The Mask Wearer by Bryan Perro (Red Cedar Club 2012)

Ok, the truth is that fantasy is not my favorite genre.
So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this book didn't grab me by the throat and hold me down til I was finished. It took me a while to get into the story and even then, I had no trouble putting it down to do other things. That said, I don't think it is a terrible read.
The idea of the story is intriguing. It is one of those good versus evil tales. I liked the introduction of the humanimals, the integration of mythical creatures, and fairy tale elements.
The main character, Amos, and his parents are forced to leave their cottage (but not before Amos tricks their overlord out of money and horses)
Along the way Amos gets a message from a dying mermaid and a quest to deliver a white stone and become The Mask Wearer.
The family comes across a land filled with statues of people and animals. Amos meets up with Beriot, a humanimal that can transform into a bear. This turns out to be lucky because this leads to the family escaping when the rest of the inhabitants are turned into stone by a wicked sorcerer. 

Eventually Amos makes it to the mysterious land of Tarkasis where the Fairy people live. After he receives his mask from them, Amos has to figure out how to defeat the wicked overlord and his slave medusas before the world is destroyed. 
Perhaps if I had read it in the original French I would have appreciated it more. Perhaps if it didn’t seem so much like a video game I would have been more excited by it. 
I concede that I did eventually want to find out how it would end. However, I will not be holding my breath for the next book in the series to be translated. 
I hope to be completely in the minority with my poor opinion of this one.

Count Me In by Sara Leach (Red Cedar Club 2012)

This is an adventure novel set in the mountains near Squamish BC. Tabitha, her widowed Aunt Tess and two cousins, Cedar and Ashley, set out on a Thanksgiving weekend hike to spread Uncle Bruce’s ashes overlooking a bluff. It is Tabitha’s first hiking experience and she doesn’t want to be there. It seems like her cousins don’t want her to be there with them either.
I liked the tension that arouse from the environmental conditions. You can’t spend time in the wilderness around here without having a healthy respect for bears. When Tabitha has a run in with a bear I was right there with her. You can’t spend much time in the Pacific Northwest without having a healthy respect for the rain. The parts of the novel when the group are in danger or trapped because of the weather and ensuing high waters in lakes and rivers are frightening realistic.  These aspects of the novel kept me reading til the end. 

I didn’t like the tension between the two girl cousins. It didn’t feel authentic to me.  I don’t much like those girls bullying girl books. Unfortunately this book often felt too much like one of them. I am sure that Leach wanted this to be about a girl who learns what she is capable of, and learns to stand up for herself. For me however it was too much about a girl being a victim. 

I would have liked this book much more had Leach made this more of an adventure novel with more realistic relationships between the characters.  

That said, I am sure that there are many readers who will find this an engaging and satisfying read.

Exiles from the War by Jean Little (Red Cedar Club Book 2012)

This is a lovely coming of age tale set at the beginning of WW2 in Ontario.
When Charlotte Mary Twiss turned 12 in 1940, her sister, Eleanor, gave her a diary and made her promise to use it to document the events in what Eleanor avowed would be a significant year in her life. Eleanor even promised her a treat if she could keep it up to the end of the year.
This book is Charlotte’s diary. In it she confides her hopes and dream, joys and sorrows. At first she thinks she will have nothing of significance to record, but with war in the background, it turns out she is mistaken.  Through Charlotte’s diary we see that a war that seems very far away has repercussions on the home front in numerous ways.  When the family sponsors war guests, Charlotte has to come to grips with no longer being the baby in the family and learn to share her siblings and parents.  She tries to understand her best friend, Barbara, when she is filled with worry about her Jewish relatives in Europe. Then Charlotte's brother joined the navy and after flurries of letter writing back and forth, there were no missives from him.
Charlotte is a sensitive realistic character and over the year we see her mature and become aware of others.
I love how Jean Little seamlessly integrates historical events into the novel format through Charlotte’s eyes.
I truly enjoyed this book. In case you don't know, Jean Little can really write.
I know a few readers who are going to enjoy this one as much as I did.

The Listening Tree by Celia Barker Lottridge (Red Cedar Club 2012)

It’s the 1930’s on the Canadian Prairie. After five years of no rain, Ellen’s father left the farm to search for work out west. A year later Ellen and her mother headed east on the train to Toronto to stay with her mother’s sister, Aunt Gladys.
Aunt Gladys runs a boarding house where Ellen and her mother are made welcome.  Toronto is a strange and active environment compared to Ellen’s quiet, solitary life on the prairie farm.  It takes her a while to adjust to these new surroundings.  
There are children living next door, but Ellen is too uncomfortable to go and introduce herself.  After she has finished her morning chores of dishes and feeding the chickens, she climbs out her bedroom window and onto a large tree limb.  There in that world of rustling green, she listens to the goings on of the world below.
Then one day she overhears a couple of men plotting to evict the neighbors.  She is forced to finally connect with Charlotte, Joey and Gracie, the children she has been listening in on, to tell them what she has heard.  Then it is up to the children to come up with a plan to save Ellen’s new friends’ family.

