The Tweedles Go Electric, by Monica Kulling

Tweedles Go ElectricIt’s the dawn of the 20th Century and everyone’s getting into the coolest technology–cars. Everyone, that is, except the Tweedles. They’re content with their bikes and their horse-and-cart.

Until one day, Mr. Tweedle makes an announcement: “We’re going modern. We’re buying a car!”

The Tweedles don’t buy just any car, however. They opt for an electric car. A green car.

Author Monica Kulling and illustrator Marie Lafrance take us into the world of the 20th-Century Tweedles and their wondrous green, electric car.

Kulling has written more than 40 books for children and is known for her Great Idea series of books on historical inventions.

Her writing is often delightfully subversive. By which I mean that she tends to quietly introduce the subversive notion that girls can do anything.

Meet, for instance, 12-year-old Franny Tweedle:

Like most girls, she is more interested in higher education. Speed gives Frances nosebleeds, and adventure seems to go along with getting lost, which makes her nervous. There’s only one place Frances puts her nose and that is between the pages of a book.

In The Tweedles Go Electric, Frances will end up discovering that she finds speed exhilarating. In fact, (spoiler alert), she saves the day in that electric car.

Oh, and later she will become so exhilarated by speed that she will drive right across the country, “from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” (Sub-ver-sive!)

This is one of those books that—through its weavy, clip-along plot and stylishly flat, folksy illustrations—helps you to feel, taste, smell and understand what went on in another century.

It’s a book that begs you to put your child on your lap for a thoughtful read-along.

The Tweedles Go Electric was written by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Marie Lafrance and published in 2014 by Groundwood Books which always makes such “beautiful and thought-provoking books” as they so correctly state on their website’s home page. Purchase the Tweedles online here.

 

 

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Review–The Engelsfors Trilogy: “The Circle” and “Fire”

Fire, book II in the Engelsfors Trilogy

Fire, book II in the Engelsfors Trilogy

At the end of this review there’s a contest for a free copy of Fire (so keep reading).

If you’re looking for a good read for your tween or teen daughter, you may want to consider The Engelsfors Trilogy. Book I is The Circle and Book II, just published, is Fire.

They caught my eye for several reasons:

• The books were written (originally in Swedish) by established writers: screenwriter Sara B. Elfgren and journalist Mats Strandberg.

• The rights have already been sold in 29 countries. That sounds pretty good. Doesn’t happen to every book that comes along, that’s for sure.

• Benny Andersson of ABBA has purchased the film rights. Again—bodes well.

When you’re trying to “get kids reading” you’re looking for what your kids will like–something that’s going to catch their interest and draw them in. (As opposed to, say, great literature that will change their lives. We’ll worry about that once they’re hooked on reading.) So if a book appears to be very popular, it may be a sign that your kid will like it, too.

The premise of the Engelsfors series is immediately compelling and unique. Yes, it’s a fantasy featuring witches and magical powers. But here’s the difference. The book’s protagonists are not one but five high school girls with disparate lives and points of view.

The whole point of the book is for these girls to get out of their own heads and start to see other kids for who they really are, and begin the process of empathy. The book sets up a need for the girls to eventually work together, which cements the empathy.

The cast
You’ve got Minoo, the smart over-achiever, with cracks in her self-esteem. Vanessa, the (increasingly thoughtful) partier who wants to be loved. Linnea, the orphaned loner making it through life on her own terms. Anna-Karin, unpopular and bullied, but with potential. And Ida, the “popular” mean girl with pushy parents who must eventually confront her past behaviour.

Of course, those are labels. The key to the Engelsfors Trilogy is the journey that leads behind each of those labels. Finding the grey areas within each of the girls’ personalities, and watching as they transform through self-discovery.

In that way, the book is well-sculpted. There is enough action to keep you going, and enough introspection so you care about the characters.

The actual plot is almost secondary, but here it is: There has been a death at the local high school. Ruled a suicide, but we the reader know it was some kind of mystical murder. The girls are in fact “Chosen Ones” – powerful witches whose lot it will be to save the town from a terrible evil. But to do so, each girl must discover what her special power is, and how she can use it in conjunction with the others’.

Readers will see themselves in the main characters, which is one reason why this is very much a girls’ read. Research shows that female readers tend to want to delve into interpersonal relationships and this novel has that in spades.

Deep into the second novel, I found the pace a little slow going and got a bit bogged down, but it picked up again. Overall, this is a series of books designed to keep you reading—and thinking—about the protagonists and likely about your own character.

