December 16, 2016

Greenbeard the Pirate Pig

by Andrea Torrey Balsara
FriesenPress
978-1-460285015
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
August 2016

Andrea Torrey Balsara, the illustrator behind my favourite Happy the Pocket Mouse series by Philip Roy (Ronsdale Press), has created her own lovable character in Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, a farming guinea pig entranced by the smell of the salty sea.  Greenbeard, so call because of the copious lettuce he eats which turns his beard a bright, leafy green, smells adventure and packs his bag with lettuce and carrots, dons his boots, a hat plumed with a lettuce leaf, his gardening belt into which he inserts a carrot sword (but not a sharp one because that would be dangerous), and heads to the shore.  There an elderly mouse sells him a decrepit ship for a song–which Greenbeard happily sings, not knowing the mouse means it's cheap–and proceeds to mend and patch and shine his new ship, The Golden Lettuce, until ready to sail.
From Greenbeard the Pirate Pig 
by Andrea Torrey Balsara
But what about a crew?  A gloomy rat, which the mouse owner introduces to Greenbeard as Snug Rumkin, is somehow shanghaied into accompanying Greenbeard, though his involuntary attendance becomes enthusiastic participation when he hears of possible treasure, as well as the adventure, that Greenbeard promises.
From Greenbeard the Pirate Pig
by Andrea Torrey Balsara
Greenbeard is a delight, an innocent in search of adventure, hopeful of worldly voyages.  His intent is to explore the world and enjoy life, never to engage in the nefarious activities often associated with pirates.  Of course, he’ll have to curb the pirating enthusiasm of his first mate Snug Rumkin–probably already curtailed by Greenbeard’s singing of a song he deems inappropriate (n.b. music and lyrics are included in the book)–but that’s just part of his job as captain of The Golden Lettuce.  While I would have enjoyed sharing in one of Greenbeard’s adventures, slated to be told in the upcoming Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and the Isle of Lost, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig is a delightful introduction to Andrea Torrey Balsara’s guinea pig pirate captain.  In addition to charming young readers with her cartoon characters and  characteristic long curvy lines amongst the whiskers, fur and landscape of her drawings, Andrea Torrey Balsara offers colouring pages and puzzles available at www.torreybalsara.com and www.greenbeardthepiratepig.com to entertain and empower children to be more like the invincible Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, ready to pursue adventures at the drop of a carrot.
From Greenbeard the Pirate Pig
by Andrea Torrey Balsara

December 14, 2016

French Toast

by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-006-2
32 pp.
Ages 6+
November 2016

Although National French Toast is celebrated on November 28, I thought that reviewing this inspirational picture book on that day would trivialize its significant message.  And since my family enjoys French toast, the food, on Christmas morning, I opted to celebrate the book’s publication closer to that celebration, one similarly wrapped in inclusivity, culture, love and family.

While out for a walk with her grandmother, Nan-ma, Phoebe is called “French Toast” by kids from school.  Obviously humiliated, the little girl clarifies to the blind woman that she is called that because the colour of her skin is “Like tea, after you’ve added the milk.” (pg. 10) But Nan-ma sees that as “Warm and good” which gets Phoebe wondering since the label doesn’t usually make her feel good, just as “I don’t feel good when strangers at the mall comment on my ringlets or ask me about my accent.” (pg. 11)  This begins a discussion about the colour of Phoebe’s mother’s skin, usually identified as white, but which Phoebe recognizes more like stirred peach yogurt, filled with sweetness and goodness.  She sees her father as warm banana bread and her Nan-ma like maple syrup, and then others as cinnamon honey and toasted coconut. Meanwhile, as they walk, a girl from school engages Phoebe, surprising her by calling her by name. Finally Phoebe takes to heart the guidance she has taken and likewise given, flavouring her life, her family and herself with optimism.
From French Toast 
by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by François Thisdale
French Toast starts out as less about the food and more about labelling but Kari-Lynn Winters, with illustrator François Thisdale (most recently awarded the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award), turns the story around to be about the goodness of food and relationships that nourish us.  Kari-Lynn Winters, who can do fun and whimsical (e.g., Good Pirate, Pajama Press, 2016) as well as serious and meaningful (e.g., Gift Days, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012), impresses with her splendid foray into understanding and acceptance of skin colour, diversity and multiculturalism (Phoebe’s family is Haitian) and one that warms the heart and fills the belly with virtue and affection.
From French Toast
 by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by François Thisdale
Kari-Lynn Winter’s story could only have been paired with the artistry of François Thisdale who illustrated the memorable The Stamp Collector (Jennifer Lanthier, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012) and That Squeak (Carolyn Beck, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015). François Thisdale, whose artwork is a magical blend of drawing and painting with digital imagery, balances the reality of Phoebe and her grandmother’s relationship and emotional situations with a dream-like landscape. His colours and textures fuse so many elements that the book becomes more art than merely a child’s picture book. And then there are the images of glorious food that cultivate nourishment for the soul, inspiring Phoebe and her grandmother, and anyone who reads the book, to see family and skin colour from a fresh perspective.

