What does it take to become a junior journalist? In Vancouver author Cythia Nugent’s mid-grade novel Kiddo (Tradewind, 256 pages, $13, paperback), the namesake character makes up for her poor spelling with her unbounded enthusiasm.
To try for the junior journalist post, Kiddo must accumulate at least 35 points, awarded for volunteer work. She attacks this challenge with a vengeance, causing more than one disaster. There’s plenty of humour as she tries dog-sitting, friendship with seniors, limerick writing and even posting a want ad for her sister, who is in need of a boyfriend.
Kiddo’s family brings a combination of talent and tolerance. With a father who welds metal sculptures and a mother who has a professional singing voice (but can only sing while washing dishes), Kiddo fits in well, but gets disciplined when her enthusiasm causes a thief to steal all the valuable parts from her father’s 1941 Studebaker.
A lively and satisfying read for readers age eight to 11.
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Can you combine searching for romance with a love of good food? That’s the formula in a new book of short stories for teens called Hungry Hearts (Simon Pulse, 368 pages, $25, hardcover). Edited by Prince George, B.C., native Elsie Chapman and Washington, D.C., dweller Caroline Tung Richmond, the collection contains "13 tales of food and love" by 13 different authors.
The stories vary in merit but have interconnected characters, and there’s a welcome diversity among them — and also among the featured food. If you like galletas de grajea from Mexico, or dosa with sambar from South Asia, this is the book for you.
The strongest stories are Kings and Queens by Chapman, set in Hong Kong, where a food order is a prescription for murder, and The Slender One by Richmond, where menacing ghosts are placated by their favourite fare. There’s plenty of romantic involvement on the side.
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For a story that combines coping with a mental illness and a daughter’s unwavering love for her father, try Hurricane Season by American author Nicole Melleby (Algonquin, 288 pages, $25, hardcover).
Fig (Fiola) is an 11-year-old girl living with her bipolar father. She dreads the days he is either unresponsive or dangerously manic, but fear of him being institutionalized leads her to hide his illness.
Things change when the house across the street is occupied by a single man, Mark, who takes a special interest in their family, leading to a relationship between him and her father. Complicating the narrative is Fig’s fascination with the story of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo. The artist’s dependency yet frustration with his brother’s care seems eerily close to Fig’s relationship to her father.
The book is marked by strong characters, and is a powerful depiction of a child dealing with mental illness of a parent. Its weakness lies in the addition of Fig’s crush on an older girl at the library, which seems an unnecessary complication in her difficult situation. Written for ages nine to 12.
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Nokomis Mandamin was an indigenous resident of Thunder Bay, Ont., who was inspired to found the group known as the Mother Earth Water Walkers. Her story is told for young children in Nibi Emosaawdang / The Water Walker, written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson of the White Fish First Nation (Second Story Press, 40 pages, $15, paperback).
With text in both English and Anishinssbemowin (Ojibwe), it tells how Nokomis and the Water Walkers, inspired by a dream that told how water would soon be scarce and more precious than gold, walked from sea to sea in North America to spread their message of the need for conservation.
Helen Norrie is a former teacher/librarian who enjoys promoting children’s books.