Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel

Tommysaurus Rex coverWhat if you discovered your very own pet dinosaur?

When Ely’s dog, Tommy, is accidentally killed in a car accident on his morning walk, Ely is overcome with grief. To help him deal with his loss, his parents send Ely to spend time at his grandpa’s over summer vacation. One day he sees a plastic T-Rex model and thinks, common sense aside, how cool it would be to have a pet T-Rex. He is soon in for a big surprise when he wanders into a cave — and meets a real T-Rex! But this is no ordinary dinosaur: he follows Ely around like a dog, and can do tricks like a dog, too. As they spend more time together, the bond between them grows stronger. Ely decides to name the dinosaur Tommy, and people flock to see the T-Rex. They even hold a show to raise money to help fund his care.

But not all are in support of Ely and his dinosaur. Randy, a local bully, can’t stand to let Ely get all the glory as the popular kid. No one can anticipate what happens next when he tries to take things into his own hands.

TenNapel’s graphic novels share an overarching sense of darkness, both in storyline and illustrations, but there are also strong themes of hope and family love. The number of kids and parents who have sought out his works at my library got me hooked, and I am glad of it. Tommysaurus Rex is anything but a light read: within a mere 137 pages, TenNapel addresses love, loss and bullying. I teared up more than once, but found the story’s resolution heartwarming.

Curious to find out more?

Take a look at other reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review.

You can also read more about Tommysaurus Rex at Great Books for Kids and Teen, where you’ll also find links to TenNapel’s blog and website.

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!

Ten: Lost Things

Another of the best known Arthur stories is the search for the Holy Grail. This week’s Ten highlights other stories which focus on the search for something lost.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Sometimes things get lost on purpose.
Ella lives in a town founded by the creator of the famous pangram, “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog.” When letters from the pangram start falling off the founder’s statue, the town leaders decide that any letter no longer appearing on the statue will also be removed from the town’s vocabulary. Continue reading

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!

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:

A Tale of Two Castles written by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Greg Call

A Tale of Two Castles coverWhen Elodie sets out on her own at twelve, she knows that it will be at least ten years before she sees home again. The only apprenticeship her family can afford is the kind that Elodie will purchase with ten years of service. It’s a long time, but Elodie has a plan to make it pass in a flash: though her parents believe that they are sending their daughter away for a weaving apprenticeship, Elodie intends to apprentice with an acting troupe, and fill her years with adventure.

Unfortunately, Elodie learns too late that the ten-year apprenticeships have been abolished. In order to find a home and work for herself, she’ll have to either convince a master to take her on for a much longer apprenticeship, or find a way to pay for a shorter one. Enter Meenore the dragon, who needs an apprentice to announce ITs detective skills in the market, and perform other sundry tasks around the lair. Their first big case comes from the unpopular owner of one of the story’s two castles, the ogre Count Jonty Um, whose dog has disappeared. Though Jonty Um is kind and hospitable, the villagers hate and fear him, and the Count worries that something terrible has happened. When Elodie movies into the castle under the guise of a servant, she discovers that there is far more going on than the loss of an animal. Between Elodie’s acting and observation skills, and Meenore’s detective savvy, the pair soon has a list of suspects, from the handsome cat trainer in the village to the dreadful king who owns the second castle. But they may already be too late.

A Tale of Two Castles is a clever and satisfying story recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy-laced mysteries and twisted fairy tales.

Read other reviews at Miss Print and The Reading Fever.

Revisit the fairy tale that inspired A Tale of Two Castles (it may surprise you!).

Watch the trailer:

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.