Thursday, July 24, 2008

On the Road with Wow Canada!

Okay, it's not too PC considering the price of gas and global warming and all, but we're going on a road trip in a few weeks. To our credit, we'll be driving our spanking new hybrid, which we can ill afford (Anyone want to by a great Toyota 4-Runner? I'll throw in a box of great books to sweeten the pot!) and we'll be hiking once we arrive at our destination. In the car I'll definitely be packing Vivien Bowers' Wow Canada! Exploring This Land from Coast to Coast to Coast.

In this fact-and-fun-packed book, we join 10-year-old Rachel, her older brother Guy, a stuffed beaver (Bucko), Mom and Dad as they cram in their van and head out to explore our vast country from coast to coast to coast. (As Guy tells us in the introduction, "Our whole family is going on a trip across Canada. When my parents told us, they said we had to do it now because in two years I'll be fourteen and 'cool,' and I won't want to go anywhere with my family.")

The scrapbook style of the book provides something for everyone: a map introducing each province or territory, fabulous photographs with short captions, longer chatty entries of the trip as seen through Guy's eyes, lots of great, and very funny sidebars such as Exceedingly Weird (according to Guy), Food I Was Introduced to for My Own Good (such as oysters), According to Mom (who loves to fill in the details), According to Dad (more details and historical bits), Guy's Family Car Trip Survival Tips (new and crazy ways to drive your parents crazy), Things We'll Do and Places We'll Go Next Time, and more.

This book is packed full of info. I can't imagine how long it took Bowers to research and write. It is a keeper for sure and was deservedly so an award winner when it was released. (It won the Red Cedar award one year when I had a book on the short-list, too. It also won the BC Book Prize (Sheila Egoff award), the Hackamatack, and the Information Book Award from the Children's Literature Roundtables. ) Here's a review from Canadian Materials. Happy road tripping, whether you're on a bike, on foot, or (gulp) in a car.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To YA or Not to YA

The blur between what is an adult book and what is a "young adult" (YA) book is a fuzzy one as this article attests. Frankly, this sort of nonsense makes my blood boil,

Mark Haddon, who wrote numerous novels for children before “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” said in an e-mail message that he recalled “a number of people looking down their noses at me when I explained what I did for a living, as if I painted watercolors of cats or performed as a clown at parties.”

Many adults don’t realize how much the Y.A. genre has changed since their days of reading teenage romances and formulaic novels. “A lot of people have no idea that right now Y.A. is the Garden of Eden of literature,” said Sherman Alexie, whose first Y.A. novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” won the National Book Award for young people’s literature last year. Even the prestige of that award didn’t make him impervious to the stigma. “Some acquaintances felt I was dumbing down,” Alexie said in a phone interview. “One person asked me, ‘Wouldn’t you have rather won the National Book Award for an adult, serious work?’ I thought I’d been condescended to as an Indian — that was nothing compared to the condescension for writing Y.A.”

and I think the author is bang on when she said that many adults have no idea what YA really means. Get thee to a book store and check it out. Really, anything goes, and some of the best literature going is written for young people who will gladly toss a book aside if it doesn't grab them from the beginning.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kids' Books from Across the Pond

Things have been crazy busy without much time to post. For now, here's a list of recommended books from UK's Telegraph newspaper.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Pack Some Mags in Those Bags

Getting ready for a day at the beach or perhaps a road trip? Why not slip some kids' mags in with the Frisbee, sunscreen and lemonade? The summer issues of KNOW and YES Mag are hot off the press.

The theme for this issue of KNOW is night life -- what goes on in your neighborhood at night (ahem, just the stuff fit for the consumption of 6-to-9 year olds)? The kids can read about night-blooming plants and animals that are out and about at night. There's also a Where's Waldo-type spread that highlights the people who are hard at work while most of us are asleep. Elsewhere in the pages are columns on skin (and how sunscreen works), the steps that go into the making of a comic, garter snakes, shark skin, Mercury and how palaeontologists remove fossils from the rock. And, of course, activities, puzzle pages, and ideas of how to participate in future issues. Thirty-two pages of fun, fun, in my unbiased opinion!

