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EARLIEST READERS (AGES 0-4)
ONE HUNGRY HERON
By Carolyn Beck with illustrations by Karen Patkau (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 32 pages, $20 hardcover)
A counting book that will excite young readers, this picture book is set in a Canadian marsh, with turtles, ducks, beavers, frogs and one hungry heron.
As the numbers count to 10 and back again, Toronto author Beck and artist Patkau intrigue the viewer with brilliant pictures of pond life matched with appropriate rhyming verse.
PUCKSTER'S CHRISTMAS HOCKEY TOURNAMENT
By Lorna Schultz Nicholson with illustrations by Kelly Findley (Random House of Canada, 24 pages, $7 paperback)
The adventures of Puckster, the young polar bear who loves to play hockey, have been admired by many young sports enthusiasts since he was introduced in 2011. In his latest escapade, Puckster travels with his team to another town for a game on Christmas Day. His parents and friends are planning to join them for Christmas, but a snowstorm blocks all the roads. Will Puckster have to spend Christmas alone?
Raised in St. Catharines, Ont., Nicholson now lives in Calgary, where her husband, Bob Nicholson, is the president of Hockey Canada. A former TV and radio host, she has written books for all ages, from preschool to young adult. Findley's artwork is bright and bold, with plenty of red for this Team Canada-sponsored presentation.
EARLY READERS (AGES 4-8)
THE FABULOUS WORLD OF MR. FRED
By Lili Chartrand with illustrations by Gabrielle Grimard (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 32 pages, $11 paperback)
'My name is Pierrot... All my friends were imaginary until the day I met Mr. Fred." So begins this charming and sensitive story of a quiet young boy who meets a homeless man with an invisible book of stories. The man shares his stories with Pierrot and when he dies he leaves Pierrot a book with the stories written down.
Originally written in French, this picture book was a finalist for the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award. Chartrand, who lives in Quebec, has written over 30 books for children, but few have been translated into English. The illustrations by Montreal artist Grimard are suitably delicate and expressive.
UNCLE SI THE CHRISTMAS ELF
By Si Robertson and Ashley Howard Nelson with illustrations by Stephen Gilpin (Simon & Schuster, 48 pages, $36 hardcover with toy elf)
Uncle Si, an elderly Vietnam vet, is recruited by Santa to make a special toy for a lonely little boy. Told in rhyming verse in a rhythm that doesn't always scan, this is a mediocre story in a first-class package. It comes in a large box with a small doll-sized Uncle Si dressed in his elf costume.
Based on characters in the TV show Duck Dynasty, Robertson (the original Uncle Si) lives in Louisiana and has written three other Uncle Si books with the help of Nashville resident Nelson and Kansas artist Gilpin.
THE MISADVENTURES OF SWEETIE PIE
By Chris Van Allsburg (Thomas Allen & Son, 32 pages, $25 hardcover)
Van Allsburg is famous for The Polar Express, Jumanji and other classics of children's literature. Here he tells the story of a poor hamster, neglected by a succession of well-meaning children, who eventually finds freedom with a friendly squirrel.
The pictures of Sweetie Pie by Van Allsburg are large and expressive, sure to provoke sympathy, and perhaps a few feelings of guilt in pet lovers.
THE OLD WAYS
By Susan Margaret Chapman with illustrations by John Mantra (Fifth House, 32 pages, $20 hardcover)
Simon lives in Canada's North and enjoys TV and video games. When his grandparents try to interest him in traditional legends or in building an igloo, he isn't interested.
Then their snowmobile dies on the way to a family gathering. As his grandfather keeps them warm in an igloo and his grandmother keeps him occupied with stories, he realizes the old ways have merit.
Chapman is a storyteller who runs a book fair in Kawarthas, Ont. in the summer. Mantra, a freelance courtroom illustrator for CTV, contributes colorful, gentle pictures that often expand across the whole page.
MIDDLE READERS (AGES 8-12)
CARAVAGGIO: SIGNED IN BLOOD
By Mark David Smith (Tradewind Books, 175 pages, $13 paperback)
Set in Italy at the beginning of the 17th century, this first novel by Port Coquitlam, B.C. author Smith has plenty of information about the famous artist Caravaggio -- both about his important commissions and his mercurial temperament. The narrator, meanwhile, is the 15-year-old Beppo, a young man with unlikely skills and incredible luck who is attached to Caravaggio as a servant.
