As the summer winds down, Ben and I read a thought-provoking, middle-grade novel that neither of us have read before. Skellig, by the prolific British author, David Almond, has been on my To Be Read list for some time now. I ask Ben – now a newly-minted 11-year-old – what he thinks of it.
In non-fiction picture book Redwoods (ages 8+),talented author-illustrator Jason Chin ingeniously combines fascinating facts about the history, biology and ecology of redwood forests with an intriguing fantasy story that unfolds, wordlessly and in parallel, in gorgeous watercolour illustrations. A little boy discovers an abandoned book about the titular trees in a subway station, and as he learns more about them, he is magically transported deeper and deeper into a lush, dense redwood forest. Accompanied by an adorable flying squirrel, the boy explores the underbrush, finally becoming brave enough to ascend high into the canopy after discovering some strategically placed instructions and tree-climbing equipment. Chin’s clever fusion of fact and fiction makes this an appealing and enticing read for all ages, and guarantees Redwoods a place on the timeless classics shelf.
Continuing with World Kid Lit month celebrations, I decided to read the classic Emil and the Detectives, (ages 10+) a middle-grade chapter book about a highly-principled country boy turned intrepid thief-catcher. Translated from German by Eileen Hall, this entertaining story was published almost a century ago, in 1928, by Erich Kästner. The German author had the honour of seeing his books burned by the Nazis during WW2 for being “anti-German.” Thankfully, I failed to identify any “anti-anything” in this humorous and engaging detective story – save a comment by Pony, the only girl to make an appearance, that “Woman’s work is never done” (referring to housework). Yet, this didn’t make Pony any less strong or feisty, nor were any of Kästner’s characters any less interesting, nor did it distract from the central theme underpinning the entire adventure – the enduring, selfless relationship between a devoted mother and her thoughtful child. And that love, we know, always endures. Happy World Kid Lit month!
As I turn the pages of Nie Jun’s whimsical graphic novel, My Beijing (ages 7+), it feels as if I’m slipping under the covers of a warm and comfy bed. The gorgeous, pastel-coloured illustrations have a nostalgic, old-world feel about them, and the charming, delightful characters are like childhood friends who’ve come to visit. Yu’er is a gentle and bright-eyed disabled girl who lives in a Beijing courtyard house with her lovable and kindly grandfather. Their close, easy relationship with each other, as well as with their friends and neighbours, is clear to see from the four heart-warming, slice-of-life stories, each of which has an unexpected, magical twist that will make you smile. Small but significant details of Chinese life embellish the pages: the decorative figures lined up at the tips of tiled roofs, the wu lou (gourds) hanging from green vines, the swinging bamboo birdcages, the tiffin carrier on the bedside table, the gauzy mosquito net that encircles Yu’er’s and her grandfather’s beds. Cartoonist Nie Jun has created an irresistible world that you’ll want to return to, time and again.