March 28, 2017

A Horse Named Steve

Written and illustrated by Kelly Collier
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-736
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2017

Steve is a horse who wants to be exceptional.  When he finds a golden horn in the woods, he attaches it by string to his head, convinced it will make him very special. As Steve parades it in front of his miscellaneous animal friends, cooing about how fancy he is and how ordinary everyone else is, the horn begins to slip from his head until it’s hanging around his neck.  As the other animals begin attaching random embellishments like a branch, an acorn, a mushroom, or a leafy twig to their own heads, Bob the raccoon reveals to Steve that there is no beautiful gold horn on the horse’s head.  Steve starts to panic, searching everywhere and crying despairingly.  When he is convinced that his horn has fallen into the water, Steve demonstrates the lengths to which he’ll go to be considered distinct, revealing more about his desire for individuality than it does for his need for celebrity.
From A Horse Named Steve 
by Kelly Collier
There is definitely a Mélanie Watt Scaredy Squirrel tone to A Horse Named Steve, primarily because of Kelly Collier’s ridiculously self-absorbed horse, sidebar comments throughout the multi-fonted text, and the awkward relationships between Steve and his cohorts.  But A Horse Named Steve is as unique as Steve himself wants to be.  Few characters are a blend of Steve’s ludicrousness and wretchedness so evident in his pursuit, especially since he is convinced that a golden horn will fulfil that need.  But Steve is more childish than mean, craving attention and not knowing how to get it in a positive way.  Kelly Collier’s story reminds us how much the world is driven by individuals desiring fame and celebrity when their uniqueness would serve them better in highlighting their exceptionalities.

A Horse Named Steve is a quirky story about a horse who doesn’t realize how original he already is, and Kelly Collier’s illustrations are as eccentric as he is.  With simple lines and very few colours (black and white with beige), Kelly Collier both pokes fun at her characters, whose distinct facial expressions share hidden meaning, and society in general while amusing young readers with the absurdity of Steve’s passion for a distinction he already has.  They’ll laugh at his silliness but I hope they’ll appreciate his differences as hallmarks of extraordinariness.
From A Horse Named Steve 
by Kelly Collier

March 27, 2017

Breaking Faith: Book launch (Burlington, ON)

Join

E. Graziani


author of
War in My Town
(Second Story Press, 2015)


for the launch of her new young adult novel

Breaking Faith
by E. Graziani
Second Story Press
978-1-77260-024-7
248 pp.
Ages 13-17
March 2017


on

Sunday, April 2, 2017

2 p.m.

A Different Drummer Books
513 Locust St.
Burlington, ON


In addition to a book reading and signing, 
youth mental health expert Dr. Vimala Chinnasamy will give a talk.



Faith Emily Hansen just wants to be loved and to live without the weight of addiction. But the lure of drugs is strong. The relief that she gets from being wrapped up in the cozy little cotton ball of heroin is impossible to ignore.

Faith’s story starts in her earliest days, before drugs, before her family falls apart. Before her mother leaves. Before her sister betrays her, taking away Faith’s last connection to home. She eventually becomes consumed by the need to “chase the dragon” – the heroin addiction that seems to keep the Darkness at bay, but leads her to live on the street. The determination to find love and comfort that lures Faith to drugs is ultimately the same stubborn force that can drive her to recover.

Retrieved from https://secondstorypress.ca/teen/breaking-faith on March 13, 2017.


Breaking Faith

Written by E. Graziani
Second Story Press
978-1-77260-024-7
328 pp.
Ages 13+
March 2017
Reviewed from advance reading copy

For most people, turning points help define them in terms of before and after.  They are sparks of tragedy or ecstasy that depress or elevate, twisting the trajectories of lives onto paths unpredicted.  For Faith Emily Hansen, her turning points began with those of her mother, Lacey, but when her own begin to accumulate, they lead her down paths that are both random and dangerous, and sadly all her own.

Life for Faith’s family has never been easy.  Her mother had been devastated when her husband Simon had died, leaving her with a two-year-old daughter Constance.  She tried to get on with her life, moving back in with her criticizing and argumentative mother Dot, and even getting involved with two different men and having Faith a year later and Destiny two years after that.  Still Lacey’s life is tenuous at best, and out of control at worst.  Although her love for her children is evident–including coming to Faith's rescue when the four-year-old becomes an innocent victim in a horrific act of violence–she leaves them when Faith is just seven, moving to Toronto and making promises she'll never keep.

