The War that Saved my Life

The War that Saved my Life 

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Historical Fiction 

Age: 9-12 

5/5

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Summary:

Ada is a young girl with the wit and strength of Anne of Green Gables. She’s born with a club foot during the second world war in Britain. Unfortunately, she can’t rely on the support of a loving mother. Ada’s mom unleashes a torrent of insults at her daughter on a daily basis.  She is also physically abusive towards Ada, and locks her up in a cupboard when she’s mad. While Jamey, her younger brother, doesn’t endure the brunt of the mom’s wrath like Ada, the two children share an unbreakable bond that gets them through tough times. They are taken to a town along with other children to house them for safety as London becomes a prime target of Hitler’s invading army during the war. That’s where Ada and Jamey meet Susan, an affluent albeit lonely woman. Although she’s at first reluctant to take on the kids, their bond soon grows fierce throughout the worsening war. Ada meets Butter, a pony that she teaches herself to ride. She gets a pair of crutches that aid in her walking and give her the independence that she has longed for her whole life. We see Ada quickly grow into her own person. The bumps and tribulations along the way are all part and parcel of their transition into their new home, but soon this beloved sanctuary will be upturned as the neglectful mother returns, haunting Ada and Jamey’s life as much as the war itself.

Thoughts: 

Wow! I wasn’t expecting to like the book this much. I’m not typically into historical-fiction, but Ada is such an enthralling character that I was sucked right in.

The story is told in the first-person through Ada’s perspective. Her voice is so authentic that it felt like reading a diary entry. I respect Ada so much, not just because of what she goes through, but how she endures. Even though she’s born with a disability, which is even more limiting in that day and time, her intelligence and bravery make her formidable.

Her relationship to Susan and Jamey, even Butter the pony, add tremendous depth to the story. The plot is rich with meaningful relationships, and not-so meaningful ones that Ada must overcome.

I’d want to read this to any young woman I know. Ada stands among literary heroes like Anne of Green Gables, Harriet the Spy and Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web.

I can’t recommend this book enough! You’ll fall in love with Ada.

Perfect for Fans of: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

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Canada’s History; The Fabric of our Nation: My List for the Children’s Book Bank

This past Sunday, on April 9th, Canada celebrated 100 years since the battle of Vimy Ridge. This year, we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Beyond such singular events however, are countless other stories that often go unheard; they too are stories of our nation. As we honour days like the battle at Vimy, so too do we recognize the rich and intricate tapestry of our nation, including Canada’s Indigenous people, who knew this land before colonizers named it Canada. As we honour those who fought for our freedoms, let us also instil in our children pride and awareness of Canada’s interwoven events, and its countless faces and voices. Together we can endeavour to recognize the diversity of stories that brought us to where we are today.

1. A Soldier’s Sketchbook: The Illustrated First World War Diary of R.H. Rabjohn, by Russell Hughes Rabjohn (Non-Fiction) (Ages 10+)

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This book presents the stunning visuals sketched by soldier R.H. Rabjohn as he recounts his harrowing experiences during the First World War. The edited wartime diaries of this trained artist also include text by historian John Wilson, who conveys Rabjohn’s three years at war. The undeniable artistic talent of the soldier makes this three-volume book a a heart-wrenching account.

2. Fatty Legs: A True Story, by Christy Jordan-Fenton (Autobiographical) (Ages 9-12  )

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This is an amazing first-person account of eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak, an Inuit girl who goes to residential school to learn reading. Only after she arrives there does she realize the pain of being wrenched from her family and home in the high Arctic. Accompanied by stunning illustrations, and archival photos, this is the story of one young girl navigating her own identity, and the people, both kind and unkind, who she encounters at her residential school.

3. Dear Canada: These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens, by Ruby Slipperjack (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 9-12)

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Acclaimed author Ruby Slipperjack has written a powerful novel, which draws on her own personal experiences, about a young heroine’s trials in residential school. The year is 1966, and Violet Pesheens is adjusting to residential school. But while trying to navigate the sea of new people, she has a deep fear: that she will forget her Anishnabe language, her customs, and the names of those she knew before.

4. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged, by Jody Nyasha Warner (Inspired by a True Story)(Ages 5-9)

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The year is 1946, and Viola Desmond, a young African Canadian woman, has just purchased a movie ticket at a Nova Scotia theatre. As she takes her seat in the front row, an employee of the theatre comes up and tells her she must move to the back balcony, because blacks are not allowed at the front. Confronting Canada’s vicious segregation policy, Viola, as the title illustrates, will not be budged.

5. From Vimy to Victory: Canada’s Fight to the Finish of World War I, by Hugh Brewster (Non-Fiction) (Ages 9-12)

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This engaging, multi-award winning scrapbook-style book illustrates Canadian soldiers’ battles and victories during the Great War. Facts and details are accompanied by first-person accounts, letters describing life at the Front, maps, images and diagrams that bring World War I to life.

6. Blood and Iron: Building the Railroad, Lee Heen-gwong, British Columbia, 1882, by Paul Yee (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 9-12)

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Lee Heen’s father and grandfather both have a destructive gambling habit which has left their family in financial ruin. Heen has to make the difficult decision to come to Canada with his father to work on the railway and provide income for his family.   Along the way, Heen experiences the trials and tribulations of the demanding work life, and the friction that inevitably rises between the Chinese and whites, who fail to acknowledge the deaths and horrible conditions forced on the Chinese workers. He records this experience in his journal.

7. Remembering John McCrae: Soldier, Doctor, Poet, by Linda Granfield  (Non-Fiction)(Ages 8-11)

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This is an award-winning tribute to the author of “In Flanders Field.” Through  more than 100 paintings, images and documents that have been put together in scrapbook style by the acclaimed historian Linda Granfield, readers can glean a bit about the life of the poet, doctor and soldier during his service in WWI.

8. Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s Childhood, by Bonnie Farmer & Marie Lafrance (Inspired by a True Story) (Ages  4-8)

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Before becoming a virtuoso Jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson was a young boy still discovering the world. What began as a love for the trumpet soon ended when the young boy contracted tuberculosis, which weakened his lungs to the point that he was unable to play. this marked the day that he turned to the piano, and made history.

9. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, by Margiet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 6-9)

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Using the stunning stone art of Syrian artist Niza Ali Badr, a compelling narrative is woven by Margriet Ruurs to tell the tale of a Syrian family forced to flee their home to escape the civil war. The story moves quietly, yet intrigue is provided by Badr’s multiple stone art scenes depicting the family’s journey. The book is presented in English and Arabic.

10. Dear Canada: An Ocean Apart: The Gold Mountain Diary of Chin Mei-Ling, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1922, by Gillian Chan (Inspired by True Events)(Ages 9-12)

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This is the story about the powerful effects that the Chinese head tax has on Chin-Mei Ling. She and her father are paying for the head tax that will allow her mother and brother to come to Canada, but they must do so fast, before the opportunity closes. Can they do this in time, and what will happen if they continue living an ocean apart from the ones they love?

11. 44 Hours or Strike!  By Anne Dublin (Inspired by True Events) (Ages 12-15)

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This compelling and well-researched tale recounts the Toronto Dressmakers’ Strike of 1931. Sisters Sophie and Rose are brought together in the fight for better work conditions, decent wages, and their union. After Rose is imprisoned after a fight in the picket line, Sophie is left to fend for herself and her mother in worsening winter conditions. This book gives insight into the growing Jewish immigrant population during that time, and the barriers and antisemitism they faced in Canada.

12. Pioneer Kids, by Dean Griffiths (Fiction)(Ages 6-9)

Pioneer Kids

Spanning multiple adventures throughout the series, the fun begins for Matt and Emily when they discover a magical time-travelling sled in Emily’s attic. Other books in the series show them outrunning dinosaurs in the Alberta badlands, panning for gold in the Yukon, and seeing the Silver Dart soar in Nova Scotia’s skies. In this book, they arrive on the Canadian Prairies in 1910. They visit a one-room school house to protect a new friend from a classroom bully, but soon discover that they themselves will need rescuing!

By: Nicole Abi-Najem

The Bonaventure Adventures: Mabel’s Fables Book Review

The Bonaventure Adventures by Rachelle Delaney

 

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Canadian

Puffin Canada

May 2017

Middle grade

As a descendant of a famous Romanian circus family, Seb Konstantinov’s life has always involved skilled performers, animal acts and constant travel. But the once thriving circus has fallen upon hard times and its future is uncertain.

While his father, Dragan, attempts to modernize, Seb goes behind his back and applies to the prestigious Bonaventure circus school in Montreal. There’s only one problem: Seb has absolutely no circus talents. His dismal balance and failed acrobatic skills are a fact that both he and his father have long accepted. But Seb has hope, not only for his circus abilities but for the future of his family’s circus.

To his surprise, Seb is immediately accepted — without so much as a request to audition. As he makes his way from Eastern Europe to snowy Montreal, he soon discovers that the notoriously mean school “Directrice,” Angelique Saint-Germain, has motive for granting Seb acceptance. An old family friend of his father, she believes that Dragan is heir to a lucrative circus empire and that he will save the school from its own financial demise.

