May 25, 2017


Written by Katherine Lawrence
Coteau Books
128 pp.
Ages 9+
April 2017

Stay is a simple middle-grade novel in its length, its form and its story.  But within those few pages and free verse form is a powerful story of a family in transition and a young girl’s need to make a family from its pieces, adopting a few more bits as required.

With her dead twin brother Billy as her sounding board,

My twin is buried in a wooden box
lined with white silk
soft as dandelion fluff, the stuff I blow
to the wind, to you,
(pg. 1)

pre-teen Millie attempts to survive the “family squalls” that have sent her father first to the basement and then to his own apartment. After helping to rescue a starving dog, Millie’s desperate longing for a dog becomes an obsession that pervades her days and nights.

Is love like a tree leaf that browns and drops to the ground? If I had a dog, I would love my puppy evergreen. (pg. 30)

But the two-residences situation is a stumbling block to getting a dog–Dad’s building has a no-animals policy and Mum refuses to be responsible when Millie and her older sister Tara are away–as well as to the copacetic custody of the girls, especially after Mom goes off on a weekend with her new love interest and Dad forgets it’s his weekend with his daughters.  Though Millie is convinced she will be saddled with a “companion named Baggage” for the rest of her life, a chance encounter with the compassionate Mrs. Irene Tootoosis, who’d adopted the dog Millie and her friend had saved, and an unexpected cancer diagnosis brings the family together in a new configuration.

Three tents, two canoes, one pup
sounds like a family.
(pg. 115)

Though the plot of Stay is relatively straightforward, Katherine Lawrence’s writing is not.  An accomplished writer of several books of poetry for adults, Katherine Lawrence pens a novel in verse so profound and complex in its voice and subtle in its story that rereading Stay will be necessary to appreciate all the nuances.  She gives Millie the freedom to obsess about a dog, talk to her dead brother (and play soccer against his headstone), sneak reading of her mother’s cell phone texts, and  be a good friend, while still looking to reconstruct her family as it was or as it might be.  Stay may be a quick read but it’s one that should not be hurried.  As Millie might attest, staying with it is definitely the preferred option, though it might be a lesson that needs to be learned both by dogs and people.

(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2017, June). [Review of the book Stay, by Katherine Lawrence]. Quill & Quire, 83 (5): 35.

May 24, 2017

Thousand Words Art Auction: Eden Mills, ON

On Saturday, June 17, 2017

a mystery art auction (and silent auction)
for CanLit book lovers 

will be held at

19 Cedar Street

the new home of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival

in the village of Eden Mills, Ontario

Art preview:  7-8 p.m.
Live auction begins: 8 p.m.
Silent auction throughout the evening

Authors who have read at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival were invited to ‘think outside the book’ and create a small piece of art to be auctioned off to raise funds for the Festival’s new home, Rivermead.

The auction includes the artwork of more than 30 Canadian authors and illustrators (I've highlighted those of youngCanLit) including:

  • Gary Barwin
  • Arthur Black
  • Claire Cameron
  • George Elliott Clarke
  • James Clarke
  • Lorna Crozier
  • Emma Donoghue (The Lotterys Plus One)
  • Wallace Edwards (What is Peace?; Once Upon a Line; Unnatural Selections)
  • Terry Fallis
  • Doug Gibson
  • Steven Heighton
  • Michael Helm
  • Linda Hendry (Pup and Hound series; Erik the Viking Sheep; Priscilla and Rosy)
  • Maureen Jennings
  • Plum Johnson
  • Don Kilby (Hold On, McGinty!; The Prairie Fire; One Christmas in Lunenburg)
  • René Meshake (Blueberry Rapids; Moccasin Creek)
  • Lisa Moore (Flannery)
  • Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Where Are My Books?; I'm Bored; Sea Monkey and Bob)
  • Ruth Ohi (Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever; Kenta and the Big Wave; Shh! My Brother's Napping)
  • Heather O'Neill
  • Leon Rooke
  • Jesse Ruddock
  • Nicholas Ruddock
  • Mary Swan
  • Claire Tacon
  • Andrea Wayne von Konigslow (Toilet Tales; Bing and Chutney; Would You Love Me?)
  • Janet Wilson (One Peace; Our Earth; Our Heroes; In Flander's Fields)
  • Alissa York

Bidders will not know the identity of the art’s creator until the big reveal at the end of the evening, so part of the fun will be trying to detect which author created which piece of art!  

In addition there will be
two pieces by friends of the festival, 
Barb Minett and Cheryl Ruddock, 
a 1st edition book of poetry by Margaret Atwood 
accompanied by a signed, numbered relief print,
hand cut by Ms. Atwood 
(donated by Kim Lang, Artistic Director of Eden Mills Writers' Festival)

 A silent auction of quality items for books lovers 
will also take place throughout the evening.

Tickets which are $20 per person 
(and include a complimentary drink and hors d’oeuvres) 
are available online at 
at The Bookshelf  at 41 Quebec St., Guelph.
Tickets are limited so don't delay

To find out more about the auction, including a complete list of participating authors and a preview of their art, visit

May 19, 2017

2017 Forest of Reading winners announced!

The Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading's book awards have been an important part of my school library program and my personal volunteer experiences for many years, so I am always proud to post the results of this wonderful reading program.

It's impossible to congratulate all those who made this reading program and the Festival of Trees such a success but here are some of the amazing people who play important roles in its success:

• the readers;
• the selection committees who read so many books to choose the best for the shortlists;
• the steering committees that organize and put on the fabulous Festival of Trees;
• the OLA staff, with Meredith Tutching at the helm;
• the authors and illustrators who create the wonderful youngCanLit;
• the publishers who publish youngCanLit and promote it; and
• the winners and honourees in each reading program.

Here are this year's readers' choice winners for each reading program:

Blue Spruce


The Night Gardener
by Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Simon & Schuster


Silver Birch EXPRESS

The Biggest Poutine in the World
by Andrée Poulin
Annick Press

Silver Birch FICTION

by Wesley King
Paula Wiseman Books

Silver Birch NON-FICTION 


Haunted Canada 6: More Terrifying True Stories
by Joel A. Sutherland
Scholastic Canada

Le prix Peuplier 

Aux toilettes
Texte de André Marois
Illustrations de Pierre Pratt
Éditions Druide

Le prix Tamarac 


Le Colosse des neiges de Campbellton
Texte de Denis M. Boucher
Illustrations de Paul Roux
Bouton d'or Acadie

Le prix Tamarac EXPRESS


Le facteur de l'espace
Texte et Illustrations de Guillaume Perreault
La Pastèque

Red Maple Fiction


by Caroline Pignat

Red Maple Non-Fiction


Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls 
are Used in War
by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Kids Can Press

White Pine FICTION

Fifteen Lanes
by S. J. Laidlaw
Tundra Books


Thrilling news for all authors, illustrators and publishers!

Enjoyed all the more for being selected 
by young Canadian readers!

Congratulations to everyone!

The full list of winners and honour books is posted at CanLit for LittleCanadians Awards here.

May 18, 2017

Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs

Written by Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Marie-Ève Tremblay
Kids Can Press
36 pp.
Ages 6-9
April 2017

I love a good picture book biography!  It's an amazing format for telling a person's story without getting bogged down in the minutiae of historical details and trivia.  These books are great introductions and always provide relevant details and references in the appendices for those readers who want to dig a little deeper.  Helaine Becker, who has tackled all genres for young people, is especially well-versed in non-fiction writing including science books, math books and activity books like her award-winning Secret Agent Y.O.U. and Boredom Blasters, and she is no less skilled in telling the story of William Playfair.
From Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Marie-Ève Tremblay
William Playfair, born in 1759 Scotland, liked to dream and play pranks but, after his father died and his older brother John took over his schooling, William was brought up on the scientific method and become an excellent mathematician.  At age 14, he accepted employment with the inventor Andrew Meikle where he learned to draw plans and make different machines.  But Will still sought the big dreams of riches, fame and glory and became the assistant to another inventor and engineer, James Watt.  If Will wanted to be somewhere where he could think outside the box and create and problem-solve, he found it in the workshop of James Watt.  Problem was that Will was too much in his own head to do the work his employer required of him and decided it was best to go out on his own.

Though he developed an effective silversmithing machine, Will's business acumen was negligible and this and multiple, subsequent businesses failed. So he wrote books about history, politics and economics to earn money.  When he didn't have sufficient information to complete a chart, he created a visual representation of the data so that he might extrapolate it from that available, and the first line graph, showing changes in export and imports over time, was born. He was so pleased by its efficacy he took it a step further and grouped information into chunks, thereby developing a bar graph based on countries importing and exporting goods.

Though awarded a French royal permit from King Louise XVI, the French Revolution had him scurrying home and exploring new ways to represent numbers in picture form, leading to the design of the pie chart.  Unfortunately because of his poor track record, Will's ideas were never accepted in his life time (he died in 1823) as valuable.  Thankfully, acceptance did come in time, allowing his ideas for graphs to convey numerical data in a bold and innovative way to be used throughout the world.
From Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Marie-Ève Tremblay
Helaine Becker tells William Playfair's story with the upbeat air necessary for innovation and discovery, though she doesn't leave out the weaknesses in his life's drama.  It must have been difficult to decide what to share from his biography, but Helaine Becker has chosen wisely to share with readers that information which supports the basis for William Playfair's inventiveness and its value without dragging in tedious details of his life.  There's a playful tone to her text and Marie-Ève Tremblay's lively illustrations respect that.  Readers will enjoy seeing a larger-than-life William Playfair stepping out of the roof of his home, heading out to follow his dreams. And cooking up a pie chart while wearing an apron and oven mitt.  Even King Louis XVI losing his head is depicted lightheartedly!
From Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Marie-Ève Tremblay
Though Lines, Bars and Graphs is the story of William Playfair and the development of graphs, Helaine Becker and Marie-Ève Tremblay make it into a whimsical story of thinking outside the box and persevering, even when failure seems to be the norm and dreams appear to be dashed, providing good life lessons for William Playfair and everyone.

May 17, 2017

Mary Anning's Curiosity

Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón
Groundwood Books
116 pp.
Ages 7-12
May 2017

I could wait until May 21st, the 218th anniversary of Mary Anning’s birth, but that’s on the weekend and I don’t want to wait.  This extraordinary woman who began life as a miracle girl, surviving a bolt of lightning that killed three women including the woman who held her, has waited long enough, being the woman whom American scientist and writer Stephen Jay Gould declared to be “probably the most important unsung (or inadequately sung) collecting force in the history of paleontology.” (1)

From a very young age, Mary Anning had traipsed the beaches and cliffs of her home in Lyme Regis with her father Richard and older brother Joe.  They would scour the Black Ven cliffs of limestone, shale and clay for treasures called curiosities that they could clean and sell, supplementing her father’s carpentry income. Mary loved going hunting for ammos (ammonites), thunderbolts (belemnites), “devil’s toenails” (Gryphaea) and all shells but she always hoped to find the giant crocodile (a misnomer) of local lore.  After a cliff fall in 1807 prevents her father from ever fossil hunting again, the family’s debts begin to accumulate. Mary who’d always been sneaking out to go hunting decides to leave school in 1810, at age twelve, and continue excavating and selling curiosities, as well as doing odd jobs whenever possible.

And then Joseph, after his work as an upholsterer’s apprentice, discovers the massive eye socket fossil of the giant croc.  But it’s Mary who must excavate it and the rest of the skull while keeping their fossil-seller competitor Captain Cury at bay.  With tireless devotion to her task, and the support of the wealthy and educated fossil collector Miss Elizabeth Philpot, Mary locates the long snout with jagged teeth and rest of the skull which are removed with the stone to the privacy and indoor warmth of her house for cleaning and preparation.  By putting the skull on display, Mary is able to help earn additional funds for the family while pursuing the remainder of the great animal’s fossilized body.

Though Mary Anning (1799-1847) is a part of history, the story that Monica Kulling tells is a creative retelling of her early life and first major discovery, one which helped define her as one the world’s greatest fossilists.   As was the case for those living to pay rent and food and the uncertainty of health (her mother loses many of her babies), Mary Anning’s beginnings were shaky.  But the lightning strike that she survived miraculously heralded a new beginning, apparently taking her from dull child to one with brilliant curiosity and fever for learning.  Like the curiosities she hunted on the beaches and cliffs of Dorset, Mary Anning was a marvel, she of determination and  inquisitiveness, both which served her and her family well.

As with her earlier picture book biographies, Monica Kulling has highlighted a significant figure of original thought and action whom we should know but probably don’t.  With Mary Anning’s Curiosity, Monica Kulling has demonstrated that she too can be innovative, now extending her biographic storytelling into chapter books, helping young readers delve deeper into lives of significant individuals whose stories need to be told to understand our worlds today.  And Monica Kulling is the storyteller to do so, giving life to lives lived in different times and places so that they might be truly appreciated.

(1) From  Purcell, Rosamond Wolff and Gould, Stephen Jay. Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors (1992). W. W. Norton & Company. 155 pp.

May 16, 2017

I Am Canada: A Celebration

Written by Heather Patterson
Illustrated by Jeremy Tankard, Ruth Ohi, 
Barbara Reid, Jon Klassen, 
Marie-Louise Gay, Danielle Daniel, 
Ashley Spires, Geneviève Côté, 
Cale Atkinson, Doretta Groenendyk,
Qin Leng, Eva Campbell and
Irene Luxbacher
Scholastic Canada
Ages 3+
32 pp.
May 2017

With Canada celebrating 150 years since Confederation in 1867, there will be a plethora of books published solely for the purpose of memorializing that historic milestone for our relatively new country.  Though there has and will be sufficient backlash for praising the birth of a nation amidst the traditional habitation of this land by its Indigenous Peoples, I like to think that we can simply celebrate our land as it is, warts and all, as a glorious amalgamation of peoples and cultures.  This picture book, based on the poem by Heather Patterson and illustrated by thirteen outstanding illustrators, does just that.

The poem, written by Heather Patterson in 1996 and originally put to photographic interpretation (Scholastic Canada, 2006) reads as follows (I've separated lines as they appear in this edition; any errors are solely mine):
I am Canada.
I run, I swim,
I skate, I dance.
I skim over snow
on my toboggan.
I have space.
I read, I learn,
I draw, I dream.
I stay out late and see the
northern lights.
I have time.
I watch, I touch, I listen.
I make up my mind.
I decide to build a castle.
I am free.
I am Canada.
I am cool in summer
and cozy in winter.
I am springing in the spring
and floppy in the fall.
I eat pizza and pierogis
and peppers.
I eat meatballs and muffins
and mangos.
I am quiet,
I am curious,
I am friendly,
I am funny.
I explain, I explore, I enjoy,
I share, I sing, I celebrate.
I am Canada.

Each artist prepared a double-spread illustration to correspond with 1-4 lines of the poem and it's a delightful interpretation and showcase of Canada and its artistry by way of its creators, its landscape and its people.
Portion of illustration by Jeremy Tankard
in I Am Canada: A Celebration
by Heather Patterson
Jeremy Tankard, author-illustrator of Grumpy Bird and Hungry Bird, begins with a drawing of children hiking outdoors heading towards a blazing maple tree.  Ruth Ohi, author of recently reviewed Fox and Squirrel The Best Christmas Ever, brings a lightness of touch in style and content with everyone–families, pets, wildlife–enjoying the outdoors.  Plasticene artist Barbara Reid (Sing a Song of Bedtime) lends her craftsmanship to a winter scene of tobogganing, reminiscent of her award-winning Perfect Snow. Transplanted Canadian Jon Klassen (This is My Hat) focuses on his own outdoor scene of a lone house among bare winter trees amidst the wide open spaces of pristine snow, touched by a single child.  

Creator of Stella and Sam and Princess Pistachio, Marie-Louise Gay plays on the imaginative play that comes from books and learning with daydreaming children envisioning clouds of animals and skies of seas.  Danielle Daniel who burst onto the youngCanLit scene with her award-winning Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox honours our northern regions with a display of brilliant northern lights enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike.  Ashley Spires, author of Binky the Space Cat and The Thing Lou Couldn't Do, moves us to the warmth of a summer on B.C.'s shores for rest and recreation on the sand and in the water.

Simplest of all illustrations is award-winning artist Geneviève Côté's depiction of freedom, a child riding a blue loon embellished with a northern, a forested and an aquatic environments.  Her art, seen in her Mr. King and Piggy and Bunny series, has everything about Canada in the subtlest of depictions.
Illustration by Cale Atkinson 
in I Am Canada: A Celebration 
by Heather Patterson
But there's still more.  Cale Atkinson, illustrator of Vikki VanSickle's If I Had a Gryphon, lends his artwork to an exposé of Canada's four seasons and Doretta Groenendyk (A Harbour Seal in Halifax) provides a multicultural smorgasbord for a diversity of peoples and other animals.  (Have fun picking out all the foods displayed. I counted at least 17!) Perfect for the quiet stylings of prolific illustrator Qin Leng (A Family is a Family is a Family) is a spread about a walk in the woods of Mount Royal in the fall.  Eva Campbell, who illustrated Eric Walters' The Matatu, celebrates exploration and fireworks in her illustration.
Illustration by Qin Leng 
in I Am Canada: A Celebration 
by Heather Patterson
The culminating illustration is from Irene Luxbacher (Mr. Frank) and is perfection as the finale, with a blending of landscapes, indoor and out, and the anticipation of travel across this country.
Portion of illustration by Irene Luxbacher 
in I Am Canada: A Celebration 
by Heather Patterson
While Heather Patterson's words set the tone, it's the artwork of these Canadian illustrators that gives them substance and context.  I Am Canada is truly a celebration of all that is right in our country: the land and its people and the lifeblood they create.


A French-language version, Le Canada, C'est Moi, uses Geneviève Côté's illustration for its cover. 

May 15, 2017

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

Written by Shari Green
Pajama Press
240 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2017

Why do we think
we can know anything about a person
by how they look
what they can do
what life is like for them now?
Because it turns out
we really can’t.
The only way to know that stuff
is if someone
tells you the story.
(pg. 152)
Truer words were never spoken.  And these from an 11-year-old Macy McMillan, a child who lost her hearing at age 4 and rarely enunciates words verbally but feels deeply, speaking volumes through signing and in her narration in Shari Green’s latest middle grade novel in verse.

Reluctantly, Macy is preparing for a new chapter in her life, leaving her garden and reading window seat at the pretty house she shares with Mom on Pemberton Street to the home of Mom’s fiancé Alan and six-year-old twin daughters Bethany and Kaitlin. Macy's elderly neighbour Ms. Iris Gillian is also moving, her to a seniors’ facility called Rosewood Manor, and Macy’s mom volunteers Macy for the task of packing Iris’ books and other bits and bobs.  Though Macy is initially uninterested in helping, she needs someone with whom she can communicate, even if only by notes, since there are few persons available who can sign, after a falling out with her best friend Olivia and her mother far too busy with her wedding.  With a school project based on students’ family trees, Macy is feeling even more untethered, never having known her father and uninterested in her future family. 
and I’m feeling more and more
like a dried-up
(pg. 26)
But Iris, named for the Goddess of the Rainbow, becomes the grounding that Macy needs to help her find her story. Though Iris, lover of books and baking cookies, is struggling with her memory and health, she is able to share with Macy, often through writing and with some signing, the story of her life, rife with adventures and tragedies, new chapters aplenty, some with endings more sad than happy, but always the right ending.

As Macy struggles with the upcoming wedding, even trying to stop it, and with completing her school project, she is beginning to see her world in terms of the connections she has and is making, all learned courtesy of the Rainbow Goddess next door.

Ever since Steven–the man in the bookshop–
I make a point of connecting with people
who come into my life
because even if only for a moment
their story connects with mine.
That should mean something…
even if there’s not chapter in a café next door. (pg.  67)
Shari Green, author of Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles (Pajama Press, 2016), has found her story as a writer of extraordinary middle grade novels in verse.  Though I suspect she can write just about anything–middle grade, young adult, speculative fiction, non-free verse–her talent is definitely in writing insightfully poignant tales in the impassioned and crisp free verse style.  As in her earlier book, Shari Green uses few words, but the right ones, to grow a story of such sensitivity for and awareness of her characters and readers that all will leave the story fulfilled.  Her characters’ stories connect with us in ways we cannot put into words.  I was astounded that a little girl could gain so much wisdom, courtesy of Iris and Shari Green of course, about life’s stories that she has a middle-aged woman such as myself in tears and heeding her advice. 
Hearts are waiting, worrying, hurting
–in need of a message
you can send.
(pg. 226)
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a message from the writing goddesses that everyone’s life is just a story or series of stories that need to be told to be fully appreciated but no worries here because one of their scribes, Shari Green, has taken on that task capably and, like Iris, with wholehearted extravagance.