Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winterberries and Apple Blossoms

I recently picked up a copy of Nan Forler's new picture book, Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year, published by Tundra Books, as a Christmas present for my goddaughter and her siblings. This book is particularly special as it features the lovely paintings of Peter Etril Snyder.

The book follows a year in the life of Naomi, a Mennonite girl, with a poem and painting for every month. These reflect beautifully the Mennonites' simple lifestyle, closeness to nature and sense of community. As a bonus, twelve traditional recipes, one for each month, are featured at the end of the book. Living reasonably close to a Mennonite community, I can pop over to the local Farmer's Market to purchase their baked goods, but these recipes, including yummy treats like Strawberry-Rhubarb Custard Crisp, will be especially useful for those not so fortunately situated.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock

Kate and I are both huge fans of Shane Peacocks’ award-winning Boy Sherlock Holmes series, which started with The Eye of the Crow. Each book has been suspenseful and true to the world created by Arthur Conan Doyle. A big strength of the series has been the development of the young Sherlock Holmes, with entirely plausible explanations of how and why the character had evolved into the familiar detective we know from Doyle’s classic novels.

Perhaps it is because the first four novels had been so strong that I find The Dragon Turn somewhat of a disappointment. Of course, this means that the latest in the series is merely a good story rather than an exceptional one. The Dragon Turn is about two rival magicians and the disappearance of the woman that had been married to both of them in turn. As before, Irene Doyle and the Lestrades, father and son, play significant roles in the story. The plot is, as usual, exciting and fast-paced, but I missed the exploration of Sherlock’s character and history that was more prominent in the earlier books.

This is not Shane Peacock’s best, but still, the series is well worth reading, for both those well acquainted with the Sherlock Holmes character and those meeting him for the first time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Red Maple Mini Reviews - 2# Haunting Violet

by Alyxandra Harvey

Violet Willoughby is convinced that ghosts don't exist. Having participated in her mother's fake séances, she has learned that ghosts are just ways to scam people of their money. However, when she has terrifying hallucinations of a drowning girl, she learns that while she doesn't believe in ghosts, ghosts believe in her. She later finds out that the girl was Rowena Wentworth, who had drowned last year. With suspicious actions by everyone, Violet must find out who the murderer was before another person gets killed.

I found this book has a little bit of something for everyone: romance, action, suspense, fantasy, history, and mystery. It always kept me on my toes wondering who she was going to be betrothed to, if her mother was going to be found out as a fake, or if she would be killed by Rowena's murderer. I would recommend this book to young adults who like a well-rounded story.

Reviewed by Kate

Monday, November 7, 2011

Red Maple Mini Reviews - 1# Home Truths

by Jill MacLean

Brick MacAvoy plans to escape his abusive father and negligent mother the minute he turns sixteen. However, when he learns that his little sister, Cassie, is just as vulnerable to his father's attacks, he realizes he needs to stay and protect her. Throughout the book, he learns that he's just as bad as his father by bullying other kids. In the end, he comes to the realization that he's a bully and decides to never hurt other kids again.

I found this book very inspiring and meaningful. The author found an effective way to introduce the topic of bullying and I understood it a lot better than any teacher ever explained it to me. The fact that the characters seemed very realistic helped me appreciate the effects of bullying.

Reviewed by Kate

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Book Mine Set's Canadian Book Challenge

Recently, I joined the 5th Annual Canadian Book Challenge hosted by The Book Mine Set. My friend Heather from Books and Quilts had told me about this challenge in July, when it had started. I'm a bit late in joining, but better late than never, right? The challenge is to read and review 13 Canadian books before the next Canada Day, July 1, 2012. I figured the challenge will motivate me to post on this blog more regularly. I have no trouble reading Canadian books, as I love to keep up with my favourite Canadian authors and discover new ones, but sitting down to write a review takes more work. Despite the late start, I managed two reviews since joining. Kate did not officially join this challenge, but she too is hoping to add more reviews in the coming months.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Final Post

I managed another hour of reading last night and half-hour this morning to get halfway through Dragon Turn. Kate read for two hours last night and another this morning. She finished Haunting Violet and started The Once and Future King by T. H. White.

