Around the World by Matt Phelan

Around the World coverTake three determined people, set before them a challenge they can’t refuse, and get ready for (vicarious) adventure.

Toward the end of the 19th century, three individuals took on the challenge of travelling around the world, each for his or her own reasons, and each in his or her own way. Thomas Stevens, eager to leave behind a life in the mines, taught himself to manage one of the new bicycles and peddled across the United States. When the first trip went well, he decided to continue his journey across the Atlantic to England, through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and finally across the Pacific to finish back in San Francisco. Reporter Nellie Bly set out specifically to outdo Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. With only one small bag, the clothes on her back, and a pet monkey purchased along the way, Bly flung herself around the world, gaining more fans with every mile, and beating Fogg (and a contemporary competitor from another publication) handily. Joshua Slocum, a retired sailor apparently made obsolete by the rise of steamships, intended little more than to take once more to the sea. Where Stevens’ journey was characterised by people-watching and new friends, and Bly’s by an expectation that the people along her way would cooperate with her determination to make it around the world quickly, Slocum’s journey was almost entirely solitary, dependent on his memories, his expertise, and the wind.

The adventure and factoids that fill Around the World will easily hold the attention of middle grade readers, but don’t miss out on reading it yourself. Phelan’s artistic and literary presentation of these three stories is rich with humour and a keen sense of the complex relationship between the journey experienced, and the journey told.

Check out more reviews from Fyrefly’s Book Blog and Kirkus.

Read the stories from their own pens! Find Thomas Stevens’ description of his journey in Around the World on a Bicycle and Nellie Bly’s story in Nellie Bly’s Book, both available on Project Gutenberg.

Catch the book trailer:

Feeling the wanderlust? Find out what travelling around the world looks like today!

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Ten: Graphic Novel Biographies

Where the value of graphic novels is under debate, it may be helpful to have a few clearly educational titles to offer as an entry point to the form. Adaptations of classic novels abound, and fit beautifully into Ashley Thorne’s argument for valuing adaptations and abridgments for their ability to make substantial literature in its original form more accessible to readers. Another great option is graphic novel biographies, which not only introduce readers to some pretty amazing lives, but also, in some cases, accomplish more through the combination of printed words and pictures than might be possible in more traditional forms of storytelling. On the plus side, as is the case with classic lit adaptations, one graphic novel biography often points the way to more, either by the same author or in the same series — it seems to be an addictive sort of work!

By Jim Ottaviani
In partnership with a variety of illustrators, Jim Ottaviani has produced a long list of graphic novel biographies focused on the world of science and its intersection with society (e.g. politics, gender expectations, etc.). In addition to the titles below, look for Feynman, T-minus: The Race to the Moon, Suspended In Language: Niels Bohrs Life, Discoveries, And The Century He Shaped and more.

Primates: the Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
You’ve heard of Jane Goodall, but maybe not the others, yet. Ottaviani and Wicks give readers a glimpse of the lives and work of these three women, as well as some insight into how their work has contributed to the movement to conserve primate habitats. Continue reading

The Metro Dogs of Moscow by Rachelle Delaney

The Metro Dogs of Moscow coverMeet JR, short for Jack Russell. He’s an embassy dog who travels with his human companion, a diplomat named George. Just as he is getting really comfortable with living in Dublin, he finds out that they are moving to Moscow. It is not too long after his arrival that he is already bored with his mundane life; he would really enjoy having more than just the short “walkies” George offers him. He wants to run freely like he did on the sea shores of Dublin.

One day, JR can’t stand it any longer and escapes from his home. While he manages to get home the first time, he begins to go out regularly. He befriends some of Moscow’s strays, who show him around town to see some of the museums and famous streets. Mostly they walk, but sometimes they jump on the subway to get around. All the while, rumours are spreading amongst the strays that an increasing number of them are missing. While his friends continue to be gracious in showing him around, even those in their close circle are going missing. He tries to help, but being a small embassy dog, JR is limited in what he can do — or so he thinks. Little does he know that he is the key to helping the strays of Moscow to cross their boundaries and rescue their friends.

Delaney’s book, inspired by real dogs that travel around Moscow, is a treat to read. Travel with JR among the streets of Moscow, and feast on the the foods and aromas within the city (especially the mouthwatering Kroshka Katroshka stuffed potato delicacies!).

