Coteau Books has launched a series for pre-teens (8-12) called Disaster Strikes! that seeks to combine adventure, dangeri and the realism of actual events. In Red River Raging by Penny Draper (154 pages, $11, paperback) the event is the "flood of the century" that occurred in Manitoba in 1997 -- especially relevant given the flooding this summer in Manitoba.
It's February 1997, and 13-year-old Finn has been sent to Ste. Agathe, just south of Winnipeg and on the banks of the Red River, to live with his aunt and his great-grandfather, Armstrong.
Mystery surrounds his grandfather: Why does he seem to resent Finn so much? Why is he revered but feared by most people in the village? What does he keep in the old barn where he spends so much time?
As Finn gradually finds the answers to these questions, the snow melts and the river begins to rise. Here the book takes on an element of fantasy, as Finn receives a warning about abnormal water levels from a mysterious presence on the farm.
The rest of the story is purely realism, as he inspires his school friends to start a Flood Club to help with sandbagging, helps save a family marooned on their roof in flooded Morris, and finds his grandfather's farm inundated when the dike is breached.
Juvenile readers will be given a new appreciation of the destructive power of water, as well as the feeling of accomplishment that can come from fighting and winning against a force of nature. Although Draper now lives in Victoria, B.C., she has obviously done her research on Manitoba.
Toronto author Michael Redhill has written two successful books for adults (Martin Sloane, Consolation), but Saving Houdini (HarperCollins, 270 pages, $20, hardcover) is his first aimed at juvenile readers.
Dash (short for Dashiel) Woolf is fascinated by magic and magicians. But when his parents take him to see Bloom the Beguiler in 2011, he isn't prepared for the result. When he's pressured into taking part in the "amazing soap bubble trick" he finds himself transported back to 1926, just days before Houdini died in Detroit.
Can Dash prevent his death? Can Walt, whom he meets in 1926, take the place of Dash's best friend, Alex, who has moved to the Netherlands?
Saving Houdini has plenty of action, good characters and some humour as well. When the boys take refuge in a freight car full of pigs to get to Montreal and meet Houdini, there are plenty of hilarious moments. Readers in the eight- to 12-year-old age group will enjoy this imaginative chase.
Jean Little is one of the most enduring of children's literature authors. Her new novel in the Dear Canada series (All Fall Down, Scholastic, 192 pages, $17, hardcover) focuses on the landslide which almost obliterated the town of Frank, Alta., in 1902, but is equally about 12-year-old Abby and her love for her younger brother, Davy, who has been born with Down syndrome.
After her father's death in an accident in Montreal, Abby's remaining family travels by train to Frank to stay with an uncle Abby has never met. Abby learns to use a telegraph key and becomes friends with an aboriginal girl of about her age.
When her friend's grandfather warns that the mountain is about to fall while others scoff, Abby doesn't know who to believe.
Little's writing is always lucid and engaging. All Fall Down is a worthy addition to this series for juvenile readers.
Helen Norrie has taught children's literature at the University of Manitoba. Her column appears on the third Saturday of the month.