Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

I don't always like reading 'adult' books and usually prefer YA novels. But this nonfiction novel is such a pleasant read, and has inspired such a popular TV series that I want to make sure you hear about it.

I picked up my copy of Below Stairs because it looked promising and I was in need of a comfy December book. It was just that. 
Written in a conversational tone, it feels like Margaret Powell is sitting across from you (in the parlor with a cup of tea), telling her life story. And an interest life story it is. Taking place in 19020's England, she transports you back to a dull and grey time when classes and ranks were clearly divided. She tells of her youth and the few options she had as she grew older. 

Margaret's tale of how she entered a life of service as a maid, and a cook, for the upper English class, is spellbinding. A time of dances and tea, dinners and courting. It is a fun story that I couldn't put down. 

No wonder then that this book is what kick started the very popular TV series Downtown Abbey. I have so many addicted friends... I think you need to read this book. But I am scared to watch the series for I might get addicted to it too...

ISBN-10: 0330535382
ISBN-13: 978-0330535380

Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher

Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher

I have already used Susan Fletcher's book Alphabet of Dreams in this review blog. If you haven't read it yet, treat yourself, this Christmas season, to reading this exquisite Christmas story! An amazing novel.

In this equally well written adventure, a serving girl faces the intrigues of a harem, the dangers of the streets, and the anger of the Sultan himself to find the needed ending to an incomplete story.

Remember Sheherazade, the Queen of stories of 1001 nights? This is the skillfully crafted tale of where she got her stories! As with Alphabet of Dreams, Susan Fletcher is a brave enough writer to take a tale we all know well, and adds the unknown background of the story as her own novel. 

Very talented, spellbinding books and well worth curling up with!

Paperback, Jean Karl Books, 224 pages
Aladdin ISBN 0689830513 (ISBN13: 9780689830518)

Canadian Teacher Magazine

For each issue of Canadian Teacher Magazine, I contribute a column called Can Write. The column features a Canadian writer or illustrator of children's books.
I love the opportunity to interview, and learn more about, writers from across the country and beyond. The stories of how they became writers, or illustrators, are always fascinating and inspiring. It's fun to hear the 'stories behind the stories' - what triggered a picturebook or how they ended up writing a novel.

Here's the current issue:

and you can go through the archives to read past columns.
Happy reading!

A New Book!!

If you are in the Vancouver area, come join me on November 6, 7 PM at
Vancouver Kidsbooks for the launch of
A Brush Full of Colour:

Something from Nothing, Phoebe Gilman

Something from Nothing, Phoebe Gilman

When Joseph was a baby, his grandfather made him a shimmering blue blanket adorned with the moon and stars.
As the boy grows and the blanket wears out, the old tailor recycles it, in succession fashioning a jacket, a vest, a tie and, finally, a cloth-covered button.
But when Joseph loses the button, even his grandfather cannot make something from nothing.

With lovely repetition and internal rhyme, this thoughtfully presented Jewish folktale will captivate readers right through the ending, in which the boy discovers one last way of using what he has.

I especially love the art in this book, which shows a whole new layer of story that is not in the text, as the snippets of fabric fall through the cracks of the floor, helping the family of mice that live below.

This is a wonderful tale to read together, to give as a gift for a newborn and to share with older students as a Jewish fairytale.

  • ISBN-10: 1443119466
  • ISBN-13: 978-1443119467
 Ages 5-11.

Petey, by Ben Mikaelsen

Petey, by Ben Mikaelsen

Petey is a touching story of friendship, discovery, and the uplifting power of the human spirit.
In 1922, at the age of two, Petey's distraught parents commit him to the state's insane asylum, unaware that their son is actually suffering from severe cerebral palsy. 
Bound by his wheelchair and struggling to communicate with the people around him, Petey finds a way to remain kind and generous despite the horrific conditions in his new "home." 
Through the decades, he befriends several caretakers but is heartbroken when each eventually leaves him. Determined not to be hurt again, he vows to no longer let hope of lifelong friends and family torment him.

That changes after he is moved into a nursing home and meets a young teen named Trevor Ladd; he sees something in the boy and decides to risk friendship one last time. Trevor, new to town and a bit of a loner, is at first weary of the old man in the wheelchair. But after hearing more of his story, Trevor learns that there is much more to Petey than meets the eye.

This timeless story is recommended for all ages!

Author’s website: for background information on this book.

Where Is Walrus? by Stephen Savage

  •  Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (Feb. 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0439700493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439700498
I admit that, when I first got a copy of this wordless picture book, I  did not expect it to hold my (and my grandsons') interest for long. Very simple, stylistic art, no text. OK, I thought I could make up a story but it would soon get boring.
That was about three years ago. Now, I admire this book more than most picture books. It works on so many levels, for so many ages. And even though the art is very minimalistic, we discover new things all the time.
The story works for a restless 2 year old, who delights in outsmarting the zoo keeper who can't find walrus anywhere. It also works for a story savvy 4 year old, who still discovers new angles.
As the bored walrus sneaks out of the zoo, he blends into city scapes. The zoo keeper follows and looks along streets. But walrus hides in a cafe, or in a building, on a stage with dancers, even disguised as a firefighter.
When walrus finally steals the show in a diving competion, the zoo keeper get the brilliant idea to give him a larger pool and a dive board. No one in the zoo is ever bored again.
My two grandsons both love this book and we get hours of storytelling fun out of it. Hope you do, too.

Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts

Do you have this too?
Sometimes I'm searching for a new book to start reading, and I'll scan one; read the jacket flaps of another... But they don't quite appeal. Then suddenly you see one and you just know that's the book you will spend the next few days or weeks with.
Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts is a fantastic (summer) read. I liked the cover, the short content sounded just right and once I start, I could not put this book down. Amazing that this is a first novel!
I loved everything about it: the premise of a teen pregnancy, the girl dumped by her boyfriend at Walmart; the way her life unfolds; the support characters; the realistic dialogue. I was 'there' with her all the way. And reluctant to let go when I finished the last page.

And now, when I just googled the author's name to see what else she write, I am shocked to find out that she passed away 3 days ago... just while I was engrossed in her story. What a shame. But I will go to my library to look for the three other novels she published, including “The Honk and Holler Opening Soon” (1998) and “Shoot the Moon” (2004). Her husband, it turns out, wrote 'August: Osage County'. 

Ordinary Days: Family Life in a Farmhouse by Dorcas Smucker

Ordinary Days: Family Life in a Farmhouse by Dorcas Smucker

The title of this book, a kind of a diary, may include the word 'ordinary' but the story is anything but. I first 'discovered' Dorcas Smucker when living in rural Oregon where she is a busy wife, mother, farmer and writer. Dorcas is Mennonite and the stories she wrote in the local newspaper gave me a deeper appreciation of her lifestyle.
But most of all, I just love her sense of humor. Dorcas has this wonderful, conversational style of writing that makes me feel like she's just talking to me. Plus she's probably just about my age since her life often sounds like mine: children (OK, she has 6 and merely have 2, but still..), comings, goings, friends, family, farm, chores. And lately: growing older and its challenges.
I think that you, too, will enjoy her books, including this title.

And while you are at it, check out her blog for up to date, current stories:

Paperback, 155 pages, Good Books ISBN 1561485225 (ISBN13: 9781561485222)

Book Review: Bloomability by Sharon Creech

Bloomability by Sharon Creech

One of those lovely books to curl-up with, this is the story of coming-of-age of a girl attending an international school in Switzerland.
After having been "kidnapped" by an aunt,Dinnie Doone discovers all the "bloomabilities" that life has to offer. 
As with many good tales, getting rid of the parents often seems important to allow the main character to blossom. In Dinnie's "second life" in Europe, her family continues to neglect her, forgetting even to let her know where they've relocated. Dinnie gradually adjusts to her new environment and makes friends with other students from around the world: exuberant Guthrie; bitter Lila; and language-mangling Keisuke, who says "bloomable" when he means "possible." 
Together, these middle schoolers share classes and adventures, and explore ideas and emotions. A great middle school read from Newbery Award-winning author Sharon Creech 
Paperback, 273 pages HarperTrophy ISBN 006440823X (ISBN13: 9780064408233)

For more details and a teaching guide:

Walking for Zambia's Book Bus!

I was raised on books. I treasure my public library and all the access to books I have. I read books with my little grandsons daily. So I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help Zambia's Book Bus. I will visit, and travel with, the Book Bus this Fall.

