Monthly Archives: September 2007

Meme – Writers I’m thankful for

I’m spending the weekend in the country.  This morning, I was out driving around my childhood stomping grounds – feeling all sentimental and drippy.  It’s the perfect fall day here in southern Ontario – leaves just starting to turn, blue blue sky and a crisp wind sneaking around.

One of my favourite weekend radio shows put out a request for listeners to call in to share songwriters they are thankful for – given that next weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving.

This idea inspired me to think about which writers I am most thankful for.  So I thought I would try out this “meme thing.”   

Which 3 children’s writers are you most thankful for?  

Mine:  Michael Morpurgo, Phillip Pulman, Roald Dahl 

Ok – very British… very male… a tad predictable (but true). I know… so hard to limit to 3.  You can do 5 if you want to! 

Do share – on your blogs, or right here.  Then next Sunday I will post a big ol’ list on turkey day.   


The Thing About Georgie


Lisa Graff’s first novel, The Thing About Georgie, is a real treat.  She offers an unusual premise, an engaging and true central character, a little humour and lots of heart.

Georgie Bishop is a dwarf (there’s something about that word that doesn’t feel politically correct to me… but Graff uses it, and I expect she would know).  He’s in grade 4, and there is a lot that is normal about his life – he has great parents, a best friend, and stuff that keeps him busy outside of school.  And then there are all of the things about Georgie that aren’t “normal.”  He can’t reach the light switch.  He can’t hold a pencil the way other people can.  He can’t play a musical instrument.  Kids tease him because of his physical differences.  At the moment, there are a few bigger things on Georgie’s mind:

1) The fact that his mom and dad are expecting a baby (Baby Godzilla as Georgie thinks of her), who will probably be a whole lot taller than Georgie will ever be.

2) The fact that his best friend Andy seems to want to spend more and more time hanging out with regular-sized kids.

3) The fact that Jeanie (the Meanie) is showing a little too much interest in Georgie for his liking.

One of the strengths of Graff’s story is that she manages to portray what is ordinary and extraordinary about Georgie’s life all at once.  Part of the reason he is so endearing to readers is that he comes across in so many ways just like a typical ten year old kid, and then Graff brings his differences to the fore in a subtle, affecting way.

One of the larger themes of the book is the lesson that it is important for everyone not to define themselves narrowly.  Through Georgie, Graff explores how easy it is to judge and confine someone’s identity according to their most obvious and irrefutable qualities.  And it isn’t just onlookers who are the guilty ones.  Oftentimes, we’re the ones who do the most to limit ourselves.

I know that there is a lot to get kids talking in this book.  It reminded me of Andrew Clements’ work, because of the extraordinary/everyday quality of the story, and the real life nature of the characters and their problems.

I think this one is definitely Cybils material.  What say you?

The Thing About Georgie is published by Harper Collins.

Elf Envy: Lots (and lots) of Book lists

Thanks to Mother Reader for providing me with many, many book lists on the best of 2007, and in doing so, making me feel all cozily surrounded by invisible stacks of brilliant books that I could one day, conceivably read.

Here is her own list: Mother’s Megalist

Here is her post in which she links to everyone else’s lists: Everyone Else’s Lists

Thanks Mother Reader! 

Another Kind of Cowboy

First off, I’m a Susan Juby fan. Her first two books, Alice, I Think and Miss Smithers, are side-splittingly funny (and I’m not much of a laugh-out-loud reader). They’re the kind of books that I will use to gauge a teenage girl’s coolness. If a girl finds Susan Juby’s writing humorous, then I can be pretty sure she’s got her fair share of cleverness.

Second, I will tell you that I was never a girly horse fanatic – and I grew up on a farm with horses. I didn’t read horsey books. I didn’t ride horses, and whenever I walked across our property to get to the barn, I would carry a carrot or a handful of apple peelings as a protective measure. When one of the horses would wander up to say hi, my heart would start thumping for no real reason and I would say a shaky “good girl,” drop my carrot and run. Pathetic really, given that these horses were old retired thoroughbreds – about as intimidating as sleepy cows. I guess it was their size and their noisy, puffy breath that freaked me out. My sister rode though. She did both jumping and dressage. Recently I’ve wondered if I might like to give riding a try – but I think it’s probably the romantic Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet Sense and Sensibility side of me talking.

I was a bit surprised to learn that Juby’s newest book is about a cowboy. Alex Ford is a talented, natural horseman. He has been riding since he was a kid and he loves it more than anything. He wants desperately to trade in his cowboy schtick for the chance to learn the art of dressage. His family life is somewhat messed up. His dad has lived in an RV in the front drive ever since Alex’s mom moved out. He has little twin sisters who are crazy about martial arts and are totally off the wall. His aunt Grace, a hairdresser, lives with them too, and is not what you would call a stabilizing influence. Alex is quite closed off, focused and shy. He knows what matters to him and he’s a good kid. Alongside Alex is Cleo O’Shea, a student at a prestigious equestrian school on the island, who becomes a part of Alex’s life and has some secrets of her own. The story is told from both of their perspectives, in an interesting combination of first person (for Cleo) and third person point of view (for Alex).

