March Break Reads

There are thousands (and thousands and thousands) of great junior fiction books just waiting to be read on March Break. Here’s my Top 4.

Missing Mike by Shari Green

Missing Mike is a love story between a little girl and her canine best friend Mike. Mike Wazowski isn’t much to look at. Mike has one eye, an ear-and-a-half, four legs and a tail. He’s named after the one-eyed green monster from Monsters Inc. At the breeders he sat at the back of cage, behind a pile of adorable puppies, probably because he didn’t think anyone would want him. But one little girl did. She saw something special in him. You see, Mike is a survivor. He came from somewhere but got lost and ended up in a fight with coyotes. That’s how he lost his eye (and half an ear). However, Mike didn’t give up. He was eventually found and came to live with Cara Donovan and her family in Pine Grove.

When the story opens, it is summer. It’s been hot and dry. The smell of wildfire starts to settle over Pine Grove and the town is put on evacuation alert. When the flames grow closer Cara’s family has only ten minutes to pack and flee from the approaching fire. In the midst of the commotion, Mike disappears. There is no time to look for him. Once her family makes it to safety, the heartbroken and guilt-ridden Cara makes a plan to go back and search for her best friend.

Missing Mike brings up a lot of questions. What makes a home? Is it four walls and a roof? Is it the people we love the most? Or is a home simply a feeling of comfort and safety? Or is it a combination of all three? To eleven-year-old Cara, a home means only one thing – her dog.

The story is full of emotion and had me tearing up on more than one occasion. The love Cara has for Mike is pure and genuine and you can’t help but get pulled into her desperation to find him. It is written in verse which makes it quick to read but also adds to the beauty of the story. Missing Mike is a Silver Birch Award Nominee and definitely has my vote for Best Junior Fiction Book.

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn

Krista is comfortable in her own skin. She is a third-generation Korean-Canadian who wears jeans and t-shirts and always has her hair in a ponytail. Her best friend is a reddish-brown headed boy named Jason. She is happy with things the way they are. The problem is everyone else seems to think she needs to be someone else. Her grandma wants her to wear nice shoes and style her hair. Her new friends want her to dress fashionably and gossip. Things get more complicated when her fifth grade teacher assigns a heritage project. Her family’s roots are in Korea but her parents were born in Canada. They don’t even speak Korean at home.

Krista Kim-Bap is a very rich book that covers a variety of issues. Identity is a large theme in the book, but it also opens up a lot of discussion about family, friendship, culture and even cuisine. Krista is a very relatable character, especially to anyone who wasn’t the ‘favourite’ child growing up. I admired her confidence and ability to stay true to herself. I look forward to sharing this book with our young customers.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

No Fixed Address tackles the issue of hidden homelessness. When we think of “homeless” we tend to think of people sleeping on the street but homelessness is not always so obvious. It can be people with no permanent home who are living with family, staying in motels or relying on shelters.

Felix and his mother, Astrid, live in a van. They used to live in a condo. Then it was an apartment. Then they moved into a basement apartment. Astrid held two jobs but ended up losing both of them. Unexpected expenses came up with no extra money to cover them and pretty soon they didn’t have enough money for rent. Felix and Astrid stayed with friends for a time but ultimately ended up calling a Westfalia van home.

Life at school for Felix is difficult. He doesn’t always get to shower. He doesn’t always get enough to eat. He has to make up excuses to his best friends about why they can’t hang out at his ‘house’. But things start to look up when he auditions for the junior edition of “Who, What, Where, When” (similar to Jeopardy). If he wins, the prize money could mean putting a real roof over their heads for the first time in months.

Author Susin Nielsen, brings up another overlooked issue of homelessness: it’s not just individuals who are affected – whole families can be without a permanent place to live. Set in Vancouver, there are plenty of Canadian references woven into the story. It was a light and enjoyable read but with lots of room for discussion.

Sparks! by Ian Boothby

Sparks ComicI fell in love with Sparks! on the first page. This graphic novel is about two cats that save the world while dressed in a robotic dog suit. You see, the hero felines quickly learn that no one really trusts a cat. However, everyone does trust a dog. So the cats create a dog suit. August is the dog suit inventor. Charlie is the dog suit pilot. Together, they battle an evil alien who takes the form of a human baby. Oh, and their story is told from the point of view of their litter box.

