April 16, 2014

Weeds Find a Way: Book Launch (Calgary)

What a perfect beginning to gardening season and spring!

Carolyn Fisher

invites youngCanLit readers to celebrate
the recent release of her non-fiction picture book

Weeds Find a Way
by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
Illustrated by Carolyn Fisher
Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
Released February, 2014

Join her


Saturday, April 26, 2014
2:00 p.m. 
Calgary, Alberta

Listen to the story, then make some weedy art!

Everyone welcome!

April 15, 2014

The Legend of Lightning and Thunder

by Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt
Illustrated by Jo Rioux
Inhabit Media
40 pp.
Ages 6-8

Taking a story that is typically told orally and transforming it into a text can be difficult but also disastrous.  The oral storytelling tradition relies heavily on the storyteller's craft: of rhythm, intonation, pacing and dramatic effects, all with the aim of interacting with the audience.  Attempting to harness those key features in text, without making that text cumbersome or awkward, and still retain the essence of the story, is a craft in itself.  Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt, whose bio indicates she is from Baker Lake, Nunavut, has obviously learned well from her grandmother and other elders in her community, but she has demonstrated a strong skill in putting her traditions to paper, penning a strong and accessible origin story with a twist here in The Legend of Lightning and Thunder.

During a festival when Inuit from far and wide come together to celebrate the beginning of spring, an orphaned brother and sister are turned away.  Secretly the two children steal some caribou meat and hide away to consume it.  When finished and still hungry, the two search through the belongings of visitors, looking for more food.  When they find no food, they try to distract themselves with play.  The sister finds a dry caribou skin which she waves in the air and bangs with her hand, while her younger brother uses a rock and a piece of flint found near a tent to create sparks and hopefully fire.  But when the night begins to fall, the children find a way to hide, convinced that they will be punished for their thefts.

Although the story explains how the two orphans ran away to hide in the sky and thus create thunder and lightning whenever they are bored or lonely and in need of play, the culminating message is far more broad.
"So, you see, because two orphaned children were neglected and ignored, we now have lightning and thunder in the world." (pg. 33)
I could hardly begin to understand the depth of the Inuit mythology which The Legend of Lightning and Thunder reveals but the clarity and richness of Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt's story easily and eloquently tells the legend.  Jo Rioux's illustrations, in blacks and grays, with the tints and shades of oranges and browns, and few inclusions of blue or red, match the desperation of the children's situation and the actions they choose to take.  Though generally an illustrator of graphic novels, Jo Rioux's drawings capture the spiritual and supernatural elements of the story well, and I look forward to enjoying her artwork in more youngCanLit.  In fact, pairing Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt and Jo Rioux again to bring more Inuit stories to book form would be a promising endeavour and an enriching one for all young readers.

April 13, 2014

Secrets Underground: North America's Buried Past

by Elizabeth MacLeod
Annick Press
88 pp.
Ages 9+
February, 2014

I love a good mystery.  So when multiple mysteries are presented in a single tome, even if it is non-fiction (something I tend to review less), then I'm a happy reader.  Elizabeth MacLeod is an accomplished author of non-fiction for young people but she excels at historical mysteries, as demonstrated by the success of her Royal Murder: The Deadly Intrigue of Ten Sovereigns (Annick, 2008) and Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Help Solve History's Mysteries (Annick, 2013).  Secrets Underground: North America's Buried Past can easily be added to that collection of intriguing historical secrets.

Secrets Underground: North America's Buried Past delves underground (literally) to explore caves, tunnels, accidentally and deliberately buried treasures and terrors, and other spaces that hide a history of who we are as people and what we have done.  The stories take us from Mexico, to California, West Virginia, and New York, to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, spanning from the 1500's to the 1900's.  (I suspect a second volume could easily extend both the time period and the locations, perhaps even focusing exclusively on Canada, if so chosen.)

The first section, "Hidden Temples", examines the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán which was established in the 1300's and was led by Moctezuma at the time of Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors arrival in the 1500's.  With the massacres of the Aztecs and the destruction of their temples and other buildings, Cortés proceeded to cover the ruins with the new, Mexico City.  It wasn't until 1978 that an electrical worker revealed an artifact that lead to the unearthing of Tenochtitlán.  "Buried Sailing Ships" reveals the grand sailing ships abandoned and buried beneath landfill in San Francisco, while "The War Beneath" tells of massive power converters and a president's possible train car hidden during WWII.  The two secrets from West Virginia reveal a cave of great value to the Confederate side during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and extensive fall-out shelters ready for any eventuality during the Cold War.  The single Canadian story, "Gangsters Belowground" demonstrates that underground tunnels, initially used for warm travel-ways, found multiple uses as a refuge for Chinese workers and the means to smuggle prohibited alcohol and evade capture by authorities during Prohibition in 1918-1933.

These six exposés are enhanced by further information in the form of a timeline, resources for further reading, and recommendations for visits to relevant sites.  Rounding out this well-organized book of non-fiction are countless well-captioned photographs, intriguing tidbits in sidebars and information boxes, and an inviting and informative graphic design. 

