Five Finds – Interactive Picture Books

Taking a cue from the rise in popularity of interactive storybook apps, these picture books encourage kids to tap, swipe, turn and shake their way through stories, often with humorous and eye-catching results.

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Press Here

The original, and some might say the best, this simple, extremely effective picture book really is a source of wonder, as children press and tap different colourful dots with fascinating results. Certainly proof that when it comes to picture books, less really can be more.

Tap The Magic Tree

This interactive picture book takes children through the different seasons, following a tree as it grows and changes over the course of a year. Simple, understated illustrations and a gentle narration makes for a quietly engaging experience.

Don’t Push The Button

From the calm and elegant we head right into the wild and wacky. Larry the Monster has been told not to push the big red button, but it’s just so tempting, and he simply can’t resist. Children will laugh as Larry finds himself in sillier and sillier predicaments, which can only be resolved by shaking, tapping and otherwise interacting with the pages.

Open Very Carefully

When a grumpy crocodile interrupts a retelling of the story ugly duckling, the ugly duckling takes matters into its own hands, and enlists the reader’s help in kicking the crocodile out of the book. There’s not as much interaction in this title as in other titles in this list, but the illustrations are very cute, and the story’s quite fun.

Warning: Do Not Open This Book

Monkeys and toucans and alligators, oh my! Like Don’t Push the Button, this is a story about giving in to temptation and breaking the rules, with hilariously madcap results. Opening the book releases a hoard of unruly monkeys, and the reader must follow the narrator’s instructions to help recapture all the escapees. As an aside, I once nearly gave a group of students heart attacks by slamming the book closed with a bit too much force – it certainly woke them all up…!

Five Finds – YA with wheelchair-using protagonists

This feature was originally shared on The Book Wars – check out the full post here!

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Dancing Daises

Brynn is just like any other 17 year-old girl. She  wants to be popular, gets herself embroiled in friendship dramas, and heads off for summer camp. There just one thing that makes Brynn a bit different – she has cerebral palsy, and uses a motorized wheelchair to move and a computer to communicate. Dancing Daisies is a valuable addition to any YA fiction collection not only because it features a smart, independent female wheelchair user, it’s also written by a strong, successful young woman with CP who is a tireless advocate for others with the condition.

Push Girl

Co-author Chelsie Hill was in high school when she was paralyzed in a drunk driving-related car accident. Push Girl is a positive, semi-autobiographical account of Hill’s experiences adapting to life in a wheelchair. High school student Kara is paralyzed in a car accident, but refuses to let her new reality, and the perceptions and reactions of others around her, stop her from living life to the fullest.

The Running Dream

Jessica is an accomplished high school runner who is devastated when she loses a leg in a car accident. Jessica is stunned by the reactions of those around her to her new reality – it’s as though people don’t know how to talk to her or act around her any more – it’s as if she’s become invisible. Jessica realizes that before her accident she treated a fellow classmate, a girl with CP, in exactly the same way.

Good Kings Bad Kings

The teen characters in Good Kings Bad Kings are just like teenagers everywhere, except for one thing – they live in a group home for youth with disabilities. Sharp, witty, humorous, honest, respectful and real, this novel challenges society’s perceptions about individuals with disabilities.

Accidents of Nature

It’s the 1970s, and Jean, a smart, talented, successful young woman with CP, is attending Camp Courage, a summer camp for young people with disabilities. At camp, Jean will meet young people with very different backgrounds, attitudes and experiences, who will challenge, expand and explode her understandings of what it means to be disabled.

Five Finds – Fiction for Budding Cupcake Moguls

I try to look for the silver lining in any situation, so I’m going to say that a) at least these  formulaic, saccharine chapter books get kids reading, and b) they introduce kids to the idea of being an entrepreneur/small business owner, which is an exciting career option that more and more young people are pursuing.

Once kids have devoured all the books in a certain cupcake series, here are a few similar options to tempt readers with.

