Monthly Archives: November 2012

Three for Me

There was a little bit of snow this morning. I have made shortbread. Now I am considering my Christmas list. Here are three books that are on my always-getting-longer list:

Because she is adorable and the trailer has music from Amelie in it and I like to offer cute French commentary when I’m cooking too.

Because I am currently reading Wildwood and to me, it is a kind of a cross between Moonrise Kingdom and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is a delightfully whimsical adventure starring quirky, independent, outsider kids.

And this:

because I never read the first book even though it sounded absolutely perfect for me, and now look, there are 6 installments! I’m thinking Boxing Day Mystery Marathon on the couch with cocoa…

Are you listening Santa?

Quite possibly my favourite book of 2012: The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper

I am sure I’ve said before that I cannot resist a well-told war story. Add quirky characters, romance, heartbreak, and a sweeping scope, and I’d say you’re talking about my perfect book, or you might well be describing Michelle Cooper’s first class novel, The FitzOsbornes at War. I finished this book, the last in the Montmaray Journals trilogy, this morning, and the moment after reading the final word I wanted to go back to Book 1 and begin all over again. It has earned a place on my all time favourites shelf, right beside the first two in the series (after I get all of them for Christmas, that is).

In the second book, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the royal family of Montmaray is forced to flee their home when the Nazis invade their remote island kingdom. They found refuge in London, and in Book 3, they discover they cannot escape the war and its tragic consequences. King Toby and his cousin Simon join the RAF, Princess Veronica translates for the Foreign Office, Princess Sophie works (rather reluctantly) for the Food Ministry, and Princess Henry just wants to do anything but go to boarding school. Rounding out the cast are other familiar faces from the first books, as well as famous historical figures. Cooper weaves fact and fiction together into an entirely convincing and deeply satisfying narrative.

The prime reason why this book will take such hold of you is Sophie’s voice. Like its predecessors, The FitzOsbornes at War is written as Sophie’s diary. Sophie FitzOsborne springs off the page, lively and opinionated and yearning for love and happy endings for everyone she cares about. Thanks to her voice, as well as the wonderful level of day to day detail in the story, you leave this book feeling that you have some understanding of what it could have been like to come of age during such a desperately hard period of history.

Finally, do yourself a favour. Do not make the same mistake I did. Do not go hunting around at the back of the book just to see what’s there. If you do, you might find the Family Tree hiding back there and then you may not be able to look away and then your eye will wander until you see things, spoilerish things that you never wanted to see at all. It is saying something about the brilliance of this book that I found said spoilerish things and I still loved every single minute of the story as I read it.

I really, desperately, want there to be more story, more FitzOsbornes, more Montmaray. Please, Ms Cooper, we’ll read it, we promise. Or at the very least, please, someone out there who produces brilliant British miniseries, get working on this already, so that we will have something to watch once Downton Abbey is done.

You may want to take a look at Michelle Cooper’s blog series, How to Write a Historical Novel in Seven Easy Steps, beginning here. Easy? Right. If you’re Michelle Cooper…

The FitzOsbornes at War is published by Knopf.

(Are you listening, Santa?)

Adorable Doggy Duo: Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee

When I was about ten, my dad decided to get two kittens to live at his house, to keep him company, and so that my sister and I would have furry friends to play with when we came over to his place on the weekends. They were ginger cats, litter mates, and he named them Pork and Beans. Pork was mine, and Beans was my sister’s. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize that while Beans was a beauty, with long shiny fur and a fluffy ruff around his neck, he was dumb, “thick as a post,” my dad concluded. Pork was tough, the kind of cat that was born to roam around outside and get into scraps with the other cats in the neighbourhood. He wasn’t much to look at, a pretty ordinary short-haired cat, but while his brother had looks, he had brains. I think this was why my dad didn’t worry too much about them when he opened the back door and let the cats out. He probably figured Pork would take care of Beans, but I used to wonder how Beans managed out there in the wide world. Anyway, those two feline brothers made such a crazy pair, and I liked to imagine all the trouble and adventures they had together.

In the end, one day Beans did not come home, and after a few weeks, we figured that his lack of street smarts (or any smarts at all) had led to his untimely end. I think it was two years later when my dad discovered by chance that Beans was completely fine, living in a house a few streets away, and my dad decided to let him stay there with his new people. My dad used to say that I should write a book about Pork and Beans, and the other day, when I picked up Marla Frazee’s wonderful new book, Boot & Shoe, it got me thinking about the wacky feline brothers I used to know and love.

If you are in any way an animal person, Boot & Shoe will charm your socks off. These two tiny hounds are brothers, and they like sharing a lot of things: their house, their bowl, their peeing tree, their bed. There is just one thing that they like to do differently. Boot hangs out on the back porch, and Shoe spends his days on the front porch. Everything is “exactly perfect” until the day that a squirrel decides to start trouble. He gets both dogs going, and they chase him all over the yard. At the end of all this, the dogs have switched porches. Boot is shocked to see that Shoe is not where he should be, and Shoe is just as shocked to see that Boot is not where he should be. Both dogs wait for the other to return, but of course, that doesn’t happen. They wait all day, past dinner, in the rain, until finally they both decide at the same moment to go check the other porch. I won’t tell you how this sweetly humorous situation wraps up, because it’s just right, and utterly perfect for two comical canine characters.

