Book Review: Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn

Spirit's KeySpirit’s Key, the first book by Edith Cohn, is a middle-grade story that was as lovely as Eliza Wheeler’s beautiful cover art. Spirit Holden lives on the remote Bald Island, where she is considered an outsider (or “Dingbatter”) because she was born on the mainland. Her outsider status isn’t helped by the fact that her father has the ability to predict the future, which is often fraught with disaster for the residents of the island. Spirit has just lost her beloved dog, Sky, who was her only comfort after her mother passed away.

During his doggie life, Sky was as much an outsider as his owner. He was a “baldie,” part of a pack of wild dogs who live on the island. Superstitious villagers are afraid of baldies because they seem vicious and are believed to be malevolent spirits. When baldies start dying, beginning with Sky, Spirit is determined to find out why. Villagers have begun to sicken too, and they believe that it is because the baldies are somehow spreading disease. Spirit is determined to save the baldies, and to convince her neighbors that the baldies are not dangerous. When Sky’s ghost appears to her, Spirit begins to follow him on dangerous excursions, trying to ravel the mystery of what is threatening the dogs and humans on the island. The stakes get even higher when Spirit’s father is taken away by the town doctor and quarantined with other adults who are showing signs of illness. Spirit’s determination does not go unnoticed, and soon she has gained the help of Nector Hatterask, an island boy whose family has been suspicious of hers since they came to the island (although Spirit’s father has saved their lives with his predictions at least once). Nector is a great crime-solving partner and slowly but surely, he shows Spirit that he is a friend as well.

Spirit’s Key is an exciting book: it’s a great mixture of mystery, magic, and coming-of-age. As Spirit gives chase, she begins to discover that she has inherited her father’s abilities. Although certain details can be a bit confusing at times–there’s a lot going on in this book–Spirit’s Key is full of adventure, gripping, and beautifully-written. Bald Island is a place rich with history, stories passed down from one generation to the next which have great importance to the small society. Each colorful character in the village relies on Spirit or her father in one way or another, but they are afraid of what they don’t know; in the end, it is this fear–not devil spirits or a plague–that causes the most chaos on Bald Island

Spirit’s strength really shines through this heartfelt read; she has lost nearly everything, doesn’t have any friends, and yet is still determined to help those who are suspicious of her. She loves animals and is fiercely loyal to Sky’s memory. Spirit’s Key has a simple message about accepting those who are different, and asks its young readers to truly consider their beliefs before making judgments about others. As each character casts off their fears, they find that they are among friends. Perhaps this is a message often sent in children’s literature, but it is an important one nonetheless, Spirit’s Key remains an imaginative and compelling read.

Enjoy!

Bronwen

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Upcoming Parenting Program: Reading & your Child

Reading-and-Your-Child_500pxHave you ever wondered how to help your child discover a love of reading and books? It can be a daunting task, but your local library is here to help. With our upcoming parenting program, Reading & Your Child, taking place April 21 at 7 pm, you’ll get great tips from a lifelong bookworm, children’s-book enthusiast and early-literacy aficionado – Valerie, the librarian and manager of the CSL Children’s Department.

At this free one-hour session, Valerie will be discussing ways that you can work to develop positive reading habits and a love of books in your children. Studies have shown that if books are a part of a child’s life before they enter school, they will learn to love reading, and they will keep that positive attitude when they start school. For children who have already begun school, trying to encourage reading as a leisure activity can be tricky, but if successful, can help children succeed in their classes. Valerie will discuss ways to approach both issues, offering tips and tricks that will suit a wide-range of families.  Moreover, she will have book suggestions that are appropriate for a variety of reading levels and ages.

This is a free program, but registration is required, so call 514-485-6900 ext 4111 to secure your spot.

See you there!

