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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.

Me? Read “Fantasy”?

I will begin this post by saying that fantasy isn’t a genre that I normally read. But I picked up Furyborn, the first book in the Empirium Trilogy by Claire Legrand on the basis of a recommendation from someone… not sure who that someone is anymore. I finished the book although I do have to admit to skimming over some parts because there just seemed to be no end of killing and maiming. Having said that, I think there is a great story underlying all of the blood and gore.

Two Queens, raised in very different circumstances, will rise to save their Kingdoms, albeit a thousand years apart. The Blood Queen and The Sun Queen, who possess the magic of the seven elements, are the fabilized saviours of the empire and only they possess the power to fight back against the Undying Empire.

Opening scene is a prologue…Rielle Dardenne, the Blood Queen, is in labour and at the birth of her daughter, she is attacked by the evil marque Corien who is trying to kill her and the child. Rielle hands the child to a young boy, a good marque, and begs him to take the child to safety in the territory of Borsvall.

The remainder of the story alternates between the young lives of Rielle and a bounty hunter by the name of Eliana Ferracora. Both of these young girls learn at a very early age that they have extraordinary powers… powers that have to be hidden in order for them to survive. But as they both mature, it becomes clear that there is a destiny for them to fulfill and their fight for survival means showing the world who they really are.

The book is classified as Teen Fiction but I don’t think this precludes adult lovers of fantasy fiction from enjoying this read. It has all of the elements that keep a reader of this genre engaged… suspense, action, mysticism, sexuality, violence. The question is, will I read Book 2? I certainly am curious about what the future holds for the protagonists but am not sure that I can bear much more of the slay or be slayed mentality. Call me a wuss but I tend to like people to generally fear significantly less agony in the books I read.

— Nancy C.

Start your summer with 90 Days of Different

Sophie is mature. Sophie is responsible. Sophie is dreadfully dull.  So dull in fact that her boyfriend breaks up with her just before high school graduation.  What should be the happiest time of her life is turned upside down.  But Sophie’s best friend Ella has a plan. Every day for the remainder of the summer Sophie will try a brand new experience. Some experiences will be tame and others will be wild, but each one will thrust her out of her comfort zone. Every adventure is documented with pictures or videos and posted online.

90 Days of Different is written by Eric Walters, one of Canada’s most popular writers for young readers. He began his career as a teacher, writing stories that would appeal to his students. Years later, he is still finding ways to connect with his young audience. You can follow all of Sophie’s experiences on social media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts are set up with pictures of her adventures.

Some of Sophie’s tamer experiences have her doing things like modeling on a runway or riding a mechanical bull.  One of wildest adventures starts with her sneaking out late at night to paint street art and ends with her in the back of a police car. Other experiences are just plain entertaining, like getting a job and then trying to get fired before the end of her shift.

As the summer goes on, Sophie becomes more confident and finds herself as somewhat of a social media star. People start following her adventures from all over the world, some even suggesting what she should do for her next experience.

The story pushes the idea of growth and self discovery but it also focuses on friendship. Instead of being about girls who chase the idea of boys and romance, it follows the story of two girls who believe in and support each other.

Sophie and Ella’s friendship began in early childhood. Since then,they’ve shared together all of life’s joys and hardships. Ella was there when Sophie lost her mom. Sophie was there for Ella when her parents divorced.  Like any real friendship, it has its ups and downs, positives and shortcomings.

90 Days of Different is a light, easy read with a positive message. It’s a great choice to curl up with on the deck or porch and start the summer.

-Lesley L.

The Winnowing

The trickiest questions I’m asked at WPL’s Information Desk often come from vivacious teen dystopian readers. They have already read all the popular titles. They were captivated by The Hunger Games long before it was popular. They were engrossed in Divergent long before it was made into a movie. They devoured Lois Lowry’s books before they even got to high school. So what’s left to recommend? Thankfully, Canadian author Vikki VanSickle has come to the rescue with her latest title, The Winnowing.

The Winnowing offers a retelling of history, mixed with conspiracy and science fiction. After World War II the world faces a spreading infertility crisis. No children have been born since the end of the war and the human race faces extinction. Fast forward to 1989 – the small town of Darby, New Mexico is home to a group of scientists who have miraculously found a way to reverse the crisis. The cure is now administered to all children.

