October 09, 2015

An Inheritance of Ashes: Book Launch (Toronto)

Just in time for Halloween and all things scary comes

author Leah Bobet's newest YA

a dark fantasy
(which I am just finishing now)

An Inheritance of Ashes

Scholastic Canada 
400 Pages
Ages 12+
October 2015

launches on

Thursday October 15, 2015

7-11 p.m.

1292 Bloor St. W. (Bloor at Lansdowne)

This book launch promises: 

• music including by Deborah Linden and Leslie Hudson a.k.a. Sinderella •
• delicious baked goods •
• reading •
• signing •
• raffle prizes •
• original art •

Details are posted on the books Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1187448317937840/

October 08, 2015

Small Bones

by Vicki Grant
Orca Book Publishers
256 pp.
Ages 12+
September 29, 2015
Reviewed from audiobook

We’ve probably all wanted to reinvent ourselves but Dorothy (Dot) Blythe probably has more reasons than most.  With the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girl burned down and the eldest seven girls being sent away, with only a few scraps to help them determine their heritage, Dot doesn’t have that much to hold onto.  So it’s not surprising that when, dressed in a fine suit donated by the wealthy Mrs. Welsh, Dot does not reveal her orphan background to the young man, Eddie Nicholson, whom she meets on the train.  Eddie helps get her to the Dunbrae Arms, a lodge where she needs to get a job, after having been robbed of her money and finding her destination, a men’s clothing store named Howell’s of Buckminster, closed.  Seems the town of Buckminster is her go-to place for answers, being the name on the cashmere overcoat in which she had been swaddled when deposited at the Home.  Other than a few barely legible initials and a tiny silver spoon with a crest, Dot doesn’t have much to go on.  So with no money and Howell’s closed, she gets a job a a seamstress at the Dunbrae Arms.  And there she pursues her history, asking questions of the snarly Mrs. Smees, who runs the housekeeping for the lodge, and Bas Simmonds, the laundry man, as well as Eddie who seems to know everyone and begins to spend time with Dot.

But, it is evident that Dot’s small frame and face remind others of someone but the confusion  or even anger her presence evokes is never clear to her.   And then she is invited to a summer party to commemorate ByeBye Baby, the unexplained discovery of a tiny baby in the woods seventeen years earlier.  A baby that was seen but disappeared before help arrived.  Knowing she must have been that baby, Dot encourages Eddie to pursue the story–he is a summer reporter for the Buckminster Gleaner–so that she too might learn everything she can about that baby and the mystery surrounding it.  And I haven’t even mentioned the small bones that begin to appear around the seamstress’ cabin where Dot rooms.  Fragile, incomplete, and mysterious bones, probably those of birds.

Vicki Grant weaves a loaded story about a pregnancy that was kept hidden and a birth that was obscured from small-town gossip and yet so important as Dot’s seemingly insignificant origins.  The cover up about her birth may have been haphazard but it was effective in keeping the truth concealed.  And yet many individuals knew a little something about the event.  Some knew better than to talk about it, afraid of ruffling feathers, but others just didn’t realize that they knew anything important.  With astute questioning and biding her time, Dot is able to piece her story together from a patchwork of details, and though her story may have been a tad frayed around the edges–she does jump to a few incorrect assumptions–it is heart-warmingly trimmed with a happy ending or two.  In fact, Vicki Grant, with her light-touch and say-it-straight writing manner, makes sure that it’s “Better than any fantasy” (pg. 239) that Dot could ever have imagined.

October 07, 2015

2015 Governor General Literary Awards: Shortlists announced today!

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 2015 Governor General's Literary Awards.

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.  Today, the finalists for the 2015 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 

Audrey (cow)
by Dan Bar-el
Tundra Books
Are You Seeing Me?
by Darren Groth
Orca Book Publishers

We Are All Made of Molecules
by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books / Penguin Random House Canada

Reviewed here
The Gospel Truth
by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press

Reviewed here

Young Man with Camera
by Emil Sher
Scholastic Canada

Jack, the King of Ashes

by Andy Jones and Darka Erdelji
Running the Goat Books & Broadsides
Sidewalk Flowers
by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books

The Good Little Book
by Kyo Maclear and Marion Arbona
Tundra Books

A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories
by John Martz
Koyama Press

Bug in a Vacuum
by Mélanie Watt
Tundra Books

Les forces du désordre
par Camille Bouchard
Éditions Québec Amérique

Dessine-moi une martien
par Denis Côté
Soulières Éditeur
par Roger Des Roches
Les Éditions de la courte échelle
Direction Saint-Creux-des-Meuh-Meuh
par Sandra Dussault
Éditions Québec Amérique
Maria Réparatrice
par Louis-Philippe Hébert
Les Éditions de La Grenouillère

Le voleur de sandwichs
par Patrick Doyon et André Marois
 Les Éditions de la Pastèque

par Jacques Goldstyn
 Les Éditions de la Pastèque

Quand j'écris avec mon coeur
par Mireille Levert 
Les Éditions de la Bagnole/ Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature
Rosalie entre chien et chat
par Mélanie Perrault et Marion Arbona
Dominque et compagnie

Douze oiseaux
par Renée Robitaille et Philippe Béha
Les Éditions de la Bagnole/ Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at http://ggbooks.ca/   

But wait, there's more!

Until the winners are announced, get involved in the Canada Council for the Arts contests for a chance to win an iPad and the 2015 GGBooks collection.  It's as simple as taking a selfie with a nominated book and posting it tagging the Canada Council for the Arts on Facebook or @CanadaCouncil on Twitter, and using #GGBooks and #MyCanLit.  Be sure to watch for my selfies at @HelenKubiw to see that #MyCanLit always includes great #youngCanLit!

October 06, 2015

Shattered Glass

by Teresa Toten
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-459810976 (pbk)
256 pp.
Ages 12+
September 29, 2015
Reviewed from audiobook

"Kid, your life makes mine look like a beige wall."

These words, spoken by sixteen-year-old Toni's Yorkville landlady, Grady, could not be truer, though surprising, considering the colourful and perhaps tragic circumstances of Lady Grady's own life.  But Toni, whose life has been turned upside-down by a fire at the orphanage she has lived at for the past 14 years, has a story as complicated and heartbreaking as any of the songs that Teresa Toten uses to title her chapters.

Toni, who has been plagued by nightmares of fire and smoke and cuts, is one of eldest seven at the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls, who is given a few bits of paper as clues to her heritage and some money to start a new and independent life for herself.  For Toni, these bits include a yellowed menu, a playbill from a club named Willa’s in Toronto, and the discharge paper detailing her hospital visit immediately prior to her arrival at the Home.  For the first time, Toni knows her name, Antoinette Royce, and her mother’s, Halina Royce.

But her first order of business is to get herself settled, which she promptly does finding a room at Grady Vespucci’s and a job waitressing at the Purple Onion café, both in Yorkville.  As reliable and hard-working as Toni may be, she is determined to be “smart and fearless and sassy” (pg. 27) and begins to search for her father, seeing him first in folk singer Ian Tyson, of Ian and Sylvia fame, and then in Brooks Goldman, the lead musician of the Purple Onion’s band and father of Ethan, a young man who seems to take an interest in Toni and watches out for her.  But Toni’s quest for her family is a difficult one, as she harbours a fear that her mother is responsible for the fire and for the injuries she incurred before she ended up at the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls.  And she keeps letting her imagination take her off the beaten path to identify her father.

In addition to Grady and Big Bob, the owner of the Purple Onion, Ethan and his father Brooks, Toni becomes acquainted with a handsome young man who runs another club, flattered by the attention he bestows upon her.  Sadly, just as Toni misinterprets so much about her own life history, she sees Cassidy as a potential love interest, oblivious to the messages she should be getting about him but is naively ignorant.  As desperate as Toni is to find some closure to her past–“The shadows cripple you” (pg. 162)–she can’t see the family she is building around her, with a motley group of individuals who all care about her, regardless of her origins or naiveté.  Fortunately, set to an awesome selection of music embedded in her story, Toni is able to learn her true story, though it is a sad one.

Teresa Toten gets the reader in the gut with Shattered Glass. Imagine a young girl who is convinced her mother is no good and in looking for her father convinces herself she’s found him, more than once!  Without ever intending it, Toni creates her story and continues to revise it as the facts come to light.  Still Teresa Toten allows Toni the freedom to be strong and forthright while letting a sliver of hope about her father add an undersong to her present life.  It’s a compelling story, Toni’s and Shattered Glass, that is never obvious nor predictable but rather sweeping as it carries Toni and the reader along to a satisfying conclusion.  As the Rolling Stones sang just a few years later, “You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometime you find, You get what you need. “  Toni does.

October 05, 2015

Ben Says Goodbye

by Sarah Ellis
Illustrated by Kim La Fave
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
October 1, 2015

Last time (A+ for Big Ben) darling preschooler Ben had to deal with being the only one in the family not getting a report card and feeling like a little kid.  This time he has another challenge to overcome: the moving away of his best friend Peter.  Desolate, Ben moves away too, under the table to become a caveboy, with only his teddy bear for companionship.  There he eats with his fingers and plays with rocks, and responds to offered food with the occasional "guh." And, most importantly, he is able to to recreate his time with Peter in amazing petroglyphs that provide him with closure and appreciation for their friendship.
Sarah Ellis' latest Ben story focuses on a common upset for children: the moving away of a friend.  Her text shows how a child doesn't recognize all the efforts of others to distract from the potential trauma but instead allows him to immerse himself in his memories, giving them texture in the drawings he produces within his cave.  Kim La Fave, who gets little Ben's shy or determined face spot on, illustrates Ben Says Goodbye so expressively that Ben's angst and ultimate release and acceptance are remarkably visible.  Using the simplest of lines, Kim La Fave gets the angles of the faces, hands and bodies with their tiny feet so right that their intentions are always plain, allowing even the youngest readers to see more into the artwork than might be expected.  And the cave drawings are so evocative of boys having fun and making adventures from their limitless activities. It's not surprising that Ben will miss his compadre when they've already lived so many lives in a few short years.

