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

Each month, our children's librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks. 

*****

Bliss is a hammock in summer and a stack of graphic novels. Right on top of the pile should be This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. It’s the story of Rose and her family’s annual trip to Awago Beach—a summer spent eavesdropping on a grownup world; the cute guy at the variety store who’s rumoured to have gotten a girl pregnant; Rose’s arguing parents; her mother’s confession of a miscarriage. Cottage life is captured in the graphic details: handmade cottagers’ road signs hammered onto a pole, a shampoo bottle floating in a bucket whilst washing hair in the lake. The plot is punctuated with poetic moments, particularly of Rose swimming and there’s a wonderfully playful scene of pudgy cottage best friend Windy, aka HipHop, showing off her “krunk moves.”

The Tamaki’s first book, Skim, is similarly brilliant. Its quiet, insightful narrator, Skim, is a little on the heavy side, the kind of girl who shows up to a Halloween …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Aboriginal Stories

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

*****

Book Cover Red Parka Mary

The little boy in Red Parka Mary, by Peter Eyvindson, judges his neighbour, Mary, with her missing teeth and unkempt grey hair, dressed in floppy moccasins and thick wool socks, four sweaters darned at the elbow and a Montreal Canadiens hockey toque. "Even though he was only seven someone had told him to be frightened of her." A relationship begins when Mary offers him some chokecherries. She ends up teaching the boy how to snare and skin a rabbit, how to sew leather, and how to line his moccasins with fur. The boy presents her with a red parka which moves Mary to give him the "biggest and best thing in the whole wide world." (Grades K–4)

Book Cover The Crying Christmas Tree

Kokom (grandmother figure) is also the guiding force in Allan Crow's The Crying Christmas Tree. Native traditions are woven into this simple tale set in Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay. Kokom brings home a tiny Christmas tree for her grandchildren and they toss it out, calling it scrawny. Elders loom large in all t …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Mystery Novels for Young Readers

Every month, our resident children's librarian, Julie Booker, brings us great stories from the stacks. May is Mystery Month at 49th Shelf, and Julie's picks are in the spirit. 

*****

John Spray grew up on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. He became the President of the Mantis Investigation Agency and, in 2011, established the John Spray Mystery Award for novels for ages 8 to 16. (The award is administered by the Canadian Children's Book Centre). Four of the following five titles were winners or nominees, and the other is remarkable in its own right.

The Lynching of Louie Sam, by Elizabeth Stewart, is a compelling story, based on true events—the only recorded lynching in Canada. The book opens in 1884, in Washington Territory, with 15-year-old George Gillies finding the local store owner murdered. The facts point to Louie Sam, a native boy a year younger than George. Sam is arrested and taken to Canada for a hearing but a posse of men (disguised in their wives’ petticoats) ride to BC to snatch him. George’s father is among them and George follows on horseback to witness the hanging. Things get complicated when George discovers Louie Sam may be innocent. George wrestles with his conscience while watching the adults cover up for political reasons. The Gillies family is …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Funny Books for Young Readers

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

*****

A ten-year-old’s question: “Where are the funny books?” made me think. In a sea of junior novels, what are the telltale signs? A jacket quote? A comical cover illustration? A title with whimsy? Beyond that, how does an author make writing humorous?

Each of these books has its own form of “funny.”

Alice, I Think, written by Susan Juby, is a perfect example of comedic voice, and it's written in diary form. Alice, a 15-year-old home-schooled isolate, is finally attending high school. But her retro fashion sense makes her a bully magnet. The reader cringes at her Italian housedress, nurse shoes, accessorized by a Fred Flintstone lunch box. Besides a few beatings (one done by the bully, another done to the bully, by Alice’s mother) not much happens in this book. There’s the druggie cousin Frank who comes to live with them. And the co-dependent boyfriend whom her parents (and the reader) know is a loser. But we have to wait while Alice makes her own decisions. When she finally meets a boy (a male version of Alice) there’s an amusing sex scene suitable for ages 12 and up.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Home

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

*****

In 1997, when Hong Kong was transferred from Britain back to the People’s Republic of China, the school where I worked had an influx of Chinese families determined to make Canada their home. One five-year-old boy arrived on October 31st, to a parade of ghosts and monsters. He spent the day, refusing to move, tears streaming down his face, occasionally emitting a howl heard round the school. How could this possibly be his new home?

