October 21, 2016

King Baby

by Kate Beaton
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
September 2016

Though some parents might not find it humourous the way the baby in King Baby has his parents running to and fro to make his life perfect–perhaps they'll see it as castigating their own efforts–children and others will laugh at the uproarious manipulation by a swaddled egg of a baby to get everything, and I mean everything, that he desires, now and forever.  Yep, as the book says, "It is good to be king."

From King Baby by Kate Beaton

From King Baby’s birth, after which he is presented to his many admirers bearing gifts and admiration, the baby is generous with his smiles and laughs and kisses, his wiggles, gurgles and coos.  But then he begins to demand: food, burping, changing, bouncing, being carried.  It’s endless.  For King Baby, life is grand.  For King Baby’s parents, life is exhausting.  He sees them as subjects, fools even, though their ineptitude finally gets him up and toddling.  His future is even more glorious now with all that he can accomplish, though not always to everyone’s delight. (The cat looks a little dismayed.)  But King Baby has to grow up, and becoming a big boy, he learns that they’ll be going through the whole process again, this time with Queen Baby.

It’s obvious that Kate Beaton, known as Auntie Katie to the Malcolm to whom she dedicates the book, knows that of which she writes and illustrates.  A new baby is a wondrous joy but an exhausting one.  Kate Beaton’s quirky illustrations, especially of King Baby as a rotund creature swaddled in a blanket and topped with a golden crown, are too funny, and lend a comical air to a bizarrely normal yet wacky situation i.e., the joy and adoration of a new baby.  I don’t know if Kate Beaton meant to give King Baby that evil glint in his eye but he seems to know what he’s doing i.e., making everyone jump to satisfy his every whim.  Without the means to communicate with clarity, King Baby has them running around doing everything to appease him.  Ah, it’s good to be king!
From King Baby by Kate Beaton

Share this hilarious book with any new parents you know.  If they’re not too tired, they’ll certainly see the humour in their situation.  And if they’re just too tired, share it with the aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers and godmothers and everyone else who appreciate the cuteness that is a new baby but recognize the long haul of parenting still to come.  Hail the royal entourage!

October 20, 2016

The Wolf-Birds

by Willow Dawson
Owlkids Books
40 pp.
Ages 5-8

Sometimes I receive review copies of books that get office-bushwhacked on their way to reviews on CanLit for LittleCanadians.  Sometimes I get back to them, and sometimes I don’t.  And then sometimes because of award nominations I feel compelled to finally get that review out.  Such is the case with Willow Dawson’s The Wolf-Birds, recently nominated for the 2016 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the 2016 Information Book Award and the 2017 Blue Spruce Award.  Mea culpa for not reviewing The Wolf-Birds sooner.

The Wolf-Birds is a story of survival in the natural world and it’s not an easy one.  But when life is governed by the weather and food availability, how can it be anything but perilous?  Two hungry ravens endure the cold of winter, scavenging for food wherever possible.  When they hear four wolves in pursuit of a buffalo, they follow, expectant of some scraps.  Instead, one of the wolves is killed and the three remaining wolves continue their own search for food, alerted by the ravens to a starving and injured deer.  

From The Wolf-Birds by Willow Dawson

In the wild winter wood…
…one animal’s life helps many others live.  

From strongest to smallest,
everyone feasts in turn, filling
bellies and beaks. (pg. 24-27)
The interdependent relationship between the ravens and wolves is recognized by the common use of the term “wolf-birds” for ravens, acknowledging the unique connection between the two creatures.  As Willow Dawson’s story reveals, ravens are prepared to steal food killed by wolves as well as lead them by call and display to potential prey, while wolves pay attention to where ravens congregate and willingly clean up that which the birds do not eat.  It’s a unique interdependence and one that affords greater discussion in science classrooms, discussions aptly supported by the book’s references and information guide available at the Owlkids website here.

But, The Wolf-Birds is an illustrated children’s book and one whose artwork must be recognized as fundamental in the telling of its story.  The text is spare and that is because the illustrations, acrylic paint on board, propel the story through the cycles of food and life. Eerily reminiscent of the sleek animals of cave dwellings, Willow Dawson’s fauna are simple, outlined creatures, unadorned but easily identifiable, coloured in muted earth tones of feathers and fur, alongside cool snow and winter skies, with occasional brightness of rose or green.
From The Wolf-Birds by Willow Dawson
There is a story to tell here of life in the wild and a mutualistic relationship of which many readers are unaware.  The Wolf-Birds, beautifully depicted by Willow Dawson's artwork, is a story that must be told and appreciated for its lessons and its message about working together and survival, teachings that go far beyond the natural environment portrayed within.