The book begins with a young woman, Marivic, having vivid nightmares of running through burning lava. The dream seems so real that it feels as though her feet are truly being scorched. This is the first sign of ACES (Adolescent Chromosomniatic Episodes), the side effect of the cure that all teenagers experience during the onset of puberty. Next, they will develop extraordinary abilities that stretch beyond human limitations. If they do not undergo a procedure called The Winnowing, they become a danger to themselves and those around them. Those who complete the winnowing are left with hazy memories, unable to recall any specific details of the procedure.

Like all teenagers in Darby, Marivic is sent to a medical centre to be treated for her ACES. Her best friend Saren is already there, having started treatment sometime earlier. Together they encounter a suspicious young man who claims to have information linking The Winnowing to more sinister events.

Science fiction enthusiasts will notice various references to famous sci-fi creators sprinkled throughout the novel, the most notable being the character of Dr. Roddenbury (a nod to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury).

The Winnowing, which is a Red Maple Fiction Award nominee, will appeal to vivacious dystopian fans, as well as those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory.

— Lesley L.

Fighting Cancer. Finding Courage.

“Courage is not always big and bright and loud; sometimes it’s as silent and small as true words, a smile when you’d rather weep, or getting up every day and living with quiet dignity while all around your life rages. You cannot truly love, live or exist without courage. Without it you are simply biding time until you die.”

In 2013 Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Approximately 10 per cent of these cancers will be caused by BRCA1 gene mutation. Those who carry the gene have a drastically increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer at a young age. After learning she carried this gene, Jolie made the decision to reduce her risk and removed both her breasts and later her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Although the gene is hereditary, gene testing is the only way to know if you are a carrier. Jolie is an advocate for gene testing, believing that knowledge is power. She encourages women to learn their options.

wendy-mills-author-photoPositively Beautiful by Wendy Mills begins with 16-year-old Erin heading to school on an ordinary Tuesday. She attends class, laughs with her best friend and studies for a physics test. But her ordinary day comes to a screeching halt when her mother announces she has breast cancer. Life is now split into two categories: before the cancer and after the diagnosis. To make the situation even worse, the cancer was caused by the BRCA gene. Erin has a 50 per cent chance of being a carrier of the gene. However, Erin cannot be tested until she is 18. Even then, the healthcare community recommends she wait until she’s 25 and see a genetic counselor before even thinking about being tested.

How is anyone not supposed to think about such a terrifying situation? Erin is consumed with thoughts of the unknown. Will she have to remove her breasts? She bought her very first bra just a few years before. She hasn’t even thought about having children. Now she’ll have to remove her ovaries? Suddenly the everyday dramas of teenage life seem small and trivial. No one her age can possibly imagine what it’s like to be faced with these decisions. Erin reads about a direct-to-consumer company that will conduct the gene test without having to go through a medical provider. Without telling anyone, she jumps at the chance to find out her status.

When her test comes back positive she reaches out to an online forum for young BRCA gene carriers. She meets a young lady named Ashley who helps her find her own inner strength.

There are some very emotional passages in Positively Beautiful. Both Erin and her mother are incredibly strong women. Although cancer is part of the plot, the main theme of the book isn’t illness, it is courage. Erin shows us that courage lives in all of us, we just need to know where to look.

— Lesley L.

The power of books

There are only eight books in her library. Dita protects every last one of them with her life. Prisoners are forbidden to have books. To be caught with a book is an instant death sentence. The SS guards will send you to the gas chambers. Or worse, they will send you to Dr. Mengele’s experimentation block.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, a 14-year-old Auschwitz prisoner. The few books in her library are tattered, ripped and worn. They are used to teach children in a secret school in Block 31, the family block. It is one of the few places in the camp where there are young children. Those who come to the camp who are deemed unfit for labour (mostly children, the elderly and pregnant women) are sent to the gas chambers. Block 31 is a propaganda tool. It exists to give outsiders the impression that life at Auschwitz is ordinary.

Although it involves difficult subject matter, The Librarian of Auschwitz is not a dark story. It is a story of life and hope. The secret school created by the prisoners in Block 31 serves to go beyond simple teaching: it serves to create a sense of normalcy for the children, to prevent them from giving into despair, to show them that life goes on and to give them hope for better days.