When Caravaggio is banished from Rome after killing a nobleman, Beppo is also accused of murder, and they flee to Naples and later to Malta. Beppo is sent on a journey to Venezia which results in a swashbuckling fight with marauding pirates and a complete change in his fortunes.
Meanwhile, Caravaggio completes his famous painting David with the Head of Goliath before provoking another brawl and being thrown into a deep pit, causing Beppo, with improbable expertise, to rescue him.
Despite its shortcomings, juvenile readers, especially those who enjoy hearing of sword fights and pirates, will appreciate this book.
By Carol Matas (Fictive Press, 157 pages, $15 paperback)
Josephine Fieldler's family has recently relocated to Tucson, Ariz. from Boston in this, the latest of this Winnipeg author's books for juvenile readers. Set in 1882, it was inspired by the life of Charles Strauss, the first Jewish mayor of Tucson.
Jo initially dislikes her new home, but when her father decides to run for mayor she finds herself in a conflict. How can she support her father when she finds his rules oppressive? She can't even wear trousers to ride. Should she help his opponent, Mr. Ryan, who believes in settling disputes with guns? Jo is an early feminist who feels that her opinion, and those of other women, should be heard.
Tucson Jo is Matas's 45th book -- her subject matter ranges from science fiction and historical novels to stories of the Holocaust.
YOUNG ADULT (13 AND UP)
THE DEATH OF US
By Alice Kuipers (HarperCollins, 216 pages, $15 paperback).
Saskatoon author Kuipers' novel begins with a horrible car accident involving three teens: Callie, Ivy and Kurt. The rest of the novel consists of flashbacks leading up to the crash. Kuipers expertly switches between points of view and time settings, though at first these can be confusing.
Callie is at first delighted her former best friend, Ivy, reappears after a three-year absence. But when Ivy makes a play for Callie's friend, Kurt, and expects Callie to break all her family's house rules, she has second thoughts. This is an intriguing novel with a surprise ending.
Kuipers' work has been published in 29 countries. She is the author of Life on the Refrigerator Door and The Worst Thing She Ever Did.
THE GOSPEL TRUTH
By Caroline Pignat (Red Deer Press, 328 pages, $13 paperback).
The Gospel Truth is a moving, memorable book beautifully told in blank verse. Phoebe is a 16-year-old slave on a Virginia plantation in the year 1858. Phoebe thinks her life can never change until she meets "The Birdman" Dr. Bergman, an abolitionist from Canada, whose character is based on that of Dr. Alexander Milton Ross.
Life on the plantation is harsh, and any slave who disobeys or tries to escape is punished without mercy. When Phoebe overhears plans for some of the slaves to run away, she is conflicted. Can they trust a white man? If they are caught, what horrible punishment will they face? Phoebe is presented as a brave, resourceful young woman and not as a victim. This book is highly recommended for young adults.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (new edition)
By L.M. Montgomery (Tundra/Random House, 288 pages, $20 hardcover, $9 paperback).
Tundra Books has published a new version of the complete line of Anne books (eight volumes) as well as the three Emily books by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Available in both hard- and softcover editions, these will be eagerly welcomed by her many fans.
Besides containing the complete text from the original editions, each book contains one short story, taken from the several hundred Montgomery wrote in her lifetime.
Anne of Green Gables has sold over 50 million copies since it was first published in 1908. To some of today's readers, these editions may be an introduction to the other seven books in the series as well as to the three Emily books: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest.
By Kristine Scarrow (Dundurn, 184 pages, $13 paperback).
Andy Burton is removed from her mother's home at the age of nine after she suffers violent abuse. She is placed in a loving foster home, only to have her foster parents killed in a car accident. After being sent to a crowded home where no one cares what she does, Andy wonders if she will ever have someone love her.
Scarrow has worked with Saskatchewan Foster Families Association and knows about young girls like Andy. This is a darkly realistic, sometimes difficult book to read as Andy faces one challenge after another. It takes all her courage and resolve to face the future with confidence. Well-written, but for older teens.
Helen Norrie has taught children's literature at the University of Manitoba, where she enjoyed introducing students to the delights of books for all ages.