November 29, 2015

Today is the Day

by Eric Walters
Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
Tundra Books
978-1-77049-648-4
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
October, 2015 

That's Mutanu on the cover of Today is the Day, and she is bursting with joy because today really is the day.  It's the day that has been designated as her birthday and those of other orphans since their arrival at the orphanage in Kikima.  Like many children in rural Kenya, Mutanu's birthday was never noted or written down or celebrated.  But everything in her life has changed since she came to live at the orphanage, a real institution created by the Creation of Hope project.  Now that she has been there almost a year, she will be able to partake in the glorious celebration of their births.

Eric Walters and illustrator Eugenie Fernandes take the reader through Mutanu's regular day of chores–sweeping the yard, feeding the orphanage dog Rafiki, a new mother–and acknowledging the birth days of the new puppies and the new baby calf.  New lives at the orphanage–puppies, calves, kittens, kids, and lambs–are joyfully acknowledged by the girl whose new life began when her own grandmother had grown too old and frail to care for her after the child's parents died. But today, her grandmother and the numerous relatives of the children who live at the orphanage come to help the 150 children celebrate.  There are bags with gifts for each child, and party hats, and, most importantly for Mutanu, there is cake, many cakes, and the singing of the birthday song to themselves.  Mutanu's joy is boundless.



Just like the celebration in which all revel, Today is the Day is a celebration itself.  It celebrates the children who deserve to be recognized with a birthday and a birth certificate.  It celebrates the Creation of Hope project for the good work it does.  And it celebrates the hope and joy that Eric Walters and Eugenie Fernandes bring forth in their writing and artistic talents respectively.  Today is the Day is to be celebrated in so many ways.

November 28, 2015

Upside-Down Magic

by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins
Scholastic Press
978-0-545-80045-7
208 pp.
Ages 8-12
October, 2015

Self-acceptance has always been an important theme in picture books, middle grade and YA, as it is an issue so many of us grapple with, no matter what age.  But, while Upside-Down Magic does take on this common issue, the book’s quirky take on it is wholly uncommon and delightfully light-hearted.  

Elinor Boxwood Horace, called Nory, is ready for Grade 5 but not sure whether she is quite ready for Sage Academy where her father is headmaster and her older siblings, Hawthorn (16) and Dalia (13), study magic.  She attends the compulsory Big Test, the entrance exam, in which she is tested for being a Flare (those gifted with fire magic), a Flicker (those who control invisibility), a Flyer (as you might expect) and a Fuzzy (those conversant with animals), gifts she knows she does not have, as well as for a Fluxer.  Nory knows she is a Fluxer, one who can transform herself, but her magic often goes wonky.  Sadly but not surprising, Nory’s black kitten transformation actually becomes a dragon-kitten, or dritten as she calls it, and she is denied admission to Sage.

Without her knowledge, her father makes arrangements for her to go and live with her Aunt Margo, a Flyer who works as a taxi (!), and attend the Dunwiddle Magic School, a public magic school with a new program for kids who struggle with magic.  Special education for magic?  It’s called the Upside-Down Magic class or UDM, and it is sneered at by the other students in the school.  Her classmates include Elliott, a neighbourhood Flare whose fire often turns into freezing ice; Andres, a Flyer who would just float away if not tethered or held back by a ceiling; Pepper, an Upside-Down Fuzzy known as a Fierce who terrifies animals rather than communing with them; Sebastian, a Flicker who can’t become invisible but can see invisible sound waves; Willa who can make it rain inside; Marigold who shrinks things; and Bax who Fluxes but only into a rock from which he cannot change back.  Under the tutelage of the inspiring Ms. Starr, who encourages them to understand their feelings, not control them–“Helping you be normal isn’t my job” (pg. 129)–Nory tries to be positive about learning, but the prejudice she and the others endure because of their UDM has her determined to get control of her animal selves and get tested out of the UDM class.

Though her father refuses to contact her and her siblings are convinced she just needs to work harder, Nory is determined to become the child they want her to be, regardless of the warm welcome and acceptance she feels from her aunt, her aunt’s boyfriend and her UDM classmates.  It takes a bit of effort and some unusual situations to help Nory release the notion that she is imperfect and recognize her own giftedness as it is.

Montreal-born Sarah Mlynowski, whose Whatever After and Magic in Manhattan series are wildly popular, has collaborated with Americans Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins (a.k.a. E. Lockhart) to produce another series that is sure to enchant and humour young readers.  It’s delightful escapism for middle-grade readers who want to enjoy a very visual (see Nory’s dritten as imagined on the book cover) story with a completely impossible (improbable?) plot that can still teach about enduring the day-to-day challenges of being different and of family expectations, as well as of prejudice, and learning to accept oneself.  Upside-Down Magic is like a pretty package of life lessons wrapped up in a sparkly plot and decorated with bright characters of magical personalities. 

