Kid Lit

“Money Boy”

By Paul Yee

ISBN No. 978-1-55498-093-2


It’s an unspoken rule in children’s books that no one goes all the way. Of course, in real life young people really do have sex. But first times for the poor put-upon youth of kid lit are almost always interrupted by religious guilt, fears of pregnancy, meddlesome parents or dateless sidekicks; all the better to second-guess, come to your senses, and realize you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.

Fifteen year-old Ray Liu has his whole life ahead of him too – as everyone keeps telling him. As a new immigrant to Toronto he’s still learning English. As the leader of the online game, “Rebel State,” he’s learning about honour and teamwork. As a closeted gay youth he’s learning about cultural homophobia - especially when his army veteran Dad evicts him after discovering he’s gay.

Like any young gaysian he heads to Toronto’s Chinatown. “The first time we came here,” he recalls, “I was surprised at how big this district was, full of Chinese restaurants, Chinese stores and Chinese people. I thought, if people want to do Chinese business and buy Chinese groceries, then they should stay in China!”

After he’s beaten and robbed he realizes/rationalizes that becoming a prostitute couldn’t be that bad, could it? Like an actor, athlete or model, he’s just going to use his body to make money. “I feel as though I am in a jerky fast-forward video,” he says. “Monday I get kicked out of the house. Blippety-blip. Tuesday I am homeless at a shelter. Blippety-blip. Wednesday I dine with a drag queen. Thursday I sell my body. Blippety-blip.” But will Ray second-guess himself, come to his senses, and realize he’s got his whole life ahead of him BEFORE it’s too late?

I’m not going to tell you what Ray does, but by the last third of the book he’s saying, “if the thief who stole my laptop could break into my skull and steal the last sixty minutes of my life, I would pay him well.”

After enduring the endless courtship of the vampire genre’s erotically neutered tweens (please no e-mails) it’s a pleasant surprise to read about young people who are actually interested in sex – and aware of its exploitation. Maybe Paul Yee (“Ghost Train”, “Dead Man’s Gold”) is the only writer sensitive and reckless enough to handle a reality that many parents wouldn’t want their children to know exists. He beautifully captures both the narcissism of youth (Ray is equally desperate for food, shelter and to “get back to Rebel State. Players are waiting for me to lead the fight against the guerrilla war”) as well as the cultural tyranny faced by both young immigrants and older gay men (“Younger men laughing in a circle, they’re a fortress with no door. A stranger can walk around them and around them and never find an opening”). For a book about the oldest profession seen through new eyes FOR young readers, “Money Boy” is nothing less than astonishing. It’s perhaps Yee’s best book yet.



“Today, Maybe”


By Dominique Demers and Gabrielle Grimard

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-400-6


The introspective, reflective medium of print has always had a problem when it comes to younger readers. Inside a child’s head is a dangerous place to be. First impressions solidify into lifelong perceptions and emerging emotions permanently merge with dramatic storylines. The best example of this is the unexpected (?) demonizing of foreigners when a writer gives her story’s evil characters with unusual names.  But with mainstream non-fiction addressing loneliness as a lifelong condition “Today, Maybe” – about a girl whose “only treasure was her one hundred favorite books” choosing imaginary friendships with literary characters over real people – is both the hot button book of the moment and a hopeful sign that kid lit is evolving as fast as the internet. This is a lovely little book – with bite. Yes, it’s “just” a children’s book full of famous friendly/frightening heroes (wicked witches, princes, wolves) that entertain bored children, but it’s also a book of epic perspective. It evokes everything from the plot of “Where the Wild Things Are” (a child’s solitary daydream), Sartre’s comment that “hell is other people” and a line from “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”: “I’m alone, not lonely.” Of course, that’s a fat interpretation of a very slim picture book – but it’s also a big recommendation. Ideal for children and perfect for parents who actually like to connect with their kids, “Today, Maybe” is as much about a lifelong love of literature as it is about the importance of a rich imagination.