As any book of history, Secret Underground: North American's Buried Past has the compelling nature of secrets uncovered.  But, beyond the curiosity factor, these "secrets" have shaped our present and will perhaps shape our future, especially if we look at these Secrets Underground as potential for learning. It also brings into question the ethical dilemma of choosing between the past and the present: should contemporary structures be dismantled or even destroyed to allow excavation of historical treasures, or should secrets underground remain underground?  Elizabeth MacLeod puts forth these questions, as well as the answers others may have chosen, but she never judges the choices made, just puts them out there for discussion, as a true objective storyteller of non-fiction should.

April 09, 2014

Jamie's Got a Gun: Book Launch (Edmonton)


young adult author 
Gail Sidonie Sobat

and illustrator
Spyder Yardley-Jones

for the launch of their new graphic novel for young adults

Jamie's Got a Gun
Text by Gail Sidonie Sobat
Illustrated by Spyder Yardley-Jones
Great Plains Teen Fiction
224 pp.
Ages 12+
May 2014


May 22, 2014

at 7 p.m.


the Roxy Theatre
Edmonton, Alberta

# # # # # # # # # # # #

The media release from Great Plains Teen Fiction tells this about Jamie's Got a Gun:

Jamie Kidding finds a semi-automatic handgun in an inner city dumpster. An aspiring artist, Jamie initially resorts to his notebook to record the reality of his complicated life with his mother, his deadbeat stepfather and the bullies he faces daily at his high school. Gradually, the weapon takes over Jamie’s life and his imagination, tantalizing him with deadly solutions to his personal troubles. Seduced by a sense of power, one fateful day he takes the gun to school. 

April 08, 2014

The Tweedles Go Electric

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
Released March 2014

With Earth Day 2014 soon upon us, and the world seemingly looking towards the future for greener technologies, Monica Kulling shows us that green was in our past and maybe we didn't always recognize it for its worth.  In The Tweedles Go Electric, the reader is taken back to the turn of the century–19th to 20th, that is–when the environment may not have been a focus but some wise people were looking beyond the popular when it came to transportation.

The Tweedles, an endearing family of Papa, Mama, twelve-year-old Franny and eight-year-old Frankie, are considered old-fashioned, even fuddy-duddies, because they still get around by walking or cycling, with an occasional foray into the country by horse and cart.  But everything changes (or does it?) with Papa's announcement that, "We're going modern.  We're buying a car!"

They buy a smart car.  A green car.  An electric car!  The family members' reactions to the new purchase are as varied as could be expected.  Papa is excited, though somewhat intimidated and needs to get used to it.  Mama is thrilled, just like Frankie, always having wanted a car.  Only the cerebral Franny takes it all in stride, less than engaged with their new purchase.  As with anything new and different, there are the critics.  However, when an emergency arises, the smart, green car impresses more than a few as to its indubitable value. 

The versatile Monica Kulling will delight readers with this newest book, just as she has with her illustrated biographies such as In the Bag! and Making Contact!, and her picture books of Mister Dash and Lumpito.  The text is fresh and lively, no matter whether the voice of a Tweedle or a salesperson or neighbour.  I love these Tweedles!  Marie Lafrance embodies her characters with the normalcy of members of a functional family but still with familial foibles and their own personalities. And the setting will easily transport the reader to a different time and capture that atmosphere of invention and growth.  With much kindness and no preaching, the Tweedles take the message of progress and fashion beyond the here and now (or there and then), and into the realm of open possibilities.

There is always a morsel of delightful learning in Monica Kulling's books, as there is in The Tweedles Go Electric. A little research reveals a plethora of electric cars were available in the early 1900's. In fact, in 1900 U.S., an astounding 38% of automobiles were powered by electricity. (1) Even though most of the vehicles were steam- or gasoline-powered at the time, and everyone's love of the automobile seemed to include the noise, consumption and pollution, it's easy to appreciate those who could see outside the box and open themselves to those new, albeit few, options. Definitely how we should always be seeing, wouldn't you say?

(1) Retrieved from http://www.edisontechcenter.org/ElectricCars.html on April 6, 2014.

April 05, 2014

Enigma (Camp X series, Book 6)

by Eric Walters
Puffin Canada
256 pp.
Ages 9+
November, 2013

If you haven't shared in the Eric Walters' Camp X experience, then hold onto your fedora, homburg or baker boy's cap.  The series that began with brothers Jack and George discovering  a Canadian spy training camp, Camp X, near their summer residence in 1942 Whitby, Ontario has moved through four additional books and World War II continues to wreak havoc across the world and extend its reach.

George Braun, now 12, and his brother Jack, 15, are accompanying their parents by ship to England as part of a convoy of cargo ships, destroyers, corvettes and such when one of the ships is torpedoed by a U-boat in the Atlantic.  Before the U-boat is sunk, the Marines retrieve a device that has the MPs requesting that the boys' mother, Betty, and the rest of the family transfer to the destroyer Valiant for speedier delivery to England.  The device is an Enigma machine, the encrypting system the Germans were using, and "the key to winning the war" (pg. 55) according to Bill Stephenson, who leads the British security forces.