Here are Kate's totals:
Hours of reading: 9
Total pages read: 656
Books finished: 2 (Home Truths by Jill Maclean and Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey)
Other books started: 1 (The Once and Future King by T. H. White)

My totals:
Hours of reading: 7.5
Total pages read: 475
Books finished: 1
Other books started: 1
Mini-challenges done: 3 (Hour 1 end-of-event meme, Hour 6 Top 5, Hour 12 end-of-event meme)
Cheerleading hours: 1.5

Kate and I spent 18 hours participating (reading and cheerleading) in the read-a-thon, so as promised, we've donated $36 to UNICEF.

Now for the end-of-event meme:
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
    Definitely the hour that coincided with my normal bedtime.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
    Young adult books are always good for these events.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    I always wish I could have more time for visiting other people's blogs and still have time to read. I would love to extend the read-a-thon by a couple of hours so we could have an "intermission" or post-event period for blog visiting, to leave encouraging or congratulatory posts.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
    I'm really happy the read-a-thon didn't land on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend this year, as we're usually busy with travelling or family activities on holiday weekends.
  5. How many books did you read?
    For me: one finished and another started. For Kate: two finished and another started.
  6. What were the names of the books you read?
    For me: The Guardian by Andrew Pyper and The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock
    For Kate: Home Truths by Jill Maclean, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, and The Once and Future King by T. H. White.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?
    Can't decide -- we liked them all!
  8. Which did you enjoy least?
    Can't decide -- we liked them all!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
    I temporarily subscribed to all the blogs I was covering so I could immediately see the updated ones in Google Reader.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
    Kate and I will definitely participate again. I will try to do more cheerleading next time.
Thanks to the organizers for another extremely well-run event!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Update #2

We are at the halfway point of the challenge. Since the last update, I've read 3 more hours and Kate has read 2.5, to make a total of 6 hours for each of us. I finished The Guardians by Andrew Pyper and have just started The Dragon Turn: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His 5th Case by Shane Peacock. Kate is halfway through Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, another book from the Red Maple list.

I've also spent some time on my cheerleading duties, checking out other readers' blogs and getting some good recommendations as a result. Because of a social commitment this evening, I'll be offline and away from my books for a while, but I hope to squeeze in a bit more reading before I go off to bed tonight.

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Top 5 Mini-Challenge

Lisa's World of Books is hosting one of the Dewey's Read-a-thon mini-challenges, which are always a lot of fun. This one asks, "What are the 5 books you are looking forward to in the next few months or really into next year?"

Here are Kate's top 5:
  • The Mark of Athena, next in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordon, to be published in fall 2012.
  • The Calling, the next book in the Darkness Rising series by Kelley Armstrong, to be published in April 2012.
  • Fear, the next book in the Gone series by Michael Grant, to be published in April 2012.
  • The Ghost of Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.
  • The next book in the Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordon, to be published in spring 2012.
Here are my top 5:
  • River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
  • Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
  • Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (whenever that will be published)

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Update #1

Seven hours have gone by since the start of the read-a-thon and here is where we're at. I've read for about 3 hours and accomplished this:
  • Finished the last 20 pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to finally complete my year-long reread of the Harry Potter series!
  • Am halfway through The Guardians by Andrew Pyper, his most recent novel about a group of friends and a haunted house.
  • Listened to Linger by Maggie Stiefvater on audiobook during a half-hour walk.

Kate has done even better. She finished Home Truths by Jill Maclean in 3.5 hours of reading. She was so absorbed in this book that she pretty much read it continuously, with only one big break to go for her voice lesson. I'm hoping that she'll provide a full review later, but she says that this novel, about bullying and child abuse, is a very good story. It is on the Ontario Library Association's recently announced 2012 Red Maple list.

The final exciting bit of news is that we won a Dewey's Read-a-thon random draw prize! We always love participating in this very well-run event.

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Introductory Post

The read-a-thon has started! I'll start with Kate's and my answers for the introductory meme.

1)Where are you reading from today?
We're both comfortably settled in the living room.

