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.

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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:

Mini Arthurian

Editor’s Intro: We’ll wrap up our Classics Retold project with a handful of mini blurbs from Rei. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose discovered some new books to add to the TBR list this month. Thanks for following along with us!

Christmas in Camelot coverMagic Tree House: Christmas in Camelot written by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Sal Murdocca
Among their many adventures with their time-traveling Magic Tree House (said to be the property of “Morgan le Fay”), is a story of how the main characters, Jack and Annie, travel back in time to Camelot where they meet King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table. Something is amiss though — Sir Galahad, Sir Percival and Sir Lancelot, having ventured on a magical quest to the Otherworld, have not returned for many weeks. Travel alongside Jack and Annie as they help find the knights and try to unlock the mystery hidden in the Otherworld.

King Arthur coverKing Arthur by Marc Brown
In this Arthur chapter book, Arthur, Buster, Francine and their classmates from Lakewood elementary are on a field trip to a medieval park to win the Golden Gryphon. Competing against them is Glenbrook Academy. The challenges include maze walking, a tug of war, food eating contests, getting the sword out of the stone and more. During the competitions, Arthur hears some bad news — if they didn’t win at least one of the challenges, they risk getting different teacher — a teacher more strict than Mr. Ratburn. Will Arthur and his friends be able to save their teacher?

Time Soldiers Arthur coverTime Soldiers: Arthur by Kathleen Duey
Book 4 in the Time Soldiers series is Arthur, the story of six neighbourhood kids who can time travel when a time-portal opens in their backyard. In the past, they’ve seen dinosaurs and pirates. This time, when the portal opens, three kids venture into the time of Merlin and Arthur just before his crowning. Instead of having the chance to pull the sword out of the stone right away, fate intervenes and Arthur is put into a jail cell. Can the Time Soldiers help Arthur get out of the cell so that he can fulfill his destiny?

Journey by Aaron Becker

Journey coverTake a little Harold and the Purple Crayon, a little Where the Wild Things Are, some glorious illustrations, and a world you’ll remember (and wish for!) long after finishing the book, and you have Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book, Journey. Tired of waiting for her family to put down their electronics, and for the neighbourhood kids to invite her into their games, Journey‘s protagonist sets off on her own adventure. Red marker in hand, she creates a door that leads her from sepia-toned reality to a grand and richly green forest. When a stream appears, the marker produces a small boat, and when the stream-turned-aqueduct suddenly ends, it provides a hot air balloon in the nick of time.

Making (literally) her own way along is only half the adventure, though. While floating above the city in her balloon, the girl notices a purple bird being caught and caged. Abandoning her meandering trip, the girl follows the hunters’ airship, determined to find and free the bird. Accomplishing her task might earn her what she’s wanted all along. It might also cost her everything.

I’ve been waiting for Journey since spring, and while I wasn’t disappointed, I was surprised. I’d anticipated something of an update on Harold, and wondered how such a personal journey would come around to the “act of tremendous courage and kindness” described in the publisher’s blurb. While the red marker does play a significant role in the story, the vast, detailed landscapes and distinct contrast between the girl’s travels and her family’s screen-and-cord-bound lives combine to make this a much more outward-focused journey than Harold’s from the start. And while the story is simple, I think that this is another one where rereading and discussing will reveal more to love about Journey every time.

Read about the book from a teacherly point of view at Reading, Teaching, Learning, or from a mom’s perspective at Everyday Reading.

Come join the Sharp-Schu Book Club on Twitter on Wednesday, September 25th to talk about Journey and ask Aaron Becker questions!

If the art is what grabs you in Journey, check out Becker’s guest post on Gurney Journey to find out how he did it.

In case you haven’t seen it already (and even if you have), you really need to watch this gorgeous book trailer:

The Melancholic Mermaid written by Kallie George and illustrated by Abigail Halpin

The Melancholic Mermaid cover Simply ReadBoth Tony and Maude were born a little different. He has webbed fingers; she has two tails. The latter, at least, seems like a good thing at first. Double-tailed merfolk have a tendency to make history. Unfortunately, the extra speed and agility that allows them to do so also makes Maude unpopular with the other merchildren — she’s way too fast to be any fun for games and races. Tony, too, has trouble with the other kids, who tease him relentlessly.