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Book Review: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy

FletcherLast fall, I had read some reviews that promoted The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, a middle grade novel by Dana Alison Levy, as a fun and worthwhile read. I considered taking it out, but it wasn’t until a patron (who reads many middle grade novels and picture books with her two sons) told me how much her family liked the book that I actually took it out and found out for myself. I am so glad I did, and I’m sure that if you give the family Fletcher a try, you will, like me, wish the book would never end.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher reminded me of classic family stories (a sentiment shared by author Bruce Coville), but the family Fletcher is thoroughly modern, consisting of two dads and four adopted sons of different backgrounds. This school year, the sporty family is facing a new challenge: a grumpy neighbour who doesn’t like the noisy and gregarious family next-door. On top of the unfriendly Mr. Nelson, each of the boys faces different school-year challenges. Sam, the oldest and a soccer fanatic, is determined to make the elite team this year. Jax, new to the upper elementary school, wants to fit in and be cool. Eli is sure he’s going to love his new academically-oriented school, and Frog (also known as Jeremiah), is starting kindergarten and eager to make new friends. But nothing goes exactly as expected for these brothers.

This is a heartwarming real-life story that blends humour, heart and silliness in perfect ratios. The characters are unique and memorable, with individual quirks and personalities that make them stick with you long after you turn the last page. Every time I would read about one of the brothers, I was convinced that he was my favourite, and I realized at the very end that the whole family was my favourite. I loved their interactions and their camaraderie, and as someone with siblings myself, I also enjoyed the disagreements and sibling politics that cropped up!

When I finished the book, I was reminded of the rollicking fun of the Steve Martin Cheaper by the Dozen movies, which is a compliment because those movies still make me smile. The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a novel full of wonderfully funny shenanigans, and you won’t be able to resist sharing it with those you love!

Happy reading!

-Valerie

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New on DVD!

For something a little bit different, we have some great new additions to our DVD collection. These are only a sampling of many new movies coming in, so check back with us often: we also have a growing selection of Blu-Rays available in the department. Here are some of our fun new arrivals!

Book of LifeThe Book of Life

The journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears.

The_Boxtrolls_posterBoxtrolls

A community of quirky, mischievous creatures who have lovingly raised an orphaned human boy named Eggs in the amazing cavernous home they’ve built beneath the streets of Cheesebridge. When the town’s villain, Archibald Snatcher, comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls, Eggs decides to venture above ground, ‘into the light,’ where he meets and teams up with fabulously feisty Winnie. Together, they devise a daring plan to save Eggs’ family.

The-Tale-of-Princess-Kaguya-posterThe Tale of Princess Kaguya

Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her, but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime.

How to Train Your Dragon 2How to Train Your Dragon 2

While Astrid, Snotlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races, Hiccup and Toothless journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace.

Avatar-The-legend-of-korra-book-2-spirits-largeThe Legend of Korra

Korra and Team Avatar embark on a new journey deep into the mythology of the mystical Spirit World, encountering creatures like nothing they’ve seen before and discovering the truth about the very first Avatar! With a battle for the fate of the world between the light and dark spirits Raava and Vaatu fast approaching, Korra delves deeper into the Avatar’s past and realizes what she must do in order to restore balance between the physical and spirit worlds.

Sleeping-BeautySleeping Beauty

Maleficent, one of animation’s most spectacular villains, sends the kingdom’s beloved Princess Aurora into an enchanted sleep. In a majestic story that awakens all your senses, Good Fairies arm brave Prince Phillip to defeat a fearsome fire-breathing dragon and rescue Aurora. But success in battle may not be enough, for the only way to awaken the Princess is with true love’s kiss!

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Awesome Picture Book: Please, Mr Panda by Steve Antony

pandaThere are certain storytime themes that are always big hits, in our library and in countless others. I realized after our family storytime last week that while bear storytimes are popular and used fairly often, there is one bear in particular who hasn’t received as much attention as his distant relatives: the panda bear. To wrap up our winter stories, we read four different panda-themed adventures, my favourite of which is the new Please, Mr Panda by Steve Antony.

The book opens with an adorable panda holding out a box of donuts and asking a simple question: “Would you like a doughnut?” What follows is a fantastic picture book with amazing illustrations of a wide range of less-than-polite animals. Poor Mr Panda gets increasingly irate, declaring, “No, you cannot have a doughnut. I have changed my mind.” Will he be able to find anyone with whom he can share his sugary treats?