When Constance moves in with her other grandmother, the affluent Josephine, Faith is left to mother her younger sister and navigate her own Darkness, ever difficult as she is overwhelmed with sadness and anger, hurt and loneliness.  And she is just a child.  As they all deal with Lacey’s spiral into drug use, Faith yearns for normal but is unable to make choices that support that.  Even some counselling and making friends with Norma and Ishaan in middle school can't keep Faith from eventually breaking and heading to a life on the streets of Toronto and into using heroin, eventually hitting rock bottom.
"And my soul was broken–I'd lost Faith.  Lost hope. Lost my belief in my own destiny." (pg. 264)
The story that E. Graziani tells with heart-breaking power and poignancy is devastating in its sadness and bleakness.  Though Faith's reactions are her own, the circumstances of her life were thrust upon her by a mother with her own addiction and mental health issues, by a random act of violence and by familial circumstances which burden her and for which she, as a child, was unprepared emotionally and physically.  Even happiness was a burden.
"And the feeling of constantly being on edge, walking on eggshells, and feeling guilty (though outlandish as that may seem) if I felt a positive emotion." (pg. 17)
But, though Faith sees little positive in her life, she is the poster child for the Bob Marley quote she repeats throughout: "You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice."
The reader may be hopeful that, since it is a nineteen-year-old Faith who is writing about the events and conditions that led her to a point where she needs to be rescued, Breaking Faith must have a happy ending i.e., she survives to write her story.  But I don't think there are any happy endings here.  As the Afterword by psychiatrist Dr. Vimala Chinnasamy states, Faith's story is not an uncommon one, one in which mental illness and addiction are perceived as emotional weaknesses and for which inadequate support, both within the family and outside, is provided, thus contributing to the tragedy.  And Breaking Faith is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.  The only saving grace is that Faith survives these chapters of her life and that E. Graziani provides a deep look into a life we need to witness so that we might walk with the Faiths of this world before we need to pull them up and rescue them or worse.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Check out the next post for details of the book launch for Breaking Faith this Sunday at A Different Drummer Books in Burlington, ON




March 24, 2017

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined

Written by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Razorbill
978-0-425-28759-0
368 pp.
Ages 13-17
February 2017
After, I stand for a few moments looking out over the water, the moon reflecting off its glass-like surface.  It's beautiful, yes.  But the beauty doesn't reach me the way it's supposed to because I feel like it's been shoved down my throat.  I register the stark gorgeousness of the dying day, and what it fills me with is unease, and an ominous sensation of cracking inside–of cracking open, of a corresponding excruciating pain I have kept at bay by incredible discipline beginning to seep toward the surface. (pg. 87)
Ingrid Burke must feel like she's been deposited in another world, and one not of her choosing.  In fact, not even one like in the brochure her mother, retired opera singer Margot-Sophia Lalonde, had shown her of Peak Wilderness, an outdoors camp in northern Ontario, to which Ingrid has agreed to go so her mother would permit her attendance at a prestigious music school in London England.  Worse yet, Ingrid, who perceives herself to be “a model citizen and paragon of stability” (pg. 53) compared to the miscellany of other troubled youth campers, must survive three weeks of hiking, canoeing, roughing it, and sharing under the supervision of leaders Pat and Bonnie who seem to enjoy the group’s failures at near impossible tasks.

What happened that led Ingrid to this challenging and repeatedly dangerous situation is told in alternating chapters, organized by Ingrid's age, that speak to her life before Peak Wilderness.  They tell of her life travelling the world with her famous mother and then, after damage to Margot-Sophia’s vocal chords leads them home to Toronto,  the reversal of roles when Margot-Sophia is overcome with depression.  Revealed slowly but with ease are Ingrid’s experiences at school and home, feeling vulnerable and frustrated, fearful and positive, and her attempts to achieve normalcy and some happiness. Eventually we also learn what led her to Peak Wilderness.

My words cannot do justice to the depth of Danielle Younge-Ullman's characterizations and story-telling.  There is so much to share with readers that my words seem sparse and ineffective. But I can tell you that Danielle Younge-Ullman weaves Ingrid’s present and past into a fabric of ordinary and extraordinary, creating a life of tenacity to which most of us could aspire.  Though Ingrid doesn’t want to acknowledge the vulnerabilities that brought her to the camp, Danielle Younge-Ullman provides hints throughout the story–Isaac, an axe and an injured leg–that there is more to the teen’s story than she reveals to others and even to herself.  Her go-to survival mechanisms include a strained positivity –“How exciting, and what a magnificent opportunity to get in touch with my inner savage” (pg. 29)– and silence with a dose of denial.  But beyond Ingrid’s inner turmoil are the relationships the teen has with her mother, her new father, a boy with whom she has a connection, and all the campers.  These relationships drive Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined.  They ebb and flow, both serene and passionate, not unlike the music of a great opera that Margot-Sophia might have performed.  Though Ingrid might think she knows the music of her life really well, she’s just learning to perform it with passion so that she can make it successfully to the triumphant finish.   And Danielle Younge-Ullman makes sure that we want to stay for the whole performance without ever nodding off.

****************

On May 6, 2017, Danielle Younge-Ullman will be speaking at the Stratford Writers Festival Young Adult forum along with numerous other YA authors.  I'll post about it here soon but you can get details at http://digiwriting.com/stratford-writers-festival-young-adult-2017/

I'll be there and you should be too!

March 22, 2017

Town Is by the Sea

Written by Joanne Schwartz
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-871-6
52 pp.
Ages 5-9
April 2017

A little longer than most picture books, Town Is by the Sea needs all those pages to envelop the daily life of a father and son, one above ground in the sunshine of a summer day and the other in the dark deeps of a coal mine.  It's a picture book about legacy, family, work and child's play.  Amazing that Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith managed all that in 52 pages.

