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Fall preview 2011: books for young people

In the July/August issue, Q&Q looks ahead at the fall season’s biggest books.

This Dark EndeavourKenneth Oppel has become a kidlit star while mostly steering clear of the genre end of YA fiction. His early 1990s sci-fi thriller novels, Dead Water Zone and The Live Forever Machine, now seem slightly anomalous in his list of published works. With This Dark Endeavour (HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 cl., Aug.), however, Oppel appears to make a slight return to that earlier mode. The novel tells the tale of a young Victor Frankenstein who dares to try creating the Elixir of Life to help save his ailing twin brother Konrad. Revisioning the mad doctor’s backstory has been done many times before, but Oppel will almost certainly pull off his own entry into the Frankenstein canon with aplomb.

It is generally understood that not even global apocalypse will prevent Eric Walters from publishing books. How appropriate, then, that one of his new novels is End of Days (Doubleday Canada, $14.95 pa., Sept.), in which the world appears to be doomed, and renowned scientists appear to be dying by the dozen. Things are not what they appear, however “ one word: aliens. ¢ Walters will also release Cat Boy (Orca Book Publishers, $9.95 pa., Aug.), about a boy trying to save a family of junkyard cats, and Just Deserts (Puffin Canada, $12.99 pa., Aug.), co-written with ultra-marathoner Ray Zahab, about a boy who must cross the Sahara on foot.

Deborah Ellis has mastered the trick of creating fiction that aims at inspiring social awareness and fomenting justice, without being dry or overly pedantic. Her new novel, No Ordinary Day (Groundwood Books, $16.95 cl., Sept.), tells the story of a young Indian girl who escapes a life of drudgery to wander the country, only to discover she has leprosy. It seems hardly a premise to get young readers excited, but Ellis’s hundreds of thousands of fans know the book will be just as engaging as it is eye-opening. ¢ Ellis’s other novel of the season is a slight departure for her: True Blue ($19.95 cl., Sept.) is a mystery in which two teen friends are implicated in the murder of a young camper. The novel is one of the first releases from well-known kidlit editor Gail Winskill’s new company, Pajama Press.

Novelist and journalist Don Gillmor makes his first foray into YA fiction with The Time Time Stopped (Scholastic Canada, $7.99 pa., Oct.), a comic tale about a boy who hates time so much, he tries to stop it. ¢ Comics artist (and Coach House Books publicist) Evan Munday makes his YA debut with The Dead Kid Detective Agency (ECW Press, $11.95 pa., Oct.), in which a 13-year-old girl must solve grisly mysteries with the help of five dead teenagers who live in the cemetery near her home.

Montreal’s P.J. Bracegirdle wraps up his Joy of Spooking trilogy with Sinister Scenes (Simon & Schuster, $18.99 cl., Aug.), in which old grudges are settled, and secrets revealed. ¢ Tower of Treasure, the first instalment in Scott Chantler‘s Three Thieves series, was a graphic novel packed with action, intrigue, and daring escapes. In the second book, The Sign of the Black Rock (Kids Can Press, $19.95 cl., Sept.), the three fugitives wait out a massive storm in a small inn and tavern. All goes well until the queen’s soldiers pursuing them decide to take shelter there, too. ¢ Sir Seth and Sir Ollie set out on a new, waterlogged quest in Sir Seth Thistlethwaite and the Kingdom of Caves (Owlkids Books, $15.95 cl., Sept.) by Richard Thake and illustrator Vince Chui.

In the fourth volume of Nova Scotia author Philip Roy‘s Submarine Outlaw series, Alfred sets out on a slightly morbid tour of the Pacific Ocean, visiting sites associated with historical horrors. Doing so, he encounters modern environmental horrors like shrimp trawlers and giant, floating plastic islands, transforming him into an eco-warrior. Ghost of the Pacific (Ronsdale Press, $11.95 pa.) publishes in September. ¢ The massively successful 39 Clues series gets restarted with an all-new adventure in Cahills vs. Vespers: The Medusa Plot (Scholastic, $14.99 cl., Aug.) by Gordon Korman. In the new book, the kids do global battle with the Vespers. ¢ The Boy Sherlock Holmes’s fifth case, as it unfolds in Shane Peacock‘s The Dragon Turn (Tundra Books, $21.99 cl., Oct.), involves murder and magicians.

Look out: Long John Silver has a ‘tween-age grandaughter. In Adira Rotstein‘s Little Jane Silver (Dundurn Press, $12.99 pa., July), the plucky 12-year-old must prove she is worthy of her heritage when her pirate parents’ ship is sabotaged. ¢ Mike Deas, the illustrator of Orca’s Graphic Guide Adventure series, returns with an odd-sounding mash-up of a graphic novel in which two pop-eyed aliens from the planet Budap end up fighting to save a struggling fishing community in B.C. All the space/fish action can be found in Dalen and Gole: Scandal in Port Angus (Orca, $9.95 pa., Oct.). ¢ In Kit Pearson‘s The Whole Truth (HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 cl., Aug.), two sisters are sent to live with their grandmother on an island near Victoria, taking with them a secret that threatens to be exposed just as they are building their new lives.

