Middle Grade Gift Suggestions 2016

Last week I got to talk to one of my favourite people, Ann Foster, about middle grade fiction. When not working at the Saskatoon Public Library recco-ing kids and teen books, she is writing about fashion in TV over at You Know You Love Fashion (currently chronicling the enviable wardrobe of Phryne Fisher) and spearheading a number of podcasts, including Radio Book Club and You Were Going to be Fantastic.

Ann and I met on a book jury and we still love to find reasons to talk about books. Now you can hear us do that in this episode of Radio Book Club. The topic was near and dear to my heart (middle grade!) and I was happy to wax poetic about my fail-safe picks for this holiday, featured above.

Grab a cup of your favourite hot seasonal beverage and take a listen:

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/smy9s-655461

Follow Ann on twitter to learn about her many bookish and pop-culture endeavors

Magical Contest Alert: Win a Custom Illustration of your Pet!

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How much do you love that little guy? Now imagine YOUR pet with the fantastic beasts treatment!

November is the month of fantastic beasts, and the good folks at Penguin Random House Canada are running a wonderful contest to celebrate all things magical.The prize? A signed copy of If I Had a Gryphon AND a custom illustration of your own beloved pet (with some magical additions) by illustrator Cale Atkinson! I wrote If I Had a Gryphon as a primer on the pleasures and perils of magical pet care after seeing the vast numbers of kids at storytime who were a tad too young for Harry Potter or the wonderful Candlewick “Ology” books (Dragonology, Mythology, etc).

To enter, tweet a picture of your pet using the hashtag #IfIHadaGryphon before November 25th, 11:59pm EST. You do *not* need to include the book in your picture, just your pet being adorable will do!

I  cannot wait to see all your pet photos in my twitterfeed.

Contest open to Canada & the United States. Full rules here.

 

 

Middle Grade Monday: Charmed Thirds

They say good things come in threes, the third time is the charm, etc, etc. Basically three is the luckiest, most magical of numbers. I hope this is the case for these three series, all near and dear to my heart, which happen to have third installments out this fall. These three series walk to the line between chapter books and true middle grade, but I think you’ll find they can be enjoyed by ALL ages, including adult women who are not ashamed to be seen laughing on the subway reading a gloriously glittery Hamster Princess book. But I digress…

Magical Animal Adoption Agency #3: The Missing Magic 

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For those who are magically inclined, look no further than The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series by Canadian author (and in the interests of full disclosure, good pal) Kallie George. With the latest installment in the Harry Potter movie franchise featuring fantastical beasts a-plenty, magical creatures have never been more popular. This gentle series is perfect for younger readers who prefer their magical creatures cute rather than scary. In this third volume Clover is learning to share the spotlight with Oliver, a bit of a know-it-all who shows up at the agency and begins to encroach on her territory. Clover’s insecurities and jealousies are put to the test when Mr. Jams is called away and she must work with Oliver to solve the mystery of  the missing magic.

Hamster Princess #3: Ratpunzel 

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For those who like their fairytales mixed up, starring rodents, and decidedly funny, look no further than Ursula Vernon’s Hamster Princess series. This time our intrepid, fraction-loving hamster is escaping her mundane duties princess-ing to help Wilbur recover a stolen hydra egg, leading them to the mysterious Ratpunzel and her weird mother figure who reads her sad stories in order to collect her tears. It isn’t necessary to read these books in sequence, but you will want to read them all immediately if this is your first foray into Harriet’s world. This is not a graphic novel but does have a number of spot illustrations and fantastic one-liners.

Dory Fantasmagory #3: Dory Dory Black Sheep

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For those who prefer contemporary realism (with a very strong dose of imagination), look no further than my favourite rascal, Dory Fantasmagory. Dory lives in two worlds, her real world and her imaginary world, and the two collide in hilarious ways. Abby Hanlon’s first person narration is reminiscent of Junie B Jones or Clementine in its potent sense of character and authenticity. Dory talks and feels like a six-year-old. Take, for example, this perfect description of what happens when she sees her best friend Rosabelle: “We take turns picking each other up. It’s like hugging, but more dangerous.” In an excellent example of Knowing Your Audience, in this third adventure, Dory is struggling with her reading. This series is heavily illustrated, with most spreads featuring at least one spot illustration. Perfect series for transitional readers.

Middle Grade Monday: Q&A with Anna Humphrey

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Canadian author Anna Humphrey first came across my radar when I read (and loved) her funny, charming, Sarah Dessen-esque YA novel Rhymes With Cupid. Anna is now the author of four books for YA and middle grade readers and despite the range in age, the one thing they all have in common is Anna’s deft, light touch as a storyteller.Recently I spoke with Anna about her favourite books, what inspires her as a writer, and her latest heroine, Clara Humble.

VV: What was your favourite novel when you were 10?
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Anna: I Want to Go Home, by Gordon Korman. It’s about a kid named Rudy who gets sent to summer camp, hates every minute of it, and rebels and tries to escape in hilarious ways. I read it over and over, and it got funnier every time. The part where Rudy orders 1000 volleyballs from the camp office kills me to this day. Gordon Korman was the writer who first made me want to be a writer.

VV: What book do you admire so much that you wish you had written it?
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Anna: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s about a teenage girl named Melinda who nearly stops speaking and is ostracized by her peers following a very traumatic event. I have no end of admiration for an author who can write about something devastating, treat the subject with complete respect, and still make it laugh-out-loud funny in places. Laurie Halse Anderson does that better than anyone, in my opinion.

VV: What recent book (published in the last 10 years) do you wish was available when you were 10?
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Anne: El Deafo, by Cece Bell. My seven-year-old niece was visiting this summer and I read her copy. My ten-year-old daughter read it too, and we all fell in love with the story. It’s a graphic novel/memoir about growing up hearing impaired—but the author draws herself and everyone else as bunnies. She writes about how she felt embarrassed to go to school with a large hearing aid, but then soon discovered she could use it to listen in on teachers in other rooms, like a super power. I would have loved it when I was ten because it’s a book that shows how the differences we sometimes feel ashamed of (mine as a kid was being extremely shy) can become our greatest strengths if we learn to look at them in the right way. Also, it’s just a really sweet and honest story about friendship and growing up. Plus, bunnies!!

VV: What drew you to Clara Humble?

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Anna: At its core, Clara Humble is a book about a kid trying to cope with feeling powerless (something I felt often as a kid, and still do). I started writing it when I began planning to move to a new city. I knew that this very adult decision my husband and I were making was going to be really hard on my kids, as well as on our next door neighbour, a woman in her 60s who they had (and continues to have) a really strong friendship with—but that, as kids, there was nothing they could really do to stop it. I guess I was turning that over in my head and trying to come to terms with the unfairness of it. So although my kids and my former neighbour aren’t Clara and Momo… and things don’t go down the same way in the story that they did in real life… the struggle they’re facing and the feelings they’re feeling are inspired by true events.

VV: Do you have a favourite superhero?

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Anna: I’ve only recently started getting into superheroes… but the new Ms. Marvel is definitely awesome. I love how Kamala Khan is just a regular Pakistani-American teenager who happens to have amazing powers and defeats villains, but then she still has to deal with things like her parents wanting her to be at the mosque at a certain time and getting caught sneaking out. She won me over the second I saw the cover of issue 2, where she’s busy texting with one hand while absent-mindedly knocking a bank robber out cold with the other.

Thanks to Anna for dropping by to chat books! Visit her online here and here and be sure to check out her latest novel Clara Humble and the Not So Super Powers , available now from OwlKids!

 

Fall 2016 Events

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Can you tell a sasquatch horn from a manticore tooth? What about a phoenix tail feather from a gryphon wing feather? Me and my magical bag of pet clues are going on the road this fall to Rockton, Milton, Calgary, and Vancouver. Will I see you there?

SEPTEMBER

Sept 10th, 10am:  Story Mobs, Toronto, ON

What a fantastic event! Check out participant (and actress) Cynthia Galant’s video here:

September 18th, Telling Tales Festival, Rockton ON

  • If I Had a Gryphon Presentation, Cathcart School House, 12:30
  • Meet the Publishers Talk, Mountsberg Church, 2:45

Sept 24th, 11:30am: Indigo Milton Storytime

OCTOBER

Calgary Wordfest

Oct 12th, 10:00-11:30am, Glenbow Museum Theatre- with Ruth Ohi

*If you are a teacher in the Calgary area looking to book a presentation, click here

Vancouver Writers’ Fest

Oct 18th, 10-11am, Revue Stage-  Creatures, Kids & Communities with Alice Kuipers & Roy Henry Vickers

Oct 19th, 1-2pm, Performance Works- Chain Reactions with Lisa Moore &
Owen Laukkanen-Matthews

Oct 20th, 1-2pm, Revue Stage- Read it Again, Please! with Monica Kulling & Olive Senior

 

Middle Grade Monday: Ghosts

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Cat is not at all excited to be moving to foggy, seaside Bahia de la Luna, particularly when she learns that it is a sort of capital for ghosts. But doctors have agreed that it is a better place for her sister Maya, who has Cystic Fibrosis. Cat is torn between wanting to make new friends and create a life that isn’t defined by her sister’s diagnosis and the visceral need to protect her sister at all costs. With a focus on familial relationships, a diverse cast, and the stirrings of first love, this much-awaited new graphic novel is classic Raina Telgemeier.

