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!

Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles by Frank Cammuso

Knights of the Lunch Table coverArtie King may be new to Camelot Middle School, but he’s already made friends, ticked off Joe and his Horde, and fulfilled a prophecy that sort of makes him king of the school. Artie’s locker assignment sticks him with the one locker on campus that no one has ever been able to open. In fact, a prophecy has grown up around it: whoever gets the locker door open will thereafter rule the school. In need of a place to leave his books, Artie gives the combination a try — and the door opens easily. When lord-of-the-hallways Joe fails to replicate the feat, Artie’s fame, and Joe’s hatred, are fixed.

Artie’s new friend Percy has the perfect solution: Joe’s Horde and Artie’s newly-christened Knights of the Lunch Table will play one game of dodgeball. Whoever wins the game, wins the throne (figuratively speaking). Artie’s a shoo-in — assuming he actually has amazing dodgeball skills everyone thinks he does. And if he doesn’t?

The Knights might be in more trouble than they thought.

This first graphic novel in Cammuso’s Knights of the Lunch Table series introduces an impressive collection of references to the King Arthur legends in an accessible, relevant, and entertaining story. Artie’s knights are awkward middle schoolers eager to play their part in their friend’s accidental challenge to Camelot’s social order. Gwen(evere) abandons the sidelines to claim her own place in the saga – I can’t wait to see more of her in later books! Mr. Merlyn is an odd-but-wise teacher always ready with a bit of advice. And of course there’s Artie’s Excalibur – er, locker – available only to him, and mysteriously stocked with just the right thing at just the right time. Let the adventures begin!

Find other reviews and learn more about the series as a whole at 100 Scope Notes, Guys Lit Wire, and Stacked.

Play Dodge-a-Rama on the Graphix website.

Ten: For Young Writers Part 3 — Stories about Young Writers

This last For Young Writers post leaves advice (mostly) behind in favour of story. The writers described in these stories may approach the task with eagerness or doubt, teacher expectations, or a deep need of their own to write. What they have in common is a growing understanding of the potential of their own words.

Once Upon an Ordinary School Day written by Colin McNaughton and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
On a perfectly ordinary, ho hum day, a new teacher arrives who challenges his students to open their imaginations to music and story. In bare handfuls of words, McNaughton captures a multitude of approaches to creativity, as well as the effects that creativity can have on those willing to give it a try. Continue reading

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Beholding Bee coverBee has been part of Ellis’s travelling show all her twelve years. Since her parents’ death, she and her unofficial guardian, Pauline, have been a team. Bee helps with the hot dog cart and looks for a home that will finally get the two of them off the road. Pauline keeps records of Bee’s life and fights to keep her — and her large, diamond-shaped birthmark — out of Ellis’s “Look See” exhibit. When Pauline gets involved with a newcomer, Ellis takes the opportunity to send her off to help start a satellite show that he hopes will boost flagging wartime profits. Feeling betrayed, and vulnerable to Ellis’s greed, Bee takes off, looking for a place to claim as home.

What she finds is the cozy little house of her dreams, inhabited by two old women who welcome her and settle her into the bedroom they’ve prepared. Mrs. Potter offers comfort; Mrs. Swift insists that Bee make something of herself, beginning with school. And here’s where the story really gets going. At school, where she’s placed in the “special” class to avoid teasing, Bee discovers the responsibility of friendship, the satisfaction of being expected to thrive, and the possibility that standing up to a bully may require as much compassion as it does bravery.

Though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the book as a whole, the complexity of the characters and the relationships between them is exceptional. Nearly every character with any significance in the novel has flaws and struggles of his or her own, and each is eventually shown to deserve at least a bit of sympathy. Beholding Bee would be a great choice for a group read, with lots of potential for discussion about friendship, bullying, home, and what it means to be a good teacher or parent.

Read other reviews from Fourth Musketeer, Beth Fish Reads and Kirkus.

The American Library Association’s Association for Library Services to Children recently included Beholding Bee in its list of nominees for Notable Children’s Books. Check out the rest of the list!

Firegirl by Tony Abbott

Firegirl coverTom Bender is a typical Grade 7 kid. He’s shy, fascinated by sports cars (he’s dying for a ride in his best friend’s uncle’s Cobra!) and has a crush on a girl. He and his classmates are shaken up though, when Jessica joins their class.

Jessica is no ordinary girl. Imagine what it might feel like to be trapped inside a burning car as it ignites, leaving you screaming for it to stop, for water and ice to stop your body from burning any more.  Imagine how terrible it would feel to lose your once-beautiful face, to be called “Firegirl” by your peers.  Imagine holding out your hand to say your prayers with the whole class and have a classmate purposely avoid touching it.

While all the other students reject Jessica, Tom is kind and brave enough to hold her hand. He gets to know her and listens to the story behind her scars, changing his outlook on life.

Though perhaps a bit slow in its plot development, Tony Abbott’s compelling book explicitly addresses social and moral issues such as peer pressure and discrimination based on outer appearances. Told through the eyes of Tom, it challenges readers to think about their own vulnerabilities, and assumptions that they might make. It also is a tale about courage — both the successes and challenges that can arise from taking the extra step to try and live life “normally.”

See what others thought about the book:

Kirkus Review’s Book review

Kidsread’s Book review

Democrat and Chronicle : Student Review

– A student-made book trailer

The Unforgotten Coat written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and illustrated by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney

The Unforgotten Coat coverJulie’s new classmates, Chingis and Nergui, have a lot of stories to tell. Some are interesting, like the ones about their home in Mongolia — complete with Polaroid pictures! Some are strange, like the reason Nergui needs to keep his hat on in class. And some are downright scary. Is Nergui really being chased by a demon? Julie, the boys’ guide to life in Bootle, spends the most time with Chingis and Nergui, but even she can’t quite sort out the line between truth and fiction in their stories. Following the boys home one night reveals some of the answers, but new questions arise when their whole family disappears the same night. A final twist, courtesy of the now-adult Julie, provides the explanation for the book’s title.

The Unforgotten Coat offers a portrait of immigration — specifically illegal immigration — through the eyes of children. Julie’s host-child voice, pleased to welcome but openly curious, creates a familiar frame for the more complex perspectives of the two boys, struggling to comprehend the relationship between the old home and the new, and the threats associated with each, even as they interpret that relationship for their classmates. The surprising source of their photographs of home adds an intriguing layer to the story’s mystery, and might well inspire a bit of experimenting on the part of readers. I’ll let you discover that secret for yourself!

Read reviews from Publishers Weekly or Auld School Librarian.

Find out about The Reader Organisation, which The Unforgotten Coat was originally written to support, and a bit about the background of the story.

Also, check out this article on Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Perfect Weekend, just because it’s so lovely.