YOUNGEST READERS (ages 1-5)
By Jonathan Bean
Farrar Straus Giroux, 32 pages, $19
PENNSYLVANIA author Jonathan Bean captures a little boy's longing for the first snowfall in this charming picture book. As the pages turn, we watch David keep checking his backyard for snowflakes.
In between checks, his mother tries to interest him in household tasks, but to David they always remind him of snow: the cake flour and sugar, the suds in the bathtub, the sheets on the bed. Finally it starts to snow, a big snow, and David and his mother and father go out to enjoy it together.
Bean's pictures are large and homey, and little ones will chuckle with David as he makes messes in the kitchen and forts in the bedroom. For every child who loves to play in the snow.
When It Snows
By Richard Collingridge
Fetwel and Friends, 32 pages, $19
FOR a much more fanciful look at snow, this author and artist from London, England, depicts how a child's imagination can turn a snowstorm into an enchanted landscape complete with frost fairies, elves and a "Queen of the Poles."
The little boy rides a polar bear and discovers a whole field of snowmen as he settles down with his favourite book before the fire. The illustrations are full-page watercolours, which bring to life the whimsical scenes in the boy's imagination.
By Uri Shulevitz
Farrar Straus Giroux, 32 pages, $20
CALDECOTT Medal-winning New York artist and author Uri Shulevitz sets his holiday picture book in the middle of New York City.
A "boy with dog and grandfather with beard" set out for a walk. As the light in the sky gradually fades, the lights from Christmas windows, Hanukkah candles, street lamps and cars grow brighter until the boy exclaims, "It's as light as day."
Shulevitz, who has won many honours for his illustrations, has made this a beautiful book, with little text, but pictures that seem to glow with inner light.
Francis the Little Fox
By Véronique Bloisjoly, illustrations by Katty Maurey
Kids Can Press, 88 pages, $19
ANY child will enjoy this fun-filled account of Francis's morning at Mr. Li's Small Socks Laundromat. When Mr. Li's granddaughter, Lily, is involved, there's always mischief, and this day a cat named Mouse escapes the laundromat and has to be rescued by Francis and Lily. Based on a French-language app, Renaud le petit renard, it has loads of amusing illustrations by Montreal artist Maurey and easy-to-read text by Quebec writer Bloisjoly.
Itty Bitty Bits
By Anita Daher, illustrations by Wendy Bailey
Peanut Butter Press, 32 pages, $20
MOLLY wants her friend Jen to come for a sleepover, but Mom says she has to clean her room first. Molly's room is a disaster and she's afraid to tackle it alone. She asks her sister, her brother, her father, even her dog, but everyone is too busy.
It takes watching a little ant to show her how to get the job done, a little bit at a time.
Daher lives in Winnipeg and is an editor at Great Plains Publications. She's had success with young adult books such as Spider's Song and Racing for Diamonds. Bailey, another talented Winnipegger, has used colourful, animated -- if somewhat exaggerated -- artwork to illustrate the book.
By Randi Zuckerberg, illustrations by Joe Berger
HarperCollins, 32 pages, $21
A technologically savvy preschooler, Dot knows how to "tap, to touch, to tweet and to tag." She knows how "to surf, to swipe, to share and to search."
But Dot also likes to get outside and play with friends, and in this clever picture book she does all those things outside as well. Author Zuckerberg, the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, has proved her own technological expertise in her residence of Silicon Valley, Calif. Berger, who lives in Bristol, U.K., adds fun and colour to the book with his lavish, animated artwork.
BEGINNING READERS (ages 6-8)
Sam Swallow and the Riddleworld League
By William New, illustrations by Yayo
Tradewind Books, 128 pages, $13
DO you know someone who loves riddles? Then this is the book for them. Sam Swallow is 10 and can't wait to try out for the Byrd City baseball team.
He hates all the jokes he faces about his name. But when Sam trips over a ball on his front steps on his way to the ballpark, he's knocked into Riddleworld.
Sam turns into a real swallow and to succeed in this league he has to solve all sorts of puzzles: anagrams, crosswords, mathematical puzzles, word riddles.
This is Vancouver author (and obviously puzzle fanatic) New's first novel. Yayo, whose black-and white artwork enlivens the book, lives in Montreal.