As the librarian, Dita keeps track of which books were lent to which teacher. She collects the books after school and returns them to their secret compartment. At night, she mends their worn out spines with thread and glue smuggled in from the working block. To expand her library, Dita invents the idea of a living library, where adults recite stories and events to the children from memory.

As time goes on and conditions in the camp worsen, Dita draws strength and assurance from her library. The books allow her to forget, even if it’s just momentarily, the terrible place where she’s living.

“A book is like a trap door that leads to a secret attic: you can open it and go inside. And your world is different.”

As a library assistant, I’m always in awe over the power books can hold. The books Dita had were mildew stained and broken but they gave her the ability to transport her mind to somewhere far from the nightmare of Auschwitz. Something as simple as an atlas gave a group of children the chance to see all the major cities and countries on the earth. A history book allowed them to learn about civilizations of the past. They gave hope to a group of people who would otherwise have none. For me, The Librarian of Auschwitz really enforced the importance of libraries. They are so much more than just a collection of books – they open doors to the past and let you dream of the future. Ultimately, they change lives. In Dita’s case, they saved lives.

-Lesley L.


Revisiting a classic

I think that everyone has a book that they read when they were young that made them feel like the author was speaking directly to them, as if the author could see right into their soul, and that no other person would read the book in the exact same way. The book that meant that much to me is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and I know that I pestered my parents and older siblings with constant references to book until they probably thought it might be worth ‘losing’ my library card for a few weeks so I’d find something else to talk about. Written in 1962, it was the winner of the 1963 Newberry Medal, and has never stopped being a touchstone in children’s literature (and, I really think, literature for all). I re-read it almost every year and our shelves at home have more than one copy because our kids have received it as a gift several times. It’s probably good that we have so many copies as each person will want one when they move out.

It’s not just that reading the book takes me back to a cozy time from my reading past, although in a way it does, because the main character – Meg Murry – has a loving family, a wonderful dog, supportive friends. In fact, the book is edgy and has more darkness than you would expect of a novel with a young main character. Part of the appeal of this book is that Meg is at an awkward time in her life, doubting her appearance and her place in the world, but she has to travel across the galaxy to rescue her father with the help of her incredible younger brother Charles Wallace and a new friend, Calvin.  The three kids at the centre of the story are united because they all see themselves as different from their peers and they know themselves well enough to place value on their ability to think independently. Reading this when I was little felt wonderful and I still value their loyalty to one another when I read it now. It’s a story of friendship and trust but the author had a glorious imagination like no one else I was reading at that time – unless I was taking books from my brothers’ bookshelves.

This novel shows all three children facing challenges, doubting themselves, seeing horrible danger approaching and at some moments they despair that they might not succeed in rescuing Meg’s father. Madeleine L’Engle chose not to ‘write down’ or ‘sugarcoat’ a situation for her readers and the first time I read this one I was so worried for the fate of Meg and Charles Wallace. It’s an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, casting Meg as the hero – a girl! – long before that was popular. She is the 1960s version of Katniss Everdeen but uses her love for her father as the weapon against the villains. As the child of scientists with a gift for math and a stubborn streak, Meg was an anomaly in the books I was reading and she continues to be one of my all-time favourite book characters. Her story, her love of her family, and the friendship she forms with Calvin has not aged a bit, making it possible to hand this book out to a young person at the library today and be confident that they will adore it.

Here is some great news for all who love the words of Madeleine L’Engle – her granddaughters have written a biography (for middle-grade audience but I don’t think that matters at all to fans of a woman who wrote for children with such respect) using their family stories, her own manuscripts and journals, and photographs as the basis for the book.  The book has been given the wordy title of Becoming Madeleine: a biography of the author of A Wrinkle in Time by her granddaughters.  I’ve read that her granddaughters had been thinking of doing something to celebrate the author’s 100th birthday (she was born in New York City in November 29 of 1918) and, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics from Hamilton where the cast sings “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”, they knew what they wanted to do.  They chose to focus only on the years of her life up to when this novel was published and tried to examine only documents which were relevant to the biography in an effort to be respectful of their grandmother’s privacy. L’Engle had agreed for all of her papers to be housed at the archive of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois so I’m sure that they must have spent many happy hours there collaborating on this incredible project. It’s a book that will be popular with fans of all ages.

