October 22, 2014

Oddrey Joins the Team

by Dave Whamond
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
August, 2014

First came Oddrey (Whamond, 2012), the winner of the 2014 Blue Spruce readers' choice award. Then came Oddrey and the New Kid (Whamond, 2013), a current nominee for the Forest of Spruce®'s Blue Spruce award.  Now here's Oddrey Joins the Team, a third adventure in this highly-acclaimed series by cartoonist and award-winning children's author and illustrator Dave Whamond to show children that being an individualist like Oddrey can make you an awesome team player too.

Oddrey is a star at accepting others and bringing out the best in them so it wouldn't be surprising that Maybelline, the new kid from Oddrey and the New Kid, would ask her new friend Oddrey to join the soccer team, the Piccadilla Bees.  Maybelline is a very good soccer player and all the kids on the team are eager to play and have fun by embedding their special talents, from karate kicks to cartwheeling to dance, into their skills training.  Unfortunately, these aren't the gifts that Maybelline is trying to coach into them and they're not the skills that win games, especially against the Quagville Crushers.  But, just as Oddrey has saved the day before, she does so here bringing all their special talents into play just as their team's namesakes successfully do to ensure a smooth running beehive.

I love Oddrey's joie de vivre and her natural ability to include everyone.  She may perform an awesome pirouette, both on the field and off, but she is no prima donna, recognizing the value of appreciating what everyone has to offer.  Luckily, even with those who lean towards taking control, like Maybelline, Oddrey can help them see the benefits of relying on a team approach while allowing everyone to stay true to themselves.

But, while I love the little girl, and the wordplay in the text, I appreciate Dave Whamond's illustrations even more.  There are so many quirky details in the children's faces and actions that, though the words may be read quickly, you'll need to stay on the pages longer to catch all the bold facets of Dave Whamond's cartoons:  from the immense eyes, voluminous smiles, crowned queen bees and playful extraordinariness of the ever-present pup.  Learning life lessons with a chuckle and a smile along with Oddrey and Dave Whamond continues to be a delight.

October 20, 2014

Playing with Matches

by Suri Rosen
ECW Press
256 pp.
Ages 11+
September, 2014

Forgive me my ignorance but I have to share my silly prediction about Playing with Matches before I read the book. When I first read the title, I thought the book must deal with arson and lighting fires.  Wrong!  But, though Playing with Matches doesn't have anything to do with fire, teen narrator Raina Resnick learns pretty quickly that you can still get burned with romantic matches!

With her older sister Leah getting married in a few months to Ben and starting their new life together in Toronto, Raina is sent to live with her Aunt Mira and Uncle Eli in Toronto to provide some stability from her parents' regular migrations for her dad's work and to be there for her sister prior to the marriage.  But when Ben calls off the wedding because of Raina's behaviour and Leah blames Raina for ruining her happiness, Raina feels completely friendless.  Not surprising she befriends a woman, Tamara, with whom she regularly sits on the bus to school.  In fact, learning that Tamara is single and desperate to find a life partner, Leah arranges for her to meet Jeremy, the thirty-ish Jewish man who boards with Aunt Mira and Uncle Eli.

This is the beginning of Matchmaven.com, the site Raina uses to communicate anonymously and arrange the match between Tamara and Jeremy which is a hit. (Though not so much for Leah whom Aunt Mira had planned to set up with Jeremy!)  But when Tamara shares the site with her friends, including Leah, Raina is left wondering whether she actually has a gift for matchmaking or if it was just luck.

Meanwhile, Raina is being watched very carefully at home and at school to ensure she's not up to her old antics.  Taking care of her grandmother, Bubby Bayla, Raina finds the older woman has great spirit and skill for getting into her own trouble, but she is supportive of Raina.  Then a fortuitous mistake (while running an errand for her aunt) introduces Raina to a Professor Kellman, a lonely widower with a computer which he allows her to use for her matchmaking, unknowingly.  And the pairing of Raina at school with a geeky girl, Dahlia Engel, to help Raina with her school work brings a tech wizard and friend to Raina finally.

The complexity and hilarity of Raina attempting to control her matchmaking enterprise, which continues to blossom through word of mouth, while trying to make things right with Leah (including finding Leah her own partner) and keeping up her school work and resolving the trouble that caused her to leave her last school and humiliate her family will keep the reader eager to turn the page and learn what else can go wrong or perhaps right. Raina has much to worry about, including the possibility of "matchmaking malpractice" (pg. 146) but with her growing maturity and good heart, Raina has all of the best intentions and is less negligent with her actions and voice.