I liked the premise that Alex Ford is a cowboy who secretly wants to learn dressage, and I thought that this alone created plenty of tension. Then when it became clear that Alex is also a closeted cowboy I thought – please don’t do that. We don’t need a teenage Brokeback Mountain. It just seemed a tad predictable – like a prepackaged, instant conflict. I thought it would be interesting enough to have a kid struggling to go after a dream that no one else can understand, without having him also trying to come to terms with his sexuality. But it aint my book.

In spite of this, I think Juby managed to balance the story so that enough emphasis was placed on both aspects of Alex’s struggle. Coming into his own as a rider is part of how he finds a way to open up about his identity. This doesn’t seem forced, as I feared it might. I enjoyed the unlikely friendship that develops between Cleo and Alex. Juby’s best strength as a writer is characterization. Her characters feel very round, complicated and natural. She’s great at voice. I often find weaker writers can’t create consistently strong dialogue. Juby’s dialogue is almost always pitch perfect. I imagine that there will be plenty of girls who find lots to love about this book – the horses, the private school backdrop, the romance / heartbreak.

So read it, whether you’re a horse girl or not. It might make you think those big, puffy breathers aren’t so freaky after all. Oh – and it’s funny too. There are some good, outloud chuckles to be had in this one.

Another Kind of Cowboy is published by Harper Collins Canada. There’s a book trailer (bland in my opinion… so look at it after you’ve read the book): Another Kind of Cowboy trailer.

SMART List #7: Books for Giddy/Grumpy Kids and their Teachers

If you stepped into most primary classrooms on Friday afternoon, say around 3:00, you’d likely think that civilized society is more or less coming to an end. Kids and teachers have managed to keep it together for 4 and 3/4 days and everyone’s pretty much exhausted and/or giddy and/or grouchy.

At moments like these I sort of understand what makes teachers want to turn off the lights and get the kids to sit down and put their heads on their desks in total and complete silence. Si – lence! There are some Friday moments when the urge to shout “STOP THE INSANITY!” is almost impossible to suppress.

Instead, I reach a shaking hand into my “don’t touch these special books” bin, in search of a story to remind me why hanging out with kids is one of my favorite things to do.

SMART LIST #7: Books for Giddy/Grumpy Kids and their Teachers

(Note: these books work any day of the week, anytime, on most mid-sized munchkins. Some already seem to have lost touch with their sense of humor. All the more reason to read on!)

Runny Babbit – Shel Silverstein

What are you so grumpy about? – Tom Lichtenheld

Scaredy Squirrel – Melanie Watt

What Pete Ate – Maira Kalman

Wolves – Emily Gravett

Traction Man is Here! – Mini Grey

The Big, Bad Wolf and Me – Delphine Perret

Miss Nelson is Missing – Harry G. Allard

The Incredible Book-Eating Boy – Oliver Jeffers

Grumpy Bird – Jeremy Tankard

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type – Doreen Cronin

Diary of a Wombat – Jackie French

Russell the Sheep – Rob Scotton

How to Steal a Dog


For most kids, growing up is more or less about coming to grips with the fact that Life Is Not Fair. Bad stuff happens. Sometimes “little bad,” sometimes “big bad,” depending on your luck. You complain about it because you hope some adult will fix it. A lot of the time no one fixes anything and the sting just goes away.

But for Georgina Hayes, Life Is Not Fair is much more than a passing state of mind. Ever since her father up and left, she and her little brother and her mom have been living in the family car, and keeping it a secret from almost everyone. Georgina’s mom is working two jobs, trying to save enough money for first month’s rent, but it seems like a happy ending is very far away. When Georgina sees a lost dog poster promising a reward of $500, the wheels start turning and she decides that the only thing between her family and their next place to live, is a dog owned by someone with deep pockets. She sets about writing up a list of instructions for How to Steal a Dog, and sets her plan into action. Naturally, Georgina discovers that the best laid plans are often only a breath away from spiraling into a big ‘ole mess.

Barbara O’Connor really captures Georgina’s desperation and frustration and portrays the hardships of the family with sufficient (but not overwhelming) realism. You have a strong sense of just how alone this kid feels most of the time, and how her situation really does cut her off from the “normal” world around her.

One of the big themes this story tackles is the danger inherent in judging others. Georgina’s best friend Luanne abandons Georgina when she finds out the truth. For a while, Georgina can’t understand why her mom doesn’t try harder to make things better. She makes some shaky assumptions about various dog owners while she’s trying to find the right dog to steal. As readers, we wonder about what kind of kid would go through with stealing a stranger’s pet, even in a desperate situation. I like the fact that there are layers of judgment happening. We read. We form opinions about the characters as they make judgments about other characters in the story. Just like Georgina, we find that nothing is really as straightforward as we might want it to be.

This book will help to get kids talking about how tricky and relative morals can be. Barbara O’Connor has a website, and you’ll find a discussion guide there for How to Steal a Dog (Barbara O’Connor). This is a dog story with real depth. Willy could stand (or sit up?) proudly in the company of Winn Dixie. A charmer.

How to Steal a Dog is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.