Taking a Walk in the Forest of Reading

Red Maple Selections

Being an active reader is one of the most important ways for children to succeed in school.

The Forest of Reading program is designed to introduce students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to books written by Canadian authors. The program has ten categories broken down into different grade levels.

The Red Maple category consists of ten fiction books geared towards students in Grades 7 and 8. Every year, I wait rather impatiently for the Red Maple books to be announced. It is probably the single greatest resource I have to keep up-to-date on what’s new and exciting in young adult and junior fiction. Three of my favourites from this year’s Red Maple picks are:

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

Abandon all hope ye who enter Room 117.

The self contained special eighth grade class (SCS- 8) is held at the far corner of the school next to the metal shop and the custodian’s office. The class is made up of delinquents, goof-offs, troublemakers and anyone else who could be described as a hot-mess express. They are the unteachables.

Mr. Kermit used to care. He used to have enthusiasm for teaching but not anymore. He has 10 months until retirement and plans to coast along “teaching” the SCS-8 until June.

Author Gordon Korman has a talent for creating realistic and compassionate characters. Each chapter is narrated by a different student in Room 117. The reader learns that each so-called “unteachable” student has a real story. Parker has a legitimate learning disability that has gone unnoticed, Elaine’s tough girl reputation is based on a rumour and even Mr. Kermit has a back story that derailed his teaching career. It was easier for the school to label these people as problems instead of looking closely at the real issues.

The Unteachables is easy to read and is full of both humour and compassion.

Call of the Wraith by Kevin Sands

The White Lady gives nothing back. Legend says her spirit is bound to the water. When the snow falls she returns to walk the shore. She calls to the children. She traps them forever. The White Lady gives nothing back.

Christopher awakes in a cell, cold and alone. He remembers nothing.  He learns that strange events are happening all over England. Children are missing. Christopher believes if he can figure out what’s happening to the children, he can unlock his memories.

Fans of Harry Potter will find themselves captivated by this book. Christopher is a similar but more realistic version of Harry.  Orphaned, scrawny and bullied as a child, he was later taken to be trained as an apothecary’s apprentice. While he has no magical powers, chemistry proves to be his most effective weapon.

Call of the Wraith is the fourth book in the Blackthorn Key series but you can read the books in any order. The characters cross over in each book, but the plots are stand alone.

The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

At first glance The Light Between Worlds may seem similar to Narnia, but it is so much more. It explores the idea of what happens after the fairytale is over. Once you’ve been in a magical world how can you ever go back to living in the real one?

The story focuses on three children during the Second World War. The children spend many nights clinging to each other in a darkened bomb shelter. One night Evelyn prays to be sent somewhere else, somewhere peaceful. Magically, they find themselves in the kingdom of the Woodlands.

Although the tale of the Woodlands floats back and forth throughout the book, the story’s main focus is on the relationship between the siblings. Once they return to the real world, things between them change.

The Light Between Worlds covers a lot of heavy subject matter but there is so much truth to how the characters develop.  The story will hit home with anyone who has watched a love one battle depression.

For a complete list of books in the Red Maple category please see the WPL catalogue. And please stay tuned for more favourites in the Forest of Reading program.

— Lesley L.

Dare to Read a Scary Story This Halloween

Normally, I avoid reading anything scary. Horror just isn’t my thing. I can live without ghosts, goblins and things that may or may not be dead. Halloween, however, is an exception. It is the only time of year I’m brave enough to pull out a scary story and curl up for the night. Some of the best scary stories I’ve dared to read can be found in our teen section:

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Buckle up. You are in for a wild ride. Rules for Vanishing is not your usual horror novel. It breaks all the rules. It’s not a story that you can predict. You just have to keep reading and let the tale unfold.

Everyone in Briar Glen knows the story of Lucy Gallows. One day she ran into the woods and disappeared. Legend says that once a year a road opens up in those same woods and Lucy stands at the end. Everyone thinks that Lucy is just an urban myth. Until Sara’s sister goes missing.

Determined to find her sister, Sara searches for Lucy’s road. There are rules she must follow: find a partner, never let go, find a key, never stray from the path. There are seven gates she must pass through. If Sara can complete the journey maybe she can find her sister and bring her home.

This book is full of nightmares and is a combination of everything that makes a horror story great. It has mystery, suspense, paranormal activities and things that go bump in the night. I’ve never read anything quite like Rules for Vanishing. It is difficult to describe the feeling you get while reading it. It’s eerie and terrifying and I loved every minute of it.

The Dogs by Allan Stratton

The Dogs is a psychological thriller mixed in with classic horror. It was the winner of the 2016 Red Maple Award.

Cameron and his mom move into an old farm house with a shady past. Cameron begins to sense things in the house that others cannot. He hears dogs barking in the distance. He sees a young boy walking in the fields. Brushed off as a mental health issue, no one takes Cameron’s sightings seriously. However, Cameron becomes more and more obsessed with discovering the identity of the boy and the mystery surrounding the farm house.

Author Allan Stratton blends a modern day story with supernatural elements so well that you won’t know where the human mind stops and the ghosts begin. I’m not going to lie….I slept with the lights on after I read this one.

How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires and Zombies by David Spurlock

Horror stories are not for everyone and some creative minds may prefer to spend the evening sketching undead creatures of the night instead.

How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires and Zombies is one of the most versatile art books I’ve come across. It’s not a step by step instructional book, but rather how to take your art to the next level. There are tips on lighting, style and perspective. It is interesting how much the story can change when a drawing is changed from a different angle or when the lighting is shifted from one part of the picture to another.

Each section of the book is centered on a different monster and gives the origins of each classic creature. The roots of zombie tales can be traced to the West African religion of Vodun. There are accounts of people being turned into mindless monsters by witchdoctors known as a bokor. The stories grew to become the type of flesh-eating zombies we see in movies starting with the classic 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.
There are even articles featuring classic horror artists, including Basil Gogos, followed by a breakdown of his iconic oil painting of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. Even if you are not artistically inclined, this book is an interesting read about the history and lore that make up the modern day horror genre.

Happy Halloween!

— Lesley L.

What are the WPL Book Clubs reading in November?

Date: Monday, November 11 at 7 p.m.
Location: Main Library, Auditorium
Title: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Goodreads rating of 4.03. Read the reviews.
Discover information about the author and discussion questions.
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book.

Date: Thursday, November 21st at 1:30 p.m.
Location: Main Library, Boardroom
Title: Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Old Man Hu’ng has been making and selling pho to hungry devotees for nearly 70 years, continually adapting his recipe and the location of his food cart to accommodate the terrible demands of poverty, war and oppression that have plagued Hanoi throughout his long life. Cherished least of all his mother’s ten children thanks to an inauspicious facial birthmark, Hu’ng was sent in 1933 to apprentice at his Uncle Chien’s restaurant where he achieved mastery over broth and noodles. Inheriting the business from his uncle, Hu’ng’s sublime cookery and willingness to barter made him a favourite in the 1950s with the Beauty of Humanity Movement, a group of artists and intellectuals who dared question Communist rule, at great peril.

Heading the movement was Dao, a poet whose young son Binh would shadow Hu’ng at the restaurant, hungry not for noodles but for the attention that his own revolutionary father was too distracted to provide. When Dao was inevitably arrested, Binh’s mother whisked the boy into hiding, blinding him in one eye to avoid conscription. Hu’ng was forced to close his restaurant, but not knowing any other life’s work, he persisted in making and selling pho by pushing a food cart through the city, even when forced to make his noodles with scavenged pond weeds.

Fifty years later, Binh is a middle-class Hanoi carpenter who once again consumes daily bowls of Hu’ng’s pho, following the old man to whatever location he has moved to in order to evade police beatings. Binh tries valiantly to protect Hu’ng, the gentle old man who is as close to a father as he has ever known. By extension Hu’ng is also a grandfather to Binh’s son Tu’, a somewhat aimless Nike-shod tour guide who wears his clothes and hair in modern fashion, and yet whose spirited idealism reminds Hu’ng of his revolutionist grandfather.

One day Hu’ng’s improvised pho stand is visited by a beautiful stranger, Maggie, a foreign-raised Vietnamese art curator who was spirited out of Hanoi as a child during the fall of Saigon. Her artist father disappeared in those tumultuous times, and Maggie has returned to the country of her birth to learn his fate. Hearing of Hu’ng’s reputation, she has come to plead for answers–did he know her father? Hu’ng’s memory is failing, but he dearly wants to help this young woman, whose beauty sends him back to a time long ago, when he loved a girl whose betrayal he has never forgiven. . .

Goodreads rating of 3.92. Read the reviews.
Consider these discussion questions from Book Browse here
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book here

The Family Upstairs

Lisa Jewell is one of my all-time favourite authors. When she has a book out, you know I’ll be reading it. Her latest book, The Family Upstairs is a delightfully sinister psychological thriller with a bit of a gothic vibe that was engrossing until its final pages.

The story occurs in two different time frames and is told using three different points of view (and short chapters) which keeps the tension high and the pages turning quick. The pieces of the story surrounding a dysfunctional family, their posh manor house and their guests, gradually come together as the mystery of what happened to the manor’s earlier occupants unfolds for the reader.

