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Awesome Books for busy minds

As the lazy and very hazy days of summer are now upon us, the kids might just need a little mid-July reading to keep those brains working hard (or at all). The Awesome Book Series is full of interesting facts on four different subjects so far. Great to read on their own or share with friends. Soon they will be making excellent dinner conversation and will head back to school in September with lots of information to share with their new teachers.

Interview with Breathing Series author Rebecca Donovan

Fans of the highly acclaimed Breathing Series by Rebecca Donovan will be thrilled that today, the third and final installment, Out of Breath has been released.

We were fortunate enough to interview Rebecca via email. Thanks Rebecca!


Monarch: The final book of The Breathing Series, Out of Breath, has just been released. How do you feel now that the series has come to a close?

Donovan: I experienced an array of emotions upon sending in the last round of editing to my publisher. I was thrilled to be completed with the series, but I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the characters, who have been a part of my life for nearly four years. I ached at the thought that I had to let them go, but I am incredibly anxious to find out how readers react to the final chapters of Emma’s story. This entire experience has been an emotional one—from creation to saying goodbye, but it has made me a more confident storyteller.

Monarch: What first inspired you to write The Breathing Series?

Donovan: A bout of insomnia. I couldn’t sleep, and I thought if I forced a dream then I would somehow drift to sleep. It started with a boy and a girl surrounded by tension because she had a secret that he was fighting to know. Some paint and an unforgettable kiss later, I had the beginning of their story. Five hours later, I was still awake and jotting down an outline because I knew this was a story worth being told.

Monarch: Did you find writing a series more challenging than writing a stand-alone novel?

Donovan: I knew this was a series when I started writing. I knew Emma’s life was too complicated to be explained in one book, and in order to take her to a place of completion, I needed to tell it in three parts. I wrote the original drafts of the books back to back. However, Barely Breathing and Out of Breath weren’t at that point as developed as Reason to Breathe, and their plotlines needed to be worked out. So I rewrote them in their entirety after Reason to Breathe was published. I have yet to write a stand-alone. That is my next project. I have a feeling that it may be more difficult, knowing I will have to let these new characters go after one book. I will soon find out!

Monarch: What character in the series do you most relate to and why?

Donovan: I have to admit that I have some Emma-isms. Some of her likes and dislikes are my own – such as winking. Winking truly creeps me out. And I love music. I will often shut the world out to conceptualize a storyline, or clear my head, by blasting music in my ears. (I tend to have an affection for pink as well.)

Monarch: What books most inspired you as a young adult reader? Does what you read currently have any influence on your writing?

Donovan: I was a fan of horror fiction and crime novels when I was a teenager. Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Patricia Cromwell and Jeffery Deaver lined my bookshelves. I believe that’s where my pacing comes from, the need to keep readers turning the pages, driving the story with tension and plot twists. I also attribute my endings to the authors who have put me through so much emotional torment in my life. All I want is to leave an impression that the readers can’t shake long after they’ve read the last line.

Monarch: The Breathing Series has accumulated a huge following. Were you surprised by the amount of attention that the series attracted?

Donovan: I could only hope and believe this story would be as successful as it has been. Once I started receiving consistently emotional reactions from fans, I knew I had written a story that would resonate with a wide range of readers, regardless of age. I am grateful for each and every person who chose to take a chance on this series. And I’d like to believe there is more to come.

Monarch: Without any spoilers, what do you think will most surprise your readers about Out of Breath?

Donovan: Abuse can have an impact on the human spirit long after the last bruises fade and the slicing words are said. This is Emma’s struggle. And the reader gets to experience just what it is to be pushed to the edge, forced to find the strength to survive.

Monarch: Now that the series is complete, what can we look forward to next?

Donovan: I have several projects in the works. Currently, I’m writing a stand-alone written from a guy’s point of view. (That in itself should be an interesting writing experience.) This will be followed by yet another stand-alone, and then next year I plan to write a trilogy about Jonathan (from Barely Breathing). I’m excited by each of these projects. They are so very different, but they all reveal what a person is made of when they face the darkest of life’s obstacles.

