January 5, 2013
In this season of making new resolutions, many of us resolve to eat better, exercise more and spend less. However, when you read about the characters in the following books, you’ll find the word “resolution” take on a whole new meaning!
The Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground Railroad by Barbara Greenwood (published by Kids Can Press) is a masterful combination of fiction and non-fiction literature. Based on first-person accounts of escaped slaves, Greenwood weaves a tension-filled tale of two families whose lives become intertwined in the summer of 1856: the Jacksons, who flee a life of slavery, and the Reids, who provide refuge for escaped slaves in Ontario. Told through the eyes of two preteen girls, 12-year-old Joanna and 11-year-old Eliza, the story tells of the horrors that fleeing slaves endured before they reached freedom as well as the experiences of the many people who helped them along the way. Interspersed throughout the narrative are biographies of abolitionists, background information and craft activities. All of this is brought to life with the black-and-white illustrations of Heather Collins.
Inspired by Celtic folklore, Seal Song by Andrea Spalding (published by Orca Book Publishers) is a picture book that will definitely appeal to older readers as well. While Finn spends his days with his father fishing for salmon, whenever he gets a chance he swims with the seals in a secret cove. On one such occasion, with persistence and endangering his own life, Finn rescues a seal that has been caught in a net. After he nurses the seal back to health, a strange girl appears in the village. The villagers claim that the girl is a seal child who will bring them bad luck. You’ll have to read the rest of the book to find out if their predictions come true! Author Spalding effectively intersperses the prose of the story with short poetic passages that describe movement in water: “Cold, green water, heaving, swelling. Velvet bodies, diving, swimming.” Illustrator Pascal Milelli’s evocative oils beautifully complement this magical story.
Ice Cream Town by Rona Arato (published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside) is a delightful novel that makes you laugh and cry. Set in the tenement district of the lower east side of Manhattan in 1920, the story revolves around the life of a Jewish immigrant family. Sammy, the 10-year-old son, is a spunky boy who is eager to try new experiences and desperate to belong. In his desire for friendship, Sammy is frequently confronted with dilemmas where he must choose between the positive values of his family and the negative values of a street gang. Although Sammy gets into lots of scrapes, he is able to bring joy to the many people whose lives he touches. In addition to being a gripping story in which the characters come to life, author Arato gives us a good idea of the streetscape, the conditions of the sweatshops and the daily life of the tenements with its melange of European immigrants.
The Klondike Cat by Julie Lawson (published by Kids Can Press) tells the story of Noah and his father, who join the Gold rush stampede to the Yukon in the hope of staking a claim and making their fortune. After many months of a grueling journey, Noah and his father finally arrive in Dawson only to find out that there are no claims left that they can afford. Noah and his cat save the day as a result of Noah’s persistence in taking the cat on the trip, contrary to his father’s wishes. Paul Mombourquette’s striking illustrations in this picture book give a realistic portrayal of this time period.