What We’re Reading: Kids’ Edition

From Beth-Anne

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Recipe for Adventure Hong Kong by Giada De Laurentiis

Continuing along with this series, my eldest chose this book for his Cereal Box Book Report. The story followed the same pattern of siblings, Alfie and Emilia, being magically transported to another country to learn about its food and culture. I am amazed by how much my son does learn about other cultures from these books, and it’s mostly from the conversations that occur after he’s closed the cover. To honour our ritual we will be dining in an authentic Chinese restaurant. After reading Naples, we indulged with pizza at Libretto, Mother’s Day was extra special by enjoying a fancy schmancy Parisian dinner here and I still owe him a New Orleans dining experience. Any Torontonians, I welcome your suggestions for both New Orleans and Chinese!

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Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate Di Camillo

My middle son thoroughly enjoyed the entire Mercy Watson series and is delighted that the adventures continue with Leroy Ninker’s charming spin-off. Di Camillo is a favourite author in these parts, and judging by the snickers that I hear coming from his room and how excitedly he retells the chapters to me, she doesn’t disappoint with this book either!

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Knuffle Bunny Trilogy by Mo Willems

My youngest has fallen for Knuffle Bunny just as his older brothers before him. Can I just say, I love these books? My youngest has a strong attachment to his “Georgy” and this trilogy from Mo Willems serves as the perfect books to engage his critical thinking. I like to ask him questions that encourage him to make connections to the text (the classic: relate and reflect) and to infer what’s going to happen next.   But put all of that learning aside, these books are just so much fun! The illustrations using a combination of photography and drawing could be great inspiration for a summer writing project for older kids. Now that I think of it . . .

From Nathalie

Like Beth-Anne, we love all of Mo Willems’s books in this house, especially the learn-to-read Elephant and Piggie books.

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I am of the opinion that Mo Willems should rule the world, but children’s author world dominion dreams aside, I am all about imaginary wish fulfillment.

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Enter The Candy Conspiracy by Carrie Snyder, who has been our guest on the blog and whose books for adults we have loved.  Carrie has invented a world made of candy, with lollipop trees and a cupcake castle.  So far, so sweet, but the Juicy Jelly Worm who resides in the castle does not like to share, and all the kids in Candyville can only stand and watch while their monarch gobbles all the goodies himself.  Candy-craving kids get clever (and alliteration gets contagious, apparently!), and candy-flavoured democracy will have its day.

For middle grade readers, Middlest and his friends are loving the Big Nate books by Lincoln Pierce.  Told in comic strip style, they feature hapless and endearing Nate, who finds himself in trouble again and again.  And the boys have read and reread these books again and again.  One added bonus of my son and his best friend reading these books is that they’ve also gone back to the classic Calvin and Hobbes, which does a mother’s heart good to see.

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Finally, for young adults, I recently read Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra.

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The protagonist of this novel is Leonora Summerville, a bright spark, a beauty, an heiress and a thorn in her older sister’s side because Leo may prove difficult to marry off.  A speech disorder causes her to stutter, but it also allows her to imitate other people’s voices with eerie precision, earning her the moniker Mad Miss Mimic.  Set in 19th century London, where opium fever is raging, the book is full of period detail.  Medical and political intrigue abound, as her brother-in-law’s medical use of opium and her suitor’s political ambitions come under threat from the bombing campaign of the mysterious Black Glove Gang, who oppose the government’s proposed ban on the importation of opium.  Add two handsome and charismatic young men who vie for Leo’s attention and affection, and you have the ingredients for a ripping good yarn.  I read it in a single sitting.  Sarah and I were in graduate school at the University of Toronto together, and she is now a professor of English literature at Ryerson University.  Mad Miss Mimic is her first novel, and what an outing it is!

From Carol

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In The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson, Prince Raphael will inherit the kingdom from his dying father provided he can find a woman equal to him in beauty, intelligence and wealth.  This proves rather tricky, since Raphael is an arrogant and conceited fellow.  The story of how Rosamund overcomes Raphael’s vanity and prejudices is at once magical, clever and lyrical.  Nathalie will be horrified, but I didn’t register the author of the book before reading it, although the writing soon prompted me to check.  Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, had my boys were riveted. We read so many books, and I love the exposures to so many adventures, but I recognized immediately the quality of writing in this book, and my children’s response to it revealed that they did too.

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Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham also made an impression on my boys. When Tashi’s mother becomes too sick to pick tea leaves in the Himalayan mountains with the other workers, Tashi tries to go in her place. Too small for the task, and frightened for her mother’s health, she finds aid from unlikely friends, who gather for her the rarest of teas in the world. The plight of the working poor, heightened by the nasty Overseer, is depicted effectively enough that it’s unsettling that only Tashi and her mother’s dependence on the work of picking tea are alleviated at the story’s end. Beautifully illustrated by Juan Wijngaard.
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One of the things I deeply envy about my husband is a large cardboard box in the basement which holds the best reads from his childhood. He wanders down there when he’s looking for a new novel for the kids, and emerged one night with Witches by Roald Dahl.  Shortly after he read it to my boys, my eldest (who just turned 9) asked me to read it again.
A young boy (the nameless narrator) and his grandmother (his parents die early on) first try to avoid and then are forced into the world of “real witches”, who are cleverly disguised as ordinary women.  After personally and irreversibly experiencing what the witches are planning to unleash on children in England, the narrator must try to stop them.
It was such a fun read, with perfect illustrations by Quentin Blake, and is poignant without sentimentality. I loved the matter-of-fact mutual adoration and interdependence of the narrator and his grandmother. The adventure and fantasy are wonderful, but the understated love between this unlikely pair resonates at least as much.