Long before a little boy awakens to stand in his underwear at the window and gaze upon the sea, his father has breakfasted, grabbed his lunchbox and joined the multitudes of men making their way to work in the coal mines. The father's routine in the darkest dark is juxtaposed against the brightness and lightness of the young boy's day.  Working underground versus playing and running in the sun. Both close to the sea but different.  Though the boy's day is filled with different activities like swinging in the playground, enjoying his lunch, going to the store, visiting his grandfather's grave, and sitting by the sea, his father's day is the same throughout, sombrely depicted with one line, repeated with similar oppressive illustrations:
"And deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal.
From Town Is by the Sea 
by Joanne Schwartz 
illus. by Sydney Smith
While it might appear that the end of the day has come when his father returns home safe and the family is drawn together for supper and a sit on the porch overlooking the sea, the young boy's day ends with thoughts of the two different types of days and his own inevitable future in the mines.

"In my town, that's the way it goes."

Town Is by the Sea is a powerful story in words and text of lives lived in a town based in coal mining. Both author Joanne Schwartz and illustrator Sydney Smith are Nova Scotia-born and the depth of their knowledge is evident in the weight of their contributions to the book.  Though Town Is by the Sea could be an oppressive story of a dangerous vocation and the formidable eventuality for the boy and his cohorts, Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith play up the lightness of childhood, giving a shine to the boy's movements, even in the visit to his grandfather's grave.  

  My grandfather used to say,
Bury me facing the sea b'y,
I worked long and hard
underground.

From Town Is by the Sea 
by Joanne Schwartz
 illus. by Sydney Smith
The antithesis of the two lives is reflected in the very sea that pervades their landscapes and their livelihoods.  It is both brilliant and overbearing, life giving and life sapping.  It can sparkle and shimmer or be frothy and tumultuous.  In her words, Joanne Schwartz gets it right.  In his artwork, Sydney Smith is definitive. His watercolour and ink illustrations, the very style that garnered Sidewalk Flowers (JonArno Lawson, Groundwood, 2015) numerous awards and had me effusive over The White Cat and the Monk (JoEllen Bogart, Groundwood, 2016), produces that contrast of light and dark, and easy and difficult, so apparently effortlessly that it's as if Sydney Smith was born to illustrate this very book.  

I'm so pleased that neither Joanne Schwartz, a Toronto librarian, and Sydney Smith, illustrator extraordinaire, were destined to lives beneath the sea digging coal.  Without them,  there would be no Town Is by the Sea and this story book is far too important to never have been shared with those who live by that sea and those who do not.
From Town Is by the Sea 
by Joanne Schwartz 
illus. by Sydney Smith

Town Is by the Sea: Book launch (Halifax, NS)

Halifax Public Libraries

and 

Groundwood Books

are partnering for the book launch 

of the first collaboration

between 


author Joanne Schwartz 


and 

illustrator Sydney Smith




Town Is by the Sea

on

Saturday, March 25, 2017

10 a.m. -12 p.m.

at

Halifax Public Library
Central Branch
Lindsay Children's Room
5440 Spring Garden Road 
Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada


From the website of the Halifax Public Libraries:

Families are invited to help launch the new picture book Town Is by the Sea with the author Joanne Schwartz and illustrator Sydney Smith. In this beautifully understated and haunting story, a piece of Canadian history is brought to life. A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather's grave after lunch, and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea. Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig.

March 20, 2017

Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-354-7
24 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2017

Mr. Postmouse is the postmaster but he's closing up the post office and going on vacation with Mrs. Postmouse and his mouselings Pip, Milo and Lulu.  But this is a busman's holiday, if ever there was one, because each stop involves a delivery.  Half the fun of Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip is looking for what package has disappeared from Mr. Postmouse's wagon and to whom it has been delivered.  The other half of the fun is taking in all the intricate details of Marianne Dubuc's astounding illustrations, overflowing with characters, activity and novelty. If you could only take one picture book on vacation, it would be Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip, for the sheer volume of stories told within the minutiae of each illustration.

The trip, which is more inclusive than a world cruise, begins with the family Postmouse leaving their rural neighbourhood (I recognize the rural mailbox with its flag up) and bidding adieu to Mr. Bear and heading to a campground.  Amidst the woods of hikers and multitudinous fauna, Marianne Dubuc provides a glimpse into the tidy camper of Aunt Claudette and the family's own tent with cozy sleeping bags.

These pen and ink and pencil illustrations of structures from the camper to a department store and volcanic mountain are quintessential to the Mr. Postmouse series, taking down that fourth wall (or mountain side or ground) to expose an interior of intricacy and wonder.  It's a peek into unseen worlds, more whimsy than real (except for the human structures of food trucks and buildings), always imaginative and elaborate.
From Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip
by Marianne Dubuc
Next stop: the beach.  Take a glimpse inside the sandcastle Lulu is building for Mr. Crab or into the ladybug’s ground hovel or the ice-cream truck of Mr. Panda. Or look for which package Milo is delivering to a seagull.
From Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip 
by Marianne Dubuc
The trip continues with a foray onto the seas in an extraordinary cruise ship named the Rosetta, a stop on a volcanic island (and delivery for Tarzan to his tree house), a trek through the desert and into a jungle which seems to pay homage to Rousseau. The trip ends with stops in a bustling city, in the mountains, on an ice field, and with a venture into the heavens via hot-air balloon.  With each new destination, the Postmice deliver packages or envelopes, enjoy the attributes of the new locale and readers witness new worlds burgeoning with life and joie de vivre.
From Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip 
by Marianne Dubuc
I hope Mr. Postmouse, Mrs. Postmouse, Pip, Milo and Lulu think to send lots of postcards–I'm sure Mr. Postmouse has a healthy supply of stamps!–to help them remember their trip because it is certainly a memorable one.  Even locales which may seem ordinary to some readers are teeming with delightfulness and amusing distractions for both Postmouses (Postmice?) and readers.  There’s Mr. Lizard’s dinner on a plate, meerkats playing chess under ground, the operatic cat putting an audience member to sleep, King Kong hiding, a marmot with booties on his ears, and ants in every location.  Without naming places, Marianne Dubuc may have taken everyone on a seven-continent tour via all manner of transportation.  But, it’s not like Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip is a picture book to support your geography curriculum.  It is there to entertain and tickle, and it does, providing rich discussion fodder and a fascination with all that goes on, both inside and outside around the world.  Bon voyage!