Another significant event happens this year to tie in with her important birthday – the much anticipated film based on A Wrinkle in Time. It’s been adapted before, once for TV, and it wasn’t exactly… perfect. We have that 2003 film here at the library if you would like to check it out. We also have a glorious graphic novel version that is so worth your time. I knew that this new adaptation was in the works and was thrilled to see that Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay would be the powerhouse behind it. It’s a tricky film to produce as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin travel across galaxies and meet wonderful, magical, and spectacular beings so the special effects staff must have been working overtime every weekend. In addition to this challenge DuVernay is producing a film based on something that has lived on in memories for decades so there is pressure there to keep fans happy. In the novel the kids have three guides in their cross-Galaxy journey who are known as “the Mrs.” – sometimes referred to as guardian angels – and DuVernay cast Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. In a recent TIME magazine article she said that she chose them because she wanted “leaders – icons” to play these incredible personalities. Good or bad decision? What do you think? Well, they are such iconic women that I have seen three magazine cover stories featuring them, a Dec 25, 2017 TIME magazine cover, the February 2018 issue of Essence and March 2018 issue of Oprah Magazine. We have copies of these magazines on the library shelves and both Oprah Magazine and TIME are available for you to stream or download through the Digital Library so you can read all about the cast, the movie and how they feel about Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic work.  

I’m not sure how I will feel about any of the decisions the director and producers have made about the most recent film adaptation but I do know that the first time I saw the trailer (@WrinkleInTime takes you to the trailer and all kinds of great news about the movie) in a theatre with my kids I really did tear up. It’s beautiful stuff. And, more than that, it’s simply thrilling that so much attention is being paid to a wonderful story about children who are saving the world, going out to fight against a horrible darkness, to protect their father from something so cruel when they know that they might lose their own life in the fight. I am feeling a little bit worried about what Disney is doing with my very favourite story but I’m hopeful. Please don’t ask me how I feel about the sales of those A Wrinkle in Time Barbies

-Penny M.


The cost of perfection

Kara is intelligent. Kara is flawless. Kara is a fraud.

Teenager Kara has chased perfection since she was a child. Her test scores are always the highest. Her freestyle swimming is always the fastest. Her achievements earned her the nickname “Perfect Kara.”

Her parents have great expectations. They want her to graduate high school with honours and attend Stanford. They want her to follow in their footsteps of academic success. They see her as a tool to be programmed rather than a person with feelings and dreams of her own.

“Pushing yourself is the only way to get better,” her mother warns her. And so Kara does push herself. She pushes until she begins to crack. Anxiety begins to gnaw away at her. She becomes isolated, shutting out her friends.  Her anxiety comes to a head when she faints during the SATs.

What I liked best about Pushing Perfect is how it illustrates that anxiety is a serious problem and not just a phase or a mood. Everyone experiences anxiety now and again, but for some it can be a crippling condition. Panic attacks can often be shrugged off as teenage drama – just something people orchestrate to get attention. But panic attacks are a valid and frightening reality for some. What Kara experiences during her SATs is not uncommon.

The second part of the book is much different than the first. The plot switches gears into a fast paced, suspenseful story. No longer able to control her anxiety, Kara wants to try medication but her parents refuse to give their permission for a prescription.  Kara makes a decision to purchase illegal pills from a dealer instead. Later that weekend she receives a text from a blocked sender, along with pictures of her buying pills. The sender wants some favours in exchange for silence.  Kara soon finds herself giving into the perpetrators demands.

As the story develops, Kara discovers she’s not the only one being blackmailed. Academics, athletes, theatre majors – the perpetrator has trapped students from all corners of the school. A series of clues are left open to the reader – who is the real architect of this scheme? Who is lying and who is the real fraudster?

Pushing Perfect is an action based book that is strongly character driven.  It’s a great read for those who crave a fast-paced plot but also enjoy a strong lead character.

-Lesley L.