Just before going to Zambia I plan to hike the Camino de Santiago - 100 KM from Sarria to Santiago. You can help me to support the book bus by pledging money. Every step I take, will be a step closer to more books for children in Zambia.

One in six adults around the world have come through childhood unable to read and write, a situation mainly due to lack of books and opportunity to read. In response to this shocking situation, the Book Bus was founded by publisher Tom Maschler with the aim of supplying books and making them accessible to children.

Did you know that Quentin Blake is on the Board of the Book Bus Project?!
You can learn more here:

Click on the link below to pledge any amount. It will go directly to the Book Bus Project where I will be working as a volunteer this Fall.  Please help me reach my goal! And many thanks!

Book Review: The Other Author Arthur

The Other Author Arthur, by Sheree Fitch

It might be because I love word play that I like this early reader so much. How brilliant is it to come up with this idea: an author named Arthur is about to visit an elementary school. The children are all excited.
The author, however, wished he could spend the day writing.
Meanwhile, a furnace repair man also named Arthur would love nothing better but to share stories with the students.
Everyone is happy when the two Arthurs are accidently switched, allowing one to tell stories and the other one to write in the furnace room!
This comedy of errors and mistaken identity brings a day of great stories for the children. Writing, telling our own stories, and the family feel of a small elementary school are themes beneath this farcical adventure. Grades 2-4. I hope, for your sake, that it is still in print.

A children's chapter book illustrated by Jill Quinn.

Pottersfield Press, now distributed by Nimbus
ISBN-10 1-895900-20-4

Author’s website:

Interviews with Canadian Authors and Illustrators

If you are a librarian, classroom teacher, or just any booklover, you might be int
erested in reading the interviews I conduct for each issue of Canadian Teacher Magazine.
The magazine is send to each school in the country but also has an online presence:

Each month I interview a wide variety of writers and illustrators of different genres: scifi, a novelist, a poet, etc. I try to cover male and female, east, west, south, north and in between!

You can contact Canadian Teacher Magazine to receive a subscription in the mail, or check online for current issues.
My current column is available here:      and features author Arthur Slade.

Happy reading!

Book Review: Lydia, Queen of Palestine by Uri Orlev

Lydia, Queen of Palestine by Uri Orlev

Lydia, a typical but highly spirited child, must face her parents' divorce as well as the growing hostility toward Romania's Jewish population. Lydia's mother sends her to live in a kibbutz in Palestine during World War II, promising to follow her daughter soon.

Lydia finds it difficult to adjust to life in a kibbutz. When her mother fails to show up, she tries to find her father, who is already in Israel but remarried.

"Often outrageous and abrasive, yet also delightfully imaginative, bright, and tenacious, Lydia is the archetype of a survivor, while her experiences on the periphery of the war's horrors are authentic and fascinating."

School Library Journal says "This is an honest book peopled with convincing characters whose petty jealousies and concerns occupy them more than the larger events of the world in which they live. Lydia's experiences are often wryly humorous; she is both inventive and unpredictable, and never boring. This story offers a contrast to the spate of Holocaust books with harrowing escapes and heroic protagonists"

I found this a wonderful read that pulled me into the story, brought the character to live and opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Paperback, 176 pages
ISBN 0140370897 (ISBN13: 9780140370898)

Book Review Opportunity for Students!

Are you a (Canadian) teacher of Grade 4, 5 or 6 students?
Do your students love to read?
Here is a unique opportunity for you and your class.

For Kidswwwrite ezine, my online magazine in which we publish writing by children from around the world, we are looking for a new class to take on the responsibility to supply us, each month, with reviews of YA books.

In each issue we will publish these student-written reviews of books they like and recommend to peers. You might, eventually, even start receiving review copies from publishers to include.
You can see sample, previously published reviews here:

If you are interested, please make sure your students can continue this project into other school years. They don't need to be the same kids, but your class should be able to continue providing reviews for the next few years. I hope you will consider this fun, authentic reading/writing experience with your students.
Contact me at for more details.

