Archive for category: Great books
The author of the hugely popular Scaredy Squirrel has written and illustrated a beautiful new book that kids will love—and better yet, parents will enjoy reading over and over again to their children.
One of the things about reading kids picture books is that it can get tiring. And boring. And repetitive. And that often makes parents say, “Let’s look at a different book!”
But kids get a lot out of reading the same book over and over again. (I won’t bore you with the science, but trust me, reading and re-reading the same book over and over boosts literacy. If you don’t believe me, here’s an article about it.)
With Bug in a Vacuum, Mélanie Watt manages to appeal not just to the children, but to adults as well. Ostensibly, it’s a book about a bug who gets sucked up by a vacuum. The bug goes through a bunch of emotional stages (despair, acceptance, etc.) before finally getting out.
And therein lies the interest for adults. Kids will enjoy the poor bug, stuck in the dusty, dirty vacuum. Parents will enjoy the scientifically-based “five emotional stages.” Here’s another scholarly article for ya. There are lots of inside jokes that will go right over kids’ heads, but there’s also tons of stuff that kids will find interesting and fun as well, including puns that you can explain to them (like the two meanings of “vacuum,” for instance.)
The pictures are glorious. Lush, rich and packed with inside jokes and little things to find. The text is minimal. And boy, are there a lot of pages! You’re certainly getting value for your money with this one! At 96 pages, it’s three times as long as the average picture book, which is 32 pages. (I did the math for you—you’re welcome.)
Bug in a Vacuum, written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt, Published by Tundra, 5-9 years old (and, I would add, adults), $24.99—a bit pricey but remember, three times as long.
Here’s the cute book trailer for Bug in a Vacuum.
And, just in case you’re interested, visit this page on the Scientific American website to get some instructions (completely unrelated to this book or, in fact, this post) to create a “bug vacuum.” Fun.
In the summer, kids often read less. Get them interested in a great book series, though, and they’ll be hooked because the characters and setting will be familiar to them. They’ll look forward to seeing what their favourite characters are getting up to next!
Here are some wonderful Canadian kidlit summer series recommended by YA author Angela Misri on CBC Radio’s Fresh Air.
MIDDLE GRADE, AGE 8-12 and YOUNG ADULT, AGE 13-18
Jewel of the Thames (A Portia Adams Adventure)
Between Heaven and Earth
The Starling Series
The Night Has Teeth
I Am Canada
What Kills Me
Strange Times at Western High
They’re a great substitute for comics, which kids love but which can be a bit too mature for some really young kids.
Here’s a wonderful book. It’s about a kid whose superpowers are in jeopardy when his parents make him get a haircut.
It’s quirky and fun and wonderfully illustrated. Great story, great pictures–your superhero will love it.
By John Rocco, illustrated by… oh geez, this guy’s talented… John Rocco. Oh crap, I just found his website and he’s apparently also the guy who illustrates Rick Riordan’s books. So yeah, he’s talented. (Can I pick ’em? Maybe that’s my superpower. Yay!)
Here are some other great superhero books.
There is a thrill you get when you ‘figure out’ a mystery that I have never found in other genres of literature. I read all kinds of books, from non-fiction biographies to science fiction series to the latest YA dystopic fiction. All have their attractions, but none provide that moment of ‘ah-ha!’ that I (and I believe many teens and adults) find addictive. It’s buried like hidden treasure in every mystery book on the shelf, just waiting for you to dig it up!
Click on “Continue Reading” and comment on this article to be entered into a draw to win an e-copy of Thrice Burned by Angela Misri. You will also be entered in the draw if you tweet about this article and copy me with @JGCanada. Good luck! NOTE: THIS CONTEST CLOSES ON TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 2015.
(PS: The comments are now turned on — they’d accidentally been turned off earlier. Sorry!)
It’s a story about a reluctant guinea pig private eye.
See? Compelling, right?
Here’s why you (I mean, your kid) will like this series:
1) The aforementioned fact that IT’S ABOUT A GUINEA PIG DETECTIVE.
2) It’s got a bit of an edge.
3) The dialogue is not only realistic, but it’s actually funny.
4) You can almost feel the fluffiness of these guinea pigs. I mean, really.
How does the guinea pig become a private eye? Glad you asked. The pet store owner slams the door and the final G from GUINEA PIG falls off. When the hamster sees the sign he comes running over and hires the Guinea PI on the spot to find a missing sandwich.
Here’s a taste
The grumpy Guinea PI (whose name, appropriately, is Sass) asks a bunch of hamsters, “Did any of you guys see someone steal the sandwich?”
To which they reply, in turn:
“I was sleeping.”
“I was sleeping.”
“I was sleeping.”
“I was sleeping.”
“I was working out. Okay, okay. I was sleeping.”
Just like at my house. Sigh.
How do they finally solve the mystery? To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure. It’s… er… complicated. It involves a nearsighted pet shop employee, a naughty snake, a hamster that thinks he’s a koala, some fish that can’t multi-task and a bunch of other animals with attitude. But the kids reading the book will be able to sort it all out, and that’s the main thing.
But don’t take it from me–check out the website and order these adorable softcover books. They’re lovely and, apparently, less than seven bucks. Deal!
Visit the author’s website for more information and ordering info. The first book in the series, Hamster and Cheese (get it? get it? Sandwich — ham and cheese?) was published in April 2010 from Graphic Universe, an imprint of Lerner. The books are written by Colleen Af Venable and illustrated by Stephanie Yue. It looks like there are six in all–so far.
