Tag Archives: fiction

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

It’s always exciting to read newly released books. We’re comfortable with classics and stories we know well. But discovering a brand new title can be like meeting a new friend. Here are some recently released books for all ages that just might become old friends.

Rainy Days by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Miki Sato is a rhyming, rhythmic romp through puddles. Fun to chant out loud, for a movement activity and for a look at how the world changes with rain. With cheerful, colourful art this board book follows Windy and Snowy Days in a series for the very youngest readers. ISBN 978-1-77278-246-2, Pajama Press

Iceberg, A Life in Seasons is a beautiful picture book, poetically written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft, both from Australia. The book follows one iceberg, calved from a glacier, in Antarctica. This continent may seem empty and devoid of life but the book urges us to look closer. Penguins, krill, birds, seals and many other creatures live here. Through the southern summer, we follow the iceberg and learn more about Antarctica’s unique environment. ISBN 978-1-77306-585-4, Groundwood Books

Ballewiena by Rebecca Bender is a funny picture book to share with those kids who can’t sit still and who want others to discover their hidden talents! Dotty (a wiener dog) just doesn’t believe in sit, stay and roll over. Her specialities are a pas de chat and a pirouette. She gets special help from a friend in the park to help her prepare for a performance at the Golden Bow Talent Show! ISBN 978-1-77278-137-3, Pajama Press

Another, yet very different, picture book about ballet is John’s Turn by Mac Barnett, with lovely illustrations by Kate Berube, the school assembles once a week to share news and showcase students’ talents. Everyone knows it’s John’s turn and they understand he is nervous. But soon he changes into his outfit and special shoes. Once the curtain lifts and the music starts, John shows what he is good at. At first the kids giggle or fidget but soon the entire audience is captivated by John’s performance and he gets a well deserved applause. A lovely story to share and to encourage children to be brave enough to showcase their own talents, no matter what they entail. ISBN 978-1536-20-3950, Penguin Random House

And finally a novel for young readers. Mortimer: Rat Race to Space by Joan Marie Galat will appeal to kids who like reading chapter books ánd who enjoy space exploration. Based on the science of astronauts and space travel, this story is perfect for kids who loved The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney. Mortimer is a lab rat and selected to travel on the next shuttle. He is bound and determined to prove that rats are more suited to space travel, and colonization of planets, than humans are. With the help of his new friend Boris, a Russian cosmo-rat, Mortimer proves to be a useful addition to the crew. With realistic descriptions of how astronauts eat, work and operate in space, this is both a fun and an informative story, especially for those following the current Artemis launch. ISBN 978-1-77086-653-9, Cormorant Books

Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of over 40 books for children including My Librarian is a Camel, How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World. Margriet is currently accepting bookings for author visits to international schools.

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Summer Reading for Educators/Booklovers

If you still have some time off, this summer, before starting school again, you might want to treat yourself to curling up with a good book. I recently discovered what has become my all-time favourite series of amazing books: The Seven Sisters.

I don’t know why it took me so long to discover because they are not new titles and have, so far, sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The author, Lucinda Riley, is British and the books in the series are available in many different languages, published in many different countries.

Lucinda Riley did something extraordinary with these stories. Not only are they very well written, she combined myth, fiction and nonfiction in a seamless way. The Seven Sisters are based on the constellation of the same name. There is an element of Greek mythology in each story. The girls’ names are scrambled from the stars and there’s an air of mystery about them and their father. Each girl was adopted at a very young age and the sisters grew up, on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, in a sheltered environment full of love and support.

The first book starts with the death of their beloved father. As the sisters gather back home, they are each given a set of coordinates and a letter with information on where they came from. Subsequently, each book follows the life, and the search for their roots, of one sister. Each book takes place in a different location on earth – taking the reader to Australia, Europe, South America… But most astonishingly, each book features a real historic person whose nonfiction facts are woven into the fictional story. I loved learning about, sometimes well known, historical figures through these books: artists, writers, musicians, important aboriginal artists…

There are many details on the books and the author here: https://lucindariley.co.uk/seven-sisters-series/ Her website offers some videos, some free chapters and info on audio books. The books are aimed at adults but will also make great reading for YA/high school students.

Unfortunately, Lucinda Riley passed away before finishing the entire series but her son has all of her instructions and is completing the last book, to be released in 2023. I treat these books as a precious box of chocolates – savouring each one slowly and spreading them out so they will last longer.

