Category Archives: children’s books

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)  (
  • 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.

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.

The Elephant Keeper

I am happy to share a new book with you that has been long in the making.

In 2014 I was lucky enough to travel to Zambia. There, I visited an elephant orphanage and learned much about how hard people work to help save an endangered species.

Elephants are in danger of illegal poaching. Because there are still countries in the world where people wants trinkets made from ivory, there are still poachers willing to kill these majestic animals.

When a mother elephant is killed, usually for her tusks, her baby elephant is left to die. Without her nursing and nurturing, the infant is not able to care for itself yet. In Zambia, Game Rangers International has trained staff that will rescue and transport the baby elephant.

The staff at Lilayi Elephant Orphanage have developed a milk formula and other pertinent care that gives the orphaned elephant a fighting chance.

Zambezi came to the orphanage at a young age after he was founded nearly drowning in a resort’s pool near the Zambezi River in southern Zambia.

Aaron is the caretaker who was offered a job after rescuing Zambezi. To him, elephants had been the enemy that destroys crops in his village. But Aaron learned to care for elephants, to respect and to love them. Now he is a valuable caretaker who spends most of his waking hours with his little charges.

The elephants live in the protected forest and compound near Lusaka, until they are old enough to be released into the wild. They learn to forage and to act as elephants and form new family bonds with other orphaned elephants. They will live out their lives in the protected woods of
 Kafue National Park.
Find out how you can help – not only by making sure you never buy anything made from ivory, but also by “adopting” a baby elephant. The $65.- US will pay for the elephant’ food, milk, medicine and upkeep. What better gift for a child’s birthday or a friend’s Christmas gift than a baby elephant! You will receive photos and regular email updates!
KIDS CAN PRESS/Citizen Kid Series
978-1-77138-561-9 | Oct 3, 2017
List Price: USD $18.99, CAD $19.99
4-color  8 x 10 48 pages
Grades: 3 To 7 / Ages: 8 to 12

“A moving and unforgettable true story …”
— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review, August 2017
“… Ruurs’s narrative builds a strong emotional connection between readers and the subject—this is a tale designed to pull at the heartstrings of readers.”
— School Library Journal, September 2017

Canadian Teacher Magazine

For each issue of Canadian Teacher Magazine, I contribute a column called Can Write. The column features a Canadian writer or illustrator of children’s books.
I love the opportunity to interview, and learn more about, writers from across the country and beyond. The stories of how they became writers, or illustrators, are always fascinating and inspiring. It’s fun to hear the ‘stories behind the stories’ – what triggered a picturebook or how they ended up writing a novel.

Here’s the current issue:

and you can go through the archives to read past columns.
Happy reading!

Book Review: The Other Author Arthur

The Other Author Arthur, by Sheree Fitch
It might be because I love word play that I like this early reader so much. How brilliant is it to come up with this idea: an author named Arthur is about to visit an elementary school. The children are all excited.
The author, however, wished he could spend the day writing.
Meanwhile, a furnace repair man also named Arthur would love nothing better but to share stories with the students.
Everyone is happy when the two Arthurs are accidently switched, allowing one to tell stories and the other one to write in the furnace room!
This comedy of errors and mistaken identity brings a day of great stories for the children. Writing, telling our own stories, and the family feel of a small elementary school are themes beneath this farcical adventure. Grades 2-4. I hope, for your sake, that it is still in print.
A children’s chapter book illustrated by Jill Quinn.
Pottersfield Press, now distributed by Nimbus
ISBN-10 1-895900-20-4
Author’s website:

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

This book is a classic by now. How did such a thin little book become both a classic bestseller as well as a major motion picture?
Because it is a good story! A heart string pulling, tear jerking good tale.

Little Willy’s grandfather is sick, and it’s up to Willy to save their farm from tax collectors. Their only hope is the prize money from the National Dogsled Race. But a lot of other people want to win the race, too, including Stone Fox, who has never lost a race in his life.
Do Willy and his dog Searchlight stand a chance against the toughest racers around? Can they win the race to save the farm — and Grandfather — before it’s too late?

I was lucky to have met the author, John Gardiner. He seemed a very kind man and was supportive of me as a fellow writer. We had a great chat about the struggles of writing, editing and rewriting. He showed me his first original manuscript. The paper was covered in red. It seems that every single word of it had been crossed out and edited. “I am dyslexic. I couldn’t write at all…”, he said.
I was in awe that his story had gone on to do so well.

Then, to my utter surprise, a few weeks later I received the Dutch version of Stone Fox in the mail. “I can’t read it anyway so you enjoy!” he said.
And enjoy Stone Fox I have! A book that every teacher and parent should read aloud with their children.

Lesson Plans: