Author Archives: Margriet Ruurs

Books to Share in February

These books are always good but particularly fun to share in February. They focus on friendship (Valentine), time and just plain fun. I also try to list lesser known books rather than all the well known titles.

(P) = picturebook

Valentine Hearts: Holiday Poetry by by Lee Bennett Hopkins and JoAnn Adinolfi (poetry)

It’s About Time, Pascale Estellon (nonfiction)

PoPo’s Lucky Chinese New Year by Virginia Loh-Hagan (P)

A World of Kindness by Editors and Illustrators of Pajama Press (P)

Maggie’s Chopsticks by Alan Woo (P)

Sterling, Best Dog Ever by Cassie, Aidan (P)

Meet Viola Desmond by MacLeod, Elizabeth (nonfiction)

The Word Collector by Reynolds, Peter H.

Red Is Best by Stinson, Kathy

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff 

Love the Baby by Layne, Steven L.

Nut and Bolt by Cock, Nicole DeClerc

The Giving Tree by Silverstein, Shel

Zoom by Banyai, Istvan

Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool by James Dean

The Other Author Arthur by Fitch, Sheree (early reader)

Goodnight, Sweet Pig by Bailey, Linda (poetry)

Effie by Allinson, Beverley

Hooray For Diffendoofer Day! by Seuss, Dr.

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Cleary, Beverly

Whoever You Are by Fox, Mem

Koala Lou by Fox, Mem

And finally a review of a wonderful new picturebook coming out in April 2020: The Word For Friend by Aidan Cassie is the story of a little kid, no wait, it’s a little pangolin – who moves to a new country. She likes trying new foods and seeing new sights but when she gets to her new school, she does not speak the language. How do you make friends if you can’t understand them? This is a lovely story of making friends, trying new things and learning about the world. The fictional story is accompanied by nonfiction information on esperanto, a world language as well as information on pangolins.

 

Books About Books

As a writer, I love books about books, libraries and reading. One of my all-time favourites is Jeremiah Learns To Read by Jo Ellen Bogart, as is The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting – both are beautiful picture books about illiteracy.

I like picture books like The Library Lion by Michelle Knudson, or The Girl Who Hated Books by Manjusha Pawagi and Too Many Books by Gilles Tibo.
I admired entire novels based on fairytales, like Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. One of my favourite novels about a school library is The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey where brave Eddy the bug saved the school library by knowing how to read. 

I hope you have read Souperchicken by Mary Jane Auch? It’s a very funny story about a chicken who saves lives by learning to read.

I wasn’t sure if I’d like Ink Heart by Cornelia Funke because it is fantasy, and I’m not fond of fantasy. But, in a Harry Potteresque way, I found the book spellbinding and was fascinated by the plot, and the good writing. I’m not sure I’ll read all books in the trilogy but I did very much enjoy the first book.

And then I saw the book I just finished reading: Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. I read it in two evenings and loved it. This is a brilliant, funny story based on a very real concern, that of banning books in school libraries. Gratz skillfully deals with both sides of the issue in a great way. He leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids but manages to show parental concern, the responsibilities of school boards and – most of all – the importance of having a real librarian in the school library and the influence books can have on a child’s life. The book shows how school libraries can be critical to the development of children. His main character grows and changes throughout the story. Gratz neatly quotes real titles, real authors (Dav Pilkey is a visiting author in the story) and real book banning cases, wrapping up all loose ends in a satisfying manner. Highly recommended for kids, activists, parents, school administrators and all library lovers.

January Books!

 

Any book can be read at any time. But some books are particularly suited for a certain time of year. Here are my recommendations, both picturebooks (P) and novels (N), for January. For my selections I focused on the weather, on new beginnings and just books that felt like… well, January books:

  • I Stood Upon A Mountain, Aileen Fisher (P)
      • The Boy Who Walked Bacwards by Ben Sures (P)  (http://www.bensures.com/book-publication/)
  • January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco (P)
  • No Fixed Address by Nielsen, Susin (N)
  • The Lost Words by Macfarlane, Robert (P)
  • The Mitten by Jan Brett (P)
  • One Year in Coal Harbor, Horvath, Polly (N)
  • An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston (P)
  • Today Is the Day by Walters, Eric (P)
  • If Kids Ruled the World by Bailey, Linda  (P)
  • Something Else by Cave, Kathryn (P)
  • Countdown by Mikaelson, Ben (N)
  • Something From Nothing by Gilman, Phoebe (P)
  • It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles by Prelutsky, Jack (poetry)
  • Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails by Kusugak, Michael Arvaarluk (P)
  • Nightjohn by Paulsen, Gary (N)
  • The Wednesday Surprise by Bunting, Eve (P)
  • Sleepy Bears by Fox, Mem (P)
  • Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt by Barbara Smucker (P)

Stay tuned for lists for each month as well as for global and nonfiction themes.

Book to Read (Aloud) during December

Books are wonderful to share aloud any time. But these books are especially fun to read in December. In this list, I didn’t include well known classics like The Polar Express or The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by tried to give you some of my favourite titles that you might not know yet:

  • The Teachers’ Night Before Christmas by Layne, Steven L.
  • You Are Stardust, Kelsey, Elin
  • Yetsa’s Sweater, Olsen, Sylvia
  • The True Story of Santa Claus, Walters, Christina
  • How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen
  • My Name Is Blessing, Walters, Eric
  • Emma’s Cold Day, Ruurs, Margriet 
  • When Santa Was a Baby, Bailey, Linda
  • Christmas, From Solstice to Santa by Nikki Tate & Dani Tate-Stratton
  • Island Santa by Sheryl McFarlane
  • Amos’s Sweater by Lunn, Janet
  • Little Crooked Christmas Tree by Michael Cutting 
  • Stone Fox by Gardiner, John Reynolds
  • Angel Mae: A Tale Of Trotter Street by Shirley Hughes
  • Christmas, Dick Bruna
  • Children of the Yukon by Harrison, Ted
  • Owl Moon by Yolen, Jane 
  • Thomas’ Snowsuit by Munsch, Robert
  • Baseball Bats for Christmas by Kusugak, Michael Arvaarluk
  • Peter Spier’s Christmas! by Spier, Peter
  • Gifts by Bogart, Jo Ellen
  • Wombat Divine by Fox, Mem
  • Letters from Father Christmas, J. R.R. Tolkien
  • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
  • Thank You, Santa by Margaret Wild
  • The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard

And finally a novel: Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher.  One of the novels I most admire for writing style and research. This is the incredible tale of two children who travel along with the three kings on their way to Bethlehem. A book that adults will enjoy as much as older teens.

Powerful (true) Novels

Here are some powerful novels I enjoyed reading. Hope you (or your (pre)teen readers) will, too.

The 2004 Asian tsunami lead Canadian author Eric Walters to write his novel Wave (Doubleday Canada, ISBN 978-0-385-66443-1), a juvenile fiction novel. Sam and his parents leave his sister behind in snowy New York to spend Christmas on the beach in Thailand. Little did they know that their lives were about to change forever. The first part of the story is written in the voice of 12 year old Sam, the latter part in Beth’s voice – making this a book that will appeal to both boys and girls. Once the tsunami hits, the book becomes a page turner.

Walters uses a similar natural disaster – the earthquake in Haiti, to pen another novel based on a current event that will bring reality to students who have heard about it and seen it on TV. In Shaken (Doubleday Canada, ISBN 9
78-0-385-67081-4) 15 year old Josh and a church youth group travel to Haiti to help, not knowing that a devastating earthquake will change minds and lives forever. (Also available as e-book.)

And two more powerful books written in the first person; both gripping personal narratives showing the importance of keeping a diary.

The Story of My Life (Simon & Schuster, ISBN 1-4169-0670-3) was written by Farah Ahmedi, an Afghan girl who shares an insight into her childhood in Afghanistan where the classrooms only have a chalkboard and where it is difficult for a girl to get an education. Farah’s life is forever changed when, en route to school, she steps on a landmine. The book was voted Winner of America’s #1 Story. 

Similarly powerful is the novel The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland (Annick Press, ISBN 978-1-55451-158-7). Mariatu lived in Sierra Leone where war changed her childhood. During an attack by child rebels, Mariatu lost both hands. Her amazing story is well written and brings home the reality of war but also of hope and human resilience. Mariatu now lives in Canada and serves as special representative for UNICEF.