Unfortunately, Seb has no remarkable circus skill, nor the finances to help the school. What he can offer, however, is wisdom. As a self-proclaimed circus scholar, Seb knows the power of a story, and with his vision and storytelling abilities, he attempts to bring modernity to the circus and revive his family’s crumbling legacy.

Nicole’s rave: Despite being about the circus, The Bonaventure Adventures is really a story of friendship. Seb and his friends may not be your traditional circus performers, but they each offer a unique set of talents: Frankie does parkour, and her rough life has led to her unconventional acrobatic skills; Banjo, a boy with no internal compass, walks in everywhere late but has fantastic stories to share; and Seb is the scholar of the trio. This all comes in handy, when, through ingenious plotting and a bit of courage, they attempt to save the best circus school in the world.

Rather than over-the-top circus antics performed at lightning speed, Delaney opts for a slow, rhythmic unfolding of events and revelations. Her eloquent writing and attention to detail carried me through. Along with glimpses of Canada, I enjoyed the depth and nuance of The Bonaventure Adventures. Seb’s quest to understand his role in the circus is intertwined with the need to help his family, and inevitably the school itself. Plus, you can never go wrong with a lesson of belonging in one’s unique way.

While there is no thrilling adventure or crazy encounters in The Bonaventure Adventures, it caters well to readers looking for a quiet book about the power of friendship, family and determination. – Reviewed by Nicole Abi-Najem

Rating: 3.5/5

Age in store: 10

Perfect for fans of: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee StewartCircus Mirandus by Cassie BeasleyThe Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.

Kids Media Centre Post: Death in Children’s Literature

Here is an article I wrote for the Kids Media Centre critically analyzing the subject of death in children’s Literature.

http://kidsmediacentre.ca/2016/12/30/death-childrens-books-ever-soon/

 

UrP4fwuq1G3L+lCQHXVjJ4WD9n1O4!fHVzU32t1zotb2XltGqt5NH08Zg1lv!rMx0rUDeeqoUwC9Vrx87vEQ1LSjaF5npgVSlS9ewe+XLyc=  Do you remember when Charlotte crawled across her web and wrote “SOME PIG!” about her beloved Wilbur?

How about when Jess and Leslie discover the Bridge to Terabithia?

Both these children’s books bring us joy and fill us with nostalgia. While their scenes and special moments remain with us, they also contain one of the hardest and heaviest topics that make even adults stir uncomfortably: death.

Bridge to Terabithia book coverAnd yet, Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia are both stories that have endured within our cultural psyche and earned their place among the classics on our shelves.

Death may not seem like a topic we broach with children unless we absolutely must, but the pain of loss, the complexity of grief — simple as it may sound — is a part of life’s learning process. Whether the pain of Charlotte’s death due to old age, or Leslie’s sudden passing after a tragic accident — the sadness remains with us, and that’s not a bad thing.

C. S. Lewis wrote “a children’s story is the best art form for something you have to say … the form makes it easier to see into the depths, even of death.” Childhood may be thought as a blissful state of innocence and naivety, leaving many adults skittering around emotionally heavier topics. But if done with care, introducing children to concepts loss and grief through books can aid during major transitions and difficulties.

Gustave book coverGustave by Remy Simard and Pierre Pratt is a picture book that contains strong colours and compelling imagery. It’s marketed to children as young as four, and while a simple story — it’s also a difficult one. Gustave has lost his brother. In the silent yet suspenseful plot that ensues, with the use of a select few words; Gustave comes to terms with what has happened. It may seem “too much,” after all; no child should be exposed to such a horrific idea of a mouse losing his brother to a cat.

But this is something, writes academic Judith P. Moss, which must be discussed. Otherwise, we would be blind to what child psychologists have already affirmed — children know about death before we give them credit. Moss says her own children began asking about death from the age of three. To let their questions go answered, to let their fears fester because our own fears of ageing and dying are so great, is to ignore questions that come as naturally as any other. “Death has replaced the topic of reproduction,” Moss goes on to write. “Dying has replaced reproduction as the hush-hush topic between parents and children.”

We cannot inure ourselves, no matter our age, from the topic of death. It will always make us uncomfortable. But stories compel healing and deepen understanding.