Marconi Goes Wireless
By Monica Kulling, illustrations by Richard Rudnicki
Tundra Books, 32 pages, $20
NON-FICTION fans will enjoy this account of how Guglielmo Marconi invented wireless communication. Toronto writer Kulling adds to her "Great Idea" series of biographies in this easy-to-read description of how this Italian-born inventor experimented for years with his wireless telegraph, including sending messages forw Queen Victoria to and from her son on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
Finally, the first message sent across the ocean was received on Signal Hill, N.L., from Cornwall, England, on Dec. 12, 1901. Paintings by Halifax artist Rudnicki add to the book's appeal.
A second book in the Great Idea series, In the Bag, also by Kulling, tells the story of Margaret Knight, an American woman who invented the square-bottomed paper bag, along with 90 other items with over 20 patents.
The Four Seasons of Patrick
By Susan Hughes
Red Deer Press, 80 pages, $10
A chapter book suitable for beginning readers, The Four Seasons of Patrick will resonate with any child who has dreamed of having a treehouse in the backyard.
Patrick is upset when his widowed father announces he is going to marry Linda and that she and her daughter, Claire, will be moving into Patrick's house. He resents Linda taking his mother's place and is upset that Claire will make his home more crowded.
Only when he and his friend, Harry, build a treehouse over the summer does Patrick feel free. One night he realizes how much Claire also misses her own home and agrees to share the treehouse.
Hughes lives in Toronto and has written both fiction and non-fiction for young people.
MIDDLE GRADES (ages 9-12)
By Gordon Korman
Scholastic, 232 pages, $19
BORN in Quebec but now based in New York, Korman has written another amusing, improbable, but action-filled novel for mid-level readers.
Jackson Opus has a special talent: he can bend minds by force of will. When he discovers a special school for hypnotists and is invited to join, he's excited and participates readily until he realizes that his skills can also be used for evil purposes.
Korman's books are especially popular with boys, and this one will probably be no exception. Since he published his first novel, It Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, after writing it as a Grade 8 project, Korman has written some 70 books for young people.
A Country of Our Own
The Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn
By Karleen Bradford
Scholastic Canada, 184 pages, $17
PART of the Dear Canada series, this novel tries to give some idea of what it was like to live in Canada, and its new capital, Ottawa, in 1866.
At the beginning of the book, Rosie is a 12-year-old girl from Quebec City who is sent to be a maid in the home of an Ottawa official. We get clear pictures of Ottawa as a muddy, noisy, smelly town full of lumberjacks and of Rosie, as she grows in to a young woman with romantic interests.
Unfortunately, the events of Confederation are only briefly touched upon, except in an appendix at the end of the book. While Rosie, as a young maid, would not have known much about the importance of the events taking place on Parliament Hill, it seems unfortunate that this could not have had a more prominent place in the novel. Among her other books, Ontario author Bradford has written two other novels in the Dear Canada series.
By J.C. Wesley
Pemmican Publications, 136 pages, $15
WE have few stories of Inuit life written for young people, and Alec's Life seeks to fill this void.
At the beginning of the novel, Alec is living a traditional lifestyle in a remote Arctic village. But when his mother dies and there is starvation in his community, Alec is sent to live with the ill-tempered Hudson's Bay post manager, a relative of his mother.
Soon Alec has to move again, first to Eskimo Point, then to Winnipeg, to Elk Lake in Northern Ontario, and finally to Ottawa, where his talent for carving is recognized. This is a slim volume, a first novel by former Ottawa teacher Wesley.
While there are some problems with the timeline (Alec never seems to age), it tells a remarkable story which, while fiction, reads like an authentic account of the life of one of the Inuit young people that Wesley met as a teacher.
YOUNG ADULT (12 and up)
By Beth Goobie
Red Deer Press, 281pages. $13
MEREDITH Polk comes to her first day of Grade 10 with a special objective: to claim the homeroom seat behind the drums as her special place.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Seymour Molyneux, the undisputed gang leader in the school, has the same ambition.
When Meredith won't give up her spot, Seymour begins a campaign of relentless bullying, starting with minor incidents and building to more serious intimidation. Meredith has to decide if refusing to give in is worth the battle.
Goobie shows how destructive bullying can result from a seemingly innocuous act. Her young adult novels almost always feature outsiders who learn to stand on their own. A former Winnipeg resident, she now lives in Saskatoon.