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Cupcake Diaries

Emma, Alexis, Katie and Mia are four middle school girls who push back against the popular girls at school by starting their own cupcake club / business empire. Each book in this insanely popular series is told from the perspective of one of the four girls, and the stories feature typical middle school experiences like friendship problems, crushes, school stress and parent troubles. There is one POC character in the club, the Hispanic character Mia, who moves into the series’ small town setting from the big city, but white characters still make up 75% of the club’s membership.

Cupcake Club

Another group of girls at another school start up their own cupcake club! Seriously, it’s pretty much the same premise as the Cupcake Diaries books, which should please fans of either series. Sadly, this series is not much better in terms of diversity – this time there are two slightly darker skin toned characters, Jenna and Sadie, but again these characters are only slightly darker in skin tone than the white characters. Where are the darker skin tones, the natural hair, the Asian girls, the First Nations girls, the autistic girls or the physically disabled girls, for that matter? Why can’t a girl in a wheelchair join a cupcake club?!

Confectionally Yours

One thing I appreciate about this series is that it portrays a family dynamic that a lot of kids will likely be able to relate to. Hayley’s parents are recently divorced, her mother has lost her job, and she and her sister are forced to share a bedroom at their grandmother’s house, which has got everyone feeling down. Hayley relies on her baking to cheer everyone up, but eventually realizes that sometimes facing your problems head on is the only way to solve them.

Cupcake Cousins

This is actually a pretty sweet little series about two cousins who mean well, but who always seem to get themselves into and out of a series of messes. It’s a great option for a slightly younger audience that isn’t quite ready for middle school crushing-on-boys angst.

 It’s Raining Cupcakes

So apparently cupcakes are a small town thing? 12-year-old Isabel dreams of escaping her small town life and experiencing the big city, and a baking competition seems to be her ticket to New York City. But when her best friend also enters the competition, Isabel has to decide just how much she’s willing to sacrifice to make her dreams come true.

I now challenge someone to write a cupcake series featuring a diverse cast of girls (and maybe even a boy – why should girls have all the fun?) who enjoy making cakes and being friends, and who work together to build a confectionery-based empire at their inner-city elementary school. Now that would be pretty sweet.

Five Finds – Grandparents in Picture Books

A local preschool teacher came into the branch looking for stories to share on grandparent day. She was particularly interested in picture books featuring diverse, contemporary representations of family units. Here are just a few of the many wonderful picture books available today that celebrate these important family members, who come in all sorts of different varieties.

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Sometimes It’s Grandmas and Grandpas

A little girl who is being raised by her grandparents is reassured that although her family might look different from other families, it is still filled with love.

Mango, Abuela and Me

An English-speaking young girl struggles to communicate with her Spanish-speaking grandmother, until a friendly parrot provides the perfect bond-strengthening opportunity.

Last Stop on Market Street

A little boy’s Nana helps him discover the hidden beauty of their urban neighbourhood.

My Two Grannies

A biracial child explores the joys and potential challenges of having grandparents from very different cultures.

Silas’ Seven Grandparents

A loving representation of the diversity of contemporary families, in which a young boy finds an imaginative way to spread his love equally among his seven very different grandparents.  

Five Finds – LGBTQ YOUNG ADULT FICTION

It’s Pride Month in Vancouver. To celebrate, here are five very different LGBTQ titles for teens, ranging in setting from 1980s Texas to modern day Iran, and in genre from realistic fiction to high fantasy.

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Everything Leads to You / Nina LaCour

A sweet, fairy tale romance in which the two lovers just happen to be girls. Everything Leads to You is a refreshingly positive coming-of-age story which subtly suggests that books about lesbian relationships don’t always have to be angst-filled, coming-out “problem novels”, but can be just as happy and mushy and fluffy as any other teen romance novel. One of the most positive aspects of this book is that fact that Emi, the lead character, is totally comfortable with her sexuality – it’s a non-issue to her and the people around her, which is really as it should be. This isn’t so much a lesbian love story as it is a story about two lovers who just happen to be lesbians, which is hopefully something we’ll see more of in the future.

