Helen

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

I started this book because I wanted a simple, fun, escape from 2021 and all its COVID-19 glory – worrying, inconceivable dystopian headlines, irrational stupidity, etc. Mission accomplished with The Silver Arrow!

Two kids – Kate and her little brother Tom - climb onto a magic talking steam engine that charges off across their backyard and way beyond. Along the way they build a train with a candy car, a swimming pool car, a mystery car – and regular cars too - then drive all over the world picking up talking animals – only the ones with tickets, though. Kate and Tom, the train and all of the animals have hilarious conversations and a lot of fun.

Great books achieve more than one thing. Mixed into the action-packed, comedic plot are other themes. One theme stands out, that the world’s creatures are precious and need protecting. For example, all of the animal characters are unusual, endangered species – a white bellied heron, a pangolin, a fishing cat, a green mamba, etc. Mentioning these species might encourage kids to look them up. Also at one point the train needs firewood. Kate and Tom and their animal friends enter an ancient forest and ask the trees for wood. In exchange, they magically become trees for a time. The scenes that follow are incredibly moving, as Kate feels, moves, and experiences seasons, wind, cold, and sunshine, as a tree.

Finally, I’ll quote the mamba character (page 208) as I think this is the reason Lev Grossman wrote the book. The mamba says Kate shouldn’t “…feel bad about what humans have done…Feeling guilty doesn’t help… Humans are animals doing what all animals do: surviving. It’s just that you’ve done it too well… You’ve won, you’ve taken over the world. Now you just have to take care of it.”

Recommend this book to readers as a fun, magic escape. The book may also spark a passion for environmentalism.  

Middle Grade Fiction pr5685873

Ana on the Edge by A. J. Sass

LGBTQ books often have courageous, assured protagonists. To use the wonderful metaphor I first read at diversebooks.org, these protagonists’ stories open a window – or reflect a mirror - into what living their lives is like. They have had an awareness of their selfhood from an early age and the narrative shares a slice of time from their perspective.

Ana On the Edge is the first book I’ve read where the protagonist is unsure of their perspective. The narrative shares a slice of time in Ana-Marie’s life when “she” is becoming uncomfortable with fundamental parts of who she is – like the pronoun “she”. Ana-Marie has been a talented figure skater for many years and a champion for a few. At a time when her skating career should be taking off, certain details are causing her anxiety, distraction and failure. Her new coach wants her to wear a skirt (something she hasn’t done in years), her name feels foreign, and when a new friend – a boy – mistakes Ana-Marie for boy, it feels freeing. Trying on the pronoun “he” feels nice.

Ana-Marie’s story doesn’t wrap up all lose ends, her new selfhood set. Instead, the story is left open ended. Ana-Marie wants to be called Ana, and her courage comes in the form of sharing her anxiety and uncertainty with the people who love her. This is a fantastic book both for those of us who experience it as a window, and for those who will see a mirror.

Middle Grade Fiction pr5716994

Small History of a Disagreement by Claudio Fuentes / Illustrated by Gabriela Lyon 

Our world is becoming more and more divided with seemingly no nuance to issues – climate change activism vs. climate change denial, oil industry vs. green energy, black lives matter and defund police vs. “law and order”, etc. Kids might find it confusing and worrying. Worse, they might feel helpless.

This empowering picture book for 7 to 12 year olds presents a disagreement at a school - should an ancient tree be cut down to accommodate a new school building? - and how the community engaged to deal with it.

While everyday issues are not always as uncomplicated as the one offered, this simple presentation does make clear the mechanics and steps of confronting disagreements democratically. As Canada’s throne speech is presented, as BC goes into an election, as our U.S. neighbours enter the final months of a presidential election, this book might be useful in talking to children and youth – young and old - about democracy.

Bravo, Greystone Kids! Excellent timing!
Click here for the review from Kirkus Reviews.

Picture Book pr5743909

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