Friday, December 7, 2012

HEY CANADA! by Vivien Bowers

Bowers, Vivien. Hey Canada! Illus. Milan Paviovic. Toronto: Tundra, 2012. ISBN 1-77049-255-4. $19.95.

Nine-year-old Alice is blogging this book on her grandmother’s netbook as she, Gran, and her younger brother drive through all of Canada’s capital cities, camping as they go. Alice is an engaging guide, and the book’s lay-out on each page of blocks of text and dialog, lots of illustrations, cartoons, photographs, and maps, embedded games provide not only information but entertainment. To travel across Canada is ambitious; to travel across from Newfoundland to B.C. and then head north and cross back through the Yukon to Baffin Island is impressive. Alice tells her story of thousands of miles with humor and an eye for things of interest and import. Brother Cal also travels well (as does his hamster), and accolades to Gran. This is a book the whole family will enjoy, whether reading it in the car in Canada or anywhere else.

 Alida Allison

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A STONE IN MY HAND by Cathryn Clinton

Clinton, Cathryn. A Stone in My Hand. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7636-4772-8. $6.99. Age: 10 and up

Cathryn Clinton describes A Stone in My Hand as historical fiction. She says it is "the story of a single girl and single family"and that it is not meant to be a comment on present political situations. Nevertheless, the tale, that of an eleven-year-old Palestinian girl whose father has gone missing, is achingly current.

Malaak is so traumatized by her father's disappearance that she falls into near silence; in fact, rather than talk to her family and friends, she begins to confide in a bird named Abdo. Malaak talks to Abdo as she watches the world of 1988 and 1989 Gaza City: There are soldiers, guns, and bombs; curfews and school closures; hot city streets and cool nights on rooftop patios. She studies those around her: her sister, Hend, dreaming of one day having her own home and family, her mother growing ever paler and tired, and her brother, Hamid, whose eyes crackle with fire as he longs to join the Palestinian Liberation Organization. She observes her brother's friend, Tariq, who rarely speaks after witnessing the shooting of his father when Tariq was five years-old. Through all of this, Malaak imagines that she can see through Abdo's eyes and fly above the conflict surrounding her. Nonetheless, Malaak and her family cannot escape the violence and another tragedy threatens to once more render Malaak mute.

Clinton manages to provide a story of hope while staying within the confines of a reality that can have no happy ending. Death, violence, and the pain of a broken family are all present, but life, kindness, and resilience gained through friends and family are even more powerful. A Stone in My Hand is well suited for early adolescent readers. Yes, it is a far gentler rendering than it might be, but it is a good introduction and reminder of the complex and overwhelming dilemma that children and teenagers, not just adults, must face.

Stephanie Ashley

Monday, December 3, 2012


Blume, Lesley M. M. Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate.  Illus. David Foote. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-373-68203-8. $16.99. Ages: 10 and up

For a trailer of the book, check out Lesley Blume's website:

I am eternally grateful to Miss Edythe McFate for sharing her extensive knowledge about the very modern and very real world of fairies and their fantastical counterparts. I am equally indebted to Lesley M.M. Blume who interviewed Miss McFate and made the stories available. Finally, I want to thank illustrator David Foote. It is because of his marvelous illustrations in concert with Edythe McFate's extensive knowledge of "the wayward natures, properties, and habits of fairies" that I am confident in my ability to identify fairies, both friend and foe, and take proper precautions. While I won't give all the secrets away (you truly need to read them yourself), I will share the most important trick of all: How to tell a good fairy from a bad one.

Fortunately there is no absurd combination of unattainable materials—all you need is a penny. Here's what you do: The moment you realize you are in the presence of a fairy, put your penny on the floor. "If the penny glows blue, you're probably safe. If the penny glows green—or worse black—run away immediately, and don't look back for a second." This is also the point in time that you need to take additional steps to protect yourself. Don't know how to do that? Well, that's exactly why Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties exists.

In addition to identifying fairies and their like and how to interact with them, Miss Edythe McFate also provides until-now-unknown answers to some of life's most stubborn mysteries. What are they? Well, again, that's something you need to find out for yourself. I will tell you, though, that you will finally get the answers to why hair turns white, where those missing spoons go, and why swimming pool water sometimes becomes green. But there is so much more...

If you, like Miss Edythe McFate, are from New York City, you will be delighted to encounter many landmarks that you pass on a daily basis. Some of these landmarks are obvious: Central Park, the Lincoln Tunnel, and Carnegie Hall; but there are some you might have to look for more carefully. Don't live in New York City? That's okay— Modern Fairies will give you enough information to recognize fairies' presence anywhere.

In closing, I have a final note for parents: If you are unable to deal with your child's ability to see things that you do not or are unwilling to handle clothes and socks that may be worn inside out or are easily annoyed by creative thought, then this book might not be for your child. Then again, carefully consider those minor irritations in light of what might happen when your child encounters the unstable, but quite marvelous world of fairies. As Miss McFate always says, "forewarned is forearmed."

Though this is probably better suited to the young adult reader, Modern Fairies is so engaging that I think it will pull the advanced (or maybe not so advanced) younger reader through all 242 pages. The text is delightful and the illustrations are spellbinding; there is not a boring page in the book.

Read it.

Stephanie Ashley