“She Said/She Saw”

By Norah McClintock

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-335-1

By the time you get to the line “…if you want to get the whole story…you need to pull the pieces together,” that comes maybe two pages into this book about the faulty memory of a witness to a gangland-style slaying, you realize you’re in the grip of a serious storyteller.  When the narrator finishes her introduction with: “Here are the pieces,” we’re hooked. The “She Saw” part of this book is Tegan, the witness/survivor of a shooting that claimed two of her friends. The “She Said” part of this book is Tegan’s shaky recollection about the shooting. She says she doesn’t know why her friends were targeted, why she was spared or even who did the shooting. She also worries that the killer might come back to finish her off. No one believes her, of course. Even her sister, Kelly, is suspicious. She details and catalogues the facts in an effort to learn the truth – even if it incriminates Tegan. Because Kelly sees life “like a movie or a TV drama, or, sometimes, a comedy” parts of the story are told in the form of a screenplay. No spoiler alert here! All I’m going to say is that “She Said/She Saw” a triple good read of a suspenseful thriller  – for kids (the book’s audience is aged 12+) and adults. Its topic is timely, its characters flawed but smart, and the screenplay format a great introduction to the discipline.


“When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew”


By Jan Andrews

ISBN No. 978-0-88899-952-8

“When Apples Grew Noses…” follows the everyday yet fantastical adventures of a foreign fairy tale everyman named Ti-Jean (the introduction wisely explains that Ti-Jean is like “Jack” in the fairy tales most of us remember: a projection of our myriad selves, and whose past changes to accompany whatever story he’s in). In the three tales here Ti-Jean outwits “a greedy princess”, “a pint-sized scoundrel” and a young woman “too clever for her own good.” In short, he’s a karmic Better Business Bureau, evening up the score in places referred to as the “New World” while being faithful to the Old Country style of oral history storytelling. And unlike a lot of oral history, the stories here seem to have actually improved with each airing: plots make sense, characters are smart, and the moral lesson isn’t always obvious. And when it is – as in the case of a fiddle that’s both inspirational and magical – it evokes touches of the Pied Piper that’ll be appreciated long after the stories are finished.



By Teresa Duran; Illustrations by Elena Val

ISBN No. 978-1-55498-098-7



By Maxine Trottier; Illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault

ISBN No. 978-0-88899-975-7


Both available at


The first lines of “Benedict” are very disturbing. They tell us that the little boy of the book’s title “lives in a very hot place. It is red, red, red.” And in case you didn’t get the point of all that red, Elena Val draws you a picture: battling snakes, pitchforks, and the gaping maws of hell itself. Your mouth will be gaping too when you consider that “Benedict” is about a kid living in H E double hockey sticks – but only until you realize that “Benny” is actually tired of seeing all that red. So with one springy coil of his tail (just picture the slingshot on the iPhone app “Angry Birds”) he vaults himself from a red place to a white one (the North Pole). Here everything is cold and snowy. Another “sproing!” and Benny is in the desert where everything is yellow. And so on and so on, until he’s visited earth’s whole colour scheme. “Benedict” is a cute book – and a conversation piece. I would have enjoyed it more had Teresa Duran set the whole story in various imaginary places (religious zealots, no e-mails please) and the book’s font more rousing than rudimentary.

“Migrant” is even more to the point. It’s the story of a Mennonite/Mexican child named Anna who travels north with her family each Spring to work on farms harvesting fruits and vegetables. Speaking patchy “Low German” or “Plautdietsch”, Anna doesn’t make new friends; she just tries to acclimatize herself to the new culture. At the supermarket she “listens to all the voices – to the woman with pink hair at the cash register, to the tattooed men who put cans on the shelves. But she only understands some of their words. Dollars. Peas. Meatballs.” With a child’s-eye view the book compares her life with that of a bird or rabbit migrating north each Spring and then south in the Fall. There’s Anna’s observation of her mother making “a home of yet another empty farmhouse, the rooms filled with the ghosts of last year’s workers.” Her sisters sleep in one bed, her brothers in another. In a year when immigration is a hot-button election topic, “Migrant” should be a hot-button book – and it is. It’s just so culturally sensitive and beautifully told that it’s hard to take exception with its closing message that migrants “be treated with the same respect that is extended to citizens and visitors alike.”