March 17, 2017

Blood Brothers

Written by Colleen Nelson
Dundurn
978-1-459737464
216 pp.
Ages 12-15
February 2017
Reviewed from advance reading copy


"...just cuz we share blood, doesn't make us brothers." (pg. 208)

Brothers are born and brothers are made through commonalities in purpose and temperament.  But does one kind of brotherhood surpass the other? How do you weigh what one brother means to you against another?  These are the questions being asked throughout Colleen Nelson's new work of young adult fiction as two fifteen-year-old boys steer through life, amidst the poverty and violence of a tenuous world and one of apparent opportunity for better.

Jakub Kaminsky admits that he has a sad little life. His parents emigrated from Poland for a better life before his mother died giving birth to him.  An injury at work left his devout father with a mangled leg and unable to work.  Now the two live in a rooming house on the West Side and attend and volunteer at St. Mary's, the parish of Father Dominic.  Jakub works hard at school and gets good grades, but he's truly alive when he's tagging as Morf.

Lincoln Bear may live with his mother and father and younger brother Dustin, for whom he tries to be an attentive big brother, but his home life is hardly comfortable, emotionally or financially.  When 21-year-old brother Henry returns from eighteen months in prison and promptly reestablishes his connection to the Red Bloodz gang, Lincoln is pulled in, hopeful of reconnecting with his brother and making a better life for himself. But restoring that relationship entails Lincoln becoming involved in jacking cars for a chop shop the gang runs which leads to more dangerous and illegal activities.

Jakub knows Henry is using Lincoln but he has no defence when he himself is involved in illegal tagging, especially after Lincoln takes the fall when they are almost caught by the police.  With Jakub starting as a bursary student at the prestigious St. Bart's school, and Lincoln falling deeper under the thumb of his violent brother, it becomes evident that the friendship between the two teens is at risk.

The survival of their friendship ends up being the least of their worries, though it is a driving force, when Lincoln becomes involved in a murder, and Jakub finds a very public but dangerous way of revealing the perpetrators. Blood Brothers culminates with a violent struggle between brothers of different kinds and very real consequences for all involved in desperate ventures.
"It's too late, I want to tell her.  It's like when water gets sucked down a drain.  Stuffing a finger in to stop it won't do any good.  The water still slips away." (pg.161)
Colleen Nelson leaves no time or breath of respite for the reader who is thrown from one harrowing situation to another, as both Jakub and Lincoln attempt to create lives that matter for themselves.  Yet, with all the poor choices the two make–and there are many–they are guided by a desire to be part of something good whether it be family, friendship, church or school. They want to be persons of consequence, because of their art or their presence or their actions.  They want what everyone wants: to matter.  Whether that happens depends on where you start and where you go and all the steps you take in between.  For Jakub and Lincoln, whose voices Colleen Nelson asserts both honestly and compassionately through those strides and missteps, it's their brotherhood that walks with them, leaving its own footprints.


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Be sure to check out Dundurn's book trailer for Blood Brothers at https://youtu.be/k026kfO89L4.
Uploaded to YouTube by Dundurn Press on November 24, 2016. 

March 16, 2017

Hand Over Hand

by Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Renné Benoit
Second Story Press
978-1-77260-015-5
24 pp.
Ages 5-8
April 2017

Alma Fullerton is becoming well known for taking young readers to other parts of the world to appreciate different ways of life.  There was A Good Trade (Pajama Press, 2012) set in Uganda; Community Soup (Pajama Press, 2013) which is based  in a school garden in Kenya; and In a Cloud of Dust (Pajama Press, 2015) which emphasizes the long distances Tanzanian children travel to school.  Now Alma Fullerton, with Renné Benoit’s soft illustrations, transports young readers to the Philippines in Hand Over Hand and takes up the cause of a young girl determined to not let her gender limit the life she wants to have.

It’s evident that Nina is expected to stay on shore and tend to racks of drying fish because she is a girl.
From Hand Over Hand 
by Alma Fullerton 
illus. by Renné Benoit
When she proposes to her grandfather, Lolo, that he take her out fishing in the banca boat with him, he scoffs at first.  But Nina is determined and insists she will bait her own hook and remove the caught fish.  It is obviously a milestone for the young child but one her grandfather accepts and even defends to the other fishermen who discount Nina.  However, though Lolo instructs his granddaughter in the art of baiting and jigging, demonstrating the hand-over-hand technique for drawing his line in, Nina is catching no fish.  When she becomes dismayed, repeating the other fishermen’s refrain that a girl can’t fish, Lolo shares the wise words, “Posh! The fish can’t tell you’re a girl.” Just when she is checking that the bait is still intact, she gets a tremendous tug on her line.  Nina, fearful she might not be strong enough to bring in the fish, almost gives it up to Lolo but he instead encourages her to use the hand-over-hand technique and persevere.

