The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail coverMeet the smallest mouse in the Buckingham Palace mews. Brought to the mews in a sewing basket when his mother died, the little mouse knows almost nothing about his origins. Even his name, Mouse Minor (if you can call that a name), was given by his classmates rather than his family. More than anything else, he wants to know where he’s come from.

His journey to answer the questions of his past begins days before Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when he’s accidentally caught in plain (human) sight wearing his school uniform. Though it’s true that a complex mouse society is constantly engaged in keeping the human world humming, human beings themselves are never to know. This essentialĀ rule of mousedom broken, Mouse Minor sets out to make his own way in London. A ride in a horse’s ear, a brief stint with the Yeomice of the Guard, and a botched kidnapping lead him at last to Queen Victoria herself, who really might know everything, and who suggests that the answers he’s seeking might be wrapped up in the biggest mouse secret of all.

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail is an entertaining mystery adventure, but its real strengths lie in Peck’s use of language and his worldbuilding. Artful turns of phrase throughout are delightful for their own sake, while repeated phrases help to give flesh to Peck’s imagined mouse society. Mouse Minor serves as an able guide to his hidden mouse world, but the language does a lot, too, to communicate the traditions and assumptions that have grown up among this particular group of mice, as well as the shape of the relationship between mice and human beings. Highly recommended for language lovers, and those who enjoy a good mouse story.

Learn a bit about the prolific author behind the story, Richard Peck, or find other reviews from School Library Journal and Waking Brain Cells.

Sample the excellent audio version, narrated by Russ Bain.

My Top Ten of 2013

One of the best parts of working on Lemon-Squash has been the excuse it provides to read. A lot. While I try to share all of the really good books I discover with you, there are a few that have stood out as particular favourites. If you know me in person, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve already insisted that you read these. For those who don’t (and those who need a refresher), here are my top ten kids’ and YA reads from 2013.*

*These are titles I discovered and loved this year, not necessarily ones that were released in 2013. That said, at least a couple have sequels released this year or due to come out in 2014 that you should watch for, too.
Continue reading

When I Was Eight written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

When I Was Eight coverAt eight years old, Olemaun helps with the sled dogs and her father’s hunting. Sometimes, her older sister reads her stories. But what Olemaun really wants to do is learn to read books for herself. She knows that you have to go to the outsiders’ residential school to do so, but it takes all winter to convince her father to let her go. When it’s finally warm enough to take the family’s furs into town for trading, Olemaun joyfully begins school — and discovers that not only will most of her time be spent working rather than learning, but one of the nuns has developed a personal grudge against her.

But Olemaun — now Margaret — is determined. She turns the same tenacity that got her into school to the task of getting her through it. Along the way, she takes every opportunity, from cluttered chalkboards to product labels, to practice her reading. In the process, she finds out that reading, and the stories it opens to her, give her resources to take on such challenges with confidence.

When I Was Eight is based on Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s own childhood experiences, and it does a beautiful job of making a difficult part of Canadian history accessible to very young readers. The story calls for some discussion with an adult in order to provide context, but it also makes space for positive conversations about the value of reading, and of tenacity in working for the things that are important to us.

If you’d like to share Olemaun’s story with older readers, check out Fatty Legs, which tells the story at a middle grade level, and includes photographs from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s childhood at home and at the residential school.

See samples of Grimard’s gorgeous illustrations on the publisher’s page (just click “look inside” on the right side of the screen).

Find out what others thought at Kiss the Book and CM Magazine.

Thanks to NetGalley and Annick Press for the review copy.

Around the World by Matt Phelan

Around the World coverTake three determined people, set before them a challenge they can’t refuse, and get ready for (vicarious) adventure.

