December 8, 2019

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Critter buddies' mischief memorable

Books by Winnipegger Maureen Fergus tend to be quirky, fascinating, and memorable. Her latest picture book, Buddy and Earl Go Exploring (Groundwood, 32 pages $17, hardcover), fits all these criteria.

Buddy the dog and Earl the hedgehog are a family’s pets. When Earl escapes from his cage at night, Buddy is drawn into all kinds of mischief. Youngsters from four to seven years old will chuckle as Earl swims in Buddy’s water dish and Buddy mistakes Mom’s hairbrush for another hedgehog. But when Buddy saves Earl from the monster vacuum, their friendship is sealed.

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Could you survive if you were shipwrecked on the remote northwest coast of B.C. with no radio, food or weapon, and no settlements for hundreds of kilometres? That’s the challenge faced by two teens in Iain Lawrence’s The Skeleton Tree (Tundra Books, 278 pages, $22, hardcover).

Lawrence, who lives in the Gulf Islands, knows his setting; he has sailed and camped along the rugged coast for many years. When 12-year-old Chris and 14-year-old Frank are cast into whirling waves as their sailboat capsizes and their uncle drowns, they summon unexpected strength, courage and diplomacy to survive.

The Skeleton Tree is much more, however, than a survival story. Chris and Frank are strangers, and Frank hates Chris on sight. The reason for his hatred, and Chris’ attempts to overcome it, are part of the mystery surrounding their ordeal. With a marauding grizzly bear, a curious raven and the corpse of a previous beachcomber, this is a first-rate adventure story. Suitable for ages eight to 12.

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Alberta author Martine Leavitt tackles a difficult subject — teenage schizophrenia — in her latest young-adult novel, Calvin (Groundwood, 180 pages, $15, paperback) and somehow makes it an epic quest and a story of first love.

Seventeen-year-old Calvin, living in Leamington, Ont., has a very active imagination. But when faced with many school deadlines, he has a schizophrenic episode and ends up in hospital.

Convinced he and his imaginary tiger-friend Hobbes are a reincarnation of the famous comic strip characters created by Bill Watterson, he sets out to walk across frozen Lake Erie to confront the inventor of the comics. When Calvin’s friend Susie insists on coming along, their trek becomes both a battle for survival and an exploration of what is meaningful in life.

A gripping, compelling and often humorous story that’s hard to put down.

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Lila, the main character in Montreal writer Eisha Marjara’s young-adult novel Faerie (Arsenal Pulp Press, 152 pages, $15, paperback), is also 17 and suffers from anorexia, another deadly ailment for teenagers.

This is a chilling account of Lila’s illness, as she is hospitalized but makes every attempt to avoid eating. Only after she makes a friend and then witnesses her suicide does she realize the deadly seriousness of her situation. Definitely worth reading.

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Malaika’s Costume by Toronto author Nadia Hohn (Groundwood, 32 pages, $19, hardcover) is a cheery, fun-filled picture book for youngest readers.

With delightful illustrations by Toronto’s Irene Luxbacher, it tells the story of a little girl in the Caribbean living with her grandmother who is anticipating the Carnival Festival.

When her mother, who has moved to Canada to make a new home for them, can’t send money for a costume, Malaika makes a wonderful butterfly dress out of scraps from the tailor. Recommended for ages three to seven.

Helen Norrie is a Winnipeg writer and former teacher-librarian.

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