Tony and Maude meet one another as fellow circus performers. Tony was turned over to the circus by his concerned and trusting parents, who hoped that the Ring Mistress was right when she told them Tony would be happier there. Maude was caught by a fisherman’s net, and sold to the circus for a mint. When neither act proves profitable, the Ring Mistress decides to recoup her losses by having the stage-frozen Tony train the despondent Maude. But Tony realises that he and Maude have a thing or two in common, and he devises a different plan entirely.

The Melancholic Mermaid is its own kind of different. There’s the story, which brings together imagined mermaid lore, bullying, show business, and adventure. There’s the format, which crosses picture book with chapter book. And there are the pictures, which are full of sea colours and personality and just…wonderful. Because of the length, the story would be a great choice for a more confident reader who still loves lots of pictures, or as a read-aloud for a mixed-age group. Make sure to read to the end – the epilogue is the best part!

Read several more reviews collected on the publisher’s website

Check out an interview with Kallie George and Abigail Halpin at Cynsations.

King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson by Kenneth Kraegel

King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson, a 2012 picture book by Kenneth Kraegel, is an entertaining and gorgeously wrought tale of adventure and lessons learned.

At the ripe old age of six, Henry Alfred Grummorson awakes to destiny. ‘Tis the day, thinks he, to tread the adventurous path of his own Very Great Grandpa (known to the rest of us as the illustrious King Arthur). And so atop his trusted donkey, Knuckles, and with his gleaming sword at hand, young Henry rides off to confront the dangers menacing his world…

King Arthur's Very Great Grandson cover Candlewick

With each monster he meets — whether the fire-breathing dragon or dreadful Cyclops, the grim-faced Griffin or the ginormous Leviathan — Henry roars his manly challenge and prepares to battle his way to victory. Time and time again, though, the outcome is a far cry from what the valiant young knight was expecting, leaving him increasingly disgruntled. But ever so slowly, aided by mirthful monsters, King Arthur’s GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT grandson begins to realize that perhaps fights to the uttermost are not the way to true victory after all.

The colorful vocabulary and syntax, and the nuanced drawings of this picture book work exceptionally well together. Adventure is tangible here, but so too are important lessons around misconceptions (e.g., heroes versus bullies) and the value of friendship.  While Kirkus reviews the story as being appropriate for children aged 4 to 7 years, there is much to thrill and interest younger children, too. Additional reviews, a book trailer, and information about the author are also available on Kraegel’s personal website.

Here I Am story by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Here I Am coverMoving to a new place is never easy, and when the language and customs don’t make any sense, feeling at home there seems almost impossible.

Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez’s wordless picture book brings a little boy and his family to the United States. While the rest of his family is a little more open to making a go of this new life, the boy is frustrated and intimidated by the strangeness of everything. He retreats into himself, watching the world from behind (safe) apartment windows and longing for home.

This desire for “home” is at first centred in a red seed that the boy has brought with him. Gradually, though, the meaning of the seed changes, from a reminder of another place to simply the possibility of growth. When the boy loses his seed, he sets off after it, and quickly discovers, as he wanders his new neighbourhood, that this place is full of interesting things and friendly people. While he does eventually find the seed, the boy has by that time grown confident enough to be friendly himself. He and the little girl who found the seed plant it, and as it grows, so does their friendship, including first his sister, then her brother, and eventually both children’s parents as well.

Here I Am is a lovely, contemplative story. The images do a wonderful job of helping the reader to feel the strangeness of a new place for themselves, in particular through the spoken and written language that surrounds the boy, depicted in “bla-bla-blas” and mingled letters and symbols from a variety of alphabets. The book is as valuable for young readers welcoming new immigrants into their classroom or community as for new immigrants themselves, with its focus on understanding, courage, and finding universal means of communication.

Read more reviews from Book Egg and A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall.

Ever wonder how an author composes a wordless book when she/he is not the illustrator? Check out this interview on Capstone Connect to find out how Patti Kim did it!

Watch the official trailer:

Releases September 2, 2013. Thanks to Capstone Kids and NetGalley for the review copy!