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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Adventure and the Reluctant Reader

Book Cover Big City Otto: Elephants Never Forget

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

*****

No matter the age, there are readers who shy away from pages filled with text. What better way to draw them in to literature than through exciting plot-driven graphic novels? These titles are able to engage uncertain readers from grades three to seven.

Beginning with grade three+, Big City Otto: Elephants Never Forget, by Bill Slavin, is the first book in a series about Otto the Elephant on a quest to find his estranged monkey pal, George. With his parrot friend, Crackers, Otto's adventure begins with him shrink-wrapped as baggage on a plane to America, ending up at the zoo, where a locked up cayman connects him with some shady characters “on the outside” (including a croc with a French accent and a hiphop gangster who uses Otto's peanut allergy to his benefit; a few big sneezes and the gangsters are busted out of the zoo.) The speech bubbles have minimal text and many ironic one-liners like: "This is America. You can't go around looking oversized (and) special."

Book Cover Into the Woods

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Graphic Novels for Summer

Book Cover The Silver Six

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

**

An orphan-spy-gang-sci-fi thriller. A fantasy novel as allegory. A series of funny First Nations stories. A poetic portrait of death. A guide to making movies. Each delivers its own take on the graphic form and makes for easy reading during these summer months.

Being an orphan is a crime in The Silver Six, by Al Lieberman and Darren Rawlings, and 12-year-old Phoebe's parents have died in a shuttle explosion. She survives in a futuristic urban society, where natural parks are movie sets and her domestic robot, Max, plays pre-recorded voices of her mom and dad when the landlord comes a-knocking. Phoebe's also on the run from bad-guy, Mr. Craven, who's after a secret file of her parents'. Phoebe gets nabbed by the Child Welfare Services where she meets five other orphans whose parents' deaths are suspiciously similar to Phoebe's. Together they form the Silver Six and head out of their artificially controlled world to solve the mystery. (Grades 3 to 6)

Book Cover Gottika

In t …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Summer Reads Most Feral

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

*****

Ever wonder how a baboon thinks about his fellow baboons? Or how a cat views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or how a seeing-eye dog-in-training tunes into people's feelings? This summer list lets the reader explore animal nature.

Book Cover Baboon

Right from the start, Baboon, by David Jones, grabs hold of the reader and doesn't let go. The book opens with Gerry in a plane crash in the African veldt, along with his biologist parents who have come to study baboon behaviour. Gerry awakens to find himself injured; even worse, he discovers the hairy arm he's lying on is his own—he’s become a baboon. Gerry watches from afar as his parents leave by ambulance with his (still alive) body before he scampers off to survive. He gets the hang of scavenging for food, struggles to eat naked mole rats, and withstands constant bullying by baboons higher up the pecking order. His human mind allows him to fend off a leopard attack, but the more he moves up in status, encountering poachers and participating in a gazelle kill, he begins losing his ability to count, read and write. He's increasingly forced to rely on smell, rather than reason. These are uncommon themes in junior fiction: the r …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books for Mother's Day

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

*****

Mothers come in many forms in these books that put moms in the spotlight. 

Book Cover Matthew and the Midnight Money Van

It's the eve of Mother's Day in Matthew and the Midnight Money Van, by Allen Morgan, illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Matthew crawls under his bed to count the money in his piggy bank (a money van). There, amongst a host of uneaten food items, he realizes he doesn't have enough for his mom's gift before falling asleep. In what might be a dream, Matthew helps some unusual street-sweepers, such as the midnight mounted geese police with bambino machines collecting dropped pennies. He hits the $2 million mark, enough for a diamond ring for mom. The humorous language and pictures complement each other beautifully, resulting in a lovely sentiment between mother and son. (He ends up preparing a breakfast using all those under-the-bed snacks.) This one is for all ages.

Book Cover Polar Bear Son

The Polar Bear Son, An Inuit Tale, retold and illustrated by Lydia Dabcovich, is about a childless old woman who li …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Poetry Books

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

*****

Other Goose: Recycled Rhymes for Our Fragile Times, by Barbara Wyn Klunder, is a little gem, with etching style illustrations. Its tongue-in-cheek take on the environment includes poems about "This little piggy" going to market but not finding parking, Jack and Jill opting for bottled water, and "Baa baa, black sheep/ Have you any gas?/ Are you kidding me, man? / No one has!" The collection addresses second-hand smoke, logging, consumerism, food banks, the soil cycle, pollution, politics, gas dependency, today's fast-pace, environmental allergens, oil slicks, the role of art and celebrity. Because of the high-level humour and the need to understand the context of the satire, this one would work best with grades 4 to 6. 

Voices from the Wild, An Animal Sensagoria, by David Bouchard, paintings by Ron Parker, is a dialogue between a Northern painter and his animal subjects. It's divided into five sections, with creatures sorted according to their domin …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Fostering World-Mindfulness

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

*****

Book Cover If the World Were A Village

How do you foster world-mindfulness in children? With a good wall map that's referred to often. This is one of the great tips found at the end of If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People (2nd edition), by David J. Smith and Canadian illustrator Shelagh Armstrong. It asks, "What if the world's population were a village of 100 people?" Each page answers using one aspect of the global village, i.e., nationality (60 would be from Asia; five would be from Canada/US); language (only nine would speak English); age (37 would be under 19); and food (there would be seven times as many chickens as people). The inequities become profoundly obvious when it comes to access to clean air and water, school, work, money, and possessions. Beautifully illustrated, this large picture book is recommended for grades four and up. 

Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together, by Herb Shoveller, is non-fiction told in story form. It b …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: PEI Books

Each month our resident Children's Librarian, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks.

