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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Great, Great Books About Grandparents

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

*****

The unique exchange between grandchild and grandparent stays true throughout these stories, some of which deal with big themes, such as Alzheimer's, widowhood, remarriage and loss.

Book Cover My Two Grandmothers

In My Two Grandmothers, by Diane Carmel Leger, illustrated by Jean-Luc Trudel, Memere Hermance is as different from Nannie Henrietta as a bee from a hen. Two distinct portraits are constructed: an Acadian, stylish store owner vs. a Scottish, protective, practical grandma. What makes them angry? Where do they take their grandchildren on adventures? Even their dogs are polar opposites. This delightful tale demonstrates character to the age 6+ crowd. It's punctuated with French sayings and Scottish slang with translations at the back. 

Fox Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Canadian Paul Morin, is a beautiful story about loss. Jamie wakes in the morning, but doesn't open her eyes. Instead, she basks in the memory of her Abenaki grandma. Jamie remembers all Great Great Gra …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Spring Books

Book Cover Roslyn Rutabaga

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

*****

Dirt, butterflies, flora, and native stories make this spring book list.

In Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on the Earth, by Marie-Louise Gay, Roslyn wants to dig a hole to the South Pole to meet a penguin or two. Instead she encounters a worm, a mole, and a dog, upset with her for digging up his bone-cupboard. (Roslyn thinks she's found a triceratops' toe-bone.) All the creatures Roslyn meets try to dissuade her from her quest, except her father who joins her with a picnic lunch. Gay's humour and understanding of young readers is perfectly rendered through dialogue and playful illustrations. Age 3+

Bye, Bye, Butterflies!, by Andrew Larsen, has just the right amount of text for the age 4+ crowd. Besides being a story about how to hatch monarchs, it's about a father and son being quiet enough to witness a special moment. Endearing big-eyed characters are illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli with a splendid full-circle ending by Larsen. Includ …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Deborah Ellis

Book Cover The Breadwinner

Our children's librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month. For a complete list of Deborah Ellis's books, check out her 49th Shelf Author Page

*****

I have a confession: I used to often recommend the much-acclaimed Breadwinner trilogy without having actually read it. But now I can finally say I'm a true convert, and a huge fan of Deborah Ellis. Ellis is adept at writing about children who are in impossible situations and forced to make adult decisions. She's written more than 20 books (fiction and non-fiction), addressing issues faced by kids around the globe, donating more than a million dollars from the proceeds of her trilogy to worthy causes including Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, Street Kids International, the Children in Crisis Fund of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) and UNICEF. All three books in the Breadwinner trilogy are listed for “mature readers” and have an author's note giving context to the stories. These are recommended for Grade 5+.

In the first book, The Breadwinner, 11-year-old Parvana's Kabul house has been bombed many times. Her family has gone from middle class to poverty, and since the Taliban, women cannot walk unattended and without wearing burqas. Her mother refus …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Friendship Books for February

Book Cover Kiss Me I'm a Prince

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

*****

Friendship and frost go hand in hand in these warm and cold tales for February.

In Kiss Me! (I'm a Prince), by Heather McLeod, illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan, Ella is skeptical when she meets a frog prince asking for a kiss. The promise of being a princess doesn't hold much clout for a basketball-playing little girl like Ella. She'd have to wear a gown, keep it clean, and she wouldn't be able to play much. So she carries the frog around in her pocket, refusing his request, until a courtier arrives to claim him. The frog returns home, still a frog, asking for the kiss of a true friend now, because he too wants to "play happily ever after." Age 4+

Book Cover Yuck a Love Story

Yuck, A Love Story, by Don Gillmor, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, is similar in its endearing humour. Austin Grouper's world changes when a girl his age moves in next door. He pretends Amy isn't worthy of his attention but when her birthday invitation arrives in the mail, Austin dresses up as a cowboy and …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books from the North

Book Cover Hide and Sneak

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

*****

In Hide and Sneak, by Michael Kusuguk, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka, Allashua isn't very good at hide-and-seek. She's too distracted by the native creatures of her homeland: butterflies, baby birds, and pond-dwellers. But when playing the game, Allashua falls prey to the Ijirak, a ptarmigan-like critter who hides children, and must use her acumen to find her way home. This one is about listening to parents, based on a myth told briefly in the preface. The border illustrations are of symbols of the north. Age 5+.

