Monday, 27 February 2017

Lost in the Backyard

Lost in the Backyard
Lost in the Backyard

By Alison Hughes

I love survival stories, and this is a good one!

Flynn is 13 and couldn’t care less about nature or the environment.  He finds camping pretty boring and he doesn’t pay attention in his Outdoor Ed. class.  He is far more interested in his phone and his Nike Air Force 1 running shoes.  When his parents take him to visit some friends who have built a house “off the grid” – the house is energy self-sufficient and way out in the woods – he is less than thrilled.  Flynn decides to take a walk in the vast backyard, and that’s when the trouble begins.

Startled by an animal on the path, Flynn rushes headlong into the forest.  He soon finds himself hopelessly lost.  His hoodie and Nikes aren’t much protection against the snow.  As night falls, Flynn discovers that it sure is dark in the woods, and that every noise, including those howling coyotes, could be a predator.  Does that make him prey?

Flynn must gather his wits to survive.  He desperately tries to remember his Outdoor Ed. classes. He knows that in late October, his trip into the bush could be fatal.  Will this city kid last long enough to be rescued?

Flynn represents many modern kids who do not have any experience in the woods.  But he also shows the incredible resilience of someone who is determined to survive.  Lost in the Backyard is a short, easy read but also a suspenseful page-turner.  

Highly recommended.

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Best Mistake Mystery

The Best Mistake Mystery
The Best Mistake Mystery
By Sylvia McNicoll

Stephen Noble tends to worry a lot.  His mom often says that he makes too much out of things. But when the fire alarm goes off at school and all the kids get sent home without even getting their agendas, Stephen suspects something is really wrong.  Later that afternoon, while walking dogs for his dad’s company, Stephen and know-it-all Renee see the police bomb squad on the roof of the school.  What is going on?

Stephen and Renee set out to solve the mystery.  With dogs Ping and Pong in tow, Stephen and Renee discover that someone has called in a bomb threat to the school.  Then one night, Stephen hears some strange noises at the school; he lives right next to it, so of course, he looks outside to see what’s going on.  He discovers that someone has driven a car into the front of the school.  Then he starts getting some threatening text messages.  Someone thinks Stephen witnessed the car incident and can identify the driver.  Now that person is threatening to hurt Ping and Pong.

Should Stephen and Renee tell Stephen’s parents about the text messages?  Or can they sort out this mess themselves?  The text messages specifically warn Stephen not to say anything.

As Stephen and Renee set out to solve the mystery of who is trying to destroy their school, Stephen makes many mistakes.  In fact, this book is full of the mistakes that Stephen makes every day.  Most are small mistakes, such as letting the dogs off leash.  This leads to a skateboarder being knocked over by some very excited animals.  

But many of Stephen’s mistakes lead him to discover more about the strange occurrences in his neighbourhood.  His “best mistakes” help him and Renee to figure out who is behind the bomb threat, the car accident and the threats.

The Best Mistake Mystery is set in an average neighbourhood and both Stephen and Renee are average kids.  The crimes committed in this book are major enough to cause a stir, but still minor enough that a kid could track down the criminal.  Readers will enjoy trying to solve the mystery themselves.  They are sure to make some mistakes along the way, but maybe these mistakes will lead them somewhere they never imagined…

Monday, 6 February 2017

Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel

Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel
Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel
By Charise Mericle Harper

This post was originally published in Canadian Materials, Volume XXIII, Number 16, December 23, 2016. 

June is always open to making friends, and when Mae moves in across the street, it looks like a perfect opportunity. But potential friendship is almost thwarted by the disagreeable April, a girl who is not prone to sharing.

So goes the roller coaster of the primary school social scene. June, like all little girls, wants to be friends with the other little girls. But June has a close friend already – her dog Sammy. June and Sammy are more than just girl and dog. June knows what Sammy is saying (although no one else can hear it), and the two of them are almost constant companions. Together, they are seeking a friend who is “fun, friendly and full of adventure”.

June has another advantage as well. Grandma Penny, “the best present giver in the whole world”, has sent her a Wonder Wheel. The Wheel is a bedroom-sized Wheel of Fortune and comes complete with a chalk board and envelopes full of instructions. After dividing the wheel into a pie chart, June and Sammy spin the wheel each morning and dance to its sweet sounds, (“tackity, tackity tackity”). Then they must carry out the actions prescribed on the wheel.

One day, June must choose an animal and make it her spirit animal, taking on its animal traits to guide her actions. Another day she must start a collection. All of these activities elicit participation and commentary from the children at school and ultimately lead to fun, friendship and adventure. 

The Wonder Wheel is every young child’s dream. It builds excitement into every day, and June is always ready to take on the challenge. It’s also a great way for June to build her friendship with Mae. After Mae has a semi-disastrous playdate with April, Mae and June discover that perhaps their friendship is meant to be.

This early chapter book will appeal primarily to 6-8-year-old girls. Narrated by June, herself, the book speaks directly to girls who will identify with June’s happy explorations and her dismay at the small slights of her classmates. June’s day-to-day adventures reflect the realities of school life for young children. Even her relationship with Sammy is believable, notwithstanding their ongoing conversations. 

A child’s affinity for her pet is part of this novel’s theme: friendship, whether with classmates, pets or imaginary friends, is a cornerstone of childhood and plays a significant role in a child’s psyche. Indeed, friendship is the central focus of Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel.

Adding to the text are Ashley Spires’ gentle, cartoonish watercolours which appear in black and white throughout the book. Illustrations combine with the feel-good nature of Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel, making it a perfect chapter book for budding readers.