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Notes from a Children's Librarian: The "I Am Canadian" Series

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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The “I am Canada” series is addictive. Aimed primarily at boys in Grade 7 and up, these books about war are dark, action-filled and sometimes gruesome. They could work for mature Grade 5 or 6 readers, or also as read-alouds with follow-up discussion close to Remembrance Day. These first-person narratives are so compelling that a reader doesn’t even notice that they’re actually learning history. At the back of each book, there’s a note on the historical accuracy, with photos of original documents and images of the real life characters the books are based on.

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Book Cover Sniper Fire

Sniper Fire: The Fight for Ortona (Paul Baldassara, Italy, 1943), by Jonathan Webb

The dramatic opening puts the reader right in the thick of war. Paul is an Italian from Alberta who enlists in the Canadian army and finds himself in Italy during a month-long battle to capture (and eventually win) the town of Ortona. The descriptions of vicious street fighting that cost more than 2,300 Canadian casualties elicits all the senses. Paul and his buddies take Ortona street by street, house by house, enduring sniper fire, booby-trapped doors, chairs, and toilets. The effect on the civilians becomes eviden …

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Launchpad: THE BARREN GROUNDS, by David A. Robertson

Launchpad Logo

Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.

LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.

Today we're launching David A. Robertson's The Barren Grounds, the first instalment in an an epic middle grade fantasy series  where Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations.

The book is being championed by Susin Nielsen, who tells us, "David A. Robertson has written such a fine, beautiful novel. He manages to combine hard truths about our history with a Narnia-like fantasy, sweeping us into the world of the story while opening our hearts as well."

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49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?

David A. Robertson: It was a difficult task to draw inspiration from a classic bo …

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Books for Orange Shirt Day

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Residential Schools are often talked about beginning with the study of Indigenous Peoples in the Grade 3 social studies curriculum, but awareness can begin even earlier. These texts, from preschool to teens, address some of the harsh issues—and are especially meaningful in connection with Orange Shirt Day on September 30.

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The Orange Shirt Story, by Phyllis Webstad, illustrated by Brock Nicol, is a true story. Six-year-old Phyllis was looking forward to going to the same school as her cousins. She even had a new orange shirt for the occasion, but the nuns promptly removed it, and then cut off her hair. The nuns showed no empathy—a poignant illustration shows Phyllis crying, alone, in her bed at night. One nice teacher was her only solace. Luckily, Phyllis only had to endure one year away at school and never went back. There’s a section at the back of the book explaining the meaning of Orange Shirt Day. (Grade 3+)

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Fatty Legs, by Christy Jordan …

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Most Anticipated: Our Fall 2020 Books for Young Readers Preview

New books for young readers...and readers of all ages!

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Picture Books

Told in rhyming verse, The Old Man and the Penguin (October), by Julie Abery and illustrated by Pierre Pratt, is the touching true story of an oil-soaked penguin, the man who rescues him and an unlikely friendship. Cakes, cookies or pie? A rivalry among local bakers is the basis for the deliciously sweet, off-the-wall picture book It Happened On Sweet Street (July), by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Bed has something to say. Bed knows you do not like bedtime. Bed gets it. But look ... YOU are not so great, either: Monica Arnaldo provides the other side of the story in Time for Bed's Story (September). And a young girl discovers nature’s surprising beauty in The Most Amazing Bird (November), from renowned Inuit storyteller Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, illustrated by Andrew Qappik.

Book Cover Princesses Vs Dinosaurs

Two popular storybook titans, princesses and dinosaurs, battle to determine who should star in Linda Bailey's new laugh-out-loud picture book, Princesses Versus Dinosaurs (September), …

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Launchpad: Tales from the Fringes of Fear, by Jeff Szpirglas

Launchpad Logo

This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launches Tales from the Fringes of Fear, by Jeff Szpirglas, which Kirkus Reviews calls “A spine-tingling collection that's dead on for young horror buffs.”

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The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

Tales from Beyond the Brain (2019) and Tales from the Fringes of Fear (2020) are two anthologies of pure pulse-pounding, side-splitting tales of terror, aimed at (and starring) junior-aged school children. Within its pages lurk stories about malevolent art supplies, deadly fie …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Catchy Beginnings

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Hey! You! Want to help kids build great hooks into their stories?

The language curriculum for Grades 3–6 touches on the use of a strong opening, or "lead." Presented here is a smorgasbord of techniques, along with examples from novels and a few picture books.

Strategy #1: Start with an action

In these books, the author hooks us with a memorable action.

Lost in the Backyard, by Alison Hughes, begins, “I am lying alone in the dark forest, dying.”

About the book: Flynn hates the outdoors. Always has. He barely pays attention in his Outdoor Ed class. He has no interest in doing a book report on Lost in the Barrens. He doesn’t understand why anybody would want to go hiking or camping. But when he gets lost in the wilderness behind his parents’ friends’ house, it’s surprising what he remembers—e.g., insulate your clothes with leaves, eat snow to stay hydrated, build a shelter, eat lichen—and how hopelessly inept he is at survival techniques.

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Most Anticipated: Spring 2020 Books for Young Readers Preview

We're excited to be looking ahead to books for young readers, including picture books and middle grade and YA titles.