Books With International Appeal

While conducting author visits to international schools around the world, I often come across amazing books, titles that children in many countries will enjoy. Here are some of my favorites to share with students in different cultures:

GIFTS, a picture book written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated in plasticine by Barbara Reid. Published by Scholastic, ISBN-13 978-0-590-24935-5

A grandmother travels around the world, sending back gifts to her granddaughter. From Africa she sends ‘a bilboa seed and the roar of the jungle king’. While in India, the lyrical, poetic text says “What would you have me bring?” “Just something nice, like curry and rice, and a sitar’s twang and twing.” The elaborate plasticine illustration is rich with elephants, mosques and fruits.

The book takes young readers from Mexico to the Arctic, from Australia to Switzerland and places in between. A perfect ‘gift’ for those who like to travel!

For students in grades 4 and up, I highly recommend FOLLOW THE ELEPHANT, a novel by Beryl Young, published by Ronsdale Press. ISBN 978-1-55380-098-9.

The mother of thirteen-year-old Ben is concerned. Since losing his father, Ben is spending way too much time playing video games and refuses to talk about his feelings. Then Ben’s grandmother decides to take him along to India, on her quest to locate a long-lost penpal. Together they travel from Delhi to Agra, from Varanasi to Mahabalipuram and places in between, using different modes to transport. While starting off reluctantly, Ben soon learns about different cultures and religions. He finds out about elephant gods and explores caves, making friends along the route, not only discovering about the world around him but much about himself. Students who have lived in different places will identify with Ben.

I was introduced to one of my all time favorite books by a librarian in Singapore:THE LONDON JUNGLE BOOK, written and illustrated by Bhajju Shyam, published by Tara Books. ISBN 13: 9788186211878

This is a large, illustrated book and will appeal to children as much as it will to adults. A tribal artist from the Gond Community in India, Bhajju Shyam had never left the village of his birth. He was, however, invited to come to London to paint murals in an Indian restaurant. The book is his diary, in words and images of his impressions, ideas, and emotions while living in a world city, among a different culture. Using Gond idioms as they have never been used before, he turned London into a strange bestiary, bringing the signs of the forest to bear on the city. This appealing blend of nonfiction, legend, and personal narrative makes for an unforgettable read.

Let Me Tell You My Story…

Let Me Tell You My Story, Refugee Stories of Hope, Courage and Humanity
Compiled by ‘Their Story is Our Story’

If you have enjoyed reading and using my book Stepping Stones, A Refugee Family’s Journey, you will appreciate this gorgeous book (for adults).

“I want to have my own family…”
Layla from Ethiopia shares how she left her home in search of work, a better place to live. She tells how she walked for days and days with her baby on her back.
Parsa had to flee Iran because he loved music and the Islamic police persecuted him for singing. “Now I am in Germany and I go to music school and can achieve my dream.”

This large, coffee table art book is full of gorgeous photos and heart wrenching stories.
The people are real. They share their life experience on one page, recorded by volunteers who felt it was time that we put a face to the term ‘refugee’.
Some of the images are beautiful oil paintings or sketches by Elizabeth Thayer. “Art has the power to bring people together,” she says, I hope that my work will others understand the challenges refugees face, encourage empathy, and inspire others to find their own way to come to the rescue.” That is the message throughout this gorgeous book. Information on Fleeing, Borders, Asylum and more inform the reader and create a better understanding of the humanity of refugees and the urgent need for all of us to work together to help bring people home.

A portion of the proceeds of each volume sold will fund awareness of refugees worldwide.
For a peek inside and more details, go here: https://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/1641700491/bookfrompubca-20

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Familius (Nov. 20 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781641700498
  • ISBN-13: 978-1641700498

The Power of a Library

 

I read THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND thinking it would be a story of inventory and innovation. It was. But it also was much more.
William Kamkwamba grew up in a very poor, but loving, family and village in Malawi. I could picture him walking along the dusty roads, trying to find enough money to attend school.
But he has to drop out and spends years working and studying on his own, hanging on to the dream that, one day, he will be able to return to class.
Meanwhile he hangs out in a tiny local library, with books donated by the USA. Not only is this William’s story, to me it also is the story of the amazing impact books can have on a person’s life.

