Archive for category: Great books

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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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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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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“Spirit Animals,” a new multi-author book series with an online game

  • September 30, 2013 at 11:59 am
  • Great books
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Wild Born Book 1 Spirit Animals Books in series are popular with kids because, once they’ve found a book they love, they can keep reading as long as the author keeps writing.

Sometimes, of course, that’s not often enough. After all, there are only so many books a writer can produce in a year. Kids can read ’em faster than writers can write ’em.

That’s one reason why multi-author series are so popular.

39 Clues, of course, is one of the best and most popular multi-author series, with some big-name children’s authors including Gordan Korman and Rick Riordan.

Scholastic recently launched a new multi-author series called Spirit Animals. Book I is Wild Born, by best-selling author Brandon Mull.

The series is almost certain to be a hit with kids. It deliberately hits all the right buttons—an interesting fantasy world in which kids are the heroes, likeable, imperfect protagonists that kids can identify with, and… animals. Kids love books about animals, there is no doubt of that.

But these are not just any animals. In Wild Born, certain children can conjure up a “spirit animal,” with whom they then bond for life. That spirit animal gives the child powers—but only after the child has already proven himself capable.

Wild Born’s world is Erdas (which, naturally, is in peril and will require the kids and their spirit animals to save it.)Hunted Spirit Animals Book II Maggie Stiefvater

Erdas is similar enough to Earth that kids don’t have to mentally venture too far from home. Relatability is important for middle-grade readers, some of whom may get turned off something that is just too “out there.”

Erdas’s continents are given relatively recognizable names: Arctica, Eura, Amaya (“America”) and Zhong (“Asia”) – in real life, the Chinese word for China is Zhong Guo.

Brandon Mull scoped out the plot for the whole series, which the other writers will follow and embellish. The uber-popular children’s author Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys) picks up the torch for book two in the series, Hunted, which comes out in January. There will be seven books in the series; the last one comes out in April 2015.

Another plus for a middle-grade book is a plot that clips right along and Wild Born has that in spades. The reader is introduced to each child in turn and his or her spirit animal; the children are quickly united in a massive, action-packed save-the-world adventure.

While there is a lot going on—with four main characters and four spirit animals, it’s a lot for the reader to keep track of—kids love that kind of mental juggling.

The animals, incidentally, are an eagle, a cheetah, a wolf and a panda (whose bonded child never quite appreciates it in Book I: “What skills would it bestow on a fighter? The ability to eat bamboo,” Meilin asks herself.).

The Spirit Animals series is known as a “multi-platform fantasy adventure series” because it includes an online game kids can access using a code in their book. Kids create an adventurer and conjure their own spirit animal. In fairly short order, enemies start attacking–I was bitten by a magic rattlesnake quite a few times before I could find a way to right-click him into oblivion–and the Greencloaks waste no time in ushering your character into Erdas.

It’s not necessary to go online to enjoy the books. It’s just an added bonus to help get—and keep—kids reading.

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“The Hypnotists” by Gordon Korman

The Hypnotists by Gordon KormanEver since he was a teenager and winning awards for his fabulous Macdonald Hall series, Canadian author Gordon Korman has been getting kids reading, and turning them into life-long readers.

Korman has a knack for creating likeable, memorable characters, interesting worlds and unique situations.

His new The Hypnotists is no exception.

Like a playful punch in the arm exchanged between pals, Korman’s books will be enjoyed particularly by boys.

They will be instantly drawn to young Jackson Opus who, we discover, is descended from two families, each with the powerful ability to hypnotize.

As Opus’s gift becomes known he is enrolled in a special school and, ultimately, used as a pawn to create city-wide mischief.

Opus must recognize who the bad guys are, and then come to understand that he is much more powerful than they are, if much less experienced at using his gift.

We love The Hypnotists because the answers to problems aren’t immediately obvious. Korman is a master story-teller and as such, leads us to conclusions rather than simply dropping us into them.

An English teacher once told me that the best books have characters you will remember long after you have closed the back cover.

Jackson Opus now takes his place among the many Korman characters who will always occupy a happy corner of my memory.

Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman

And The Hypnotists takes its place among the very best of middle-grade books.

