Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

Before Green Gables coverWith the approval of the L.M. Montgomery Estate, and with the 100th anniversary of the first Anne of Green Gables novel coming up, Budge Wilson set out to paint a picture of Anne Shirley’s life before she reached Green Gables. The result might not be quite what one would expect, but it is very, very good.

While the original Anne books are entertaining and frequently funny, there are plenty of hints of true darkness in the lives of the characters. This is nowhere more true than in the glimpses Anne gives of her early childhood. Those familiar with the story know that Anne lost her parents early, that she was taken in by people who expected her to work very hard helping to raise their large families, and that she seems to have spent most of that time longing for a degree of human connection that never really materialised. Budge Wilson picks up on all of this, producing a novel that feels much heavier than Montgomery’s generally do. Anne’s imagination and dreaminess is still there, certainly, but Wilson appears to be more focused on gaining an understanding of how Anne’s early experiences shaped her into the girl so many love than on extending Montgomery’s approach to storytelling into Anne’s earlier history. Its focus makes this undeniably a book for older readers, but one that stands remarkably well on its own as an exploration of one child’s development under difficult circumstances. Readers coming to the Anne series later, as I did, may find that Wilson’s insights serve as a helpful balance to Montgomery’s rather more exuberant novels.

Read the Guardian review, or this one, from the blog Brown Paper.

Check out the book’s website, where you’ll find crafts, activities, and a downloadable bookmark and poster!


Feeling Good: Todd and His Friend by sunmark


Todd and His Friend, written by sunmark and translated from Korean by William Broder, is a quirky, engaging story about loneliness and the power of imagination.

Young Todd is not a fan of studying or sports, which sets him apart from his classmates and renders school a daily frustration. What he would prefer to do is draw — to spend his time conjuring up dinosaurs and ships, ghosts and little boys.  When one of these little boys comes to life, however, stepping down from a brick wall, a gleeful friendship ensues. The two take on the world together (or at least school and sports!), with Wally rousing in Todd an entirely new outlook on life. But with chalk vulnerable to the elements, Wally’s time is limited, whether or not Todd is ready to say goodbye…

Used book sales have been a great resource for building up my daughter’s book collection, and this is precisely how Feeling Good: Todd and His Friend and other dual-story books from the Korean/English Bing Bang Boom Club series dropped into our hands. In retrospect, it’s amazing how long the books sat unread on our bookshelves! But after a fateful day, and the discovery of a remarkable depth and humour to these magic realist tales…well, my husband, daughter, and I are completely hooked, and continue to enjoy conversations around them.  

Unfortunately, very little information appears to exist around these books, leaving me with neither additional reviews nor trailers to share. But as a definite gem, consider giving the series a chance should it ever cross your path!


Ten: Going Away to School

Moving to a new place is one thing; moving to a new place where one’s primary job is to prove oneself takes the challenge to another level. Going away to school takes you away from comfortable routines and familiar dependence on others (whether these have been positive or otherwise), and requires you to discover who you are and how you make your way in the world. The characters in this week’s Ten uncover both strengths and weaknesses within themselves and, in the process, begin to understand their unique places in their respective communities.

Battle Dress by Amy Efaw
Andi leaves her dysfunctional family to go away to college at West Point. While the intensity of military life is a shock, Andi discovers that being required to take on challenges with boldness or face the consequences pushes her beyond the damaging patterns she’s learned at home to a place where she can claim her strengths and offer them confidently for the good of her team. Continue reading

When No One Is Watching written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by David A. Johnson

When No One Is Watching coverEnergetic and creative when she is alone, Eileen Spinelli’s unnamed protagonist sings and dances, shows off her basketball skills, and is “brave as a bear / in a cave / in the dark.” When others are around — her classmates, her family, other adults in public places — the boldness disappears and she fades into the background. While others play and argue, she stays out of the way. That is, of course, unless the other is her friend Loretta, who is shy, too. When the girls are together, they make space for one another, and each feels free to play and make noise, even if others are watching, too.

Spinelli’s protagonist is beautifully complex and very relatable. Even readers who are rarely shy have likely found themselves in situations when they didn’t feel quite free to be themselves, and will feel a tug of familiarity when reading When No One Is Watching. For those children (and adults!) for whom shyness is a more frequent experience, the book is a gem, offering a character who understands what it’s like and who finds joy in both aloneness and friendship. Johnson’s illustrations are as exuberant as the child they depict. She is brightly coloured, full of motion from her hair to her shoelaces. The others — with the exception of Loretta — live their busy, talkative lives in softer colours, separated visually, as well as experientially, from the protagonist’s inner life.