Best of all is the culminating picture and text that, without saying much, say everything, providing a hopeful future of friendship, albeit with someone of the opposite gender.  A happy ending to a story that demonstrates that even the very young can work their way through difficult situations on their own and come out smiling.  Ben has so much to teach all of us, even if he is just a preschooler!

October 03, 2015

My Life Before Me: Interview with author Norah McClintock

With my review of Norah McClintock's book My Life Before Me, her contribution to the Secrets series from Orca Book Publishers, posted above, I am pleased to offer a little something extra.  As part of Orca's Secrets Blog tour–in which I'm delighted to be participate!–I have the pleasure of posting a Q & A with Norah McClintock in regards to her amazing book and the writing process.

I'm pleased to post that interview here. Enjoy!

Norah McClintock, author of My Life Before Me

HK:  The plot in My Life Before Me is so intense, mixing a young woman’s search for her past with a murder mystery and racism and the civil rights movement.  What germ of an idea did you focus on as the starting point for the story?

NM:  I once read about a woman who had discovered that her father had attended a lynching along with many other seemingly respectable white people in town. It happened in the 1930s, I think, and, contrary to what one thinks when one hears about lynching, it didn’t happen in the American south. It happened in a northern state. That was the sum total of my initial idea. This bears absolutely no relationship to Cady or her quest. But it was the thing that maybe me wonder about family and knowing: what we think we know versus what really happened; how what happened can change everything in a moment.

HK:  The whole Seven Secrets takes place in 1964.  How did you research this time period to ensure setting authenticity in My Life Before Me?  What was the hardest about writing about a teen for a time period during which you were a very young child?

NM:  I would like to say that I wasn’t even born then, so I had to slog through tons and tons and tons of sources to make sure I was as accurate as possible. That’s certainly true for some members of the group. But I was able to draw on actual life experience. When I was a kid, a cousin several years older than me – about Cady’s age, in fact – lived with us for her high school years. She shared a room with me. So I had a pretty good idea about what 1960s teens were all about. 

HK:  Nellie Bly and the field of journalism are important aspects of My Life Before Me.  Why did you choose to emphasize this in your book?

NM:  I gave Cady my passion. I also gave her my part-time job. I actually did what I describe for a local newspaper.

Cady was adopted once in her past and then given up to an orphanage. She has been rejected by two sets of parents, not just one. So her focus was never going to be on where she came from. She doesn’t care. At least, she doesn’t want to care. When we meet her, she has just been dumped by her boyfriend because of his mother’s prejudice against orphaned girls, who, at that time, were more often than not children who were born to unmarried women – something that was deemed shameful and for which women suffered terrible consequences. So Cady’s focus is on finally taking charge of her life, following her dream, refusing, despite all the odds, to give up until she proves herself – just like Nellie Bly.

HK:  Considering the circumstances with which she has had to endure most of her life, Cady could be justified in harbouring a lot of anger and bitterness.  Yet she accepts most situations with a grain of salt and much wisdom.  How did you keep from embittering her to her life’s realities?

NM:  Well, she is kind of bitter about her boyfriend and his mother and the whole town that she can’t wait to leave. But she’s not a person who is interested in her own past. She is focused firmly on the future and who she wants to be. She can’t wait to get started. But her life experience is not one of being ill-used, abused, or even badly brought-up. The orphanage were she was raised was not a huge institution. It was small, charity-run, not well-financed, but it was home. Cady’s resentment is not directed there, although her restlessness stems from there.

HK:  Co-authoring books can be an odious task as well as fulfilling as authors attempt to work with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  But writing Secrets, just as with Seven the Series and the Seven Sequels, must be a completely unique writing process as you and six other authors must co-ordinate your works.  What did you find most compelling about this process–you have done it three times now–and what recommendations would you make to other authors who might like to attempt this?

NM:  You have to be willing to go with a premise that is not necessarily your own and prepared to negotiate with other writers to make sure that the story elements you all need are included, where necessary, in the basic proposition of the series. You have to deal with a few curve balls, too. I was thrown a huge one when work started on the Seven prequels, but that’s another story. Coordinating the instigating situation is probably the hardest part. The person I feel sorriest for is the series editor, who had to make sure that nothing in one of the books contradicted anything in the other six, etc. It was a lot of work and sometimes meant that the editor had to negotiate with two writers to come to a compromise. I think maybe sometimes she also issued fiats. The result was always fine.