Happy summer reading!

Margriet Ruurs is a ferocious reader as well as a Canadian author of over 40 books for children. She conducts writing workshops in international schools: www.margrietruurs.com

GLOBAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Summer is a good time to curl up with a novel. These newly released, as well as slightly less new, novels are great reads for all ages.

Berani

Berani by Michelle Kadarusman is a perfect book for international schools. This is a novel takes place in Indonesia and is told in 3 voices. One is a girl who attends a private school and completes a school assignment that gets her into trouble. The other one is a local boy lucky enough to receive an education through sacrifices of his family. The third voice is that of a captive orangutan kept in a cage by the boy’s uncle to entertain visitors to his restaurant. Each one of them needs courage to stand up for their convictions and follow their hearts, despite the consequences this may have. A fantastic read that shows kids (and readers of all ages) to believe in their values and that they, too, can change the world. ISBN 978-1-77278-260-8, Pajama Press

The Last Mapmaker

One of my latest favourite books is The Last Mapmaker by Newbery Honor Book author Christina Soontornvat. The map on the first page shows the fictional land and seas where Sai lives. She is apprentice to a mapmaker and hopes to climb the ladder in her society to escape the slums where her pick-pocketing father lives. Unexpected adventure whisks her away aboard a sail ship to the fabled Sunderlands. Do dragons truly live there? And what is the impact explorers have on “new found” lands and their environment? A fascinating blend of fantasy with a sprinkle of historic fiction, adventure and the passion to follow an uncharted path. A great page turner that shows, especially girls but any reader, that they can be anything they wish. ISBN 978-1-5362-0495-7, Candlewick Press

These Are Not the Words

These Are Not The Words by Amanda West Lewis is a poetic novel for middle grade readers or older. If a book allows you to walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins, then this book can be an eye opener. Missy has a loving but abusive father who struggles with drug addiction. Her mom struggles to get her life on track and keep Missy safe. Written as an (almost) biographic story, the text is lyrical and sweeps the reader along to 1960’s New York. Because so much of the story really happened, the details and descriptions are vivid and realistic as is the resilience of a child. The book almost feels like a free verse novel complete with poems written between father and daughter. I think adults will also enjoy reading this ‘memoir’. ISBN 978-1-77306-792-6, Groundwood Books

Cress Watercress

Gregory Maguire is already pretty famous. He wrote Wicked, a fairy tale told from the point of view of the wicked witch, which got turned into a musical. Now he has written Cress Watercress, a book for middle schoolers about Cress, a rabbit whose father didn’t come back from his honey-gathering trip. Cress’s mother has to move everyone to an apartment in an oak tree with a bunch of funny neighbors who are also animals: owls, mice, and squirrels, and Cress has to make the best of it. This book also has many beautiful illustrations by David Litchfield that really make it different and even more enjoyable. It feels a bit like The Borrowers and a bit like Redwall but it is also unique. Anyone who likes books with animal characters, a lot of humor, and a lot of heart will love this book.  ISBN 978-1536211009, Candlewick (reviewed by 10 year old Beatrix Colvin)

Mythos

And finally a novel for highschool students and educators. If you are a teacher (or any booklover!) looking for a good read during your summer holidays, try Mythos by Stephen Fry. I had always wanted to read the Greek myths but never managed to struggle through them. British actor Stephen Fry has managed to retell these important stories in common, every day language that shows their origins, their relationships and their morals. I loved finally getting to know Zeus and his crazed behavior, learning more about Pandora and Psyche and their lasting effects on our lives today. Did you know that words like Atlantic, Titanic, Europe, crocus and hyacinth come straight from these Greek myths? Couldn’t put it down! ISBN 978-1-405-93413-8, Penguin

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author who conducts author presentations at international schools. www.margrietruurs.com

Global book recommendations

As an adult I love reading teen and YA novels. There’s nothing better than curling up with Because of Winn-Dixie or The Library of Ever. But which new novels are coming out now? And what are they about? Here are some reviews to help educators put books in the hands of readers. Happy Reading!