If the mark of a good book is a memorable character these are very good books, indeed. I’m looking forward to Book III.

Extensions to the books
In the meantime, eight stories from the books have been made into comics–another great way to get kids reading, especially if the comics get them hooked and then they continue on to read the longer, book version. Visit the website for the comics.

The films are apparently also in production. Check out #cirkelnfilmen #engelsforsfilm #engelsforsmovie on Instagram, Twitter and tumblr for pictures and more from the pre-production.

“The Circle” and “Fire” are the first two books in the Engelsfors Trilogy, by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg. Published by The Overlook Press. “Fire” recently went on sale; it’s 704 pages and is aimed at ages 14+ (although it could easily be enjoyed by younger readers). Visit the website.

The contest
Aren’t you glad you kept reading? This contest is as easy as 1-2-3!
1)
Email me at joycegrant at sympatico dot ca, Subject: Englesfors and I will enter your name in a draw for a free copy of Fire, the second book in the Engelsfors Trilogy.
2) Tweet the link to this review (include @JGCanada) and I’ll put your name in the draw a second time.
3)
Post a link to this review on your Facebook page for a third chance to win (email me the link to your Facebook page).
Contest ends Friday, Feb. 28, 2014; unfortunately, it’s limited to residents of Canada and the U.S. Good luck!

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uKloo: Riddle Edition — another great uKloo literacy game

Microsoft Word - Riddle Edition Sales Oct29.docx

uKloo is a terrific literacy game. Incredibly–wonderfully–they somehow managed to top it.

Toronto game-maker Doreen Dotto recently launched uKloo, Riddle Edition.

The premise of uKloo is simple—it’s a treasure hunt. You (the parent) hide cards around the house that kids find and which lead them to the next clue.

For instance, the first clue is “look in your shoes.” The child goes to her shoes and finds the next card, which says “look on the kitchen table,” and so on.

It’s a brilliant strategy to get kids reading because it gives the child a fun reason to read (they want to find the next clue) as well as an instant reward (they find out where the next clue is hidden, and ultimately a grand prize). Fun + reason to read = reading.

Dotto has taken this simple equation and made it even more fun. And she’s added problem-solving to the skills the child will acquire without even knowing they’re learning.

With the Riddle Edition, kids find a card and have to solve a fun riddle to figure out where the next card is hidden.

Depending on the age of the child, the riddles are very easy or quite challenging.

For instance, a level one riddle: “When your hair is full of dirt, get it clean with just a squirt.”uKloo Riddle-cards

A level three riddle: “Not of shell, of turtle or snail, but made of cloth to hike a trail.”

Did you get those? The answers are at the bottom of this post if you want to double-check.

The wonderful thing about uKloo is the way Dotto has adapted it for various reading levels. If the child can’t figure out a clue, she can get a hint: “Lather up for shiny locks!”

If she still can’t quite get it, she can hold a special booklet (in which the answers are written backwards) up to a mirror and find the answer reflected there.

Three levels of clues, a hint and a fun solution give kids the success that is so important for new or struggling readers.

And with different levels, brothers and sisters of different ages or reading abilities can play together. It’s also great for playdates.

As with the original uKloo game, the Riddle Edition ends with a surprise that the parent provides. It could be a chocolate or small toy, or—as Dotto found out from one parent—it could be the announcement that the child is going to have a new baby sister.

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo Riddle Edition includes blank cards so parents can write their own riddles (Dotto provides tips on writing riddles) and it includes Surprise cards so that instead of a toy or candy the grand prize could be “a trip to the ice cream store” or “pillow fight with daddy.”

If uKloo is one of the most perfect literacy games, uKloo Riddle Edition takes it one step further. Both are must-get games for any parent who wants to get their kids reading.

uKloo retails for $15.95 and uKloo Riddle Edition for $18.95. Both are available at independent toy stores. You can also purchase them from the uKloo website, here.

You can also check out the new uKloo Early Reader App, currently free (that may change) in the iTunes App Store.

Read my review of uKloo here.

Oh, and I’m sure you figured out that answers are: Shampoo and Backpack.

Lastly, Doreen was on Dragon’s Den. Guess what happened? Check it out:

 

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Books to read before the movies come out

Vampire Academy book cover (by Richelle Mead, published by Razorbill)Buzzfeed has produced a terrific list of books to read this year before their corresponding movies come out.

I’m a huge proponent of movies based on books because I think it helps to get kids reading.