2)Three random facts about me…
From Kate:
  • My favourite colour is purple.
  • I play the violin, piano and guitar.
  • I read the newspaper comics every morning.
From me:
  • I usually knit in my free time when I'm not reading.
  • I love every kind of seafood.
  • I've just finished watching all the Star Trek Next Generation season 2 episodes with Kate.
3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
I've got about a dozen books in my TBR pile and will pick a few of them for the read-a-thon.

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
I signed up for an hour of cheerleading. Hopefully, I'll be able to spend even more time catching up with all the blogs after the actual read-a-thon is over. I'm hoping to finish two books this time around. Kate has no definite goals. She said she'll just read when she feels like it.

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
I like to save up books that I really, really want to read for read-a-thon day. Even if I have other books on the go, I give myself permission to start new books today.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dewey's Read-a-Thon

Kate and I will be participating in Dewey's Read-a-thon once again on Saturday. We will attempt to read for as many hours as we can in the 24-hour period starting 8am EDT. We will donate a toonie to UNICEF for every hour that either of us reads.

Last year, our combined total was 15 hours. As we have some other activities scheduled for Saturday, I suspect we'll fall short of this number, but we'll still read for as many hours as we can!

Seeing that we're coming up to Halloween, I think I'll spend the day with some dark, scary books from the pile of mystery, thriller and horror novels on my shelves. Kate will probably read a couple of books she has on hand from the recently announced Red Maple list.

If you have nothing to do on Saturday, or if whatever you need to do is less appealing than spending the entire day reading, then please join us! You can sign up as a reader and/or as a cheerleader. Cheerleading involves visiting other readers' blogs and leaving encouraging comments. It's a great way to discover new book blogs and get book recommendations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Accident by Linwood Barclay

This is the fourth Linwood Barclay thriller I’ve read and they have all been enjoyable if somewhat formulaic. His novels typically involve a small-town middle-class guy, a family man who is well educated but not quite working at his potential. This very ordinary person suddenly gets caught up in an extraordinary chain of events and discovers disturbing secrets about his family, neighbours and friends.

In this particular novel, the main character’s wife is killed in a car accident, in unexpected circumstances that seem completely contrary to everything he knows about her character and history. Unwilling to believe the police’s account, he investigates further and finds a complex chain of events leading to her death.

Despite the predictability, I cannot seem to put Barclay’s books down. They are extremely readable, well-paced, and scary because the characters are so ordinary. That family could be yours. The dialogue and characters are completely believable even if the plot seems highly unrealistic at times.

The Accident is not a deep or challenging read. It’s just a really good way to spend a few hours if you enjoy mysteries and thrillers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks

Intrigued by the premise and the cover design, I picked up Queen of Hearts from a bookstore recently. This is the first book by award-winning Canadian author Martha Brooks that Kate and I have read. The novel is an honest and touching account of life in a sanatorium as seen through the eyes of a French-Canadian teenage girl during the World War II years.

Marie-Claire and her two younger siblings are put into a sanatorium in southern Manitoba after contracting tuberculosis from their uncle, who had succumbed to the illness. Marie Claire must deal with worry and fear for her sister and brother, despair about her own situation, and anger with her parents’ inability to cope with the tragic situation.

In the sanatorium, Marie Claire’s constant companion is Signy, a needy girl that she befriends with great difficulty. In the development of this relationship, Brooks examines the obligations, pains and awkwardness of friendship as well as the joys. In an environment where people are slowing dying, friendship necessarily encompasses a range of emotions, including not so pleasant ones like pity, revulsion and guilt. Yet, in this bleak environment, there is also happiness, love, and even hope for a future life outside this tiny enclosed world.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Eric Walters- Part 3

The Falls

When Jay Hunter, a fourteen-year-old boy, discovers some hidden family history, he's hooked on the story about his great-grandfather, Harold Jamison. As he digs deeper, he finds out that his great-grandfather was a famous river man. He also finds the same barrel that he went over Niagara Falls in. In an attempt to sell the barrel to a daredevil museum, he meets Boomer Williams, another famous river man, and discovers a challenge that he can't resist.

The Falls is an interesting and educational book, but I it found slightly slow-paced. However, this book would be perfect for young adults who enjoy realistic fiction.


