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If you’re looking for a book that preteens will laugh over, fight over and also talk over, try On the Run in Ancient China by Linda Bailey, with illustrations by Bill Slavin (Kids Can Press, 56 pages, $17, hardcover).
Part of this talented pair’s Time Travel Guides series, this latest adventure of the Binkerton kids takes them back to the Han dynasty (206 BC to AD 220) in China, when silk and paper were invented but their production was a secret shared only with the citizens. When Josh and Emma watch workers preparing paper and handling silk worms, they are branded as foreign spies and are forced to flee the emperor’s troops.
With copious amounts of amusing illustrations that resemble a graphic novel, aided by Bailey’s humorous text, this is an easy-to-read story that not only entertains but also gives lots of information about this early civilization. Highly recommended for ages eight to 12.
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Swan Dive by local author Brenda Hasiuk (Groundwood, 180 pages, $18, hardcover), written for ages 14 and up, is a complex story of teenage angst and conflicting loyalties. Written in a series of journal entries and emails, it details how Lazar, who has escaped Sarajevo to come to Canada with his family, finds a close friend in Elle — only to lose her to Ivan, another misfit in their high school crowd. When Lazar fakes leukemia to get Elle’s attention, he risks losing everything he has strived to find in Canada, much as he left everything he loved in Sarajevo when his family was forced to flee.
Hasiuk’s writing is crisp and contemporary, but also at times confusing. When Lazar fakes his illness, it seems incredible that no one realizes what he is doing. Does no one check with a doctor? Even if his parents are away, wouldn’t the school talk to a care-giver?
Working on the board of Rossbrook House in Winnipeg, as well as at Project Reunite, a group that works to settle and support Syrian refugees, gives Hasiuk credence for her depictions of at-risk youth.
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Local author Harriet Zaidman chose to tell her story of the 1919 General Strike through the eyes of children in City on Strike (Red Deer Press, 200 pages, $15, paperback).
There is 13-year-old Jack, a newsboy who delivers papers during the strike; his sisters Nellie and Fanny, one a schoolgirl, the other a member of the famous “Hello Girls,” who answered telephones; and William, Jack’s age, whose father A.J. Andrews has been mayor of the city.
Her depictions of Jack and his sisters seem very real. Living in Winnipeg’s North End in a traditional Jewish household, they strive to understand the conflict between the haves and the have-nots in the city while, in Fanny’s case, keeping a job that will support her family. When his father loses his job, Jack’s concern for his father’s health and state of mind are heartfelt and realistic.
Her characterization of William, who lives on Wellington Crescent and goes to a private boys’ school, is less credible. Would he really have let them into his father’s private office during the events unfolding on Main Street? Would he have been allowed to be on his own in that part of the city on such a dangerous day? He seems more like an unsuccessful attempt to balance the characters between those who supported the strike and those against it.
Zaidman has used newspaper records from the period, as well as numerous written accounts, to make her novel as accurate as possible. With its unique perspective, it will be welcomed by preteens and teachers seeking to understand the shocking events of that 100-year-old confrontation.
Helen Norrie is a former teacher librarian and a Winnipeg writer.