I sometimes ask publishers to send me specific books that I think will “get kids reading.” Here are a few books I think will hook kids into reading and keep them reading.
I’ve included links to each author and illustrator’s website. Author websites can be a great for additional information, resources, teacher’s guides and similar books. You (and your kids) can also send the author questions; you’ll find that most of them will respond–and getting a reply from the author, even if it’s only through Twitter, can be a very exciting thing for a child.
PICTURE BOOKS (Age 3-6)
Some books are better for kids, and some books are better for the parents who read them to the kids—this is great for both. It’s about Melvin, who spends a lot of time at the library, and the librarians who help him with everything from snakes to acting to baseball cards. The book follows him from elementary school to high school… and after. It’s a lovely book, well written, with smart, humorous illustrations and it shows libraries as the warm, interesting, welcoming places they are. In these days of ebooks and tablets, it also shows kids how important librarians are.
Written by Carla Morris, a retired librarian. I couldn’t find her website but I found this wonderful interview in which she talks about what gets kids reading. Illustrated by Brad Sneed and published by Peachtree. They’re @ on Twitter.
A family adopts a dog from an animal shelter. But Norman clearly isn’t very smart. He doesn’t understand even basic commands like “sit” or “come.” It isn’t until the family goes to the dog park that they discover Norman doesn’t speak English—he speaks Mandarin. I love the premise behind this book: that “different” doesn’t mean “wrong” or, in this case, “stupid.” It’s a smart, well-written and well-illustrated book that will stay with you and I highly recommend it.
If this story seems a bit quirky, it may be because it’s a take-off of an old Japanese folk tale (originally about a boy). It follows a plucky girl who was left on a couple’s doorstep, uh, after she burst from a giant peach. (Quirky. Folk tale.) This fierce girl goes hunting for an ogre who supposedly “has teeth like knives and eyes that shoot flames.” Well, of course the ogre is nothing of the sort, as the girl and some pals she has picked up along the way discover. It’s an unusual story and maybe that’s why I like it – and why I think kids will like it, too. Disclosure: the illustrator, Rebecca Bender, is a friend of mine but I requested this book (and wanted to review it) last year, before we’d even met.
I know lots of kids who are fascinated by trains. Those kids, especially, will love this book. And you’ll love it too because there are bits you can read to your child, including lots of onomatopeaic words, and bits you can read just to yourself. And through it all, the illustrations are lovely—detailed, with lots of references to the 19th century. The story is the history of the locomotive as it crosses the United States from Nebraska to California. This is a book you can read in many different ways—as a story, by just looking at the illustrations and talking about them, as a type of history book. It’s a book you and your child can read again and again, for many years—or until they drop their interest in locomotives (which may be never).
The best way to “get kids reading” is to read to them. Sit them on your lap with a good book—as often as possible. But sometimes that can get a bit tedious, especially when what the child wants to read isn’t particularly interesting to you.
Here’s a book that will be as interesting for you as it will be for your child.
A Brush Full of Colour is a vibrant, fact-based picture book about Canadian artist Ted Harrison.
While the book takes you (the parent) through the life of a great painter, it will also take your child on a journey of a different kind—of beauty and exploration. The paintings in the book are colourful and magnificent. You don’t even have to be able to read to enjoy looking at the gorgeous images.
A few tips for parents reading this book to their child:
- Don’t read it word-for-word. You can skim the text and pick out some relevant points to tell the child as you flip the pages. “When he was little, Ted Harrison painted the inside walls of his outhouse!”
- Don’t read it to the child at all. Sometimes the best way to experience a book is to look at the pictures and talk about them. For younger children you can say, “Point to something wintry.” For older children you can say, “What do you think was happening when he painted this?”
- The book includes “prompt questions” under each photo caption. For instance, “What features are missing from the faces of the people?”
- The book also asks the reader to compare different paintings. Flipping back and forth through a book is a great way to enjoy it. You don’t have to read all books from front to back!
A Brush Full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison was written by Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson and features many paintings by Ted Harrison, who also wrote the foreword for the book. It was published by Pajama Press and is available Sept. 19; $22.95.
Kids love fantasy-based novels, but they’re not always well written and they don’t always send a positive message. Bog, a new middle-grade novel by Karen Krossing, does both while managing to be the kind of book kids will love.
In Bog, trolls and humans exist within very different cultures. Trolls consider humans to be weak and foolish; trolls just want to be left alone in nature. To humans, trolls are like dangerous animals—to be tricked and then destroyed (sunlight turns them to stone) with impunity.
The main character, Bog, will discover that not all humans are bad, and that there’s a little bit of human—and a little bit of troll—in us all.
The story itself is about a journey to stop a troll hunter who is teaching people how to destroy trolls. But the story is also a metaphor for the divide, comprising fear and ignorance, that separates cultures.
Written after 9/11 and with its aftermath in mind, Krossing explores racism and stereotyping with a gentle hand.
Bog is a well written and well-crafted adventure with a flawed yet likeable main character set in a believable other-world. The plot clicks right along; it will hook and enchant even reluctant readers.
Bog, by Karen Krossing; lush cover illustration by Félix Gerard; published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.
Lena Coakley interviews Karen about what inspired her to write Bog – here.
Karen’s blog – with more about the process of writing Bog.
Karen is giving away 10 copies of Bog on GoodReads until June 1, 2014.
Watch this brief trailer for Bog
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.