Art & Culture


Crime Fiction







Against the Boards
by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Published by Lorimer
108 pages, 2005

Lorna Schultz Nicholson's third book featuring a young hockey player from the Northwest Territories is a winner. The first two books in the series, Interference and Roughing, introduced us to Peter Kuiksak, a young boy from Tuk, a community that we learn in the third book, Against the Boards, is close to the North Pole and would just about fit into the West Edmonton Mall. This time out, Peter tries out -- successfully -- for a triple A Bantam team in Edmonton and ends up billeting with a family there. The family is well drawn and extremely real, especially their daughter, Christine. Though Christine is just a single year older than Peter and is in ninth grade to Peter's eighth, she manages to get herself -- and him -- into enough trouble for someone twice her age. This is a gentle story, properly told. Though Against the Boards is third in a series, it stands up very nicely on its own. It is warm without being sappy and is absolutely satisfying. Readers aged eight to 13 will enjoy meeting Peter and facing his special challenges. -- Lincoln Cho

Amazing Adventures from Zoom's Academy
Written and illustrated by Jason Lethcoe
Published by Ballantine Books
160 pages, 2005

Think Harry Potter, but with a female protagonist and a Jetson's backdrop and you get a taste -- just a taste, mind you -- of the flavor of Amazing Adventures from Zoom's Academy. Written and illustrated by a Hollywood animator for his daughter while he tried to help her adjust to his difficult divorce from her mother, Zoom's Academy brings us the story of Summer, a girl who just doesn't fit in who suddenly discovers that her father is an instructor at Zoom's Academy for the Super-Gifted, a school for the research and development of super powers. Her disbelief wears off right around the time they discover that she, Summer, may in fact be among the super-gifted. It's a gentle, charming tale and one that is currently being made into a feature film starring Tim Allen, Courtney Cox and Chevy Chase. -- David Middleton

The Blue Jean Book
by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Published by Annick Press
79 pages, 2005

Tanya Lloyd Kyi's The Blue Jean Book has been firmly marketed towards children, which is a bit of a puzzle. It's not that the book isn't suitable for kids. It is. But the market for this book is so much wider. And, much to her credit, Kyi hasn't spent a moment writing down to her audience. The result is a fascinating look through the history of the indispensable piece of modern attire: jeans. From the "invention" of blue jeans by Levi Strauss in California in the 1870s -- something sturdy for miners to wear on the gold fields -- through depression-era families clad in the durable pants in the 1930s, through jeans' arrival as a fashion statement in the 1970s and 80s right through to the sweatshop issues we didn't get around to thinking about until quite recently. If you've ever wondered about jeans, the answer is probably here. And if you've never wondered, you'll find the answer anyway. -- Linda L. Richards

Eloise Wilkin Stories: A Little Golden Book Collection
by Eloise Wilkin
Published by Random House
209 pages, 2005

Very young children mostly don't actually purchase books: their parents and grandparents and other credit card-sporting relatives do. Which is much of the appeal of this collection of Eloise Wilkin Stories. Because if you're an adult over the age of, say, 30, it's possible -- perhaps even probable -- that Eloise Wilkin's cherubic children will strike a memory chord for you. The 11 Eloise Wilkin-illustrated stories collected here were published as Little Golden Books. Some of the titles might even still be familiar: Guess Who Lives Here; We Help Mommy; Busy Timmy and others, all portraying positive family values and a better than life view of a child's world. Will 21st century children be as enthralled as we were? Quite possibly: some things really never do go out of style. -- Linda L. Richards

by Carl Hiaasen
Published by Knopf
263 pages, 2005

Those familiar with Carl Hiassen's work won't find much different about Flush. It's wonderful in all the same ways. There's the familiar wacky boatload of characters, the same sparkling prose, the much admired calm, dry wit. The big difference, of course, is the one that set Newberry Award-winning Hoot apart in 2003. Hiassen's intended readers here are not the devoted mystery fans he's been writing for for so long, but rather youngsters 10 and up with a craving for something just a little different. Flush has an environmental subtext that will resonate with school-aged kids. Narrator Noah -- who is a youngster himself but whose voice Hiaasen fans will find touchingly familiar -- sets about fighting injustice when he discovers that a shady casino-boat owner is spewing raw sewage on his beloved Florida beaches. -- Linda L. Richards

