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/ 

October 10, 2014

Villains: Guest post by author Catherine Egan

I am quite thrilled to be helping author Catherine Egan launch Bone, Fog, Ash & Star, the final book of The Last Days of Tian Di series, with a review yesterday and a guest post today. Today's post, Isn't he scary? Isn't he beautiful? will be the first in her blog-series about villains. Check in at her blog for more details about these posts, including a giveaway that will accompany each.

Catherine Egan grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and wrote her first novel at age 6. It was about a group of kids on a farm who ran races. Each chapter ended with “Cathy won the race again!” Since then, she has lived in Oxford, Tokyo, Kyoto, a volcanic Japanese island that erupted and sent her hurtling straight into the arms of her now-husband, Beijing, an oil rig in China’s Bohai Bay, and now Connecticut, where she is still writing books (but Cathy doesn’t win every race anymore). Her first novel, Shade & Sorceress, won a 2013 Moonbean Children’s Book Award (Gold) and was named an Ontario Library Association Best Bet for 2012 in the Young Adult Fiction category.

You can connect with Catherine Egan through these social media links:

Website: www.catherineegan.com
Blog: bycatherineegan.wordpress.com
Twitter: @bycatherineegan
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/byCatherineEgan

Now, I welcome author Catherine Egan

Isn't he scary? Isn't he beautiful?
by Catherine Egan

I was sitting at the big kitchen table writing, because that’s what I like to do, and my three-year-old was sitting next to me sticking toothpicks in a lump of play-doh, because that’s what he likes to do. He showed me his creation and said, “Look, it’s a spiky monster!” Of course it was a monster. He is all about monsters. Looking over his toothpick-spiked play-doh monster with immense satisfaction, he said: “Isn’t he scary? Isn’t he beautiful?” Yes, I said, yes, he is both of those things.

The first germ of an idea for the Tian Di books began with Eliza (my beloved heroine) and Nia (my beloved villain) in conversation and in conflict. I knew that they were in some kind of prison, but I didn’t yet know how they got there or even really who they were. Still, much of the scene I wrote is right there, barely changed, near the end of the the first book:

“Look at you,” said Nia with an affectionate little smile, not putting down her teacup. “Adorable! A child with the barest smidgen of Magic and the sad delusion that you could last five seconds against me.” She stood up and bent close to Eliza. Eliza could smell the sugary tea on her breath. “Well, little smidgen, you’ve come running straight into the only place left where I still have power, eager as anything, and now that you’re here, what fun we’re going to have!”

Nia was wonderfully freeing to write. Every scene she was in came so easily. She could say or do anything. I wanted her to be sympathetic but monstrous at the same time, and whether or not I succeeded for the reader I can’t say, but for myself, she was pure joy to write. I felt about her just as my little boy felt about his spiky play-doh monster. Isn’t she terrible? Isn’t she wonderful?

The best villains terrify us, yes, but they beguile us too. In the ultimate Good vs. Evil story, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is so charismatic – his rage, rebelliousness and pride providing all the best poetry – that William Blake claimed Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” While the Emperor in the original Star Wars trilogy is perhaps the truer villain, the movies are dominated by the terrifying figure of Darth Vader, who represents not only a physical threat but a spiritual one – the dark, seductive power Luke must resist, the evil good men fall may fall prey to. Volde… sorry, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is and will remain the uber-villain for generations of young readers – and he is all the more horrifying because he is so deeply connected to our beloved hero Harry. They may be complex, comic, or simply terrifying, but they captivate us, these villains. Think of Lady MacBeth, unable to scrub the blood from her hands; the murderous Captain Hook, smoking two cigars at once; Dracula, the bloodthirsty (sorry) seducer, setting off a love affair with vampire literature that has lasted more than a hundred years; Bluebeard with his roomful of murdered wives; the wicked witches and vicious stepmothers that make fairytales such dark fare; the Big Bad Wolf – as primal as it gets – all those teeth! The mad, the miserable, the megalomaniacal and the vengeful – villains have a way of swaggering onto the page (or the screen) and taking over.

The villain comes along and says to the hero: OK, now you have to be the hero, because here I am. Or maybe the villain whispers in the hero’s ear: You think you are the hero, but are you, really? Deep down, aren’t you just like me? Maybe the villain says, suddenly, at some crucial point in the story: Actually I am your father / mother / sister / lover – surprise! And then you (the hero) have to figure out what to do with that tangle of love and fear, of loathing and longing. Maybe the villain just thinks you look tasty and wants to gobble you up or drink your blood, and maybe some part of you actually takes that as a compliment, which is weird, but people are  weird. Maybe the villain is so unrepressed, so powerful, gleeful and sexy and leaving destruction in his or her wake, that you wish… I mean not really but you sort of wish that you could be like that too. That you didn’t care so much. That you didn’t feel so much.

It can be simpler than all that, of course. Maybe when the Big Bad Wolf opens his jaws and you see those rows of teeth, it is like staring at death, but at a remove – because this is a book, or a movie, or maybe your grandma is telling you the story, but anyway, it’s not real. That’s what you keep telling yourself under the covers at bedtime – it’snotrealit’snotrealit’snotreal – but you see this shadow move across the wall and you think you can hear something breathing.

I don’t have any grand philosophy about villains. I just love to write them, and I love to read them, and I recognize the same shivery pleasure in my children when we read some horrible tale and they huddle saucer-eyed on either side of me. Sometimes I’ll think, hmm, maybe this is a little too much, but we get to the end and I look at them and they look at me and they whisper: Read it again.

So I do.

 * * * * * 
This is the first in a blog-series about villains – you can follow along by checking my blog http://bycatherineegan.wordpress.com next week. Each post will include a giveaway. Let me know in the comments: who are your favorite fictional villains? Choose villains from books / movies / comic books / TV – just not real life! A winner will be selected by random number generator (I’ll post a screenshot) and I will send you a book bundle – all three books in The Last Days of Tian Di series – chock-a-block with villains and their villainy.
-Catherine Egan