Complete FrenchSmart reviewed on leading homeschooling blog

Our new series of workbooks, Complete FrenchSmart was reviewed last week on The Canadian Homeschooler:

FrenchSmart {+ Giveaway}

It’s here! Fresh of the Press – The Complete FrenchSmart series from Popular Book Company Ltd.

Covering French as a second language for students in grades 4 through 7, this series combines both the basics of learning French through lessons on important basics such verbs and vocabulary and following it up with a whole section of stories and questions to build comprehension.

To give you an idea of what’s inside – the Grade 4 book they sent me has the following subjects in the table of contents:

  • School Supplies
  • At School
  • Family
  • Days of the Week
  • Months of the Year
  • Numbers
  • Time of Day
  • Pronouns
  • At My House
  • Pets
  • Colours
  • Seasons
  • Weather
  • Clothing
  • Food

The back half of the book includes 5 full stories with exercises related to the adventure. This particular book involves stories about animals like dolphins, koalas, and elephants. Plus there is a whole section for cutting out and stapling together a “conjugation book” – a mini book that helps kids learn, remember, and review the conjugations of French verbs.

I love that this series is completely in colour – with fun cartoon characters. Each lesson has a different activity to keep kids interested, like matching, copywriting, circling, etc. Plus, the English instructions are clearly written under the French directions, making it easy for everyone to know what they are supposed to be doing.

Plus – there is an answer guide tucked in the back of the book – so you can know you are doing it right ! These can be cut out and set aside, if your child has a temptation to peek at the answers instead of figuring it out on their own.

Interview with Compliance author Maureen McGowan

Released today is the much anticipated, second installment of The Dust Chronicles, Compliance (for more information, check out our Compliance dedicated page here). We were very excited to conduct an interview with author Maureen McGowan via email. 

Monarch: What inspired you to write The Dust Chronicles? Did you always plan for it to be a multi-book series?

McGowan: The series was inspired by two different ideas. One was sparked when global travel was interrupted by the 2010 eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. I imagined what might happen if the world suffered a similar event, but on a much larger and more catastrophic scale.

Then I started researching asteroids and really got scared. It’s frighteningly possible that the earth could get hit. If something like that happened, I wondered, would governments react quickly enough? If they couldn’t save everyone, how could they choose whom to save? And what if corporations stepped in instead? The world developed from those questions.

At the time, I was working on an urban fantasy story idea about a female double agent with a special power she had to hide from everyone in her life—especially the two men who both love her. That character idea was originally for an adult series, but when I started to develop a character with deadly emotions, I realized how well that fit with a teen character—a time when all emotions are heightened.

By melding those ideas, The Dust Chronicles was born.

Monarch: Do you find having a series of books allows you more freedom in your writing? What’s your biggest challenge in writing a series rather than a stand-alone novel?

McGowan: I’m not sure that I’d say it allows more freedom. In fact, a few times while writing Compliance and Glory (the tentative title for The Dust Chronicles Book 3), I wished that I could go back and change some details in Deviants. J

There are a lot of challenges in writing a series, but I’d say the biggest challenge was to make sure that each book stood alone. That was important to me. My goal was to offer readers a satisfying story with each book—no matter where in the series they started—but at the same time intrigue readers enough that they’d want to pick up the earlier books if they didn’t start at the beginning.

Monarch: What books most inspired you as a young adult reader? Does what you read currently have any influence on your writing?

McGowan: When I was a teen, most of the books written for young adults were too juvenile for my taste, so I found myself reading a lot of adult books. I wish that there’d been so many great YA novels back then!

Exceptions to that would be S.E. Hinton’s books, especially The Outsiders, and Go Ask Alice by Anonymous. I led a fairly sheltered life, and those books opened me up to different and dangerous worlds I didn’t know existed for some kids my age.