Reviewed by Kate.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

I recently finished The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, another book from the Ontario Library Association's 2011 Evergreen list. John Vaillant's book about the Amur tiger takes the reader into the most remote regions of Far East Russia. It provides an in-depth and fascinating examination of the psyches of both the tiger and the people living in these isolated Russian communities in post-Perestroika times.

There are a number of interesting human and tigrine characters, but the main ones are Yuri Trush, who works for a government agency set up to protect the Amur tiger, and the man-eating tiger he is charged with destroying. Though this is a work of non-fiction, it often reads like a mystery/thriller, as predator stalks prey, with tiger and human interchanging roles.

Vaillant often veers from the main story to talk about the history of tiger hunting in Asia. He succeeds in conveying to us the significant environmental impact of this practice without being overly preachy. My only complaint is that the audiobook version was narrated by the author. The narration was tolerable but subpar compared to that of narrators professionally trained for the job. Otherwise, this book is well worth a read (or a listen).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

I devoured Jean Plaidy's historical novels as a teenager and was thrilled to receive a review copy of Elizabeth I by American novelist Margaret George from Penguin Canada. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel that covers the second half of Elizabeth I's life, starting from the attack of the Spanish Armada. Narrated in turn by Elizabeth and Lettice Knollys, lifelong enemy of the queen because of their shared love for Robert Dudley, the people and events of the era are seen through the eyes of these older, more mature and reflective women.

Though the novel is ostensibly about Elizabeth, the more poignant story for me is that of the rise and fall of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, son of Lettice and a favourite of Elizabeth. Like a Shakespearean hero with a tragic flaw, Essex manufactures his own downfall through his pride and sense of entitlement. Shakespeare himself is a major character in this novel. While much of what he says and does may be speculation on George's part, her portrayal of his character is entirely consistent with what I would expect, or perhaps hope, he had been like.

Coincidentally, when I received this book, Kate was doing a unit on historical fiction at school. She is a huge fan of Tudor history and insisted on reading it herself, though I had some doubts whether she'd be able to get through the almost-700 pages. Clearly, the characters and plot were engaging enough to keep her attention, as she did finish it, and we will both look for more of Margaret George's work.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Eric Walters- Part 2

Fly Boy

Fly Boy is one of Eric Walters' more suspenseful books. It is set mostly in England during World War II. I think the description on the back of the book is more accurate than I could ever do, so here it is:

It's 1943, and World War Two is raging across Europe and around the globe. Seventeen-year-old Robbie McWilliams can't wait to follow in his father's footsteps and enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force-he wants to become a Spitfire pilot and fight for his country. The only problem is that he's still too young to join. So with a little help from his best friend, Chip, Robbie devises a plan that will allow him to enlist early and keep it a secret from his mother, from his schoolmaster, and most important, from the authorities at the RCAF.

Using the birth documents issued to his older brother who died in infancy, Robbie joins the air force and begins his training in Brandon, Manitoba. He aces all his classes and shows the makings of a great Spitfire pilot, but is dealt a huge blow when he's assigned to train as navigator on a Lancaster. Soon he's on his way to England, where he completes his training on treacherous missions bombing German targets in enemy territory, all the while wishing he were training to be a pilot. One of his bombing missions goes awry, though, and Robbie is about to learn that you should be careful what you wish for...

This book is exactly what anyone would look for in an adventurous historical fiction book. Its suspense-filled pages keep you on your toes and it's accuracy makes it educational as well as interesting. I would recommend it to anyone.


Reviewed by Kate

Sunday, June 5, 2011

48-Hour Book Challenge: Final Update

My final totals:
Hours of reading: 15
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 3.5
Hours blogging/networking: 2
Books finished: 2
Pages read: 1175

Kate's final totals:
Hours of reading: 15
Books finished: 4
Pages read: 1404

We're at the end of the 48-hour challenge, after 15 hours of reading for each of us! (We actually stopped at 5pm, but after reading all day long, I had to catch up on chores before writing this post.) I didn't surpass my totals for last year, but Kate beat hers by 50%. I suspect that she likes this reading challenge event even more than I do, and the only reason I can keep up with her is that, for now, I can survive on less sleep.