Full Throttle
by Anthony Hampshire
Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside
131 pages, 2005

Interest in Formula One racing has never been higher. It was just a matter of time before we saw a series for youngsters set right in the middle of this fascinating world. Anthony Hampshire has actually written three linked books: Full Throttle, Fast Track and Title Run, all published simultaneously by Fitzhenry & Whiteside. This is not high prose -- in fact, the short chapters and vocabulary level of three books is "geared for reluctant readers." And the books deliver. All three books in the series are fast and furious glimpses at an exciting sport. Ten to fourteen-year-old minds should soak these books up happily. -- Aaron Blanton

Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers
written and illustrated by Lee Edward Födi
published by Brown Books
227 pages, 2005

Children's appetite for magic is insatiable. Despite some evidence to the contrary, this is not a new phenomena. As long as children have been offered stuff to read, they've been digging on tales of the fantastical. In Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers author and illustrator Lee Edward Födi offers up a tale that centers around the 1000-year-old Box of Whispers, "the most precious treasure in the Land of Ean." When the box is stolen, eleven-year-old Kendra finds herself caught up in a magical adventure outside of her imagining. She's not without resources, however: Kendra has a handful of enchanted carrot seeds to aid her. This is a charming story, effectively illustrated by the author's skillful pen-and-ink drawings. -- Linda L. Richards

by Virginia Frances Schwartz
Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside
279 pages, 2005

Because her father died a single week after her birth, Frances Chopp grows up with a terrible burden: she believes she is her father's messenger, sent to earth to comfort her mother after the loss of her husband. Set in rural Ontario in the lean time between the Wars, Messenger captures the gritty reality of growing up in an immigrant family in the 1920s. Author Schwartz knows her stuff: the history here is flawless, as is her ear for dialog and her understanding of human emotion: something that doesn't really change no matter how much we humans think we have changed. Messenger is a wonderful story well told. Aimed at readers aged 12 and up, this is the very best kind of book for children: a real novel with a real story beautifully told. -- Monica Stark

Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family
by Steven R. Schirripa and Charles Fleming
Published by Delacorte Press
176 pages, 2005

Another celebrity author writing children's books? When will it ever end? How about here with the actor who plays Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri on the hit television show The Sopranos writing about a boy connecting with his Italian-American heritage? In fairness, it's a good, solid story, competently told. This should, however, not be a surprise: considering that the book's co-author, Charles Fleming, is the author of several novels and bestselling works of non-fiction. How much did each of them contribute to Nicky Deuce? The book itself offers no clues but readers aged eight to 12 probably won't be asking those questions: they'll just enjoy the book and maybe end up making Grandma Tutti's Tomato sauce and spaghetti, recipe included. -- Monica Stark

Who's Under That Hat?
by David A. Carter
Published by Harcourt
14 pages, 2005

The wonders of modern technology make all sorts of things possible in children's books. Take Who's Under That Hat? It's an interactive riddle adventure intended for very young children -- older babies and toddlers. The pages are boardbook-thick, but every page has a pop-up and a fun surprise: soft puppies, shiny snail trails, even a shiny mirror that let's your baby put herself in the story. And what about that story? Well, it's all about discovering just who it is that's hiding under a hat but, perhaps in books for this age group alone, plot is secondary to pop-ups that work smoothly and well and a spotted puppy you can pet. -- Monica Stark

The Wonder in Water
by Diane Swanson
Annick Press
44 pages, 2005

Water, water everywhere. Like air, most of us take it for granted. It's cool, it's liquid, it squirts out of the tap, what else do we need to know? Even a glance through Diane Swanson's excellent The Wonder in Water will give you the answer: A lot. Though at 44 pages, the book is slender to the extreme, Swanson manages to energetically cram just about everything a child aged six to eight might like to know about H2O. And then some. For instance, did you know that there's enough water on earth to fill 325 million trillion large milk jugs? Or that our sweat feeds and waters the millions of microbes that life on our skin. (Ick!) And that your sweat and you blood is comprised mostly of water? There really is a lot of wonder in water and Swanson manages to convey it briskly and well. -- David Middleton


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