Before they became heroes, August and Charlie were held prisoner and used as test subjects for scientific experiments. As a result, they develop super powers. They escape. August uses her super intelligence to design “Sparks” the super dog and their quest to save lives begins.

August and Charlie have an ‘odd couple’ type of relationship. August is an intellectual indoor cat. Charlie is a courageous outdoor cat. Their personality clashes make for some great dialogue.

Sparks! is pure fun and even the most reluctant readers will have a good time reading it. It’s just so off the wall, you can’t help but smile.

— Lesley L.

Books About Snow

I feel like most children’s books about snow owe a debt of gratitude to Peter and his walk through the fresh snow in a bright red snowsuit. In The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats created a simple but beautiful story of a little boy experiencing the joys of winter as he looks back at his footprints, makes a snow angel, tries to keep a snowball and crunches through the city while the snowflakes fall around him. Although it was written in the early 1960s the images come back to me each time I crack open a new book that celebrates this wonderful time of year.

Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek are teaming up again to observe the change in the season with their new book Winter is Here. The language is perfect for a read aloud and the images invite you to come back and read it more than once. I was especially fond of the pages where they show that winter can appear to be two different things – grey in the morning and then blue in the night – by using the same landscape at different times of day (with a lovely little bunny tucked into the corner). They also provide a visual example of a child experiencing the slowly colder temperatures adding more snow and layers of clothing while he plays. On the next pages they share examples of how the warmer weather will arrive as the snow melts away and the first shoots of spring arrive. It’s a book that will become a favourite in any household and seeing the animals and children enjoy the season makes it almost impossible to want to stay indoors.

The animals on the cover of Daniel Salmieri’s book about the coldest season are quite different from the ones in Henkes and Dronzek’s series. In Bear and Wolf we are a part of the story of how wild animals experience different elements of the weather – from the smell of the wet bark on the trees and the small sounds that the snowflakes make on their fur. Although Bear and Wolf are wild animals who are hibernating and following the scent of caribou, it’s still possible to get a sense of their friendship in this picture book about winter. The author-illustrator has created images that almost feel like they could have been lifted from a Wes Anderson film because you feel so much emotion as you turn each page. On one both animals have their faces turned upwards as they notice a beautiful white owl and then on the next page they are tiny spots in a great white clearing, surrounded by trees that are entirely bare of leaves. It’s a chance to be a part of a trip through the forest with two animals who enjoy the season so much and become friends while they explore.

And, it’s very important to read that animals aren’t the only creatures who enjoy snow. Teagan White has illustrated an absolutely perfect book written by Kerri Kokias and it is called Snow Sisters! with two girls enjoying a cold day in exactly the way they choose. They approach the first flakes of snow in very different fashions and it’s a pleasure to read. One sister is so excited to wake up to see the snow from their bedroom window that she steps outside in her nightgown and socks while the second sister looks out at the snowy landscape with a touch of trepidation. The first sister bundles herself up to go out and play while the other stays indoors with cocoa, books and a blanket. While she moves on to making cookies, her stuffed bunny watches the cold-loving sister throw snowballs in the company of a brown squirrel with a very bushy tail. As the day progresses their places swap and they wave at each other when the first sister comes inside to enjoy a cozy house and the second heads outside for some fun in the snow. This marvelous book ends with the two girls snuggled up together inside in a blanket fort making paper snowflakes – the perfect way to celebrate the end of a snowy day. It’s a book that celebrates all of the different ways you can enjoy a winter day and is sure to encourage indoor and outdoor activities with the merry illustrations and encouraging text.

Great picture books are so much more than just the illustrations married with text. A book like Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day has had decades of staying power just as many books from this year’s selection will in the years to come. I love seeing the way that the blustery winds and frosty temperatures have inspired these artists to share their own version of winter with us – perhaps you will enjoy them in your own cozy blanket fort someday soon.

— Penny M.

