Author Archives: Margriet Ruurs

JK Rowling’s new book: The Christmas Pig

Rarely do I pick up a new book (for kids) and know this will be an instant classic. But such is the case with this season’s new title by J.K. Rowling – The Christmas Pig.

Take all-time favourites and classics like The Phantom Toll Booth, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Polar Express. Stir into a cauldron of great language and word play, sprinkle liberally with the magic of Harry Potter and add some outlandish adventures such as in the 80’s movie Flight of the Navigator, and you come close to The Christmas Pig.

This thick novel, which can be read aloud to the whole family, curled up together by the Christmas tree, or read by avid young readers themselves, is a whirlwind adventure of Christmas and bedtime, stuffed animals and evil villains. Black and white art by Jim Field lends a classic feel to the book.

The story starts off dealing with an ordinary family. Jack is little when his parents end up getting divorced. You come to understand the little boy who bottles up his feelings and heavily relies on his favourite stuffed animal, you guessed it – a little piggy, to keep Jack’s whispered secrets to itself.

Enter a new man in his mom’s life, who brings along Holly, who becomes Jack’s new stepsister. Being a teenager, Holly brings mood swings and bad tempers into the family. One Christmas Eve, Holly is fed up with everything that is unfair and tosses Jack’s trusted stuffed pig out of the car window. That night, Jack falls asleep, full of anger and tears.

The adventures that follow are Harry Potter-esque: toys and objects come to life, whisking Jack away to the Land of Lost Things. Told in typical J.K. Rowling style, everything that happens seems quite plausible: there’s a land where everything that is Lost ends up. The objects, and feelings too, are sorted into ‘much loved’ or ‘barely missed’ Things. If no human cared about them at all, and does not even miss them, these Things eventually will be eaten by the terrible, scary, voracious Loser. But if there is a glimmer of hope, they might rise again to live on earth among their beloved humans.

Jack’s adventures, as well as the writing style, are brilliant. He travels to snow covered villages, on toy trains and is pursued by Loss Adjusters. Once I got to the part where a lost garden glove plays the honky-tonk piano, I realized that I was ‘seeing the movie’ in my head. This story will undoubtedly become a favourite Christmas movie before long.

Only J. K. Rowling can use her brilliant fantasy to bring to life a king called Power, a queen called Happiness and some very plausible Principles, all lost to their original owners and now leading a life under the painted ceiling of the Land of the Lost. Perhaps my favourite character is Poem, a papery thin lady who only speaks in rhyme as she helps the hero along.

The story starts of with a very young child and stuffed animals – making this a great book to share with small children. However, towards the middle the story turns dark and quite scary in places. As the Loser ‘sucks life’ out of Things and discards them in the ever burning fires, I thought… hhhmm… not sure I want to read these, sometimes quite graphic, descriptions to 6 year olds. But suddenly I remembered myself as a six-year-old eagerly listening to the books my mom read to me. My favourite stories came in a thick, leather bound book: Grimm’s Fairytales. The best ones were those in which the wicked witch’s head was chopped off or she was stuffed in the oven. Never did I suffer a sleepless night from those gruesome tales. They showed me what was right and what was wrong. They taught me morals. They ensured me that wicked ways were punished.

In her important book Touch Magic, Jane Yolen demonstrates the importance of folk and fairy tales which imparted morals on people for centuries until we started to replace all the scary parts with syrupy sweet ones because they were too scary for kids to handle, even if the evening news on TV is much scarier. Perhaps J.K. Rowling is doing kids a favour by reverting back to the strength of classic fairytales in this new Christmas story. The underlying message of ‘too much stuff’, of reduce, reuse and recycle is a bit much and I would have liked to know with a bit more certainty that the evil Loser disappears in the end. But it’s good to know that Things like Hope, Happiness and Love will conquer all. Even if Jack appears to wake up and perhaps it all was a dream, there’s enough evidence to make me buy into believing in the magic of Jack’s adventures. Including the wisdom and support he was given by Santa Claus himself. 

I can see this book becoming a beloved Christmas tradition to be read annually in any family. And if I were a movie maker, I’d snap up the rights quicker than you can say ‘Merry Christmas’!

ISBN 978-1-338-79023-8, Scholastic

Unravel by Sharon Jennings

 

You know those great books that you get ‘into’ and you can’t wait to find out how it ends. But you don’t want them to end…?