In C.K. Kelly Martin‘s new novel, My Beating Teenage Heart (Doubleday Canada, $21 cl., Sept.), the narrative is split between two characters: a desperately unhappy teenage boy and a woman, stuck in some nether dimension between life and death, who must constantly observe the boy. Question is: who’s got it worse? ¢ In the wake of Darren Aronofsky’s film Black Swan, tales of battling ballerinas are big. Love You, Hate You (Dundurn, $ 12.99 pa., Nov.), the first novel by Vancouver’s Charis Marsh (herself a dancer), tells of the struggle of four Vancouver International Ballet Academy students as they prepare for their first performance of The Nutcracker. ¢ Paul Yee‘s Money Boy (Groundwood, $16.95 cl., Sept.) is the story of a young Chinese immigrant turfed out of his comfortable suburban life when his family finds out he is gay.

Iain Lawrence‘s The Winter Pony (Delacorte/Random House, $22.99 cl., Nov.) is reminiscent of one of Jack London’s tales, with horses instead of dogs, and the Antarctic replacing the Arctic. It’s the story of a wild white pony captured and taken on Robert Falcon Scott’s quest to reach the South Pole. ¢ Q&Q feature reviewer Sarah Ellis has penned a new volume in the decade-old Dear Canada series. That Fatal Night (Scholastic, $14.99 cl., Sept.) explores the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic. ¢ The new book in Dear Canada’s sister series (brother series?), I Am Canada, also spins a suspenseful and educational tale set amid the Titanic tragedy. Hugh Brewster‘s Deadly Voyage (Scholastic, $14.99 cl.) publishes in September. ¢ In Timber Wolf (Red Deer Press, $12.95 pa., Oct.), Greener Grass author Caroline Pignat‘s new novel about Jack Byrne, logging camp cook Jack finds himself stranded in the woods with only a wolf as company. ¢ A more contemporary boy finds himself similarly stranded in Helaine Becker‘s Trouble in the Hills (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $9.95 pa., Oct.), in which the youngster must dodge kidnappers, drug runners, and a former friend as he tries to make it back to town.

Lobster Press has partnered with Toronto’s Cookie Jar Entertainment for a series of books based on the kids’ show Johnny Test. The first four titles “ Get in Shape, Johnny!, Johnny X vs. Bling-Bling Boy, Ready, Set, Go!, and Mission Bora Bora (all $4.95 pa.) “ drop in October.

Kids love the dainty, dancing Mole Sisters. In September, author-illustrator Roslyn Schwartz brings us their male counterparts in The Vole Brothers (Owlkids, $16.95 cl.), in which the eponymous heroes seek out a feast that will satisfy their enormous appetites. ¢ Author-illustrator Marie-Louise Gay has a knack for creating picture books centred on believable and strong-willed young characters who inhabit a slightly absurd world. Caramba, the only cat in the world who can’t fly (and the star of his own picture book), must contend with an annoying little brother who nearly can in Caramba and Henry (Groundwood, $17.95 cl., Aug.).

Binky the cat has a new foe to contend with when he gets a new spaceship-mate: a cute foster kitten. In Ashley SpiresBinky Under Pressure (Kids Can, $16.95 cl., $8.95 pa., Sept.), the intrepid space cat knows the kitty isn’t what she seems “ and so he must take action! ¢ Pierre Le Poof is in Paris for a dog show, but can’t resist getting out in the city to have a high-flying, mess-making, fur-dirtying adventure. Will he look his best for the show? Find out in Pierre in the Air! (Orca, $19.95 cl., Oct.) by Elliot Moose creator Andrea Beck. ¢ A pet goat helps a young girl defeat a cousin who won’t share her chocolate bar in the allegedly autobiographical My Goat Gertrude (Nimbus Publishing, $18.95 cl., Oct.) by Starr Dobson and illustrator Dayle Dodwell.

A magic meat-grinder “ you read that right “ grants its new owners three wishes, and ends up teaching them a lesson, in Kishka for Koppel (Orca, $19.95 cl., Oct.) by Aubrey Davis and illustrator Sheldon Cohen. ¢ Little ones often get a lot of their knowledge about the world from older siblings. Some of it is very useful; some of it ¦ well.¦ Both kinds of information are passed on in Sarah Tsiang and illustrator Qin Leng‘s Dogs Don’t Eat Jam, and Other Things Big Kids Know (Annick, $19.95 cl., $8.95 pa., Sept.), in which a young girl schools her little brother on the way things are. ¢ With Dog Breath (Fitz & Whits, $18.95 cl., Nov.), Carolyn Beck and illustrator Brooke Kerrigan have created a touching, humorous portrait of a child’s best four-legged friend.