There are a lot of characters, but Jewell gives them distinct voices and an impressive amount of depth. This is distinctly darker than Jewell’s previous books but just as gripping and I enjoyed the clever twists and even the disturbing feel. While I’m not a fan of open-ended stories, the loose ends in this book didn’t bother me as much as I would have expected.

Overall, this was a wonderfully gripping, slightly ominous, twisted family drama. Without divulging the plot, I’ll just say that this is another must-read book by Lisa Jewell.  WPL has ordered paper copies and audiobook on CD for this book that publishes November 5th.

— Laurie P.

The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer is a stellar debut novel for Ta-Nehisi Coates. While he has had an illustrious career in journalism, this is his first foray into fiction and he has hit a home-run! Coates’ writing style is stunningly eloquent, creating passages that transport the reader into the images and scenes created by his masterfully selected language. This is a gorgeously written piece of literature!

The story revolves around the life of Hiram Walker, one of the ‘Tasked’ on a plantation in Virginia called Lockless, owned and run by the ‘Quality’ Walker family. Once a thriving operation, the land is dying and the plantation and the ways of the gentry are facing a slow death.  We meet Hiram at a young age after his mother has been sold into bondage. He finds safe haven with a cantankerous woman in the slave village and it is during this time that he realizes that, even unschooled, he has an extremely unusual capacity to remember things. This talent brings him to the attention of the plantation owner, Howell Walker, who also happens to be Hiram’s birth father. Recognizing the tremendous gift that the boy has, Walker Sr brings the boy up to the main house to be educated and to be his white son Maynard’s servant.

This is the beginning of a journey that will take Hiram through oppressive suffering toward a future that will enable him to become a soldier in the underground war between the Quality and the Tasked. He will begin to unearth the memory of his mother, buried deep within him, that will allow his gift of ‘conduction’ to emerge, a gift that will help him to understand that freedom without love and family is bondage in its own way.

The story is based on the real life experiences of William and Peter Still, African-American brothers who were able to purchase their freedom from slavery and went on to become active abolitionists and conductors on the Underground Railroad. Fleeing For Freedom: Stories of the Underground Railway and The Underground Railroad Records are compilations of experiences of  the slaves and conductors who worked on the secret network and reflect the perils, tactics, and emotional struggles faced by the freedom seekers and fighters.

A warning to the reader: the inhumanity depicted in this story is almost beyond belief and yet multitudes of blacks have this savagery imprinted into their DNA through the generations that lived and continue to live in a country still much defined by its roots of slavery. 

— Nancy C.

Beer, Polkas and … Murder!

As K-W celebrates Oktoberfest season – a time of beer, polka and all things Bavarian – it’s the perfect time to pick up the Sloan Krause cozy mystery series by Ellie Alexander. The series is set in a small town known for its own Oktoberfest celebration and focuses on the growing culture of craft beer.

The first book in the series, Death on Tap, introduces readers to the town of Leavenworth, Washington. This Bavarian-inspired tourist town has a colourful cast of citizens including Sloan Krause, whose life revolves around her family-owned brew house and restaurant. When a murder occurs at one of the small craft breweries, Sloan finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation.

While the mysteries in the first three books of this series are at the forefront, Alexander also provides readers with interesting tidbits on craft brewing and its growing culture. As someone who enjoys craft beer, I found the info on the brewing process, flavours etc. quite interesting. But it was the underlying mystery surrounding Sloan’s murky past that kept me coming back for more. Since this mystery about Sloan’s early life builds over the three books, I highly suggest reading the books in order.

Book 1: Death on Tap
Book 2: The Pint of No Return
Book 3: Beyond a Reasonable Stout

Whether you’re a craft beer aficionado or simply not a beer person, I think fans of lighter mysteries will enjoy cozying up this Fall with this series.

— Laurie P.

WPL Book Clubs’ Picks for October

Join us for book club conversation at any meeting. No need to sign up. No need to clean your house. The WPL Book Clubs have “open” membership, so you can drop in once in a while, or come faithfully every month.

Monday, October 21 – Monday Evening Book Club
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
7:00pm – Main Library, Auditorium

21 Lessons For the 21st Century provides a kind of instruction manual for the present day to help readers find their way around the 21st century, to understand it, and to focus on the really important questions of life. Once again, Harari presents this in the distinctive, informal, and entertaining style that already characterized his previous books.

The topics Harari examines in 21 Lessons include major challenges such as international terrorism, fake news, and migration, as well as turning to more personal, individual concerns, such as our time for leisure or how much pressure and stress we can take.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century answers the overarching question: What is happening in the world today, what is the deeper meaning of these events, and how can we individually steer our way through them? The questions include what the rise of Trump signifies, whether or not God is back, and whether nationalism can help solve problems like global warming.