With bright illustrations that take up the page and spark your imagination, and a panda whose simple expression speaks volumes, this picture book is cute and also delivers an important lesson all kids eventually learn: manners are important! With minimal text, this book makes quite an impact, and is fun to read even after you’ve learned your lesson. It’s also a great interactive book. We had a lot of fun at storytime naming all the animals the panda meets, and I got quite a kick out of listening to the children try to figure out why the panda kept changing his mind.

If you want a peek, check out the book trailer:

<iframe width=”956″ height=”537″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/lZ1Ql8TdBQI&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Happy reading!

-Valerie

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Favourite: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Jacket.aspxI have read a few books lately that I’ve really fallen for, but Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe tops my list of recent reads. This is a quiet, beautifully written story about friendship that was so absorbing that I sat down and read it cover to cover.

Fifteen-year-old Aristotle is a loner. Although is family is loving and supportive, his parents and his sister have their own demons to struggle with, including the incarceration of Ari’s older brother, the after-effects of the Vietnam war. As summer approaches, Ari kicks around aimlessly. Miserably, he admits that “it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any friends.” When he meets Dante at the pool, he is struck by the Dante’s oddness, but he immediately feels an affinity with the other boy, who is in some ways his opposite: open, optimistic, and friendly. Both teens are Mexican-American, and are dealing with not only their identities as people, but how they fit within their heritage, within their families, and in their social circles (or lack thereof).

The two boys become friends almost instantly, and Ari discovers that being close with someone isn’t boring at all: he has conversations with Dante about things that he’s never been able to discuss with anyone, and he finds that friendship doesn’t need to be exciting all the time to make him feel happier. Just as Aristotle is opening up to the world, an accident happens that threatens the bond between the two boys. Despite the relaxed pacing of this book–mirroring the real feeling of a lazy summer–a lot happens to the best friends.

Aristotle and Dante have a lot of obstacles to overcome in their own lives and they certainly haven’t neatly solved all of their problems in the end, but this book is ultimately heartwarming and optimistic. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s simple, direct writing style feels like the genuine voice of his hero, Ari. For me, the tone of this book was reminiscent of novels like Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian, among many other personal favourites. It is also been billed as a read-alike for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Although there is a bit of romance, it is not the focal point of the story: instead, it was the unbreakable friendship of Aristotle and Dante that had me in happy tears by the end.

Enjoy!

Bronwen

 

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Upcoming Program: The Story of Babar

Story-of-Babar-JM_500pxThe Children’s Department is pleased to announce our March WOW! The Story of Babar. Taking place March 1 at 3 pm, this live performance and storytelling event is great for the whole family. While it is aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 7, all Babar fans will have a fun time.

The program, produced by Jeunesse Musicale, will present Babar’s adventures. It will be set to music and narrated by a talented actress. This an event you won’t want to miss out on.

Watch the video below to get an idea of what the concert is like. Our performance will be in English, but French text is available as well.

 

Tickets are $5 and on sale now and available at the main desk of the library.

 

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Book Review: How to Outrun a Crocodile When your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating

how to outrunAfter reading a review of How to Outrun a Crocodile When your Shoes Are Untied that stated the novel was a “fun-filled, pitch-perfect book about one of the most fraught stages of life” (Kirkus Reviews), I decided to give it a try. I love true-to-life stories when they are done right, and I was hoping to add it to my long list of middle-grade reads that I can freely recommend. While it didn’t make it to my very exclusive “favourites” list – when you read as much as I do, the favourites can pile up if you aren’t exacting with your criteria – I really enjoyed it and think it will almost certainly find an audience of readers who are clamouring for more.

Ana Wright, named after the anaconda (much to her shame), is having a difficult twelfth year. Her best – and perhaps only – friend,  has just moved away to New Zealand, and Ana doesn’t like the idea of making new friends. Not only that, but she doesn’t know how to go about it! To top it off, she keeps getting picked on by some girls at school (a group she nicknamed the Sneerers), and she just found out she is going to have to live in the zoo where her parents work. Ana wishes she could just fade into the background, but circumstances keep making it so that she is the centre of attention. Can she find a way to get comfortable in her own skin? Or is she doomed to have a mortifying middle grade?