Barbara Reid‘s plasticine artwork is a lively and engaging riposte to digital, standardized picture-book illustration. In her newest book, Picture a Tree (Scholastic, $19.99 cl., Oct.), Reid employs her signature art to celebrate all things arborial. ¢ When You Were Small and Where You Came From, the almost unbearably charming picture books by Montreal’s Sara O’Leary and Vancouver illustrator Julie Morstad, are now  joined by a third, When I Was Small (Simply Read Books, $18.95 cl., Aug.), in which little Henry grows tired of hearing about his own past, and wants his mother to tell him about hers. ¢ Books that encourage young ones to close their eyes are perennial favourites, with Goodnight Moon as the standard-bearer. Calgary illustrator Carolyn Fisher and Rhode Island author Willa Perlman go one better with Good Night, World (Simon & Schuster, $19.99 cl., July), in which everything on the planet, from east to west, is bid so long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodbye. ¢ Bird Child author Nan Forler explores rural Mennonite culture through poems and recipes in Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year (Tundra, $24.99 cl., Oct.). Peter Etril Snyder illustrates. ¢ Only connect is the dictum behind best-selling author and illustrator Peter H. Reynold‘s I’m Here (Simon & Schuster, $17.99 cl., Aug.), which is all about how children sometimes struggle to be part of the world around them.

The trend of using beloved songs as the basis for picture books (see, for example, Groundwood’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot) continues with The Circle Game (Dancing Cat Books, $20 cl., Sept.). In the book, Joni Mitchell‘s lyrics about the stages of a boy’s life are illustrated by Toronto’s Brian Deines ¢ The Jelly Bean Row (Creative Book Publishing; $12.95 pa., Oct.) by author Susan Pynn and illustrator Lizz Pratt tells the true, sticky story behind St. John’s, Newfoundland’s famous row of multicoloured houses. ¢ A picked-on cat and a seagull who’s afraid of heights team up in The Adventures of Gus and Isaac (Breakwater Books, $12.95 pa., Oct.), by Debbie Hanlon and illustrated by Grant Boland. ¢ After being saved from certain death by a young prince, a mouse goes on to do exactly what the title of the book suggests in The Mouse Who Saved Egypt (Tradewind Books, $16.95 cl., July) by Vancouver’s Karim Alrawi and illustrator Bee Willey of Suffolk, England. ¢  Living near the world’s biggest bubblegum factory puts a lot of pressure on young Olivia Bezzlebee to blow a proper bubble in A Very Small Something (Biblioasis, $19.95 cl., Oct.) by P.E.I. poet David Hickey and illustrator Alexander Grigg-Burr.

Science has always borrowed from the natural world for its innovations. Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature (Kids Can, $19.95 cl., Aug.), by Vancouver’s Dora Lee and illustrator Margot Thompson, tells the history of these borrowings, and takes a look at possible future innovations drawn straight from Earth’s R&D lab.

Somali-Canadian performer K’naan, with help from illustrator Rudy Gutierrez, gives the skinny on his ubiquitous hit song/earworm When I Get Older: The Story Behind Waving Flag (Tundra, $19.99 cl., Nov.). ¢ Fatty Legs told the story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton‘s experiences in a residential school. In the sequel, A Stranger at Home (Annick, $21.95 cl., $12.95 pa., Sept.), Pokiak-Fenton must try to reintegrate into her own community after returning home. Pokiak-Fenton co-wrote the book with her daughter-in-law, Christy Jordan-Fenton. San Francisco’s
Liz Amini-Holmes illustrates. ¢ Ray Zahab recounts his transformation from disaffected teen to ultra-athelete in Running to Extremes: Ray Zahab’s Amazing Ultramarathon Journey (Puffin Canada, $12.99 cl., Aug.), co-written by Steve Pitt. ¢ Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War (Formac Lorimer Books, $24.95 cl., Oct.) by Pamela Hickman and Masako Fukawa examines a dark time in Canadian history.

Martin Scorsese’s film version of The Invention of Hugo Cabret hits theatres in November. How lucky, then, that Cabret author Brian Selznick‘s new book should appear just two months earlier. Wonderstruck (Scholastic, $29.99 cl., Sept.) tells two stories “ one through words, one through pictures “ that run parallel, though they take place 50 years apart. ¢ Beloved illustrator Eric Carle‘s new picture book, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (Philomel/Penguin, $21 cl., Oct.), which is filled with images of animals coloured wrong, might as well come pre-chewed and stained with juice, for all the enthusiastic handling it will get from little ones. ¢ Inheritance (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $27.99 cl., Nov.) is the fourth and final book in Christopher Paolini‘s mega-selling series about dragons and the kids who ride them. ¢ Providing stories to accompany the intriguing-yet-inexplicable images and characters found in Chris Van Allsburg‘s famous and notoriously story-free 1984 picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, seems almost sacrilegious. However, the fact that The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (Houghton Mifflin/Thomas Allen & Son, $29.95 cl., Oct.) has such talents aboard as Sherman Alexie, Cory Doctorow, Stephen King, and Jules Feiffer makes it both unnecessary and an absolute must-have. ¢ The Man in the Moon (Simon & Schuster, $19.99 cl., Sept.) is the first book in William Joyce‘s Guardians of Childhood series, which offers origin stories for icons like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the eponymous moon man.

The fine print: Q&Q’s fall preview covers books published between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2011. All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q‘s press time. ¢ Titles that have appeared in previous previews do not appear here.