French toast may not be part of your holiday buffet but French Toast should definitely be on everyone’s bookshelf and story-telling list for the holidays and every day of the year when acceptance is vital i.e., always.  It feeds the spirit and bakes up multiple servings of compassion and open-mindedness, helpings we should all scoop out enthusiastically.
From French Toast
by Kari-Lynn Winters 
illus. by François Thisdale

December 12, 2016

The Secrets We Keep

by Deb Loughead
Dundurn
978-1-459737297
184 pp.
Ages 12-15
December 2016

Not all secrets are bad; in fact, The Secrets We Keep ends on a very sweet one.  But the secrets being kept in Deb Loughead's newest young adult novel are the destructive kind, the kind that destroy relationships and souls, the kind that erode slowly the edges of what is good until it becomes a slippery slope with a pit at the bottom.

Ever since that field party at the quarry last June when challenged teen Kit Stitski disappeared and was later found dead, drowned in the water, fifteen-year-old Clementine has been tortured with guilt, convinced that she played a role in his death.
It’s like his ghost will not go away and leave me alone.  And now that I know his mother’s still hunting for answers, my secrets are spooking me even more. (pg. 15) 
Worse than her own guilt, Clem’s supposed best friend, Ellie Denton, who had also been secretly at the quarry, partying with Mac, a boy on whom she’d been crushing, is manipulating Clem with the threat of exposure.  With excessive demands on Clem to always be available to cover for her and Mac, Ellie becomes a menace that Clem can’t seem to shake.  Though Clem wishes she could speak to her family about this, she finds some relief when she convinces her tech-addicted parents and younger brother to agree to put aside their devices regularly for some quality family time, including at night when Ellie regularly texts Clem.

That might get Ellie somewhat off her back but Clem is still plagued by a guilty conscience and a crush on Grade 10 student, Jake Harcourt, with whom she’d once been part of a Circle of Friends support group for Kit in middle school.  When the two finally reconnect as friends who've both taken on blame for Kit’s death and recognized how the circumstances have changed them, Clem and Jake look for ways to be something positive in the lives of Kit’s mother and younger brother, as well as expose a lot more secrets concerning the young man’s death.

Though The Secrets We Keep is not a mystery, there is a problem to be solved and secrets to be exposed and Deb Loughead never lets the reader’s adrenalin levels subside.  The tension that Clem suffers at the hands of her friend drives the story and her to find some resolution, one with which she can live.  And though it is never obvious, Jake, the boy who defends another teen rumoured to have fought with Kit that night, is the means to that resolution, as well as a sweet respite from the strain of keeping secrets and harbouring guilt.  The Secrets We Keep has both the strong plot and character development to hook teen readers but its strong message about connecting and disconnecting, both personally and digitally, makes the story one worth reading and heeding.

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Reviewed just in time, The Secrets We Keep launches this Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at Harbourfront's Lakeside Terrace in Toronto.  Details here.

December 08, 2016

Akilak's Adventure

by Deborah Kigjugalik Webster
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-123-2
32 pp.
Ages 5-7
November 2016

“…your destination is not running away; it will be reached eventually.” (pg. 6)

This is now Akilak’s grandmother reassures the young girl when she sends her off on her own when the older woman injures herself.  Akilak must travel on foot to her uncle’s camp, hopefully reaching it before nightfall, so that she might get food which they had planned on replenishing during a hunting trip, now cancelled.

