Forever young

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Sure you are. But let the kids have some of the fun, will ya? Books they'll love âe" and, OK, you too

SO YOU'RE LOOKING for a good book to give that special young person in your life, but your pesky politics and general high standards are making it a challenge. You don't want it to be formulaic dreck, like the 23rd book in the Best Friends at the Mall Forever series for young adults; you don't want just another product-placement picture book based on the latest toddler-geared television-character craze. And you want some good quality writing, a progressive theme, no obvious preaching. A Canadian author would be nice, too.

Here are a few ideas âe" for toddlers to teens âe" that might make life a little easier.

Preschool


Any child with siblings will be able to relate to Ruth Ohi's And You Can Come Too (Annick Press, 2005). Sara pushes sister Annie down during a quarrel, and Daddy tells Sara that this is a no-no. Sara decides to run away âe" but she lets Annie, Daddy, Mommy and the pets join her in her journey to the backyard. Kids will identify with Sara's annoyance with her younger sister but will also see the humour in running away and bringing her whole family along. The illustrations, also by Ohi, are lively, expressive watercolour cartoons. Daddy is the main parental figure. He sets limits without being authoritarian, and handles Sara's rebellion by turning her flight into a fun family activity.

Preschool & early readers


In Twilight Fairies (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002) by Nancy Hundal, illustrated by Don Kilby, Miranda doesn't want to have a birthday party at the bowling alley or the skating rink. Miranda is a nature lover, enthralled with the plants and flowers in her family's garden. She is sure that if she has a garden party it will be attended by fairies, despite the skepticism of her mother and brother. Sure enough, her soiree is filled with magic dust and playful fairies, and Miranda and her friends have a wonderful time playing games outside. (Way to buck that consumer birthday party trend, Miranda!) Beautifully illustrated, the story is sure to inspire equally fanciful flights of imagination.

I fell in love immediately with Earth to Audrey (Kids Can Press, 2005; written by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Stephanie Poulin). The oil-on-canvas illustrations are sumptuous. And the story is out of this world âe" literally. Audrey comes to stay with her father for the summer, and the boy next door, Ray, suspects sheâe(TM)s from outer space. Evidence mounts throughout the book, from her antennae-like pigtails to her mom's explanation of the Big Bang theory.


Ray discovers that he really enjoys playing with his far-out friend, and that he'll miss her when it's time for her to go home âe" wherever that is. Mom even has a groovy little minivan with flower-child-era decals. The mystic and scientific wonder of the Big Bang, and the origin of all matter from that common source, is explored in an interesting way that's not too complicated for primary school children, but might provoke some neat philosophical discussions. Although it is not emphasized, children with separated or divorced parents will be able to relate to staying for a spell with one parent, then being picked up by the other. A clever antidote to xenophobia towards to new kid, the “alien,” too.

Middle-school readers & older
Mella and the N'anga: An African Tale (Sumach Press, 2005; 120 pages) by Gail Nyoka is an engrossing myth set in long-ago Zimbabwe. Mella is the king's daughter, and she learns from the N'anga, a wise woman and healer, that the reason her father has fallen ill and the kingdom has fallen into famine is that the old ways have been forgotten. Strong women have been prevented from filling their roles as Daughters of the Hunt. The Nâe(TM)anga tells the people of the kingdom that only the terrifying Python Healer can save the king and the country. Despite opposition from her aunt and brother, Mella trains with two other girls as Daughters of the Hunt and gathers not only the strength but the wisdom and love necessary to bring the Python Healer to her father.

This is a tale of strength and courage and the willingness of the young women in the story to envision a life for themselves beyond narrow proscribed roles. It's easy to see why this book was nominated for a Governor General's award; Nyoka has created a complete and detailed world, with strong characters and incredible, supernatural adventures that âe" at least while your nose is in the book âe" feel like a faithful account of events that could really have occurred.

Pre-teen & up


Tara is a high school student who was born in Canada, with parents born in India. Tara's mom is a loving, protective, anti-racist feminist who sometimes embarrasses Tara when she lectures teachers and others about race issues. This is where A Group of One (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001; 192 pages), by Rachna Gilmore, begins. When Taraâe(TM)s paternal grandmother comes from India for an extended visit, things get more complicated. Tension over traditional Indian versus North American culture surfaces. Tara first resents her grandmother's intrusion but soon thaws enough to learn some family history, which changes her whole perception of race issues and colonialism.

Now, in case this description makes the text sound heavy or preachy, let me assure you that's not at all the case. Tara narrates with humour, passion, and emotion so real you will find yourself caught up in the story and unable to put it down. Sure, it's a great way for kids who have never explored race issues before to be introduced to them and a good validation for those who must deal with those issues every day, but it's also an engaging story of everyday teen interaction with parents, friends, and teachers.âe"Michelle Langlois

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