Robert Munsch's book, From Far Away (age 4–7), also written by Saoussan Askar and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, deals with a similar situation, except the protagonist has the added layer of immigrating from war-torn Beirut. It’s told in the form of a letter to a Reading Buddy. This is the beauty of Munsch. His stories come out of real kids' lives.

Whether transitioning to a new location or determining to stay in one place, the desire for stability is common to all these picture books about home.

The Boy in the Att …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books for Black History Month

Each month, our resident Children's Librarian, Julie Booker, gives us a new view from the stacks. For February, she provides a great list for Black History Month. 

*****

A colleague recently asked for black history materials that didn't reference slavery. I was taken aback. Then I realized; each year I rotely pull books about Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Viola Desmond, the Underground Railroad. The challenge this time was to create a list that veers away from slavery, and highlights Canadians. 

Kids Can Press offers that with three books in a research-friendly format. Profile boxes, Did-You-Know's, bold headings, bullet points, timelines, manageably-sized paragraphs and illustrations are perfect for ages 10 and up. 

The Kids Book of Black Canadian History, by Rosemary Sadlier, is a one-stop-shop, covering four major groups who helped form our country: Africans, Caribbeans & South Americans, Americans, and several-generation Canadians. Sadlier, of course, includes slavery, explaining Africville and Birchtown settlements, the Jamaican Maroons and the Exodusters. But she goes far beyond with military heroes, famous cowboys, journalists, pioneers, activists and inventors.

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Equine Books for the Year of the Horse

Each month, our resident Children's Librarian, Julie Booker, gives us a new view from the stacks. In anticipation of the Lunar New Year, she brings us great books for the Year of the Horse. 

*****

The Year of the Horse allows for an equine book list this Lunar New Year. 

Book Cover A Horse Called Farmer

For the younger crowd, Peter Cumming's classic, A Horse Called Farmer, is a wonderful picture book with themes of belonging and finding one's way back home. Farmer, a workhorse on an island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, lives in harmony with his people and the changing seasons. One winter he goes a town party and leaves with a different owner who takes him 100 km away. Farmer doesn't like his new life and when the gate is accidentally left open, he works his way to the shoreline, using his sense of smell to guide him home. The black and white pictures beautifully capture the dramatic climax with Farmer fighting for his life in the ocean. The book is based on a real story of a horse who galloped and swam from one end of the Magdalen Islands to the other in 1923.

Book Cover The White Horse Talisman

Similarly, Andrea Spaldin …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Books With Sole(s)

Every month, our resident children's librarian Julie Booker brings us great stories from the stacks. 

*****

Book Cover A Good Trade

What’s the big idea? One of the current trends in education is to identify the underlying theme or message, to make connections with other stories and the larger world. Shoes allow for big ideas, relatable to readers as young as age four.

Alma Fullerton and Karen Patkau's A Good Trade starts out simple. Kato, a young boy wakes on his mat in Uganda. He carries his gerry cans to the well for water, splashing his bare feet. Questions start to form in the reader’s mind. Why are the cattle-spotted fields guarded by soldiers? What is this "aid worker's truck" Kato peeks into? He spies a single white poppy and makes a trade for what he's seen: a pair of runners. The beautiful pictures and the one-sentence-per-page provide great starting points for discussing life in Uganda, world help organizations, and inequity in general. 