Few writers of non-fiction have captured the imagination of millions of people in quite the astonishing way Yuval Noah Harari has managed, and in such a short space of time. His unique ability to look at where we have come from and where we are going has gained him fans from every corner of the globe. There is an immediacy to this new book which makes it essential reading for anyone interested in the world today and how to navigate its turbulent waters.

Read a review of the book by Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates!)

Goodreads: 4.2* rating and reviews

Just want a summary of the book?  Find it here

Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book, the eBook or on the eAudiobook.

Thursday, October 17 – Thursday Afternoon Book Club
Transatlantic by Colum McCann
1:30 p.m. – Main Library, Boardroom

In 1845, Frederick Douglass, a black American slave, lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine unfurling around him. In 1919, two brave young airmen emerge from the carnage of World War I to pilot the first transatlantic flight from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to the west of Ireland. In 1998 an American senator criss-crosses the ocean in search of a lasting peace in Ireland.

Taking these stories as his point of departure, Colum McCann weaves together the lives of Douglass, Alcock and Brown, and Senator George Mitchell in a tapestry that is both ambitious and unforgettable.

Goodreads: 3.8* rating and reviews

NY Times review of the book

Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book.

This Little Light

This Little Light” is a compelling story that takes place in the near future and features relevant issues, a tense plot, a strong main character and a shocking ending. The intensity grows throughout the story, which is set over 48 hours, as two teenage girls flee for their lives when they’re accused of bombing their high school’s “Virtue Ball”.

This is a Dystopian read where issues of socio-economic disparity, immigration, climate change, the power of the government, media and fundamentalist religion are at the forefront. Abortion has been re-criminalized and birth control is hard to obtain, which creates an underground “Pink Market” for these services. The rights of women have been whittled away to the point where teen girls are told their place in society, which includes declaring a chastity promise to their fathers. That’s a whole lotta issues, but it works.

Rory, as the protagonist, is a breath of fresh air. I love her strength and conviction as she voices her opinions and relentlessly questions the way things are being done (her outspokenness often being blamed on her being half Canadian! Atta, girl!). She’s one small voice in a sea of media, Christian fundamentalists and politicians who want to control the rights of women and keep immigrants “in their place”.

This story has a strong teen vibe to it which is great, but unexpected. The only thing I didn’t love was the teen speak which felt contrived and often grating. For example, “I wanted to tell Fee to go up and have a shower because smell ..” This kind of dialogue occurred a lot and felt awkward – like the author was trying too hard to sound like a teen.

Overall, this was an engaging, eye-opening read that handles some big issues within a compulsive story that shows the importance of people questioning how things are done and not just accepting what you see in the media as fact. This is, obviously, a good pick for people itching for books with a Handmaid’s Tale feel to it.

— Laurie P.

National Treasures

If you are a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 1 and Season 2) on TV, but are afraid to read a book by Margaret Atwood, I encourage you to give The Testaments a try! The Testaments is the long awaited and much anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale that reads more like pop fiction novel than a traditional Margaret Atwood book.

The Testaments takes place approximately 15 to 16 years later than The Handmaid’s Tale.  The reader sees what the world now looks like through the testimony of three female narrators: Aunt Lydia (yes, that Aunt Lydia), Witness 369A, and Witness 369B.

Aunt Lydia reveals that Gilead’s citizens are more power-hungry and corrupt than ever. Trust is a rarity and Aunt Lydia says to “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Having no friends, I must make do with enemies.” Witness 369A tells the reader about her life growing up as the daughter of a Commander in Gilead. Witness 369B lives in Canada, and gives the reader her perspective as an outsider of Gilead, looking in. I can’t give you any more details about the narrators without spoiling the many twists, turns, shocks and surprises you will encounter as you read the book.

I’ve been waiting for this sequel for so long that I really wanted to take my time reading it.  However, my copy must have contained chocolate because it kept calling me to come back to it, and I ended up reading it within a day. I found myself totally engaged with the narrators and each new morsel of information they revealed made it that much harder for me to put down.

I recently attended a “Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas” event that was presented onscreen at a local Cineplex. Ann Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, read two excerpts from Aunt Lydia’s narrative in The Testaments. Two other readers each read an excerpt from Witness 369A and 369B. Atwood was also interviewed and she was asked was what made her decide to finally write a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale after 34 years? Her answer?  When Trump got elected as President of the United States. Atwood was also asked what she thought was the most important issue facing the world today. Without hesitation she said our planet, and she feels if we focus on healing and protecting our planet, our other issues will fall into place.

— Sandy W.