Category Archives: Non Fiction

For Graduates, big and small: The World is Waiting for You

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It’s graduation season, for students little and big. Barbara Kerley’s The World is Waiting for You would make a lovely read aloud for classes getting ready to make a big leap into Grade 1 (or even Grade 9).  It’ll make a nice companion to Oh the Places You’ll Go, which seems to be the tried and true book when it comes to celebrating graduations.

Barbara Kerley has written spare but beautiful text to accompany stunning, full-page photography from National Geographic. The images are amazing – even breathtaking – with many action shots and close-ups that grab your attention and invite you to really linger on each picture. Here’s how it starts:

“Right outside your window there’s a world to explore. Ready?

Follow that path around the next bend. Who knows where it might lead?

Make a splash. Get a little too wet. Dive in…”

The pictures really do take center stage here, with the words positioned unobtrusively in the corners or else laid out cleanly on plain white pages facing the giant photographs. There’s a clever pattern in the way the photos have been selected and arranged too. It alternates between a photo of a child doing something (exploring a river) with an adult doing a similar activity, often in his/her job (oceanographer diving with dolphins). I like how this invites kids to see their experiences of the world as being as important and authentic (and cool!) as the things adults choose to do in their day-to-day lives.

The World is Waiting for You should make readers want to race outside, away from screens and desks, towards all of the adventures to be found out there in the wide world.

The World is Waiting for You is published by National Geographic.

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat

Good news! I found a book that finally pulled me out of the ‘meh’ feeling I’ve been stuck with the past few weeks. It’s Minette’s Feast, by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates, and it’s a beauty. Guess what? It’s about food and Paris and cats! So of course it’s my idea of divine. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. I haven’t been able to say that about many books lately.

Minette’s Feast is the story of Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child, Julia Child’s cat. She was a tortoiseshell who got her middle name because she once nibbled a mimosa branch that Julia brought home. Of course Minette was one lucky cat, getting to smell delicious smells and taste delicious tidbits made by one of the most legendary cooks. But we learn that no matter the delights Julia prepared for her, there really was nothing so good as mouse.

I love that Minette comes across as a real character, as discerning and headstrong and full-of-life as her famous owner. The dialogue in the book is all taken directly from My Life in France and from Julia and Paul’s letters. There are just enough French words and expressions to give the text that Parisian je ne sais quoi, and the watercolour illustrations suit the old fashioned feeling of the narrative perfectly. The muted softness and the free style and warmth in the pictures make the story come across as all the more cozy and cheerful. This book has ambiance. If I’d read it as a cooking-crazed, cat-loving kid, I know it would have immediately become one of my very favourites.

This one is worth savoring and sharing. I’m sure Julia would approve.

Minette’s Feast is published by Abrams.

Scribbling Women Blog Tour: Marthe Jocelyn

I’m thrilled to be a stop on Day Two of Marthe Jocelyn‘s “Scribbling Women” blog tour. Marthe is celebrating the release of her latest book, Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives, published by Tundra Books.

In Scribbling Women, Marthe introduces readers to eleven tremendous and inspiring women, all of whom happen to be writers. They come from across the world, span centuries, and all had unique motivations for writing. I confess I had heard of only a few of these women before reading this book. Part of what makes this a satisfying and thought-provoking read is that it makes you wonder how many other women there must have been through history who wrote, for themselves, for others, for pleasure and other purposes. Jocelyn’s book is a window into the thoughts of extraordinary women, with such diversity of experience and perspective. And spirit – they’ve all got a lot of spirit. You cannot close this book without feeling overwhelmed by the gutsiness of these women, who prove that writing can be as bold and world-changing an act as almost anything you could think of. Each of the snapshot chapters moves at an engaging clip. Jocelyn includes a lot of research in a short space, and succeeds in making you curious to learn more about each of her subjects.

I think that it is definitely a book more for a reader in her early twenties, or very late teens, than for anyone much younger. The tone is accessible, but the language is sophisticated. I imagine that a particular interest in history would be required for a younger reader to pick it up. I think it would be the perfect high school (or university) graduation gift for a young woman who is considering what she wants to accomplish in her life, and the direction she wants to go next. You can tell that this book was a labour of love for Marthe, and that it was written by a woman who possesses a hugely curious mind, who loves to learn and is excited by the rich, story-filled expanse of history. It could very well make you want to pick up a pen and scribble a little yourself.

I asked Marthe to share her response to a question I had after reading her book: Considering what you’ve learned about your subjects through writing SCRIBBLING WOMEN, and your own experience as a scribbler yourself, describe the perils / rewards / challenges / motivators that many woman writers experience.

