and her fellow pages are suspected as thieves. With no clear idea about who could be to blame, Elizabeth must use her bravery and wits to uncover the true culprits. Worst of all, she must face the fact that the thief could be any one of her newfound friends.
This original novel offers up an engaging premise, and will speak to teens with an interest in fairy tales and adventure. Though the characters are a bit flat, the depiction of Elizabeth in her first job will resonate with many highschool students.
Grades 7-10
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Science Fiction: Dark Life

It's hundreds of years in the future, and humanity has been forced to settle the earth's most inhospitable places, as earthquakes and volcanoes tear much of the surface apart. Ty's family are pioneers: they've fled the crowded stack cities for the deadly cold of the Ocean floor. There they farm sea life, and eke out a living as homesteaders kilometers down.

But just like the wild west, the undersea frontier is fraught with danger and threatened by outlaws who care nothing for the hardworking families of the deep. To make matters worse, the government is threatening to abandon the whole subsea frontier experiment, and cut the Dark Life (those who life undersea) off from Topside support!

When bandits threaten his own deepsea home, Ty must use his wits and courage to save his family. Aided by Topsider Gemma (who has an agenda of her own) Ty slowly discovers that the government may not be his strongest ally: that in fact, he may have a secret ability that is the key to undersea survival.

This excellent science fiction title builds to an exciting conclusion, full of danger, betrayal, and of course a healthy dose of undersea science and technology.

Grades 6-9
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Fiction/Graphic Novel: The Popularity Papers

Graduates of the "Amelia's Notebook" series will dive into Amy Ignatow's new novel about two intrepid fifth grade girls.

Like the blockbuster series "Diary of a Wimpy Kid", The Popularity Papers is a colourful mix of art and text. The book is designed as a notebook that is passed back and forth between Lydia and Julie, two ordinary fifth grade girls who plan to become popular by observing, recording and eventually emulating the behavior of other popular girls. With such a foolproof plan, what could possibly go wrong?

Lots, obviously. In fact, it's rare to find something going right as Lydia and Julie stumble through the social minefield of fifth grade girlhood. From bad haircuts to bad crushes and everything in between, the girls record their experiences in drawings and clumsy cursive writing. The tone exactly captures the mix of eagerness and anxiety that characterizes this age, and the girls slowly find that the most important thing to them is each other's friendship.

A fun book to read, though the graphic/handwritten format of the title overshadows any plot or message that lurks underneath.

Fiction/Graphic Novel
Grades 4-6
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Adventure: Trackers

Patrick Carman's newest series starts with a police interview: the kind you never want to be in. Eighth grader Adam Henderson is a computer prodigy. He's been building and fixing computers at his dad's shop in Seattle since he was nine years old: he's so good that even Microsoft brings their machines to the Hendersons for repair.

But sometimes being smart can get you in trouble. Adam and his friends Finn, Emily and Lewis are developing surveillance technology that they hope to sell to the government for millions. Adam believes his tech is so advanced that he can find anyone, anywhere. When a training mission goes wrong and a secret puzzle is revealed to Adam alone, the four kids find themselves in way over their heads...with no way to back out. If they don't find the person they're seeking, the entire world's electronic systems could be compromised: and they'd be to blame.

Trackers is written in a short, interview format that includes interrogation questions and short video clips that can be accessed online using codes from the book. This unique multimedia format is fantastic for reluctant readers, and makes this title a hit with tween and teen reluctant reader book groups. The technological details and espionage themes are also hits with boys: I can't think of many other books that are as perfectly packaged for reading support, while still retaining the bones of a strong story.

The first in a planned series, Trackers will be followed by the sequel Shantorian in December 2010.

Adventure fiction
Grades 5-9
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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Memoir: Fatty Legs

It's rare to find an account from a residential school survivor that could be characterized as upbeat, but this gem of a memoir shines with positive energy.

Eight year old Olemaun Pokiak is a Inuvialuit girl living in the remote Northwest Territories of the 1950's. Despite her older sister's cautions, Olemaun's greatest desire is to attend the Catholic school in Aklavik, and learn to read like her father. After years of pleading, her parents allow Olemaun to attend the boarding school: but of course, the goal of residential schools was not to educate, but to enculturate indigenous peoples and convince them that their true place was as second-class citizens fit only for menial labour.

Renamed Margaret by the nuns, Olemaun's time at the residential school is marred by racism, bullying, and a progressive loss of her cultural identity. Despite the terrible things that befall her at school, Margaret relates her story with a matter of fact voice that emphasizes her strength and determination to survive abuse, and accomplish her goal (to learn to read).

Adults who are familiar with residential school history will read between the lines as Margaret describes the school's unfamiliar rhythms and unwelcoming staff, and see the true tragedy of the situation: kids will likely need some supplementary history to grasp the full context of Margaret's experience.

This title would be a great read-aloud for a grade 4-6 classroom: Margaret is a plucky and engaging character, and kids will identify with her unconquerable spirit. As well, elementary aged kids will keenly feel Margaret's humiliation when she is forced to wear bright red stockings that highlight the stocky build she is ashamed of. Her embarassment and anger at being singled out physically is an issue many tweens struggle with in schools today.

Older grades would be able to delve more deeply into the social ramifications of the residential schools. For grades 6-10, this title would be an excellent supplement to units on first nations people or Canadian history.

At under 100 pages, this title is a fast, engaging read with a broad appeal for pleasure readers and curriculum connections alike.

Grades 4-10
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!