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Picture Books

Told half in French and half in English, with simple phrasing and visual cues in the illustrations making the story easy for early readers to decode in both languages, Pierre & Paul: Avalanche! (March), by Caroline Adderson and illustrated by Alice Carter, is an engaging story of friendship and imagination. A girl and her neighbour grow a community from their garden in What Grew in Larry's Garden (April), by Laura Alary, illustrated by Kass Reich. Extraordinary things are happening behind the windows of the city in Marion Arbona's Window (March), an interactive, one-of-a-kind wordless picture book. And Christine Baldacchino follows up the acclaimed Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress with Violet Shrink (March), illustrated by Carmen Mok, about a young girl who navigates social anxiety at family gatherings and works with her father to find a solution.

Pairing creative rhyming similes with cut-paper collage art, …

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Four Fast-Paced, Captivating Middle Grade Books Any Student Will Love

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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If you’re looking for a great story, where the main characters are relatable, look no further than the Orca Currents collection. These books are known as Hi/Lo readers: short, high-interest novels with contemporary themes written specifically for middle-school students reading below grade level. (Reading levels from grade 2.0 to 5.0. Interest level ages 10–14.)

There really is something for everyone in this collection. The wide range of topics that are addressed in these books includes: fitting in, racism, gender equality, technology addiction, bullying, and self-image. Both the topics and characters will appeal to many readers. The main characters are always down-to-earth, real people, that many middle-school students can relate to. Whether it’s the new student, the child with a difficult home life, or the one struggling to develop relationships with peers, these characters will help your students to grow. I’ve placed a number of these books into the hands of students, and each time, they come back asking for more.

Although the Orca titles are aimed at students reading below grade level, I recommend these books to all students. We can all enjoy a fast-paced, captivating read every now and then, and that is what is so great about the Currents series.

Here are a few that I’ve read, and loved, recently:

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Quick Hits: 6 Books for Teens this Fall

These new books span everything from disability and difference to grief and homelessness—for starters. They're important books, and gripping reads.

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thejusticeproject

The Justice Project, by Michael Betcherman

Publisher: Orca Books

Recommended ages: 12 and up

About the Book

High-school football star Matt Barnes was on the top of the world until a freak snowboarding accident ending his promising sports career and left him with a permanent limp. As he struggles to accept his changed body, Matt becomes depressed and isolated. Instead of college football camp, he faces a summer job at the local golf club. Then by chance Matt lands an internship at the Justice Project, an organization that defends the wrongly convicted. The other intern is his high-school nemesis, Sonya Livingstone, a quick-witted social activist with little time for jock culture. The two slowly develop a friendship as they investigate the case of Ray Richardson, who was convicted of murdering his parents twenty-one years ago. Matt and Sonya are soon convinced that Ray is innocent—but how will they prove it? Unravelling the cold case takes them on a journey filled with twists, turns, deception and danger. It will take dedication, perseverance and courage to unmask the real murderer. Can those same qualities help Matt m …

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Farley Mowat, Comics, SciFi and Manitoba

Book Cover the Case of Windy Lake

Michael Hutchinson launches his middle grade Mighty Muskrats Mystery series with The Case of Windy Lake, the story of four inseparable cousins growing up on the Windy Lake First Nation. When a visiting archeologist goes missing, the cousins decide to solve the mystery of his disappearance... In this recommended reading list, Hutchinson shares other titles that have inspired him as a writer—and as a reader too. 

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Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat

My Dad may have read a little too much Farley Mowat and was always someone who wanted to get off the grid. We didn’t get to watch TV much and it was always just fuzzy CBC when we did. We read a lot! Farley Mowat’s books were a family favorite and books such as Lost in the Barrens and Curse of the Viking Grave were some of the first books I read. They also introduced me to the idea of books being the foundation for television or movies. I really enjoyed the book Never Cry Wolf and the movie that followed.

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It Happened in Canada, by Gordon Johnston

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Awesome Girls in Middle-Grade Fiction

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane is Julia Nobel's debut novel, and the first in a series about a mysterious English boarding school. In this recommended reading list, Nobel nominates other great middle-grade titles that feature awesome girls. 

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Whenever we talk about strong female characters in children’s fiction, the discussion is almost always limited to books aimed at young adults. Moreover, the definition of "strong" is usually quite narrow, focused on characters who use physical or magical strength to fight for their people. Such a restricted definition of strength is troubling because it doesn’t allow young readers to see that being strong doesn’t have to look a certain way, nor is it something that evolves when a person is older. The following books offer us many different visions of what a strong female character can look like, even when that character is still in their tweens.

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier

Nan lives a life of indentured servitude as a chimney sweep in Victorian London. After being tr …

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Most Anticipated: Our 2019 Books for Young Readers Spring Preview

Last but certainly not least in our 2019 Spring Preview is our Books for Young Readers list, featuring books that are sure to delight readers of all ages. 

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Picture Books

A little girl growing up on the prairies stands at the window and waves to the train engineer going by in A Little House in a Big Place, by Alison Acheson, illustrated by Valériane LeBlond, a book that explores the magic of a connection made between strangers while also pondering the idea of growing up. Albert just wants to read his book in peace—why won't his friends give him some quiet? Isabelle Arsenault's latest is Albert's Quiet Quest (May), and it  explores the importance of finding alone time. Cale Atkinson's Where Oliver Fits (April) looks at the highs and lows of learning to be yourself and shows that fitting in isn't always the best fit. Based on author Susan Avingaq’s childhood memories of growing up in an iglu,The Pencil introduces young readers to the idea of using things wisely. Saumiya Balasubramaniam’s When I Found Grandma (March), illustrated by Qin Leng, is an insightful and endearing portrayal of a cross-cultural grandparent-grandchild relationship that is evolving and deeply loving. Summer North Coming-Winter North Coming (March), by Doris Bentley and Jessica Bromley …

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