From Hand Over Hand 
by Alma Fullerton 
illus. by Renné Benoit
Hand Over Hand is a story of empowerment and determination when faced with naysayers and traditions that keep opportunities at bay.  Alma Fullerton’s simple story is loaded with lessons in seeing beyond gender, of courage to take on new struggles, both emotional and physical, and of the amazing things that can be accomplished with a supportive hand.  Even the other fishermen are surprised when they see the big fish little Nina brings in. The messages are evident but the context of Hand Over Hand is just as powerful, revealing the fishing traditions of the Philippines, as well as the stereotyping of roles that are being broken all over the world.  With a charming but realistic relationship between grandfather and granddaughter, Alma Fullerton encourages cultural competence amongst all readers.

Illustrator Renné Benoit whose artwork has garnered numerous awards and nominations (e.g., Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay, Tundra, 2009;  The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn, Second Story Press, 2012; A Year of Borrowed Men by Michelle Barker, Pajama Press, 2015) was the perfect choice  for Hand Over Hand.  Her watercolour and coloured pencil with pastels lend an airiness to the outdoor setting of sky and water, and an innocence to Nina and her endeavours.

Hand Over Hand has a purity of text and image that promotes an appreciation for another culture but it extends beyond by furthering the idea of gender equality, helping a little girl and her grandfather both see a new way of doing things.
From Hand Over Hand 
by Alma Fullerton 
illus. by Renné Benoit

March 15, 2017

Good Morning, Grumple

Written by Victoria Allenby
Illustrated by Manon Gauthier
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-014-7
24 pp.
Ages 2-4
March 2017

According to Victoria Allenby’s dedication, she has a couple of grumples in her life–a big one and a little one–and I suspect that, if you’ve been trying to rouse your kids during March break when they’d much rather sleep, you’ve got some grumples of your own.
A grumple, a grumple is hard to awaken.
It doesn’t like noises. It hates being shaken.
 
It loathes and despises a bright, cheery voice,
And big, shiny lights are a terrible choice. (pg. 5)
From Good Morning, Grumple 
by Victoria Allenby 
illus. by Manon Gauthier
In Good Morning, Grumple, a mother fox, who has obviously endured many a morning struggling to get a grumpy young one in rumpled bed clothes out of bed, attempts the near impossible feat with an established process of rhyming song and accompanying actions.  It starts with a soft singing of “Shh–Shh–Slow we go.  The sun is rising on tip-toe, tip-toe.” (pg. 9)  Nice and easy, but the grumple just burrows deeper into the linens, only feet and a paw clutching a stuffie visible.  That’s OK.  Mother knows the next step is getting a little closer and a little louder with “Shush–Shush–There’s no rush.  The sun is gold in the morning hush.” (pg. 10) Mother Fox may rely on the sun for her inspiration but the efforts are all hers, with tickles, kisses, hugs and a dance, all with louder affirmations until both mother and child are out the door, welcoming the new day and its promise for play.

Every household must have one or two grumples, and Victoria Allenby has contrived a playful way of rousing them to waking.  You may need to read the book several times, with your child, to establish the song, and I’m not sure of the melody, but little ones will delight in the role they get to play, even if it means ultimately getting out of bed.

Victoria Allenby has proven that she can write light and refreshing books for pre-readers and early readers (Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That, Pajama Press, 2013; Timo’s Garden, Pajama Press, 2015; Timo’s Party, Pajama Press, 2016; Rhino Rumpus, Pajama Press, 2016) but now she’s bringing that novelty to helping parents parent, all without preaching about how to do it right.  I wonder if she even intended to provide a wake-up protocol for grumples or just share an engaging practice that might work for others.
From Good Morning, Grumple 
by Victoria Allenby 
illus. by Manon Gauthier
Manon Gauthier lends her trademark cut paper collage (see Elliot, Pajama Press, 2016, and All to World a Poem, Pajama Press, 2016) to Good Morning, Grumple, establishing evocative scenes with her artistry.  Colour is limited but effective, with the neutrality of a grumple atmosphere evident throughout.  No grumple would ever see much in the way of colour before deigning to open his/her eyes completely, and Manon Gauthier supports this premise wholeheartedly.  But Manon Gauthier refuses to keep things stark and uninspiring.  All indoor and outdoor scenes, before and after waking, are freckled with birds, flowers, and household furnishings and decorations that invite readers in.  Collage art has never been so expressive and atmospheric.

Enjoy the smaller and inviting format of Good Morning, Grumple with Pajama Press’ unique padded cover, rounded corners and heavy-duty paper that make it a pleasure to hold.  Let me know whether the premise works for your own little grumples but remember: it may take a few tries, and a little more sunshine than we’re seeing in March, for it to work.  Even if it doesn’t, you’ll enjoy a great read with your youngest ones and perhaps lead them to the self-discovery of their grumple status and ultimately to an appreciation of the efforts made on their behalf.