The Rule of Thirds
By Chantel Guertin
ECW Press, 220 pages, $10
PIPPA Greene is a 16-year-old high school junior who is crazy about photography. She's determined to win a local competition to get a spot at Tisch, the media arts program at New York University.
When Ben, a new student, asks to join the photography club, she finds he's interested in more than taking pictures.
What gives this young adult book a deeper dimension is Pippa's after-school volunteer assignment to the cancer ward of the local hospital, the very place her father succumbed to cancer the year before.
As she fights panic attacks in the hospital and gets to know Dylan, a young man who seems to spend a lot of time there, she comes to terms with her grief and anger and finds a new focus for her photography.
Guertin is a Toronto resident who has written two adult novels. The scenes between Pippa and her best friend, Dace, are lively and amusing and should ring true with teenage readers.
Death of a King
By Andrew H. Vanderwalis
Tundra Books, 290 pages, $22
THIS time-travel novel set in Scotland in the 13th century, the time of William Wallace, features 13 year-old-Alex Macpherson as he seeks for his lost parents. A sequel to The Battle for Duncragglin, by this Toronto-based author born in the Netherlands, it has all the elements of a true adventure novel: bloody battles, daring escapes, shipwrecks, imprisonment, evil adversaries and stalwart heroes.
After King Alexander III of Scotland falls to his death in 1286, Scotland is plunged into bedlam as Wallace's forces defend themselves against Edward I of England. Vanderwalis blends fiction with historical fact as the modern-day time travellers become involved in these long-ago battles.
Attractive especially to boys ages 12 and up.
Picture Me Gone
By Meg Rosoff
Doubleday Canada, 256 pages, $19
AMERICAN-born author Meg Rosoff has an ability to find and describe unusual traits in her young characters that make them distinctive and memorable.
Mila, in Picture Me Gone, is such a character. She notices things: the flicker of an eye, the slump of a shoulder, the hesitation of a voice, that reveal to her insecurity, infidelity or despair.
When Mila accompanies her father from London to upstate New York to search for his best friend who has gone missing, leaving behind his wife, his baby son and his beloved dog, she uses all her natural abilities to solve the problem.
While this isn't your usual mystery, it has clues and resolutions that engage the reader. There's even a hint of romance, as Meg meets an attractive young man who is part of the enigma. Beautifully written, this novel is highly recommended for teens.
A History of Just About Everything
By Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinsky
Kids Can Press, 124 pages, $22
FOR lovers of non-fiction, this comprehensive "history of just about everything" gives short explanations of "180 events, people and inventions that changed the world."
Arranged on a timeline, with clear print and colourful artwork by Toronto artist Qin Leng, it gives details of almost every major happening or invention in recorded history.
Great for trivia lovers, this book is hard to put down. Who built the Great Pyramid of Giza? Invented the telegraph? Cloned the first mammal? When was the miracle of DNA revealed? The first satellite launched? A computer invented? Who was Muhammad? Mandela? Galileo?
Sidebars named "Ripples" describe the effect that certain inventions or events have had on history, such as the invasions of the Vikings, or Edison's discovery of the light bulb.
A comprehensive summary of the timeline, from six million years ago to the present, plus a detailed index, makes this a valuable reference for young readers.
The Bug House Family Restaurant
By Beverley Brenna, illustrated by Marc Mongeau
Tradewind Books, 80 pages, $13
SASKATOON teacher and author Beverley Brenna has written a hilarious book of poetry, reminiscent of Alligator Pie, in The Bug House Family Restaurant.
As the Foreword suggests, "Instead of thinking bugs are gross/Please don't be too suspicious./With half a chance and one good chef/ They could be quite delicious!"
Brenna implies that the recent success of students from McGill who won the Hult Prize for crickets as a food source may mean that tasty side dishes of beetles and bugs are right around the corner.
"Chocolate covered bees," "butterfly pie," "ladybug soup" and "tarantula skins" are all part of Brenna's menus.
One warning: "The spider in her cider/Made poor Marly scream and shake./She caterwauled to Winnipeg /Before they served the cake."
Brenna has also written 10 novels for young people. Montreal artist Mongeau adds to the fun of the book with humorous black-and white illustrations.
Helen Norrie is a former teacher-librarian who has taught children's literature at the University of Manitoba. Her regular column appears on the third weekend of the month.