Well, I picked up Unravel by Sharon Jennings and I started turning pages. Couldn’t stop reading. The story reads so well, so true. I was right there in Toronto with Rebecca and her strange father. She is such a spunky, independent girl that, despite her strange upbringing, she seems to be alright. But Rebecca struggles with how different her “family” of two is from other families that she observes in her neighbourhood. She doesn’t go to school. She can’t even get a library card even though she is a voracious reader. Books might well be what saved her. She shops at thrift stores and rides the bus by herself.

As soon as she settles and makes friends, her dad packs up and forces her to leave again. But as Rebecca get older, she realizes that something is wrong. Things don’t ring true anymore. The story is so well written that you just have to find out what exactly it is that is wrong.

In the 1990’s I had a favourite book called The Face on The Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. I used that book a lot in writing workshops because the short content was so intriguing. Unravel is every bit as good. A fabulous story for middle graders to sink their teeth in, learn about what life can be like and how what you see on the surface may not be the entire truth…

ISBN 9780889956193, Red Deer Press

Refugee, Alan Gratz

 

Wow. The power of stories is exemplified in this novel. It’s fiction BUT based on absolutely true events and people. If books are mirrors of the world, of real life – then this book can only teach us empathy and compassion…

Published by Scholastic and written by a skilled writer of books for children, this one is for older readers. I would not quite give this to my 11 year old grandson yet. Three horrific stories in one:

Three different kids, three different eras, but the same mission for each of them and their families –

Josef, a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. Having survived Kristalnacht and with the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…

Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994. Riots, hunger and unrest plague her country, and she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…

Mahmoud lives in Aleppo, Syria in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward the safety of Europe…

Each faces a harrowing journey in search of a safe place to live. All face unimaginable dangers – from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is still the hope of tomorrow. Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, yet surprising connections tie their stories together in the end – showing that each of us has an obligation to help others in this life, in this one world we share.

A portion of the sale of this book is donated by the author to Save The Children and UNICEF.

The Library of Ever

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

As soon as I spotted this novel for young readers in my local bookstore, I knew I had to own it. And it was a wise choice. As I read, I met Lenora and traveled along on her wild adventures through the ages and around the globe, all entered through a library.

Lenora is ‘hired’ as Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian and climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading.

I’ve read many other books with a library theme: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library for instance. But those books are merely fun entertainment. The Library of Ever actually has a whole layer beyond its entertainment value that, almost imperceptibly, demonstrates the importance of books, research and the freedom to read.

I soon loved how this unique book blends fantasy with true questions, asked at the Help Desk and whose answers can be found only be doing research. The book is very cleverly written because we all have asked some of the questions and often have made the mistake of not enough fact checking. Reading, I learned some very interesting facts – from the highest point on earth (not what you think!) to Minoan Literature, from leap years to hieroglyphs. Readers’ minds can truly grow on this book.

Underlying all of Lenora’s adventures is the threat of Dark Forces. As the Chief Librarian states at one point: ‘the value of a Library cannot be counted in money.’ Same with the book – it was well worth the 10.- purchase price and both my grandson and I gained much more from the reading experience than just fun hours spent reading together. We kept sharing what we learned by saying “Did you know this? And listen to this!”…

Fantasy is not normally a genre I enjoy but now I can’t wait to read the next title: Rebel in the Library of Ever.

@ZAlexanderBooks

ISBN 978-1-250-23370-7

Don’t Stand So Close To Me

Eric Walters is one of the hardest working authors I know.

He has written over a hundred books, gives presentations in schools day after day. He tirelessly helps and supports other writers. He spearheaded the #IReadCanadian campaign and has taken many other initiatives to help put Canadian books in the hands of children.

Now he has written a book in record time: 7 weeks. Don’t Stand So Close To Me is the story of the current pandemic. It shows Quinn, Isaac and friends and how they are all effected by the sudden school closure.  Their family lives are changed as their parents’ work demands and hours change (one is a police officer, another is a medical doctor, etc). Suddenly they only see each other and their teacher via Zoom meetings. But the story also shows how kids can take initiatives and make the best of a difficult situation, how they can even help others.

The story brings the Covid-19 situation to an understandable level for kids. It’s nice that this is a fictional novel, not an information books with facts about Covid-19 but a story in which many kids can recognize themselves. This book is aimed at 9 – 12 year olds. It’s an easy read at about 120 pages and available as e-book only until the print version comes out in September. I can see this story making a great class read to discuss (on Zoom?) and to help children see that they are not the only ones whose lives are effected.