Back to Reading

A List of Classics You May Have Missed from your Childhood

Ever since I finished my formal education, September has been an odd month. Gone are the days that September connotated a new beginning with new timetables, assignments, and renewed optimism. Now that I’m out of school, I find myself with plenty of free time after work, time that I can finally devote to reading what I want to read rather than what I need to study. It’s liberating, but it can be a bit overwhelming. When I try to determine what I feel like reading, I am left asking myself: Where do I start?

I did what any diligent bookworm would do. I went on Goodreads and consulted my TBR (To Be Read) list. I saw books of all genres from fiction to non-fiction, mystery to historical fiction, but what I noticed at the beginning of my list were children’s books. And then I remembered why I started this TBR list in the first place. I wanted to record a list of children’s classics that I missed during my childhood. Some titles included Inkheart, Maniac Magee, Julie of the Wolves, and Stuart Little. The list was long, and I thought to myself, why not start with these books?

There’s something to be said for reading a children’s story as an adult. Children’s stories can remind us of our youthful wonder, a freeness to experience the fullness of our vulnerability and innocence while asking life’s greatest questions. It’s never too late to read a children’s book. It shouldn’t be taboo either.

WPL’s children’s collection offers a variety of old and new favourites to revisit or discover. Here are a few books that I’ve revisited and enjoyed as an adult recently:

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Twelve-year-old Jonas is living in a seemingly ideal world until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memories. During his training, he begins to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community. Lowry has continued this series with three other books: Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son.

2. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
After Cole’s anger erupts into violence, he agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative that is based on the Native American Circle of Justice to avoid going to juvenile prison. Cole is sent to a remote Alaskan island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life. This gripping and graphic survival story offers a poignant testimony to the power of pain that can destroy and may also heal.

3. Holes by Louis Sacchar
What begins as a family curse becomes an inevitability for Stanley Yelnats the Fourth as he is unjustly sent to Camp Green Lake where the Warden makes boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging a five-foot-wide by five-foot-deep hole. Holes is a deceptively complex mystery that questions fate, luck, and redemption all while being rolled into a multi-generational fairy tale.

4. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
When 10-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles upon the Tuck family’s secret, she learns that drinking from a magic spring could doom or bless her with eternal life. The Tuck family takes Winnie away for a couple days to explain why living forever is less a blessing then it may seem. This slim novel packed with vivid imagery will leave you asking: would you want to live forever?

5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
This thirteen-book series follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in the aftermath of their parent’s death in a fire. The Baudelaire’s are placed in the care of Count Olaf, a relative, who orchestrates numerous disasters that they must flee from. While the books offer a dark and mysterious tone, they are both clever and full of literary allusions, dark humour, and sarcastic storytelling that would be an excellent revisit or introduction for adults.

There are countless more classic children’s books that can be enjoyed by readers of any age. Are there any books from your childhood that you always wanted to read but never got around to? Check out the WPL Catalogue and/or the shelves at your local branch. You’ll never know what magical wonder you may find.

— Eleni Z.

The countdown is on

Is there anything more exciting than the first day of school? Perhaps there is an argument to be made that the last day of school has some charm but I think that all of the wonderful routines that you learn when you are in your first days in the classroom – having a cubby, sitting down for circle time, having a snack together, painting with poster paints – are so precious and I am feeling a bit nostalgic. I’m overly sentimental about my own first day of school and for the days when it happened to our kids. I can fix this feeling. I’ll fix it with a quick trip out for some fancy pencils and a dashing new pencil case.

What can you do if your little person isn’t so keen on the first day of school? You should come to the library, of course! The library is your perfect resource for helping to make a child feel a bit more comfortable about going to school for the first time. Attending our free programs could help them get used to being with other children, learn all about sharing and taking turns, having the chance to try sitting quietly (well, the level of sound depends on the program, some of our children’s programs are vibrant and filled with movement and music) and listen to an adult who is not their parent or caregiver.  With so many different programs being offered each season you will be sure to find something that catches your interest and you can pick up some books for your children and yourself while you are here. Bonus.