Ghosts book coverNot all books that deal with the subject matter of death are forthright in their approach. Take Raina Telgemeier — author of the phenomenal bestseller Smile — with her recent graphic novel Ghosts. A family moves to a foggy town to get younger sister Maya better treatment for her cystic fibrosis, which as we know, is a chronic condition with a grim prognosis. Her old sister Cat is also contending with the struggles of an ill sister. Together, they are introduced to a town immersed in the Day of the Dead celebration. And while not as direct as Gustave, through engaging narrative and imagery, both sisters tackle the issue of dying and the loss of loved ones. Many people have told me Ghosts is their favourite Telgemeier book.

To think of death in children’s book is to reassess our perception not only of children’s content, but a child’s own level of understanding. Books are a powerful medium that allows for quiet contemplation and brings to light subjects some may otherwise, be too nervous to discuss aloud. So, as we continue to buy and give kid’s books, we should not be afraid to pick up the ones that make us a bit uncomfortable; they will do our children and us a great service.

BEOWULF

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Author: Micheal Morpugo

Genre: Mythology

What it’s About: Michael beautiful retells the epic tale of Beowulf, a brave young man living in fifth-century Denmark. He is called upon by a noble village King to defeat the wicked Grendel, a monster who terrorizes the small town.

Where even the might of the sword fails, Beowulf relies on the God-given strength of his body to slay the monster.

But the victory doesn’t mark the end of his trials. Driven by grief, Grendel’s mother mourns the loss of her son and is sent on a slaughtering spree.

Beowulf also defeats her, but even a great man has his fall. Beowulf will meet his end when he faces off with the mighty dragon.

An epic tale, Morpugo’s retelling keeps the story intact while making it accessible to young readers through this seamless writing style.

RAVE: I absolutely adored this tale. I am not one to wade through old English, but I still thirsted for this epic tale that has impacted popular culture. I finally feel I know this story, and can fully appreciate it. Morpugo writes beautifully, but he keeps the style of the original tale in tact. Accompanied with fantastic illustrations throughout, this book dissolves the barrier of intimidation so often faced when coming to a work of great esteem.

Siren Sisters

Siren Sisters 

By Dana Langer 

The only light comes from a ring of tiny candles, flames shivering and casting shadows on the wall. My sisters are lying there and fast asleep. And they’re not the only ones. There are other girls asleep in that room, girls with strange hair and scales on their feet.Girls who look a lot like us.” 

A soon-to-be siren finds herself responsible for the lives of her sisters—and the fisherman they curse—in this haunting debut novel that Kirkus calls “an exciting fantasy with a heart-stopping ending by an author to watch.”

Lolly Salt has three beautiful sisters. When they’re not in school or running their small town’s diner, they’re secretly luring ships to their doom from the cliffs of Starbridge Cove, Maine. With alluring voices that twelve-year-old Lolly has yet to grow into (not that she wants to anyway) the Salt sisters do the work mandated by the Sea Witch, a glamorously frightening figure determined to keep the girls under her control. With their mother dead after a terrible car crash, and their father drowning in grief, the sisters carry on with their lives and duties…until a local sea captain gets suspicious about the shipwrecks.

On the day before her birthday, Lolly watches in helpless horror as her sisters are lured themselves by curse-reversing fishermen—and suddenly it’s up to her and her best friend Jason to rescue the sirens of Starbridge Cove.

The middle-grade debut novel by Langer is an instantly riveting read for any young ones seeing the darker side of stories and mythologies. It reads like an Alice Hoffman book, with its incorporation of unique towns, and strange magic brewing there. With expertise and subtlety, Langer imbues her story with mythologies of sirens and mermaids from around the world. Even I found myself having to take a break at its darker moments. Sirens are certainly a unique subject in mass fiction. While mermaids may be more common, but this one specifically addresses a young character and her sisters, who traverse the world of normalcy and sirens. The only downfall is the lack of detail. I don’t think the fact that it’s a middle-grade novel is a valid excuse. I found myself wanting to find out more about a grand revelation, or how the character necessarily came to a conclusion or decision.

Fatty Legs

Fatty Legs

By Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls — all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school.

Fatty Legs may not be on the ‘Indigenous Reads’ radar when compared to the heavyweights like Joseph Boyden and Gordon Downie, but the enduringness of this light book is prolific. This is not a story devised of imagination, but the true tale of a young girl who was drawn to the allure of residential schools. Much like the adventures of Alice in Wonderland, which she learns to read and falls in love with: Pokiak, too, finds herself swept in a topsy-turvy world.

In what proves to be a heart-wrenching narrative, we are guided along this journey with her. We grieve with her over the loss of identity, the challenges she endures being in the residential school and the ultimate acceptance of her Inuit traditions.

By far, this is one of the best books for your readers that I have read this year. It is profound.