Book Cover A Promise is a Promise

Allashua appears again in A Promise is a Promise, by Robert Munsch and Michael Kusuguk, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka. Her mom makes her promise not to fish on the sea ice for fear of the Qallupilluit waiting to pull her under. Allashua again disobeys her mother, and the Qallupilluit nabs her, making her promise to bring her brothers and sisters back to the sea with her before she lets her go. "A promise is a promise," her mother says …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Dystopian YA

Book Cover Blood Red Road

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

*****

Strong female characters dominate these dystopian tales for teens, with common themes of environmental decay, orphanhood, and the question of knowing who to trust.

In the award-winning Blood Red Road, by Moira Young, 16-year-old Saba lives in the middle of nowhere with her twin brother Lugh, her little sister Emmi and her Pa. But when her father is killed and her brother kidnapped, Saba must head out into the world to find him. She's captured by peddlers and taken to a “Big Wrecker” city where plague, hunger and war have felled skyscrapers and reduced society to chaos. She becomes enslaved as a cage-fighter who earns the title of '”Angel of Death,” because her opponents die and Saba never loses. A group of rebels help her escape so she can continue her quest to find her brother. This story is told with a distinctive voice, using clipped language, great dialogue and over-the-top characters, such as Lewis Ex Eye Vee, a crazed villain who has adopted the original Louis XIV, the Sun King's persona. The never-dull storyline includes a strong romantic plot thread that continues in the sequel. Grade 6+ 

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Halloween Books

Book Cover Nothing Scares Us

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

*****

Picture books, a first chapter book, a junior novel, and a collection of Canadian ghost stories all make for spooky reads this Halloween.

In Nothing Scares Us, by Frieda Wishinksy & Neal Layton, Lenny and Lucy are best friends. But when Lucy watches Lenny's favourite TV show, The Creature, she's haunted by an image and too terrified to tell Lenny she's scared. Then it turns out that Lenny has a secret fear of his own. This playful picture book with childlike drawings will appeal to all ages.

Book Cover Omar's Halloween

Omar's Halloween, by Maryann Kovalski, features Omar the bear, whose Halloween wish is to have the scariest costume. But bats and spiders, his friends inform him, are actually helpful bug-eating creatures—not scary at all. So his mom dresses him as a non-threatening, run-of-the-mill ghost. He's so dejected he doesn't even want to go to his own party, until a storm hits and transforms his outfit into exactly what he's hoping for.

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Great KidLit by Authors of Adult Fiction

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

*****

Cary Fagan, Margaret Atwood, Joy Kogawa, Roch Carrier: all acclaimed Canadian writers of adult fiction, and all authors of incredible kids' books, too.

Cary Fagan's novels are perfectly pitched for junior grades. It's Ethan's first summer away from home in The Big Swim, and he's intrigued when bad-boy Zachary, the new arrival at camp, ends up in his cabin. Zachary seems impervious to peer pressure, causing Ethan to question his place in the world and how he sometimes feels apart from everyone. Zachary is also spending a lot of time with Amber, and Ethan has a crush on her. A swim challenge across the lake brings the threesome together in a way that Ethan couldn't have predicted. Grade 3+.

In Mr. Karp's Last Glass, also by Fagan, the reader is immediately intrigued with 11-year-old Randolph, an avid collector of beer bottle caps, pens, and new words (checked off in the dictionary). When Randolph's dad loses his job at the department store, his family …

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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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