What We’re Reading: Kids

From Beth-Anne


Be Grateful Little Bear by Kara Evelyn-McNeil, illustrations by Max Scratchmann

Kara Evelyn-McNeil, a children’s entertainer from Whitby, Ontario wrote her first book Be Grateful Little Bear in hopes that parents will start a discussion with their children about being grateful for the blessings in their own lives. Little Bear finds himself alongside the proverbial fence, looking over at what appears to be greener pastures, but his loving parents remind him of the many wonderful traits that make him a special bear. The message, be proud of who you are, resounds loud and clear and served the purpose the author intended. My three boys sat around after the oldest had read the book aloud, and (yes, at my prompting) listed the things that make themselves and their brothers special.


Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon

Preston-Gannon, the first UK recipient of the Sendak Fellowship, spent one month living with and learning from Maurice Sendak, and Dinosaur Farm proves she is worthy of such an honour. This beautifully illustrated story tells how hard life is on a farm: waking up early, caring for your animals and tending to the earth but in a whimsical twist the animals that populate this farm are not chickens, cows and pigs . . .they are dinosaurs! The creative way the text is displayed makes reading with expression much easier for budding orators. My middle son spoke in a loud voice when reading BIG and a much quieter voice when reading small. But perhaps it is the textless illustrations that tell the reader the most. The last image we’re left with is of the farmer fast asleep tucked in his bed with his dinosaurs that have crept in through the open gate, asleep all around his bedroom. My boys were quick tell the “story” on that final page and to make a connection to another of their favourite bedtime stories, Goodnight ,Gorilla.


Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas by DK Simoneau and David Radman, illustrations by Brad Cornelius

When Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas arrived at our house there were enough squeals of delight from my youngest to trick one into believing that it was Christmas morning and not a hot, humid July day. To say that my three boys are obsessed with Christmas, Santa and all things related would be a gross understatement. In fact, as I type this now, my youngest (age 3) is watching Barney’s Christmas on Netflix (reserve your judgement, I needed some time to hammer this out). DK Simoneau and David Radman have written a Christmas tale that must be added to your night before Christmas reading list. In this story, nothing is quite right on Christmas Eve. The elves are now 7 feet tall trolls, the stockings have been replaced with long underwear and most concerning, Santa’s suit is not red! It’s purple! My boys loved this book and everything about it – the whimsical fonts, the twists on the traditional and the illustrations. Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas now has a place in our Christmas tales reading box . . . after my youngest slept with it in his bed for three nights.


Kitty Hawk and The Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

The first book in the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective series will have you hooked! What’s not to love? Canadian adventure, a fearless heroine and endearing characters . . . the Kitty Hawk series by Iain Reading is a breath of fresh air among the vampires, werewolves and teen angst that have dominated the young adult genre for the past few years. What’s more, the author has included an additional reading list and two websites for adventure enthusiasts to explore.

From Nathalie

We continue to (try to) make time for creating art hereabouts, and I am newly inspired.  I was at the Cabbagetown Outdoor Art Festival on the weekend and fell in love with the art of Judy Anderson of Kukucaju, which captures wonderfully the subversive violence of children’s stories and imaginations.  Her Big Sister caught my eye; art that endorses eating one’s siblings is something that would go over well in our house, where it’s not all brotherly love.  Check out her website.  You can have you own kids’ drawings turned into a custom-made piece of 3-D art.

One great book in our art adventure is the Big Book of Everything Manga.  Youngest (6) has had great success with the manga monsters and robots, and the drawings range from very simple to complex.  It’s a great art instruction book for artists of varying levels of ability.imgres-4Middlest (9) is awash in bookish goodness: two new releases in his favourite series.  Last month, it was the sixth book in Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Escape from Lucien.  Until we went to hear him speak, I had not read the Amulet books, but Kibuishi was such a great speaker that I read all of the books in the series in a single sitting.  They feature a really plucky heroine, who is brave and good and flawed.  She wears an amulet that gives her power, but whether it is for good or evil is still unclear.  In a world of kids’ books that are starkly black and white with respect to good and evil, I like how Kibuishi keeps us guessing about his plot and characters.

imgres-5Middlest is also reading book five in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series: Pirates of the Silver Coast.  Lots of plot twists and cliff hangers here, too.

One thing I’ve noticed with his consumption of these graphic novel series is that he re-reads them over and over again.  I used to fret about his re-reading these instead of trying out new chapter books, but it’s obvious that he has a real love for these books.  He’s rushed out to get the new books in the series, bless him, and now makes a habit of asking me to check publication dates for his favourite authors.  That’s some serious book love right there.

Middlest is also reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Perhaps you’ve heard of that oneI’m reading the Harry Potter books aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and then Middlest goes off and reads ahead.  I’m really enjoying myself with these books.  Youngest keeps stopping me to ask what words mean, which is sometimes frustrating, but, then again, he keeps stopping me to ask what words mean.  He’s listening!  He’s engaged!  He’s learning!  Coincidentally, Kazu Kibuishi has done the cover art for the latest edition of the Harry Potter books.  Cue my collector’s obsession….


Finally, Eldest (13) is reading The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

Eldest: We had Library today.

