#IMWAYR – July 4, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. These weekly roundups are a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.


Happy Independence to all my Yankee friends! Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy holiday.

On the blog front, I’ve got a few exciting bits and pieces of news to share!

First off – I’m now a regular host for the incredible kids lit meme Diverse Kids Lit, which is an opportunity for kid lit bloggers to share diverse children’s lit! As a children’s librarian and co-chair of my local library association’s LGBTQ interest group, diversity is a subject that is very dear to my heart. I shared a powerful Canadian picture book as part of the linkup on Saturday,you can check it out here, and don’t forget to check out all the other great posts on the list.

Next up, I’m now an official Book Warrior! I’ve been a guest contributor to this amazing children’s literature blog for a few months now, and the fantastic ladies behind the site have invited me to become a fully-fledged member. I couldn’t be more excited – it’s like being invited to sit with the cool kids in the school cafeteria, except these cool kids are also incredibly smart and nice to boot. I’ll hopefully be posting fairly regularly over there, focusing mainly on picture books (of course), so check it out!!

Now, on to some of this week’s reads.

The Hangman’s Daughter

I read this historical mystery for my book club, and while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it either. To be honest, I found the whole thing pretty meh, and had to force myself to actually finish it (I’m a serial DNF-er).  I love historical fiction, and I’ve always been fascinated by Medieval Europe, so the story of a hangman and a young progressive physician who work together to solve a mystery and prevent the eruption of witch hunting mania sounded really promising. But the text is just kind of clunky. There’s a lot of “but what do X, Y and Z have to do with A?” dialogue, as if the author knows that the plot is getting overly complicated and is worried that the audience won’t be able to follow along. There characters aren’t particularly fleshed out, the inevitable romantic pairing isn’t all that romantic, and it’s just a lot of meh.

I did wonder if some of the clunkiness of the text might have to do with the fact that this is a novel in translation. Even the best translations risk losing some of the spark of the original language, and some expressions and cultural assumptions simply don’t translate easily.

Either way, it’s not a terrible book, but if you enjoy historical fiction set in Medieval Europe, I would recommend Ken Follet, Bernard Cornwell, Philippa Gregory,  and many of the novels on this list instead.

Maybe Something Beautiful

Super Happy Magic Forest

Reviews coming this week!

Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year

What an inspiring article! Whether you’re a writer, artist, creator, athlete or job hunter, this article is a must-read. Putting yourself out there again and again can be terrifying (my job interview batting average is an unspeakable horror at the moment), but as the author explains, it’s only by actively courting rejection that you can ever hope to secure success.

Have a great week everybody!!

Review: Old MacDonald Had a Truck

Old MacDonald Had a Truck

If I was still doing preschool / family story times, this reworked version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm would definitely be added to my picture book rotation. Instead of farm animals, Old MacDonald and his power tool-toting lady have a farm filled with heavy duty machinery. That’s right, we’ve got bulldozers and steamrollers, front loaders and dump trucks, and much, much more. Turns out the MacDonalds are building a brand new monster truck rally track on their property, and all the farm animals are getting in on the fun.

As a children’s librarian I like to think I know a thing or two about children’s literature, but I am no snob, and I’ll happily embrace just about anything that helps support literacy development and gets kids excited about reading.  A lot of kids are going to go out of their minds with excitement when they see this picture book, and that is recommendation enough for me.

Eda Kaban’s adorable illustrations absolutely seal the deal – each spread is a riot of colour and detail, with a delightful array of sweet farm animals participating in the building project (wearing appropriate safety equipment of course – safety first, kids).

I really appreciate that Mrs. MacDonald takes a strong role in the illustrations, getting directly involved in a number of traditionally male activities like fixing an engine and detailing a car’s exterior. You go, girl!

Is Old MacDonald Had a Truck silly? Absolutely. But it’s also a lot of fun, and will likely delight young readers. Highly recommended.

Diverse Kid Lit – July 2, 2016

Not My Girl

July 1st marks Canada Day, a day of celebration for people across the country. I love my country and I am proud to call myself a Canadian, but our history is not without its dark and painful periods. There is no shame in accepting and recognizing the flaws and failures of your country – human beings are imperfect, so why should we expect a nation created by human beings to be anything else? The most important thing we can do is to learn from the past – to study and understand what happened and why, and to look at the ways in which the present and the future might have been impacted. If we don’t accept and learn from our past, how can we ever hope to create a better future?

Not My Girl is one of a number of Canadian picture books that tackles the impact of the Residential School system. You can read more about this tragic period in our history here. Margaret Pokiak-Fenton shares her experiences as a survivor of the system, bringing her own perspective as a member of an Inuit community in Canada’s remote far north.