Entertaining an Elephant by Bill McBride

Why is it, that so often the most powerful books are tiny, thin volumes. Think of Stone Fox. Think of Sarah Plain and Tall. Think of Tuesdays with Morrie. All little books with a tremendous impact and a huge message.
Entertaining an Elephant  fits right into the category. A powerful story for every teacher in your life

This is the heartwarming story of a burned-out teacher struggling though fifteen year of teaching. He is stuck in the proverbial rut and no longer finds no joy in teaching.
Through a set of unexpected events, mostly through listening to wisdom from an unexpected corner, the teacher becomes re-inspired with both his profession and his own life.
Woven into this short novel are quotes from world-renown spiritual and philosophical writers who suggest ways for us to face the tough challenges of today’s world.

Already in its 16th printing, the book is a favorite among educators and parents. Half the proceeds of every sale go to charity. As I read the book I kept looking at the photo of the very young author. I kept wondering where all of his wisdom came from... Impressive. I also checked out his website:
Bill McBride has written several books, most to do with literacy and writing. I highly recommend you read his books and savour their wisdom.

Counting By 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan

You know those books that allow you to crawl inside the main character's head and allow you to dwell there for a while? Those comfortable, even if disturbing, books that are so real.  Those books that are like a lollipop - you start licking (reading) slower so that the good feeling with last longer...

That's how felt while reading Counting By 7's.
This is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family. Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn't kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now. Willow's world is suddenly, tragically, changed when... well, I won't tell you 'cause you have to read it yourself. The triumph of this book is that it is "not" a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

"Holly Goldberg Sloan writes about belonging in a way I've never quite seen in any other book. This is a gorgeous, funny, and heartwarming novel that I'll never forget."--John Corey Whaley, author of "Where Things Come Back"

"Willow Chance subtly drew me into her head and her life, so much so that I was holding my breath for her by the end. Holly Goldberg Sloan has created distinct characters who will stay with you long after you finish the book."--Sharon Creech, Newbery Award-winning author of "Walk Two Moons"

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

This book is a classic by now. How did such a thin little book become both a classic bestseller as well as a major motion picture?
Because it is a good story! A heart string pulling, tear jerking good tale.

Little Willy's grandfather is sick, and it's up to Willy to save their farm from tax collectors. Their only hope is the prize money from the National Dogsled Race. But a lot of other people want to win the race, too, including Stone Fox, who has never lost a race in his life.
Do Willy and his dog Searchlight stand a chance against the toughest racers around? Can they win the race to save the farm -- and Grandfather -- before it's too late?

I was lucky to have met the author, John Gardiner. He seemed a very kind man and was supportive of me as a fellow writer. We had a great chat about the struggles of writing, editing and rewriting. He showed me his first original manuscript. The paper was covered in red. It seems that every single word of it had been crossed out and edited. "I am dyslexic. I couldn't write at all...", he said.
I was in awe that his story had gone on to do so well.

Then, to my utter surprise, a few weeks later I received the Dutch version of Stone Fox in the mail. "I can't read it anyway so you enjoy!" he said.
And enjoy Stone Fox I have! A book that every teacher and parent should read aloud with their children.

Lesson Plans:

The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam

The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam
I felt very lucky when I 'discovered' this unique book, several years ago. It's one of those gorgeous books, and story, that makes a fascinating read for adults, a coffeetable art book AND a children's book.
“A beautiful book. I would like to give it to everyone I love when they are traveling by choice or necessity.”—John Berger

“Bhajju Shyam is causing quite a stir among museum-goers in London. . . . This is London as you’ve never seen it before. An incredible vision.”—BBC World Service

This stunning visual travelogue by an Indian tribal artist turns a modern metropolis into an exotic bestiary. Bhajju Shyam, from the Gond tribe in central India, had never left his native village when a European visitor encountered his art and invited him to London to paint the interiors of a chic Indian restaurant.
With radical innocence and great sophistication, Bhajju records his experiences and observations showing a modern city as you’ve never seen it before, combining his vision with native lore — the London Underground becomes a giant earthworm, Big Ben merges with a massive rooster, and English people are shown as bats that come out to play at night. It is rare to encounter a truly original vision that is capable of startling us into reexamining familiar sights. By breathing the ancient spirit of wonder back into the act of travel, The London Jungle Book does just that. Bhajju’s work is well known throughout India and has been exhibited in the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, and Russia. From the walls of his tribal village home to international acclaim, Bhajju’s has been an incredible creative journey.

Check out what Delhi street children did with art based on this book: