Emma Donoghue, originally from Ireland and now living in London, Ont., made headlines when her novel Room was converted into a movie nominated for an Academy Award.
Her first novel for young people, The Lotterys Plus One (HarperCollins, 320 pages, $20, hardcover), seems headed for similar stardom. Its intriguing cast of characters, including two dads, two moms and seven children of mixed backgrounds, is definitely memorable.
When this unusual group wins a lottery they buy a large house with adjacent land in Toronto and set out to live a life that embraces social and environmental values. The children are home-schooled, and several have handicaps, but their fierce family loyalty overcomes all problems... until the "plus one" is added. When a grandfather with strictly traditional values that they never knew moves in, all their former beliefs and customs are challenged.
Donoghue’s depiction of daily life in this diversified household as seen through the eyes of nine-year-old Sumac (the children are all named after trees) is brilliant. Can they make room for a grumpy, elderly Scot with dementia?
Aimed at middle-grade readers (ages eight to 12), Donoghue is already preparing a sequel, The Lotterys More or Less.
● ● ●
Marie-Louise Gay from Montreal is chiefly known for her brilliant plasticine illustrations that have graced many children’s books. In her latest picture book, Short Stories for Little Monsters (Groundwood, 40 pages, $20, hardcover), the pictures are done in watercolour and collage but retain her traditional quirky humour and style.
Gay presents 19 stories told in graphic style, some taking only one page. Early readers (ages four to eight) will chortle at the antics of her "little monsters" — children who investigate worms and snails and put pillowcases over their heads to make themselves invisible.
● ● ●
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, by Campbell River, B.C.’s Shari Green (Pajama Press, 240 pages, $13, paperback), has an unusual main character — Macy, who lost her hearing from a childhood illness at age four.
Besides her deafness, 12-year-old Macy is facing many challenges: she’s asked to do a genealogy project but has never met her father; her mother is planning to remarry and move them to a new home; she’s alienated her best friend; and her mother has sent her next door to help an elderly woman (who doesn’t know sign language) pack up her mountain of books.
Macy finds an unexpected ally in her neighbour, and their relationship helps her to solve her other problems. Written in blank verse, this pre-teen novel is easy to read with an almost poetic rhythm. Good for ages eight to 12.
● ● ●
Margaret Atwood needs no introduction to Canadian readers. However, her little book of three quirky and clever stories, A Trio of Tolerable Tales (Groundwood, 68 pages, $17, hardcover), is not her usual fare.
Each of her stories (which have appeared separately previously) is dominated by letters of the alphabet: R for Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, W for Wandering Wenda, and B and D for Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda. Anyone who enjoys wordplay or a sense of the ridiculous will find these offerings amusing.
Dušan Petricic’s suitably eccentric illustrations add to the fun of this middle-grade volume.
● ● ●
For any child worried about leaving home to attend camp, Away by Toronto author and playwright Emil Sher (Groundwood, 22 pages $18, hardcover) might make the experience easier. Through a series of clever and humorous sticky notes attached to the refrigerator, her mother manages to answer her questions and calm her fears.
The ink and watercolour illustrations by Toronto artist Qin Leng help make this an attractive picture book for ages four to seven.
Helen Norrie is a Winnipeg author and lover of children’s books.