When an unlikely pair of orphans leave their home in Winnipeg to look for their missing uncle in New York City, expect adventure, hilarity, and suspense. Unhooking the Moon by U.K. author Gregory Hughes (Quercus, 335 pages, $17, hardcover) is a heart-warming story about a 10-year-old girl, nicknamed Rat, and her 12-year-old brother, Bob, who have an amazing ability to survive in difficult circumstances.
Rat is an engaging character; she makes friends with everyone, including a New York hustler, a rap-music idol, a border smuggler, and a homeless man, but when Rat is picked up by the police and taken to a home, Bob has to call on some of their new friends to help him rescue her.
Hughes has lived in many places around the world, including Winnipeg, but now makes his home in Liverpool, England. His novel will be enjoyed by ages 10 and up.
Nova Scotian author Jill MacLean has written a hard-hitting, memorable book for mid-level readers in The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 235 pages, $12, paperback).
Many of the characters in this novel appeared in her earlier two books, The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy, both of which won the Ann Connor Brimer Award for children's literature.
Devastated in losing her best friend, ignored by her mother (who has taken up selling goods on eBay and is never home) and worried that Sam, her mother's boyfriend, is moving out, Sigrid has joined the Shrikes, a ruthless, bullying gang of three girls at the local high school. Here she finds acceptance and power, although she has misgivings about extorting money from weaker classmates and one member's physical persuasion. But when Sigrid tries to resign from the Shrikes, she finds no one will trust her.
Jill MacLean knows her characters intimately, and Sigrid's dilemma is scary, gut-wrenching and believable. Readers of her previous novels will also welcome finding Travis, Prinny and other characters again in this novel. Recommended for ages 11 and up.
Ontario author and former hockey player Tom Earle has written a pre-teen novel that will resonate with hockey enthusiasts. Home Ice Advantage (Harper Trophy Canada, 215 pages, $15, paperback) has captured both the thrilling and unsavoury aspects of the sport. At age 12, Jake is a budding star on his local Toronto team, but no matter how well he plays, his father doesn't think he's tough enough. When the lectures become physical abuse, Jake runs away and takes refuge in the old Maple Leaf Gardens at a time it is still derelict.
Sleeping in the Gardens, Jake meets a homeless man with a mysterious connection to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Through him, Jake learns a lot about compassion and self-control. There is also plenty of hockey action in this book, though the romantic interest seems a bit early for this age group. Suitable for ages 11 and up.
Little Chicken Duck by Toronto writer Tim Beisner (Tundra books, 32 pages, $20, hardcover) is a delightful picture book for pre-schoolers that also teaches a valuable lesson: Everyone can be scared of trying a new skill.
When a little duckling won't enter the water because she can't swim, it takes a friendly frog to show her that the owl, the lark, the robin and the cuckoo were also once afraid of trying what they do best. The rhyming verse and award-winning Millbrook, Ont. artist Bill Slavin's large and colourful paintings make this a recommended find for ages 2-6.
Helen Norrie's column appears on the third Saturday of the month.