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

  • September 30, 2013 at 11:59 am
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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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Strange word game – but fun!

monkey-go-happy-guess-starfishMonkey GO Happy, Guess? is an odd game, yes it is.

But it’s fun. Kids’ll like it.

And you can’t deny, it’s all about words.

The online game is one of a series of simple, quirky word games by PencilKids.

In Monkey GO Happy, Guess? (the spelling and punctuation of its name belie its oddness) you have to figure out what word is needed, based on a picture clue.

For instance, a picture of a STAR plus a picture of a FISH would equal STARFISH.
The clues get progressively stranger, albeit not necessarily much more difficult, as you proceed.

Every time you get one right you earn coins.

Underlying all of the oddness is oddly catchy music, bonus games in which you have to figure out roman numerals based on clues, the occasional brainteaser plus the chance to use your accumulated coins to buy mini-prizes (a trampoline, a car) for the little monkeys at the bottom of the page.

It’s all very odd, but fun. And word-oriented.

The link for this game is via Bart Bonte‘s excellent online casual games page.
You can search his site for the other Monkey GO Happy games.

 

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Great free, online game with words

RISE onomasticaThe online game Onomastica is what’s known as a “platformer.”

In other words, it’s one of those run-and-jump games, like Mario (except much simpler).

You make the character run or jump using the –> arrows on your keyboard.

With Onomastica, however, the character also interacts with simple words. When he encounters WALL, for instance, he has to push an S next to TAIR to create stairs that will get him over an obstacle.

It’s a super-simple, quick and easy game that kids will like.

And it might just get them thinking about words in a new way.

 

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More about the three important literacy boosters

49th shelf logoWe’ve talked before on GKR about the three most important things you can do for your kids to get them reading.

(Hint – there’re in the sidebar, over there on the right-hand side!)

The fine people at 49th Shelf, a Canadian literature site, have allowed me to talk a bit about them. Just in time for Family Literacy Day, Jan. 27.

(If you’re not familiar with 49th Shelf, get yerself on over there and check it out. It’s a terrific website that promotes Canadian literature.)

And by the way, if you’re looking for something to do to celebrate Literacy Day this weekend, come on down to my book launch for Gabby.

It’s this Sunday at 1:00 at the International Travel Authority cafe, 1165 Bloor St. W., Toronto. There’ll be cake!

 

Here’s the article on 49th Shelf.

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Writing contest for Canadian kids grades 4 to 12

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

If you’re a Canadian kid in grade 4 to 12, you could win a great prize in a writing contest sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Centre and TD.

Here are some details:

  • Deadline is Feb. 1, 2013;
  • Fiction or non-fiction stories or poems;
  • Entries must be mailed in (no emails or faxes);
  • Must include an entry form — found here;
  • Prizes: $250 book gift certificate for a winner in each grade plus two honourable mentions ($50) from each grade.

You’ll find more details, the address to send your entries to and the entry form on the Canadian Children’s Book Centre website, here.

(Oh, the image? Yeah, that’s a child in the 1400s. He’s writing. In a book held by the mother of Jesus. Don’t worry, he’s not eligible for the contest–not Canadian. Phew!)

 

 

 

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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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Every child in grade one gets “I’ve Lost My Cat” by Philippe Beha

  • November 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm
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IveLostMyCat_coverEvery year, all grade one students in Canada get a free book.

That’s every grade one student — more than 500,000 of them. No matter what school board they’re with, whether they’re homeschooled, whether they live in a remote community. Everyone gets a book to take home and read over and over again and keep.

The program is funded by TD Bank and it’s administered by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. The CCBC selects wonderful books. Just the right books, in fact. And this year’s gem is no exception.

Author/Illustrator Philippe Beha’s little grey cat once went missing. He put up signs around the neighbourhood in hopes of getting him back. Several people called with cats – however, they were always the wrong ones.

Beha’s story folds into a brilliant and beautiful picture book, “I’ve Lost my Cat,” with charm and depth and sensitive wit. The half-million children in Canada who will be receiving Beha’s book will love it.

In the book, our protagonist is handed many animals – and even a melon – that fit some part of the description of his cat. He accepts them all graciously, finding a home for the elephant, the penguin, the bird and even the sheep he’s presented with. And just when he least expects it… he finds his cat. (Didn’t think you’d mind the spoiler.)

The book is “J’ai Perdu Mon Chat” in French.

Every child deserves to have a book of their own. Not only does owning a book promote literacy, but it promotes self-esteem. TD and the CCBC began their Grade One Book Giveaway Program in 2000. Since then they’ve given away millions of books.

It is a very, very good thing.

Visit the CCBC here, and get a list of the previous years’ books – you know they are sure-fire winners, every one.

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