October 19, 2016

Tagged Out: Book event (Toronto)

The Toronto Blue Jays may have played their last game of the season today


if you baseball,
live in or around Toronto
want to support youth baseball

Then come out to the book event featuring 
author Joyce Grant's

new middle grade sports novel

Tagged Out
(Sports Stories series)
by Joyce Grant
123 pp.
Ages 12-14

on Sunday, October 23, 2016

at 12 noon

at Christie Pits
(corner of Christie St. and Bloor St.)
Toronto, ON

On the Lorimer website, the book is described as follows:

The inner-city Toronto Blues baseball team is having a lousy year. Shortstop Nash and the Blues can't seem to win. They especially hate losing to their archrivals, the rich kids of the Parkhill Pirates. When all-star player Jock joins the team, it looks like the Blues might be able to turn the season around. The only problem? When the Pirates find out that Jock is gay, they ambush Nash and Jock, and Nash has to decide if he wants to stand by his teammate.

Get a signed copy of Tagged Out for $10
participate in the  Toronto Playgrounds Baseball
Derby for Distance

You can help fundraise 
for new equipment for 
the Toronto Playgrounds kids' baseball program
by participating in 
the batting competition 
at pitching machines of different speeds 
for different ages
There will be prizes, a raffle, refreshments, book sales and fun!

October 18, 2016

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

by Jan Thornhill
Groundwood Books
44 pp.
Ages 8-11
October 2016

The story of the Great Auk, a bird of unique anatomy and behaviour, is truly a tragic one, and Jan Thornhill takes great care to ensure the details of that tragedy are thorough, though never explicit, and the basis for some ecological contemplation.

The Great Auk, which inhabited areas of the North Atlantic including Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia and Newfoundland, was a part of the history of Stone Age humans, the Vikings, the Inuit and the Beothuk, and then that of the Europeans who arrived on North American shores.  The bird was a magnificent bird in size and structure, a lethal fisher spending 10 months of the year in the water.  But, its downfall–or at least a couple factors contributing to it–was advanced by the bird’s inability to fly and its clumsiness on the land upon which their eggs were laid.  Though they laid their eggs in highly-inaccessible areas in order to afford them some protection, humans found ways to reach them and exploit them.

Though the various cultures came to kill the birds for meat, some respectfully ensured that the rest of the animal was not wasted, instead used for clothing, oil, tools, and weapons.  But once the Europeans arrived in North America, the slaughter of the Great Auk went beyond just meeting their needs to survive.  The disappearance of the Great Auk from Funk Island, off the coast of Newfoundland, may have been the canary in the mine shaft but it just encouraged the continued exploration for and exploitation of Great Auks and their eggs for museum and private collections.

From The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk
by Jan Thornhill

Yet in this historical and natural history story, Jan Thornhill who excels at comprehensive but accessible non-fiction for middle-grade readers (e.g., I Found a Dead Bird, Maple Tree Press, 2006; This is My Planet: The Kids’ Guide to Global Warming, Maple Tree Press, 2007; Who Wants Pizza?: The kids’ guide to the history, science and culture of food, Maple Tree Press, 2010) the story of the Great Auk is told with insight and hindsight.  The bird’s own nature limited its ability to adapt and escape humans as predators but the role of humans in the Great Auk’s extinction is sadly obvious.  Still Jan Thornhill, whose illustrations of the bird in various natural situations and a few unnatural ones depict the Great Auk’s former glory and reality, makes a point to note the bird’s extinction in allowing other species, such as the Puffin, to flourish where it once could not.  Sometimes, though not always, there is a silvery lining to a story of extinction.

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk will be a useful text for talking history, birds, ecology, human interference and so much more–the addenda are very informative–and for opening discussions to help young people address their own role in the natural world and ensuring that world's endurance without our manipulation of it into a sorry state of irreversible destruction.

October 17, 2016

If I Were a Zombie

by Kate Inglis
Illustrated by Eric Orchard
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2016

With Halloween almost upon us and young children (OK, adults too) thinking about costumes, consider reading If I Were a Zombie to jump start those creative juices and delight young readers with the back-and-forth poems of two friends, Evan and Poppy,  imagining life as monsters and other-worldly creatures.

The list of creatures that Kate Inglis includes is extensive: zombie, fairy, robot, giant, vampire, witch, ninja, ghost, alien, superhero, sea monster, goblin, skeleton, mermaid, and even adult. There’s something a little scary and a lot funny about all of them. Each double-spread has a full-page illustration and a multi-stanza rhyming poem about the entity each child envisions for themselves.

If I were a zombie
I’d package my drool
Put it in Mason jars
Sell it at school. 

I’d mumble and stumble to sniff out some lunch
Chase Ben and Lucy…
(Think they’d be juicy?)
And sweet little Tilly?
“Quit runnin’, silly!
All I want’s a good nibble and munch.
(pg. 3)

So begins Evan’s speculative verse about being a zombie, and the two children’s remaining proposals are just as evocative.  There are discussions of the robot’s price tag and robospeak (AFFIRMATIVE for yes, NEGATIVE for no, And DOES-NOT-COMPUTE for “I ain’t gonna go.”; pg. 7); the ninja’s "collection of secrets and dark-of-night prizes" (pp. 15); a pirate ghost who knows of Oak Island and eluding the Mounties; an alien called Zeekoid the Freakoid ready to take over New Brunswick; and a photo-bombing sea monster that has ...