The journey across the tundra is long but making the acquaintance of Caribou who decides to accompany the young girl on her journey makes the distance more manageable.  As the two companions trek across the northern landscape, Akilak’s imagination has her wondering how much more quickly she could travel as a fish across the water, or a fleet-footed wolf across the land, or as a snow goose across the sky.  But when Caribou asks whether she would really choose to be an animal rather than a human, Akilak understands the value of being exactly who she is.
From Akilak's Adventure 
by Deborah Kigjugalik Webster 
illus. by Charlene Chua
From their shelter to their clothing and footwear, and their habits and the nuance of language, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster has accomplished what she set out to do: told a wonderful story contextualized in Inuit culture.  She may have intended this originally for her daughters but by wrapping in her own Inuit heritage the story of an imaginative young girl with a seemingly daunting task, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster has created a tale that will entertain, teach and inspire all.  Artist Charlene Chua, who has also illustrated Fishing with Grandma (Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula, 2016) and Leah’s Mustache Party (Nadia Mike, 2016) for Inhabit Media, adds an effortlessness to the realism of her illustrations.  Though depicting animals with representative flair, Charlene Chua keeps the energy of the story gentle, never miring her art in the enormity of Akilak’s mission but instead illustrating it as the adventure Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, Akilak and Caribou all recognize it to be. I wish I could adequately scan the double-spread illustrations to share the sweetness of Charlene Chua’s cartoon-like creations because they convey more completely the breadth of Akilak’s Adventure than my mere words can.

I’m sorry that I missed announcing the book launch for Akilak's Adventure which was held on November 13, 2016 at Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books in Ottawa but it's better to get the book late rather than never.  Akilak’s Adventure has timeless teachings about responsibility and the importance of imagination to make it a worthwhile read now and always.
From Akilak's Adventure 
by Deborah Kigjugalik Webster 
illus. by Charlene Chua

December 07, 2016

Saving Stevie

by Eve Richardson
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-540-0
228 pp.
Ages 14-17
November 2016

When her obnoxious older sister Tiff gives birth to Stevie, it's thirteen-year-old Minto who delivers him, so it’s not surprising that the girl feels bonded to the baby.  But when her sister disappears and her mother has an accident that sends her to hospital and rehab, the decision is made to put Stevie in foster care, and Minto refuses to let it happen.  In a planned escape, she packs up two and a half-month-old Stevie in a sling beneath her mother’s winter coat and, with a laundry bag laden with formula, diapers, food and her sketchbook, heads out across a ravine to Shacktown, a menagerie of shelters constructed from dumped garbage.

     I could, this moment, change my mind, go back inside, make it unreal.  And lose Stevie. 
     Or cut, and keep him. (pg. 15)

There Minto asks for shelter from Dawn, an Aboriginal young artist, who lives with her large dog Niijii in the make-shift neighbourhood.  Amidst the odd assortment of characters are the older Ginger and her nineteen-year-old son Matthew; the hyper Palma who speaks of her own baby, Janine, whom she’d given up to care; Palma’s “sister” Cass;  the handsome Damian to whom Minto is attracted; an older, one-armed dump diver Scrap; and a couple of jerks, Lex and Cody.  Everyone has their own way of surviving life on the edge, including prostitution, but Dawn sells her art and encourages Minto in her drawing, helping to sell some of her doodle designs as cards.

When Dawn has to leave to help her suicidal brother, leaving behind Niijii who has appointed himself Stevie’s canine guardian, Minto must ensure she can keep Stevie safe, fed, and clean, a tall order in such precarious circumstances.  When survival is the priority for all, it’s hard to know whom to trust, especially when desperation dictates much.  Too soon Minto learns she’ll have to save Stevie from far more than foster care.

Saving Stevie is a raw initiation into life in the tenuous urban neighbourhoods hidden in plain sight and those who make them their homes.  Minto may be distressed by her situation i.e., the possibility of losing Stevie and feel the need to react by running away with the baby, but she learns soon enough that there are worse places to be.  Eve Richardson pens a story of desperation and action that reveals that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the ravine.  In fact, it’s pretty darn scary, even if there are a few friends around to mitigate the apparent hopelessness. Eve Richardson is especially good at giving Minto voice, a voice that is both young and mature, vulnerable and strong, with her heart and head working together to save Stevie.  As a debut, Saving Stevie is an accomplished story, hopefully a portent of more YA from Eve Richardson whose own voice takes us into places we need to see but rarely do.

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The book launch for Saving Stevie takes places tomorrow in Toronto. Details are posted here.

December 06, 2016

Saving Stevie: Book Launch (Toronto, ON)

Debut YA author

Eve Richardson

will be launching 

her young adult novel

Saving Stevie
by Eve Richardson
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-540-0
228 pp.
Ages 14-17
November 2016

on 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

7 p.m.

at

Mabel's Fables
662 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON


Thirteen-year-old Minto's family is in crisis. Minto's older sister has had a baby and immediately abandoned the family and her son. Her father and mother are overwhelmed with the new baby and not coping. When Minton hears discussions about the possibility of turning weeks-old Stevie over to adoption services, Minto must take action and responsibility. She steals away in the night with the baby, some basic supplies and a little bit of money to hide in a shacktown. There are so many problems to deal with — Minto isn't sure she can make this work. But she has to keep trying because the alternative is not acceptable.
Description retrieved December 5, 2016 from Fitzhenry & Whiteside website at http://www.fitzhenry.ca/Detail/0889955409