March 14, 2017

Big Blue Forever: The Story of Canada's Largest Blue Whale Skeleton

Written by Anita Miettunen
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-542-4
64 pp.
Ages 8-12
February 2017

When you have a book with "largest" and "skeleton" in its subtitle, children are sure to gravitate to it.  Moreover, for every young reader who loves non-fiction–and sadly there are many who are repeatedly given the impression that only fiction reading counts–and bones and science and real mystery, Big Blue Forever will impress with the breadth of its story and depth of its details.  There's more to this story than just a blue whale washing up on PEI's shore and being reincarnated in a new form over twenty years later.  Big Blue Forever is a story of people's efforts to ensure Big Blue lived on.
From Big Blue Forever 
by Anita Miettunen 
Photo credit  Kim Woolcock
The blue whale is the world's largest mammal and when one washed up on the northwestern coast of PEI in 1987, it must have been an dramatic sight.  Officials made the wise decision to bury her body in the red clay in the hopes that one day it could be excavated for science or education.  In 2007, Big Blue, as she was affectionately named, was rediscovered by a team from UBC, the home of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and the slow and stinky process of recovery, cleaning and reconstruction of the skeleton began.  This is the story that Anita Miettunen tells in story and informational text with photographs documenting all steps in the process.  In addition, she expands on key team members involved in Big Blue's recovery to skeletal display and provides background information about blue whales and threats to their safety, including collisions with ships which probably led to Big Blue's own demise.

By following her own curiosity to enquire about Big Blue's life in the wild, the great whale's death and arrival at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Anita Miettunen brings Big Blue full circle, while educating and connecting young readers with a remarkable animal and those who sought to keep her alive, figuratively. It's an amazing read of tireless efforts and mysteries solved (including a missing fin) with a full cast of characters, including Big Blue herself, and a cautionary tale of impacts on blue whales and other creatures of the sea.  Foremost, Anita Miettunen has proven that it is possible to amalgamate the attributes of story-telling with those of informational text to create a book as substantial as Big Blue herself.
From Big Blue Forever 
by Anita Miettunen 
Photo Credit DFO

March 13, 2017

The Alphabet Thief

Written by Bill Richardson
Illustrated by Roxanna Bikadoroff
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-877-8
40 pp.
Ages 5-9
March 2017

An alphabet thief is on the loose and she is creating mayhem with every letter she sneaks into her sack.  Bill Richardson, Canadian humourist and writer for all ages, tells a story of words ridiculously transformed with the loss of a letter, as depicted in the illustrations by Vancouver artist Roxanna Bikadoroff.
The Alphabet Thief stole all of the C’s,
And a cloud became loud in the sky.
My chair wasn’t there–it was turned into hair
And all of the spices were spies.
From The Alphabet Thief 
by Bill Richardson 
illus. by Roxanna Bikadoroff
Oh my.  As a little bespectacled girl and her dog Bill witness the thefts, beards become bears, horses become hoses and artists’ paints become pants.  But the young child who wears a beret or sometimes a deer-stalker is on the case and it’s up to her to make sure the thief is caught and the world of words is made sane again.

A new book from award-winning author and humourist Bill Richardson is always a joy to behold but the publication of The Alphabet Thief is even more notable because it’s for children.  Bill Richardson’s humour which has earned him four nominations for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (he won in 1994 for Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast) has the right touch for evoking subtle humour while giving young readers light but powerful wordplay to contemplate.  I wish I were in a classroom again so that I might do a sophisticated alphabet game of illustrating words that have lost certain letters.  The kids would laugh themselves silly with crops transformed into cops, soaps developing into saps, and brothers becoming bothers (though that last one is hardly a stretch)! Moreover, Bill Richardson writes this early reader in an entertaining rhyming text conducive to an imaginative wordplay that teachers and students and all readers will appreciate.

Roxanna Bikadoroff must have laughed her way through the illustration process, creating wild scenarios like a café scene in which bowls become owls, the dog Bill becomes ill and a brat walking by on his cellphone turns into a rat.
From The Alphabet Thief 
by Bill Richardson 
illus. by Roxanna Bikadoroff
Her pen and ink drawings with only hints of colour have a light and rushed feel to them, perfect for a book that portrays the mad antics of a thief.  Still the art of of Roxanna Bikadoroff, who has won awards for her magazine illustrations, tells the story of The Alphabet Thief with the silliness Bill Richardson’s rhymes evoke.

Do get The Alphabet Thief for your classroom or child’s library, and not just because of its possible lessons in the alphabet since the thief does take the letters in order, except for the tricky QU combo which disappear together.  Get the book because you’ll have fun reading the rhymes and picking out the transforming words via the art and don’t we all need a little more fun in our lives? Thanks Bill Richardson and Roxanna Bikadoroff for bringing it.