Book Cover Two Pairs of Shoes

Two Pairs of Shoes by Esther Sanderson is another simple tale that asks a big question. Maggie lives in two worlds—English and …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: On Books About Displacement

Book Cover Mr Hiroshi's Garden

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

I read Mr. Hiroshi’s Garden, by Maxine Trottier, aloud to a group of nine-year-olds. As the final image settled, a boy quietly said, “I want to cry.” The full-circle ending obviously did the trick. Set in British Columbia during World War II, this narrative connects a little girl with her Japanese neighbour who’s building a rock garden in his backyard. One day he and his family are taken away to an internment camp. (The Author’s note at the back is useful in setting up the story.)

This is the first of five stellar personal narratives which happen to share a theme of displacement. And, if the reader’s paying attention, these are stories that teach kids how to write.

Migrant, also by Trottier, is the tale of Anna and her family arriving from Mexico to farm. It’s the only book mentioned here not told in the first person, but it’s Trottier’s use of metaphor and simile, capturing Anna’s transitory, sometimes difficult, existence that make it …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Enviro Fiction Picks

Book Cover Complete Adventures of the Mole Sisters

Our resident Children's Librarian Julie Booker brings us her best picks from the stacks.

When I start to feel anxiety regarding the environment I like to quote the Mole Sisters: “Sometimes it’s important to do nothing.” "Nothing" involves being open to the natural world and, for the Mole gals, curiosity always leads to serendipity. It’s the perfect message for a five-year-old. Like the time the rain kerplunks into the siblings’ burrow creating a gleeful spa-like puddle. Most days, though, the sisters venture out, turning right “instead of always going left” and end up making a kite from dandelion stalks or swings from two blue eggshells. Or they stumble upon what look like the caves of Lascaux, as in the final story of The Complete Adventures of The Mole Sisters. The best way to appreciate Roslyn Schwartz’s Mole Sisters is to read the entire collection.

Beneath the Bridge by Hazel Hutchins works for the eight to nine-year-old crowd.  A paper boat gets launched in a forest stream by a small boy. Each page invites a kind of Where’s-Wald …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian 940s: History in Graphic Form

Our children's librarian columnist Julie Booker brings us the latest in book banter.

One of the most powerful tools a librarian has in her arsenal is book banter, particularly with Junior kids. To be able to recommend and discuss the latest Kevin Sylvester or Gordon Korman is what places him/her in the hub of the community. But gone are the days of the shush-ing librarian, nose stuck in a book behind the circulation counter, reading for countless hours. One short-cut solution for the librarian who wishes to remain in the know: graphic novels. I devoured the following three in one night and learned a bit of history in the process.

Book Cover Two Generals

The opening pages of Scott Chantler’s beautifully designed World War II novel Two Generals feel like the establishing shots of an epic movie, the kind that tell you you’re in the hands of an expert filmmaker. And, like a great director, Chantler brilliantly plays with the element of time, using foreshadowing as well as temporal jump cuts at the end which reveal the author’s reason for writing the book. The novel’s colour palette is black, white and army green, uncharacteristically depicting much of the waiting that happens in war. Blood red is used strategically to denote death creeping in. Two Generals has rounded corners and a bu …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: On Real Women and Strong Girls

Sarah Ann Glover

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

Sometimes a book mysteriously survives the weeding process again and again, a publication that doesn’t belong in a children’s library but is too good for the recycle bin or the Goodwill. One such text reappeared this week: The Teacher’s Manual of the Tonic Sol-Fa Method by John Curwen, copyright 1875. A sketch of a seemingly depressed Mrs. Glover points to a scroll of letters, the famous notation method which she invented. Her face is strangely masculine and sad, considering she drew thousands of young singers to her teaching method. This started me thinking about books about real women and strong girls who’ve made an impact on the world.

Book Cover No Girls Allowed

Susan Hughes’ No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure pulls together many stories of courage in an easy-to-digest format for kids. The graphic novel begins with Hatshepsut, 1800 BCE, who disguised herself in order to become a pharaoh. My favourite tale includes the …

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