Toward the end of the 19th century, three individuals took on the challenge of travelling around the world, each for his or her own reasons, and each in his or her own way. Thomas Stevens, eager to leave behind a life in the mines, taught himself to manage one of the new bicycles and peddled across the United States. When the first trip went well, he decided to continue his journey across the Atlantic to England, through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and finally across the Pacific to finish back in San Francisco. Reporter Nellie Bly set out specifically to outdo Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. With only one small bag, the clothes on her back, and a pet monkey purchased along the way, Bly flung herself around the world, gaining more fans with every mile, and beating Fogg (and a contemporary competitor from another publication) handily. Joshua Slocum, a retired sailor apparently made obsolete by the rise of steamships, intended little more than to take once more to the sea. Where Stevens’ journey was characterised by people-watching and new friends, and Bly’s by an expectation that the people along her way would cooperate with her determination to make it around the world quickly, Slocum’s journey was almost entirely solitary, dependent on his memories, his expertise, and the wind.

The adventure and factoids that fill Around the World will easily hold the attention of middle grade readers, but don’t miss out on reading it yourself. Phelan’s artistic and literary presentation of these three stories is rich with humour and a keen sense of the complex relationship between the journey experienced, and the journey told.

Check out more reviews from Fyrefly’s Book Blog and Kirkus.

Read the stories from their own pens! Find Thomas Stevens’ description of his journey in Around the World on a Bicycle and Nellie Bly’s story in Nellie Bly’s Book, both available on Project Gutenberg.

Catch the book trailer:

Feeling the wanderlust? Find out what travelling around the world looks like today!

Ten: Graphic Novel Biographies

Where the value of graphic novels is under debate, it may be helpful to have a few clearly educational titles to offer as an entry point to the form. Adaptations of classic novels abound, and fit beautifully into Ashley Thorne’s argument for valuing adaptations and abridgments for their ability to make substantial literature in its original form more accessible to readers. Another great option is graphic novel biographies, which not only introduce readers to some pretty amazing lives, but also, in some cases, accomplish more through the combination of printed words and pictures than might be possible in more traditional forms of storytelling. On the plus side, as is the case with classic lit adaptations, one graphic novel biography often points the way to more, either by the same author or in the same series — it seems to be an addictive sort of work!

By Jim Ottaviani
In partnership with a variety of illustrators, Jim Ottaviani has produced a long list of graphic novel biographies focused on the world of science and its intersection with society (e.g. politics, gender expectations, etc.). In addition to the titles below, look for Feynman, T-minus: The Race to the Moon, Suspended In Language: Niels Bohrs Life, Discoveries, And The Century He Shaped and more.

Primates: the Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and BiruteĢ Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
You’ve heard of Jane Goodall, but maybe not the others, yet. Ottaviani and Wicks give readers a glimpse of the lives and work of these three women, as well as some insight into how their work has contributed to the movement to conserve primate habitats. Continue reading

Resting, and Catching Up

Hi, everyone,

Just a short note to let you know that Lemon-Squash is going to take a short break. We’ve enjoyed sharing books with you, and hope to share lots more in the future, but it’s time for a rest. Graphic Novel Month will wait for the restart in November. In the meantime, we wish you a colourful and story-filled October.

Yours,
The Lemon-Squash Bloggers

Tea Rex by Molly Idle

Tea Rex coverIf you’ve never invited a Tyrannosaurus Rex to tea, clearly you’re missing out. In Tea Rex, Molly Idle instructs young readers in the proper etiquette for a polite and dignified tea party: welcome your guest, offer a variety of tasty snacks, and engage him or her in conversation. Her illustrations depict two children — a dainty little girl in a giant hat and a little boy who fully appreciates the noisy joy of their guest — trying very hard to live up to the stated expectations while things get more and more out of hand. In the midst of happy chaos, there’s just the barest hint of a moral. If a guest needs to drink his tea from a giant hat and have room to swing his tail to be comfortable, good manners might be a lot more interesting than we thought.

I loved the combination of dinosaur and tea party, and the casual presence of both brother and sister at the tea table. Tea Rex skips over stereotypes to tell a story that anyone can enjoy for its humour and its familiarity — who hasn’t planned something out and had it turn out terribly wrong just the same? Idle’s illustrations carry the weight of the story, and do so beautifully. Soft and colourful, full of activity and silly details, they strike a balance between gentility and playfulness that fits the tone of the story just right.

Read more reviews from Three Books a Night and Publishers Weekly.

A sweet book trailer: