Saturday, 24 January 2015

Review: Peter Puck and the Runaway Zamboni Machine

Hockey, a Zamboni®, anthropomorphic machines, and a great message: what more could you ask for in a young reader series for Canadian boys? 

Published by Tundra and written by Canadian author/illustrator team Brian McFarlane and Geri Storey, this Peter Puck book stars a Zamboni® who is feeling a little unappreciated at the arena. Luckily, his adventure out on the town reminds him that his friends appreciate everything he does and that his job is not only an important one, but one that makes him happy!

Summary: Peter’s good friend, Tony the Zamboni, longs for adventure. When Tony disappears, Peter and referee George Phair head out to find him. Tony loves being out in the big wide world, especially when he enters a race at the speedway. Peter arrives just in time to hop on and drive, but a run-in with two nasty drivers threatens to put them on the sidelines. Can Peter and Tony stay in the race? And will the runaway Zamboni return to the arena and prepare the ice for the big game?

From a marketing standpoint, Zamboni® stories are actually quite popular in Canada, and what child is not fascinated with watching them drive over the ice?  Overall, the series is written for young readers who are advanced enough to read confidently on their own, and who are between readers and early chapter books. Each spread has a picture and a page of text, which also makes the series great for parents reading to their kids. The language is very basic and pairs well with the expressive and colourful art for readers to piece the together the story.

This is a great Canadian young reader series for fans of books/shows that feature talking vehicles/machinery, and includes a positive "love the life you have" type of message. Fun fact: Brian McFarlane is a famous hockey sportscaster on Hockey Night in Canada AND he's the son of the author of many of the Hardy Boys books! 

3 Stars

Monday, 12 January 2015

Review: Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Zebra Forest was not what I expected—it was much better. I was a little wary about mature content for younger readers, and even warier since I'm a bit pathetic and easily frightened by scary, suspense-driven, or horror novels. But rest assured, this book packs a punch in plot without content that would be inappropriate for a YA audience. It was a fabulous read and I enjoyed it very much!

SummaryWhen eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. “If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence,” Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room — like she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie tells stories, too, as she and Rew laze under the birches and oaks of Zebra Forest — stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. 

But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same. Driven by suspense and psychological intrigue, Zebra Forest deftly portrays an unfolding standoff of truth against family secrets — and offers an affecting look at two resourceful, imaginative kids as they react and adapt to the hand they’ve been dealt.

Although this book is aimed at readers ages 9-12, I suggest the reader be at least grade five and ready to handle the mature subject matter. That being said, it is a tame story. We read the story through the p.o.v. of a child. Other characters withhold information that a child should not receive (ie. no one actually talks about grandma's depression and the intruder does not give any graphic detail about his crime). Basically, it doesn't read like the hostage story that the publisher copy makes it sound like. It hooks the reader, but the story is actually an age-appropriate narrative that parents and educators can feel comfortable about.

I have to say I enjoyed the plot twist. It allows for some real character development in the story as the kids grow as a result of the situation at hand. The novel takes a hard look at the importance of family and forgiveness, but also moral choices and having to live with the consequences of one's actions. All "tough stuff" subjects that make for great exploration of character!

This is a fantastic read for young teens who like a bit of mystery, suspense, and drama. Adina Rishe Gewirtz's debut novel is beautifully written, memorable, fast-paced read and it is unlike anything I've read in a while. Definitely worth it to pick up a copy!

3.5 Stars

Friday, 9 January 2015

Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

There are quite a few books with buzz right now featuring unique, wonderful protagonists who have learning, mental, or physical disabilities. Rain Reign falls into this new popular genre, featuring a heroine with a high-functioning form of autism.

I absolutely love Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. This author needs no introduction and you're guaranteed a well-written novel for young adult readers. It is a sad, lovely story about a young girl named Rose, whose carefully constructed world is changed forever after a hurricane. Her determination, spirit and resilience in the face of turmoil, loss, and the baffling world outside of her own will win your heart.

Summary:  Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.

When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. 

Hearts will break and spirits will soar for this powerful story, brilliantly told from Rose’s point of view.

I have so many wonderful things to say about this novel. Rose is a quirky, endearing and inspiring protagonist with a deep love for her dog, the rules, and homonyms (reason #100 to read this novel: grammar lesson!). Her life isn't an easy one, but despite her strained relationship with her father, her difficulties in school, and the challenges of maintaining the order and routine of her world, she perseveres.

As far as content goes, this is a fairly clean read. There is some uncomfortable near-violence when Rose's father loses his patience with Rose. Alcohol and objectionable language (the 'r-word', bullying, etc) are also content flags to be aware of. Overall, the content is handled well and serves a purpose to the plot, rather than existing for dramatic effect. Ann M. Martin is a teacher-favourite and the publisher's website even has a free discussion guide posted for download! (See link at the end of the review).

Fans of Mockingbird (Kathryn Erskine), Counting by 7s (Holly Goldberg Sloan), and The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee will enjoy this novel. Anyone who has ever loved a pet will love this book, actually. Rose's love for dog is inspiring; she would do anything to save Rain--and to make sure she does right by her. Even if it means giving her away...

Add this to your must-read list for this year! Ann M. Martin never disappoints!

4 Stars

Click here for the discussion guide from Macmillan