The family is taken to Bletchley Park, the headquarters of British encryption operations, where Mrs. Braun is asked to work with the genius, Professor Alan, and where Captain Braun is to assess, test and revamp security.  The boys who have already proved themselves in earlier adventures to be keen observers are invited to deliver messages and do odd jobs while helping to determine whether any spies or Nazi sympathizers may have already infiltrated Bletchley.  George and Jack meet up again with Ray, the ex-convict and master of disguise who they met in Trouble in Paradise and who now works for the government out of Bletchley Park.

But, everything seems to go amiss when the boys accompany Ray to London by train.  Jack goes along so that he can meet up and spend some alone time with Louise, the British princess they'd all originally been coming to England to visit.  George is to join Ray on the hunt for potential code-breakers.  When Ray is spotted by some old criminal colleagues, they are all taken at gunpoint and held until Ray gets into Naval Intelligence (where he now has access) and sneaks out the plans for which the Nazis are willing to pay Bruno and his fellow thugs loads of money. 

If this sounds like an edge-of-your-seat adventure, in which secrets must be kept and you don't know whom to trust, then you've got a good idea of how Enigma plays out.  George and Jack are typical brothers, always hassling each other, even more so now that Jack is in the throes of teen love.  Eric Walters does not disappoint in carrying the reader effortlessly through this newest Camp X adventure, making the boys' exploits seem almost realistic and probably the envy of every young reader who believe espionage to be a possible career option. (Is it?) By including the factual details of Enigma and Bletchley Park, as well as real persons like Ian Fleming, Bill Stephenson and Alan Turing, Eric Walters creates such authenticity in Enigma that some readers will wonder if the adventures are "just" stories or historical accounts of little-known events from World War II.  And that is an amazing accomplishment for any author.

If Enigma seems like a great read for a young person in your life, especially a boy who enjoys historical fiction suffused with spies, adventure and war, check out the whole Camp X series which includes six books to date:
  1. Camp X
  2. Camp 30
  3. Fool's Gold
  4. Shell Shocked
  5. Trouble in Paradise
  6. Enigma
With the publication of Enigma, Penguin has redesigned the covers of all books in the series.
Be assured, though, that regardless of the cover, the same great stories and writing will be found within.

April 03, 2014

Brothers at War

by Don Cummer
Scholastic Canada
204 pp.
Ages 8-14
October, 2013

There are many divisions in twelve-year-old Jacob Gibson's Upper Canada in 1811.  There are the towners and the dockers; the supporters of the Americans and of the British; those who have and those who have not pledged allegiance to the King; entitled, rich boys like William Dunwoody II and his best friend Henry Ecker and the regular boys like Jake and his friend Eli; the Iroquois and the British subjects of Upper Canada; and those itching to get to war and those opposed to it.  Sometimes the lines blur between the groups but most people differentiate themselves from others based on some criteria or another.

When Jake Gibson meets new boy Eli McCabe, son of the new tanner from America, he accepts him readily, especially after Eli helps him from a fall into a ditch during a snowball fight and then later from the frigid Niagara River when challenged by William and Henry.  Of course, Eli confirms the gossip that his father will not swear allegiance to King George, only coming to Upper Canada to be left alone and not deal in politics.  Now the McCabe family may be evicted from the Canadas.  And though William and Henry are relentless in their harrassment of Eli, calling him Turd Boy and pulling vicious pranks to make him look suspicious of vandalism and mischief, Jake and Eli are brought closer together, becoming blood brothers and determined to stand up to the menacing duo.  Sadly, with the dissolution of the Assembly by General Brock and the subsequent elections, coupled with the talk of war between across the Niagara River, Jake and Eli's friendship is tested and loyalty questioned.

Predictably, Upper Canada in 1811-1812 was no less corrupt than some political regions in Canada today.  There are those with wealth who happily use their money to corrupt others and the electoral process, without any concern for the rights and freedoms of all.  And though there are many who are forthcoming and demonstrate much integrity, the unscrupulous ones first must be challenged and blocked. Don Cummer has written a credible story of two boys whose friendship both spans their different worlds and resists that separation. Though it is difficult to always know the appropriate action when balancing friendship and country, Mr. Willcocks who publishes the Upper Canada Guardian advises Jacob,
"Stay close to your friends.  Protect them and keep them out of trouble.  No matter how difficult that may be at times.  In the end, they will thank you." (pg. 134)
This is wise advice, particularly as the War of 1812 will still not have begun at the conclusion of Brothers at War.  But the boys will need to wrestle with their loyalties to their families and their friendship, as well as to their own evolving politics, and fight themselves and each other when dealing with extraordinary circumstances that put those for whom they care in jeopardy. They are indeed brothers at war.


I came across this quirky video titled Don Cummer arrested for Brothers at War on YouTube and thought readers might enjoy a chuckle as Don Cummer, the author of Brothers at War, attempts to sell copies of his book and is challenged by Mr. Joe Willcocks.  Luckily, the ending indicates that books are good for everything!

 Don Cummer arrested for Brothers at War
Uploaded by Don Cummer on November 2, 2013 to YouTube.