September 18, 2014

Finding Ruby Starling


by Karen Rivers
Alfred A. Levine Books/Scholastic
978-0-545-53479-6
304 pp.
Ages 10-14
August, 2014
Reviewed from advance reading copy

Karen River’s latest book for young readers is a successful take on a Parent Trap-type plot, albeit with the benefits of modern technology and perhaps a friendly spirit. 

While goofing around online with a face-matching app called FaceTrace, 12-year-old Ruth Quayle, adopted daughter of a heart surgeon and a scientist, discovers a British look-alike in trendier clothes named Ruby Starling. Through a series of Tumblr posts, emails with her best, talking to her parents, and contacting Ruby, Ruth determines that she and the other girl are identical twins who somehow became separated.
“I feel like half of me has just been peeled away, like a decal being pulled off its back sticky bit, making me just the waxy papery rubbish left behind.” (pg. 11)
Unconvinced about Ruth’s theory, Ruby reaches out to her friends for advice, though she knows that only her mother – a busy artist distracted by her work – and her deceased grandmother could tell her the truth.  Finding the need to talk to grandmother, Ruby writes letters (obviously never sent) to air her thoughts.  When a painting by Ruby’s mother of her as a baby with a shadow baby in the background falls off the wall, Ruby becomes convinced that her Nan has sent her a message from beyond the grave indicating that Ruby and Ruth are indeed twins.

By using only emails, letters, and Tumblr posts for Ruth and Ruby to communicate their secrets, concerns and questions, Karen Rivers’ ensures that the girls’ youthful voices are always maintained.  And, though the twins have bigger issues with which to deal, including fear, abandonment and grief, Karen Rivers embeds those issues seamlessly within natural interactions with family and friends, adding quirky teachings from a Buddhist calendar, occasional ghostly messages and some boyfriend-girlfriend drama to help keep the heavy issues from detracting from the story’s feelgood nature.

Karen Rivers’ story of long-lost twins could have easily followed a typical, comedic path. But by showing how the lives of Ruth and Ruby are enriched by the discovery of each other, the author has created a more complex narrative that explores themes of family and friendship.



(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2014, October). [Review of the book Finding Ruby Starling, by Karen Rivers]. Quill & Quire, 80 (8): 38.

September 17, 2014

Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL: Authors share

Stories by Chris Benjamin, Ben Boudreau, Gerard Collins, Alison DeLory, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Patti Larsen, Cale Liom, Chad Pelley, Lee D. Thompson and Jo Treggiari 
Forward by Susin Nielsen
Edited by Allister Thompson
Fierce Ink Press
978-1-927746-61-5
205 pp.
Ages 13+
For release September 23, 2014

Yesterday's review of Becoming Fierce is a great introduction to the ten Canadian writers who gave life to their stories about becoming and being fierce.  Like greatness, some people have fierceness (is that ferocity?) thrust upon, while others grow into that fierceness with age and experience.  I wonder if some of us never become fierce.

These ten authors have agreed to answer this very simple request:  If you could tell your pre-fierce self something in three little words, what would it be?

I expected something similar to "It gets better".  Now we know why they are the writers and I simply give them space for their words.  Sometimes the answer can't be restricted to a mere three words, the idea of becoming fierce being such an overwhelming concept.  But here are the gracious and personal responses of the authors: 




Jamie Fitzpatrick 
(Newfoundland)
These Memories Can’t Wait 




You are lucky


......................................................................................................




Ben Boudreau
(Nova Scotia)
Say It’s Okay






Keep aiming higher


......................................................................................................





Jo Treggiari 
(Nova Scotia)
Love You Like Suicide



Create and Live


......................................................................................................



Chris Benjamin 
(Nova Scotia)
Cuisvé 







Hunger for Justice


......................................................................................................



Gerard Collins
(Newfoundland)
The Long Last Year 







Don't be afraid


......................................................................................................





Alison DeLory 
(Nova Scotia)
Some of My Parts





Embrace your uniqueness


......................................................................................................