Huntress / Malinda Lo

LGBTQ teen novels tend fall into the “contemporary fiction” genre. For fantasy fans, there’s Huntress, a sweeping novel of world building, adventure and destiny. Two 17-year-old girls, Kaede and Taisin, must embark on a perilous mission to save their land, and as they face mounting dangers with only each other to lean on, the girls begin to explore their feelings for each other. Lo’s characters are beautifully developed and complex, and her world-building is expansive and intricate. The slowly developing relationship between the two female leads is natural and sensitive, and is written seamlessly into the story. This is another excellent example of the ways in which homosexual or bisexual characters can be written into novels in which their sexuality is an aspect of their character, rather than their only defining quality.

Moon at Nine / Deborah Ellis

Imagine if something as natural and beautiful as falling in love could be punishable by death. 15-year-old Farrin attends an Iranian school for gifted girls where she meets a vivacious new girl, Sabira, who encourages Farrin to express herself through her writing. As Farrin and Sabira grow closer, the two girls must keep their burgeoning relationship a secret at all costs, because if anyone were to find out, they could lose their very lives. While the subject matter is upsetting, Moon at Nine does help underscore the fact that LGBTQ youth live and love in cultures and countries all around the world, and that while it may feel isolating and lonely to be “different”, LGBTQ youth are not in this alone.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe / Benjamin Alire Saenz

15-year-old Ari is an angry loner who has never had a real friend, and who carries a burning secret. His closely guarded world is turned upside down when he meets Dante, a boy from another school, who helps Ari learn to trust again, and encourages him to question his own deep-seated fears, desires and hopes. This beautiful, honest, authentic account of a relationship between two damaged souls is also notable in that it features Mexican-American characters, who strive to reconcile both their cultural and sexual identities and discover who they are really meant to be.

If You Could Be Mine / Sara Farizan

Another novel of lesbian love in Iran, If you could be mine tackles a number of complex issues, including religion, homosexuality, arranged marriages, and gender reassignment. 17-year-olds Sahar and Nasrin have been in love since they were children, but they have had to keep their love secret, because homosexuality is punishable by death in their country. When Nasrin’s parents arrange a marriage for her with a wealthy doctor, she encourages Sahar to continue their relationship in secret, but Sahar longs to love Nasrin openly and without fear. While homosexuality is illegal in Iran, being transgendered is not, and gender-reassignment surgery is openly available. Sahar is willing to do whatever it takes to be with Nasrin, even if it means risking everything she has and everything she is. If you could be mine is an eye-opening look at the brutal realities of life for LGBTQ teens in Iran, who face losing their very lives for the crime of being in love.

What are some of your favourite LGBTQ novels for teens?

Five Finds – Vietnam

May is Asian Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than with some fantastic children’s books!

This edition of Five Finds is all about Vietnam. While information books on the country and its history abound, let’s take a look at some of the exceptional works of fiction that feature this South East Asian country and its people.

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 A Million Shades of Gray / Cynthia Kadohata

In 1975 after American troops pull out of Vietnam, a thirteen-year-old boy and his beloved elephant escape into the jungle when the Viet Cong attack his village.

 Inside Out and Back Again / Thanhha Lai

Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama.

Listen, Slowly / Thanhha Lai

Assisting her grandmother’s investigation of her grandfather’s fate during the Vietnam War, Mai struggles to adapt to an unfamiliar culture while redefining her sense of family and identity.

Going Home, Coming Home / Truong Tran

A young girl visits her grandmother in Vietnam where her parents were born and learns that she can call two places home

Fly Free! / Roseanne Thong

When Mai feeds the caged birds at a Buddhist temple in Vietnam, her simple act of kindness starts a chain of thoughtful acts that ultimately comes back to her. Includes author’s note explaining the Buddhist concepts of karma and samsara, or the wheel of life.