How to Outrun a Crocodile When your Shoes Are Untied is a great example of realistic juvenile fiction. Ana has a wonderful sense of humour, as evidenced in the “Creature File” blurbs she writes about her classmates, but she gets uncomfortable when too much attention is on her; that discomfort only makes things worse, and she ends up in some pretty embarrassing situations. Over the course of the book, Ana has to make new friends, get comfortable with public speaking, and figure out how to handle some not-so-nice peers. It’s a fun read, with some surprises and great details about animals and middle grade politics. I found Ana’s embarrassment really compelling. In one scene, her parents visit her school to talk about what they do for a living; Ana sits in class, sinking deeper into her chair, convinced that everyone is laughing at her parents. She can’t figure out why they don’t see that the students are making fun of them. Ana’s humiliation in palpable, but as a reader, you kind of wonder if maybe it’s all in Ana’s head, a detail I found wonderfully realistic. Ana is crippled by her fear of being laughed at, and it makes her see everything from a skewed perspective.

This was a breeze to read and a lot of fun. While Ana is the main character, her twin brother Daz is also an important part of the book and a nice counterpoint to the very sensitive lead. The second book about Ana and her family will be arriving in the near future, so if you like How to Outrun a Crocodile, know there will be more adventures coming soon.

Happy reading!

-Valerie

 

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Parenting Program: Children’s Sleep 101

Children's-Sleep-101_500px (1)Our first parenting program of the new year is coming up. Taking place February 10 at 7 pm, this free program is of interest to anyone who has young children. Dr Shirley Blaichman, a pediatrician and member of the Canadian Peadiatric Society’s Public Education Committee, has years of experience helping parents understand their children’s general health, including the always-complicated issues that come with sleep and sleep habits.

At this free program, parents will get the benefit of Dr Blaichman’s advice and tips. The session will focus on younger children, from newborns to preschoolers, and will have hands-on tips and guidelines to help parents figure out how best to manage their child’s sleep. This is a must-attend program for anyone with young children, and we hope to see you there!

If you are interested in attending, you can call 514-485-6900 ext 4111 to reserve your spot today.

 

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Awesome Picture Book : The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

The Most Magnificent ThingI’m a big fan of Ashley Spires: her quirky, adorable illustrations perfectly match her multi-faceted, amusing, and relatable characters. Her new picture book, The Most Magnificent Thing, is an ode to perseverance and resilience, and it’s as sweet and fun as her plethora of other awesome books for young readers.

This picture book stars a “regular girl” and her doggie sidekick, who also happens to be her “best friend in the whole wide world.” They do a lot of making and unmaking together, until “one day, the girl has a wonderful idea. She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing!” The illustrations will keep young listeners guessing as the girl plots, plans, and begins to build her magnificent thing. Of course, things don’t go exactly as she had hoped, and she ends up with a whole lot of objects that are not quite right. After hours of work, her frustration gets the better of her and she becomes quite furious and decides to “quit.” When she comes back to her project after a walk with her dog, things are looking a whole lot rosier. She begins to notice that her failed experiments weren’t really such failures after all, and she finally sees her magnificent thing through–with great results.

Even for the youngest audience, trying and failing might be familiar, and the little girl’s story is one that we’ve all experienced at one point or another. Although the heroine gains quite a crowd of admirers for her tenacity, she still needs to take a break. Her focus on getting things right proves both frustrating and rewarding, though, when she finally completes her project. The idea that failure can lead to success is a really important one, and a hard thing to grasp in the throes of trying to do something difficult. Ashley Spires has captured something universal here; her “regular girl” shows us the trick to realizing one’s vision even when things get tough. It’s a lesson that I find myself learning time and again, and this is the sort of book that illustrates it in an expressive and accessible way. The little girl gets what she wanted through hard work and extraordinary creativity, and shows us that although creating isn’t always “easy-peasy,” it can be totally worth it. What a magnificent book!

Enjoy!

Bronwen

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