July 24, 2014

Winter Moon Song

by Martha Brooks
Illustrated by Leticia Ruifernández
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
August 2014

Embed a story about the rabbit in the moon within the narrative of a young bunny's questioning about the magic of life and winter, then add the sweetness of a traditional song and illustrate with tender watercolours by Spanish artist Leticia Ruifernández and, like magic, you have Martha Brook's first picture book, the heartfelt Winter Moon Song.

Accompany a little rabbit "not so small as to be a still-doted-upon baby, yet not big enough to be noticed in any significant way" as he makes his way home from a choir practice of the ancient piece "Winter Moon Song".  In the stillness of the winter cold, he contemplates the upcoming gathering, the aging singers in the choir and the rabbit in the moon, and asks his mother how the rabbit got there.

After his mother shares the legend of another young rabbit's sacrifice to the Great Mother, Creator Rabbit, the bunny of our story recognizes that the "Winter Moon Song" can be "a magical path lighting the darkest month" and he sets about to make it so.

Winter Moon Song is as magical as the song within, lyrically written by Martha Brooks and set to the music of cool colour washes by Leticia Ruifernández.  As refreshing as it is share this picture book now, I encourage lovers of youngCanLit to purchase it and reread it with family and children during the dark months of winter when Winter Moon Song will truly raise its voice.

July 23, 2014

The Night is Found: Book Launch (Halifax)

Saturday, July 26, 2014
1-3 p.m.



Kat Kruger

for the release of

The Night is Found
Fierce Ink Press
978-1-927746-59-2 (epub)
978-1-927746-60-8 (Kindle)
301 pp.
Ages 14+

 the final book 
The Magdeburg Trilogy


Indigo Chapters
Bayers Lake Power Centre
188 Chain Lake Drive 
Halifax, Nova Scotia 

Read my review here and see why you really should attend!

July 22, 2014

Haunted Canada: Ghost Stories

by Pat Hancock and Allan Gould
Illustrated by Andrej Krystoforski
Scholastic Canada
172 pp.
Ages 8-13

Though most readers would think this a perfect read for Halloween (and I will be sure to add it to an October post on spooky youngCanLit reads), ghost stories are also the perfect choice for an end-of-night campfire, when the darkness has settled in, the quiet is heavy in the warm humid air, and the company is just a little wary of occasional unfamiliar sounds and shadows.  That's the time to bring out one of Scholastic Canada's Haunted Canada series books, like their newest Haunted Canada: Ghost Stories.

While all the stories include supernatural or paranormal elements, the basis for the tales are quite varied.  Some warn, some entertain, some explain, some scare. Many of the stories, like "The Sleeping Boy" and "Golden Eyes", have ghosts that appear for the purpose of keeping others safe, whether from fire, an avalanche or a flash flood.  In "Robber's Reward", a young girl helps to right an injustice.  Several provide cautionary themes against bullying and gossiping, such as in "A Boy's Best Friend" and "Spellbound".  And the final story in the book, "Life Guard", is truly frightening or would be if a boy hadn't been an attentive big brother.

The fifteen stories within are a little scary but not horrific, not the nightmare-inducing tales that teens and adults might enjoy.  These stories read more like retelling of eyewitness accounts, the kind that one person might tell by beginning with, "Did you hear that...?" and you might believe they actually happened.  Mind you, with ghost stories, how do you know they didn't? Something to think about when settling into that warm and cozy bed and you hear something go bump in the night. 

July 19, 2014

The Boundless

by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
336 pp.
Ages 10-16
April, 2014

"ALL ABOARD... The Boundless for a mesmerizing adventure of historical proportions, with death-defying leaps of faith, Sasquatch encounters, illusions of the fourth dimension and murderous employees looking for the gold after death.  Leaving now for its first journey. Get on board now to be one of the first to enjoy this newest series by award-winning author Kenneth Oppel."

Life changes for Will Everett and his family after Will helps in the hammering of the last spike of the CPR railway in British Columbia and his father saves the life of Cornelius Van Horne, president of the CPR, in an avalanche.  Three years later James Everett is in charge of the Boundless, the seven-mile long train of spectacular design created by Van Horne, who is now ensconced in a secured and guarded funeral car near the front of the train.  And, on its maiden voyage, Will is enjoying the amenities of first class and looking to reacquaint himself with a young wirewalker/escape artist, Maren, travelling with Zirkus Dante, the circus of Mr. Dorian, the man who'd captured a young sasquatch after that avalanche years earlier.