Making Seakerby Karen Autio. It took me a while to figure out the meaning of the title but it is about the making of a small floating boat with GPS, called Seaker. Jamie has just moved to a new city and school. She is worried about making friends since she is not into sports. Jamie is a science nerd. She soon discovers that her new home town is also the home town of Paddle to the Sea, the wonderful classic written by Holling Clandy Holling. That story forms the bases of Jamie’s quest to retrace the journey, with her toy boat, from town to the sea through the Great Lakes using tracking equipment.  ISBN 978-1989-724095, Crwth Press

A very good website gives details on the making of the book, the equipment used for the boat as well as links to science sites: http://www.seaker.ca/

This book is great to couple with The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner which is based on a boy who loves geo-caching.

Warned: The Astrologer’s Prophecy by Mahtab Narsimhan is an exciting adventure set in India. Avi pleaded with his parents to let him stay with a friend but they insisted on him staying with his grandfather in Delhi while they work as doctors in Rajasthan. Now he is stuck in a crumbling mansion, no wifi, and with an old man whom he barely knows and a mysterious, scary caretaker. Who locked him into the attic? Can he trust the girl he meets from a different caste? The exotic location shines through in the sounds, scents and sights of India while the deliciously scary story takes you right into the midst of the chaos. Well written and highly recommended. ISBN Ebook: 978-1-7778318-0-6

Runner: Harry Jerome, World’s Fastest Man by Norma Charles is the fascinating true story of a boy who grew up in Manitoba, Canada. As a young boy Harry started running and never stopped. He trained at the University of Oregon and competed in three Olympic Games while setting an incredible seven world records. This novel explores who he was and what makes an athlete overcome obstacles, including prejudice for a boy with African-Canadian heritage. A great read for wanna-be Olympians. ISBN 978-0-889955-5-30, Red Deer Press

The Other Side by Heather Camlot is a page turner murder mystery. As twelve year old Liam visits his grandfather’s cottage by the lake, he discovers a body. Who was she? How did she get there and what happened? Intertwined with Liam’s relationship with his elderly grandfather who is dying in hospital and who spent his earlier life as a German soldier in World War II, the story is laced with intrigue about the murder as well as details on soccer’s World Cup.  ISBN 978-08899-5614-8, Red Deer Press

Margriet Ruurs writes fiction and nonfiction. She conducts author workshops at schools around the world. www.margrietruurs.com

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

When teaching writing to children, we often talk about the importance of voice. Who is telling the story? Is it a narrator or a character? The following picture books and novels all use a unique voice to tell their story.

If Only...

If Only… by Mies van Hout is a colourful picture book for the youngest readers, in which the voice of a child wishes he/she was a butterfly. But the butterfly wishes it was a different insect. From ladybugs to spiders, all critters voice their wishes until the story comes full circle. In addition to the story there is information about each creature as well as instructions for making your own colourful art.

ISBN 978-1-77278-196-0, Pajama Press


Hello, Dark

Hello, Dark by Wai Mei Wong gives voice to a child who is afraid of the dark. “I hear you creak, and cast shadows all around,” he whispers, alone in bed. But soon he realizes that the dark helps animals at night, even helps the moon shine bright. Soon he is no longer scared but plays games with his new found friend. 

ISBN 978-1-77278-221-9, Pajama Press


Wolves

Wolves by Emily Gravett is an older picture book with a quirky voice that slightly older students love. Rabbit goes to the library and find a book about wolves. The information becomes more and more vivid. Rabbit has a close encounter but, luckily, this story has a happy ending. The art adds to the text and is fun to explore and discuss. The pages include mail with real envelops and letters to Rabbit.

ISBN 978-1-4050-5362-4, MacMillan


Time for Bed's Story

Time For Bed’s Story by Monica Arnaldo is written in an unusual voice – that of the bed! Bed knóws that you don’t want to go to bed, and toss and turn. But have you ever considered Bed’s feelings? A fun bedtime read for parents to share with their young readers! 

ISBN 978-1-5253-0239-8, Kids Can Press


The Coconut Crab by Peter W. Fong

The Coconut Crab

This 200 page middle grade novel is a fun and beautiful read. With facts about the main characters – a coconut crab, a goat, a bird and a gecko – based on nonfiction, the story is a well written fictional tale reminiscent of folk tales. Based on a tropical island, Coconut Crab faces dangers and makes new friends, learning about the natural world while exploring the world of man. The voice that tell this story, with faint echoes of The Life of Pi, is beautiful and made me imagine vivid images. The humour and emotions conjured up by the characters was similar to watching the Madagascar or Finding Nemo movies in which quirky animals banter with each other. A fascinating read that may be labeled for kids but can be equally entertaining for adults who love a good tale.