Here’s what she had to say:

“Being a writer as well as a woman used to arouse suspicion, dismissal, or even downright danger. There is no need, for instance, to designate a Men’s History Month, because their opinions and statistics dominate the records. Women’s history, until perhaps the last few decades, was traditionally hidden or subversive; quiet accounts locked in drawers or passed along as told stories.

But I have to admit that in my experience – in the comfort of contemporary North America – writing is no longer a perilous or audacious occupation. I do, however, have an aspect of a writer’s life to rant about… There is the commonly held belief that creating books for children is ‘adorable’ or ‘fun’. Writing a book is tremendously challenging, no matter who the audience. But a child reading a book, discovering a fact or a character or a world for the first time, is far more likely to be imprinted and inspired than anyone beyond his or her teen years. How foolish to suggest that such a responsibility is adorable. If we, the kid-writers, can snag a child’s imagination, we will provide the ‘grown-up’ writers with readers for life.”

Don’t you love that? There’s a rant I’ll stand behind. Thank you Marthe!

For more information about Scribbling Women, for the rest of the Scribbling Women blog tour schedule, and for details about how to enter an amazing giveaway where you could win a giant collection of Marthe’s books, visit Talking with Tundra.

We interrupt this program for a cookbook…

I know, I know, this is not a cookbook review blog, this is a kidslit review blog, but I am able to say that Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights has a slim connection to the world of children’s literature, given that Miss Dahl happens to be Sophie Dahl, grand-daughter to the legendary Mr. Roald Dahl. Those who know and love me know that I am a total sucker for a gorgeous cookbook and that I am always ready to expand my embarrassingly extensive collection, especially when the cookbook in question happens to be pink, and also happens to have a wonderfully narrative style.

I bought this book a few weekends back when I was feeling a shade blue. Upon seeing the pinkness of the cover and the beautiful interior photos, I decided that the best remedy for this case of the grumps was reading a cookbook in the tub with a cocktail and a crunchy snack (this is my cure for many ailments, in fact). If you are the type to be seduced by the sort of cookery book (look at me, going all Brit on you) where the writer introduces every recipe with a little anecdote, then you will fall for this collection of recipes in a heartbeat. I love this book for many of the same reasons I enjoy Nigella’s books. Sophie Dahl tells a story through these recipes, she makes food that is simple and satisfying and unpretentious and her prose is a pleasure to read. She doesn’t claim to be an expert. She writes, “I am not an authority on anything much, but I do feel qualified to talk about eating. I’ve done a lot of it.” The book focuses on freshness, and is divided up according to season, with sections in each on Breakfast, Lunch and Supper. Oh, and there is a separate part at the end on Desserts. Just as there should be.

I decided this afternoon on the way home from work that Friday would be much easier to cope with if I made a batch of Sophie’s Swiss Muesli. I ended up having some for a pre-dinner snack. Most yummy. I am thinking that my busy upcoming weekend can be improved with a little Cardamom Rice Pudding. For a glimpse inside the book, head here. To see Miss Dahl making soup, click here.

It doesn’t seem fair that someone can be this pretty, this intelligent and come from the same creative stock as the man who imagined Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the recipes here are so enticing and Sophie Dahl’s writing style is so winsome that I’m willing to forgive her for her beauty and her talent and her seemingly perfect and blessed life.

And don’t you wonder if it is a coincidence that she is seated on the steps of a gypsy caravan on the cover? Sigh. Memories of Danny the Champion of the World.

This one is destined to become floury and smudgy and to open up automatically to the page for Eton Mess with Rhubarb.

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge

Earth Day is coming up soon and the latest Magic School Bus science picture book, The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is an engaging and informative book for teachers to bring into the classroom for Earth Day lessons.

In the past I’ve used many of the titles in this series in the classroom, and they really do offer quite a lot of science content with just the right degree of sophistication for a younger audience. This latest installment in the nonfiction series is an excellent intro to the science of global warming, with the science woven nicely into another wacky adventure with the Friz. It’s familiar territory, but it works and it should please kids who are science buffs and fans of the Magic School Bus gang too.

I’d say the most engaging aspect of the text is the design, the way that a lot of info is conveyed on every page. There are inserts and sidebars, mini-comics, maps and diagrams. Each spread is packed with things to look at:

Most kids enjoy having so much choice in what to look at, and this book offers that kind of reading experience, a bit like reading a science magazine that has lots of graphics and text boxes everywhere. There is a website devoted to the series, with activities and more information on all sorts of science topics. On April 20th, author Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen will be joining Ms. Frizzle to celebrate Earth Day and to discuss their new book at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. Readers may tune in for a webcast on Tuesday, April 20th at 1pm ET / 10am PT. Simply register online, and join in on the 20th. Visit http://www.scholastic.com/magicschoolbuswebcast to register.