Serious Business: Fall Kid Lit


“The Way it Works”

By William Kowalski

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-367-2


“Silver Rain”

By Lois Peterson

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-280-4


Available through


“The Way it Works” is one of Orca’s “Rapid Reads” and presumably that means you can breeze through this 128-page book in one sitting. Then again, given that it’s about a homeless hottie living in his car after his mother’s medical expenses and death leave him both destitute and drifting, you won’t be able to put the book down until you’re finished anyway. For this is the kind of book that Orca does best: character-building through adversity. You just have to keep reading to see how things turn out – and whether our hero will win the heart of the pretty girl who doesn’t know he lives in his car. And while tweens and teens will enjoy the book, adults and writers will be equally fascinated with the economy with which Kowalski manages to draw full-fledged characters, create increasingly dramatic situations and then resolve it all in just a hundred-plus pages. Wow one.

“Silver Rain” is only fiftysomething pages longer than “The Way it Works” so it isn’t labeled a “Rapid Read” but you won’t be putting it down until you’re finished it either. What the first book had in plot, “Silver Rain” has in plot PLUS historical significance. Here, a destitute, depression-era 11-year-old named Elsie deals with vagrants, bread lines and a local dance marathon while searching for her missing father. Yes, “Silver Rain” is “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” for the tween set and it must be read - if only for curiosity value. After you pick your jaw up from the floor, however, you’ll find that this story feels wholly and respectfully authentic to its time period. There’s a Nancy Drew aspect to the book, of course (and that’ll keep the young readers reading): Will Elsie find her dad? What’s going on over at the dance marathon? But what’ll keep coming up is how Peterson gets the little, evocative details just right: old coats, stained-glass windows, and a house that looks “like a spider’s web, with the wash lines zigzagging across it.” Wow Two.


“Flying Feet”

By James McCann

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-290-3


It used to be so easy. If a fight broke out during a hockey or soccer game it was poor sportsmanship, bad manners; it was just…wrong. These days the fights are fast becoming the main attraction.  More than just “The Karate Kid” turned up a notch but not quite “Fight Club” for tweens, “Flying Feet” is about a youth seduced into that violent culture known as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Jinho, is a young man feeling constrained by the limits of traditional tae kwan do. When he’s invited to join an underground MMA club where there are no boundaries or even referees, he’s amped. That is, until he realizes just how dangerous the sport is. What follows is the customary life lesson, the learning to depend on one’s integrity, and a frightening visit to the ring against a fighter known only as “The Ripper” [shudder]. Seriously, it’s like “Rocky” - but with real suspense. Obviously, “Flying Feet” is a topical book. But it’s also a welcome and important socio-political ring tone for kids already a bit desensitized by cement head Dad’s addiction to TV’s “Ultimate Fight Club.” It’s also written in a nice, easy style that will keep both kids’ and parents’ interest in the outcome piqued. It’s also got a bit of a surprise ending – if you expected calm heads to prevail before the big fight – because if I didn’t mention it earlier there actually IS a fight!



By Holly Bennett

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-158-6

These days, it seems everyone is re-writing the “Twilight” phenomenon (vampire as metaphor for alienated teen) to fit either their own writing style or to take advantage of some freakish entity (werewolf, spirit, witch) that another writer re-writing the “Twilight” phenomenon hasn’t written about yet. But even with that furious flurry of opportunistic publishing “ShapeShifter” is a standout. For starters, the book announces immediately that it intends to be different than the usual Sorcerer fare by declaring its love of Irish mythology in the Preface (nicely augmented by an old map of Ireland on the opposite page).  This gives the goings-on (mythology purist alert: Bennett also includes a “version of the ancient legend” upon which she bases her story) a kind of Book of Kells curiosity and credibility. (It also gives the book an academic pedigree that parents will appreciate.) The “ShapeShifter” of the title is a Sive, a young woman discovering her powers of transformation in The Otherworld. But when she becomes a deer she becomes prey to all of the figurative and metaphoric evil around her. As for what happens next, it involves the struggle for Sive’s soul between a strong, strapping hero of Irish legend and an evil entity known only as [shudder] the Dark Man.  As far as books about tween mythology go (the book is recommended for readers aged 12 years and up) “ShapeShifter” has an awful lot going for it. The story is compelling, the characters involving, the plot twists make sense, and the suspense is really, really suspenseful.