ISBN 978-1-9505845-7-4, Green Writers Press


Margriet Ruurs, MEd, conducts author presentations at schools around the world. Her latest title is Come, Read With Me, ISBN 978-1459817876

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

These global picture books and novels are placed in different countries. Reading stories from around the world will help students of all ages to both appreciate other cultures as well as recognize their own cultural backgrounds.

My Heart in Kenya by [Ruth  Beardsley]

My Heart in Kenya by Ruth Beardsley. This is a true story, in picture book format with photos, of a family living in a refugee camp and being selected to come to Canada. However, one person was not on their application and thus could not come. Nasteha was only two months when her family had to leave her behind in Kenya. This is the story of how, eventually, they were reunited. The photos give a good impression of life in a refugee camp and of a very real problem that effects many families. Written by an educator, the book has a website: www.myheartinkenya.ca with complementary resources. ISBN 978-1525-566-806

Tea Time Around The World by Denyse Waissbluth, illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne. Who knew tea could be so fascinating! This colourful picture book has a main fictional text in large font, complemented by text in smaller font that gives nonfiction details about each country and their tea customs. From butter tea in Tibet to a Japanese tea ceremony – from English high tea to the modern bubble tea, this is a fun book to share and then have a tea party. ISBN 978-177164-601-7, Greystone Kids

Travels in Cuba

Part of the Travels With My Family series, Travels in Cuba by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel is the story of Charlie on a family holiday in Cuba. As they explore the country, Charlie meets kids, makes friends and learns things about Cuba. The book is sprinkled with words and expressions in Spanish. The series includes chapter books for Grades 2-5 about a variety of countries including Croatia, Mexico and France. ISBN 978-1-77306-347-8, Groundwood Books

The Camino Club by Kevin Craig. I read this teen novel as an e-book. It is a very realistic account of a group of juvenile delinquents – reminiscent of Ben Mikaelson’s Spirit Bear but for older students –  whose punishment for a variety of crimes, is to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain with counsellors. Since the real experience is transforming, the fictional teens, too, are transformed by confronting each other, by confessing sins, by meeting new people and by the very act of walking a long distance trail. The teens’ foul language may be realistic in this setting but it almost turned me of off reading on. I’m glad I did, though, as the story gets gripping and you do want to know what happens to each teen in the end.  ISBN 978-1945053979, Duet Books

Placed not just in another part of the world, but also in a different era is The Day The Pirates Went Mad, a middle grade novel by Trevor Atkins.

The Day the Pirates Went Mad

This is a fictional story placed in the early 1700’s. The details about the ways of living, customs, food, clothing and especially ships is impressive. The story is well written so I could ‘see’ it unfold as Emma escaped a Bristol, UK orphanage and find her place on a ship that trades around the world. She sails to Africa and beyond, learning from the rest of the crew, often comprised of female sailors. The story is gripping – I couldn’t put it down. The author’s thorough research and knowledge of the topic and era truly bring the story to life. Any student interested in history and/or pirates will love this novel. 

ISBN 978-19894-5902-7, Silverpath Publishing. Check out www.emmasharpesadventures.com for teaching resources and behind-the-scenes.

Margriet Ruurs is the Canadian author of many books for children, including picture book biographies. She conducts author talks at international schools.

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Discovering a ‘new’ favourite author can be a great classroom tool. Their books can be part of a series or they can be very different from each other. Today I’d like you to meet Wendy Orr. Born in Canada, she lives in Australia and writes award winning books.

Nim’s Island is a heartwarming tale of a spunky girl living (almost) alone on a deserted Pacific Island. Reminiscent of Pippi Longstocking, Nim is self sufficient and, together with her closest friends – a sea lion and an iguana –  saves the day when her scientist father is lost at sea. This book can be followed up by watching the movie starring Jodie Foster as Alex Rover, the adventure author who joins to help Nim.

ISBN 978-0385736060

There are two more titles in the series: Rescue at Sea – which deals with animals in captivity and a mad professor who trains them and wants to use them for research. Nim travels on a cruise ship as stow-away and makes new friends in the process. ASIN : B00166YC9C

In Rescue on Nim’s Island, she discovers a rare fossil and has to defend her island from exploitation. All three books make for good elementary classroom readings and discussions. ASIN : B00YVBQXFU


Very different from Nim’s Island, is Wendy Orr’s Bronze Age series. Dragonfly Song was inspired by a drawing, a found flint, and Wendy’s interest in archeology. This fantasy novel is aimed at upper middle grade readers. As I read the suspense full tale of Aissa whom the villagers see as cursed, and who is mute, I kept thinking that this is a bit like the Hunger Games for slightly younger readers. It’s a real page turner and won a long list of awards.