For the older kids (and their parents), YES Mag is heading Into the Danger Zone! In this issue they're looking at science in the extreme -- outer space, volcanoes, venomous animals, deep sea, microbiology labs and more. There are also features on vehicles that run on air, the Svalbard Seed Bank tucked up in the chilly Norwegian mountains, and also the physics and chemistry of how those beach essentials -- sunglasses and sunscreen -- work.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy (Belated) Canada Day!

We had a happy Canada Day around Tough City. So happy and full of action that I didn't find time to post despite my best intentions. Before I get to a couple of books celebrating our big mass of a country, I'll pass this link on (since I seem to be hepped on alphabet books at the moment): Beyond the Letters: A Retrospective of Canadian Alphabet Books. It's five years out of date, but there's lots of interesting information, and, of course, links to great Canadian books, here. Definitely worth a look.

First up, Eh? to Zed: A Canadian ABeCedarium. Written by Kevin Major and illustrated by Alan Daniel, this is largely an illustrated book with pictures to pore over. Each page (and thus each letter) is allotted a page where Daniels has constructed a collage of images related to the letter. So, for example, the text for L is: Loon, lacrosse, Lillooet, lumberjack. And the accompanying image illustrates just that (with a twist in that the loon is a rubbing of the dollar coin, the "loonie.") But, like most picture books, there's more to it. If you read the text on both pages of a spread, you'll see you have rhyming stanzas such as this:

Gould, Gretzky, Greene, Grizzly bear
Habitant, Horseshore, humpback, hare

Daniel's illustrates the text in an interesting and varied way. For instance, for G we see Glenn Gould on the jewel case of a CD, a skating Wayne Gretzky, and a museum mounted grizzly bear (on a platform). Nancy Greene is shown on one half of one of those flip books where you can change the head, torso and legs of creatures (in this case people) to make funny images. We see Nancy's toqued-head and her legs with skis, but for a torso she has the back of Gretzky's (#99) jersey. Hmm, a little odd, but okay. The strange thing though is that a native person on the other side of the flip book (with a befeathered headress and leather-clothed legs and feet) has what appears to be a cowboy's torso. There is no mention of this native person here or in the text at the back of the book. An oversight or deliberately done to promote discussion? I'd love to know. (Actually, now I DO know! See below.)

At the back of the book there is a densely packed (VERY small font!) four-page spread of text and this is not to be missed: it is full of gems. The pages are titled The Choice of Words, The Choice of Images and is followed by: "Kevin Major's caravan of words cheers our history and celebrates our heroes. It couple the well known with the obscure, the curious with the symbols of our nation. For every province and territory there is a place name, for many junctions of our country something to be discovered. Here are some morsels of information the author came up with for the 104 words."

Even more enlightening and interesting are the notes to Daniel's art: "Alan Daniel's response to these 26 quartets of words reflects the cultural artefacts that have emerged throughout our history. The tableaus he has created are filled with both folk and fine art, the sacred as well as the commercial. They are objects to display in museums and toys to fill a child's idle hours. Several of them call for special mention." So, for example, the Mountie is a whirligig, the Humpback is a soapstone carving, and a cornhusk doll holds a Lacrosse stick. Here's what he has to say about the flip book for G: "A flip book can put Nancy GREENE on skates or make her namesakes Graham and Lorne do a switch-about in television land." Oh, you mean that's Graham Greene? Yikes, I never would have known unless I mined the back for this detail. It's unlikely Graham Greene or Lorne Greene will mean much to kids, but hopefully it won't be lost on the adult reader and it certainly made me want to pore over every other page to see what else would come to light.

Here's the Q, X and Z test:

Quahog, quarter horse, quints, Qu'Appelle
Xenon, xylograph, x-country, x-ing
Zamboni, zipper, zinc, zed

Okay, a bit of a stretch for some because xenon, Zamboni's, and zippers aren't really Canadian (zippers are marginally), but Major skillfully makes them fit in his explanatory notes, so I'll give him that!

In honour of Canada Day, or any day for that matter, this book is one for the bookshelves of all Canadian kids. Just don't forget to spend time with the four pages of notes at the end. They bring so much more to the book and truly make it interactive, not to mention giving an excellent grounding in the diversity of our countries history, geography, citizens, culture, and art.

Here's a review from Canadian Materials.