Kate finished Hunger and will post more reviews soon. I finished all 779 pages of Tigana and I'm almost done with The Tiger on audiobook. I also took some time to visit other participants' blogs and have augmented my wishlist greatly after seeing their recommendations.

We've donated $2 to UNICEF (to go toward education) for every hour that we participated, including reading, audiobook listening and blogging/networking time, so that makes $75 in all. We had a great time participating in this event again this year and thank MotherReader for organizing it all. We're both looking forward to participating again next year and hope that we'll convince more of our family and friends to join in the fun. I'll sign off with some brief comments about Tigana, which consumed most of my reading hours this weekend.

Tigana is by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay. I've read two of Kay's other works and I enjoy his writing because of the complex plots, the well-developed characters and the detailed settings which are often based on real historical periods. Twenty years ago, a friend insisted I read Tigana after I told him that I didn't like high fantasy. I ended up liking the novel then and I enjoyed it even more this second time around. In the other Kay novels I'd read, the fantastical elements are very light, but in Tigana, sorcery does play a large part. Despite its length, I had a hard time putting this novel down, which made it perfect reading for the 48-hour challenge.

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #3

My update:
Hours of reading: 13
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 3
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 2

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 12
Books finished: 3
Books in progress: 1

I added another 4.5 hours of reading and an hour with my audiobook since the last update, and Kate has added another 5 hours of reading. We both took an extended break yesterday evening to attend a parent-child book club meeting, where we discussed and watched the movie version of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

I'm still working on Tigana and The Tiger, and I hope to finish them before the end of the challenge at 5pm EDT. Kate finished Gone early this morning and immediately started its sequel, Hunger.

I'm also very pleased I convinced my sister-in-law Jill to join the challenge, if only unofficially. Maybe next year, I'll be able to get even more members of the family to join.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #2

My update:
Hours of reading: 8.5
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 2
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 2

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 7
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 1

We're at the 24-hour mark, and I've managed to add another 4.5 hours of reading to my total. I also listened to my audiobook for 1.5 hours today, while exercising, cooking and driving.

Kate has had a very productive day so far, finishing Flyboy and writing a review for Alexandria of Africa and Beverly Hills Maasai. She is now working on Gone by Michael Grant and so absorbed in it that I can barely make contact with her.

The book I finished earlier today is Bone China by Roma Tearne. This novel follows three generations of a once-wealthy Tamil family, with matriarch Grace as the central figure. As the family suffers a decline in their fortunes and personal tragedies caused by the political upheaval surrounding them, the members leave Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) one by one and settle in England.

I didn't find the story as engaging as other immigrant stories I've read. However, this novel is worth reading if you want a sense of the cultural and political history of Sri Lanka in the second half of the 20th century. Tearne describes movingly the ordeals faced by those who escape the ethnic violence by relocating to a foreign land as well as those who choose to stay behind in the aftermath.

Eric Walters- Part I

Alexandria of Africa and Beverly Hills Maasai

Alexandria of Africa and Beverly Hills Maasai focus on Alexandria Hyatt, a spoiled and rich fifteen-year-old girl. When she is caught shoplifting, she is faced with the decision of going to a juvenile detention center or joining a diversion program in Africa. When in Africa, Alexandria befriends Ruth, the daughter of a Maasai warrior. Throughout her entire life-changing trip, she learns about the difficult conditions people in third world countries live in and becomes a different person.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy Eric Walters' writing, but find some of his books scary. This book is "lighter" than his others and doesn't have the same tension and suspense. I would also recommendd this book to people who like inspiring books, that make you see a new perspective to events or situations. Overall, this book was a good read, even though I prefer some of his other books.

Rating: ****

*When we met Eric Walters at the Silver Birch Awards, we mentioned that we had read We All Fall Down for our Mother/Daughter book club. He suggested that Alexandria of Africa would also be a good choice.

Reviewed by Kate

Friday, June 3, 2011

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #1

My update:
Hours of reading: 4
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 0.5
Books finished: 0
Books in progress: 3

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 3
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Kate and I had a full evening of reading. I'm alternating between Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay and Bone China by Roma Tearne. I'm also listening to an audiobook version of The Tiger by John Vaillant.