“The Wild Things”

By Dave Eggers

ISBN No. 978-0-307-39904-5


It’s official: Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” is now a cottage industry. First it was a rudimentary bedtime story that parents read to their kids. Then the book became a movie – and then a book again in the form of a shaggy hair tome by Dave Eggers (who wrote the movie’s screenplay). And now the book-turned movie-turned concept book has turned into something closer to its original form: a paperback. In a way this makes perfect sense. In an era of Twihard Grandmothers and middle-aged PotterHeads, a 284-page novelization of the movie adaptation of one of the most enduring – and controversial – children’s books ever written is arriving right on time. No trilogies or series of books here; “Where the Wild Things Are” has gone through so many transformations it IS the series of books. And why not? Eggers clearly has affection for the story of a naughty boy’s time out that turns into a celebration of the id in every kid. In its own trendy way (looking inside instead of out) “The Wild Things” is very much an epic of the “David Copperfield” tradition; one in which a young man has a great, maturing, heroic adventure. True, it’s an adventure overly friendly to today’s Gamers but there’s still plenty here for the geezer generation to enjoy. Even better, Eggers’ descriptions and plot twists make so much sense that you can read this book aloud without feeling like an idiot (hey, that means something these days!). “The beasts took off in seven different directions,” Eggers writes. “Then, one by one, they turned to see where Carol was running, and they changed directions to follow him.” See? Dignity intact; intellect stimulated.  And if it works that well read out loud then it works equally well read to yourself or to your child.


“What Do You Want?”

By Lars Klinting

ISBN No. 978-0-88899-988-7


There’s a kind of children’s book that I call the “piece together” genre. It’s probably the most common kind of kid’s book; the kindergarten-starter book that shows how something fits with something else. “What Do You Want?” is a new addition to the “piece together” genre – but with a twist. But first a little background. Normally, I just leaf through these kinds of books to see how easily their lessons in pairing can be absorbed by a child’s eyes. But as I was reading “What Do You Want?” my mind wandered away from the etiquette lesson for newborns (i.e. chairs have to go with tables) and started to wonder about the very nature of wanting and pairing in a world where nothing is guaranteed anymore. For instance, on one page of the book is a picture of a bumblebee. The next page shows what it wants: a flower. The text says as much: “The bumble wants…[turn the page] its flower.” There. Done. But in that example arise all sorts of messy philosophical wanderings about instinct, desire, fate, and free will. Sigh… On a brighter note, of course everything in the book makes sense and is beautifully rendered in daydreamy watercolours. But as you read about all this wanting in a world of increasingly limited resources you begin to realize the book is more than just a lesson in pairing alike things. There’s a poignancy to the simplicity of this book. Read through it a couple of times and you’ll learn something important; you’ll slowly realize that contentment – real achievable contentment – already exists all around us.





By Sarah N. Harvey

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-252-1


“Bear Market”

By Michele Martin Bossley

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-220-0


Both available at


Those of you disheartened by the seemingly endless downward trajectory that is tween/teen magazines can take your heads out of the oven now. Judging from two new books for kids you may be raising Noam Chomskys instead of Paris Hiltons after all. “Plastic” is the more topical of the two books. When Leah announces she wants some plastic surgery for her 16th birthday her best friend Jack tries to talk her out of it. What follows is a dramatization of every alarmist newspaper headline you’ve read in the past couple of years about young girls wanting nicer cheekbones and bigger breasts. The difference here is that Jack’s case for a modest B-Cup is fuelled by some Hardy Boys-style investigating that flushes out a couple of corner-cutting plastic surgeons. Even better, this revelation leads to a public protest – which, in turn, leads to a violent splinter group taking up Jack’s cause without his approval. While the book milks the mediagenic outrage of a culture obsessed with physical perfection, it also illustrates the embryonic fanaticism that’s borne of – seemingly - every societal protest; be it a global summit on climate change or the Winter Olympics. Forty years ago a businessman in “The Graduate” summed up the future to the younger generation with the word “plastics,” and so it has come to pass. The strongest word for tweens and teens today is a word you hardly ever hear them say: “no.” In our hyperkinetic, disposable culture, the book “Plastic” is that rarity: a readable cautionary tale about responsible activism.  As usual, “Bear Market”, about the poaching of bears for their gall bladders, is arguably the more important yet less palpable of the two books. And it’s to Bossley’s credit that her book is just grisly enough to get young minds thinking about taking up the cause, but not so much that you have to stop reading because you’re disgusted with your fellow humankind. She presents the poachers’ side with a kind of polite, cultural respect (which is more than they deserved. See? There’s my disgust for my fellow humankind) and has her three lead characters succinctly address the moral quandaries of correcting the destructive, exploitive beliefs of other cultures. Socio-politics aside, her book is a really catchy read. Sure, there’s the suspense element, but just reading the nuts and bolts about how her characters talk is oddly fascinating. Maybe it’s a backlash against all the vague “highbrow” fiction I’ve read (or just a complete disgust for the Bret Easton Ellis humankind) but the joy of “Bear Market” is just how forthright and sincere a read it is. The book captures the tween/teen energies of today’s kids in a way I hadn’t read before.


Salt series 


By Maurice Gee

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-209-5

You’d think that after the glut of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” books and movies that any young adult fiction series of books with supernatural overtones would pale in comparison to “Twilight” and “Harry Potter.” But after the aforementioned glut of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” books and movies any young adult fiction with supernatural overtones is a breath of fresh air simply because it ISN’T a “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” book or movie. Still, “Salt” has a bit of an uphill battle re-thinking pre-conceived notions born in a “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” world (romance, danger, the showdown between good and evil) but it also has a nice way of making the required devices of youth fiction sound fresh and inventive. For starters, “Salt” is more fantastical than the “Twilight” books and darker than the “Harry Potter” ones. It’s the story of Hari, a young man who really can talk to the animals, trying to free his dad, Tarl, after the latter has been captured and enslaved by a sinister corporation called “Company” and banished to the hellish working prison of Deep Salt. Along the way he meets an aristocratic young woman fleeing an arranged marriage with help from her gifted maid named Tealeaf. Then things get weird… Perhaps the best thing about “Salt” is it doesn’t remind me of “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” at all. While I was reading “Salt” I was transported back to the 1980s and all those Piers Anthony novels I used to read back then. Like those books “Salt” creates a wholly unique and timeless universe of weapons like fizzing rings and fingertip bolts while keeping character motivations firmly grounded in that’s-what-I’d-do territory. It’s certainly an adventure of a read. My only nitpick is the chaotic writing of the action sequences where necessary description is sacrificed for breakneck pacing.


When a book's title says it all... 


By Norah McClintock

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-152-4

Youth lit has certainly grown up since the days when “The Catcher in the Rye” – which was about a youth – was considered an adult novel (publishing house editors have since said if the book were published today it would most likely be a youth title). Fast forward 50 years and witness “Taken”, which takes as its premise the POV of a girl kidnapped by a serial killer (It’s like a prequel to “The Lovely Bones” without the pretensions).

Now, this being youth lit publishing and not the wild west internet you just know that Stephanie, the book’s narrator, is going to mine her confidence, resources and survival lessons taught by her grandfather to survive her ordeal. That’s a given, right? Right? What we’re not prepared for, though, is the news that since Stephanie’s run away from home before she knows the police won’t be looking for her. Uh oh. And suddenly “Taken” takes on a whole new emotion for this genre: dread.

But before any happy ending (and I’m not saying there is a happy ending just that most youth lit books have happy endings) we’re treated to the obligatory checklist of do’s and don’ts for at-risk kids (which is another major ingredient of youth lit). Thankfully, the lessons are made palpable by McClintock’s winning way with the way tweens and teens talk and think and text. Even more impressive is how effective the book is at warning and informing parents and kids about avoiding dangerous situations and dealing with them when they happen. “Taken” is a keeper.


Urban Alphabet


City Alphabet

By Joanne Schwartz and Matt Beam

ISBN No. 978-0-88899-928-3


How’s this for a never-ending English lesson? The premise of this unusual book is that language is alive and well, and all around us: sentences spray painted on walls, letters inlaid in a cement sidewalk, words pieced together with vinyl decals on a storefront window.  If we just look around enough, the book suggests, we’ll see walls, sidewalks and windows talking to us; we just have to be open to what they’re saying. Each letter of the alphabet gets two pages in the book. On the left hand side we see the letter itself and on the right an image of the word containing the letter captured in the concrete jungle (each photo is captioned about where the letter or word was found). It’s a disarmingly lovely valentine to the idea of “found art.” But the beauty of the book isn’t its startlingly simple yet effective concept. It’s that it invites children to consider the world around them as a sort of story constantly being written, edited and then re-written. As for HOW the words got onto a wall, sidewalk or window, well, that’s never explained and becomes part of the bigger wonder about the English language in general (I don’t know why but I’m picturing the creatures from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” doing the engraving and taping and pasting; you know, typical Vancouverites putting their flyers up on lamp posts at 3AM on weekends).  “Alphabet City” looks at urban geography as the most exciting library ever – one in which even adults can have fun spotting the words and then wondering about the story behind them.


It's a Grimm World After All!


Definitely Not for Little Ones

By Rotraut Susanne Berner

ISBN No. 978-0-88899-957-3


Finally! A book for any parent who ever wanted to shorten the bedtime stories they read to their child. No ye olde English text to plod through. No long, meandering plotlines. No heavy metaphors to decipher. Yes, for a kid’s book this is one weird piece of work. The drawings are comic-strip kitschy, the stories sometimes so succinct they’re hard to follow, and the pacing breakneck. And while the book is subtitled “some very Grimm fairy-tale comics” there’s not a grim thing in here. Gone are the dire warnings and moral lessons of the old fairy tales (unless you remember them from your own childhood); instead the fairy tales are re-invented into almost a kind of funny limerick. And while I was personally hoping for something along the lines of 2001’s “Strange Stories for Strange Kids” (Spiegelman & Mouly; HarperCollins) the bonus here is that DNFLO isn’t likely to frighten kids or tire out their bedtime story-reading grandparents. They’ll also be grateful they don’t have to answer any questions from the little ones about cannibalism. Short. To the point. Colourful. Welcome to Grimm for the Internet age.


The New Classics


“Learning to Fly”

By Paul Yee

ISBN No. 978-1-55143-953-2


“Watch Me”

By Norah McClintock

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-039-8


Both available through


It used to be that if you wanted to read A Classic you had to suffer for it. The perverse sentence structure, the obscure religious references, the Big Statement symbolism turned tiny because no one gets it anymore; even the “Moby Dick” academics recommend skimming some chapters because they’re just too dense and verbose for contemporary readers.

Instead of shying away from the big thick books, however, Kid Lit is taking its cue from classics that have practically become unreadable now thanks to their ye olde English style of writing. If you like to read – and you like to read classical stuff – there’s never been a better time to be a tween. For instance, in “Watch Me”, an angry kid evens up things in the universe by stealing a lady’s purse and then suffering mightily for it “Crime and Punishment”-style. In “Learning to Fly“ a recent Chinese immigrant tries to find his way in a racist, corrupt society. The first half of the book is equal parts Salinger’s “Catcher in the Ryle” and “David Copperfield” with its worldly, bored narrator wondering if he’ll be the hero of his own story. Mid-way through the book echoes Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” with its characters ostracizing each other through the tyranny of style and cliques. By its hopeful ending (the only thing that really deviates Tween Classics from Ye Olde Classics, it seems) you’ve had the complete Comparative Literature Experience – but without any of the university-level pain.


