This website is about two of our favourite things—books and cats—so it seems fitting that this week’s purr-fect pick is a book about a cat.
When my daughter was in the first grade, she brought home from school Marie-Louise Gay's beautiful picture book Caramba. We were already familiar with the Canadian author's sweet Stella and Sam series, and were thrilled to have another of her books to read.
Gay's stories draw you into wonderfully whimsical worlds. Her delicate watercolours are warm and inviting, and her characters instantly likeable. They brim with such genuine emotion and vulnerability that they feel like friends you’ve known forever, even if you’re meeting them for the first time.
That's why Caramba's story is so enticing. He's like any other young cat, except for one thing: he can’t fly. He watches other cats swoop and glide through the air, but he simply falls flat on his face.
“What? You can’t fly?” other cats say to Caramba in disbelief. “Every cat knows how to fly.”
It’s a feeling many children will experience at some point—the dismay at not being able to do what your peers can.
Caramba keeps trying, though. One day, after yet another attempt to fly, he falls out of the air. He lands in the water below with a splash, and is surprised to discover he can swim.
“Cats can’t swim!” he’s told.
“Well, I can," replies Caramba. We love that this kind, gentle, brave soul never gives up and eventually discovers his own special talent.
This is a lovely, inspiring story to read with your little ones.
A special shout-out to the TD Grade One Book Giveaway, which is how my daughter received a copy of Caramba in 2010. Each year, first-graders in schools across Canada receive a free copy of a selected children's book to take home. More than half a million books are given away annually. What a great way to encourage reading and introduce families to Canadian authors!
Books in series: 2
Caramba and Henry
For more about Marie-Louise Gay, check out our post about her chapter book Travels with My Family, which we wrote about here.
Earlier this year, when our family visited Paris for the first time, we asked the kids what was on their must-see list. The only sights they could name were the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
We wanted them involved in planning the trip, so we gave them a copy of Mission Paris: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure to get them in the spirit. It’s a travel guide just for kids, written as a secret spy mission.
In the book, young readers are selected to be special agents and tasked with a number of assignments to gather intelligence in Paris. Sixteen famous museums and landmarks are featured, including the Musée d’Orsay, Luxembourg Gardens, Sainte Chappelle and Palais Royal.
Keen agents must hunt down clues and key features of various attractions. They're given points for completing each assignment, such as locating an ancient Sphinx in the Louvre, the statue of Joan of Arc at Sacré Coeur, the miniature cannon at the Palais Royal, and La Géode (a mirrored sphere) at the Cité des Enfants.
As kids complete each mission, they learn interesting facts and history about Paris. They'll discover what the Louvre was before it became a museum or the story behind the biblical kings on the outside of Notre Dame. They'll even undertake a challenge on the Paris Métro system, and get points for speaking French or trying French foods.
Mission Paris is a perfect way to engage young travellers. There's nothing boring about museums, cathedrals and monuments here—instead, the book offers a creative way to explore the city as a family and to get children excited about their travels.
As our children were older (13 and 11 at the time), they weren't as interested in a scavenger hunt. However, the book was still a wonderful introduction to the city's iconic landmarks and it helped the kids choose the sights they were most interested in.
Mission Paris is part of a series, so your special agents can gather intelligence around the globe. Other titles focus on London, Rome, Barcelona, Washington DC, New York, Amsterdam and Florence. If you're headed to one of these cities, be sure to pack a copy for your young adventurers.
My daughter discovered Jessica Day George’s magical world of dragons while on vacation one summer. We were driving through Portland, and stopped at Powell’s Books to pick up reading material for our road trip.
Kate chose George's novel Dragon Slippers, and by the time we’d made it to the Oregon coast, she was mesmerized by the story of young Creel and her dragon friends.
This middle-grade novel is brimming with all the good stuff: a brave heroine, really cool dragons, an evil villain, and a kingdom that needs saving.
The story begins when Creel’s aunt comes up with an unusual plan to improve their family’s fortunes. What if Creel is rescued by a knight in shining armour, who will whisk their family away to live in a castle? Thus, Creel finds herself abandoned in front of a dragon’s lair, as her aunt fervently hopes that a hero will save her niece from the fierce creature’s clutches.
From the moment that the dragon awakes with a rumble and a plume of smoke, it’s impossible to put the book down. Creel ends up befriending the dragon, who has no interest in her aunt's silly plot. “I am old and tired and bored with all the foolishness that humans cause,” he moans.
Clever young Creel uses the situation to her own benefit. She convinces the dragon to give her some treasure that she can use to escape into the city and start her own life. She's sent on her way with a pair of slippers, but little does she know she's about to stumble into an evil quest for power. As she fights to save her dragon friends and restore peace to the kingdom, we find out just how much foolishness humans can cause.
The adventure is made all the more enticing by the lovable characters. You can’t help but cheer on Creel as she heads to the city to pursue her dreams of being a seamstress. There’s also the unforgettable dragons—Theodradus, Shardas, Feniul, Amacarin, Niva and Velika—all beautiful, majestic, thinking and feeling creatures with their own personalities.
When Kate finished the book, I picked it up myself and immediately saw why she was so charmed. Dragon Slippers blends fantasy, adventure, humour, and romance, all into a well-woven page-turner. There was no question of what we would read on the trip home—we stopped at the same bookshop to get the sequels, Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear.
And, we negotiated who got to read them first.
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.