If you buy any of these books from Indigo, we will get a teeny tiny percentage of the sale.  If you buy any of these or other kids and teen books in-store between June 5-7, you will get 10 times the plum points.

What We’re Reading Kids

Here are our recommendations for some great reads over the March Break and beyond.

From Beth-Anne

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Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book by Mo Willems

My middle son received this book as a Christmas gift, and hasn’t put it down since. Every night I hear him giggling in his room reading the latest funnies that this Pigeon is up to, and in the morning he emerges from his bunk-bed fort with a newly completed activity. If you have a Mo Willems fan on your hands, this is a sure-fire best bet. I can’t help but think if you’re about to jet off somewhere this book would make for a welcome addition to the carry-on.

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This is the Greatest Place: The Forbidden City and the World of Small Animals by Brian Tse, Illustrated by Alice Mak, Translated by Ben Wang

This beautifully illustrated book teaches children about ancient Chinese culture and customs. Through a series of adventures, the children learn about how delicate the balance is between humanity, animals and nature. If a trip to China is not anywhere in your near future, this book is the next best thing.

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I Love You Near and Far by Marjorie Blain Parker, Illustrated by Jed Henry

Sometimes, the people we love the most are not an arm’s length away. I often think of friends whose families are separated by an ocean
and I wonder if I would ever have the fortitude to parent my boys while my husband is on a months long military mission, like my good friend. That’s what makes I Love You Near and Far such a special book, it reminds us that cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, grandparents and even moms and dads can love each other regardless of where they call home.

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The Possible Police by Wylde Scott, Illustrations by Hannah K. Shuping

Along the lines of The Little Engine That Could, The Possible Police encourages children to be true to themselves and follow their dreams regardless of the naysayers. The rhyme is catchy and the text flowery but it’s the whimsical illustrations that are simply captivating.

imgres-5Recipe for Adventure: Paris! by Giada De Laurentiis

My oldest one is a bit of a reluctant reader when it comes to fiction. Give him a sports magazine or a baseball stats book and he’s set, but ask him to choose a novel to read, and that’s when the excuses start. He had some success with the Canadian Flyer series (a Canadian spin on the popular Magic Treehouse series), Jake Maddox and his sports tales are a favourite and now we can officially add celebrity chef turned children’s author Giada De Laurentiis’s Recipe for Adventure series to the “approved” list. With the first adventure to Naples behind him, he’s moved on to Paris. The stories are engaging and light-hearted without any of the silliness that I loathe to find in books marketed to emerging readers. Emilia and Alfie are in the City of Lights and have discovered pain au chocolat, crepes and escargot. My son is adventurous when it comes to food and I’ve made him a deal to follow up each book with a cooking session (recipes are included) and a date night at an aptly themed restaurant.

From Nathalie

Charlie’s Dirt Day

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli

See You Next Year

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Todd Stewart

Two new picture books from Andrew Larsen should top your March Break reading list: Charlies’s Dirt Day is a perfect springtime read, and if you spend any part of this break planning the summer break, the wonderful See You Next Year will remind you of all that there is to look forward to with a summer escape.

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Charlie’s Dirt Day begins with an informal parade, a parade to a massive pile of dirt that the mayor is giving away.  (Do you have a city councillor or local official who does this?  I love our annual neighbourhood dirt days!  Everyone rolls up to fill a bucket or a barrow to nourish their young gardens with free compost from the city.)  Charlie is given his very own seed to grow, and he and his neighbour turn the tomatoes that he grows into a delicious spaghetti sauce.  This is a wonderful read-aloud, as the rhythm of the story carries you along trippety trip tripping with Charlie to the park and then back home to await the magic borne of sun and water and care.  The book ends with a two-page spread of science about dirt and compost, city gardens grown on balconies and community gardens that let city-dwellers grow their own food.  Pair this book with an outing to Canada Blooms, and your littlest gardeners will be raring to go.

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See You Next Year is all about the joy of summer holidays and their predictable routines and rituals.  It’s got a lovely lyrical quality to it, and there’s a comforting and wistful tone to the narrator’s recounting of her annual summer holidays at the beach.  Each year, she returns to the same motel by the beach, and she delights in recounting all of the sights and sounds of the summer season.  The illustrations are stunning, and Todd Stewart’s particular gift is with light: the light of a bonfire, of the bandstand, of the setting city sun.  If you are aching for the summer season, this is a great book to bring it just that wee bit closer.

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For middle grade readers, Middlest is on his second reading of the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins, who later wrote The Hunger Games.  There are five books in the series that features a boy from New York who discovers an entire civilization deep underground.  The Underlanders, in turn, discover that he is the key to many of the prophesies their founder made, and Gregor finds himself in peril and adventure at every turn.  The action is very fast-paced, and each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, which makes it very hard to put down the book and has kept my boy up way, way past bedtime on many a night.  These books are not for the faint of heart, as there is a fair amount of gore and a lot of suspense.  But if your middle grade reader is looking for a truly addictive read, we recommend these highly.