Playing with Matches is a fabulously unique story–formal matchmaking is definitely not a regular theme in YA–that embeds all the angst of falling in love and growing up and doing right by your family and yourself all under one cover.  I believe that the story will definitely resonate more for Jewish readers who may understand the cultural nuances of dating, dress, and relationships better than I could.  Having grown up in Toronto, I couldn't understand how the only people Raina met were Jewish, or how she happens to enter the wrong house far from home and it be the unlocked home of a Jewish man that her aunt knows, or that her sister's fiancé would break off the wedding because of something inconsiderate Raina did (not murderous, just inconsiderate).  Those inexplicable questions kept me from buying wholeheartedly into the story.

But Suri Rosen can turn a phrase well and get me laughing with the antics of her characters, who are definitely larger than life, and undoubtedly has a plethora of stories to tell if Playing with Matches is any indication of the experiences with which she is well versed. I look forward to reading more from this author (though I hope she will recognize that not all her readers are Jewish and may need a bit more background to understand the full story).

October 17, 2014

Princess Pistachio

by Marie-Louise Gay
Pajama Press
48 pp.
Ages 5-8
For release October, 2014

For the child who is convinced that she is adopted because she has nothing in common with her parents or family who just don't understand her, Princess Pistachio will both charm her and divert her attention from that premise promptly!

Marie-Louise Gay, creator of the ever-popular Stella and Sam series of picture books, introduces Pistachio Shoelace, an orange-haired, freckle-faced moppet, to star in a new series of early readers.  In this first book, Princess Pistachio, Pistachio receives a golden crown in the mail with a card that reads, "Happy birthday, my little princess!" (pg.7)  Believing that it is from her real parents, the king and queen of Papua, an island she'd found on her map, Pistachio is convinced that they have finally found her after she'd been abandoned by a witch at the home of her adoptive parents, Mr. and Mrs. Shoelace. Donning this crowning proof, Pistachio insists that her princess status be recognized.

Regardless of her newly-recognized regal status, Pistachio's life is still grounded in the daily grind of eating her spinach, watching her baby sister Penny and going to school.  And no one seems to pay homage to Princess Pistachio: not her parents, not her best friends, not Penny, and not even the two duelling boys who must be fencing for her honour!  Sadly, a surprising phone call and a errant little sister bring a new reality to Pistachio (even if Penny is still a pest).

Children have always been taken with Marie-Louise Gay's Stella and Sam series of books, by the wonder and wisdom of an older sister and the innocent inquiry of her little brother.  Now, these readers can enjoy Marie-Louise Gay's signature illustrations in the more challenging stories of Pistachio, the girl who is definitely more like a pixie than an angel.  She may still have Stella's dramatic flair but it's wrapped up in a scampish nature that is all Pistachio.

But, what will exalt Princess Pistachio to the upper echelons of early chapter books is the voice that Marie-Louise Gay has given the little girl and the richness of the text in general.  Delightful play with words and challenging vocabulary enriches Princess Pistachio above most early readers.
 "Princess?" Gabriel sniggers. "Even an ugly old toad would want nothing to do with you!"
"To die for a mustachioed pistachi-toad! Ugh!" Jacob cries out.
They run away laughing like monkeys.
"Brutes! Peasants!" Pistachio screams.  "I'll feed you to the lions!"
With a second book, Princess Pistachio and the Pest, already scheduled, I believe that Marie-Louise Gay and Pajama Press have just created an Anne of Green Gables for the very youngest of youngCanLit readers, and one who will poke at our hearts and funny bones alike.

October 15, 2014

2015 Forest of Reading® nominees announced today

Young readers, their teachers, school-librarians, public librarians, authors, illustrators, and publishers have waited anxiously for this day, the day that the Ontario Library Association announces the nominees for the 2015 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 13, 2014


by Rémy Simard
Illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Groundwood Books
56 pp.
Ages 4-7
For release October, 2014

From the title page alone, Gustave evokes a rough darkness with its heavily-inked, coarse lettering and shades of colours with overlays of black.  There's black, black and more black. Sombre and fearful is how Gustave begins, with a little mouse overwhelmed by the loss of his dear friend Gustave when they venture too far from home and encounter a cat.  Gustave will not be returning home with the little mouse whose sorrow is well conveyed by the spare words of Rémy Simard's blunt text:
Gustave won't play with me anymore.
He won't tell me goodnight.
He won't look at me anymore.
(pg. 6)
But Pierre Pratt's illustrations, in ink and gouache, are the force by which the story of Gustave is told.  The double-page spreads of artwork, sometimes with few words, if any, overwhelm the story, just as the consequences of the little mouse's actions smother him with sorrow.  It is only in the last half-dozen pages of the story that the colours are able to seep through, ending with a single page of bright artwork opposite a white page of text. It is a bright, hopeful ending in both text and illustration.

Though I may describe Gustave as having a dirge-like quality, it is nothing but brilliant in its masterful picture book story-telling of a mouse grieving the loss of a friend.  I suspect that, even without the unexpected twist at the end, this story could not have been told any better than it has been by Rémy Simard and Pierre Pratt, thankfully translated by Shelley Tanaka so that so many more of us can appreciate it.

Gustave is currently nominated for a 2014 Governor General's Literary Award for Illustration in a French Children's Book. Bonne chance, Pierre Pratt!

October 12, 2014

The Gospel Truth: Book launch (Ottawa)

Governor General Literary Award-winning author
Caroline Pignat

is launching her latest book

The Gospel Truth

Red Deer Press
328 pp.
Ages 12+
Released October 1, 2014

A novel in verse, The Gospel Truth takes the reader to a tobacco plantation in 1858 Virginia, and shares the interactions and perspectives of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher.

Caroline Pignat


the All Saints Christmas Craft Fair
All Saints Catholic High School
5115 Kanata Avenue
Kanata (Ottawa), Ontario

from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

to purchase The Gospel Truth
do some Christmas shopping, and 
support a great cause.

to the Christmas Craft Fair
with over 150 vendors
$1 or a canned good

Proceeds from sales of The Gospel Truth
will be going towards
a school, Todo los Santos,
sponsored by All Saints DR Experience Team and the All Saints community. 

October 11, 2014

2014 Governor General's Literary Awards: Finalists announced

I know that I've created a blog just for book awards but I think that several major awards always bear mentioning on both blogs.  Here is an abbreviated posting about the recently-announced shortlists for the 2014 Governor General's Literary Awards. A full post is available at http://canlitforlittlecanadiansawards.blogspot.ca/2014/10/2014-governor-generals-literary-awards.html

The Governor General's Literary Awards are Canada's national book awards, honouring the best of our literature in seven categories, in both official languages.  On October 7, 2014, the finalists for the 2014 Governor General Literary Awards were announced on the Canada Council website. Below are the nominees for the children's literature awards for English and French texts and illustrations.

English Children’s Literature: Text 

Jonathan Auxier 
The Night Gardener 
(Penguin Canada)

Lesley Choyce 
Jeremy Stone 
(Red Deer Press)

Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley 
(Inhabit Media Inc.)

Raziel Reid
When Everything Feels like the Movies 
(Arsenal Pulp Press)

Mariko Tamaki 
This One Summer 
(Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press)

English Children’s Literature: Illustration 

Marie-Louise Gay
Any Questions?
(Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press)

Qin Leng
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
Text by Chieri Uegaki
(Kids Can Press)

Renata Liwska
Once Upon a Memory
Text by Nina Laden
(Little, Brown and Company)

Julie Morstad
Julia, Child
Text by Kyo Maclear
(Tundra Books)

Jillian Tamaki
This One Summer
Text by Mariko Tamaki
(Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press)

French Children's Literature: Text 

Linda Amyot
Le jardin d'Amsterdam 
(Leméac Éditeur)

India Desjardins
Le Noël de Marguerite 
(Les Éditions de la Pastèque)

Patrick Isabelle
(Leméac Éditeur)

Jean-François Sénéchal
(Leméac Éditeur)

Mélanie Tellier
(Marchand de feuilles)

French Children's Literature: Illustration

Pascal Blanchet
Le Noël de Marguerite
Écrit par India Desjardins
(Les Éditions de la Pastèque)

Marianne Dubuc
Le lion et l'oiseau
(Les Éditions de la Pastèque)

Manon Gauthier
Grand-mère, elle et moi
Écrit par Yves Nadon
(Éditions Les 400 coups)

Isabelle Malenfant
Pablo trouve un trésor
Écrit par Andrée Poulin
(Éditions Les 400 coups)

Pierre Pratt
Écrit par Rémy Simard
(Les Éditions de la Pastèque)

The winners will be announced on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at http://ggbooks.ca/