One of Telgemeier’s greatest strengths is her nuanced portrayal of the relationships between sisters (see SmileSisters and Drama). Cat loves Maya, but confesses to wanting something that is hers alone. Her guilt is ever-present and burdensome. One of my favourite scenes is a dialogue-less sequence following Maya’s return from the hospital in which Cat plays Maya her favourite song and the girls snuggle up together in bed. Unlike Drama and Sisters, the sisters in Ghosts are fictional, but the dialogue and tiny moments between Cat and Maya are so authentic that one still gets the sense that Telgemeier is mining her own experience.

Of all her novels to date, Ghosts is the darkest, touching on themes of death and mortality. It is made clear that Maya is not going to get better, a fact she accepts more than her family members. Of the two sisters, Cat is by far the most cautious, wanting to keep Maya way from even a hint of danger. But Maya’s sense of her limited mortality conversely makes her seek adventure, action, and fun, recognizing that if she has a limited about of time on earth then she’s going to make the most of it. Her favourite mantra is a song from an animated movie, a thinly disguised version of Frozen‘s Let it Go, entitled Let it Out. Her desire to befriend the ghosts is particularly poignant, knowing that her curiosity about the afterlife is grounded in the reality that she may be joining them soon.

A life-long and ardent Halloween enthusiast, I very much enjoyed the excitement leading up to Halloween and the midnight Day of the Dead party. The residents of Bahia de la Luna are decidedly ghost-friendly and the interaction between the living and the dead is when what has previously felt like a contemporary story veers off into fantasy. Among a number of other ghosts, Cat befriends her neighbour Carlos’ long-dead uncle, who then takes her flying.The energy, excitement and camaraderie of the party scenes reminded me of the Remains of the Day scene in Tim Burton’s woefully underrated movie, The Corpse Bride.

The book includes an extensive afterward from the author in which she provides more info about Cystic Fibrosis, Dia de los Muertos and touches on her own family tragedy that in part inspired the story. Telgemeier’s millions of rabid fans will not be disappointed. Ghosts is another touching, engaging and highly consumable addition to Telgemeier’s growing middle grade canon.

Ghosts is available now from Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic

Middle Grade Monday: Two Naomis

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It’s awkward enough watching your parent date, but the situation is much, much worse when the daughter of your parent’s new SO is not only the same age but has the same name as you. Such is the premise for Two Naomis, a charming story about Naomi E and Naomi M (who ends up taking on the “elegant” name Naomi Marie), unlikely friends and (potentially) future sisters.

The premise is a throwback to classic late 80s & early 90s contemporary middle grade, the kind of literature Judy Blume, Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger were writing about; everyday kids dealing with everyday situations. Both Naomis are “average” kids, if I can use such a vague term here. No one has suffered major trauma or has significant hardships. They both have loving families and friends. But despite the classic “issue” driven premise,  this is modern New York City. The girls have cell phones, attend a coding class, and use Skype.

I am always fascinated by authors who work together. In this case, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick alternated chapters, each tackling their own Naomi and her corresponding world. You can read more about how this process worked over at Phil Bildner’s blog. The big challenge here is to distinguish between the two Naomis. The reader will have no trouble doing so. Naomi E is an only child, Naomi-Marie has a (very precocious) little sister. Naomi E is white, Naomi-Marie is black, this obvious differences leads to a funny moment when Naomi Marie’s little sister Bree suggests they solve the two Naomi problem by calling them “Black Naomi” and “White Naomi.” I love Naomi E’s skepticism, her caution when it comes to friendship or big decisions, her tendency to be sarcastic. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and doesn’t excite easily. Naomi Marie on the other hand is enthusiasm personified. She is a joiner, a leader, and very competitive. The girls’ personalities may be different but are quite complimentary, something they come to learn (and appreciate) over time.

This isn’t a story about divorce causing irreparable damage to a child. The parent-kid relationships are very positive. Both Naomis’ sets of parents are quite civil and seem to have had  amicable divorces. Although Naomi Marie lives with her mother, she sees her father frequently. Naomi E’s mother is away in LA working in film, and her absence is definitely felt by her daughter and is the root of some of her anxieties. They Skype, but Naomi E is starting to crack with the longing to see her mother, and plans are made for that to happen.

As a kid, I loved reading about what other kids lives were like at home. What after-school snacks did they eat? What were their bedtime routines? How did their family spend Saturday mornings, etc. There is something fascinating about peeking behind the curtain of someone else’s home life. I felt like this reading Two Naomis. This is a funny, frank and positive exploration of how two tweens deal with their parents’ dating.

Two Naomis is available now from HarperCollins.