My husband and I once travelled the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada. Notorious for UFO sightings and a top secret military facility, it's not a typical tourist destination, but occasionally, we like to add something quirky into our holiday plans.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist Travels with My Family, a chapter book about one family’s offbeat vacation adventures. Written and illustrated by the husband and wife team of Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel, the stories are told from the point of view of Charlie, a young boy who just wants a normal family vacation. To him, this means “beaches and warm water, nice hotels with swimming pools…giant waterslides and amusement parks.”
However, Charlie’s parents prefer the road less-travelled. “No tourist traps. No line-ups. No wonder! Nobody wants to go there!” our narrator complains.
There's no Grand Canyon for Charlie, as his dad instead heads to the lesser-known Canyon de Chelly. They skip Disney World in Florida for the Okefenokee Swamp. And, they bypass Carlsbad Caverns, with its welcome centre and souvenir shop, for Slaughter Canyon Cave, which doesn’t even have a bathroom.
This lively collection of stories is inspired by Gay and Homel’s own travels through North America with their sons. The bite-sized tales blend adventure (and misadventure) with humour. One chapter tells of a sneaker wave that almost sweeps Max out to sea in California. There's also a close call with an alligator in Florida, a skirmish with sheep on Salt Spring Island, and an accidental encounter with what turns out to be a revolution in Mexico.
The stories are perfect to read as a family, or for young readers to tackle on their own. Kate enjoyed the hijinks of Travels with My Family so much, she went on to read the sequels, On the Road Again!, in which the family heads to France, and Summer in the City, about a staycation in their hometown of Montreal. There's also a fourth book, The Traveling Circus, set in Croatia.
Travels with My Family will entertain children and strike a familiar chord with parents. Things don’t always go perfectly on family vacations, but the memories will last for years to come.
Books in series: 4
Travels with My Family
On the Road Again!
Summer in the City
The Traveling Circus
The interesting thing about tooth fairies is their different approaches to their work. Some fairies leave a coin, while others leave a $20 bill. Some write a note in fancy fairy script, and others magically change the colour of your bedside glass of water by dipping their dress into it.
(I had no idea that this latter fairy existed until she visited one of my daughter's friends. Kate was disappointed this fairy never visited us, but luckily, she did come the next time Kate lost a tooth.)
April and Esme Tooth Fairies, by Bob Graham, is a gorgeous picture book that updates the story of the tooth fairy for our modern world. Seven-year-old April gets a call on her cell phone for her very first tooth fairy mission. She comes from a long line of tooth fairies and is excited to finally be allowed to fly off and collect a tooth with her little sister Esme.
The illustrations are delightfully detailed. Look closely at one, and you’ll see a small house with a thatched roof, hidden off a busy highway. The sign on the house says, “J & F Underhill, Tooth Fairies, est. 1691.” It’s easy to imagine fairies such as these living among us, their tiny home tucked beside a tree stump as trucks go rambling past.
Both of my children loved the story of April convincing her parents that she’s ready to take on the responsibility of tooth-collecting. It’s a mission that almost goes awry, but April is able to text her mother for advice.
We read April and Esme Tooth Fairies every time we expected a tooth fairy visit, and sometimes when we weren’t. Now that the children are older, we haven’t talked about the tooth fairy in ages. Dylan lost a tooth last week (he's eleven), and he nonchalantly handed it to me to dispose of.
If the tooth fairy visits your house, this book will bring sweet smiles to your little ones. I have fond memories of our tooth fairy days. Enjoy the magic!
When my son, Dylan, was in second grade, every book he was reading seemed to involve impertinent, mischievous boys, and potty humour. A LOT of potty humour. I was glad that he loved to read, and his giggles told me that he was greatly entertained, but I began to think that broadening his horizons wouldn't be a bad thing.
When I popped by my local children’s bookstore in search of inspiration, I explained what I was looking for. The sales clerk knew instantly.
“Something with characters who are smart, and not smart-alecky?” she asked. Yes, that was it. She pulled Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius, by Frank Asch, from the shelf. It’s the first of a three-part series.
It was perfect.
The Cardboard Genius is a young boy named Alex, who considers himself the smartest human being on Earth. He builds amazing gadgets from ordinary household items. His preferred material of choice, cardboard, is “the least appreciated, most underrated building material ever invented."
Alex decides to construct a spaceship so he can blast off to another planet. He has to get away from his annoying brother, Jonathan. What child can’t relate to this scenario?
It’s no easy feat to journey through space, however, and Alex needs all kinds of equipment to make the trip a success. The book includes sketches of his designs. He builds an oxygen generator with a shoebox, forks and rubber bands. His innovative spacesuit design uses a snowsuit, helmet, and tubing from a vacuum. He also needs a micro blaster to protect himself from danger, and a duplicator, because “I’d still want a dozen or so me’s around”.
Readers will delight in the fact that these creations are actually put to use, thanks to Alex's incredible imagination. What I loved most is how Alex’s ingenuity inspired the same from Dylan. After reading Star Jumper, Dylan gathered aluminum foil, straws, wire, and an old toy clock, and built his own radar dish. He deviated a little bit from Alex’s blueprint, but that’s what creativity is about, isn’t it?
Star Jumper was written in 2006 but it is very relevant today. Educators are emphasizing the importance of encouraging kids to freely design, innovate and create. Dylan's school recently hosted a Cardboard Challenge. Makerspaces are growing in popularity, and there's never been a greater focus on the need for the next generation to develop STEM skills.
The Journal of a Cardboard Genius series is an excellent way to inspire kids to look at ordinary items from a new perspective, and to develop creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Plus, it's simply fun to read.
Books in series: 3
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #1: Star Jumper
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #2: Gravity Buster
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #3: Time Twister
Like many little girls, my daughter fell into the princess craze around the time she was four-years-old. I tried to minimize how many princess-themed books and toys came into our house, but the phenomenon is difficult to avoid. Despite my best attempts, our home was soon taken over by all things pink and sparkly, from gowns and tiaras to toy castles and dolls in horse-drawn carriages.
Don’t Kiss the Frog: Princess Stories with Attitude, edited by Fiona Waters, is a sassy antidote to the stereotypical beautiful princess waiting for her prince. At first glance, it does look like a run-of the-mill collection of traditional tales, but each of the six stories has a twist.
Waters explains in the book’s introduction that the writers “have their tongues very firmly in their cheeks, and nothing is more delightful for young readers than a whiff of anarchy. Classic fairy tales…are central to a child’s literary heritage, but these princess tales take a different approach. A good helping of disrespect has produced a collection of terrific, lively stories.”
There is The Clumsy Princess, who struggles to be graceful, but learns her true strength is in jousting with knights. In The Princess Exchange, Princess Jane realizes it’s more fun to watch cartoons and eat ice cream than to be a conventional royal that smiles and waves. There is an athletic princess, and a princess who wants to choose her own Prince Charming. My personal favourite is Double Dragons: a king promises his daughter to whomever can slay a fire-breathing dragon, but Princess Greta takes care of the fierce dragon on her own.
There were many nights when Don’t Kiss the Frog was Kate's choice for bedtime reading, and she still has a fondness for it. “I remember this!" she exclaimed, picking it up off of my desk the other day. "It used to be my favourite book."
With its spunky tone, colourful illustrations, and playful fonts, this is a fun collection of stories to read aloud. It has enough princesses to entice any little girl obsessed with Aurora or Belle, and enough humour for parents that may be overwhelmed by all things princess. Pick up this book for a bit of a reprieve!
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.