The War that Saved my Life

The War that Saved my Life 

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Historical Fiction 

Age: 9-12 




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.


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


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+)


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  )

fatty legs

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)

these are my words

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)


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)


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)

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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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




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.


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.

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.

Book Review for Mabel’s Fables: Crushing It

This is my review of the Middle-grade novel Crushing It by Joanne Levy for Mabel’s Fables bookstore!

Self-described warthog Kat feels she is no match in beauty and popularity to her “best cousin” Olivia, whom Kat likens to a graceful gazelle. Now in seventh grade, Kat is the studious, nerdy Manga lover while Olivia is the school’s leading dancer and beauty trends expert. Both cousins may be complete opposites, but they stick together. Their latest mission: getting a certain boy to ask Olivia to the dance.

That boy is Chris, Kat’s best friend. But he’s changed over the summer – a lot – and so has Kat’s feelings towards him. Olivia has also noticed the change, and yet, however different she and Chris may be, he’s way too cute not to go with to the dance. As the three friends find themselves in tense, nail-biting situations, friendships and loyalties are put to the test.
Nicole’s rave: Crushing It is a simple, enjoyable read filled with wholesome and lovable characters, combined with gut-churning, sweat-inducing middle school drama. Readers will feel those romantic pangs when Kat helps Olivia – however reluctantly – get the boy they both like, they’ll cringe when Kat all-too often lies down like a doormat for Olivia, and they’ll root for Kat when she rises to the occasion. I love that author Joanne Levy never has the two girls turning against each other. There is no cattiness between them, just admirable maturity as they deal with their issues. Fun, funny and “good” silly, Crushing It is a page-turner young readers will relish. – Reviewed by Nicole Abi-Najem

Rating: 4 / 5

Age in store: 11
Perfect for fans of: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny HanThe School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani and Iacopo BrunoThe Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot.

Eye of the Crow

[GOODREADS] “Sherlock Holmes, just 13, is a misfit. His highborn mother is the daughter of an aristocratic family, his father a poor Jew. Their marriage flouts tradition, makes them social pariahs in the London of the 1860s; and son Sherlock bears the burden of their rebellion. Friendless, bullied at school, he belongs nowhere and has only his wits to help him make his way.

But what wits he has! His keen powers of observation are already apparent, though he is still a boy. He loves to amuse himself by constructing histories from the smallest detail for everyone he meets. Partly for fun, he focuses his attention on a sensational murder to see if he can solve it. But his game turns deadly serious when he finds himself the accused, and in London, they hang boys of thirteen.”

Wow. All I can say is, wow! I read this book in one sitting. This is a superb story, written with an eye for detail that must be expected of any mystery, and especially a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Shane Peacock takes us into the early life of Sherlock. It is filled with the grit, smut and intense poverty typical of London life during that time.It’s important to note this because it drives the character of a boy who becomes a cultural icon; born with a brilliant mind but unfortunate circumstances. He doesn’t let one detail go, not one plot or word that is not intricately placed and it all leads us through a topsy turvy adventure. Then, there’s a murder. The crows descend; the sparkle in the night; it all means something; it all matters.



by Carl Hiaasen

[Goodreads] “Unfortunately, Roy’s first acquaintance in Florida is Dana Matherson, a well-known bully. Then again, if Dana hadn’t been sinking his thumbs into Roy’s temples and mashing his face against the school-bus window, Roy might never have spotted the running boy. And the running boy is intriguing: he was running away from the school bus, carried no books, and-here’s the odd part-wore no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy’s trail. The chase introduces him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, some burrowing owls, a renegade eco-avenger, and several extremely poisonous snakes with unnaturally sparkling tails.”

Hiaasen is a seasoned journalist, and his books read as such. He has written some excellent true-to-life thrillers. Flush is the first of his books that I read, and what I love about him is that his passions in life really come through in his work. I mean, the guy has been writing about Florida since he was six! His passion for the environment is the common denominator throughout his books. With Hoot in particular, the lives of the burrowing owls is put in danger after a pancake house wants to plant themselves smack dab on top of their burrows. His settings are seeped with idyllic Florida life, and even though I’ve never been to Florida, Hiaasen seems to represent the many colourful inhabitants of the state with compassion and familiarity.

Fans of Stuart Gibb’s ‘Belly Up’ will be sure to love this.

The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks

by Jeanne Birdsall

A National Book Award winner, this modern classic is perfect for fans of Noel Streatfeild and Edward Eager.

This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.

Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.

That warm, buttery yellow cottage that the Penderwicks arrive to is just the beginning of this sumptuous reading experience. We can all remember that one, unforgettable summer filled with warm, radiant days and fun and adventure.

This book is Anne of Green Gables – with its idyllic setting – meets Little Women – with its strong, well developed characters moving through the pages. If you’re looking for one captivating premise that will sell you on this, you won’t find it. I can say it’s a glimpse into a time filled with small adventures, amazing encounters, beautiful characters – including of the cuddly variety. It’s as if Birdsall had all of them sitting before her as she wrote this, recounting to her that one unforgettable summer.


One of my new favourite books.

The Little Prince

The Little Prince

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

A classic from Europe to the other side of the ocean, The Little Prince is a book I only recently picked up. I read a few pages a while back, but didn’t stick it though long enough to let the charm of the little prince dazzle me. The stories he shares of all the planets he has prior to visited before coming to earth is clearly Exupery’s own comments on society, and the types of people who inhabit it; whether miserable or content.

The Little Prince looks at the world with a delicate eye and these grand, esoteric revelations on love and loss are something that makes me believe it is a better suited as an adult book, however short it may be.

It is classified under the 9-year age range, and I just can’t imagine a child appreciating this  story. While the premise is quirky enough to gauge anyone’s attention, it really is a deep and philosophical book that someone can pick up from time to time, read a passage from, and find some relevance and application to their own lives.