What We’re Reading: Kids’ Edition

From Beth-Anne


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!


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!


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.
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.


Rule-breaking Female Characters

Admittedly, I was a little unsure of what I would write about when Nathalie suggested this for our theme this week.  I sat at the desk in our basement office, hoping for inspiration but instead re-arranged the pens in their various glass holders and stared at the blank wall in front of me trying to decide which would be a better fit: a mirror or an oversized framed print.

When I am stressed or anxious I like to lose myself among my shelves of books.  In comparison to most serious book lovers, say for instance Nathalie, my collection is modest but I find something soothing about running my fingers along the spines of books, some of which have been with me for nearly two decades.

In an effort to procrastinate, I pulled my favourite chapter books from my girlhood and arranged them on the floor at the foot of my reading rocker.  My thoughts did not go to a possible post for this topic, instead I started thinking how I should suggest to my 11-year-old nieces that they read these classics.

Earlier this month I had been browsing the aisles of the bookstore looking for Christmas gifts for the girls, and I was dismayed to see that many of the books marketed to tweenage girls come off as a watered-down episode of Sex and The City.

Looking at the pile at my feet, I came to the realization that although the classics were published decades ago they continue to be relevant in part due to the strong female characters that carry the novel but also to the boundary breaking authors whom penned them.

At the risk of sounding like Sarah Palin, these classics about girls breaking the rules opened a world of possibility to young female readers because the authors themselves were mavericks.  Like their female leads, these authors pushed the limits of social convention and their tales have stood the test of time.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

I remember ripping the wrapping paper off this book on my 10th birthday.  I creased open the cover a few days later and finished it that same day.  It’s the first book that I read cover-to-cover.  It’s the first book that brought me to tears.  It’s one of the few books that can still bring me to tears.

Leslie Burke is a smart, creative and out-going tomboy who connects with Jesse Aarons, after her family moves into the neighbourhood.  Leslie is anything but a typical girl.  She runs races to win them, studies to ace her tests and takes chances others would ignore.  She is less concerned with fitting in with the girls than she is about creating a magical land of make believe where she and Jess are free to be themselves.

I read this book to my class when I was teaching the 5th grade.  Katherine Paterson’s words held the attention of even the most fidgety student in the room but what was most exciting for me, was to see how her character Leslie reached the girls in a non-conventional way.  Leslie was not about what clothes were trendy or boyfriends, backstabbing friends or dysfunctional relationships.  She was an outcast among the popular clique but the focus of the story isn’t about that, it is about her imagination and creativity.  Her tomboy persona is not available for a makeover, it is what sets her apart and makes her special.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The copy I have was printed in 1956 and I picked it up a garage sale when I was eleven years old.  The pages smell musty and are brittle.  There is no telling how many hands have held its hard cover or turned its pages to follow every move of the four March sisters.

My friends and I used to debate whom was the “best” sister.  Most of them voted for Amy, the youngest sister who captured the heart of Laurie.  A few chose Meg, the mother hen, but I always was drawn to Jo.  Outspoken Jo who fought to keep her family together, found love in an unlikely place, and pursued her passion with a vigor that few Victorian girls would have had the gumption to do.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I can’t think of a stronger female character that defied social convention than Anne Shirley.  Anne (with an “e”) Shirley, orphaned at a young age, took on the Avonlea school bullies, the bossy and opinionated Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and never wavered from her dream of becoming a school teacher even when faced with the devastating loss of Matthew and the steady stream of Pringle girls who stood in her way.

Instead of pining over Gilbert Blythe, Anne was quick to break a writing slate over his head when his teasing went too far and resisted his persistent attempts to woo her until she had realized her own dreams to her full potential.

Like her heroine Anne Shirley, Lucy Maud Montgomery was also trailblazer.  She penned short stories and the Green Gables series even as she received rejection letters from various publishers, cared for her mentally ill husband and battled her own depression in a time when women were restricted by both conventional social laws and the laws of the land.

Over a century later, more than 50 million copies of Anne of Green Gables have been sold worldwide.  I like to think that they’re millions of girls being inspired by Anne to break the rules, follow their hearts and to never settle for anything but what they deserve.