Baseball Bats for Christmas, by Michael Kusugak (1990, 2017)

Children’s Fiction
5-9
Baseball Bats for Christmas by Michael KusugakWhat fun it is to discover a classic for the first time! The 2017 reissue of this popular children’s picture book gave me the chance to finally read this award-winning Inuit story, based on the author’s own lived experience. When the bush pilot Rocky Parsons delivers a load of Christmas trees in 1955, the children of Repulse Bay are intrigued. Only Peter knows what they are. “Standing ups,” he declares, having seen them in pictures shown him by Father Didier. Asked what they are for, he simply shrugs. But when someone gets a ball for Christmas, the purpose of these standing ups becomes clear to the children – standing ups are ideal for making baseball bats! Read more of this post

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Transphobia: Deal With It, by j. wallace skelton (2017)

Nonfiction
9-15
Transphobia: Deal With It, by J. Wallace SkeltonThis is a new release from James Lorimer Books, the latest in the “Deal With It” series which tackles discrimination issues in colourful, illustrated books aimed primarily at middle school readers. In just 32 pages, readers learn what transphobia is and how they can be “gender transcenders.” The book opens with Transphobia 101, including a quiz to help readers identify situations of transphobia, just plain sexism, or simply lack of understanding. Using age-appropriate and accessible language and cartoon-like drawings, skelton and illustrator Nick Johnson collaborate to help readers learn how to respond to various scenarios in order to create a safe and supportive space for all genders. Read more of this post

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng (2017)

Contemporary
11-14
See You in the Cosmos, by Jack ChengI cheerfully admit to being a low-level space geek, and I can pinpoint my interest precisely to September 1977, when Voyager II and Voyage I (yup, in that order) were launched into space in search of interstellar pals. Each spacecraft carried a Golden Record intended to introduce any intelligent life to life on Earth. Eleven-year-old Alex Petroski has decided to launch Voyager III, complete with a Golden iPod filled with his own recordings for aliens to discover. Overtly a transcript of his recordings, this creative heart-filled novel tells the story of Alex’s remarkable journey over several days, both literally and figuratively. Literally, he and his beloved pup Carl Sagan travel from his home in Colorado to the Southwest High Altitude Rocket Festival in Albuquerque where Alex will launch his homemade rocket into space. Read more of this post

Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary Golio (2017)

Nonfiction
6-12
Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary GolioMy undergraduate degree is in history. That’s big, so my focus was on the modernist “movement” which swept across Europe and then North America, roughly 1880-1939, impacting everything from politics to literature and art. Protest songs were key to our studies of American civil rights history, of course, and one of the pieces of music we used was Strange Fruit, recorded by the incredible jazz singer Billie Holliday. I didn’t know the song, and so it was a shock to me to learn that the strange “fruit” are in fact the dead bodies of lynching victims. It is a powerful song, a lament and a call to action in its time. It became known as Billie’s signature song, and this picture book for older children introduces readers to the song and its origins, in a way that is age appropriate. 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

The Boy Who Knew Too Much, by Commander S.T. Bolivar, III (2016)

Mystery
9-13
The Boy Who Knew Too Much, Munchem Academy 1, by Commander S.T. Bolivar, IIIWhen Mattie Larimore accidentally steals a train (the only time he is caught in his entire criminal career), his father decides the 11-year-old is following too closely in his brother Carter’s footsteps, and sends him to the same reform school, Munchem Academy. As soon as he arrives, Mattie makes it his mission to get back home. He tries being good, but fails miserably when he reacts to a bully who is also his dorm-mate. Carter ignores his pleas for guidance. Mattie finds help in a pair of squabbling siblings, Caroline and Eliot. The three discover that beneath Munchem Academy is a lab that is taking the school’s reform mission to a whole new level. Read more of this post

Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh (1964, 1992)

Contemporary Fiction (in its day, folks!)
Ages 9-13
Harriet the Spy, by Louise FitzhughHere’s a children’s novel that completely got past me both when I was a child and when I worked as a children’s librarian. (It happens.) I have been meaning to read it for years, and finally picked it up. Awesome book that is older than I am, and clearly a game-changer in the world of children’s literature. Harriet M. Welsch is 11 years old, sassy, opinionated and determined to become a writer. To be a writer, her governess Ole Golly tells her, you have to write. So Harriet writes in her notebook, obsessively noting what she observes about her family, her friends, and the Manhattan neighbourhood she calls home. “Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth,” Ole Golly advises her. Read more of this post

Thing Explainer, by Randall Munroe (2015)

