Ten: Moody Books

Along with all their other powers, stories can have considerable influence on our moods. Whether you’re looking for something that reflects your current mood, or something that will change it, sometimes a good story is just the thing. The challenge is in knowing what book to pull off the shelf. You probably have a few reliable favourites for such purposes — I know I do! This week’s Ten focuses on picture books for their simplicity of focus, but I think most will appeal to readers of any age.

When you’re feeling disgusted by injustice
The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
When a dragon burns down Princess Elizabeth’s castle and kidnaps the prince she was supposed to marry, she picks herself up, puts on the only thing left to wear (a paper bag), and sets off to correct the dragon and retrieve her prince. Whether Prince Ronald is worth keeping around post-rescue does nothing to diminish the value of Princess Elizabeth’s take-charge heroism. Continue reading

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Ten: With Their Own Two Hands

When we make things, we participate in shaping our own environments, as well as the world in which others will live. We take ownership of our places in our communities in a creative and unique way — what we create reflects who we are and how we see ourselves contributing to the people around us. This week’s Ten is full of characters whose diverse creative gifts impact their worlds in big and small ways.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Kira’s twisted leg makes her an outcast in a community that values usefulness above all else. However, a special gift for creating pictures with coloured threads makes her invaluable in preserving the past and shaping the future of her village. This is the second book in Lowry’s Giver quartet.

Continue reading

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

Ten: Fathers and Mothers, Daughters and Sons

It’s not uncommon for parents to play a minimal role — or no role at all — in children’s and YA fiction. It gives the protagonists additional space and agency to explore themselves and their world, and allows readers to do so vicariously. Even so, the parent-child relationship remains an important one for young readers, and plenty of books offer insight into both its challenges and its potential. This week’s Ten suggests that even when parents are distant, even when they break trust, there is a place for hope in love and the possibility of restoration.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Zoe’s dreams and her father’s psychological limitations come into conflict, introducing new tension into a quirky but loving father-daughter relationship. Growth in both characters makes this a very satisfying story. Continue reading

Listen for the Singing by Jean Little

Listen for the Singing coverListen for the Singing (1977) revisits the Solden family that Little introduced in From Anna. Where the first novel described the family’s initial immigration to Canada in order to escape the increasingly powerful Nazis at home in Germany, the second narrates Anna Solden’s experiences during the first year of World War II. In addition to the stress of beginning high school and her continuing struggle with a visual impairment, Anna faces a number of problems related to the war, including suspicion and mistreatment due to her German origin. Throughout the novel, however, Little insists on the value of Anna’s challenges in making her sensitive to the emotional needs of those around her. John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” provides a central metaphor for the text, emphasising the importance of following McCrae’s example in listening for the singing of the larks—that is, of watching for evidence of hope amidst the apparent hopelessness of war.

Little’s novel is considerably sweeter than most recent teen fiction, and for that reason may not appeal to readers whose experience or preferences tend more toward the modern. Even in the midst of war, Anna’s concerns are mostly those of a young and relatively unsophisticated teen: fitting in at school, a first crush, and occasionally troublesome family relationships. That said, the insight that Little offers into Canada’s home front experience and the universality and depth to be found in Anna’s growth through the course of the novel reward readers willing to give Listen for the Singing a chance.

Read a review for Listen for the Singing here.

Cover image taken of my own copy of the book. Apologies for the poor photography.