From The Alphabet Thief 
by Bill Richardson 
illus. by Roxanna Bikadoroff

March 10, 2017

The Doll's Eye

Written by Marina Cohen
Roaring Brook Press
978-1-62672-2040
208 pp.
Ages 8-12
February 2017

There’s a creepiness in the old house to which twelve-year-old Hadley Jackson and her mom, and mom’s new husband Ed Crenshaw and his six-year-old son Isaac have moved. 
A heaviness in the air seemed to press down on her.  And, despite the August heat, it was cold and clammy, like a years-unopened tomb. (pg. 2)
She even feels like she’s being watched, though it could simply be the doll’s eyeball she discovers beneath her bed.  But, with her mom giving the lion’s share of her attention to Isaac, a child with numerous food allergies, Hadley is feeling less than hospitable to Ed and Isaac.  When the girl discovers an old dollhouse, a replica of the actual house, with four carved dolls–a man, a woman, a little girl, and an older woman in the apartment over the garage– Hadley sees a perfect family, and wishes the same for herself.   But, as many a tale has taught us, you must be careful with wishes.

Though she still feels out of sorts–in fact, she’s feeling an odd numbness in her hand which is extending to other parts–Hadley meets a couple of individuals who make her start to feel at home: Gabe, a neighbour boy who knows everything about snakes and insects , and the elderly woman, Althea S. de Mone a.k.a. Granny, who lives over the garage.  Gabe comes over daily to play and take her on excursions into the ravine at the back and Granny invites her for tea and crumble and chats about the dolls which she admits to carving.

But things begin to get really strange when the people in her life begin to change as the dolls disappear and are replaced.  First, Ed and Isaac disappear like they’d never existed and all of Hadley’s mom’s attention is focused on her daughter.  Hadley knows it is related to her wish that Ed and Isaac had never come into her life and tries to make things right again but ends up with another more haunting scenario with a father she’d never known.  She knows it’s all tied to the doll’s eye and the dollhouse but making it right seems near impossible. 
Hadley barely made it to her bed before her knees gave out.  She lay for the longest time, thinking, rubbing her numb hands.  It was as though someone had wrinkled the fabric of reality, changing the pattern of its threads.  She closed her eyes.  Perhaps if she dozed off, she’d wake from the nightmare and things would be back to normal. (pg. 100)
As if.

In the subtle terror reminiscent of W.W. Jacob’s chilling short story "The Monkey’s Paw", Marina Cohen brings creepiness into making wishes and into a young girl’s desire for a perfect family.  Hadley is just a naïve young girl who thinks she knows what will make her life better, just like the young girl from the past whose reminiscences Marina Cohen includes throughout The Doll’s Eye. But, whether in the past or the present, the young girls in The Doll’s Eye make some selfish and poor choices that have impacts never imagined.

By implanting her story in the seemingly innocent entities of youth i.e., dolls and dollhouses, Marina Cohen will have young readers shocked when they enter the disturbing realm of horror. But I guess that’s what the genre is meant to do, frighten and disturb. Thankfully, it’s the right amount of fright for young readers, never too much or of the grotesque variety, and it will keep them edge-of-their-seats reading until the last page, never expecting the ending.  As a seasoned reader, I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t, and I expect younger readers won’t either, though they will be thrilled with Marina Cohen’s twisted take on making wishes and what a perfect family entails. But, more than anything, they will be beguiled with another offering by Marina Cohen to a genre rarely published for middle grade readers and a sensational and supernatural contribution at that.

March 08, 2017

Bill Bowerbird and the Unbearable Beak-Ache

Written and illustrated by Tyler Clark Burke
Owlkids Books
978-1-77147-154-1
Ages 3-7
32 pp.
March 2017

The bowerbirds of the southern hemisphere have nothing on Bill Bowerbird, style maven and artiste extraordinaire.  His bower has the typical sticks but his collection is festooned with an odd assortment of trinkets and
He has a felt cap and blue boots,
a rooster's comb, a copper flute,
a lion's pride for loot and trash,
a broken bike, a runway sash.
From Bill Bowerbird and the Unbearable Beak-Ache 
by Tyler Clark Burke
He also has a roaring beak-ache and in need of help to alleviate it.  Bill visits the owl who recommends honey; zebras who share their stripes; the town clerk walrus who provides a frozen carrot; and then a frog, a yak, a grouse and a pair of beavers provide their potential cures. Bringing home his assemblage of proffered aids, Bill discovers his beak-ache was caused by an emerging tooth.  So, to share his news and thank them for their help, Bill throws a party.  After all, he has all the best stuff for a celebration!

From Bill Bowerbird and the Unbearable Beak-Ache 
by Tyler Clark Burke
Bill Bowerbird and the Unbearable Beak-Ache is Tyler Clark Burke's debut picture book but, with her quirky multimedia art, I suspect we'll be seeing more of her work, perhaps illustrating others' texts as well.  Watercolour washes, cut-paper collages, and pastel work abound in her own bowerbird version of art: a little bit of everything and a whole lot of sparkle.  The colours are vibrant and showy, and her shapes draw attention and demand scrutiny for details.  Tyler Clark Burke infuses that same ebullience in her rhyming text, whether it be the zebras offering their stripes or Bill groaning with a grand "Wickety-tickety BOO-hoo-hoo."

From Bill Bowerbird and the Unbearable Beak-Ache 
by Tyler Clark Burke
Bill Bowerbird and the Unbearable Beak-Ache is a fun take on a toothache and the value of teamwork to share burdens and even make things better, while introducing young readers to the curious bowerbird and its habits.  Though children will probably not be interested in the fact that there is a bowerbird with a tooth-like bill (!), they will be attracted to Bill Bowerbird and his colourful friends and a story with which many of them will be or become familiar, especially when it ends in a party.