Swallow’s Dance takes us to Greek Islands and an era where people paid tribute to the Goddess as directed by the Oracle. Any reader interested in myths, legends and ancient history will be enthralled by this series – each book of which can be read independently.

The newest title, being released in March, is Cuckoo’s Flight – a coming-of-age story in which Clio battles the political power of the palace and her own feelings of inadequacy to save her town, her horses, and perhaps even herself. All three novels in this series are skillfully written in a blend of prose and free verse.

Panama Press ASIN : B08KYNQGJJ

BOOKS for booklovers

As an avid reader and writer, I love books about books and libraries. Here are some outstanding ones.

Every once in a while you pick up a book that makes its way straight to your heart: Alphamaniacs, Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is such a book.  The text is a poetic description of  26 people who made a difference in the world of language – some are writers, others invented a new style or printed books in a new, unique way. Rather than a summation of biographies the author used the voice of a circus ringmaster to introduce each ‘Wonder of the Word’. There is Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralyzed except for one eye lid and ended up dictating an entire novel by blinking the letters. An astonishing feat. Jumping back and forth through the ages, the book celebrates European writers and native Americans, among others. One is Jessie Little Doe Baird who singlehanded saved her Wampanoag language, actually bringing it back from extinction. There’s the inventor of Klingon as well as the creator of Esperanto, a universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof in Poland in hopes of promoting peace and understanding between people.

Each story is accompanied by a piece of art by the incredible master of collage, Caldecott Honor illustrator Melissa Sweet, making this book is a feast for the eye and ear of any booklover. 

Candlewick Studio, ISBN 978-0763690663 

FROM A CHILD OF BOOKS

Another book I fell in love with is the picturebook A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. One of those fabulous books for anyone who knows the value of stories, this one starts with a pen and a blank page. Then the main character takes us along on a celebration of books, through illustrations composed of words from those very books. While sailing the ocean, the words forming the waves are from books like Ten Thousand Leagues Under The SeaThe Swiss Family Robinson and more. Kids climb mountains of words from Peter Pan to reach the sky. They discover treasure and wander through forests made of book spines. I love this book and its powerful images, and I suspect that booklovers of all ages will love it, too.

Candlewick Press, ISBN 978-0-7636-9077-9

Oliver Jeffers is also the creator of The Incredible Book Eating Boy, a hilarious picture book to share with Kindergartens or older. Henry devours books, literally. The more he eats, the smarter he gets. Until he is so stuff full of books that he gets a tummy ache. Then he discovers that reading books is much better than eating books, and he gets smarter yet. The ‘real bite’ out of the back cover is a fun bonus.

ASIN : B007XJ7388

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

As soon as I spotted this novel for young readers in my local bookstore, I knew I had to own it. And it was a wise choice. As I read, I met Lenora and traveled along on her wild adventures through the ages and around the globe, all entered through a library. 

Lenora is ‘hired’ as Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian and climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading.

I’ve read many other books with a library theme: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library for instance. But those books are merely fun entertainment. The Library of Ever actually has a whole layer beyond its entertainment value that, almost imperceptibly, demonstrates the importance of books, research and the freedom to read.

I soon loved how this unique book blends fantasy with true questions, asked at the Help Desk and whose answers can be found only be doing research. The book is very cleverly written because we all have asked some of the questions and often have made the mistake of not enough fact checking. Reading, I learned some very interesting facts – from the highest point on earth (not what you think!) to Minoan Literature, from leap years to hieroglyphs. Readers’ minds can truly grow on this book.

Underlying all of Lenora’s adventures is the threat of Dark Forces. As the Chief Librarian states at one point: ‘the value of a Library cannot be counted in money.’ Same with the book – it was well worth the 10.- purchase price and both my grandson and I gained much more from the reading experience than just fun hours spent reading together. We kept sharing what we learned by saying “Did you know this? And listen to this!”…

Fantasy is not normally a genre I enjoy but now I can’t wait to read the next title: Rebel in the Library of Ever.

@ZAlexanderBooks

ISBN 978-1-250-23370-7