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The Hypnotists is the first book in a series.
Visit Korman’s website for more information about his many novels.
The Macdonald Hall series on Getting Kids Reading.

 

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For tween girls: Small, Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy

small-medium-at-largeIf you’re looking for a lovely, humorous read for your tween girl, look no further than Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy.

The title refers to the fact that after our heroine, Lilah Bloom, is struck by lightning (at her mother’s wedding) she begins to hear ghosts–starting with her grandmother, Bubby Dora.

The ghosts Bloom communicates with are always interesting, funny and helpful. And come to think about it, isn’t that exactly what a tween girl needs? Helpful, fun mentors she can turn to for advice during those tricky in-between years.

And what girl wouldn’t give anything to be able to spend a few more days with her grandmother?

The story clicks right along, in Small Medium at Large, with just enough character development to satisfy most young female readers and just enough action to make it a fast and easy read.

The ghosts help Bloom solve some problems, like finally getting her dorky dad to go on a date. And she helps them, as well.

The main character, Lilah Bloom, is a girl who’s smart but just imperfect enough for the reader to be able to relate to her. Small Medium at Large is a good read, for girls at an age when it can be difficult to find reading material that’s not babyish but not inappropriate, either. This book fits the bill.

There is an excellent review of the book on the blog YA Love.

 

 

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“What Happened To Serenity?” by PJ Sarah Collins

  • December 27, 2012 at 11:19 am
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What Happened to Serenity by PJ Sarah CollinsWhat Happened to Serenity? is a well-written, absorbing read for teens or tweens.

There are no questions allowed in Katherine’s town. At least, the adults aren’t allowed to ask questions.

That’s the reader’s first clue that everything’s not quite right in her world. Everyone in the town works for the collective good and shares equally; no colour is permitted (everyone wears brown); and kids learn in school that the outside world contains dangerous “unstable air.”

When Katherine’s best friend’s little sister, Serenity, disappears Katherine decides to do something. She goes searching for answers to her unasked questions.

Katherine is a well-rounded character with solid values. Her parents are presented as smart and supportive. And the novel has a slightly dark, dystopian feel. (Kids do like their dystopia.) The writing is fast-paced and readable.

For kids who like dystopian novels like Hunger Games, Serenity would be a solid bet.

By PJ Sarah Collins, published by Red Deer Press. Collins’s author website is here.

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Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings by Hélène Boudreau

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings by Helene BoudreauNo they don’t. They don’t wear toe rings and you wanna know why? ‘Cause when they change from human to mermaid that toe ring flies right off–ping!–to who-knows-where.

Finding her toe ring is but one of the many challenges Jade Baxter faces in the first book in this series. Others are: finding a bathing suit that hides her muffin-top, crushing on a boy named Luke and – being a mermaid sometimes.

I’m not normally drawn to supernatural literature, where the main characters are vampires or angels or werewolves. However, I was intrigued by Hélène Boudreau’s mermaid series for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Jade isn’t a reed-thin, blonde, perky-perfect teenager. She’s — normal – like Boudreau’s readers (well, except for the tail). So readers will find a character who is flawed but endearing and strong. And that’s good.

For another thing, kids do like supernatural main characters so when you find a decent book with a believable main character in one, it’s a significant find. Also, it’s got a rollicking good plot that involves saving Jade’s mother from evil mer-people who are holding her in the sea against her will.

Toe Ring is the first of three books in Boudreau’s mermaid series.

The second one is Real Mermaids Don’t Hold Their Breath, in which Jade and her friends take on an eco-challenge.

And the third one, Real Mermaids Don’t Need High Heels (again, so true) comes out in Spring 2013. That one has Jade saving her fellow “mers” as the evil Mermish Council tries to lure them away from land forever.

I understand from her Facebook posts and her website that Boudreau is working on a fourth one, Real Mermaids Don’t Sell Sea Shells.

Although it’s apparently not great to judge a book by its cover, I’ve got to add that Boudreau’s books have lovely covers. Embossed and watery, in a nice way.

Another thing I like about them is that each one contains a very teenager-friendly, decadent (wait for it)… recipe. Each recipe is for something Jade and her friends make in the story. For instance, peanut-butter s’mores (which include the genius addition of a Reese’s peanut-butter cup), or Jade’s Five-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake.

 

 

 

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