Beyond the incredible opportunity of travelling on the longest and most powerful train in the world, essentially pulling a city of nine hundred and eighty-seven cars, Will enjoys the opportunity to experience the towns of vendors that arise to service the train's passengers, the wilds of the Canadian landscape with its supernatural creatures including the muskeg hag, the Wendigo and the sasquatch, and convince his father that he should be allowed to attend art school in San Francisco.  But Will places himself in a dangerous position when, at a stop, he recovers a key dropped by the funeral car's guard moments before the man is stabbed by a man Will recognizes.  Barely catching the caboose at the end of the train, Will must use all his skills and wits and trust a few new friends if he is to stay alive and find his way back to his father in the locomotive.

The Boundless is an endless adventure of hopping train cars, outsmarting murderous fiends, marvelling at unforeseen inventions, surviving encounters with mythical creatures and trusting some and not others, including a first love.  Never does Kenneth Oppel make you believe that Will can easily survive this drama.  Readers will be holding their breaths wondering which fall will kill Will or leave him in the Boundless' wake. Or whether Mr. Dorian's plan will save him or put others in jeopardy.  Or whether every brakeman on the Boundless is a threat.  Or whether Will's father, miles away at the front of the train, knows anything of the goings-on in the funeral car and beyond.  And I'll be surprised if you don't start wondering which pieces of Canadian history are valid and accurate. Cornelius Van Horne, Sam Steele, Simon Fraser and Donald Smith and others make appearances in The Boundless, though they are legitimate characters who helped in the making of our nation.  But what of the golden spike?

Yep.  The Boundless has all that and more. And only reading Kenneth Oppel's newest steampunk will allow you some opportunity to answer those questions or at least make an attempt at it. So get on board with reading The Boundless, a phenomenon of engineering and text, courtesy of the imagination and pen of one of Canada's finest writers for young people. 

July 17, 2014

Eden Mills Writers' Festival 2014: youngCanLit authors

Interested in listening to some of Canada's finest authors read their work? Want to get an autographed book for a Christmas gift for your favourite young reader?  Love learning about new writers in a spectacular outdoor setting?

Then set aside
Sunday September 14th, 2014
12 noon – 6pm

to join us at

The Eden Mills Writers' Festival

in the village of Eden Mills
(15 min. south-east of Guelph, Ontario)

Details about the schedule will be up in August, and other FAQs about prices, adult authors, the poetry slam, and other events can be read at http://edenmillswritersfestival.ca/web/

Children's Authors and Storytellers

Jo-Ellen Bogart

Hélène Boudreau

Zachary Collins
Retrieved from http://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/

Lisa Dalrymple

George Murray

Patricia Storms

Janet Wilson

Brad Woods, storyteller

Authors of Young Adult Books

Patrick Bowman

Wesley King

Maureen McGowan

Emily Pohl-Weary

Morgan Rhodes

Richard Scarsbrook

Jocelyn Shipley

Michael F. Stewart


See you at the EMWF!

You'll come for the words 
but you'll stay for the experience!

July 16, 2014

Bear on the Homefront

by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5+
September 1, 2014
For sale August 19, 2014

Anyone who minimizes the value of a toy during stressful times needs to read Bear on the Homefront, as well as its prequel A Bear at War (Stephanie Innes et al., 2008), not to mention the recently reviewed Soldier Doll.  In fact, any object that can lend emotional support to both children and adults during times of war is more than a toy–it's a treasure. 

Teddy Bear, CWM 20040015-001
Image from http://www.warmuseum.ca/
This little teddy bear had its simple beginnings as a good luck charm and keepsake that Aileen Rogers sent her father Lt. Lawrence Browning Rogers in 1916 when he was fighting in France.  Though her father did not return home, Teddy did, having been found in her father's jacket when he died at Passchendaele.

Now Aileen Rogers is grown up and a nurse, contributing to efforts in World War II to keep British children safe by evacuating them to Canada. The story is told by Teddy who is Aileen's keepsake now, speaking to her from the pocket of her uniform, as she accompanies children across the ocean and then to find their way to their transport and chaperones.  