I liked this book. The characters were beautifully portrayed.  It alludes to, but doesn’t address the harsher realities for many families at this time, but it does introduce younger readers to aspects of history in an enjoyable way.
Up until this book, my favorite novel by Celia Barker Lottridge has been Ticket to Curlew, another historical novel that turned many of my grade three/four boys into readers. I hope The Listening Tree has the same effect on my Red Cedar Club readers today.

Saving Arm Pit by Natalie Hyde (Red Cedar Club 2012)

I loved this book!

So far I have enjoyed everyone of the 2012 Red Cedar Club books I have read, but this one has hit a home run for me.

I loved that it is a baseball story.

I love that it is funny.
I loved that it is a story about a small town trying to survive.
I loved the characters.

I love that it is about a bunch of kids working together to make a difference.
I love that in spite of some setbacks, they succeed!

The Harmony Point Terriers Baseball Team are established losers. Other teams harass and laugh at them whenever they get on the field. Someone has even painted out the letters in the town sign so that it now reads ARM PIT.

Then the local postmistress retires and the new postman, Mr. Blackmore, takes on coaching their team. Just as the team seems to be improving, word comes that Canada Post is going to get rid of the local post office and people will have to travel to the nearby city to pick up their mail.

Mr. Blackmore may have to leave, and to make matters worse; it looks like romance is in the air between him and Miss Apfelbaum, town baker extraordinaire. If he leaves, most likely so will she.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The team starts a letter writing campaign to increase amount of mail passing through the local post office. Because of this, things start to happen and the baseball team begins to see itself as potential winners. Unbeknownst to them, their letter writing actions end up being more important than they can imagine.

There is so much I loved about this book.

The letters that punctuate each chapter are fabulous. One of my favorites was the letter from the school regarding PS days. (Here we call them Pro D days) The teachers were “taking courses and attending seminars including “Monday Morning Panic Attacks” and “Countdown to Summer Vacation.” (I want courses like this at our Pro D days!) Later on, the letter from Sea Chimps in Space was a hilarious and profound example of how the children were able to make their own learning environments a richer place.

This book is sure to be a winner in as many ways as the Terriers Team is.

Emily Included by Kathleen McDonnell (Red Cedar Club 2012)

So many of us have no idea who Emily Eaton is. Even those of us with some understanding of what it might be like to live with a disability have probably never heard of her. But it is because of her courage, and the determination of her family, that as a society, we look at people with challenges of all kinds differently.

Emily Eaton was born with cerebral palsy.  This didn’t deter her parents and three older brothers who treated her like any normal sister.  When she started kindergarten in a regular classroom, her parents had two important goals in mind. First, they felt that Emily would learn more if she was in a learning environment with peers who were not disabled. Second, they wanted the other children to become more aware of individuals with disabilities. This was going to be the community Emily would be a member of when she was an adult. They wanted her peers to get to know Emily, and for her to get to know them and the best place for this to happen was at school.
Emily loved school. She spent kindergarten and grade one at Maple Avenue School in a regular class.  Her first educational assistant was understanding and supportive. Emily made friends and it seemed like everything was going well.  Then the special needs tribunal decreed that Emily had to go to a special school.  Her parents challenged this ruling, but afterwards, Emily’s new assistant turned out to be very different.  It seemed like Emily was being set up to fail.
Twice the family, with the support of ARCH, The Advocacy Resource Center for the Handicapped, fought the ruling and lost.  After the second loss Emily was moved to a new school that supported the integration of students with special needs. Even though it might be too late for Emily, the family continued to fight the ruling on behalf of all disabled people.
In December, 1994, they went to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Many groups were now involved in the case, including the school board lawyers, the Canadian Disability Rights Council and the Ontario Association for Community Living. Emily and her group won! However, this judgment was challenged by the school board (and representatives from the governments of BC, Ontario and Quebec) Eventually the case was presented to the Supreme Court of Canada where the judges decreed that school boards had an obligation to do everything they could to integrated children like Emily and put them in special classrooms only as a last resort.

This would be an excellent read for teachers, students and their families, who are about to, or already have a special needs child in their classroom. Emily reminds us that inside each of us is someone who just wants to communicate and belong and if we take the time to make it happen, it will be well worth it.

Nutz! Written by Virginia Frances Schwartz and illustrated by Christina Leist (Red Cedar Club 2012)

This book is a delicious romp. Narrated by Amos, a precocious half-Persion, half-ally, rescue cat, it abounds with chuckle out loud moments.

Amos’ pampered life is disrupted when Tyler, Amos’ owner and BFF, rescues a baby squirrel from Bruno, the brutish boxer from next door.

Tyler has the uncanny ability to hypnotize and tame just about any animal and human except Mrs. Chu, their neighbor. Thank goodness because she brings Amos all kinds of delicious treats like gizzards and sushi from the market where she works.