Monarch: What most attracts you to writing in the young adult post-apocalyptic genre?

McGowan: I like how open it is; how anything is possible. I like making up my own world and my own rules. I like imagining “what if” scenarios and working through all the possible implications of the what ifs I imagine.

I also love fast-paced, high-tension stories and those fit in well in a post-apocalyptic setting.

Monarch: Do you think being a Canadian author influences your writing in any way?

McGowan: I think being Canadian influences my world view, and therefore my voice and the types of stories I want to tell. I also think the proud CanLit tradition pushes me to want to be better. Even if I’m writing what I hope will be popular or “commercial” stories, I strive to keep them high quality.

Speaking of Canada, I never mention it directly in the books, but Haven was constructed over downtown Toronto, and the “big lake” they refer to, at times, is what’s left of Lake Ontario after the asteroid strikes and earth quakes. In my mind, the area they refer to as “The Hub” inside Haven, is Yonge and Dundas, and I think the Settlement is somewhere near Georgian Bay. At least it has that classic Canadian landscape of rock and pine trees.

I wrote a short story prequel for the The Dust Chronicles, called Out of the Ashes, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson and available to teachers and librarians, through the publisher’s iLit program. In that story, it’s clearer that the setting is Toronto. Out of the Ashes takes place as Haven is being built, and the three year-old boy in the story is Glory’s grandfather. (Or possibly great-grandfather.) I hope to be able to make that story more widely available in the next year.

Monarch: Did you find the experience of writing Compliance was similar to that of writing Deviants?

Compliance was more challenging for several reasons. It’s a more complicated story with lots of overlapping sub-plots and multiple layers of deception. It was a challenge to sort out the order of events and to figure out what Glory knows when.

I also felt pressure to please readers who loved the first book, and who may have fixed ideas about what Glory should do—especially with regard to the romance.

But in the end, I knew I had to be true to the character and the story, and I realized that no matter what I wrote, some events would shock or displease readers, whether they are on Team Cal or Team Burn. But I hope I’ve made as many fans of Deviants as possible happy!

One early reader said the love triangle left her gasping at the end of Compliance. I know love triangles have become cliché in YA fiction, but I’ve tried to develop and resolve Glory’s romantic dilemma a bit differently from the norm.

Monarch: What character in Compliance do you most relate to and why?

McGowan: I have to say Glory. I know what it’s like to feel guilty for hurting someone you love. Although I’ve never hurt anyone in quite the way Glory has, I certainly remember raging at my mother when I was in my early teens and saying cruel things I’d give anything to take back.

I know what it’s like to be torn between two sides of a moral issue, where nothing is black or white, but complex shades of grey.

And I also know what it feels like to want to be brave and to want do the right thing, even when I’m terrified and when choosing “the right thing” isn’t obvious or easy.

Monarch: Without any spoilers, what do you think will most surprise your readers about Compliance?

McGowan: Hmmm… Great question and one that’s hard to answer without spoilers, because a lot of surprising things happen in Compliance.

I do think readers will be surprised by Cal, who plays a bigger part in Compliance than he did in Deviants, and, I hope, is more sympathetic, more assertive, and, well, more swoon-worthy in the second book.

Compliance has multiple layers of deception underlying it—Glory deceiving and being deceived by others—and while some deceptions will be quickly evident to many readers, some won’t be.

In Compliance, Glory is a double agent—already a complex situation—but the events make her question her judgment. She struggles with right and wrong, and considers whether the ends always justify the means.

Welcome Giant Pandas!

The giants pandas are now on exhibit at the Toronto Zoo and the whole city has gone panda crazy! Here are a few titles to help feed your panda-monium! (As well as I pic I got of the male panda, Da Mao, this past weekend)

Two Shy Pandas

Panda longs to play with Pandora next door, but he’s too shy. Pandora longs to say “Hello, Panda!”, but she’s much too shy too. Will these two shy pandas ever muster up the courage to speak to each other?