See other book reviews by Quill and Quire , CM magazine and Shelf Elf.

Read a little more about the Moscow’s Metro dogs on Let’s Get Lost.

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Ysabel cover“Ned wasn’t impressed” – So begins the novel Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Bored Canadian teen, Ned Marriner, wanders around Aix-en-Provence listening to his iPod, and spending time with Kate, the nerdy and cute American girl he meets on his first visit to Saint – Saveur Cathedral. He also uncovers secrets about himself, his family, the ancient statue in the cathedral garden, and the time-traveler hiding in the baptistery.

Ned’s emerging abilities set him on an adventure through Provence into a centuries old love triangle. On top all that, Ned is also negotiating the uncertainties of relationships, independence, and avoiding the creatures that seem to be stalking him. He also learns what risks he is willing to take for the people he cares about.

From that first line you might think that Ned is a stereotypical teen character, but he isn’t. The tension in the story is brought on by events that are tied to Ned’s strange new abilities, which bring about very real dangers when someone significant in Ned’s life becomes entangled in an ancient myth.

Ysabel brings history and mythical characters to life, it exposes the bloody truths behind this often romanticized region of France, and takes you on an adventure that is quite difficult to put down.

Ysabel would appeal to readers aged 13 and up who are fond of fantasy with strong historical roots, though Kay fans might find the modern setting less enthralling than the rich detail of his previous novels.

You may also want to read the December 2006 review from Quill & Quire, or this detailed and illuminating review from Strange Horizons, which contrasts two readers’ perspectives.

Ten: The Journey

A journey requires something special of the participant. Separated from the familiarity and habits of home life, a person on a journey generally finds that the things that can’t be left behind — all the fears and doubts and weaknesses and, yes, strengths and joys and passions — come into sharper focus. The characters in this week’s Ten set out for various reasons, but each is faced with him or herself. What they learn about themselves, and what they do with that information, is a big part of what makes each story worth reading.

The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle
Before they move to the city for a year for their father’s research, the Austin family spends the summer camping their way across the United States, offering both a bonding time for the family, and something of a journey of self discovery for the protagonist, fourteen-year-old Vicky.

Continue reading

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers

The Way Back Home coverOne day, a little boy discovers an aeroplane in his cupboard that he hadn’t realised he owned. Like any sensible child, he takes immediate advantage of the opportunity and hops on board. Unfortunately, just as the boy reaches the moon, his plane breaks down, and he finds himself stranded, with no hope of rescue and strange noises coming over the next ridge. What appears, of course, is not the monster he imagines, but an alien who has crashed on the other side of the moon. The two devise a plan, fix their respective vehicles, and return home. The final page suggests that the friendship begun with their shared adventure will continue.

Despite the presence of space travel and a friendly little Martian, Oliver Jeffers’ The Way Back Home feels more like a fantasy, somewhat reminiscent of Crockett Johnson’s Harold stories. The story and illustrations display familiarity with a sweet child-logic, from the crescent moon geography to the little boy’s simple solution of running home for a wrench to fix the alien’s spaceship. The illustrations are evocative and humorous, full of–as I’ve been telling people since I first fell in love with Jeffers’ work through this story–the most remarkably expressive stick people you’ve ever seen. This one is sure to be a favourite for both children and their parents, who will also have fun looking for hints of Jeffers’ earlier “Once there was a boy” books, How to Catch a Star and Lost and Found, in the illustrations!

Read a review from Speechlanguage-resources, which has suggestions for how the story might be used for teaching, or one from Inis, a children’s book magazine.

Watch Oliver Jeffers takes us through a day in his life:

Ten: Guess What I Can Do!

Kids’ and teens’ books are full of characters with talents and abilities that don’t quite fit in. The difficulty of accepting these differences adds weight to the burden of growing up, but it also offers a point of familiarity for readers who feel out of place in life. This week’s Ten looks at the experience of otherness from various angles, with particular interest in the common secondary theme of recognising the power bestowed by that otherness and the importance of learning to use said power responsibly.

Dreamcatcher by Monica Hughes
In the midst of a community of gifted people, Ruth’s gifts mostly just cause trouble. When she starts receiving messages from outside of the city’s dome, however, Ruth and her gifts are proven valuable not only to her own community, but also to another community in need of help that Ruth is particularly suited to offer. Be sure to read Devil on my Back, first. Continue reading