When Olemaun was eight years old, she begged her parents to send her to a missionary school, where she dreamed she would learn to read and write. Her parents had their concerns, but eventually relented, and sent a thrilled Olemaun away to school. While she would learn to read and write, this knowledge came at a terrible cost. She experienced relentless mistreatment and abuse from bullying teachers and classmates at the school, and for two years her identity as Olemaun was suppressed, as she was given a new name, a new language and a new identity.

While Pokiak-Fenton’s first autobiographical story, When I was Eight, tells the story of Olemaun’s experiences at school, the sequel Not My Girl shares the heartbreaking experience of Olemaun, now called Margaret, as she attempts to reintegrate into her Inuit community. Unable to speak her native language, unfamiliar with her traditional customs and shunned by her closest family and friends, Margaret is left shattered and heartbroken. Even her own mother disowns her, saying simply, “not my girl”.

Though painful and harrowing, Margaret’s story is ultimately one of strength, resilience and community. Margaret’s father never gives up on her, and his quiet, patient love helps her family heal their wounds. With his gentle, unwavering support and guidance, and eventually her mother’s, Margaret relearns her traditional ways, and finds her way back into her community.

This is a beautiful, painful, but ultimately hopeful and inspiring testament to a family’s love for their child, and to the resilience and strength of Indigenous communities. Finding peace after trauma can be an arduous process, but there must always be hope.

Gabrielle Grimard’s illustrations beautifully complement the emotional text, creating an elegant, understated and powerful story.

Highly, highly recommended.

Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

DiverseKidLit
DiverseKidLit

We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, July 16th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Svenja takes “most-clicked” honors again this time with her post on 30 Multicultural Books about Immigration in honor of June as Immigrant Heritage Month. The post is divided into books geared for preschoolers and elementary students, and the elementary recommendations are further subdivided by the continent of origin. You can find more great posts by revisiting the previous linkup here.

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

Beth @ Pages and Margins
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Carolina @ La Clase de Sra. DuFault
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Gayle Swift, Author of ABC, Adoption & Me
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Jane @ Rain City Librarian
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Marjorie @ Mirrors Windows Doors
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Mia @ Pragmatic Mom
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Myra @ Gathering Books
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Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list. Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at thelogonauts.com.

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Review: The Bus Ride

The Bus Ride

Clara is excited to be taking the bus by herself for the very first time. Along the way to grandmother’s house she encounters a cast of interesting fellow passengers who turn a simple bus ride into a colourful adventure.

This picture book from Quebec author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc is simply stunning. The text itself is fairly simple and doesn’t really add all that much – in fact, the book would probably work just as well as a wordless picture book.

But the illustrations! I poured over each page, savoring tiny details on each spread, turning pages back and forth to catch each change and development. Dubuc’s colours are soft and muted, and the illustrations look as though they were drawn in pencil crayon, adding to their gentle charm.

This would be another fantastic picture book for using with a class –  the illustrations lend themselves beautifully to interpretation, and it would be delightful to see the different stories that children come up with to describe the images.

It’s always great to see exciting new picture books from Canadian authors and publishers, and I’m always thrilled to share more Canlit here on the blog!

Review: Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy Cats

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

 

At Miss Hazeltine’s home for shy and fearful cats, strays and pets who have been labelled hopeless, worthless, or afraid of everything are taken in and gently, slowly rehabilitated. When disaster strikes Miss Hazeltine, will her timid, furry wards find the strength and courage to come to her rescue?

This picture book from Alicia Potter and Birgitta Sif is an absolute charmer from start to finish (even the end pages are wonderful). Certain to delight cat lovers, this gentle story will also appeal strongly to shy, fearful children (and their caregivers), who will likely see themselves represented in Miss Hazeltine’s shy and fearful cats. This lovely quote captures the story’s gentle, positive spirit.

Miss Hazeltine didn’t mind if some cats only watched. She let them be.

Like Crumb.

Miss Hazeltine told him that, sometimes, she got scared.

“I’m afraid of mushrooms and owls,” she confided. “And I’ve never like the dark.”

She praised Crumb’s love of pitch-black places.

I immediately recognized in this text elements of my own approach to working with children. It is so important that children feel accepted for who they are, and be encouraged to express themselves in their own way. Some children will immediately jump into a program or activity with abandon, while others might feel more comfortable observing before joining in. By allowing children to help guide the pace and extent of their participation, educators can help support them as they build confidence, develop independence and experience feelings of self-worth and accomplishment. Working effectively with shy or nervous children can require a bit of extra patience, love and empathy, as well as a strong belief in children and their abilities. Shy children might need a bit more time and reassurance, but with enough patience and love, all children can be supported to reach their potential.

In a society that typically encourages individuals to be outgoing, extroverted and assertive, and which often rewards boisterous behavior, it is helpful to be reminded that being shy isn’t a sign of weakness or inferiority.  Without giving away too much of the story, the cats eventually change the name of Miss Hazeltine’s establishment to the “Home for Shy and Pretty Brave If You Ask Us Cats”, in honour of the fact that while the cats are still shy, they are no longer quite as timid or fearful. As a naturally shy individual myself, I will be the first to tell you that being shy does not have to stand in the way of living life to the fullest. Being shy isn’t something to be ashamed of, and shy children everywhere can find  in this sweet and positive story encouragement and inspiration to believe in themselves and embrace themselves for the unique and wonderful individuals they are.

“Oi, Frog!” – Keeping the joy in reading

Summer is here (though you wouldn’t know it from the Junuary days we’ve been having recently) and for many librarians that means only one thing – Summer Reading Club! My days have been filled with promotional visits to local schools, where I hype up the program as much as humanly possible, and try to get kids excited about reading on their summer vacation (challenge accepted).

maine-coon-1279572_1920

Books are fun, kids! Honest!

My secrets weapons in helping kids get excited about joining the Summer Reading Club are funny books – I always bring one or two humorous titles with me to share at each school visit, which I hope will help remind kids that reading over the summer is supposed to be about having fun. This isn’t a school program, so there’s no suggested reading list – kids can read whatever the heck they like, and for lots of kids, that means reading something silly.

One book that I’ve been having great success with recently is Oi, Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field.

A very bossy cat (of course) lays out which object each animal is supposed to sit on – frogs sit on logs, cats sit on mats, weasels sit on easels, etc. The story gets more and more ridiculous with each page – lions sit on irons, lizards sit on wizards, apes sit on grapes and more.

Kids find the whole things hilarious, and it’s fascinating to observe how long it takes different groups to catch on to the fact that this is a rhyming book – I love it when the eyes go wide and kids shout out “hey, it rhymes!”

There’s a delightful twist ending that will have kids in stitches, and the illustrations suit the text pretty much perfectly. The word bottom is also mentioned, which is an added bonus when reading with a group of school kids – laughter is pretty much guaranteed.

Books like Oi, Frog! are so important because they help kids associate reading with positive emotions, and build positive memories. How many of us can name a couple of books that were absolutely ruined for us because we had to read them in school? English or Language Arts classes can unfortunately suck the joy right out of reading, leaving a negative impression on kids that can last a life time. By reminding them just how much fun reading can be, silly, humorous books like Oi, Frog! can help rekindle a child’s love of reading, and keep it glowing throughout life’s ups and downs.

Do you have any favourite lighthearted or funny books for kids? I’d love to hear about them – I’m always looking for new titles to share and enjoy!

NOTE – HOLD THE PRESSES! As a colleague just pointed out to me, if you’re American, Oi, Frog! might look a little different at your local bookshop or library. Apparently publishers aren’t sure you guys can handle British slang and think you might be confused by the expression “Oi” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone anyone?).

#IMWAYR – June 13, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. These weekly roundups are a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share recommended (or not so recommended….) titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

If I Had a Gryphon

If I was a picture book writer, Cale Atkinson would have to be one of my dream illustrators, because pretty much everything he’s worked on has been a visual treat. Vikki Vansickle’s rhyming text is silly and sweet, and works beautifully as read aloud, and Atkinson’s riotously vibrant illustrations knock this book right out of the park. A little girl bemoans her boring pet hamster, and dreams of all the excitement and adventure owning a more exotic pet would bring. She quickly realizes, though, that when it comes to pets, being boring isn’t such a bad thing after all! There’s so much quirky detail in each cartoony illustration, and even the scariest of mythical creatures is rendered adorable. I just want to pinch their squishy cheeks!

And the best part? Both author and illustrator are from British Columbia!! Hometown pride!!!

Hector and the Hummingbird

 There’s recently been a string of odd-couple picture books in which loud and extroverted characters frustrate their quieter, more introverted friends. In many versions of the story, the quiet character eventually cracks, but then grows lonely and concedes that they need the loud character in their lives after all, thus restoring the friendship.

I do wish extroverted characters could be shown learning to respect and adapt to the needs of their more introverted friends. Why must the quiet, introverted characters always  seem to concede to the needs of their louder friends? Domineering characters are often portrayed as cute, endearing and charming, even when they brazenly steam-roll over the quieter characters.

In this example, chatty Hummingbird never seems to realize that Hector the bear might simply need some alone time, and doesn’t seem to make any conscious attempt to support the needs of his friend. In fact, the only way that the two friends are able to comfortably co-exist is through the use of trickery, as Hector convinces Hummingbird that being quiet is a sort of game, though not one that Hummingbird is very good at.

