The Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner (2015, 2017)

Animal Fiction
3-11
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin RennerInitially thinking this was a picture book and attracted by the cover, I obtained a digital galley from the publisher. Much to my delight, it turned out to be a graphic novel, numbering about 200 pages. Our protagonist is a hapless fox who is seen as no threat at all by either hens or a lazy guard dog. Frustrated and hungry the fox joins forces with a wolf, agreeing to steal eggs and raise the chicks to a tasty size. But the chicks imprint on the fox and he becomes quite attached while they in turn come to believe they are foxes. Given how evil those hens are, this isn’t a bad thing. The plot is enjoyable as the fox struggles to resolve the situation, and schemes his way to a solution. Read more of this post

The Goat, by Anne Fleming (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
9-12
The Goat, by Anne FlemingEleven-year-old Kid moves from Toronto to New York City for a six-month stay while her actor/screenwriter mother works on an off-Broadway production. Teacher Dad is going to work on his own play while homeschooling Kid, which includes daily visits to various NYC museums. They are staying in cousin Doug’s apartment just off Central Park, looking after his dog Cat while Doug is in Europe. When Kid discovers the rumour of a good-luck goat on top of the building, she teams up with new friend Will to find out the truth. Along the way, Fleming switches voices so the diverse residents in the building get to share their stories, including the goat himself! Read more of this post

In the Red Canoe, by Leslie Davidson (2016)

Picture Book
3-7
In the Red Canoe by Leslie DavidsonWhat a delight it is for me to review this book, though long overdue, I’m embarrassed to admit! Leslie Davidson is a beloved elementary teacher who lived in Grand Forks B.C., where we moved just a few weeks ago. In fact, her home is the one we now call ours. She is so well known that when people here ask where I bought, I simply say “Leslie and Lincoln’s house,” and everyone knows it. This book was published in October, and as we were busy preparing for our move I’ve only now had a chance to buy myself a copy and read it. Beautifully illustrated by Laura Bifano, In the Red Canoe describes a young girl and her grandfather sharing delights and discoveries of nature as they paddle a lake. Read more of this post

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, by Margriet Ruurs (2016)

Picture Book
3-10, with appeal for all ages
Stepping Stones by Margriet RuursWhen Canadian picture book author Margriet Ruurs first saw Nizar Ali Badr’s artwork made of river stones, she was instantly captivated. How could a handful of river rock speak so eloquently? But they do! And Orca Books’ pairing of Ruurs’ touching narrative with Badr’s art has resulted in a stunning picture book that will delight readers of all ages. The book opens with Rama and Sami enjoying childhood in Syria, a life of school and fruit and tea and family and neighbours. But when bombs start to fall, the community breaks apart. Read more of this post

Flood: Race Against Time, by Aaron Rosenberg (2016)

Adventure
9-11
Flood: Race Against Time, by Aaron RosenbergThis is the first title in the S.T.E.M. Squad series – adventures about children learning to use Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to solve real-world problems. The five teens are starting Grade 9 when their schedule changes for Science, and they are sent to a new classroom. It turns out to be an experimental class funded by a rich donor interested in getting kids real-life experience with STEM principles. On their first field trip, they head out to see the flood zone in person, and a series of mishaps leaves the teens stranded in a flooded home, where they have to figure out how to save themselves and get rescued, using STEM. So far, so good. Read more of this post

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jaleigh Johnson (2014)

Genre: Speculative Fiction
Interest Level: 10-15
The Mark of the DragonflyA delightful foray into a strange, steampunk-y world! Piper lives in the Merrow Kingdom. She is 13 years old and on her own after her father died while working in the brutal factories of Dragonfly Kingdom. She earns a living as a machinist, repairing items that people bring to her as her reputation for a healing hand with machinery grows. Home is a scrapper town, where people scavenge the objects that mysteriously appear after the deadly meteor storms that happen regularly. It’s after one of these storms that Piper discovers Anna, alone and unconscious after a meteor hit her caravan. Anna wakes up with no memory of who she is or where she came from, but soon an ominous stranger arrives, threatening the girls’ safety. Read more of this post

The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata (2013)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Level: 10-14
The Thing About LuckTwelve-year-old Summer and her brother Jaz are joining their grandparents on wheat harvest, which means leaving school before the summer break. It’s been a tough few months for the family. A mosquito bite gave Summer malaria and nearly killed her; she now obsessively covers her skin with DEET and creates almost perfect drawings of both male and female of the species. Jaz can’t make any friends, her grandmother’s back pain is worsening, and now her parents are called to Japan to care for three dying relatives, leaving the grandparents to come out of retirement and join the custom harvest team. A mortgage (whatever that is) weighs heavily on the family, Read more of this post

Sure Signs of Crazy, by Karen Harrington (2013)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest level: 10-14
Sure Signs of CrazyI absolutely adore this word-loving protagonist who is both daring and timid as she navigates the rocky path life has set out for her. Sarah Nelson is turning twelve. Her best friend is off to camp, and it looks like she’ll again be sent to her grandparents for the summer. Her father teaches at college, and her mother, well, that’s the secret that drives dad and daughter to move from town to town, and that has Dad reaching for the bottle. Sarah’s mother, we soon learn, tried to drown her twin children when they were just two. Sarah survived, but Simon died. Sarah has never known her mother who now lives under psychiatric care, and her father won’t talk about the crazy. Read more of this post

Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Great Bear Rainforest, by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet

Genre: Mystery
Interest Level: 8-14
Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Great Bear RainforestA fact-filled adventure involving teenage twins Gannon and Wyatt trying to survive in the Pacific rainforest against wolves, bears, bone-chilling cold, a deadly fall and even evil gunmen out to destroy the environment for profit. This is the second title in the series, written in the grand tradition of the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Willard Price’s adventure-seeking brothers Hal and Roger Hunt. Wyatt and Gannon tell their tale in alternating journal entries, which can sometimes provide comical contrasting views of the same event. The e-book version I obtained from NetGalley (in exchange for my honest review) included occasional black and white images and links to the companion website, Read more of this post

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (2008)

Genre: Horror
Interest Level: 8-15
The Graveyard BookThis is, I believe, the first children’s book I’ve ever read that opens with a triple murder. Neil Gaiman first caught my attention with the delightfully creepy Coraline . A few years later, he won the Newbery and the Carnegie Medal for The Graveyard Book (the first book to win both). I went into this title cautiously – double award-winners have a lot to live up to! In The Graveyard Book, a toddler survives the murder of his family and makes his way, unnoticed, to a graveyard. There, he is adopted by the ghosts who live there: together they agree to raise him (it takes a graveyard to raise a child) and protect him. With the exception of having ghosts for parents, the boy (known as “Bod”, short for Nobody Owens) enjoys a relatively normal life. Read more of this post

Almost Home, by Joan Bauer (2012)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Level: 9-13
Almost HomeJoan Bauer is one of my favourite authors for young adults – Hope Was Here and Rules of the Road are top of the list for me. Here, she writes for a younger audience, delving into the topic of homeless children in America. Sugar Mae Cole and her mother Reba find themselves without a home when Reba’s gambling addicted husband causes them to lose their Atlanta home. They sleep in the car, couchsurf with family, and finally land in a shelter. Sugar, an eloquent and, remarkably, emotionally sturdy sixth grader, watches helplessly as her mother struggles to recover her pride and a home. She finds solace in two things – her writing and her puppy Shush. Read more of this post

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, by Mélanie Watt (2013)

Genre: Picture Book
Interest Level: 4-7
Scaredy Squirrel Goes CampingAward-winning Canadian illustrator and children’s author Mélanie Watt returns to enchant us with the delightfully wary and timid Scaredy Squirrel. This time, Scaredy is petrified by the prospect of going out into … the woods. Even though he lives in a tree. The great outdoors, Scaredy is quick to point out to readers, contains wicked dangers like mosquitoes, quicksand, and the ever-dreaded penguin, sure to be found wherever there’s a cooler. Because camping, of course, means coolers. Scaredy again demonstrates his firm belief that a prepared squirrel is a safe squirrel, loading up with rations and supplies, Read more of this post

Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston (2008)

Genre: Fantasy
Interest Level: 6-10 with strong appeal for adults too!
ZorgamazooAn absolute gem! Written entirely in Seuss-like prose, this is a genre-bender that appeals across the ages. Katrina Katrell, an adventure-loving girl who hasn’t let her tough past trouble her, teams up with Mortimer Yorgle (a zorgle) to find out what has happened to the zorgles of the underworld who have disappeared without a trace. Threats of lobotomies, a secret map, aliens and even a key eyeball throwing incident are just a few of the zany elements that combine into perhaps the best verse novel I’ve read. Certainly the best for kids. It’s heart-warming and heartbreaking, thrilling, often gross and occasionally quite tense. Excellent to read aloud, but not for kids under age 6, I’d say – just a bit too scary at times. Read more of this post

Invisible City: The Joshua Files #1, by M.G. Harris (2008, 2012)

Genre: Science Fiction
Interest Level: 12-15
Invisible CityJoshua’s life is turned upside down when his university professor father dies in a plane crash while conducting research into Mayan history in Mexico. When evidence appears his father may have had an illicit relationship with a woman in Mexico, Joshua’s mother is devastated and soon lands in hospital. Joshua refuses to believe this of his father, and sets out to find the truth. More evidence suggests the plane may have been sabotaged, and there are reports of UFO sightings at the time. The truth is even stranger, as Joshua discovers when he and his friend leave London and travel to Mexico to solve the mystery. A pair of very young teens travelling to Mexico on their own with a parent’s credit card is only one of the incredible (literally) adventures that await these two. Read more of this post

The Time Hackers, by Gary Paulsen (2008)

Genre: Science Fiction
Interest Level: 11-15
The Time HackersGary Paulsen is one of my favourite authors for young people. He wrote Hatchet to great acclaim, following up with comic biographical writing (How Angel Peterson Got His Name) and the odd but charming Glass Cafe. With The Time Hackers, he makes a solid hit but it’s no home run. It’s set in a future time when technology permits people to view history as invisible bystanders – they can see the action on their screens but the timeline is not affected; no one in history knows they are being watched. Laptops are rolled up and carry entire curricular texts, but school remains largely the same. Lockers are dangerous for the nerdy, and girls are terrifying to most Grade 7 boys, especially our hero Dorso. Read more of this post