Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
Bird Child, by Nan Forler, illustrated by Francois Thisdale, is a poignant story of a girl who witnesses bullying. Eliza is like a bird—tiny and able to “fly.” From her vantage point, she can clearly see all that goes on around her. She can also look up and see possibility. When she witnesses the new girl, Lainey, being teased because of her straw hair and frayed coat, Eliza does nothing. She watches Lainey’s excitement about school waning with each passing day and still she does nothing. One day Lainey doesn’t show up for school and Eliza realizes what she needs to do—show her classmate how she too can fly.
Lucy M. Falcone’s I Didn’t Stand Up, illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon, addresses a similar topic. A boy regrets not standing up to all different types of bullying (including against gay and trans classmates) and finally finds strength in numbers.
Also in the same vein, The Artist and Me, by Shane Peacock, illustrated by Sophie Cason, shows the protagonist looking back with regret at how, as a kid and a contemporary of Vinvent Van Gogh, he’d made fun of the artist for being different.
Themes of bullying, regret and confrontation link these three beautiful books.
One connection among the following books is the subject of immigration, beginning with Share the Sky, by Ting-xing Ye, illustrated by Suzanne Langlois. Fei-fei moves from her grandparents’ rural China home to join her parents in a North American city. Flying kites, an important pastime in her hometown in China, is used throughout as a metaphor for migration, and also connects Fei-fei's new home to the place she comes from.
Metaphor also works effectively in Migrant, by Maxine Trottier, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. As part of a family of migrant workers from Mexico, feeling out-of-place in her new home, Anna feels like lots of different animals, including a bird, a busy bee, and a monarch butterfly.
In Shi-shi-etko, by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave, Shi-shi-etko will leave for residential school in three more sleeps. She pays close attention to the natural world around her, collecting memories as she goes out in the canoe, sings her grandfather’s paddle songs and gathers medicinal herbs with her Yayah.
I Know Here, by Laurel Crozer, illustrated by Matt James, is about a little girl preparing to move to Toronto from Saskatchewan, wondering if people in her new home will know the world that she comes from. She decides to draw it all—the wolves, foxes, moose and the five-seater plane that carries her. A sequel, From There to Here, features the same girl having moved from Saskatchewan to Toronto. Each page shows the contrast between the two places—bush vs street, unlocked vs locked doors, stars vs street lamps, forest hikes vs. the CNE.
Moving, change, comparisons, differences, rural vs. urban, transition, adjustment, are all themes running throughout these books.
Motifs linking the following three stories are hockey, the outdoors and Canada. In That’s Hockey, by David Bouchard and Dean Griffiths, city kid Etienne spends two days on the farm with his cousin, where they clear the snow to play a marathon game of shinny.
In One Hockey Night, by David Ward, illustrated by Brian Deines, Christmas isn’t the same for Owen since he moved to Halifax from Saskatchewan. For one thing, they have to play hockey on the driveway instead of on the lake—until his parents make a surprise rink in the backyard.
When the Moon Comes, by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Matt James, has the most descriptive language of these three texts, presenting a group of kids preparing an ice rink in the forest for a moonlit hockey game.
In Clancy with the Puck, written and illustrated by Chris Mizzoni, Clancy is a superstar, but when he skates onto the ice, mid-game to take a penalty shot on net, his over-confidence is met with disappointment. His career ends with him taking a job as a Zamboni driver.
Also about failure is The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, by Ashley Spires. Lou likes adventure, but when her friends want to play pirates up a tree, Lou finds every excuse to not have an adventure that tests her fear of heights. She finally confronts her fear...and fails anyway. Expectation, hope and confidence connects this book with the other.
Henry Holton Takes the Ice, by Sandra Bradley, illustrated by Sara Palacios, is about likes/dislikes, effort, finding one’s talent. Henry comes from a long line of hockey players but discovers, after trying to meet family expectations, he’s actually a figure skater.
And in The Cranky Ballerina, by Elise Gravel, a young girl endures torturous ballet classes until she stumbles upon her real interest—karate!
Death, rituals and the power of nature are all threads running through the following titles. In Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails, by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka, Kataujaq plays outside with her family. Her mother has recently died and her grandmother explains their belief that Northern lights are dead souls playing soccer in the sky.
The Funeral, by Matt James, is a beautiful story of two cousins meeting up at their uncle Frank’s funeral. They take a break from the church rituals to play outside near a pond and do cartwheels in the grass.
A brave little boy breaks down gender stereotypes by daring to be different in these two books: I Love My Purse, by Belle DeMont, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, by Christine Baldacchino, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant.
In the former, Charlie dons a purse to school. In the latter, Morris wears a dress. Both characters end up inspiring their classmates to also be who they truly are.
Please, Louise!, by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, features older brother Jake wishing little sis, Louise, would leave him alone. He even wishes she were a dog, until he believes she has actually turned into one and he starts to regret his wish.
Co-dependent sibling relationships, and resentful caretakers are also seen in Princess Pistachio and the Pest, by Marie Louise Gay. It’s the first day of summer and Pistachio is saddled with babysitting her little sister Penny. Pistachio ends up having to defend her sister against the local grocer who accuses Penny of theft, and protect her from being eaten by Mrs. Oldtooth for trespassing in her garden. In both books, the protagonists end up valuing younger siblings.
Collaboration and the environment are common threads in Butterfly Park, by Elly McKay, and Charlie’s Dirt Day, by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli. The first story is about a girl moving to a new home, searching for elusive butterflies in the neighbourhood park.
The second tale is about Charlie and his dad, who are taking home soil from the Mayor’s Annual Dirt Day Giveaway, and contributing to the making of a neighbourhood meal. In both books, the solution to an environmental problem is a win-win for neighbours
Coyote’s New Suit, by Thomas King, is about a trickster and a bruised ego. Coyote gets himself into trouble when trickster Raven overhears him boasting about his fine fur.
Similarly, the famous trickster Spider has to follow through on his boasting in Anancy and the Haunted House, by Ricardo Keens-Douglas. He tells all the little spiders he’s not afraid of anything and proves it by entering a dance contest with a huge scary rooster. In both books, boasting precipitates the character’s downfall.
Oliver’s Tantrums, by Boriana Todorov, illustrated by Vladimir Todorov, has obvious connections to Sam’s Pet Temper, by Sangeeta Bhadra, illustrated by Marion Arbona. In the first book, Oliver finds “tantrums” in his attic. The illustrations are eerily realistic, with Oliver and his tantrums demanding more and more treats from his mom, who has been busy with his newborn sister.
In the second book, Sam gets attention with help from his newfound friend, his pet temper. In both books, things take a turn for the better when the boys exert control.
Iginla Sparks the Flames, by Mike Leonetti, illustrated by Gary McLauglin, is a realistic story about Riley, son of a single parent who can’t afford for him to play hockey. Riley meets his hero—real-life hockey player Jerome Iginla—who helps him out.
Splinters, written and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester, is a Cinderella tale set in hockey land. A fairy godmother helps poverty-stricken Cindy by giving her the hockey equipment she needs. Common themes include charity, self-improvement, commitment, and heroes.
On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.
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