Archive for category: Great books

Detective fiction — enter our contest to win an ebook

Thrice BurnedThe Sherlock Holmes stories are well loved–by adults and kids. If you’re trying to hook your teens on reading, introduce them to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
There’s been a recent resurgence in all things Sherlockian (sorry, did I say “Cumberbatch”? Why yes… yes, I did.) Not only are there new TV series and movies about the curmudgeonly detective, but recently there has been a spate of new “detective fiction” written in the style of Conan Doyle’s great books. One popular example is the new Portia Adams series by Angela Misri.
Misri–who is a good friend of mine–is launching the second book in her series.

 

Q: Angela, tell us a bit about your main character, Portia Adams.
Portia is a bright and curious 19-year-old Canadian girl who has to find her way in the world pretty much on her own. Having lost her mother and closest confidante at the beginning of Jewel of the Thames, she is forced to step outside all her comfort zones and grow up, leaving Toronto behind for busy London. I think Portia has a lot of growing up left to do, including finding a way to trust again and open up her heart to the people around her, something the loss of her mother has impeded. Annie Coleseon is a big part of that. Portia discovered early on in Jewel that many of the traits her peers found irritating about her, like her focus and over-analysis of minute details, could be found in the journals of her grandfather John Watson — as he described his best friend Sherlock Holmes. Suddenly, there is potential that what made her a freak could make her a great detective, and it is in Thrice Burned that she actually figures this out. That she could be more than she had ever dreamed. That she could be an amazing detective in her own right.
Angela Misri with two Calgary fans at the Oolong Cafe in 2014.

Angela Misri with two Calgary fans at the Oolong Cafe in 2014.

Q: What do you think teens find detective fiction so appealing?
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!

 

Misri author photo

Author Angela Misri, at the 2014 launch of the first book in her Portia Adams detective series, Jewel of the Thames.

Q: What did you love about the Sherlock Holmes books when you were a teen?
I read all kinds of mysteries as a kid; that is, just feeding my rampant curiosity. It may sound strange, but I found comfort in the idea that a book-smart, logical person could find a niche in the world. I was an introverted, book-reading, socially withdrawn teen who preferred comic books to makeup and Dungeons and Dragons over sleepover parties. While Nancy Drew was a compelling heroine with mysteries to solve, it was Sherlock and his misunderstood personality that mimicked my teenage experience. I was not a vivacious strawberry blonde with perfect fashion sense. I was the misanthrope that most girls my age didn’t understand. I loved the friendship between Holmes and Watson and sensed that my closest relationships would be the same sort of opposites-attract balance (which turned out to be true). As much as Portia is based on pieces of me and pieces of my favourite detectives, her best friend, Brian Dawes, is based on my best friends — who are invariably more social and have far more emotional IQ.

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!)

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Guinea PI(g): Pet Shop Private Eye. A reluctant PI with a mystery to solve

Hamster and CheeseI’ve had this book on my shelf for a couple of years and I keep coming back to it. So obviously I need to tell you about it.

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.

 

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Four picture books to get your kid reading

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)

Boy raised by librariansThe Boy who was Raised by Librarians

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 @PeachtreePub on Twitter.

 

Norman, Speak!Norman, Speak!

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.

Written by Caroline Adderson  and illustrated by Qin Leng @qinleng on Twitter. Published by Groundwood.

 

peachgirl1Peach Girl

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.

Story by Raymond Nakamura on Twitter @RaymondsBrain, illustrated by Rebecca Bender, published by Pajama Press.

 

Locomotive

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 Locomotive by Brian Flocawords, 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).

Written and illustrated by Brian Floca on Twitter @BrianFloca, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bored reading to your child? Here’s one you’ll both love

A Brush Full Of ColourThe 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!
    Brush full of colour inside

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.

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Wonderful middle-grade read: “Bog” (and it has trolls)

Bog-Cover-fullKids 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.

 

Reading extensions
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

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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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