Nonfiction
8-13
Thing ExplainerStumped by jargon? Have you ever wished someone would just explain a complex idea using just a few common words? Roboticist turned cartoonist and author Randall Munroe does exactly that in this book of big ideas aimed at kids. He uses a blueprint style to explain “Complicated Stuff in Simple Words,” according to the subtitle. A thousand words, in fact, or as he puts it, ten hundred words. A helicopter is a “Sky boat with turning wings,” and “Tall roads” are bridges. Each idea is explained with simple line drawings, identifying tags with explanations that are often humourous as well as informative. Read more of this post

Tales from Christmas Wood, by Suzy Senior (2015)

Christmas Fiction
3-7
Tales from Christmas WoodIt’s Christmas Eve, and Christmas Wood looks lovely in the snow. But so much is happening behind the scenes! Badger stumbles across the lovely village and decides on the spot to move in. But her scary teeth make it hard to make new friends. Tiny Mouse is making gingerbread cookies, but his penchant for tasting creates a problem. Rosie Rabbit’s brothers are so noisy they drive their sister out the door, and she becomes lost. Robin wants to grow up to be a hero, and discovers something about himself. Fidgety Fox is looking for adventure and instead finds something scary in the barn! Read more of this post

Walk on the Wild Side, by Nicholas Oldland (2015)

Picture Book
Ages 3-8
Walk on the Wild SideA moose, a bear, and a beaver enjoy having adventures together. One day they decide to hike up a mountain, but their competitive natures inspire them to make it a race. A boulder and a misstep mess up their plans, and it’s up to Beaver to ingeniously save the day, and his friends. “At the end of the day, the bear, the moose and the beaver agreed that reaching the top of the mountain was great, but enjoying the journey together was even better.” What an enjoyable story! The lesson is delivered only at the end, done gently and with humour, and the illustrations are hilarious. Read more of this post

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, by Tania Del Rio and Will Staele (2015)

Mystery
9-12
Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing EyeMeet Warren, who lives in a hotel. He is the 13th Warren to be heir to the Warren Hotel, though his current role is as errand boy, bellhop, room-service valet, handyman and responsibility for pretty much any task that needs doing at the Warren Hotel. Truthfully, his job is mostly upkeep, or trying to keep it from falling down. Warren the 12th (his dad) died when Warren the 13th was just seven years old, too young to take the reins. His lazy Uncle Rupert took over, but things soon went downhill, and it’s been five years since the last guest left. Hence Warren’s astonishment when, as he is on the roof clearing the ravens’ nest from the chimney (again), he hears an automobile approaching. Read more of this post

Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia, by Animal Planet (2015)

Nonfiction
7-13
Animals: A Visual EncyclopediaThe editors from Discovery’s Animal Planet have given us a beautifully illustrated visual encyclopedia that will provide hours of enjoyment for young readers. More useful for browsing than for actual research, it will meet basic homework needs for elementary school assignments. The book is loosely organized by taxonomic classification – it opens with an explanation of the phylla through the Tree of Animal Life – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, arthropods (which includes arachnids as insects), and other invertebrates, covering the entire spectrum of animalia from whales to ticks (pp. 8-9). Readers also learn the key physiological features of each phyllum Read more of this post

Took: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn (2015)

Mystery
Ages 10-14
Took: A Ghost StoryThis latest offering from master storyteller Mary Downing Hahn delivers all the chills and shivers young fans of creepy horror stories are looking for. This isn’t for everyone – it may induce nightmares, so if your youngster likes the idea of scary stories better than the reality, read it yourself first. Daniel and his sister Erica are uprooted from their comfortable Connecticut existence when their parents buy a home in West Virgina. It’s a dilapidated fixer-upper, made irresistible to the adults by Old Auntie who is watching the scene unfold. She is a 200-year-old conjure woman who “lives” in the woods and is seeking a new Girl to do her chores, as she does every 50 years. Erica is seven, and just perfect for Old Auntie’s needs. Read more of this post

Oscar and the Amazing Gravity Repellent, by Tina Peterson (2015)

Fantasy
Ages 7-11
Oscar and the Amazing Gravity RepellentOne of the first “science fiction” books I read as a child was Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint. Written before the age of space travel, the story let young readers’ imaginations fly along with Danny and his friend Joe as they career around the solar system. With that memory in mind, I was pleased to learn of this title from first-time author Peterson, which promises an equal dose of magical adventure. Oscar is a klutz. When he learns about gravity at school, he realizes it’s the cause of his clumsiness, always pulling him downward and causing him to trip, stumble, and knock things over. When he discovers an abandoned caboose covered in vines, he is astonished to see, in a locked glass cabinet, a bottle of Gravity Repellent. Read more of this post