And while we talk books, well, the books are lovely any time of year but the little books that publishers start sending out in advance of the beginning of the school year are particularly beautiful. Filled with images of classrooms, smiling faces, yellow school buses and vibrant lunch bags – these are just the cream of the crop in picture books. And then they get those kids busy making crafts out of shiny apples and construction paper or have them sitting in a circle while they learn to read or count? It’s like all of the best things in one book with gorgeous illustrations included. Just have a look at the new back-to-school books on our shelves and see if you aren’t tempted to take two or three home with you the next time you visit.  Here are a few of my recent favourites from this year’s ‘crop’.

Rhyming books are so much fun and All Are Welcome is both the title and the refrain of this colourful book from Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman.  The endpapers of the book begin and end with families dropping off and picking up their kids from school (it even includes a yellow cab which is perfect for what looks like it might be a school in New York – as if this book might have been set right on Sesame Street) and the children busily create art, whisper, share school supplies, and build friendships. Children are dressed in every possible pattern and their heads are covered in baseball caps, with one boy wearing a kippah and a girl in a hijab, others sporting braids and bright ribbons so each page is a rainbow of colour with smiling faces (some children are accurately missing front teeth). It’s fabulously true to a real JK/SK classroom. Each page illustrates one verse of the poem: “In our classroom, safe and sound./Fears are lost and hope is found./Raise your hand, we’ll go round./ All are welcome here.” The children are charming but I think the best page of all is their little science fair where they display a dinosaur project, sticky green slime, the classic volcano and a bug collection with some of the insects on the loose! There is so much to see on every page.  This is a book worth checking out more than once and the page featuring their potluck celebration will make your mouth water. Everyone will want to attend their friendly school.

Hello School! should be required reading for anyone who wants to remember what it is like to be in school or is just about to be in a busy classroom. From the moment that these kids step onto the pages they are bright and authentic – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such sweet expressions in a picture book and the things that they say in their little speech bubbles? Oh, it is so sweet. Their teacher is aptly named Mrs. Friend and these kids are ready to be friends right away with an enthusiasm to share and express their feelings, saying things like “Kevin is hibernating TOO LOUD” on the page about Quiet time. I know that I have heard kids talk like this in a classroom and I could picture that scene happening. The book goes step by step through the children visiting their new cubbies, sitting in a circle, snacking, counting and talking about the seasons but the strength of this book is in how the author makes it seem like this is a real little classroom filled with kids who love their school. It’s a welcoming book that should make kids feel like a classroom is the place to be.

The Secret Life of Squirrels: Back to School! is the story of Mr. Peanut’s good friend Miss Rosie and her very busy time in getting the classroom all ready for school. Nancy Rose has done another top-notch job at getting her backyard squirrels to look like they are participating in the activities she then writes about on each page. It’s a darling concept every time she publishes a new book and this one has Rosie hanging a welcome banner for her little students, placing name tags on desks, setting out sports equipment for gym class and visiting other squirrel teachers as they get ready for their new school year.  Squirrel teachers.  It is so good. The miniature calculators, school bags, paint brushes and desks are adorable and it’s wonderful to know that the author, Nancy Rose, sets up the vignettes and just waits for the little squirrels to come visit. This book is one of those treasures that could be looked at over and over while you plan your first day of school or think back to school days of the past.

When you finish looking at our newest back-to-school books remember that you will find many encouraging titles from seasons of the past on our shelves. Don’t forget that favourite characters like Franklin, Spot, and Clifford have featured in classic stories that will help to prompt conversations about what happens in a classroom. Library staff have so many suggestions about their personal favourites on the shelves and can lead you to resources that are designed specifically for parents so everyone will go home happy from a visit to the library.  We won’t be able to give you a new pencil case but we can do almost everything else to get you ready for the first day of school.

-Penny M.

 

 

Maker Expo 2018

Get your maker on at the 2018 Maker Expo at The Aud in Kitchener on June 2 & 3. There will be 70 exhibitors with awesome interactive activities. Stop by the WPL booth and check out our oh-so-cool augmented reality sandbox. You mold the sand by hand; see the landscape come to life! Or learn about WPL’s Girls Who Code program and how you can help save the world.

Looking for more cool maker projects? Here’s our list of new Maker books (for kids & families) for additional inspiration.

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