Helen

Born by John Sobel / Illus. by Cindy Derby
When parents tell their child a new baby will be joining their family it’s an opportunity to expand the child’s understanding. Beyond the question, “Where do babies come from?” a more engaging, challenging question is, “What’s it like to be born?”
This book provides some perspective. The images and text lean toward emotional empathy rather than physiological precision but there are heart beats and voices, kicking small feet in an enclosed, safe world.  This safe world quickly transitions into the experience of opening eyes for the first time, fuzzy sight, welcoming arms. Helping children relate to what it’s like to be born, will help them to relate to their new brother or sister. This simple idea is executed extremely well in both its ethereal, peaceful images and soothing, comforting narrative. In my experience, this picture book is one of a kind.  

Picture Book Hardcover pr5384194

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel
This 2020 Silver Birch Award nominee is a debut novel. You may have already read a few of the other nominees from more famous Canadian authors. I urge you to give this book a try. Our protagonist Emmy has a mother who writes parenting books. She has a new reality TV show where she will be a live-in instructor for families experiencing challenges. With her mother thus engaged, Emmy is sent to a prominent – competitive - boarding school in the U.K. Weeks before leaving, Emmy receives a mysterious letter that leads her to a hidden box. It belonged to her father, even though her mother destroyed all of his possessions when he abandoned them a decade before. Reeling, Emmy heads off to school where she has little in common with her entitled class mates, finds the school work extremely challenging, and misses her mom. Emmy makes fast friends with extremely nuanced and interesting characters. There are challenging puzzles and mysteries, secret doorways and malevolent societies, unsettling accidents, criminal happenings and sneaking around ancient, spooky buildings.
There is nothing supernatural in this first book, but kids who enjoyed Harry Potter will love this story and, I imagine, the rest of the series. I – for one – look forward to book two, which will be featured in our Spring Bestseller List.

Juvenile Fiction Hardcover pr2697805

Grumpy Unicorn by Joey Spiotto
Grumpy Unicorn consists of a frowning unicorn doing various things with virtually the same expression on his face in the entire book. It is an extremely simple concept and remarkably funny. There are one-hundred and eleven pages with four parts listed in an illustrated table of contents. Each page is illustrated with a maximum of 7 words per page but most are wordless. There are almost no other characters.
I offer this much detail to give credence to my assertion that this is a perfect book for kids to transition from picture books to early readers. That is, I believe adults should read this book with kids; but, children will really, really want to learn to read it themselves. There are words like topiary, unicycle, and Piñata but most sentences are two words with a maximum of seven.

Reading a book of this length will give little readers immense confidence. 

Juvenile Fiction Paperback pr4672243

Pickles vs. the Zombies by Angela Misri
I admit this awesome title was irresistible to me, which is almost as bad as judging a book by its cover. However, things only improve – if you can imagine - from the title. Pickles the house cat notices her pet (AKA human), 2 year old Connor, is late getting home from daycare. So are Connor’s parents. Also, normal looking pets are being attacked and eaten by shambling looking pets...
An outside cat, Ginger, has learned that all the non-shambling pets have congregated at the hospital. And so Pickles decides to undertake a quest – outside – to the hospital, to save her pet. Eventually, this quest leads further afield, with many cats, a bossy hamster, a raccoon, horses and an owl, all uniting to confront rats, chipmunks, a religious cult of cats, and, of course, the zombie apocalypse. There are some truly hilarious scenes - Pickles as calmly as possible instructing horses how to kick off zombie heads, in the heat of an attack; hostage negotiations with chipmunks; the hamster ferociously fighting zombies, at every turn, etc. The zombie action is fairly tame as none of the good-guys die or become zombies. Also Pickles falls in love with a female cat, which is a small but lovely detail. This relationship and all of the characters are well developed. This book is all one might hope it would be – from the title – and much, much more.

Recommend it to everyone… except dog people. 

Juvenile Fiction Paperback pr2769332

Amber Fang: Hunted by Arthur Slade

Amber Fang studies to be a librarian with enthusiasm. In her spare time she plies her research skills to finding nefarious nearby targets – unrepentant murderers. Then she tracks and neutralizes them with detached precision. She is an enthusiastic student; a reluctant, obsessively ethical vampire; and a brilliant assassin. Her life is ordered and tidy but the research can be tedious. Socially she must keep to herself and discourage romantic entanglements. Also she has to relocate every few years – one can’t murder ALL of one’s nefarious neighbours without the local constabulary getting perturbed.

So, when Amber is offered an international assassination assignment of an infamous arms dealer (AKA unrepentant murderer) she accepts. Social exchanges longer than a few sentences ensue. An unconventional relationship blooms. Beautiful shoes are bought and lost. Amber’s interest in the world and curiosity about people is piqued. Amber Fang is courageous, clever, ethical, funny and Canadian (initially living in Montreal). There are a few Canadian jokes but there are a lot of librarian jokes. This book reads like the author was having a riot. Teenage and grown-up readers will too. I personally cannot wait for book two (Amber Fang: Betrayal) and three (Amber Fang: Revenge), both publishing in the Fall.    

Young Adult Fiction Paperback pr2690746

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