Jane, the Fox & Me written by Fanny Brit, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Jane, the Fox and Me coverHélène is struggling with a dreary school life of no friends, teasing and poor self-image. Her current strategy for respite is in reading Jane Eyre and reflecting upon how, despite the great adversity she faces as she grows up, Jane remains resilient to the things that unfold in her life.

Much to her dismay, Hélène learns that her class will be spending four days together at an isolated nature camp in the woods. It’s bad enough to have to deal with rejection and teasing during school hours. Having to spend time away from home is something that Hélène certainly is not looking forward to.

While it is somewhat helpful to escape in reading, she is still not immune to the her classmates’ bullying at camp. She bunks with the other “outcasts,” but can’t break the ice. Just when the bleakness is starting to feel all-encompassing, she experiences a moment of connection with a fox. She is inches away from petting it when one of her bunk mates spooks it away.

Hélène is about to give up on hope entirely when a friendly face, Géraldine, comes to join the outcasts’ tent. Géraldine’s friendship helps break the spell placed upon Hélène, and a bit of colour starts filling Hélène’s life as she starts to see her life in a different way.

Simply put, a beautiful book. Arsenault’s use of gray tones, colours and various fonts captures the feelings that are represented within the words. The experience  and feelings of “not quite fitting in” and being unhappy with oneself are well addressed. Moreover, the book shines positive light on the one parent family dynamic of Hélène, her two brothers and their mother.

Read other reviews of Jane, the Fox and Me from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly.

Another blogger’s review of the novel at edge of seventeen.

Combating Bullying

Bullying Canada

Stop A Bully : Safe and Anonymous

Pink Shirt Day

20 Innovative Ways Schools Are Combating Bullying BullyingPrevention.com

Kids can play active role in combating bullying among peers, experts say Macleans magazine

Cyberbullying MediaSmarts

Do you have anti-bullying tactics that are working for your school/organization? Please share in the comments!

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) written by Lisa Yee and illustrated by Dan Santat

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) coverFive facts that complicate Bobby Ellis-Chan’s life:

  • He wants a dog more than anything, but fur sets off his asthma
  • Somehow he ended up with a fish, instead
  • His father used to be a famous football player, and has way more in common with Bobby’s football-star big sister than he does with Bobby
  • Now his father is a stay-at-home dad who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of cooking or laundry
  • His best friend, Holly, started to act like a girl over the summer

Fourth grade starts off tough for Bobby. And just when some things seem to be turning out alright — it turns out his fish can do tricks! — others go terribly, terribly wrong. A misstep here, a backward campaign poster there, and Bobby’s class is divided right down the middle, boys vs. girls. With Bobby chosen as the boys’ champion, and Holly representing the girls, it looks like their friendship might be toast.

In need of someone else to talk to, Bobby discovers that his goldfish, besides being a pretty good soccer player, is a great listener. And when the class takes a field trip to a botanical garden, Bobby finds himself hugging — and quickly stuck to — the world’s stinkiest, and surely loneliest, tree. But while fish can sort of listen, and trees can sort of hug back, neither quite compares to Holly. Maybe boys and girls can be friends after all?

If you don’t remember being Bobby, by the end of Bobby vs. Girls, you’ll certainly want to be his friend. Recommended for readers who’ve enjoyed Ramona Quimby’s books, or as a readaloud over several sessions. Like the Ramona books, Bobby’s chapters are episodic enough to stand alone, but listeners will want to know what happens next!

Read more reviews from 100 Scope Notes (SLJ) and Waking Brain Cells.

See how the cover for Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) was developed!

Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland

The Seeing Stone coverArthur de Caldicot is surrounded by crossing places. There’s the year, 1199, which promises the mystery of a new century. There’s his home, perched on the border of England and Wales, and his family, which blends the traditions and sensibilities of both. There’s the death of Coeur de Lion, and the rise of King John. And there’s Arthur’s seeing stone, a gift from his mentor, Merlin, which give him glimpses into another life strangely parallel to his own.

This first book in Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy introduces the Arthurian legends through the eyes of a medieval teen convinced that knighthood is everything he wants. Short chapters alternate between detailed images of life in a medieval manor, and vivid scenes from King Arthur’s beginnings, from his strange conception to the much-contested drawing of the sword from the stone. Between the two, the later Arthur’s story moves almost imperceptibly forward. Though there is a central conflict and, ultimately, a kind of resolution, there is a sense that for the most part, the reader is trusted to draw meaning out everyday life. Arthur asks questions and makes choices, observes and discovers, worries and determines who he can and will trust. Having experienced all of this with Arthur, the reader is ready to recognise the full weight of the conclusion — and to reach eagerly for the next book.

I highly recommend The Seeing Stone for readers who enjoy historical fiction that provides a faithful window into another culture, and for those interested in the Middle Ages more generally. The series is also a great place to start developing a deeper sense of the Arthurian legends, as the short, memorable scenes provide plenty of entry points for understanding a more advanced work like Le Morte d’Arthur down the road without conflicting with those more traditional tellings.

Continue the series with At the Crossing Places and The King of the Middle March.

Read other reviews from Publishers Weekly and, from a writer’s point of view, Miss Reading.

Visit the author’s website to find out how his Arthur trilogy came to be, or head over to The Guardian for an interview with Crossley-Holland on the occasion of his Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

*Apologies for the delayed post!

Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

Ways to Live Forever coverWhen he is eleven years old, and dying of cancer, Sam decides to write a book. Nothing big — just his own story, and his favourite interesting facts, and the questions that he wishes someone would answer (but no one ever does). Instructed initially just to “write something about yourselves,” Sam discovers that this is a great way to process how he, and the people around him, respond to the expectation the doctors have given that this will be his last battle with cancer.

Sam is particularly fond of lists, and one — an assignment to describe things he’d like to do — ends up providing the central thread through his book. Sam lists eight things that he’d like to do, without believing that any of them is really possible. When his friend, and fellow cancer patient, Felix, challenges him on that, Sam sets out to complete his list. Some are relatively easy: while his mom is busy shopping one afternoon, Sam sneaks off to trek up a down escalator. Others take creative interpretation, like the World Record Setting Occasional Wardrobe Nightclub. And at least one requires the help of his dad, who’s had a hard time believing that his son really won’t be healthy again.

Sam’s story is sometimes intense, often funny, and always very personal. Sam and his family and friends are fully-realised and complex; together they provide an engaging picture of one child’s death that avoids cliché and manipulation while suggesting how others in a similar situation might feel. Sam shows fear and anger, and determination and humour and curiosity. His mother is weary and grieving and expects homework and manners while understanding that sometimes going sledding together is more important than responsibilities. His father denies, and loves, and does what he can to help his son to do something silly and improbable and somehow deeply important. If you’re looking for a novel that is honest and moving, this is one to find.

Find more reviews at The Weaving Knight and Inis Magazine (the publisher’s website also offers a collection of journal reviews).

Watch the trailer for the (so far) limited-release film based on the book. Explore the website to find out how the makers hope to use the film to help fight childhood cancer.

Ten: Vying for the Throne

Arthur demonstrated his claim to the throne but pulling Excalibur from a rock. Others’ paths to a throne (or its equivalent) have been a little more complicated. This week’s Ten looks at how a variety of characters have approached the challenge of winning a place at the top, whether facing curses, usurpers, or strings of bizarre tests.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
Prince Khemri’s one of ten million princes responsible for keeping the Empire humming. Though his first experiences as an adult prince quickly teach him to moderate his opinion of himself, it turns out that Khemri is indeed a favourite of the Emperor, picked out as a top candidate for the throne. The job of proving himself the best suited of a galaxy full of princes raises questions, though, and leaves Khemri wondering whether the system he’s been raised to benefit from is really so great after all. Continue reading

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave coverIn a post-apocalyptic world, Cassie feels like she is the last human alive. When the alien mothership loomed closer towards Earth, no one could have predicted what was to happen. The first wave took away their lives, the second took away hope of reconciliation, the third left only the few (both lucky and unlucky) survivors, and the fourth is killing off most of those who have outlived the other waves. Now, on the brink of the fifth wave, anything could happen — nothing and no one can be trusted.

Among Cassie’s possessions is her M-16, a first aid kit, water, a diary, some tins of sardines, pictures and a stuffed toy bear. Though worn and ragged from years of being loved, the bear represents the promise that she made to her brother, and the reason she fights so hard to survive. Little does she know that she is being stalked by someone in the shadows.

Elsewhere is another survivor who, through a miracle, has also somehow survived through all four waves. Dubbed Zombie by his rescuers, he is ushered to the barracks amongst the other surviving children to become trained “military style” to fight the enemies: you either make it or you die trying. When his regiment succeeds in bumping up its ranking and finally takes action outside camp, they are in for a surprise when they learn who their real enemies are.

Suspenseful, mysterious and with hints of romance throughout, Yancey does a stellar job of interweaving the lives and stories of its characters. He leaves the reader speculating about the realities within our day to day lives; what if the world that we live in really isn’t what we think it is? What would you do if your life was endangered by another species?

See more reviews by: Wired, the New York Times, and Mrs. ReaderPants.

Read the interview between Entertainment Weekly and Rick Yancey.

The Favorite Daughter by Allen Say

The Favorite Daughter coverYuriko is excited to bring a photo of herself to school for a class album project. Among the various photos that her dad has of her, she picks one of her younger self in a red kimono.  But when her new art teacher mispronounces her name, and classmates tease her for not looking Japanese, Yuriko is crushed and decides that she wants to be called Michelle instead.

Yuriko’s father respects “Michelle’s” decision, and takes her out to dinner to discuss things. They end up going for some sushi, and the next day, he takes her to visit “Japan” in Golden Gate Park. Her upset towards her original name begins to resolve when an artist draws an especially beautiful picture of a lily flower for Yuriko, since her name means “child of the lily” in Japanese.

Meanwhile, her new assignment for her art class is to create a rendition of the Golden Gate Bridge. She’s already drawn a picture of the bridge, but she wants to be unique in her work, and is stuck not knowing what to do. Furthermore, when Yuriko and her father get around to driving on the bridge, they find it in some dense fog. While a little flustered with how things have turned out, her dad’s suggestion to use her imagination sparks Yuriko’s creativity. She asks for cotton and a cardboard box, but will not let her father know what she is up to until her project is completed and her name has been written on it.

Say, best known for his picture book Grandfather’s Journey and Tea with Milk, does a marvellous job of depicting struggles that have the potential to run deep, such as self-esteem. Printed with photographs of a real “Yuriko,” it addresses some of the feelings and reactions one might have to being different, and shows the patience and understanding of a father who allows his child to work through her frustrations while being continually supportive.

See book reviews by Kirkus reviews, Publisher’s Weekly and BookDragon.

Take a look at the OPB PBS video on Allen Say, writer and illustrator