Kate might be doing an all-Eric Walters weekend. She zoomed through Beverly Hills Maasai tonight, the sequel to Alexandria of Africa which she'd read earlier in the week. She is now working on another Walters book, Flyboy. She promises to post reviews later this weekend.

48-Hour Challenge: The Starting Line

It's 5pm EDT and we're about to start MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge. Kate and I have a pile of books at our side and Todd graciously offered to make supper, so we're ready to go!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

48-Hour Book Challenge

It's time again for MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge! This event will take place June 3-5, and the goal is to read as much as possible over a 48-hour period. Related activities include writing reviews on one's blog and visiting other participants' blogs to read their reviews.

Last year, I read for 17 hours and finished 4 books, and Kate read for 10 hours and finished 2 books. This year, although we have a few commitments on the weekend, we're going to try our best to match those numbers.

We plan to donate a dollar for each hour we read to UNICEF Canada. Please join us for this fun event if you can. It's the perfect excuse to neglect housework for the entire weekend and curl up with a few good books instead. If the weather's good, I'll be on my patio with a glass of wine (Orangina for Kate)!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The 2011 Festival of Trees

Kate and I have shamefully neglected this blog, but that doesn't mean we haven't been reading! This year, I again offered to take her out of school to attend the Festival of Trees event in Toronto if she were to read 10 books from one or more of the Silver Birch lists. The Silver Birch reading lists are part of the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading programs. Every year, the OLA selects 10 book nominees in each of a number of categories. The Silver Birch program, which includes fiction, non-fiction and "express" (easier reading) categories, is meant for readers in Grades 3 to 6. You can check out all the lists here. Students all over Ontario participate by reading the books from a particular list and then voting for their favourites. The winners are then announced at the Festival of Trees.

Kate ended up reading all 10 from the fiction list and 5 of the non-fiction books, and so we were on our way to the festival. The trip this year was even better, as we were joined by Kate's good friend Sarah and her mother Ruth, both members of our parent-child book club. Kate and Sarah are big fans of Eric Walter, and here are pictures of them showing off his books and with the man himself. We have to thank Sarah for introducing us to Eric Walter by proposing We All Fall Down as one of our book-club selections. That book and its sequel, United We Stand, are both excellent stories based on the events of September 11, 2001.

The festival itself is a wonderfully fun event if you can tolerate the crowds. The organizers estimate that they get over 8000 visitors to the two-day event. There are workshops run by authors and illustrators, book-signing tables, a variety of children's activities and a marketplace with all the nominated books. Workshops can fill up quickly, and there are huge lines for signatures of the most popular authors. If you go, the trick is to pick a few activities most important to you and line up early! Normally, kids attend as part of school groups, but I'd discovered that individuals are welcome to attend on their own. Because we live some distance from Toronto, our local schools don't usually send kids to this event.

The award ceremonies are a key part of the festival, and for these, you must purchase tickets as seating is limited. All other activities are free. Last year, we attended the Silver Birch non-fiction awards, but this year, I managed to get tickets for the fiction awards ceremony, which is always the first to sell out. At the ceremony, the authors arrived on the stage, one at a time, to tremendous applause, cheers, hoots and whistles from their fans. Here, the authors get the rock-star treatment that they truly deserve. Who would have thought that book-loving kids would be such an enthusiastic, rowdy bunch?? Each author is then introduced by a student. Most of the students are very articulate, and I enjoyed their introductions as much as I did the authors' speeches.

This year, Kevin Sylvester won the Silver Birch fiction award, and as his name was announced, young fans cheered loudly and waved copies of his book, Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders, over their heads. Kate actually voted for The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade, but she also loves the Neil Flambe series. We met Kevin Sylvester at a literary event last year, and his talk was both interesting and funny. As there was a smaller crowd then, Kate and Sarah were fortunate enough to chat with him and get their books signed. On the day of the festival, though, he was very much in demand!

We had great fun at the festival and we plan to go back. Next year, we'll hopefully be attending the Red Maple awards ceremony, as Kate will be going on to the next level. I'm sure she'll enjoy that list as much as the Silver Birch selections she has read over the past few years.