Genius vs. Jokes


“Smart-Opedia Junior: The Amazing Book About Everything”

ISBN No. 978-1-897349-30-4


“The Hilarious Adventures of Mish and Mash”

ISBN No. 978-2-89579-208-6


How’s this for a Kid Lit combo: a book that smartens children up and then one that dumbs them right back down. The smart one is rightly called “Smart-Opedia” and it’s the newest incarnation of last year’s “Smart-Opedia” – but for younger eyes. Whereas that title was full of surprisingly direct life lessons (like a pretty realistic section called “Eat or Be Eaten”) the Junior version is all about learning the nuts and bolts of daily life (how cartoons are made; how a library works). For new kids it’ll all be new stuff. For adults it’s an interesting refresher course on modern day etiquette (especially in a section about school behaviour called “Polite or Rude?” that should be required reading for all kindergarten freshmen). “The Hilarious Adventures of Mish and Mash“ is indeed hilarious – if it's the first time you've heard some of the most eye-rolling jokes ever. Sample joke: ”What can you serve but never eat? A vollyball.” And this book has what seems to be a million of these gems. And while it's hard thinking that plugged-in kids would be entertained with a book this basic you have to remember that we’re talking about new kids with newborn senses of humour. There's a nice little sense of discovery in the innocence of these groaners that can be enjoyed by both kids and their parents; each one is a lesson in the delicacies of funny stuff; an education in the evolution of a nice chat and a good joke. Cute cartoons too.


Children’s Department: Idioms & Myths


“Monkey Business”

By Wallace Edwards

ISBN No. 978-1-55453-228-5



By Teresa Cardenas & Margarita Sada

ISBN No. 978-0-88899-795-1


Attention word lovers: there are books out there that want your kids to love strung-together letters as much as their authors do. There really are books around that will smarten up – not dumb down – your kids.

“Monkey  Business” isn’t a long book. It isn’t even a very complex one. What it does have is a wholly contagious celebration of the sing-song delicacies of the English language that’s frankly beautiful to see given today’s kids’ devolving understanding of how words work, what they mean and why they matter.

Essentially, Edwards takes an idiom (defined in the beginning of the book as “a group of words whose meaning cannot be understood from the meaning of the individual words; an expression, peculiar to a specific language, that cannot be translated literally”) like “snug as a bug” and illustrates it as, in the bug’s case, a grasshopper wrapped up in a brightly coloured blanket reading comic books. That’s it. That’s the whole book. What no single review can convey, however, is what a joy it is to see “illustrated idioms” that remind you how lovely and playful words can be when rightly appreciated. It makes you think about all the other nooks and crannies of language (metaphors, personification) that you just don’t notice anymore because you’re too busy trying to decipher the legalese in your cell phone contract. [Sigh] It’s so nice to see words played with in such a respectful way instead of being massacred and hacked up by texting idiots. This book should be required reading for the little ones. Maybe there’s hope for the post-Millennials yet.

Words figure prominently in “Oloyou” too; from the mysterious title of its main character to a story told in dual translation. But whereas “Monkey Business” is all about the building blocks of language, “Oloyou” is all about the sharing of a mythic piece of storytelling from one culture to another.

The story goes something like this: At the beginning of time God-child creates Oloyou the Cat so he’ll have a friend. But one day Oloyou falls into the depths of Nothing and the kingdom of Aro, the Sea. When Oloyou falls in love with Aro’s mermaid-daughter her angry father throws them both back up into the heavens. And then things get complicated.

Parents raised on fantasy books like “The Lord of the Rings” will either want to read “Oloyou” themselves or read it to their lucky kids. The plot might sound complex but the book is friendly and accessible and its illustrations watercolour daydreams. The book not only introduces kids to an ambitious kind of storytelling but also to a different culture (the book is based on a Yoruba myth borne of a Cuban religious tradition brought to the Caribbean by African slaves). I complain a lot about how children’s books don’t challenge them; how most of them are just television in a flip-book format. “Oloyou” and “Monkey Business” are red flags for the kid lit publishing industry. These progressive bits of glorious edutainment and storytelling will get young imaginations racing



Homage of the Month: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”


“Special Edward”