I call them “book extensions.” There are many other “book extensions,” including video games, websites and games based on books. Whatever will bring a kid back to the original book is great, as far as I’m concerned.

Harry Potter and Hunger Games are excellent examples of books that have gotten many kids turned on to reading.

The Buzzfeed list includes some adult-oriented films, but a few noteworthy Young Adult (YA) books including the very popular Vampire Academy series and the Divergent series.

Here’s Buzzfeed’s list of books to read.

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The Legend of Ranger, the Reindeer Who Couldn’t Fly – by Alan Salisbury, illustrated by Roberta Baird

RangerHere’s a nice, literary way to do something good during the holiday season.

All of the proceeds from the sale of the book The Legend of Ranger, The Deer Who Couldn’t Fly (and related Ranger products) will go to the Antonia J. Giallourakis Endowed Fund in Art Therapy for Children with Cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Ranger is a reindeer with a big dream–to help pull Santa’s sleigh. Alas, Ranger can’t fly.

When he goes looking for advice, he is told that “the secret lies within.” He eventually finds the secret for himself, while helping some sick reindeer.

It’s a lovely story, charmingly illustrated, with proceeds going to a worthy cause.

Find out more about Ranger and the Art Therapy fund.

Purchase Ranger at http://opusonestudios.com/store/ for $12.95.

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In-car literacy activities

carHere are some good ideas to help boost your child’s literacy without leaving the back seat. (Them, not you. You’re driving. Hands on the wheel!)

The post also has ideas for apps and in-car activities for kids.

From Scholastic.

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beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game for ages 8 and up

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

If your kids could use a little brush-up on their spelling, beezi might be the game that does it.

My son and I took the game for a test drive. He figures he’s a better speller than his mother (who is a writer by trade, a-hem).

We really enjoyed beezi. For off, it was easy to figure out how to play it–a huge plus. I hate having to read through two pages of directions to figure out a game before you can even play it.

And it was fast-playing. Another plus.

Essentially, beezi takes you around a board; you select cards and spell words. The harder the word, the further you go on the board. Special spaces on the board let you roll again, skip a turn or advance.

The game includes spelling challenges at different levels. That’s good because it means that your eight-year-old can play with your 10-year-old at the same time. And it makes it extra flexible for playdates.

There’s also a Teens and Parents edition, which we will definitely have to get (we were given this one by beezi, for review). We did find that the younger game was a bit too easy for my 12-year-old. Although, he did not—I stress, did not—win against his mother.

Because kids write down their answer, rather than just spell it out loud, the game can definitely help kids improve their spelling. The game provides a real incentive to sound words out and try to get them right. It also gives adults a chance to explain why certain words are spelled the way they are.

Some kids are shy or embarrassed about not being able to spell very well. Even my son, who’s a pretty good speller, didn’t like to admit it when he couldn’t spell certain words, and I can see that. So you may want to keep that in mind when you’re playing. Usually, I was able to explain that “everyone gets that one wrong,” or “that spelling rule is tricky” and then roll the dice and keep the game moving.

The game is themed around bees, a riff on “spelling bees.” The bee theme continues with the die, which features six types of bees (from honey bee - the easiest words to spell, to killer bee - the most challenging). My son likes “Shaggy Fuzzyfoot” the best; Shaggy’s a wildcard. And the object of the game is to reach the “beehive” in the middle of the board.

The illustrations are quirky and modern, and the dice is one of those big, chunky ones that are such fun to roll.

Bonus: The next time I go to a restaurant or a long car ride with my son, I’m going to bring along the card deck. It will be a terrific quiz-me activity, even without the game board. beezi would also be a good game to take to the cottage, because everyone can play it, using different level card packs.

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game sells for $29.99 and is available at toy stores and Chapters/Indigo. You can also purchase it from the beezi website ($10 to $15 shipping within Canada).

(If you’re in Toronto, buy it from my friend Sam at her Playful Minds toy store. Tell her I sent ya.)

On the beezi website, click on Take the Beezi challenge for a fun online spelling challenge.

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Media Literacy and “Teaching Kids News”

TKN_logoI’m a freelance journalist who is also involved in children’s literacy.

A few years ago, I brought those two aspects of my life together to co-create: TeachingKidsNews.com (TKN).

(Here’s the story of how TKN got started: an interested parent + an enthusiastic teacher.)

TKN provides daily, kid-friendly news. For each article we add teaching questions taken from the school curriculum.

