After much thought and many conflicted feelings, I've decided to close this blog.
Over the last year, requests for reviews have been accelerating, and even restricting myself to Canadian children's literature, I find I can't keep up. The proof is collecting dust on my bookshelves - over 200 titles that I've purchased to read for my own enjoyment and haven't had time to get to!
Another reason is that, even when they're fun, reviewing and interviewing require a huge time commitment. I feel that time needs to be redirected to my own writing career.
In the next few months, I'll be launching a shiny new blog, and will post the details here for anyone who wants to keep hanging out with me. In the meantime, thank you to all of the authors whose work I've discovered through Ten Stories Up. And an enormous thank you to all of my readers - your presence and participation have brightened my life.
Hugs for all,
Jul 6, 2012
Series: Great Ideas Series
Author: Monica Kulling
Illustrator: David Parkins
Publisher: Tundra Books
Book source: review copy from publisher
From the publisher:
In 1850, Margaret Knight was different from most girls growing up in America. She loved to work with tools and fashion things with wood - people claimed she made the best kites and sleds in town! By the age of twelve, Margaret was working at the local cotton mill alongside her two older brothers. One day a shuttle came loose form a giant loom and flew across the room, injuring a young worker. This inspired her to invent a stop-motion device - the first of her many inventions. Best known for designing a machine that made the flat-bottom paper bag, Margaret Knight became a woman of astounding accomplishment.It always amazes me how much a good writer can achieve in a very few words. There can't be more than a thousand in this book, but Kulling manages to describe Margaret Knight's childhood, her major inventions, and the cultural attitudes she had to overcome as a woman in a world that believed only men could understand machines. The portrait that emerges is of a smart, strong, determined lady that boys and girls alike will admire. In addition to being packed with information, there's a lovely story-telling feel to this book - I especially liked the link Kulling creates between Margaret's first visit to Maxwell's store and her final one.
I loved the illustrations in this book as well - they add a wealth of detail. From the clothing people wore in Matty's day, to the details of the machinery, to the facial expressions which evoke so much emotion, Parkins' images enhance every page. I had fun studying them for interesting period details, and loved the way characters in the background of one illustration became central to the action in later pages.
A great book for kids and libraries alike.
For more information, check out Monica Kulling and David Parkins' websites.
Jul 3, 2012
Author: Gwenda Bond
Publisher: Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot Books)
Book source: review copy from publisher
Release date: Sept 4, 2012
From the publisher:
On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.
Miranda, a misfit girl from the island's most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can't dodge is each other.I once wrote a story about the Lost Colony. In mine, Christopher Columbus showed up and took all the people as slaves. I was in seventh grade. I wasn't nearly as concerned about logic, fact checking, and the orderly progression of space-time as I am now.
This story is much better than mine was. (Shocking, I know!) Bond ties the historical mystery to contemporary events in an interesting, unusual way, and does a great job of building tension throughout the story. She also creates cheer-worthy characters. Despite all of her misfortunes, Miranda manages to stay strong and kick a little butt on her own behalf, while Phillips is a perfect blend of sweetheart and badass. I also have a crush on Sidekick, Miranda's big floppy dog (all books are better with one of those).
I felt a little bit rushed during the climax, but overall, this is a fun read that brings something fresh to the genre. Good for fantasy and history fans alike.
For more information on Gwenda Bond, visit her website.
Jun 29, 2012
Series: Righting Canada's Wrongs
Authors: Pamela Hickman and Masako Fukawa
Publisher: James Lorimer & Company
Book source: review copy from publisher
From the cover:
One of the less attractive characteristics of Canadians as a group is our smugness - our conviction that no matter what terrible things are happening in other countries, they don't happen here. Or so we like to tell ourselves. Japanese Canadian Internment is the first book in a new series for teens that's devoted to injustices the Canadian people (and their government) have inflicted on each other. It's not comfortable reading, but it's necessary. We need to remember that Canadians are people - with as much capacity for greed and close-mindedness and casual evil as people anywhere.When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, there were over 20,000 Japanese Canadians living in British Columbia. From the first arrivals in the late nineteenth century, they had taken up work in the province, established families and communities, and had become part of Canadian society, depsite frequently being faced with racism and prejudice in its many forms.But with war came wartime hysteria. After Pearl harbor, Japanese Canadian residents of BC were rounded up and forced to move to internment camps with inadequate housing, water, and food. Their homes and properties were seized. Men and older boys were sent to road camps, while some families ended up on farms where they were essentially used as slave labour. Eventually, after years of pressure, the Canadian government admitted that the internment was wrong and apologized for it.
Through historical photographs, documents, and first-person narratives from five Japanese Canadians who were youths when they endured the experience, this book provides a full account of an important and shocking episode in Canadian history.
This book provides reality checks in abundance. It covers the history of Japanese people in Canada, beginning with the first immigrant in 1877 and ending with the Canadian Government's reparations for its policies during World War II. It's presented in the style of DK's Eyewitness series, as a series of photographs with detailed captions. The photographs are as eye-opening as the European WW II images most people are more familiar with.