December 05, 2016

Kamik Joins the Pack

by Darryl Baker
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-125-7
32 pp.
Ages 4-9
October 2016

Like Inhabit Media’s original Kamik story (Kamit, An Inuit Puppy Story by Donald Uluadluak, 2012), and its sequel (Kamik’s First Sled by Matilda Sulurayok, 2015), Kamik Joins the Pack is adapted from the memories of the author, here from Darryl Baker, an Inuit teacher and dog musher who learned about raising dogs from his late brother-in-law Bernie Sulurayok.  In Kamik Joins the Pack, Jake now is learning from his uncle how to care for his dog, Kamik, to help the husky ultimately become part of a team.

From Kamik Joins the Pack 
by Darryl Baker
illus. by Qin Leng
Jake is proud to show his uncle how well behaved Kamik is, hopeful that his puppy would lead the boy’s own dogsled team one day.  Jake’s uncle, well-versed in raising dogs to be mushers, demonstrates to Jake that there is more to making a dog a musher than just putting a harness on.  He teaches him about keeping Kamik healthy by checking his nails and paws and ensuring that he is always well fed.  He also indicates that Jake must learns some additional skills like braiding and repairing leather for harnesses, repairing a sled and building shelter for his dogs if the boy is to become a successful musher like his uncle.  But, the ultimate test comes when Jake’s uncle adds Kamik to the end of his own pack to see how well the puppy fares in a trial run.

From Kamik Joins the Pack 
by Darryl Baker 
illus. by Qin Leng
There are many Inuit and children of northern climes for whom this story will resonate.  They will recognize the landscape, the dogs, the mushing, and the wisdom imparted by Jake’s uncle, lessons which author Darryl Baker undoubtedly learned from his accomplished brother-in-law. But every child will recognize the value of caring for one’s animals and the skill-building necessary to ensure their well-being.  Kamik Joins the Pack is both a story of lessons and hope, about a future and achievement that comes from doing things well and in small steps.  Darryl Baker makes sure that readers get this message, just as Jake’s uncle emphasizes the same to his nephew.  But while teaching important lessons, Kamik Joins the Pack has a light story-telling feel to it, more sharing than preaching, and much of this has to do with Qin Leng’s artwork.  Just as she illustrated Kamik, An Inuit Puppy Story and Kamik's First Sled, Qin Leng uses the almost weightless touch of fountain brush and ink with high-contrast colours against the snowy background to keep the story graceful and self-assured, not unlike Jake’s uncle’s teaching.  Kamik is growing up and young readers, both those familiar with his home and those of more southern habitats, will enjoy watching his progress.

December 02, 2016

Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol

by Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Werner Zimmerman
North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-4836-8
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
October, 2016

Deck the Halls is Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmerman’s third picture book in their A Canadian Christmas Carol collection in which classic Christmas carols become quintessential Canadian Christmas stories.  The award-winning A Porcupine in a Pine Tree (Scholastic, 2010) was a reworked version of the carol “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and Dashing Through the Snow  (Scholastic, 2014) was based on “Jingle Bells.”  By adding “Deck the Halls” to that repertoire, Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmerman are firmly establishing themselves as the duo that’s making Christmas music Canadian and relevant to Canadian children today.
From Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Werner Zimmerman
Some of the animals characteristic of Canada who first made their appearance in A Porcupine in a Pine Tree have gathered to decorate the house for the holidays and celebrate.  There’s the famous porcupine leading the endeavour with a wreath, the beavers appropriately getting the tree set up, and loons, muskoxen, caribou, bears, raccoons, sled dogs, otters, moose, puffins, squirrels and hockey-playing grey wolves getting up to all kinds of Christmas shenanigans.  There’s the bounty of food, and the warmth of Christmas sweaters, the burning of yule logs, the wrapping of presents and the singing of carols, along with some high-spirited young ones racing around.  With each page and verse, the scene becomes more chaotic and lively and animated.  It’s a Canadian Christmas through and through, with the carol “Deck the Hall” now more Canadian than any version we’ve ever known!

So deck the halls
with boughs of holly,
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.

Make your True North
Christmas jolly!
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! 
From Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Werner Zimmerman
Helaine Becker has created another Canadian classic from a favourite Christmas carol and, with the music appended to her story, I can already hear little ones having Christmas singing fun.  The Australians have their “Six White Boomers” and now we have three of our own Canadian takes on classic carols.  Of course, Werner Zimmerman’s entertaining illustrations bring life to the carol, adding detail and joie de vivre to the fresh lyrics.  There is so much to discover in his illustrations that young readers will be rereading the text–more like singing it over and over again–just to pick out the Sasquatch cradling baby raccoons, or puffins with their Christmas crackers, or the hard-hatted beavers constructing the tree, or the curious otter peering at the napping polar bear. Every page is a delight and will charm small eyes who’ll want to pick out all the Christmas fun being had.  
From Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Werner Zimmerman
Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol is the first new release of the season that has Christmas singing in my head and lightening my heart with joy.   Thank you, Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmerman.

November 30, 2016

The Secrets We Keep: Book launch (Toronto)


Deb Loughead

author of 

numerous young adult CanLit


will be launching her newest title


The Secrets We Keep
by Deb Loughead
Dundurn
978-1-459737297
184 pp.
Ages 12-15
December 2016

on

Wednesday December 14th, 2016

7:00 p.m.

at

Harbourfront Centre
Lakeside Terrace


The book is described as follows, on Dundurn's website:
First she blamed herself. Now she doesn’t know who to trust. 
When Kit disappeared at a party and was found drowned in the quarry the next day, Clem knew who to point the finger at: herself. She was the last person to see him alive, the last person who could have helped. If she had just kept a closer eye on him instead of her crush, Jake, maybe Kit would still be here. She knows she made a mistake, and wishes she could just forget about it — but Clem’s friend Ellie says she’ll expose Clem’s secret if she doesn’t play along with Ellie’s lies. 
Jake seems to have his own difficult secrets, and when he and Clem start to talk, they make a plan to help themselves move on. But when an unexpected discovery at the quarry makes everyone question what they thought they knew, Clem and Jake decide it’s up to them to uncover the truth.
Retrieved from https://www.dundurn.com/books/Secrets-We-Keep on November 29, 2016. 

November 29, 2016

Stories of the Aurora

by Joan Marie Galat
Illustrated by Lorna Bennett
Whitecap Books
978-1-77050-210-9
68 pp.
Ages 9-13
November 2016

The magic light show that is the aurora–aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere–has delighted, terrified and perplexed cultures through the world for centuries.  In Stories of the Aurora, her fifth book in the astronomical non-fiction series Dot to Dot in the Sky, Joan Marie Galat provides both the science behind the phenomena and the stories of ancient cultures told to explain them.

In addition to her discussion of plasma, magnetic fields, solar winds and the ionosphere, Joan Marie Galat shares with readers where and when to look for auroras, and how to find them.  But, it’s Joan Marie Galat’s examination of the different links of the aurora stories to the spirit world, including as omens, dancing spirits or fires, and the six stories from various northern cultures that bring a new perspective to a well-explained sky phenomenon.

The Inuit believed that the aurora was associated with the spirits of the dead, perhaps playing a kicking game, and a representation of a level of heaven.  The Norse have a story, here titled Skirnir’s Journey, in which Frey marries the frost giant maiden Gerda and it is their union that brings the lights dancing above the earth. Another Norse legend has the lights produced by the armour and shields of the Valkyries as they race across the sky to do Odin’s bidding.  The Greeks believed that the glowing lights were as a result of the goddess of the dawn, Eos.  The Wabanaki/Algonquin legend The Rainbow Belt relates how a chief follows his often-absent son and enters the Land of the Northern Lights where his son and others don bands around the heads and their waists that shine and stream wild lights as they play a ball game.  Finally, in Land of Eternal Memory, the Mi’kmaq and French-Canadians tell of a young man touched by magic and his beloved fairy wife, saddened by a separation, who are taken to a place where no one forgets those for whom they care.  There they are transformed into the aurora, shaking when they look down upon the Land of Forgetfulness, dancing with the joy of their togetherness. 

Stories of the Aurora is an interesting take on a non-fiction topic, providing both the science and the fiction of the aurora.  While I might have modified the organization of the text and filtered the stories to emphasize the origin tales of the aurora, the book balances the two aspects equitably and provides plenty of information for discussion of the subject.  


If you're in Edmonton this weekend, do go to the book launch for Stories of the Aurora at Telus World of Science.  There's lots going on, including a rocket launch! Details here including where to register for this free event.