HK:   I don’t know if Eric Walters is thinking of a set of sequels to the Secrets series but if it happens, I can think of a number of ways to take it.  Cady’s journalism, another crime or mystery, her remaining family,  a possible romance.  Where would you like to take Cady’s story given the chance for a sequel?

NM:  Oh, there are so many possibilities. She’s young. She has drive and ambition, the 1960s, as they are thought about in popular culture (which is not a true reflection of reality, by the way), are just getting started, and change is in the air. 


Thanks to Orca Book Publisher publicist Melissa Shirley for arranging this Q & A and to author Norah McClintock for sharing with CanLit for LittleCanadians’ readers a glimpse into her writing and her new book My Life Before Me.

My Life Before Me

by Norah McClintock
Orca Book Publishers
248 pp.
Ages 12+
September 29, 2015

Cady Andrews has dreamed of being a newspaper reporter and when her home, the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls, burns down, the story she is going to pursue is her own.  Just like the other six older girls–Toni, Sara, Betty, Tess, Malou and Dot–from the Home who must set out on their own, Cady is given clues to her identity or heritage.  Though she wants to reject it at first, hopeful of a new and exciting life, totally different than the pathetic one of twice-orphaned Cady Andrews, she takes that single clue–a yellowed newspaper clipping of a photo of the vandalized tombstone of Thomas Jefferson who died in 1948 in Orrenstown, Indiana–as the means to grab the attention of the Toronto newspaper editor who thinks the newspaper office is no place for young women.  

But it’s 1964 and it’s a time of the growing civil rights movement and a time of anger by those who can’t abide change.  Not surprising Cady’s questions in Orrenstown and then in Freemount where the grave is located draw a lot of attention. From the  three old men whom she meets at the diner, one of whom becomes her go-to person for local info, Sheriff Bradley Hicks who keeps popping up, a black youth named Daniel and his mother Lila Jefferson, and Maggie Nearing, who runs the local newspaper and the rooming house where Cady stays, Cady gets everyone gossipping and sometimes answering her questions.  Though she learns that Thomas Jefferson had been imprisoned for killing a white man and died while trying to escape, the story details seem to take on different perspectives depending on with whom she is speaking.  And his status as a war hero seemed to rub some people the wrong way.

What Thomas Jefferson, a black man, has to do with blond, blue-eyed Cady is not readily evident, but as with any crime story, a little bit of digging goes a long way to uncovering a few bones and ultimately some skeletons that many would have preferred left hidden.  In fact, some locals are threatened by Cady’s interest in the story as evident by threats she endures because of her enquiries.  Luckily she’s a determined and clever young woman and follows her single clue from one lead to another, meeting more and more people, and revealing an overwhelming racial discrimination and a story of murder, lies and corruption.  That clue may have been given to her to help find her family, but it’s probably more important in what she learns about herself.
But I promised myself that I would never commit the same sin.  I would never be afraid to do the right thing.  I didn’t want to go through life hating myself or regretting decisions. (pg. 242)
There’s a great reason that Norah McClintock is the queen of YA crime writing and I’m so impressed with the story she was able to create within the premise of the Secrets series and still accommodate a plot involving murder, mystery, and civil rights.  My Life Before Me demonstrates that our lives are more than the total of our own experiences; they are also shaped by experiences before our own births.  That single newspaper clipping clue about a man of no relation to Cady is able to open the doors to her past and her origin, though never obvious or confusing.  She will learn from whence she came, though her birth is neither a happy nor a horrific story.  But the story in which her birth is embedded is greater than her own, because it tells of a society that was hurtful and dishonest and prejudiced, and in 1964 still only starting to change for the better.  Moreover,  Norah McClintock easily places the reader in a different time–a time in which skin colour sadly mattered and justice was not always so.  And yet, readers will be impressed by Cady’s strength of character, regardless of the roadblocks constantly placed in her way, and the way she faced adversity with wisdom and poise.
Never spit into a well you may need to drink from. (pg. 7)
And even though much of the mystery regarding Thomas Jefferson skirts Cady’s own story, she makes it into a story that was important to tell and share, for a good greater than her own need.  I truly hope that Cady will continue to be given voice by  Norah McClintock as I think they both have lots more important ideas and stories to share, whether about being given to the orphanage for a second time or about the new life she makes for herself as a newspaper reporter.  Lots for more stories to be told, I’m sure.

Something special as part of the Secrets blog tour!

Read my interview with author Norah McClintock about her writing and her new book My Life Before Me in my next post today.