Nathalie: What book did you choose?

Eldest: The Name of This Book is Secret.

Nathalie:  Ooooh!  I liked that one.  It’s very meta-textual.  Why did you pick that one?

Eldest: It fell on my head.

Nathalie: Seriously, why did you choose it?

Eldest: Seriously, it fell on my head.

Here endeth the attempt at intelligent discussion about books.  You win some, you lose some.


On the Canadian Flyer for Adventure

My boys really enjoyed the popular Magic Tree House series written by American author Mary Pope Osborne. In it, brother and sister Jack and Annie travel back in time through the conveyance of a mysterious, magical treehouse.  The series captures the interests of children between the ages of six and nine (dinosaurs! pirates! princesses! ninjas!) and teaches them about both world and American history in a fun (for a child) and engaging way.

My only regret while sharing these books with my children, and this is not a criticism of the series per se, was that the series is so focused on American history.  So I was pleased to find a similarly-themed series of Canadian books, called the Canadian Flyer Adventures series. Like the kids in the Magic Tree House series, the protagonists of the Canadian Flyer Adventures series use a magical conveyance (this time, an antique sled that had belonged to one character’s grandmother) to travel back in time to places and events of importance in Canadian history: through these books, we’ve visited L’Anse aux Meadows, what is now the Alberta Badlands during the time of the dinosaurs, and Alexander Graham Bell’s home in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. We’ve learned about the Underground Railroad and what it was like in to live in Canada during the second World War.   Each book provides the reader with a series of quick facts about each topic, as well. While not quite as comprehensive as the Magic Tree House series, the Canadian Flyer Adventure series books provide an adventure-filled and interesting introduction to Canadian history for the junior school set. I recommend them to your budding Canadian historians.

Happy Welcome Home, Martin Frobisher Day!

I have a confession to make.  After reading it your opinion of me may drastically change.  Most likely you will shake your head, tsk tsk and wonder how a person can make it through to adulthood and not have an understanding of such elementary cultural celebrations.

My kindergartener son came home from school last week and was bubbling with excitement as he produce from his monogrammed red back pack various crafts and colourings featuring turkeys, cornucopias, and harmonious nuclear families sitting down to feast.  As we sifted through the artwork (destined for the “artwork bin”) he babbled on about Thanksgiving with the same excitement most people have for Christmas (I realize that this is coming).  When his younger brother came home from pre-school he was sporting a construction paper crown that vaguely resembled a turkey – if turkeys had googley eyes and neon yellow and purple feathers.   Naturally this caused a ruckus.  While my oldest was smitten with his own handiwork minutes earlier he desperately coveted the Turkey Crown that his brother was parading around.  His brother was having no part in sharing and made this abundantly clear while announcing to us “My schurckey hat is just for yooking!  No touching!”

Once order was restored with the help of bribery a good heart-to-heart discussion, my boys asked me if I knew what Thanksgiving was.  I chuckled.  Patted their innocent little heads.

“Of course I do, sweeties.”

Okay dear readers, if you know your Canadian history and you are still with me, this is when the headshaking and eyeball rolling will commence.

Obviously it is impossible to celebrate 30 Thanksgiving feasts and not know what it is all about.  It’s when the pilgrims and the natives buried the hatchet and sat down for some turkey, cranberry sauce and corn.  The natives shared their crop so that the land-stealers (err, I mean pilgrims) wouldn’t starve to death.  It is the classic example of putting aside grudges and sharing with others.

Before I shared my cornucopia of knowledge (pun intended), I decided to do a quick cross-reference of my facts.  I figure that the many hours I spent watching American television as a child may not constitute historical accuracy.

Well it is a good thing that I did! Apparently the Seavers and the Huxtables had led me astray.  Blasted American sit-coms!

According to the people at Wikipedia, Canadian Thanksgiving was long celebrated by the First Nations people as a way to give thanks for the bountiful harvest well before any Erikkson, Johnson or Champlain erected a four-bedroom, two-car garage suburban home.  However, when the European settlers did celebrate their first Thanksgiving it was to give thanks that explorer Martin Frobisher had successfully returned home after searching for the Northwest Passage.

It is important to note that the first European Thanksgiving on Canadian soil was to celebrate that Frobisher had returned home.  He had not found the Northwest Passage but he didn’t die a lonely, icy death like Henry Hudson and John Franklin.

So you see Canadian readers, our first Thanksgiving wasn’t about thanking the First Nations people for sharing their bountiful crops with the settlers (and therefore staving off scurvy) or about celebrating a significant geographical find.  In true Canadian form, in was about good manners: hosting an appropriate homecoming for a long-lost traveler.

As we sit down for our harvest feast and give thanks for bountiful crops we have access to, what are you particularly grateful for this year?

I have to admit that I am thankful that the “when in Rome” adage prevailed in Canada because “Happy Thanksgiving” has a much better ring to it than “Happy Welcome Home Martin Frobisher Day”.  Besides which, teachers would have been stymied trying to come up with creative art projects.

P.S.  Don’t feel too badly for Mr. Frobisher.  He has an inlet named for him in the Arctic Ocean and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.  Not too shabby for failing to find the Northwest Passage.

photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Frobisher