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is published by Scholastic Press.

Winter’s Tail – Review & Giveaway

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*Thanks to all those who left comments on this post. A winner has been selected and contacted. Happy Reading!*

Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again is a new offering from the authors who brought us Owen & Mzee, Knut and Looking for Miza (Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff and Craig Hatkoff). I’m a sucker for an animal rescue story, and all of the Hatkoffs’ books have inspired such enthusiastic response from my students, so I was happy to see they’ve headed into new, watery territory for their latest work. Here’s the publisher’s teaser text:

“When Winter, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was just three months old, she was rescued from a crab trap off the coast of Florida , and her tail was seriously damaged. She was rushed to Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It wasn’t clear that she would survive, but to everyone’s amazement, she did. Eventually though, her tail fell off, which caused Winter to compensate by swimming more like a fish than a dolphin. Over time, it was clear that she was seriously damaging her spine. But, for the last year, Winter has been learning to use a prosthetic tail. The idea came from a company that makes prosthetics for humans. It was challenging, but Winter is thriving and using her new tail with great command.

Winter is an inspiration to everyone, especially to children and adults who face challenges themselves. Many follow her blog and write e-mails to her. Day after day, the crowds come to Clearwater for a close-up look at Winter, the little dolphin that could.”

As with their previous books, the authors focus on the resilience of the animal and the amazing lengths that the human caregivers go to in order to restore and support the animal’s quality of life. The text is engaging, presenting Winter’s story in a highly narrative style, with vocabulary that is totally accessible to a young audience. Photographs take you inside the aquarium at different stages in Winter’s rehabilitation and there is a substantial amount of additional information at the end of the book on the Clearwater Aquarium, dolphins and training and also on the prosthetic company that created Winter’s tail. I’m eager to integrate this text into my unit on Habitats and on animal adaptations. I’d like to get the kids thinking about how nature informs and inspires technology and vice versa.

There’s a great website for teachers and kids and a trailer that you could show your students:

I’m happy to be able to offer one giveaway prize – a lovely package of dolphiny-type-treats:

  • Dolphin Plush
  • Dolphin Key Chain
  • Winter’s Tail game for Nintendo DS
  • Copy of Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again Book

The giveaway is open participants with a United States mailing address only (international readers may enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail!) It will run for 2 weeks after this post date (to about October 15th) and the winner will be contacted by email. Be sure you include your email someplace so that I can reach you. Just drop off a comment below to enter.

Winter’s Tail is published by Scholastic Press.

Centsibility

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Centsibility:The Planet Girl Guide to Money by Stacey Roderick and Ellen Warwick is a practical, highly readable guide to money management that targets teen girls. There are several other Planet Girl guides in this series already, most of them more crafty in theme (Fully Wooly, Injeanuity, Stuff to Hold Your Stuff). I’m usually pretty skeptical when it comes to “advice books” aimed at this audience. I find that they can really talk down, or else pigeon hole teen readers, suggesting that there’s basically one standard type of teenage girl out there who thinks and acts and dresses a certain way. As it turns out, I’m pretty impressed by this tiny guide. There’s a lot of useful, straight-forward info here that will help girls feel more in the know when it comes to money, and possibly lead them towards managing their cash with greater responsibility.

Money management isn’t a topic that all parents discuss with their kids. It isn’t usually covered in school. Yet it’s a life skill that can be complicated, intimidating and even scary, and is absolutely connected to just about everything else about being an adult. While Centsibility certainly focuses on money concerns of particular interest to a teenage girl, the information and money skills that it addresses easily transfer to “grown up” life (handling savings, setting goals, budgeting, thinking before spending, finding deals, charitable donations).

At the beginning, I thought that the thrust of the book was going to be purely how a girl can earn money to buy the things she wants. Happily, that is not the case. Yes, in the Working Girl section, there are many suggestions for how girls might go about getting a job or starting a small from-home business, but that’s just one aspect of the book. Later, readers can test their “purse-onalities” to see what kind of spenders they are. I think that this could help to encourage self-reflection before spending, which is such an important money skill to hone early in life. There are sections on finding deals, considering workers’ rights when making purchases, and thinking about the motives of advertisers as they target teen girls. Centsibility also touches on debt and donating to charity, and has a bunch of cool money-related crafts scattered throughout for fun, and for fund-raising.

This is a sassy, smart and super-readable intro to the world of personal finance. A great gift idea that could be the launch of some great conversations about spending, saving and giving.

Centsibility and the other Planet Girl Guides are published by Kids Can Press.