Upon their arrival at Halifax, Aileen introduces herself to two of the smallest children, Grace and her five-year-old brother William, who look lost and afraid. To reassure small William, Aileen lets Teddy keep him company as they begin their train journey to Winnipeg.  Unlike many children who seem to enjoy the freedom and adventure of their travels, Grace and William quietly endure the experience, worrying about their future home.  Not surprisingly, upon their arrival and introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Dent, whose farm they would stay at, William is reluctant to leave.  But Aileen compassionately bestows Teddy on the little boy, instructing him to take good care of the children.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending for all, though five years of war keeps them separated from those they love.  Inspired by events recounted in Aileen Rogers' diary, Bear on the Homefront takes Teddy out of the war zone but still working to comfort those impacted by war. And by giving Teddy a voice, Stephanie Innes (the great niece of Aileen Rogers) and Harry Endrulat have endeared the little bear with even more heart than his simple form may suggest.  His longing for Aileen and his honest reflections are not dissimilar to the children's own, though they all recognize the value in perseverance, even if it is difficult.  

The text and atmospheric oil on canvas illustrations of Brian Deines lend an authenticity to the memories held within Bear on the Homefront.  Teddy has an important story to tell, and his voice and demeanour are appropriately not the cutesy, anthropomorphized bear of so many upbeat picture books, though the book's message is heartening. For his heroic efforts in comforting and giving voice to others when their own words and thoughts probably failed them, Teddy is now safe and treasured at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  So, Bear at the Homefront gives us one more happy ending from a time when there weren't many.

July 15, 2014

Soldier Doll

by Jennifer Gold
Second Story Press
256 pp.
Ages 13-18
March 2014

One doll. Five wars. Many hearts touched.

A summer yard sale doll, with a cherubic face and a soldier's uniform, is the quirky birthday gift fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Bryant picks up for her dad, an engineer shipping out with the military to Afghanistan in a few weeks.  Just recently relocated to Toronto from Vancouver, Elizabeth goes to check out the neighbourhood and wanders into a bookstore where she meets Evan, an older teen who works there.  Talking books, Elizabeth and Evan learn they share an appreciation for author Margaret Merriweather's work, and he introduces Elizabeth to her poetry, including her famous poem, "The Soldier Doll." 

As Elizabeth delves into the poem, she discusses the possibility that the doll of which Margaret Merriweather wrote may in fact be the doll she purchased for her father.  While the reader will know this to be true from the historical anecdotes involving the soldier doll that are interspersed in Elizabeth's narrative, the teen, her parents and Evan set out to discover the mystery of the doll, looking into its provenance and journey to the Toronto yard sale where it was found.

The little soldier doll, originally a girl's keepsake after the loss of her mother, is shared years later with her fiancé as he heads to France in 1918.  Though the soldier doll is thought to be lucky by his fellow soldiers, it begins the next step of its journey when the young man is killed and the doll ends up in an antique shop in Germany.  Without spoiling the story, suffice it to say that the soldier doll is present when Jewish people were being rounded up in Berlin, when the Red Cross comes to assess the conditions at the concentration camp at Terezín in Czechoslovakia, when young American soldiers seek the Viet Cong in Da Nang, Vietnam, and after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 when the war on terrorism begins.

Almost a century of history is witnessed by the unusual wooden doll, privy to secrets and shared fears, watching death, destruction, kindness and hope all twisted together.  With Elizabeth and her family endeavouring to learn its complete story, Jennifer Gold is able to bring the Soldier Doll home, both in the story and with her writing.  Wrapping all that history in a mystery makes for an intriguing read.  While I thought that Elizabeth's dad knowing an archaeologist/historian was a tad convenient, I realize that with his history (pun intended) of seeing the fantastic amongst his yard sale finds he'd probably reached out to everyone and anyone who could verify them as authentic.  And in a story where a doll is able to reach across time and place and work magic on those who held it, I think that coincidences may be more fortuitous than contrived.

Jennifer Gold is very astute in using the doll as the focus for discussions of life and death, war and peace, and responsibility and honour.  Even as the narrative moves from World War I to World War II and ultimately to the recent war in Afghanistan, I wondered about those who enlisted or were drafted and went to war under a banner of duty or compassion, and ultimately had to face the horrors and tragedy of war.  The wars that the soldier doll witnesses may have different names and locations but those who live and die through them are always the same.
"I wasn't sure what the right thing to do was.  I don't think the right thing was that clear.  I guess it never is, not in a war, really." (pg. 263)
Not much has changed.  But, just as history is apparently told by the victors, the Soldier Doll lives on because of those who endured or lived long enough to share its story. And though one veteran acknowledges that, "It's hard to be the one who lives" (pg. 265), the living are critical in keeping those who passed alive.  Just like the soldier doll does.