Chad Pelley 
(Newfoundland)
Before I Was Me



For better or for worse, the real world could not be more different than the bizarre and temporary world of high school.


......................................................................................................




Lee D. Thompson 
(New Brunswick)
Diary of a Fluky Kid






Always be yourself


......................................................................................................



Patti Larsen 
(Prince Edward Island)
Prince Nameless








Trust the Universe
Just keep writing
You got this

......................................................................................................


Cale Liom
(Prince Edward Island)
I Used to Think I’d Make a Good Boy







Learn martial arts

......................................................................................................


Each author's words will resonate with the reader after you've read each of their stories and perhaps even before you do.  And for anyone who is in need of becoming fierce, the stories will tell you in so many different ways that it does get better.  Learn from those who have been through it.  Read Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL.

September 16, 2014

Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL


Stories by Chris Benjamin, Ben Boudreau, Gerard Collins, Alison DeLory, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Patti Larsen, Cale Liom, Chad Pelley, Lee D. Thompson and Jo Treggiari
Forward by Susin Nielsen
Edited by Allister Thompson
Fierce Ink Press
978-1-927746-61-5
205 pp.
Ages 13+
For release September 23, 2014


I'd been wondering about the idea of being fierce, a word I always recall using to describe lions and tigers. In fact, fierce always seems to be synonymous with wild, savage, intense and violent.  None of these are actually traits to which someone might aspire, are they?  But more recently, fierceness has taken on the positive dimension of being bold and gutsy, without arrogance or insolence.  Everyone will experience a time when becoming fierce is the only option, other than concession or worse.  I celebrate the writers of the ten short stories in Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL who share their own experiences in teenhood, about themselves and others, when becoming fierce releases them from the holds of fears, bullies, confusion, family, drugs, and even country.

These short stories all come from Atlantic writers whose experiences may or may not be defined by their regions.  Cuisvé by Chris Benjamin tells the story of an international exchange he shared with a young man, Ben, from St. Lucia.  Though Chris, 19, felt fierce breaking up with his girlfriend, sure that their relationship would never survive their three months separation, it's Ben's Uncle Dingo whose passion for his country is truly fierce in so many ways.  In The Long Last Year, Gerard Collins struggles with graduating from high school in Newfoundland, without any decisions made for his future, and dealing with his father who suffered a debilitating stroke which ultimately cost him his life.  Gerard Collins' fierceness needed to wait until the day he was ready to go beyond his home. The rather isolated community of Summerside, PEI, probably contributed to Cale Liom's necessity for fierceness, with the bullying and abuse she endured, as described in I Used to Think I'd Make a Good Boy.  Growing up with relentless homophobic comments because she was a girl who just wanted to have the same opportunities to do sports and such like the boys pushed Cale Liom into further confusion and suicidal thoughts, though her strength came from surviving it all.

As in Cuisvé and The Long Last Year, family can play a significant role in becoming fierce.  Lee D. Thompson's Diary of a Fluky Kid relives, in nine innings, his ever-changing relationships with the fathers in his life: his own father who was relentless about teaching his eldest daughter to play baseball, and the fathers of two friends, Gino and Murray, who taught him how to hit, to anticipate a curve ball, to sprint and finally to love the sport his father adored.

But, as with so many teens, self-esteem and self-acceptance are often tied to one's friends and peers, and that can be both valuable and disastrous.  Ben Boudreau's camp counsellor experiences, recounted in Say It's Okay, started with bullying by the "real" counsellors who were neither pimply nor awkward. Here he meets Pete, who has special needs, continuing to babysit the boy years later when Ben is in university and Pete is 13.  A power outage at Pete's house when Ben is babysitting reveals the fierceness both have developed in very different ways.  The boy in Jamie Fitzpatrick’s These Memories Can’t Wait relies on music to focus and give himself an identify, whether as a preteen asking a girl to dance or a teen wrapped in the powerful volume of new music.