Though I don’t consider myself an introvert, I work closely with many people who do. These individuals need time alone and quiet spaces in order to function at their best – it’s an important aspect of maintaining their optimal mental health. I wish this was represented more positively in these sorts of friendship stories- introverted characters are often portrayed as grumpy or antisocial, getting mad and shouting at their friends. It would have been nice to see Hector explain to Hummingbird that the two of them can still be best friends even if they aren’t together all the time. As a true friend, Hummingbird would understand and respect his friend’s needs, and would at least try to provide him with the time and space he needs to stay healthy and happy, which would be a positive example for both introverted and extroverted young readers.

I really did enjoy this picture book – the illustrations are wonderful, and the characters, even the frustrating Hummingbird, are very sweet and quite charming. Neither character is portrayed as being mean-spirited or intentionally mean, and they’re both very likeable. I just wish quiet characters weren’t always portrayed as grumpsters!

Solomon and Mortimer

Two bored little crocodiles plan to sneak up on an unsuspecting hippo and surprise him. The hippo, it turns out, isn’t quite as unsuspecting as the two friends might think. This is a very sweet story, and teachers and parents will recognize the exuberant and cheeky little Solomons and Mortimers in their classrooms and families. Catherine Rayner’s illustrations are particularly eye-catching and very effective, especially the scenes in which characters are splashing around in the water. This would be lots of fun to share with a group, where kids could guess what might happen next in the story.

A Fire Truck Called Red

A young boy dreams of a brand-new shiny red fire truck toy, and is deeply disappointed when he ends up with a hand-me-down truck that used to belong to his grandfather. As the boy and his grandfather work to restore the toy, the grandfather tells stories of the imaginary adventures he and his toy truck used to have. Gradually the boy is drawn into the stories, and decides that maybe old Red isn’t quite so bad after all. This is a wonderful intergenerational story that celebrates the importance of substance, as well as style, and reminds us of the power of our imaginations. I would have preferred it if the illustrations were just a little bit less cartoonish (the big round heads aren’t really my style), but I do love the use of mixed media. A real treat, especially for kids who love fire engines (and their grown-ups, too).

 

 

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.

flowers

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…!

#IMWAYR – June 6, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. These weekly roundups are a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share recommended (or not so recommended….) titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

tuktuk

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk

It’s no secret that I love singable picture books, so I’m always on the lookout for new stories to add to my collection and use in my story times. This lively picture books puts a fun new spin on the classic children’s song The Wheels on the Bus by placing it in a colourful, bustling Indian setting. The text is rousing and bouncing, though perhaps a little long for my story times. Still, it’s easy enough to skip a page or two to shorten the text without losing any of the fun. Definitely worth taking a look at, especially for the joyous illustrations – check out the impressive size of the moo-moo cow!

baabaa

Baa-Baa Smart Sheep

This dryly funny little picture book features a clever sheep who relieves its boredom by playing mind games with a slightly dim-witted turkey. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the exchanges between the two characters would make for an effective elementary school read-aloud, but ewwwww….. just …..ewwwww…..this is certainly not a title for those with an aversion to potty humour or bodily functions, I’ll just leave it at that!

hoot

Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise

“I am Hoot Owl!

I am very, very hungry.

And here I come!

The shadowy night stretches away forever, as black as burnt toast.”

A charming protagonist with unshakeable optimism and endless persistence, wonderfully striking illustrations with bold lines and an eye-catching palette, and a perfect amount of repetition make this a fantastic picture book for young readers. Sweet, silly, endearing, and lots of fun.

twoisenough

Two is Enough

Families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and this rhyming picture book is dedicated to families of two – whether it’s a parent and a child, or a grandparent and a grandchild, these small families have just as much love in them as a family of any other size. Cheerful illustrations and a gentle, reassuring text celebrate the loving everyday experiences of families of two.

Where Things Come Back

I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction. It wasn’t my jam when I was a young adult, and it’s just not my jam now. Being a teenager wasn’t the best or easiest time in my life, so I’m not really in any hurry to relive it! But every once in a while I come across a young adult novel that knocks my socks right off, and makes me rethink my assumptions about what teen fiction is capable of. Where Things Come Back is one of those novels. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely has elements of a coming-of-age, where-do-I-fit-in story line. But in John Corey Whaley’s hands, these potentially tired tropes become something much more. There are two major story lines that run along side each other before finally intersecting in a dramatic and surreal conclusion – one features teenager Cullen, whose younger brother has suddenly disappeared, while the other follows a young missionary and his shattering crisis of faith.  This is a strange, complex, weird and wonderful novel that challenges any preconceived notions you might have about teen fiction, and argues that fiction written for and about young people can be as thought-provoking, meaningful, and nuanced as any adult novel.