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 Edition

From Beth-Anne

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Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Di Camillo

I wish that I read aloud to my kids more often but time always seems to get away from me.  I tried making it a part of the bedtime ritual but putting three kids to bed at night with varying bedtimes, and a strong-willed son begging to watch his beloved sports teams, slowly chipped away at this precious time.  Whenever I do get the chance to snuggle in bed with the boys and read, I find it peaceful.  Our latest family read aloud has been the 2001 Newbery Honor Book, Because of Winn-Dixie.  Opal is a young girl, recently transplanted to a new town, struggling to find her footing.  She forms a lasting bond with a stray mutt she rescues from the local supermarket.  Winn-Dixie is more than just a furry companion; Winn-Dixie helps Opal to rediscover her confidence.

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Mercy Watson series by Kate Di-Camillo

Middlest is an avid reader (one out of three ain’t bad!) but at 5 years old he was stuck in an in-between stage.  Picture books weren’t holding his attention long enough and many of the early readers, while fun, they lacked any sense of “literature”.  Feel free to insert your eye-roll here, but it bothers me that so many books marketed towards kids are gender-biased and lack both a creative storyline and complex characters.  So I was thrilled when we discovered the Mercy Watson series about a precocious pig adopted by a delightful couple.  Mercy gets up to all sorts of shenanigans much to the chagrin of her neighbour Eugenia.  The chapters while short are the perfect length for emerging chapter readers and each storybook is chock-full of imaginative plots and expressive dialogue that make read-alouds lots of fun too!

From Nathalie

untitledSo, I am basically of the opinion that Mo Willems should be king of the world.  I believe this as a matter of course, but my conviction is strengthened each and every time Youngest (6) and I read his Elephant and Piggie books.  The Elephant and Piggie books are the funniest, most durable learn-to-read books you will ever encounter.  We currently have I am a Frog and I Will Surprise My Friend on high rotation.  By “high rotation” I mean I’ve read these books 50 times.  And each and every time they get a belly laugh.  Youngest reads them all himself, whether he has them memorized or not I don’t care because what these books teach is that reading is some of the most fun you will have all day.  We are the proud owners of every last book in the series, and I think they are the best value for book money I’ve ever spent (or had spent on me–some were very gratefully received gifts).

Middlest (9) and I are currently on book two of Kevin Crossley Holland’s Arthurian trilogy.  We are in it for the long haul with this series, and I rather like the very slow pace at which we are reading.  (He has to wait for a night when I can read to him alone and when his dad is not home and reading The Bobbsey Twins to him and Youngest.)  The books are lush with detail about medieval life, and the protagonist narrator is a boy who graduates from page to squire to knight.  All the while, he is able to follow the story of King Arthur in a seeing stone provided to him by Merlin.  The book tackles difficult issues of illegitimate children, infidelity, and some of the cruelties and inequities of the feudal system.  It’s a good book to read at a slow pace because the action stops and starts a lot, but we are both enjoying the pace.

2114086I am also reading Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys to Youngest and Middlest.  It’s a hilarious and rather dark send-up of children’s books, including the Bobbsey Twins.  (The kids gasped aloud tonight when we got to the part where the Willoughby children reference them!  Hey!  Books talking to each other!)  The Willoughby children do not like their parents and make plans to become orphans.  The parents feel much the same about their kids and are greatly inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel.  Nefarious plots ensue.  One of the best bits is the author’s bio on the back flap:

Influenced in her childhood by a mother who insisted on surrounding her with books instead of roller skates and jump ropes, Lois Lowry grew up lacking fresh air and exercise but with a keen understanding of plot, character, and setting.  [And Oxford commas.  Ed.]  … Today she is a wizened, reclusive old woman who sits hunched over her desk thinking obsessively about the placement of commas.

Eldest (13) just finished school for the summer today.  He is not reading anything.  When he is finished not reading anything (I’ll give him until Monday), I have a fun summer read lined up for him: Itch and its sequel Itch Rocks.  Itchingham Lofte is a child hero much like Alex Rider (in fact, Anthony Horowitz is a big fan of the books), who is an element hunter: he collects elements from the Periodic Table, sometimes by doing experiments to isolate them.  The first book opens with him burning his eyebrows off, but his mother’s ire is nothing to compare to the danger he gets into when he discovers a new element.   The publishers sent me a copy of both books, and I think they will be the perfect summer read.

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