August 18, 2017

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CHILDREN'S: Compassion in wartime beautifully rendered

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2015 (635 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With Remembrance Day just past, B.C. writer Michelle Barker brings young readers (six to nine years) A Year of Borrowed Men (Pajama Press, 40 pages, $22, hardcover), a feel-good story that occurred in Germany in 1944.

Barker's mother, Gerda, saw three French prisoners of war arrive at the family farm as labourers. There were strict rules: no fraternizing.

But Gerda found ways to make friends. While the men lived in the "pig kitchen" close to the animals, Gerda helped them celebrate Christmas by making ornaments out of catalogue pictures.

Ontario artist Renné Benoit's gentle paintings help show compassion is possible even in times of war.

***

Eric Walters is one of the most prolific and popular writers for young people in Canada today. His settings have ranged from Canada to Africa or, in his latest book, to outer space. Regenesis (Doubleday, 324 pages, $13, paperback) follows The End of Days, where he introduced the possibility of trying to survive in an apocalyptic world.

Sixteen-year-old Billy, an orphan who honed his leadership skills in the alleys of New York City, has been selected to lead a group of 100 children, all with special skills and intellects. They have been chosen to try to escape the annihilation caused by a collision with an asteroid by taking refuge in a space station.

Despite the fact all the children are younger than Billy, their greatest challenges come not from inexperience but from unexpected complications -- such as violent visitors.

Walters includes a wealth of information about living and working in space while managing to maintain suspense as the children face the problems of an extended stay in a hostile environment. Once again, Walters, a former Mississauga high school teacher, captures our imagination.

***

Toronto author Evan Munday has attracted an enthusiastic following for his Dead Kid Detective Agency series of novels for ages nine to 12. In his latest, Loyalist to a Fault (ECW Press, 301 pages, $12, paperback), October Schwartz sets out to solve the murder of Cyril Cooper, a long-dead member of her detective team who died after his family relocated to Canada with United Empire Loyalists in 1779.

Although Munday manages to work quite a bit of Canadian history into his books, their appeal is his quirky sense of humour and amusing dialogue. The "dead kids" are entertaining, well-drawn and anything but scary. They have the advantage of being able to lose body parts when deflecting October's attackers, then grow them back.

As October has pledged to solve the mystery of all her cemetery friends, we look forward to several more books in this series.

***

Kenneth Oppel, writing in Toronto, has attracted much attention with his previous novels, especially the Silverwing trilogy and Airborn.

His newest, The Nest (HarperCollins, 244 pages, $20, hardcover) again combines reality with fantasy. Called a "kidlit horror classic," this novel could definitely cause nightmares.

Steve's life is disrupted when his baby brother is born with developmental problems. But his days become more complicated when a huge wasp's nest grows outside his window. He dreams of a queen wasp who tells him a new, perfect baby is growing inside the nest. All he has to do is open the window so they can take away the imperfect child.

Is Steve's response a metaphor for accepting or rejecting his brother, or is the nest a real danger?

 

Helen Norrie is a former teacher and librarian who enjoys reading children's literature.

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