Everyone in the house ends up paying attention to the baby squirrel and forgetting about poor abandoned Amos. His life is made more miserable because Francesca, Tyler’s mother, has him eating diet cat food called ‘Fancy Feasties for Fat Beasties… It smelled like bad breath. The label read NON-FAT RECYCLED FISH HEADS. ADD WATER FOR A CAT TREAT DELIGHT.” Amos is not impressed. At least Mrs. Chu understands poor Amos’ predicament and attempts to help him.

Just as Amos predicts, the baby squirrel wrecks havoc in the house. But no matter how hard he tries; Amos can’t convince them to get rid of the rodent. At one point Amos realizes he is doomed. “Francesca lifted the baby squirrel up in the air until they were eyeball to eyeball…. The two of them were locked in a circle of quiet. Cats know things. We are psychic. Here’s what I know. It was love at first sight.”

The family has even more trouble than dealing with a squirrel loose in the house. Their rent is overdue, and Mr. Stinky Feet will soon arrive demanding his money and the removal of the rodent.

You will have to read the book yourself to find out if Amos and Nutz, as the squirrel eventually becomes named, reach an accord and if they come up with a way to save them all from ending up on the street.

The illustrations by Christina Leist perfectly compliment the text. She captures the main ideas of each chapter in cat like drawings that add to the hilarity of the narrative.

Cat Boy by Eric Walters (Red Cedar Club 2012)

Taylor and his new friend, Simon, were taking a short cut home across a junkyard when they came upon a colony of feral cats. While they were watching the group, three bullies arrived and began throwing rocks at the cats. Taylor tried to intervene and stop them, only to have the bullies focus their attention and rocks on the two friends. Luckily, Mr. Singh, the security guard, interrupted the altercation. It turned out that Mr. Singh was a cat lover. As they fed the cats bits of their leftover lunches, Taylor and Mr. Singh became friends. Eventually more of Taylor’s classmates became involved in feeding the cats.

Simon developed a bond with a cat he named Hunter. When Hunter got injured, Simon called upon a veterinarian who was part of a group taking care of feral cats. Simon and Hunter’s relationship deepened when Hunter, trapped in a cage, had to stay with Simon for a few days until his foot healed and the infection cleared up.

Eventually Simon returned Hunter to the colony and it seemed like their lives had returned to normal.

Then one day, everything changed. Mr. Singh informed them that the yard had been sold, and the new owners had already begun clearing out the yard. He warned them that as soon as the cats were discovered the new owner would destroy them.

Taylor had two weeks to come up with a solution to save the cats.

This was a good book. I was engaged in the story right away and admit to having the odd tear in my eye as I too got caught up in the need to save the cats. I liked that the cultural demographics of Simon’s school and neighborhood is reminiscent of the multicultural community where I live and teach.

I finished this book wondering if there are any feral cat colonies around Vancouver, and if there are, where they might be found.  

That Boy Red by Rachna Gilmore (Red Cedar Book 2012)

I have to be completely honest here. I am a Rachna Gilmore fan. Seriously, I have never read anything of hers I did not love. One of my all time favorite books is A Group of One. If you haven’t read it go straight to your local book store or library and get it. (After you read this of course)

So it was weird that I wasn’t sure at first if I would like That Boy Red. It starts out slow and the historical setting is different from what I am used to with her work.

However, after a few pages I was riveted by the story of eleven-year-old Red MacRae and his family. Red is growing up on a farm in Prince Edward Island during the great depression of the 1930’s. While life isn’t easy for the family, they not only survive, they manage to help out their less fortunate neighbors. The book spans one tumultuous year in the family’s life. It is a collection of vignettes highlighting a number of events that play an important role in Red’s life.

Red is a spunky scalawag who is prone to getting into trouble. His hijinks will, for the most part, send you into gales of laughter. I dare you to keep a straight face while reading how Red, and his brother, Mac, drop their grandmother’s treasured lock of hair into cow manure, try to clean it and end up trying to substitute horse hair for it. At other times, like when he gets lost in a winter storm and ends up holed up in a neighbor’s outhouse to escape the blizzard, you are likely to alternate between admiration, admonishment and amusement. Unfortunately, Red’s antics are not always benign. When he and a friend tricked his little sister into thinking she had killed him, it ended up causing the community great distress and nearly led to disaster. 

Red’s parents value education. Despite the disparaging opinions of other farmers, Mr. and Mrs. MacRae took out a loan to send Ellen, their oldest child, away to school. Now she works as the local schoolteacher to earn money to pay for Alex, the eldest boy, to go away to university. As you can imagine, it isn’t easy having your older sister as your teacher. Some of the predicaments Red finds himself in are a direct result of this. 

This is a lovely coming of age tale. Readers will enjoy peeking in on this year of Red’s life as he matures, learns from his mistakes and comes to appreciate himself, his family, his community, and his own place in it.

This book reminded me of Farley Mowat’s book, Owls in the Family. If you liked it you will like this.

I am happy to say that Rachna Gilmore didn’t let me down.