When I was participating in book spine poetry, found on author Margriet Ruurs’ Twitter feed, I noticed a few books that have been sitting around for a while, but haven’t yet been read. I took the opportunity to read them, and I am glad I did.

The List

What an amazing book. I read through Patricia Forde’s dystopian middle grade book in a day. I then began reading it to my 11-year-old son, who – as predicted – is loving it as well.

The List is set in a not-too-distant future after the polar ice caps melted and the world as we know it ceased to exists. What is left is the Ark, where Letta is the apprentice to the Wordsmith and keeper of the 500 words that make up its language. But when the Ark’s leaders shorten the list further, Letta begins to question “what is life without language? And what does it mean to survive versus to live?”

There are so many disturbing parts in this book, beginning with The Melting and continuing with the leaders of this world, which sounds like an awful place.

I love the characters found within this book, including the rebels, who try to show their fellow man how language, emotion and art sets us apart from other animals in this planet.

I often wonder when I read these books, who I would be? Would I be like Letta who obeys the laws for the greater good, or would I be like the rebels who will do anything to ensure language, music and art remain in the public’s hands?

I am also really enjoying reading this to my son, particularly so soon after I read it myself. His perspective is really interesting and often bang-on. He may have noticed things sooner than I did. We have also had some really great discussions about language, communication and the importance of creativity.

Great news . A second book, titled The Last Lie, comes out in August. Read my review of The Last Lie here.

The List retails for $11.99 (Raincoast Books, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

Front cover image of a girl in front of barbed wire.
The Taste of Rain is based on a true story about children in a Japanese interment camp in northern China during the Second World War.

The Taste of Rain

I have read a lot of books set during the Second World War, most of them involve the murder of Jewish people, people who are gay and anyone else who didn’t fit in the Nazi’s idea of the perfect world.

The Taste of Rain by Monique Polak told the story of a group of children imprisoned at the Weihsien Interment Camp in northern China by the Japanese, something I have never read about before.

The book is based on a true story of a group of children who credited following the Girl Guide Code of Conduct, focusing on positivity and putting others first, for surviving the horrors of this camp.

In this story, 13-year-old Gwen and her classmates from the Chefoo boarding school have been help captive in the camp for nearly three years. They are hungry and thirsty all the time and are forced to work every day, rain or shine, under the most horrific of conditions.

“But Miss E., one of their teachers, has adopted the Girl Guide code as an act of optimism. Yes, they are going to continue to do their schoolwork. Yes, they are going to do good deeds. Yes, they are going to earn new Girl Guide badges. No, not all Japanese are brutes. No, they are not all going to die. And no, they most not lose hope.”

The book was another excellent, quick read. My Second World War education was obviously very lacking, but I am happy I read and learned about this now. The idea of this young teacher, obviously very scared herself, rallying her children and ensuring they still received an education and found hope in a very bleak situation, is inspiring. The children in Miss E.’s troop were a mixture of personalities, each one attempting to handle the situation in her own way: some, like Gwen, embraced everything her teacher said, while, others tried to find their own way.

In her author’s acknowledgement, Polak wanted to explore what it is like to be cheerful and whether a positive attitude can help in challenging situations. She also thanked Mary Previte, a former prisoner at the camp and a Girl Guide.

Polak didn’t interview Previte, but did quote her from an email.

“What story wakes people up these days? Even in a wartime internment camp, children and God’s humble people turn a very ugly world into one where goodness triumphs over evil. How beautiful is that? …We children/students were blessed by our teachers who anchored us. Separated from our parents by warring armies…our Chefoo boarding school teachers were our substitute parents. My…faith and hope (were) ignited by these missionary teachers who were also prisoners. Grown-ups turned challenges into games.”

What kind of person would I be if faced with similar challenges? I hope I could be a Miss E., who inspired her children to be the best people they can be.

The Taste of Rain is for kids nine and older. It retails for $10.95 and is from Orca Books.

Front cover image of Sled Dog School of two huskys and a lab smiling in the snow.
Poop and flying customers – a lot of fun in this book about 11-year-old Matt and his Sled Dog School.

Sled Dog School

My son chose to read Sled Dog School after finishing author Terry Lynn Johnson‘s Dog Driven. He loved it so much he wanted to read more about sled dogs.

Eleven-year-old Matt Misco is failing math. In order to bring up his mark, he accepts his teacher’s bonus assignment – start a business, get three clients and show expenses, profit and loss and other math terminology he doesn’t understand. The only problem is, Matt doesn’t know anything other than running his team of dogs. So he decides to create a Sled Dog School. His first customer is a boy who hates being outside and his out-of-control dog. His customer is a girl, who seems to know it all and knows she knows it all.

What follows are some seriously funny situations including dragging, projectile poop and a flying customer.

Sled Dog School was a bit slow to start, but picked up quite quickly. We really enjoyed Matt, Tubbs and Alex as well as dogs that make up Matt’s team. Much like in Dog Driven, Matt’s love for his dogs and the sport, shined through the pages.

Sled dog retails for $11.99 (Raincoast Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Albert Hopper, Science Hero

Albert Hopper, Science Hero by John Himmelman comes out May 19.

In this book for kids six to eight we travel to the centre of the Earth with Science Hero Albert Hopper and his trusty Junior Science Heroes Polly and Tad in their worm-like ship, Wiggles. And yes, they are frogs.

While the book tells the story about the scientist going where no frog – or human – has gone before, there is a fair bit of knowledge shared on the pages. We learn about the various parts of the earth – crust, mantle, outer core and core – as well as the various temperatures and types of rocks we would find in each layer.

The book is also pretty funny. While Junior Science Hero Polly may be smarter (well, she is older), Tad is a bit sarcastic and quite impulsive. When he pushes the A-C-H Button (Anything Can Happen), he makes their adventure, a bit more – well – adventurous. They run into prehistoric cave frogs and get chased by dinosaur fossils that come alive (but get smaller the further down they go). I also like that Tad calls his sister out on her know-it-all attitude, but in a funny brotherly way.

Albert Hopper, Science Hero was fun read.

Albert Hopper, Science Hero costs $18.99 (Raincoast Books, Henry Holt and Company)

As a side note, Himmelman is also the author of The Giant from the Fire Sea, which my son quite liked.

A copy of these books were provided by Orca Books and Raincoast Books
for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

Read my interview with Terry Lynn Johnson here.

Read my interview with Margriet Ruurs here.