...stingers for fingers
Seaweed for hair
Flip-floppy gills
And a bum that’s bare.” (pg. 23)

From If I Were a Zombie 
by Kate Inglis, illus. by Eric Orchard
But most wonderful of all is the cool dad who declares that,

I’d stay up past midnight
And my kids would too
We’d eat pretzels with pop
That turned our tongues blue.
(pg. 31)

Eric Orchard, who illustrated The Terrible, Horrible, Smelly Pirate (Nimbus, 2008), easily gets down and dirty in his imaginings of these weird and wacky characters.  The illustrations are as bold as their colours and more fun than scary, sure to entertain young readers with their quirky whimsy.

From If I Were a Zombie
by Kate Inglis, illus. by Eric Orchard
If I Were a Zombie pairs Kate Inglis’s imaginative rhymes with Eric Orchard’s fanciful but goofy creatures in such a way that life as an other-worldly creature seems almost cool, even if it requires eating nachos with brain dip.

October 16, 2016

2017 Forest of Reading® nominees announced

We've all waited for the day that the Ontario Library Association announced the nominees for the 2017 Forest of Reading® programs. Now extending beyond Ontario, even more readers are enjoying new Canadian literature as part of the Forest of Reading® programs.

These readers' choice award programs invite teachers and librarians (school and public), as well as parents of home-schoolers, to sign up for these programs through the Ontario Library Association. Once you've registered for the programs and purchase the books, young readers will be on their way to voting for their favourites in April.

With over one hundred nominated titles, I have presented the nominees in multiple posts. See the lists below for nominees for the different programs.

October 14, 2016

Icarus Down

by James Bow
Scholastic Canada
374 pp.
Ages 12+
September 2016

Icarus Down may be science fiction but it is truly a cautionary tale of environmental destruction, colonization, genocide and cultural discrimination.  Their world, or rather planet, may be foreign to our 2016 one, but it’s what happened on Old Mother Earth that resulted in this new world.

After the Extinction Wars which took place following the Great Warming, the Icarus, a colonizing spacecraft, travelled 25,000 light years into the darkness, spending 72 years looking for a new planet to inhabit.  They called the planet upon which they crashed and settled Icarus Down, a web-like world of thirteen cities tethered by cables to anchors in cliffs far above the fog forest and the ticktock monsters below.

Simon Daub, who begins the telling of Icarus Down, is on his maiden flight as an ornithopter pilot with his older brother Isaac, a senior pilot and all-around golden boy.  Shortly after Isaac reveals to Simon that he believes their mother was murdered, not as a result of jumping to her death, something goes awry with the battery and Isaac, attempting to repair it, is burned to death by the powerful sun.  Simon manages to parachute out but he is badly burned and scarred.  Nathaniel Tal, chief of security for their city of Iapyx and older brother of Mayor Matthew Tal, questions Simon about the “accident” and Grounders, those supporting the move of the colonies into the foggy land below.  His questions make Simon begin to wonder whether Isaac and perhaps his mother had been Grounders themselves.

When lights start flickering, and steam-pipes burst, and message canisters travelling by pneumatic tubes are misdirected, the troubles are attributed to  Grounders terrorism.  Simon, having met with Grounders via Isaac’s betrothed Rachel, suspects the sabotage is being used to discredit their movement and he begins to investigate.  Suspecting Nathaniel Tal of the sabotage, Simon gets in a little too deep and, after witnessing the actions that would result in the inevitable destruction of their city, Simon and Rachel jump into the oblivion beyond Iapyx, hopeful of safety, fearful of death.

Our second narrator in Icarus Down is a human girl known as Small, Fierce-Hearted One to her people, which sounded like Ek-Taak-Tock-Taak in their language.  When she goes in pursuit of revenge on the invaders who destroyed her people and now reside in the air, she is witness to the literal fall of Iapyx, and discovers Simon, injured but alive.
I did not know what I had expected after travelling nine dozen sleeps to one of the invaders’ giant metal hives, but surely not to have it fall and almost crush me.  one of my dreams of revenge were so large. (pg. 163)
Simon, or Silly Strange Boy as she thinks of him, and Ek-Taak-Tock-Taak whom Simon eventually calls Eliza, must find a way to communicate and trust each other in order to survive and attain that which each seeks: justice or revenge.

This is but a slice of James Bow’s complicated story of conflict and colonization and conspiracy.  Though an unfathomable world of tethered cities and planetary travel and lizard-like creatures, the worlds of Icarus Down are reflective of the atrocities perpetrated here on earth in the name of exploration and colonization with the usurping of land and culture for our own purposes.  The truth is out there in Icarus Down but, like with all conspiracies, it is hidden away from those who might demand change.
If I didn’t do something, this would stay a lie.” (pg. 272)
Icarus Down is about the clash of cultures, invader and indigen, so seemingly different in dress, manner and language at first encounter but who find a way to work together and appreciate their commonalities.  By creating a cosmological allegory of settlement and occupation, with a thrilling adventure of intrigue and treachery, carried out by good guys and bad guys and a few playing both sides, James Bow has made Icarus Down a turbulent bit of travel into an unsettled future, perhaps a little too much like some historical disgraces from which we’ve yet to learn.