As a stay at home dad, it’s never easy to carve out time to write. Summer presents a whole new set of challenges. This past summer I was able to do some writing in the very early morning, before the rest of the house was awake. On the whole, however, my kids’ summer vacation meant that I had to take a vacation from writing. So, instead, I read. What a treat! I so seldom get a chance to read. And with the beginning of the new school year I resolve to read even more. Meanwhile, here are some of my recently read favourites:
Banjo of Destiny by Cary Fagan:
Quirky and delightful, Cary Fagan’s Banjo of Destiny tells the story Jeremiah Birnbaum. Jeremiah is the unconventional child of wealthy parents who appears to have it all. In fact, it all counts for nothing. The greatest thing he has is his passion to learn to play the banjo. Overcoming numerous hurdles, to say nothing of his foolish parents, Jeremiah follows his heart and discovers that he is capable of creating much more than just good music.
The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard:
The Glory Wind is as gentle as a breeze and as powerful as a tornado. It’s evocative of another time and full of timeless, enduring sentiments. Valerie Sherrard’s singular work touches upon so many themes: friendship, love, loss and chance. I couldn’t put this book down. It reminds me of how extraordinary writing can be. The narrative voice of young Luke convincingly conveys the turmoil of a boy coming to terms with the ways of the world.
Home Free by Sharon Jennings:
Thanks to Sharon Jennings I now know that Home Free can refer to many things. It can be a sanctuary. It can be a state of being. It is also the title of her wonderfully crafted tale of a young girl who dreams of being a writer. Lee Mets is eleven. Her brief but intense friendship with an enigmatic newcomer forms the basis of this compelling book. Lee’s narrative voice is honest and perceptive. She describes a world both painfully sad and wonderfully inspiring.
Walking Backward by Catherine Austen, Orca Books:
I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story of profound and inexplicable loss, perfectly written by Catherine Austen. The story is told through the journal entries of twelve-year-old Josh. The sudden death of his mother means that Josh, his little brother and their father must learn to move through their grief and continue with life. Walking Backward is, at once, genuine, perceptive, heartbreaking and hilarious.
The Odds Get Even by Natale Ghent, HarperCollins:
Brainy, zany and cool. These are just three of the words that come to mind when thinking about The Odds Get Even, Natale Ghent’s endlessly entertaining novel. Itchy, Squeak and Boney are the three main characters. Their geekiness speaks to the nerd within us all. They inhabit a world that speaks to a time gone by; a time before digital technology consumed the curiosity of young boys. It is a world of Elvis impersonators, tinned soup, sadistic teachers and bullies. It is a world in which revenge comes to those who really deserve it. It’s a world well written.
The Great Houdini (Step into Reading, Step 4) by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Anne Reas:
I read this book to my son, who previously knew nothing about Harry Houdini. In the weeks following, he repeatedly made real-life connections to Monica Kulling’s well-told tale of the famous magician. In fact, he actually wondered where we might get him his own straightjacket so he could attempt his own daring escapes. This is a book that illustrates, for young readers, the way words can lead to worlds of discovery. Kulling has written a number of critically acclaimed biographies for young readers and I look forward to sharing more of them with my son.
Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time by James Howe and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay:
The Houndsley and Catina stories are Zen-like in their simplicity. They remind me of Cynthia Rylant’s Poppleton stories. They are quietly profound. The friendship between Houndsley and Catina is rich and Marie-Louise Gay’s illustrations brings to life the world they inhabit. Read just before sleep, these tales still the room and quiet the soul. They are stuff that dreams are made of….
I Know Here by Laurel Croza and illustrated by Matt James:
Moving from one home to another can be a profound and unsettling experience. It’s a topic touched upon in many books, my own included. As the narrator in I Know Here thinks of all the things she knows she shall be leaving behind when she moves, we sense the richness of her world. When her teacher suggests that she draws the things she wants to remember, we glimpse the first stirring of the impulse towards art. We depend on the power of memory to preserve the things we love. This book lovingly preserves a moment from a childhood in transition. It’s a real work of art.
Andrew Larsen is the author of The Imaginary Garden. His latest offering is his first chapter book, The Luck of Jude. Andrew is a stay at home dad who works when his kids are at school. He is thrilled to be back at work, writing a story about a summer vacation.
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