ISBN:  9781459827899
Price: $7.99

https://www.orcabook.com/Search.aspx?k=don%27t+stand+so+close+to+me

 

Books for Booklovers

Every once in a while you pick up a book that – like an arrow – goes straight to your heart. Here are two books that recently did that for me. The first one is a brand-new book. A monument in itself, a tribute to booklovers and wordlovers in the broadest sense of the word: Alphamaniacs, Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

 

 

The text is a poetic description of   26 people who made a difference in the world of language – some are writers, others invented a new style or printed books in a new, unique way.   Rather than a summation of biographiesthe author chose to use the voice of acircus ringmaster to introduce each ‘Wonder of the Word’. There is Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralyzed except for one eye lid and ended up dictating an entire novel by blinking the letters. An astonishing feat. Jumping back and forth through the ages, the book celebrates Europeanwriters and native Americans, among others. One is Jessie Little Doe Bairdwho singlehanded saved her Wampanoag language, actually bringing it back from extinction. There’s the inventor of Klingon as well as the creator of Esperanto, a universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof in Poland in hopes of promoting peace and understanding between people.

Each story is accompanied by a piece of art by the incredible master of collage, Caldecott Honor illustrator Melissa Sweet, making this book is a feast for the eye and ear of any booklover.

Candlewick Studio, ISBN 978-0763690663

Another book I recently fell in love with, but which was published a few years ago, is the picturebook A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. One of those fabulous books for anyone who knows the value of stories, this one starts with a pen and a blank page. Then the main character takes us along on a celebration of books, through illustrations composed of words from those very books. While sailing the ocean, the words forming the waves are from books like Ten Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, The Swiss Family Robinson and more. Kids climb mountains of words from Peter Pan to reach the sky. They discover treasure and wander through forests made of book spines. I love this book and its powerful images, and I suspect that booklovers of all ages will love it, too.

Candlewick Press, ISBN 978-0-7636-9077-9

Happy Easter Books to share at home!

Emma was growing up… from a dandelion chick to a feathery, white hen.

But what to do with all those beautiful eggs she was now laying? She decided to make her eggs the way people seemed to want them: from scrambled to painted! But nothing pleased the farmer until Emma gave up and sat on her egg

Have fun this Easter sharing all four Emma books. You can checked them out from your local library, purchase them from your local bookstore or order here.

And here is a fun colouring sheet designed by illustrator Barbara Spurll!

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

 

Make paper bag Emma’s!

Make Emma’s Egg baskets!

Ghost of the Mill House

 

Ghost of the Mill House
Written by Margriet Ruurs
Illustrated by Claudia Davila

ISBN: 9781459820357
Price: $7.95, Orca Book Publishers

Just when Josh starts to think his break from school is going to be all chores and no cheer, his best friend, Mark, invites him to spend their break helping restore a historic home and mill in Oregon. With the help of their friends Angela and Mary Jane, and under the watchful eye of Aunt Sue and Uncle Doug, the kids spend weeks fixing up the grounds, basking in the freedom of country life and learning about the surrounding area. Not to mention eating bugs, domesticating feral cats and starring in a movie! But it’s not all fun and filming. The mill is in financial trouble, and the kids have to figure out a way to help Aunt Sue and Uncle Doug keep it running, in spite of it being haunted.

Ghost of the Mill House follows Bus to the Badlands, where we first met Josh and his classmates.

Praise for The Ghost of Mill House from Resource Links (p29):

“A valuable addition to the Orca Echoes Series. Beginning chapter book readers will appreciate the engaging plot written with energetic text, as well as the very well done, fun, cartoon-like illustrations representing a diverse group of friends.”

Fiction Ages 6-8
Pages: 104
Themes: friendship, summer adventure, haunted house, heritage site, Oregon
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Pub Date: 24/Sep/2019

Books + Travel = The Best!

A while ago I started a post about to amazing books I find as I travel. You can read about those earlier titles here: https://www.margrietruurs.com/books-as-windows-to-the-world/

I keep finding fabulous books as I travel, books that help me to learn more about the world in both fiction and nonfiction. Here are some more of my all time favourites that I am grateful to have come across:

A beautiful book about Mongolia: Hearing Birds Fly by Louise Waugh. This nonfiction story is an account of living with nomads and describes much of their lives in detail. Walking the Gobi by Helen Thayer describes the incredible feat of an American couple that walks across the country. Their endurance is amazing and the book shares lots of details about Mongolia and its people. I recognized places I visited.

In Saudi Arabia I gained a better understanding of the difficulties faces by women, by reading In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by