November 28, 2016

Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever

by Ruth Ohi
North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-5703-2
32 pp.
Ages 2-7
September 2016

Now that the train of Santa Claus parades has begun and Christmas decorations are splattering front yards and homes throughout the country (yes, I know stores have been on the Christmas bandwagon for months!), it feels right to start reviewing some Christmas-themed books.   With Ruth Ohi’s Fox and Squirrel (Fox and Squirrel, 2013; Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend, 2014) making their own plans for the holidays, this might just get everyone else in the mood too.
From Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever 
by Ruth Ohi
Once the snow comes, the two unlikely friends are definitely excited about Christmas. But while Fox is enjoying playing in the snow, Squirrel is enthusiastically planning colours, foods and starting a tower of evergreen twigs and red berries.  When Fox wants to help, Squirrel emphatically, almost rudely, fends him off, telling him, “Don’t touch! You’ll ruin it.” (pg. 11)

From Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever 
by Ruth Ohi
Squirrel continues to go deeper into the forest, looking for more touches for his Christmas creation, until he realizes he cannot find his way back.  Fortunately, though chastized, Fox continued to try to contribute and was there with his friend to help make their way home.  With an apology and forgiveness, and the partnering of true friends, Fox and Squirrel do make the best Christmas ever.
From Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever 
by Ruth Ohi
It’s hard not to love Ruth Ohi’s Fox and Squirrel (actually all her characters). Their eyes beam with joy, their mouths laugh with happiness, and their camaraderie is infectious.  In Fox and Squirrel, the Best Christmas Ever, the two are able to work through the ever-common stress of the holidays and find it’s the gift  of their friendship that makes the season.  This is sweetly conveyed in Ruth Ohi’s words, primarily simple dialogue between Fox and Squirrel, but more so in her cartoon-like illustrations of the two companions.  Their large oval heads with half-faces and bellies of white may be distinct, but it’s the body language and facial expressions that Ruth Ohi communicates with limited strokes that make Fox and Squirrel the lovable creatures they are.  In their watercolour landscapes of snow-covered fields, falling flakes, evergreens, and majestic trunks of bare deciduous trees, Fox and Squirrel exude affection for each other and life, and young readers will feel welcomed to enjoy the snow and the season with the two friends.
 
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Downloadable activities plus cards and bookmarks are available at Ruth Ohi’s website at http://www.ruthohi.com/fox-and-squirrel-winter-fun

The French-language version, Rikii et Rouquin, Le plus beau Noël (texte français de Josée Leduc) is also available.

November 25, 2016

Book Bloggers: Blessing or Bane?


When I started my blog, CanLit for LittleCanadians, in the fall of 2011, my intent was to promote books for children and young adults written and illustrated by Canadians.  Obviously I thought it was a noble endeavour, one I had supported as a selection committee member for book awards such as the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award and the multitude of readers’ choice awards of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading.  I knew there was a wealth of exceptional literature for Canadian children and young adult readers but I didn’t think enough people shared this knowledge.  As a teacher and teacher-librarian and awards committee member, as well as a volunteer at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, I could shout the praises of youngCanLit but my audience was a limited one of students and parents, other teachers and school and public librarians and anyone whose ear I could bend with my recommendations.  It didn’t seem to be enough.

Sure, there are publications such as Quill & Quire, Canada’s foremost literary magazine, and limited exposés and reviews in other print publications and intermittently on radio and TV  but, with the onset of the internet, it became possible to reach the masses with a few well-placed clicks and tags.  And so, blogging, the frequent sharing of everything and anything, became a tool for the common person and even a non-human or two.  If a message could reach out both spatially, to the far reaches of the world, and temporally, whenever convenient for the recipient rather than just the messenger, how could blogging be anything but positive and constructive?

Most book bloggers organize their blogs as platforms for reviews of books, for announcing book events such as book launches and cover reveals, and for participating in book tours which include interviews, contests, Q & As, and other measures that link readers with the authors and/or illustrators of selected genres or books of interest.   Of course, there are many book blogs that are associated with publishers including 49th Shelf, the outstanding blog of the Association of Canadian Publishers in collaboration with the Canadian Publishers’ Council.  Many authors and illustrators, practical about the need to have an online presence, also have blogs to showcase their works.  But the lowly book blogger is an entity of her own, good and bad.

To examine what book bloggers bring to the story, it’s best to start with the question of why most book bloggers blog.  I know why I blog (see my first paragraph) but I suspect there are many reasons people start book blogs.  Consequently, depending on their mandate and the quality of their reviews, a book blog will either be a blessing to an author or illustrator–hopefully this is the case– or a bane to them.

Here are some reasons I believe book bloggers blog, based on those I’ve read or those with whom I’ve connected:
1. To share their reading and love of great books
2. To connect with authors and illustrators they admire
3. To get free books
4. To get famous
5. To opine on everything and anything
6. To do harm
7. To make money

Reasons 1 and 2 are both valid reasons, supporting authors and illustrators by promoting their books and perhaps stroking their egos occasionally (let’s face it, working along in an office or studio with little feedback does little to boost one’s self-esteem).