The inherent shortcoming of the format is that it leans more towards sound bites and less towards context and synthesis. The phenomenal success of the Eyewitness series, however, suggests that most kids don't share my bias on this point, and I expect they'll devour Japanese Canadian Internment. Especially evocative are the reprints of political cartoons from the era, and the first-hand accounts of the real people who survived internment as children.
The book's back matter includes a timeline, detailed glossary, and extensive further reading section. Due to its subject matter and curriculum tie-ins, this book will make a great addition to school libraries. Young history buffs will also get lost in its pages.
Jun 22, 2012
Author: Max Tell
Publisher: Max Tell Productions
Source: review copy from author
The Heart Shaped Tree is a recording of two stories and a song, all performed by author and storyteller Max Tell. When I popped the disc into my player, my first thought was "What are these tracks called?" There's no labeling on the disc itself (or in iTunes), which was a little disconcerting right at first. However, my rapidly-arriving second thought was, "Wow, this guy's voice is amazing!" Not just the timbre and crystal-clear enunciation, but his pacing and timing, which vividly demonstrate that silence is as important as sound. Then I caught myself daydreaming about other audiobooks I'd love to hear him narrate and had to rewind so I wouldn't miss the content.
Track 1 - The Heart Shaped Tree
The title track is the story of two kids who form a friendship despite their family's feud (Romeo and Juliet without the naughty bits). It has a really interesting Grimm's fairy tale feel to it, and is so clearly described that it's oddly visual - I could picture the action with great clarity. Tell also uses sound effects (tongue clicking and hissing) that kids will love to join in with, and the musical accompaniment underscores the emotion of each scene.
Track 2 - A song about books
This one reminded me of old-fashioned ballads and folk songs, if they happened to be about books. The part I liked best was the contrast between the minor key (my favorite) and the occasional, totally unexpected funny bits in the lyrics.
Track 3 - A funny story about bad handwriting
In fact, the main character is the only kid in town whose writing is legible. In contrast to "The Heart Shaped Tree", this story is comedic, with lots of word play, repetition, and rhyme in dialogue. While listening to it, I was struck by how different Max Tell's voice sounded as he performed it, relative to the sound of Track 1. There's a wonderful synergy between the tone of the story and the tone of his voice. Great fun!
Appropriate for kids as young as six, I recommend The Heart Shaped Tree for your next family road trip!
For more information on Max Tell, his concerts, and his CDs, visit his website. You can preview audio clips of his work for free.
Jun 15, 2012
Series: Bree, Book 2
Author: Yolanda Ridge
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Book source: review copy from author
From the jacket:
Bree's grandmother's farm is about to be destroyed by a superhighway unless Bree can stop it. Convinced that saving the land will make her grandma happy again, Bree tries to rally cousins and neighbors. In the process, she uncovers some shocking things about her own relatives. If she isn't able to save the farm, can she at least manage to save her family? And will progress come at too high a price?
In Yolanda Ridge's first book, Bree, an enthusiastic tree climber, has to fight to overturn her condo development's bylaw against it. I really enjoyed Trouble in the Trees and was looking forward to Road Block.
Bree's grown a little bit in this installment - she's more thoughtful, more confident, and more strategic. These qualities come in handy, because she's still got her keenly-developed sense of injustice, and the will to do something about it. And this time, the injustice isn't entirely imposed by outside forces. This time, not all of Bree's family members see things the way she does, adding an extra layer of complication to the story. It doesn't stop her, however, from doing what she believes is right.
I have only one teeny complaint about Road Block. Bree's up against a bigger challenge than she was in Trouble in the Trees, and I wanted to watch her struggle with it a little longer before coming to a resolution. I doubt this will be a problem for middle-graders, however, who will appreciate the story's rapid forward movement. They'll also love the idea that a regular kid has the power to make such a big difference in her world.
I think this series has great potential for reluctant readers. I'd also recommend it to fans of Carl Hiaasen.
For more information on Yolanda Ridge and her books, visit her website. You can also check out her interview here at Ten Stories Up.
Jun 12, 2012
Author: Sylvia Gunnery
Publisher: Pajama Press
Book Source: review copy from publisher
From the cover:
He's rude. He's angry. His home life is a mess. He's already told her that she isn't his type. But there is something about Leo that appeals to Emily anyway. And she needs an ally; her boyfriend just dumped her and she has family troubles of her own. Maybe together they can pick up the pieces?
I love books that remind me exactly what it felt like to be a teenager. And books where guys and girls have relationships that aren't about the luuuurve. And books that have so much real-life drama that they don't need magic and vampires and the end of the world (although I love those too). Most of all, I love books that are sweet and funny and then kick you in the gut with totally poignant lines.
Emily For Real is all of those books at once. It's one of those books that made me want to call in sick to work because staying home and reading it seemed like a better idea. One that will get re-read several times and cause me to read everything else the author's ever written.
Why are you still reading this? Go read the book instead. Especially if you're a fan of Sarah Dessen or Susan Juby.
I couldn't find a website for Sylvia Gunnery, but there's some info on her Goodreads page and this interview by CM Magazine.