March 07, 2017

The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park

Written and illustrated by Celia Godkin
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-011-6
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
March 2017

I know a science teacher whose go-to book to introduce interrelationships of living things and the balance of natural ecosystems is Celia Godkin’s award-winning book Wolf Island (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1989/2006).  I encourage a new generation of science teachers to look to her new book The Wolves Return to demonstrate those same concepts as they relate to the wolves of Yellowstone National Park and spark a new appreciation for the natural world with an aim to stewardship and not manipulation.

Canadian gray wolves once roamed much of North America before they became an inconvenience to settlers’ livestock and were hunted relentlessly until they became listed as a threatened species in much of the US.  To help revitalize affected ecosystems, twenty-three gray wolves captured in Canada were released in Yellowstone between 1995 and 1996.  The Wolves Return documents in prose and detailed illustrations the impacts of the Yellowstone Wolf Project on the local habitats and wildlife, celebrating the success of reintroducing the wolves here.

But the way Celia Godkin tells the story is not to just lay out that bare facts as many unseasoned writers might but instead to provide visual commentary, in words and pictures, of what would have been happening.

From The Wolves Return 
by Celia Godkin
The Wolves Return begins with a lone wolf’s howl, later joined by those of the pack, sounds previously unknown to a herd of elk grazing in the river valley.
On a moonlit night, a howl rings out across the river valley.  The elk prick their ears.  They have not heard this sound before, yet they are afraid.
Weeks later, the elk, now aware of this threat, have moved themselves to the higher, wooded slopes where trees provide some protection from direct attacks by the wolves. Consequently, seedlings once eaten by the elk are allowed to flourish and grow into aspen trees in the river valley. With the trees come the beavers who build dams and lodges creating ponds that invite more wildlife like muskrats, birds, insects, and an abundance of species, plant and animal, creating a new ecosystem.  Celia Godkin illustrates the complex and sophisticated food webs–not just food chains–and evolving landscape of habitats but punctuates the story with the science of the return of the wolves in her appendices.
From The Wolves Return 
by Celia Godkin
The scientist in Celia Godkin–she has a Master’s degree in zoology–comes through in the precision of her illustrations but her coloured pencil and watercolour fine art is more expressive than just a record of the living ecosystem.  She gives life to the organisms and places within The Wolves Return, though I know that young readers will be amazed by her detailed and accurate depictions of the animals.

Just like Wolf Island, The Wolves Return should become a teacher’s primary picture book for introducing discussions about habitats and communities, the diversity of living things and interactions with ecosystems.  With The Wolves Return, Celia Godkin is able to inform,  fascinate and initiate dialogue about the world we impact in both negative and positive ways and how it can gloriously amend itself sometimes with just a tiny bit of help.

From The Wolves Return 
by Celia Godkin

March 06, 2017

I Read Canadian Book Challenge: OLA's Forest of Reading contest


The folks 
at the Ontario Library Association's 
Forest of Reading 

are challenging young readers 
Kindergarten to Gr. 12
across Canada

to get reading!



Between March 1 and December 31, 2017,

read 150 Forest of Reading books
(or have them to read you)

from any reading program

from any program year

recording your reading in



Submit completed logs by December 31, 2017 by:

Mail to: Forest of Reading® Book Challenge, 
c/o Ontario Library Association, 
2 Toronto Street, 3rd Floor, 
Toronto, ON M5C 2B6

or

Email to: forest@accessola.com

or

Fax to: 416-941-9581


Since 1994, 
there have been 1,270 books nominated
(Links to archived lists of Forest titles are available here)

and
in October 2017, 
there will be over 100 more titles nominated as part of the 2018 program,
so there are lots and lots and lots of great Canadian books from which to choose.


All participants 
will receive an online certificate 
for completing the challenge
and
have their name entered into a draw for 
a free set of 10 books from the 2018 nominees
plus a free set of 10 books for their school or library.


Go Read Canadian!


March 04, 2017

Moose's Roof: Book launch (St. John's, NL)

Join 

author  Jennifer Maruno


and 

illustrator  Laurel Keating


for the launch of their first picture book collaboration

Moose's Roof
Written by Jennifer Maruno
Illustrated by Laurel Keating
Creative Book Publishing
978-1-771031004
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2017


on

  Saturday, March 25, 2017

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

at

Chapters
70 Kenmount Road
St. John's, Newfoundland


There will be a reading, signings and refreshments.

You can guess there's a moose and a roof but here's a little bit more about Moose's Roof as described on the Creative Book Publishing website at https://alllitup.ca/books/M/Moose-s-Roof#overview:

Until he discovered a park pavilion, Moose never knew life beneath a roof. His friends Beaver, Bear and Squirrel, however, all seemed to be roof experts. Moose decides to put his antlers to good use. With his friends' help, he soon has a permanent roof over his head. But it becomes more trouble than worth. Moose can't lie down to sleep, can't balance when he walks and can't reach the tender weeds at the bottom of the pond. His friends can only offer advice from the life they know, which is no help at all to tired, cranky Moose.When a sudden storm blows his roof away, his aches and pains disappear. Moose gets a good night sleep and eats a wonderful weedy breakfast. He realizes the sky over his head is roof enough for him.