The hidden wolves

Wolves are wild. Wolves are sly. Wolves are elusive. Most wolves are never seen.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund is told from the perspective of an adult Linda, trying to make sense of the decisions she made in her youth. In the first chapter we learn that a four-year-old boy named Paul has died and his parents are on trial. It is clear that Linda has a connection to Paul. The remainder of the book flips from present to past giving us clues and details to how Paul came to be part of Linda’s life.

Her teenage years take place in rural Minnesota, miles away from civilization. The setting paints a picture of cold and solitude, much like Linda’s life. She lives in a neglected and derelict cabin, left over from the ruins of a now disbanded commune.  Ignored by her parents, Linda is left to raise herself.

At school she is called ‘commie’ or ‘freak.’ She sits on the outside of things, a permanent spectator, never quite fitting in.

Her isolation is lifted one spring when she meets young Paul and his mother Patra. Linda is offered the job of watching Paul during the day. Patra suggests she adopt the title of ‘governess’ instead of babysitter or nanny, symbolizing her new role within their family. Nurturing does not come easily to Linda. At times Paul irritates her and she struggles to bond with him. But her desire to belong is overwhelming. Paul and Patra offer her an intimacy that she has long desired.

Unfortunately, there are wolves hiding among this seemingly perfect life. Indeed, there are wolves hidden throughout entire the book.

History of Wolves leaves so much to be unraveled; it will be a popular choice for book clubs. Emily Fridlund is a master at creating both descriptive metaphors and themes that cycle through the story. Self awareness is at the core of the book, as is loneliness. It opens up many questions to be answered – who is the real wolf in the story?

History of Wolves was long listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize and was a finalist for the Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards.

-Lesley L.

The Language of Thorns

I confess – I love fairy tales. I love mermaids. I love witches. I love goblins, golems, trolls and elves. I especially love animals that talk. Add in a few magic spells and I’m hooked. There is just something about how fairy tales are written that I can’t resist. There is a benevolent hero with an impossible problem and just when everything seems to be lost *poof!* there is some sort of magical resolution and everyone lives happily ever after.  The heroes always win and villains always lose.

When Leigh Bardugo’s latest book The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic (illustrated by Sara Kipin) crossed my desk, I was thrilled. It’s not often that I find fairy tales written for grownups. Not that this book is hard to miss. The front cover is adorned in bright, detailed artwork. Inside, every page has a vivid illustration. It is worth peeking through just for the art alone.

The Language of Thorns is compromised of six short stories that have similarities to popular fairy tales. You will recognize elements of classic tales such as the Nutcracker and the Little Mermaid. However, each story has a new twist. The princess doesn’t always marry the prince. The hero doesn’t always turn up to save the day. But each story will transport you to a new world of enchanted woods and mythical creatures.

Ayama and the Thorn Wood
“Interesting things only happen to pretty girls.”

A poor farmer is blessed with two daughters: one beautiful and one plain. The beautiful daughter is raised to marry a prince. The plain daughter is sent into the woods to make a treaty with a beast.

The Too-Clever Fox
“Just because you escape one trap, doesn’t mean you will escape the next.”

Koja the Fox has a talent for evading death. Armed with a silver tongue, he has outwitted every predator in the forest. One day a hunter enters the woods and Koja’s wit is put to the test.

The Witch of Duva
“Dark things have a way of slipping in through narrow spaces.

A classic fairy tale turned upside down and inside out. Witches, stepmothers and heroines have their roles reversed in this tale about missing children.

Little Knife
“But as you leave that dark gap in the trees behind, remember that to use a thing is not to own it.”

The old Duke is blessed with a daughter of extraordinary beauty. He schemes to marry her off to the richest man in the kingdom.

The Soldier Prince                                                                                                                       “This is the problem with even lesser demons. They come to your doorstep in velvet coats and polished shoes. They tip their hats and smile and demonstrate good table manners. They never show you their tails.”

Beware of gifts from the clocksmith. Clara could play with dolls for hours. However, when she’s given a wooden toy soldier, strange things begin to happen.

When Water Sang Fire
“I was not made to please princes.”

There have always been whispers about Ulla. That she was different somehow. But no one could deny the power of her voice. Ulla’s fate is forever changed when her song catches the attention of Prince Roffe.

Curl up with The Language of Thorns and live amongst mermaids, witches and golems for an evening. It will leave you feeling happily ever after.

-Lesley L.