Reasons 3 through 7 are concerns for me.  I see reviewers who post photos of themselves with piles and piles of books, calling them their "book hauls."  It’s great to show your appreciation for publishers and writers who share advance readers copies and review copies of their books but calling them a “haul” suggests quantity, not indebtedness.  Think about things that are normally hauled: junk to the dump, heavy boats behind vehicles, criminals before magistrates.  Not an auspicious list.  Calling a collection of books “a haul” does a disservice to the authors, the illustrators, the publishers, and ultimately the readers who really don’t want to hear how you’re amassing books.

Sure, some fashion bloggers and such segue their blogs into celebrity but blogging about books to get famous is akin to writing a book to become a best-selling author.  Nice if it happens but don’t hold your breath.  And definitely not a good enough reason to spend all that time and effort on something on the off-chance you’ll become famous.  Don’t believe me? Name me three celebrity book bloggers. Told you.

Author Paulo Coelho once wrote that “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”  He’s right. Maybe every review I write is my opinion but I like to think that I opine with my heart and pen, not spleen and knife.  I know authors who’ve had to bear scathing reviews that begin with a series of expletives.  Or had to read how their recently-nominated book is garbage.  When did these reviewers feel the need to go beyond sharing their thoughts on books and deem themselves to be the voices of authority in declaring a book to be something less than worthy of publication?

Book bloggers who believe that reviewing a book means “letting ‘er rip” are mistaken.  Some magazines and papers and websites may want reviewers of books, music, food, and stage to stir up controversy with nastiness and innuendo but that isn’t really reviewing.  It’s more like slash-and-burn with someone’s efforts.  Not cool.  Of course, those who are seeking fame are the ones apt to partake in this version of reviewing.  Don’t be fooled.

As for compensation, don’t believe all the hype about making money on your blog. Sure you can agree to a few ads here and there but it’s not going to earn you a regular salary.  If you’re book blogging for a living, I suspect you’ve set yourself up as a charity or are independently wealthy because it is not a money-making venture.  It’s a labour of love.

If a blog is effective, it will create traffic for the blog and for the authors, illustrators and publishers, and sales of the books.  Let’s face it: sales is the bottom line for books.  And if reviews or posts about award nominations and book events bring in more sales of great books, in my case youngCanLit, then I’ve accomplished something good.  Every reader who gets tipped off to a new title or hitherto-unknown author or illustrator benefits from an ever-increasing collection of reading material and source of enlightenment.  Can you say, “Blessing!”?

Though some believe reviews are to help readers with purchases, I've always believed that most people are smart enough to not take all reviews at face value.  Whether it be restaurant reviews or rating sites for teachers, doctors or local services, most people use reviews as guides, not as irrevocable truths.  For me reviewing has always been about sharing.  For that reason, I will continue to review youngCanLit on CanLit for LittleCanadians and I will continue to shout the praises of authors and illustrators whom I believe produce exceptional works.  Some readers will agree with my assessments (I’ve even had my ideas plagiarized) and others will not.  They can leave a comment here (although I do moderate comments to cull out spam and hateful remarks) or write their own blog reviews.  They can even write a review about this article.  Let’s just hope their intentions are good and produce discussion, as I hope most book blogs do.

Stories of the Aurora: Book launch (Edmonton, AB)

Here's a book launch like no other!

Author Joan Marie Galat 

will be launching her fifth and newest title 

in her Dot to Dot in the Sky series



Stories of the Aurora
by Joan Marie Galat
Illustrated by Lorna Bennett
Whitecap Books
978-1-77050-210-9
68 pp.
Ages 9-13
November 2016

on Saturday, December 3, 2016

1:30 p.m.

at Telus World of Science
11211-142 St. NW
Edmonton, AB

In addition to a readingbook signingentertainmentactivitiesrefreshments and door prizes, there will be a rocket launch!

The book, Stories of the Aurora, explains why the northern lights occur; features folklore from the Inuit, Norse, Romans, Mi’kmaq, Wabanaki, and other peoples; and includes back cover comments from a Canadian astronaut, NASA scientist, and CBC's Bob McDonald.