If William had not had access to books and a kind librarian, he might never have achieved what he did: to invent a wind mill, to build batteries, to create power for his home and village and to be ‘discovered’ by scientists and the technology community that brought worldwide attention to this young man.
He deserves all of the credit, but so does the library, the librarian and the people who donated the books.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is available as a nonfiction novel, a picture book and now also as a major motion picture.

Books As Windows to the World

Whenever I leave on a trip, taking a good book with me is of utmost importance. I need to read on a plane, in an airport, in a hotel room.
But which book to take? I still like ‘real’ books better than e-books. I do read e-books because having them on my iPad is so easy. They don’t take up any space. But I find it harder to select e-books so only if I know that I want to read a certain title do I download it. It is fabulous that I can borrow ebooks from my local library, wherever I am in the world.
But a paper back doesn’t need a battery or wifi.
So I select books to take carefully. They need to be good stories that I want to finish. But I can’t love them so much that I want to keep the book. I do discard, trade or give away books I finish reading during my trip.

I’m always excited when a hotel or hostel turns out to have a small trading library. And the books I discover this way, are often amazing eye-openers to local reads that I would not otherwise have found.

Is it serendipity when a book falls into my lap that tells a story about the very place I am visiting? These books often expand my understanding and tell me the history of the place I visit. Here are some of my favorite titles that found me rather than the other way around.

While spending a few months traveling around Australia, I found these books on a trading shelf in camping ground offices:

Who Am I?, Robert Taylor – I was unaware of the mindblowing events of British children being send to Australia for labour and to populate the continent. Robert Taylor was one of these children who was promised an education but building a monastery. He wasn’t even orphaned. He became a park ranger and tried to trace his roots. A fascinating nonfiction read.

My Place by Sally Morgan is the account of how she discovered her aboriginal roots after her mother decided to raise her as ‘white’. It’s now a classic and shares the difficulties of accepting race and culture in a climate that was not conducive to anything aboriginal.

When I took the Alaska State Ferry once, from Skagway down to Bellingham, the ships stopped in places like Wrangell, Ketchikan and Petersburg. Along the way I read James Michener’s Alaska. The entire history of the huge state unfolded as I watched icebergs, eagles, Russian churches, canneries and frontier towns. Later, on another Alaska trip, I found Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzia, the bizarre but true account about a family cult.

I moved from Oregon to Salt Spring Island and, before packing all of our books, I grabbed one of the shelf that I had not yet read. To my utter amazement the book turned out to be the story of the history of Salt Spring Island. Based on a real family, The Freedom of Jenny by Julie Burtinshaw tells the story of the first permanent settlers coming to the very place I was moving to.

While traveling in Greece, I picked traded a book for a copy on the shelf in the hotel’s reception area. The Island by Victoria Hislop turned out to be based on the true history of a small island near Crete. The story of a leper colony is fictionalized but largely based on real characters. The book was made into a 20 episode mini series and is incredibly popular in Greece and England.

I took second hand books to Mexico to donate to a local school that had no books. Along the way, I read one of the small, children’s novels and loved the story it told of a Mayan village and the way life used to be here. The Corn Grows Ripe by Dorothy Rhoads is well worth a read if you are going to Mexico.

I hadn’t heard of the book before traveling to Israel, but now I wonder how I could have missed it. The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan is a powerful, beautiful tale that shows rather than tells of the deep rooted conflict in Israel/Palestine. It gave me reference and understanding as I traveled through Israel.

Just before going to Egypt, I came across a book in my local library called Down The Nile, Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, by Rosemary Mahoney. Even though the nonfiction account on deals with only about three days on the river, it still gave me a better understanding of the people, the culture and the environment before traveling there.

I learn about Persian history and culture through the life and adventures of a British woman who lived early in the 20th century. She rode camels all over Afghanistan and Persia. She befriended men across the Middle East, advise Churchill of where to draw borders for Syria and lived a life full of adventures no woman had ever had before. She was Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert, the book written by Georgina Howell and portrayed in the movie by Nicole Kidman.

Stay tuned for more books that share unique corners of the world in my next blog.