By Eric Walters

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-092-3


You have to admire a kid’s book that dares to tweenize “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” “Is Edward special or special ed?” the back of this book asks. Well, Edward is a career slacker whose passing grade at school is threatened. And like McMurphy from Cuckoo’s Nest (who avoids jail time by being declared insane and institutionalized), Ed has himself declared “special” (as in requiring special education) because the special ed kids get kid glove treatment like more time to complete tests. Edward thinks he’s found the perfect way to cheat the system but if he’d read Cuckoo’s Nest all the way through he would know that the system always wins. Kids will identify with Edward, no problem, but older readers will find lots to like here too. Part of the fun of reading this book is figuring out who’s who from Cuckoo’s Nest. For instance, Nurse Ratched becomes the middle-aged Dr. McClintock in this book (she was “attractive-for a woman that age,” Edward says) and Cuckoo’s giant Indian becomes – what else? - a big, lumbering, grade 12 kid. Thankfully, the book’s cafeteria doesn’t include anything like Kesey’s description of scrambled eggs; a vision that still haunts me two decades after reading his book.


 The Bad Tween

“Running the Risk”

By Lesley Choyce

ISBN No. 978-1-55469-025-1


By James C. Dekker

ISBN No. 978-1-55143-995-2


By Norah McClintock

ISBN No. 978-1-55143-989-1


All available at


Pity the kids. When you’re a child you get to read fairy tales, a bit older and you’re into Archie comics, but when you turn tween every book becomes a how-not-to. Such are the perils of being society’s most treasured resource.

“Running the Risk” is all about how not to get yourself killed by doing something stupid. Chasing that risk is all Sean wants to do after he survives an armed robbery at his workplace, Burger Heaven. Addicted to the adrenaline rush he starts to seek out increasingly dangerous situations and people to test his invincibility until he gets into some real trouble. The great thing about RTR is how acutely the book captures the appeal of victimhood (Sean is suddenly a celebrity at school) and why kids think they’ll live forever. Even better, adult fiction usually takes up twice as many pages to explain the risk-taking mentality and often comes up short.

The emotional wallop in “Impact” comes from a place we don’t read often enough about in youth fiction: impact statements. The book has a moral to teach (the consequences of violence) but it smartly looks at it in the rear view mirror instead of as a preventive measure (pretty daring when you’re writing for kids). There’s a mystery here to keep the young ones reading, of course (did Jordan know more about his brother’s death than he’s saying?) but the real appeal is how the author shows what a child’s death does to the remaining family members and how slowly he rolls out the big reveal.

“Back” is all about what happens after the violent act, the impact statements and the jail time. Here, a bad seed gets released from prison. Is he reformed? Has prison made him even worse? Is he targeted for revenge? The book hits all the obligatory notes about how the sentence never fits the crime, how society is responsible for making these monsters, and the frustration felt by the law-abiding populace. But it also has a genuinely surprising ending that makes everything that went before it make perfect sense. There’s a scene in here with a child and a rock that rivals anything in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”


Tweener Fiction Grows Up


by Katherine Holubitsky

ISBN No. 978-1-55143-851-1



by Susan Vaught

ISBN No. 978-1-59990-230-2


Books for adolescents have officially come of age. Long gone are the easy moral lessons tucked into reader-friendly adventures. Today's youth lit is dead serious and plays for keeps.

Take "Tweaked" for instance. It's about two young brothers, one of whom is a methhead. That's it. That's what the book is about. Kid gets hooked and drives his family to their respective breaking points as they try to get him into rehab. The book's most obvious connection to youth literature is that Holubitsky's narrator is the clean brother and his eyes are those of the book's reading audience. And what he sees will rightly scare kids straight (there's some very effective After School Television Special stuff about the physical ravages of meth) and make them think twice about using.

"Trigger" is a trickier piece of work and just as addictive a read whether you're a child or an adult. (I dunno...maybe it's just the manufactured pretensions of adult fiction but it's so nice to read books with linear storylines.) Essentially, "Trigger" is about a boy recovering from a bullet wound to the head and the subsequent brain injury it caused. But it's also about youth violence, their sense of invincibility and failure to consider consequences. But wait, there's more. The book is also about hearing voices, feeling different, peer pressure and what it might be like for survivors of the Columbine massacre after the headlines fade. The writing is forthright and direct; the story surprisingly affecting. For young readers it'll be like a friend telling you a secret. For adults and parents it'll be like a conversation with a usually laconic kid. "Trigger" a "Catcher in the Rye " for the millennium.  

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