Summer’s not quite over and a new school year is around the corner, so there’s still time for young readers to get lost in a good book or two.
Albert is desperate to find a quiet place to sit and read in Isabelle Arsenault’s Albert’s Quiet Quest (Tundra Books, 4-8) but just when he’s found the perfect place, he finds himself the centre of unwanted attention – his friends want him to help them garden, babysit and join their dance party. Arsenault beautifully dramatizes Albert’s growing frustration with his friends through her trademark watercolour and pencil illustrations and simple text, and, when he loses his temper, what happens next is sure to surprise, and delight, young bookworms.
Need some nonsense? Sharon, Lois and Bram’s all-Canadian classic folk song, Skinnamarink (Tundra Books, 3-7) is just the ticket in this joyous picture-book edition, illustrated by Qin Leng. The boisterous, toe-tapping, glee-filled lyrics that the trio introduced in their very first concert in 1978 – a celebration of love, friendship, community and inclusiveness – come alive in Leng’s magical ink and watercolour pictures. Young readers will have an absolutely skinnamarinky wonderful time as they get caught up in a song that’s delighted generations of children (and adults) across Canada and around the world.
If tall tales are your cup of tea, try Barbara Nichol’s uproariously side-splitting The Lady from Kent (Pedlar Press, 5+), with equally madcap illustrations by Bill Pechet. Did the Lady from Kent really master the guitar by the age of 3? Invent the bathing cap and rake? Teach a swarm of killer bees to tightrope-walk and rename all the constellations in the zodiac? Are all her stories true? You’ll have to make up your own mind in this rambunctious picture book that is part Edward Lear, part Lewis Carroll and 100-per-cent Barbara Nichol.
Tallulah wants nothing more than to play the tuba, but Mr. Greenwood, the band leader, thinks she’s just too tiny. But as young readers discover in Tiffany Stone’s Tallulah Plays the Tuba (Annick Press, 4-7), illustrated by Sandy Nichols, being tiny isn’t going to stop Tallulah. She’s ready to try everything from using stilts to creating a human pyramid but nothing seems to work. But don’t despair – you’ll soon find out how she makes her musical dreams come true!
Louise Bennett Coverley, better known as Miss Lou, was one of Jamaica’s great storytellers, a gifted poet and a radio and television personality. But before she became a Jamaican icon, she was a girl who desperately wanted to find her own voice. Nadia L. Hohn shares Miss Lou’s moving story in her imaginative picture-book biography, A Likkle Miss Lou (Owlkids Books, 4-8), illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. Hohn offers young readers a glimpse into Louise’s childhood and, more importantly, her love of language and delight in Jamaican patois. Fernandes’s illustrations beautifully capture the heat of Miss Lou’s world.
The first day of school isn’t always easy, as Olympic medallist Ibtihaj Muhammed knows all too well, and she’s drawn on her own childhood experiences in The Proudest Blue (Little Brown, 4-8), written with S.K. Ali and illustrated by Hatem Aly. Faizah’s excited to be going back to school with her new backpack and light-up shoes but she’s also excited because her older sister Asiya is wearing a hijab for the first time (a beautiful blue hijab that is like the ocean waving to the sky). But although wearing hijab makes Asiya a target for bullies – not everyone understands the importance of her choice – her little sister’s love and support helps her stay strong. Hatem Aly’s ink-wash and watercolour illustrations perfectly complement the lyricism of Muhammed and Ali’s moving text.
Shelly’s grandmother has been teaching her how to catch ghosts, how to carry them in your hair and how to help them move on. Shelly’s mother isn’t too happy with this arrangement but Shelly’s fascinated with ghosts, until her mother dies in a tragic car accident. Shelly keeps waiting for her mother’s ghost to appear, but when it doesn’t, Shelly begins collecting ghosts and hoarding them. She’s got ghost cats and dogs, ghost raccoons and ghost people, too. Allison Mills’s inventive The Ghost Collector (Annick Press, 10+) perfectly balances suspense and the supernatural. Mills, who is herself Ililiw/Cree and settler Canadian, roots her novel, in part, in a Cree world view, with an equally powerful and moving story about coming to terms with the death of a loved one. It’s an auspicious debut that is sure to delight middle-grade readers.
Cole Harper is dead – at least that’s how it appears as the stunning third and final instalment in David Alexander Robertson’s The Reckoner Trilogy, Ghosts (HighWater Press, 12+) gets under way. But things aren’t always the way they appear and in this roller-coaster ride of a novel, which began with Robertson’s Strangers and Monsters – readers will discover just what kind of evil lurks in the heart of the scientists of Mikho Laboratories and Wounded Sky community’s chief. Robertson not only offers readers a compelling and suspenseful novel that includes ghosts, monsters and a deadly supervirus but also a deeply sympathetic portrait of the lives of young Indigenous Canadians and the challenges they face within and outside their communities. It’s a superb conclusion to a masterful trilogy.
Expand your mind and build your reading list with the Books newsletter. Sign up today.