Find reviews on Publishers Weekly and Waking Brain Cells.

Read an interview with Eileen Spinelli.

Descent into Paradise by Vincent Karle

Descent into Paradise coverZaher is Afghani, but everyone knows he hates the Taliban. Fellow student Martin reports Zaher’s rough start in Paradise and his gradual acceptance by his new classmates. A drug bust at school throws the students’ flexibility into contrast with the prejudice of several members of the local police force. Zaher is falsely charged with drug dealing and his family is deported to the country from which they have sought asylum. Martin, whose marijuana is used to frame Zaher, describes an investigation marked by mistreatment and blackmail. When he is released, too late to help Zaher, Martin returns to school convinced that he is responsible and determined to find some way of fighting injustice as a means of making up for what he has done.

Descent into Paradise focuses on a teen distrustful of authority figures and casual about breaking rules that he believes are unnecessary. His experiences demonstrate that his actions have consequences, though readers will likely find the events described too extreme to be really believable. However, the story also suggests that there are valid places for Martin to direct his rebellious attitude, and that it is possible to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy authority figures. The novella is one half of one of Annick Press’s Single Voice books. Each book contains two brief stories which address complex, timely issues in simple language and large type. Clearly intended for reluctant readers, the Single Voice publications offer considerable substance for thought and even discussion while keeping the presentation easily manageable.

Annick recruited bloggers to review the Single Voice novellas. Descent into Paradise was reviewed by theGreen Bean Teen Queen.

You can watch a promotional video for the Single Voice project here

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus coverKambili lives her life quietly. She goes to school, goes to church, does her homework. If she can think of something to say that will please her father, she does so, but usually someone else thinks of it first, and so she remains silent. It’s safer that way.

Kambili’s father loves his family, but believes deeply that they must conform to a particular image of Western Christianity. Any deviation from that image–including any interest in the family’s Nigerian heritage, or association with family members who choose to live in traditional Nigerian ways — is met with rage and often devastating violence. Kambili and, to a lesser extent, her brother, Jaja, have adapted themselves to this atmosphere, shaping their behaviour, their words, even their thoughts to fit the norm imposed by their father. And then their Aunt Ifeoma invites Kambili and Jaja to come and stay for a while with her and her children. Though Aunt Ifeoma is also a Christian, she has not seen a need to separate faith from heritage so completely. Jaja fits into this new way of living quickly, but Kambili has a hard time reconciling the glorified Western-ness she’s internalised with the confidence her aunt and cousins demonstrate in their engagement with Nigerian culture. Though she gradually learns to embrace the freedom held out by her extended family, the consequences for her immediate family will leave them reeling.

Purple Hibiscus is definitely a novel for older readers, but a valuable one for those who are up for the challenge. Kambili’s journey is complex and painful, asking readers to extend compassion not only to her, but to the whole of her family in a situation that is both unfamiliar and close to home: the process of learning to understand oneself in relation to, but apart from one’s father.

You’ll find several reviews at Weaver Press Zimbabwe or another blog-style review at Opinions of a Wolf.

Listen to Chimamanda Adichie herself talk about the Danger of a Single Story. A really beautiful TED talk well worth the 20 minutes:

A final note: If you can, read the audiobook first. Hearing the story with the proper pronunciation of unfamiliar words and names adds a lot.

Ten: Living in Wartime

Whether one is living under the threat of invasion, or waiting at home to hear what happened in last night’s battle, living in a country at war places new stresses on anyone old enough to understand. Supplies are more expensive, or simply not available. Friends and family members risk their lives, and perhaps you are called upon to do the same. People are more suspicious, the truth–both about what’s happening and why it’s happening–can be elusive, and even the end of the war rarely promises a return to the way things were. This week’s Ten looks at war from the perspective of the home front, of refugees, of combatants, of rebels, and of civilians caught in the middle of a war they didn’t choose.

My Bonny Light Horseman by L.A. Meyer
The sixth of the Jacky Faber books, this story finds Jacky under cover in France. Though initially posted in a brothel (where a bit of creativity gets her out of actually serving any customers), Jacky soon gets herself off the sidelines and into the thick of things on Napoleon’s battlefield. Though Jacky thrills to adventure, an unexpected encounter with an old acquaintance allows her to voice her ambivalence toward war and violence. Continue reading