*****

The overriding link between these titles is Prince Edward Island, but keep an eye out for the recurring red-heads!

Book Cover Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House

In Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House, by Patti Larsen, Chloe is forced to leave Ottawa to live in rural PEI, after the sudden death of her parents. Through her grief, she must adjust not only to her Aunt Larry's huge rambling house, the fields, the ocean, and all that space, but also to the chatty red-headed boy, one of seven siblings, from the neighbouring farm, who wants to be fast friends. A ghost appears, launching Chloe on the trail of a local mystery. Larsen's detailed, descriptive writing beautifully captures the PEI landscape and its people. For grades 4 to 6.

Book Cover Powerpuff Girls

They're cute. They're funny. They're the Powerpuff Girls, now rebooted in a graphic novel series by PEI resident, Troy Little. The cherub-like girls were created in the lab by their Professor Dad from “sugar, spice and everything nice” (and some awesome superpowers.) Buttercup …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Newfoundland Books

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

*****

Whilst capturing some key historical moments in Newfoundland, these five novels and a picture book each evoke the speech, landscape and mores of the time in which they are set.

Book Cover Nine Lives of Travis Keating

In The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, by Jill MacLean, sixth grader Travis is dealing with a few challenges. After the passing of his mother, he and his dad move from St. John’s to Fiddler’s Cove, population 63. Because the town is waiting for parts for the arena’s broken zamboni, Travis is without his crutch: hockey. To top it off, the local bully has threatened everyone into not talking to him. Feeling lonely for the first time in his life, he discovers an abandoned wharf in Gully Cove, a place he’s been warned to stay away from. The starving, feral cats he finds there give him a secret purpose. Things start to spiral out of control when the lies he’s told his dad about where he goes after school, as well the bully’s escalating actions, force him to rely on new and unlikely allies. This is a well-written story that engages the reader’s empathy for the main character. Perfect for grades 5 or 6.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Art Books

Each month, our resident Children's Librarian, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks. 

*****

Story and visual art are intertwined in the following titles. Whether fiction or non-fiction, each appeals to the young artist in different ways.

Mr Gauguin's Heart

The picture book Mr. Gauguin’s Heart, by Marie-Danielle Croteau, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, reveals a crucial moment in the life of a young Paul Gauguin. When his family moves, taking an ocean liner from Denmark to Peru, Paul is comforted by his imaginary dog. But on the journey, his father is “carried away,” his tearful mother explains. Paul pictures him floating away holding onto a balloon. The mother tries to explain further by showing him the setting sun, slipping into the ocean. But each day Paul waits with his imaginary pup at the ship’s bow for sunrise. He meets an artist who, when they reach Peru, teaches him to paint his father in a way that he’ll always be remembered.

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, also illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is told from the point of view of Virginia …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Books About Disguises

Book Cover Coyote's New Suit

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

*****

October is the superb month for books about disguise, because of Halloween, of course, and because of how the whole outdoors is dressing up in glorious colour.

Coyote's New Suit, by Thomas King, illustrated by Johnny Wales, reads like an oral tale with Raven as trickster and gullible Coyote as victim. Raven overhears Coyote boasting about his fine suit, and tells him it’s not as nice as Bear's fur, which Bear has taken off to swim. So Coyote steals it. Raven then tells naked Bear where to get new clothes—human attire hung up outside houses, free for the taking. Bear chooses a floral tank top and gold pedal pushers.

Coyote, meanwhile, stumbles around in his too-heavy bear suit at the supermarket and bingo until he gets bored with it. Coyote heads back to the pond, where the plot repeats with other forest animals until Coyote comes home with a chipmunk suit and no more room in his closet. "Why don't you have a yard sale?" Raven says, which leads to a hilarious showdown between animals (in human clothing) and humans (in animal skins). This one could be for K-4, inspiring some trickster tales from the older kids.

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Creative Thinking and Collaboration

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

*****

September is about change, new routines, working things out and learning to work together with friends and schoolmates. These books about creative thinking and collaboration to solve problems have never been so timely.

Any Questions, by Mary Louise-Gay, is a brilliant introduction to the writing process for readers as young as kindergarten. The book itself is a collaborative adventure, beginning with the author fielding questions during a school visit. “How do you write a story?” the kids ask. Gay begins by explaining a white piece of paper might inspire a snowstorm. But what if it’s a yellowish paper or a purplish gray? Gay then begins a story-within-a-story with the illustrated characters offering suggestions (along with the readers, especially if this is used as a read-aloud). Will it be about a ferocious snail or a boy who can fly? Gay decides on a shy giant and a purple beast. The reader watches how the author paints, creates, and writes, scratching things out, changing her mind. The illustrations are large, compelling, with enough detail to beg for a re-read. Plus, it’s paced perfectly so that the characters, and the reader, are disappointed when i …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Wild Summer Fun

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

*****

Sky and earth, large scale to small, these books cover the gamut of wild summer fun.

The Kids Book of the Night Sky, by Ann Love and Jane Drake, is a DIY resource for getting to know the summer sky. This one’s packed with stories from around the world (not just Greek legends) explaining the origins of the Milky Way, the waxing/waning moons, and the zodiac. Activities such as using stars to tell time, constellation flash cards, and heavenly word games are accented with four seasonal star maps, a glossary, astronomical riddles, and an interview with a star revealing his life story, from gas cloud to white dwarf.

Book Cover Canadian Wild Flowers and Emblems

For more down-to-earth readers, there’s Canadian Wild Flowers and Emblems, by Colleayn O. Mastin. Each page contains a painting of a flower, illustrated by Jan Sovak, and a two-stanza poem outlining the origin of each flower’s name, its distinctive characteristics, and whether it’s edible or poisonous. All provincial flowers are noted, …

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