So, kids can find out what’s happening in the “real” news–and teachers/homeschool parents can cover off the curriculum.

Recently, TVOParents talked to the founders of TKN about media literacy and why it’s so important for kids to develop critical media literacy skills.

Here is TVO’s wonderful piece on TKN and media literacy.

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Getting kids writing – a book that worked for me

Just Write: Here's how by Walter Dean MyersDo you have a budding writer on your hands?

Here’s a terrific, fast-reading book that aims to get young people writing.

Walter Dean Myers has written more than 100 books, including the best-selling Monster.

He is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in New York.

His books tend to be about the young, urban black experience in America. And he knows whereof he writes.

Being able to write lifted Myers out of his sometimes difficult home life. It gave him possibilities. It saved him.

He wants young people to be able to make the journey that was so important for him.

Just Write: Here’s How! is a book I picked up at the library because I was stuck. Having a been a journalist for more than 25 years–and writing nearly every day that I can remember–I was stuck. I had several looming book-related deadlines and I needed something to help me get unstuck, and fast. I’m delighted to say that Myers’s book has done just that.

I didn’t have time for boring, introduction-heavy tomes that were written from atop some author’s high horse. And kids don’t either.

Just Write doesn’t beat around the bush. It tells you how to start, how to plan, how to plot and how to revise. It’s practical and specific. “Here are the tools; it’s not easy, but you can do it.”

For instance, Myers plans his novels using a “six-box model.”WalterDeanMyersPhoto
The boxes are:
1) Character and problem
2) Obvious solutions
3) Insight and inner conflict
4) Growth and change
5) Taking action
6) Resolution

The writer fills in each box to create a plan. Later, each box is fleshed out to create an outline.

Myers also advises writers to pin photographs of their characters on a wall near where they’re writing. It’s a good idea.

Although it was great for me, Just Write is aimed at young people. Myers recounts his collaboration with a young writer who happened to send him an email. (I’m not sure how he got Myers’s email address, by the way, because I’ve been scouring the Internet for it and can’t find it anywhere–so right off the bat, this must have been an exceptional kid.)

The two–experienced writer and absolute beginner–began planning their book and then writing it, a chapter at a time, until they had something that could be published. Their book, Kick, was published by Harperteen (Harper Collins) last year.

Myers does a lot of work with kids in correctional institutions. He figures that without writing, that’s likely where he’d have wound up. He knows that there are kids in there who have something to say; he wants to help them get a chance to say it.

I love that although I’m not black, I’m not male, I’m not young, I’m not in crisis, I’m not a new writer and (I hope) I’m not headed for jail… this book helped me to write. If you know a kid who is even one of those things, I’m sure it will help them, too.

This is a book that will help kids get–and keep on–writing.

Related links
A collection of Myers’s books with descriptions.
Myers’s website.

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Enter our exciting Gordon Korman contest!

Gordon Korman You know I’m a huge Gordon Korman fan.

That’s because, ever since he wrote his first, award-winning book at the age of 12 (that is not a typo), he’s penned some of Canada’s best loved children’s books.

Now, I’m excited to announce a contest for tickets to see Gordon Korman, live.

SEE GORDON KORMAN LIVE AT IFOA

You can win two tickets to see Gordon Korman at the IFOA (International Festival of Authors) in Toronto, Ont. on October 26 at 11 a.m.

Korman will be interviewed about his new book, The Hypnotists, live on-stage by none other than Patty Sullivan, popular host of Kids’ CBC!

Here are the event details.

Gordon Korman is the beloved author of hilarious Canadian classic, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Since then Gordon has written more than 70 novels for young readers. Take a look at some of them here: Books by Gordon Korman.

The Hypnotists by Gordon KormanHOW TO ENTER

To enter the contest, send an email to scholasticcanada@gmail.com (no dot between Scholastic and Canada); tell us what your favourite Gordon Korman book is, and which one you’d like to read and you might just win it, along with the tickets! Use the subject line: Korman Contest.

CBC's Patty Sullivan will interview author Gordon Korman.

CBC’s Patty Sullivan will interview author Gordon Korman.

We have TWO sets of TWO tickets to give away (along with ONE book of your choice)!

This prize pack doesn’t include transportation or accommodation in Toronto. (You know that, but we have to say it.) Oh, and this prize pack is worth approximately $40, depending on what book you pick. However… reading your favourite Gordon Korman book on the subway on your way to see him at IFOA? Priceless!

The deadline to enter is Oct. 20, so enter now!

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