Cynthia Kadohata’s A Place to Belong (Atheneum, 416 pages, $24, hardcover) tells the story of a Japanese-American family that returned to Japan after the war, but it could easily be the story of Canadian cousins.
Hanako’s family, who ran a prosperous restaurant business before the war, is forced to sell and is transported to an internment camp after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. When the war ends, her parents, born in Japan, are sent back to their birthplace with Hanako and her younger brother. Stunned by the poverty of post-war Japan, Hanako struggles to fit in while coming to love her grandparents, hard-working peasant farmers.
California author and former Newbery Medal-winner Kadohata’s story will resonate with anyone who has followed the shocking stories of Japanese-Canadians who were evacuated from British Columbia during the Second World War. She relates it to her younger audience (ages 10-14) with details such as Hanako’s sorrow when she cuts off her long braid to try to fit in with girls at school, with Hanako realizing her new "normal" is unchartered territory. Julia Kuo’s illustrations add an attractive note to this realistic novel.
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New parents or soon-to-be parents will love Before You Were Born by Thornhill, Ont., author Deborah Kerbel, with exceptionally beautiful illustrations by Oakville artist Suzanne Del Rizzo (Pajama Press, 32 pages, $22, hardcover).
Using clay and acrylics, Del Rizzo sculpts one gorgeous scene after another as Kerbel’s poetry describes how the expectation of a new life is like "shimmering skies," a "full moon at night" or "silver birches" at daylight. When the baby is born, it is "a mountain of promise, a valley of calm, light of the world, curled into our palm."
Moms, dads and grandparents will love reading this picture book to the new baby to tell them how much they were anticipated and how greatly they are loved.
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Vancouver author Darren Lebeuf was probably thinking of Stanley Park when he wrote My Forest is Green (Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $19, hardcover) but it could easily also apply to Assiniboine Forest in Winnipeg.
Each page focuses on a different feature of the forest as a child experiences various aspects of the woods: huge pines versus tiny ants, rough oaks versus smooth birchbark, crispy autumn leaves versus a soft mossy bank. Each contrasting adjective is illustrated by artist Ashley Barron with brightly coloured paper collages. And, of course, it ends with "But mostly it’s green."
This would be a delightful choice for parents and children to explore after they visit a forest or woods together. For ages 2-7.
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Follow That Bee! A First Book of Bees in the City by Vancouver writer and artist Scott Ritchie (Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $17, hardcover) is a good introduction to this useful insect for kids from ages 4-7.
Ritchie’s colourful and humorous illustrations are both fun and informative. How do bees show others the way to a flower patch? How many flowers can a bee visit in a day? What colour of flowers do bees prefer? What makes a bee buzz? How many times a second does a bee flap its wings? Where does the bee carry its pollen? What is threatening bees today? These and many other questions are answered in this attractive picture book.
The large print and easy wording make this a pleasure to read. There is also a useful appendix listing "Words to Know" such as pollinator, larvae and pesticide.
Among Ritchie’s other books are Follow that Map!, Look at That Building! and See What We Eat!. His illustrations have also appeared in Maclean’s and the Wall Street Journal.
Helen Norrie is a Winnipeg writer who enjoys being out in the woods even if there are a few bees.