Marla Frazee‘s illustrations are divine, which is no surprise given that she is a two-time Caldecott Honor medalist. I love the fact that the dogs’ faces are too hairy to see their eyes, and their little mouths are often shown as two wee lines and yet you get so much personality coming off the page. Frazee gets doggy physicality. Some of the illustrations are so understated, but you can see that every detail has been considered. There is one double-page spread, where the squirrel is running all over the yard with the dogs behind him, and Frazee has drawn about a hundred mini squirrels and dogs so that you see the chase route. It is hilarious and wonderful. You can literally follow the story of the chase around the picture. Don’t miss the way that the squirrel stops to give the pooches a wave before he saunters off. Brilliant.

A genius tale of doggy antics and friendship, Boot & Shoe is right up there in my list of new favourites.

Boot & Shoe is published by Beach Lane Books.

Don’t Steal Stuff Kids. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, a cautionary tale

This week in the library, one of the Grade 3 teachers came to see me for some picture books that could tie in with a responsibility theme. I did my usual speedwalk-around-the-library-grabbing-stuff routine, and one of the books I picked up was Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. Once I had a good stack, we sat down and went through them together. When we got to Jon Klassen’s book, I just read it to her, because it is short, and because it is awesome. She laughed (proving she is awesome). When I’d finished, she said, “I like it, but I’m not sure it’s the best for responsibility.” I said, “Sure it is. The Rabbit steals the Bear’s hat and he tries to get away with it. He doesn’t take responsibility and so…” “He gets eaten?” she said. “Exactly,” I said, “So kids, don’t steal stuff, cuz when you do, you get eaten, ‘kay?”

She took the book.

Jon Klassen’s new book, a follow-up of sorts to I Want My Hat Back, is This is Not My Hat, which has pretty much the same moral as the first book: Stealing is bad. You will get eaten if you do it. Be warned. I cannot wait to read it to the small people. They will approve. I am sure of it. I’ll bet I can even get another teacher to take it, maybe someone looking for an honesty book, or a book for a Never Trust a Crab theme?

Here’s the perfect trailer:

Every complimentary thing everybody said about I Want My Hat Back is also true for This is Not My Hat: understated, genius design, super pacing, darkly funny, a hoot.

I’m thinking we will keep buying books about hat-stealing animals for as long as Mr. Klassen wishes to create them.

This is Not My Hat is published by Candlewick.

Falling in love with Peter Pan: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

It’s the time of year when I want to bake a lot of these doughnuts, brew a pot of this tea, cozy up in this sweater, and read a book just like Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily. I am talking about a book that has a richly imagined world, atmosphere to spare, and characters who surprise and intrigue you from page one to the last. When the wind is getting chillier and the dark comes earlier each day, I want a book that pulls me in and makes me forget for a little while that it will be many months before I dive into a lake again.

I confess, I have never read J.M. Barrie’s most famous book. (For shame! It’s something embarrassing like this that makes me feel guilty about the fluff I indulge in sometimes). The only Peter Pan I can claim knowledge of is the fellow brought to life by Walt Disney. Still, that is enough for me to tell you that Anderson’s book is a re-imagining of the original tale, focusing on the life of Tiger Lily, and her love for Peter in the time before Wendy. Tink narrates, and through her point of view, we learn quickly that she too is under Peter’s spell. In the beginning Tiger Lily knows her place in her village, as the adopted daughter of Tik Tok, the shaman. She is proud, brave, and closed-in. She hides her feelings, except with Pine Sap, her closest friend, who understands her better than anyone else. With her betrothal to Giant, the greatest oaf in her village, she struggles to imagine how she will ever be his wife. It is soon after that she meets Peter and his boys and slowly, she loses herself to their wild, homemade life in the forest. Another narrative thread follows the Englishman, Phillip, who is shipwrecked in Neverland and whose religious preachings change Tiger Lily’s community forever. Then there are the mermaids, sharp-toothed, devious creatures with their own agendas, and the pirates, crazy in their desperate search for the Lost Boys. (Smee is one of the more terrifying characters I’ve come across in my YA reading). Wendy arrives, and this tangle of secrets, passion and brewing violence, finally implodes.

Jodi Lynn Anderson manages to create a story that has real emotional force. The ending is perfect – heart-wrenching and true. But at the same time, this is also a wonderful adventure, and a stunning character study of Tiger Lily, the girl we never knew in Barrie’s original tale. Anderson succeeds in evoking the buggy swamps and the terrible heat and the white sand beaches of Neverland, making it seem a much wilder, less romantic and more dangerous place than you ever imagined.

This is a book for everyone. I am always happy to find a YA title that is truly just right for my Grade 7 and 8s. Yes, this is a love story, but it’s a subtler one, a more naive one, than you’ll find in so many teen books these days. An older teen will love it, but you shouldn’t hesitate in giving it to a younger teen too.

Tiger Lily will steal your breath away, and it will make you want to read (or reread) the classic story shimmering behind it.

Jodi Lynn Anderson create a soundtrack, which you can check out here.

Tiger Lily is published by Harper Teen.