Winter is here, so bundle up and get ready for a trip to the North Pole with Lyra, a strong-willed orphan from Oxford and Pantalaimon, her shape-shifting daemon!
The Golden Compass is the first book in one of my favourite young adult series -Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials. If you loved Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, or any other of the major fantasy series I couldn't recommend this book more highly.
Although at first the setting seems somewhat familiar—the furnishings, the college setting—Lyra’s world is not the same as our own. The existence of Pantalaimon, Lyra’s daemon, quickly makes this clear. In Lyra's world every person on earth has a daemon, a magical animal companion that serves as best friend, confidante, and conscience all rolled into one.
The first book in a trilogy (Pullman just released the first book in companion series The Book of Dust), The Golden Compass tells the story of Lyra, a fierce, stubborn, and completely charming heroine who travels north to research a mysterious substance she knows only as "Dust" and to attempt to rescue her best friend Roger.
In this multilayered story, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the alethiometer. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called "Gobblers"—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons Lyra's long, arduous journey is only made possible by her ability to make friends and talk her way into things wherever she goes.
On her way to the north she manages to secure the help of Gyptians (her world's version of Gypsies), witches, a hot-air balloon pilot and, most impressive at all, an exiled bear king.
Pullman created well thought out and memorable characters that stayed with me long after I finished the series. Stubbornness aside, I think that Lyra is a character that all children can admire. She pushes herself very hard to reach her full potential, is fiercely loyal, and learns from her mistakes.
Strong readers and fantasy fans will love The Golden Compass!
The holiday season is upon us! In the library, that means I get to bring out my absolutely favourite Hannukah book, Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins, by Eric Kimmel.
The basic premise in the story is that the village synagogue is haunted by- you guessed it- Hanukkah goblins, which our man Herschel must dispel using his wits and intelligence.
Hershel and the Hannukah goblins is the entertaining, engaging, and informative folktale-like story of how Hershel of Ostropol, arriving at a small village on the Eve of Hanukkah, uses his wiles, courage and perseverance to rid the village of the nasty goblins that have been stopping Hanukkah celebrations. Eric Kimmel's story and Tricia Schart Hyman's illustrations are absolutely wonderful, and have just the right amount of scary elements to excite kids without frightening them off.
I read this book many times as a child, and I remember admiring Herschel for all of his clever tricks, and the way he managed to defeat all of the goblins using only his clever tricks.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is a Caldecott Honor Book featuring rich and vibrant colours, and what kids seem to love most is the illustrations - and how each goblin is scarier and more powerful than the last. With each passing night, the illustrations grow darker, the goblins grow scarier, and Hershel must use all of his wits to outsmart them.
I really love how this story features a clever protagonist who must use his head to defeat darkness, making this a compelling story for children of all ages. I have read this story to 1st graders, and I have read it to 6th graders, and each group is equally engaged.
This book has vocabulary words in Hebrew that are related to Hanukkah such as “gimel”, “shin”, and “shammes”. The book also goes through some basic traditional elements of Hanukkah including lighting the eight candles and using a menorah. The book does a nice job integrating traditional religious themes with the silliness of goblins and hauntings. The informational last page of the book talks about the history of the holiday, traditional ways to celebrate, and food and games associated with Hanukkah.
Happy holidays from me, and all of your friends and the Montreal West Children’s Library!
It’s blueberry season!
As you may know, I’m a sucker for children's books with great illustrations, and Blueberries for Sal is no exception. Robert McCloskey’s stunning black and white illustrations are the perfect complement to this sweet, classic story about a little girl who goes blueberry picking with her mother.
When Sal and her mother go blueberry picking, it’s clear from the beginning that Sal isn’t going to be much help, and they are both too busy picking (or in Sal's case, eating) to keep an eye on one another. On the other side of the hill, Little Bear is eating blueberries with HIS mother, and before long, the two young ones have accidentally switched places.
Perfect for Summer, Blueberries for Sal is a charming classic story that every child should read at least once. My mom gave me my copy as one of my “report card gifts” after I finished kindergarten, and it quickly became one of my favourite stories. Every August my family and I would go blueberry picking near our cottage, and after having read this book I was always on high alert for pesky bears!
Blueberries for Sal was ranked number 13 among the "Top 100 Picture Books" in a survey by School Library Journal, a Caldecott Honor book, and it's easy to see why!
Catherine, Called Birdy
The first time I read Karen Cushman's debut book, Catherine Called Birdy was when I was in fifth grade. After my initial read-through I fell in love, and kept it in the car to entertain me on long drives (anything longer than 20 minutes!). My poor paperback copy was read over and over until it fell apart!
This Newbery award winning book interested me so much because it didn’t star the typical boring female characters I had read about in other medieval stories, who sat around looking pretty waiting to be rescued. Catherine actually had a personality and a will of her own.
Catherine is the daughter of a minor knight and her parents try to make her work hard at becoming a proper lady so that she can find a rich husband. While her father plots arranged marriages with old, rich men and her mother tries to prepare her for being a wife by teaching her manners and needlework Catherine plots ways to get rid of the suitors and sneaks off to the village where she can help with the hay harvest and socialize with the peasants. Catherine manages to drive off suitor after suitor, until her father brings home the ugliest, oldest, and foulest one yet, who unfortunately seems determined to stay.
This book, written as Catherine's diary over the course of one year, is full of rich details about life in a medieval manor. It is perfect for anyone who has ever been dissatisfied with their lot in life and is tired of being told what to do!
One of my favourite picture books in the library is definitely Little Rooster’s Diamond Button. If you’ve taken part in Story Sparklers with me you’ve probably had this book read to you already, and made a little rooster with a shiny gemstone to bring home with you.
Adapted from a Hungarian folktale, this wacky story tells the story of a little rooster who finds a diamond button and decides to give it to his mistress, until the greedy king turns up and takes the diamond button for himself. Well, little does the King know the rooster has a magic stomach and won’t be pushed around!
Read on as the rooster uses his magic stomach to escape from increasingly absurd ways that the king tries to get rid of him. The rooster simply won't be stopped, he wants his diamond button back!
This book is perfect to read aloud to any kid who likes a bit of silliness, and it is full of colourful and definitely unique pictures.
This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!
is the first book in the Macdonald Hall series by Gordon Korman, which describe the many misadventures of Bruno and Boots, roommates attending boarding school near Toronto.
In this first book of the series, best friends and roommates Bruno and Boots have pulled one prank too many and the headmaster finally puts his foot down, separating Bruno and Boots and giving them new roommates. The two can't stand their new roommates and secretly meet to discuss ways of getting back into their old room together. Can more schemes really get these best friends away from their awful new roommates and back with each other?
This is a fun little book with capers, harmless riots, and a happy ending. The boys are troublemakers, but always try to do the right thing in the end, even if they do have their own moral code.
I read the Macdonald Hall books and over again when I was in elementary school, and would laugh out loud at the hijinks that Bruno and Boots would get involved with!
This is a great book for kids looking for a laugh, and provides great inspiration for young writers, as Gordon wrote this book in 7th grade! Coming in at a little over 100 pages reluctant readers may find good friends in Bruno and Boots!