The event is free 
but register at

November 24, 2016

Mittens to Share

by Emil Sher
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-4296-0
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
October 2016

In this study of contrasts (up/down, here/there, cold/warmth), a child enjoying a winter wonderland with a parent loses her blue mitten while sledding, making snow angels, watching a chickadee and creating a snowman.
From Mittens to Share 
by Emil Sher, 
illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Returning to the warmth of their home, the girl searches through the myriad of mittens–doesn't everyone have a mitten box in Canada?–and, with new mittens upon her hands, delves back outdoors to locate that obviously-holed and unravelling mitten and ultimately share it with the world outside.
From Mittens to Share 
by Emil Sher, 
illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Emil Sher's story is a simple one for the winter season and one that even the youngest children will be able to read fluently quickly. (The word count is less than 70 words, many repeated.) Enjoying the wonders of winter and the outdoors is a pleasure for most Canadians, and one that Emil Sher relates through both the child’s and parent's actions.  But it's Irene Luxbacher's art, a blend of dry-rubbed acrylic paint with collage work, that elevates the story to something extraordinary.  The snow is cold and wet, the landscape is magical, the mittens diverse and outrageously clever, and the story comes to life.  As Canadians, we know the story of lost mittens far too well (even as adults) and the shared experience of a lost and found mitten in a setting so familiar creates an tale evocative of winter memories of long ago and today.  With our own wet snow upon the ground here in southern Ontario, I hope that everyone has Mittens to Share with those they love and those who need them.
From Mittens to Share 
by Emil Sher, 
illus. by Irene Luxbacher
*************************

If a French-language edition is more to your liking, Une Mitaine Pour Deux has been released at the same time as Mittens to Share.


November 23, 2016

Closing Down Heaven

by Lesley Choyce
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-543-1
176 pp.
Ages 12-17
November 2016

I don't think I ever really felt fully alive
until that moment
I died.

                                                   (pg. 5)
When he wakes up, sixteen-year-old Hunter Callaghan doesn’t actually remember who he is or how he got there. “There” is a soft lawn amidst sunshine and quiet.  A man who says he can be called Archie helps Hunter remember a cycling accident off the beaten path in the woods where the teen had slammed into a rock face and died. Amidst the confusion of what is real and where he is and what he’s supposed to do now,

           More like a beginning
           because what I thought was the end
           (last breath, last heartbeat, famous last thought)
           was just a phase shift
           with                                 as Archie would say
           plenty of options. 
                                                                        (pg. 28)

Hunter is approached by a confused girl he recognizes as Trinity, a former classmate, who’d had problems at home and at school, with guys and with drugs.   Instructed by Archie to be Trinity’s guide, Hunter takes her for dates: bowling, for coffee, and for lunch at their school cafeteria. Learning of her unintentional suicide, Hunter declares that “Let’s be good to each other.” (pg. 59)  But this relationship is short-lived when Archie declares that, because of overcrowding and changes in people’s beliefs, they’re closing down heaven and sending people back.  As such, Hunter awakens badly injured but alive back at the rock face, and rescued, though

          I felt I was missing something.
         Something was not quite right.
         There was something I should be remembering. 
                                                                        (pg. 76)

A nerdy kid at school, Davis Cooper, approaches Hunter, knowing he’d been on the other side by the coppery aura he gives off. But when Hunter takes Davis to meet Trinity, they see an odd blue aura around her, which Hunter suspects is because she hasn’t died yet, and that it's his job to make sure she doesn’t.

The proverb may be that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it seems that there’s a bypass to heaven that uses the same paving material.  Hunter knows his actions have consequences and that free will may trump destiny but situations are not always predictable and Closing Down Heaven is proof of that.

The beauty of a novel in verse that is written well is the compendious use of text rolled into a mellifluous form.  It packs a lot into a little.  It’s a trunk full of novel vacuum-packed into a pannier.  Very few people do it really, really well.  Lesley Choyce has demonstrated in Closing Down Heaven, as he did in Jeremy Stone (Red Deer Press, 2013), that he’s one of them.  Closing Down Heaven takes the reader on a graceful journey between heaven and earth, a road fraught with potholes but some lovely scenery.  Though not exactly a road trip story, Closing Down Heaven is still more about the journey than the destination, the life lived than the one extinguished.  Heaven help those who think otherwise.

November 22, 2016

Illustrator Janet Wilson: Art Show and Sale (Eden Mills, ON)


Artist Janet Wilson


author and illustrator of numerous award-winning youngCanLit

will be holding an

  Art Show and Sale 

on
  Saturday, December 3, 2016 
and
  Sunday, December 4, 2016
 from 12 noon to 5 p.m.

at

Rivermead
home of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival
19 Cedar Street
Eden Mills, ON
N0B 1P0

This is a perfect opportunity to purchase Janet Wilson's breathtaking art (early Christmas gift?)

Preview of works available are posted at
janetreidwilsonfineart.com