“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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Baseball books for a baseball kid

Baseball books for a baseball kidMy son had run out of books. Already read the new Rick Riordan. Finished his school-assigned books. Bored of reading.

I needed to rekindle his interest in reading, but how?

I looked to his main hobby–nay, obsession–baseball.

I’d already done something I thought was pretty darned clever. I found a couple of novels written by former baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. (Super-sized Slugger and Hothead). My son loved them because not only were the protagonists his age and baseball players, but the novel was written by a baseball player so it was authentic. It spoke his language.

He read them and loved them. But after that, I was tapped out.

So I went to the library and asked the librarian if she knew any baseball novels.

She did. In fact, one of her favourite books as a young girl was E. L. Konigsburg’s About The B’nai Bagels. It’s the story of a kid whose mother ends up being his baseball team’s manager. (Awwwkward.)

She put that one one hold for me and while it was working its way toward my library branch, she ferretted out a couple more: Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude and Throwing Smoke by Bruce Brooks.

My son loved them!

So there’s the idea for you. Think about your kid’s hobbies and then talk to a librarian. It can be kind of hard to Google these things, because you’ll get all manner of how-to books, instructionals… but those librarians, man, they know stuff. Tell them what your kid’s into and before you know it she’ll find you something amazing.

That’s what happened for me.

 

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Must Pop Words – great game for literacy, typing skills

must pop words enterHere’s a smart, fun game that’s great for literacy and for improving typing skills.

In Must Pop Words, letters – inside bouncy balls – fall down and accumulate at the bottom of the page.

You have to type words using the letters. Every word you type erases those letters. If the letters pile up to the top of the page (which they will inevitably do) you lose.

Little tasks like, “create a word ending with e” or “create a six-letter word” let you earn extra points.

The balls bouncing around and the cute penguin who sticks his head in every once in awhile make this a signature Bart Bonte game – one of a series of elegant, fun games you can find on his website. (In my opinion, Bonte is the best casual game designer on the Internet.) Enjoy!

Play Must Pop Words here.

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My picture book, Gabby, launches January 2013

  • October 27, 2012 at 11:28 am
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Gabby posterI’ve written a picture book called Gabby, which will be in bookstores this January.

You can also pre-order it on Amazon here.

Gabby is illustrated by the wonderful Jan Dolby and published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

Gabby is a smart, quirky little girl with a special reading book. When she accidentally drops it, all the letters fall out. When she starts putting the letters together into words, whatever she spells — she creates! As you can imagine, this gets her into quite a muddle. What can she do to put things right?

Visit my author blog for Gabby here. The author blog has lots of fun illustrations, colouring pages and information about Gabby.

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Fun, active (and profitable!) literacy game

Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic); from Wikimedia CommonsMy niece told me about a game that her friend’s mom used to set up to get her kids more interested in reading.

She would scatter letters around the room. Each letter had a price on it.

“Easier” letters like E might be worth a penny or five cents, whereas “harder” letters like Q or Z might be worth a quarter.

(Are you seeing where this is going?)

The kids would run around the room, collecting the letters; they would then put them together into words or phrases.

Then they’d add up the “money” they’d earned and… cash them in, using their parents as the bankers.

My niece said the game succeeded in making her friend much more interested in words and in reading.

And, presumably, in banking.

Here’s another case in which a mom successfully bribed her daughter into reading.

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Has your kid met Winnie the Witch?

Winnie the Witch 8 in 1Oh Winnie, how I love thee!

Winnie is one of my all-time favourite children’s book characters. She’s a bit edgy, a bit subversive and fairly narcissistic. She’s unorganized, often scatterbrained, resourceful and thoroughly likeable.

When she gets an idea she just runs with it. Looking for a birthday gift for her cat she finds a fishing boat excursion on the Internet and bam! next thing you know they’re on a boat, poles in the water, with a magical orca on the line. She lives for the moment. Winnie has a cat, Wilbur, who is a great foil for her impulsiveness–and often a victim of it. But it always works out in the end.

I wish I could be more like Winnie. I wish everyone could. What a hectic, colourful, madcap, fabulous world that would be.

I’m deep into the witch’s new 8-in-1 anthology right now (having read the all of the single-story books with my son when he was young). There are also older-kid versions with more words and fewer pictures. And a great website here.

Winnie was craftily created by Valerie Thomas, wittily written by Laura Owen and is colourfully illustrated by the uber-quirky Korky Paul.

I’ve written about Winnie before–here. Because she is much fun, so darned much fun!

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Stuffed letters are great for literacy

Letters for GabbyMy picture book, Gabby, is coming out this September.

I’m excited! The illustrations are by Jan Dolby and it’s published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

I’ll be doing some readings in schools, book stores and at Word On The Street to publicize the book.

I sewed and stuffed some fabric letters to use during the readings. It occurred to me that letters like this are also great for new readers, since they can hold them and make words out of them. Making letters and words tactile for kids is a terrific way to get them reading.

There are lots of ways you can do this without making your own fabric letters (trust me, it’s a lot of work). You can use Scrabble tiles, foam letters from the dollar store, letter dice from a game like Jr. Boggle or Alphabet Scoop, or you can cut out letters or words from magazines.

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The best Canadian picture books

Julie Booker is an author, a teacher, a librarian and last but not least, the mom of twin toddlers.

All this to say, she knows her picture books!

Her Canadian summer picture book reading list was recently published here on 49th Shelf, an awesome Canadian book website.

Below is her list of the best of the best. For her comments about each one, visit 49th Shelf.com. Click on their book links for more information about each book.

Drumheller Dinosaur Dance by Robert Heidbreder

Jelly Belly by Dennis Lee

M is for Moose by Charles Pachter

The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier

City Alphabet by Joanne Schwartz and Matt Beam

Eenie Meenie Manitoba by Robert Heidbreder

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service

Butterscotch Dreams by Sonja Dunn

My pick from here - If you're not Canadian and you've never read The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, get your hands on a copy because you will fall in love with its folk-charm illustrations and true-life story about a boy who loves his Montreal Canadiens hockey team. (If you are Canadian? You've already read it.) Oh, and another way you know Julie Booker knows her books? Her last name, sha-zam!

 

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