What does Beckett the panda do when his tummy rumbles? He looks for crunchy, munchy bamboo! But unbeknownst to Beckett, two other hungry pandas spot him and begin to tag along. Soon more and more pandas tiptoe behind him. And lots of hungry pandas can lead to only one thing… .PANDA-MONIUM!


Cover image for Panda

A fantastic introduction to non-fiction, which gives the child a glimpse of the life of an animal parent in their natural habitat, together with the experience of the animal baby growing up in the wild. This unique format has a small board book nestling snugly inside a larger book.

Panda and Me 

Cover image for Panda and Me

Put your index finger into Panda’s head and get talking!

Let’s take Panda for a ride. There’s a lot to talk about! Join in the simple conversation, then make up one of your own.

Anton and the Battle in New York Times Book Review

Featured in this weekend’s New York Times Sunday Book Review in a slideshow on children’s books about “Misbehavior” was Anton and the Battle. Click here to check it out!

Anton and the Battle

Starring Anton from Anton Can Do Magic (an USBBY winner and ReadBoston Award finalist), this is another funny, child-centered picture book, full of imagination. Anton and his friend Luke fight an epic battle to be declared the strongest—but will they be outdone by a puppy?

New Twists on Classic Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are a welcome addition to any child’s literary repertoire, but once the classics are in place, why not add a few twists to liven up the familiar? These new titles take a few well known stories and add in some unexpected surprises. 

 Little Red Hot

Little Red Hot loves red hot chilli peppers. She eats them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When her grandmother catches a cold, Little Red makes her a hot pepper pie that will “knock those cold germs right out of her”. But before Little Red shares her pie with Grandma, she meets Señor Lobo. The pie comes in very handy when the wily wolf tries to trick her into thinking he’s her grandmother.

Red Riding Hood and the Sweet Little Wolf

Little Wolf doesn’t want to be a big bad wolf. She dreams of being good and kind. But when she is sent out to catch dinner and meets Red Riding Hood, what will she do? 

Three Billy Goats Fluff

Trip-trap! Trip-trap! How is Mr. Troll supposed to sleep when the three Billy Goats Fluff keep trip-trapping over his bridge? Twice a day, they loudly cross it to eat the lush green grass in the field by Mr. Troll’s home. (The grass makes their fleeces extra fluffy, important for Mother Goat’s knitting business.) But when Mr. Troll threatens to eat them, Mother Goat has a fluffy plan to keep everyone happy in this funny twist on a classic fairy tale!

Mother’s Day is less than two weeks away, some books to celebrate Mom!

With Mother’s Day right around the corner (where did April go?!), here are a few new titles that feature that very special lady in your life!

What Not to Give Your Mom on Mother’s Day

A little boy offers advice on what NOT to give your mom on Mother’s Day, unless she’s an animal. For example, don’t give her a rotting log unless she’s a salamander, or a bunch of flies unless she’s a spider! What would Mom like best?

That’s My Mommy

Daddies and mommies can do lots of things. They can reach way up high, find anything that’s lost, help you feel brave, and tuck you in at night. But best of all, daddies and mommies can make you feel loved. Charming, bold illustrations show mommies and daddies and their babies in familiar situations young readers will easily identify with. Parents and kids will love these warm and witty tributes to mommies and daddies everywhere!

Hero Mom

The moms in the book are superheroes. They may not leap over tall buildings, and they may not have super-human speed. But these moms construct buildings, fly planes, and make tanks roll. They do all kinds of things to help create a safer world. These superheroes are moms. Military moms. Hero moms.

Complete FrenchSmart now available!

Our most comprehensive French workbooks to date, Complete FrenchSmart is a Canadian, full-colour, 224-page workbook providing students with practice material for learning and mastering French. Available for grades 4 through 7, the systematically-designed activities cover the key areas of learning - vocabulary building, grammar, reading and usage.