November 26, 2015

Lesson for the Wolf

by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Illustrated by Alan Cook
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-005-1
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
May 2015

Any book that can teach self-acceptance in a succinct but non-preachy manner is a keeper.  But, coupled with an appreciation for the Arctic and its innate beauty, Lesson for the Wolf is all the more poignant.

The story begins with the wolf “who disliked all the things that wolves enjoy” like running and playing and hunting and hanging with other wolves.  He’s a bit of a loner, preferring to study other animals including the wolverine and the snowy owl.  So overwhelmed by the beauty of the Land and compelled to feel part of it, not be “just a wolf”, he gathers some fallen caribou antlers, some wolverine hair and a feather from an angry owl and sings to the Land until “his own life moved with the life of the Land.”  Imbued with power, he is transformed into a wolf with an antlered head, a feathered body and a bushy orange and black tail.

Problem is that the wolf is no longer a wolf and not even a caribou, a wolverine or a snowy owl.  He is embarrassed and starving, and runs from the other wolves.  But they are his salvation.  They help him recognize “the greatest beauty that a wolf can know” and return him to his former beautiful self.

The wolf of Lesson for the Wolf is truly a creature of the Land, so filled with love for its beauty and creatures.  But, like so many of us, he cannot see the beauty within, not realizing until it is too late what he has lost by coveting the attributes of the other animals.  Lesson for the Wolf provides an Arctic-themed story for the idiom of “The grass is always greener” and it works so well because of the partnership of Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley.  Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley speaks from one who knows the Arctic, born in a wilderness camp and being of Inuit ancestry. Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley comes at the story from the folklorist side.  Together they make Lesson for the Wolf a story resplendent in a valuable lesson about self-acceptance and in the beauty of the Arctic Land and Sky and its creatures.  Alan Cook, who studied animation at Sheridan College, uses subtle colour and line to evoke an Arctic of contrasts: delicate and bold, elusive and obvious, precarious and inviting.  An amazing accomplishment with a limited palette of whites, browns and turquoises (except for the single spread in which the wolf transforms).  Still, the wolf and the other creatures and the landscape in Lesson for the Wolf are truly characteristic of the tundra and complement Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley’s newest foray into wisdom-sharing stories.


November 24, 2015

Winter YoungCanLit: Books of our Contentment

In the past week, we here in southern Ontario enjoyed our first hit of snow, and I've been reminded that without winter, we would not be Canadians.  And without winter, the following 50+ books would be irrelevant. And because winter is such an important season in Canada–though I'm sure that there are some who say that it is too pervasive but I wouldn't be one of them–I think we should celebrate winter in all its glory and splendour and joy and tragedy.  Winter has it all!  


PICTURE BOOKS
50 Below Zero
by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 5-8
1986

Bella's Tree
by Janet Russell
Illustrated by Jirina Marton
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 6-9
2009

Ben's Snow Song: A Winter Picnic
by Hazel Hutchins
Illustrated by Lisa Smith
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 3-5
1987

Cold Night, Brittle Night
by Richard Thompson
Illustrated by Henry Fernandes
Orca Book Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 6-8
1994

Emma's Cold Day
by Margriet Ruurs
Illustrated by Barbara Spurll
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
24 pp.
Ages 3-7
2001


It's Moving Day
by Pamela Hickman
Illustrated by Geraldo Valério
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 7-9
2008

A Letter from the Snow
by Ellen Bryan Obed
Illustrated by Gordon Hammond
Maine Authors Publishing
40 pp.
Ages 6-9
2015

Lily and the Paper Man
by Rebecca Upjohn
Illustrated by Renné Benoit
Second Story Press
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
2007

Little Snowshoe
by Ellen Bryan Obed
Illustrated by William Ritchie
Breakwater Books
40 pp.
Ages 5-9
1984/2014

Making Grizzle Grow
by Rachna Gilmore
Illustrated by Leslie Elizabeth Watts
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
2009

Mary of Mile 18
by Ann Blades
Tundra Books
40 pp.
Ages 5-10
2001

Nana's Cold Days
by Adwoa Badoe
Illustrated by Bushra Junaid
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
2002

Northern Nights: The Soccer Trails
by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak
Illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 8+
1993

The Old Ways
by Susan Margaret Chapman
Illustrated by John Mantha
Fifth House
32 pp.
Ages 5+
2014

On a Snowy Night
by Jean Little
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Northwinds Press/Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 8-11
2013

Once Upon a Northern Night
by Jean E. Pendziwol
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 4-7
2013

Painted Skies
by Carolyn Mallory
Illustrated by Amei Zhao
Inhabit Media
36 pp.
Ages 5-7
2015

Prairie Born
by David Bouchard
Illustrated by Peter Shostak
Orca Book Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 8+
1997

A Prairie Boy's Winter
by William Kurelek
Tundra Books
48 pp.
Ages 9+
1984

SkySisters
by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
2000

The Snow Cat
by Dayal Kaur Khalsa
Tundra Books
24 pp.
Ages 4-8
1999

Snow Day
by Werner Zimmerman
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
2007

Snowy Sports: Ready, Set, Play!
Written by Yvette Ghione
Illustrated by Per-Henrik Gürth
Kid Can Press
24 pp.
Ages 3-6
2009

Stella, Queen of the Snow
by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
2010

Sundog Rescue
by Alison Lohans
Illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
1999

Thomas's Snowsuit
by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 5-8
1986

Twelve Kinds of Ice
by Ellen Bryan Obed
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Houghton Mifflin
64 pp.
Ages 6-10
2012


Winter Break Wipeout
by Gilles Tibo
Illustrated by Bruno St-Aubin
Translated by Petra Johannson
Scholastic Canada
30 pp.
Ages 6-8
2014

Winter Magic
by Eveline Hasler
Illustrated by Michele Lemieux
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
1989

Winter Moon Song
by Martha Brooks
Pictures by Leticia Ruifernández
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
2014

A Winter's Tale
by Ian Wallace
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
1997






FICTION
Cold Midnight in Vieux Quebec
by Eric Wilson
HarperCollins
128 pp.
Ages 9-13
1989

Dancing Through the Snow
by Jean Little
Scholastic Canada
238 pp.
Ages 9-14
2007

Frostbite Hotel
by Karen Adams
James Lorimer
160 pp.
Ages 8-11
2014

Graves of Ice: The Lost Franklin Expedition, George Chambers, The Northwest Passage, 1845
by John Wilson
Scholastic Canada
208 pp.
Ages 9-12
2014

Northern Exposures
by Eric Walters
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
304 pp.
Ages 9-13
2008



Sioux Winter
by Bill Freeman
James Lorimer
141 pp.
Ages 11-14
1999

Trapped in Ice
by Eric Walters
Puffin
224 pp.
Ages 8-13
2008

What will the Robin do then? Winter Tales
by Jean Little
Penguin Books Canada
217 pp.
Ages 12-14
1998








Young Adult
Fifth Business
by Robertson Davies
Macmillan Canada
273 pp.
Ages 15+
1970


Frost
by Nicole Luiken
Great Plains Teen Fiction
158 pp.
Ages 13-17
2007



Frozen (HIP Xtreme Novels)
by Lori Jamison
Illustrated by Charlie Hnatiuk
H.I.P. Books
75 pp.
Ages 11-17
2012

Frozen Fire
by James Houston
New York Atheneum
139 pp.
Ages 12+
1984

I am Algonquin
by Rick Revelle
Dundurn
280 pp.
Ages 12+
2013

Peak Survival (Take it to the Extreme)
by Pam Withers
Walrus Books/Whitecap Books
155 pp.
Ages 13-17
2004

The Wolf and Me (The Seven Sequels)
by Richard Scrimger
Orca Book Publishers
229 pp.
Ages 12-15
2014







NON-FICTION

Here is the Arctic Winter
by Madeleine Dunphy
Illustrated by Alan James Robinson
Web of Life Children's Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
2007

How Cold Was It?
by Jane Barclay
Illustrated by Janice Donato
Lobster Press
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
1999

The Inuit Thought of It: Amazing Arctic Innovations
by Alootook Ipellie with David MacDonald
Annick Press
32 pp.
Ages 9-11
2007

Snow Watch: Experiments, Activities and Things To Do with Snow
by Cheryl Archer
Illustrated by Pat Cupples
Kids Can Press
56 pp.
Ages 8-11
1994

Who Likes the Snow? (Exploring the Elements)
by Etta Kaner
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
2006

Winter: A Guide to Nature's Activities and Fun
by Dianne Hayley and Pat Wishart
Illustrated by Jo-El Berg
Lone Pine Publishing
170 pp.
Ages 9-13
1993

Winter’s Coming: A Story of Seasonal Change
by Jan Thornhill
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
2014

Winter Friends
by Jean Stoick
Photographs by Carl R. Sams II
Carl R. Sams II Photography (Distributed by Scholastic Canada)
14 pp.
Ages 2-5
2003

Within the Stillness: One Family’s Winter on a Northern Trapline
by Keith Olsen
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing
191 pp.
Ages 10+
2011