Both Patti Larsen and Alison DeLory share their own self-doubts alongside fairy tale-like stories in which they finally recognize their own worth.  While Patti Larsen's Prince Nameless shares her struggle with popularity, or lack thereof, juxtaposed with a warrioress enamoured with a prince, Alison DeLory examines her teen body image (i.e., Some of My Parts) against the story of a red-hoodied girl lost in a forest with a wolf.

Two of the most intense stories for me included Love You Like Suicide by Jo Treggiari and Before I Was Me by Chad Pelley. The intensity of the losses both writers endure feels like a weight, a boulder that could drag them down or one upon which they could scramble up and look beyond.  Jo Treggiari's teen has the fierceness that comes from perceived invincibility, until she learns otherwise and reinvents herself. On the other hand, Chad Pelley speaks to Dani, a girl with whom he'd fallen in love in high school because of her "fearless passion to be alive in the most immediate, desperate way" (pg. 143). His message to her includes the wish that she'd stayed fierce enough to find out who she really was, something that he didn't do until he was much older.

Real fierceness comes from surviving those circumstances in which you didn't have fierceness.  And, then when you have it, it's not always evident because those circumstances just seem to slide right on by.  The trick is to get through those challenges and accept the new fierceness as an armament tucked away until needed again.  And Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL provides others the opportunity to see that it does get better, if you can just hang in there. I'm glad all these writers did.



<><><<><<><><><><><><><><>><>><><>

Tomorrow, the ten short story writers of Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL have kindly agreed to share some advice they might have given to their pre-fierce selves, advice which would be useful for most of us to heed.  Look for that post tomorrow.

September 13, 2014

Dojo Daycare

by Chris Tougas
Owlkids
978-1-77147-057-5
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
For release September 15, 2014

In fun rhyming verse, author and illustrator Chris Tougas, takes the high spirits of ninja boys and girls and releases them in their new dojo daycare where Master attempts to harness their energy into reflecting on honor, kindness and respect. But the dojo is more playground than learning venue and the little ninjas, bare-footed and dressed in their black suits, tend to end up in a series of Kaboom! Kapow! riots, frustrating the Master throughout the day.

I wish I could reproduce Chris Tougas' endearing little ninjas here, but I can't possibly
demonstrate how the little ones seemingly pop off the page with every kick and pounce.  His illustrations, and explosive exclamations by the ninjas and their master, are bold and colourful, and digitally enhanced for the full power of a ninja kick.  This power is visually supported with the illustrator's choice of white as background, with only occasional shadows or swirls to create greater depth.

Pick out the endearing touches with your children, like the ninja mask on the goldfish, the ninja belting out "Hi-ya!" at the beginning and "Bye-ya!" at the end, or the sushi, noodles and chopsticks at lunch.  Dojo Daycare has the playfulness of any children's program in which young boys and girls, whether your's or ninjas', have fun and learn, although sometimes with more colourful spunk than expected.  

September 10, 2014

Now and For Never


by Lesley Livingston
Razorbill
978-0143182108
280 pp.
Ages 12+
May, 2014



Lesley Livingston left off both Once Every Never (Puffin, 2011) and Every Never After (Razorbill, 2013) with someone left hundreds of years in the past and a pair of hearts tenuously separated.  Always a cliff-hanger but, rest assured, Lesley Livingston is charitable in her story-plotting.  Sweet endings, without the sugar, are her specialty.

When Clare Reid, BFF Allie McAllister and Milo McAllister, Allie’s cousin and Clare’s crush, shimmered back to present day Glastonbury Tor, the site of the archaeological dig, Marcus Donatus a.k.a. Mark O’Donnell–who’d been left as a teen in Ancient Rome–remains behind because of the manipulative Stuart Morholt.  Morholt had told Roman Governor Paulinus that Marcus knew the whereabouts of the Druid gold stolen from Boudicca and hidden by now-dead Posthumus.  Allie refuses to leave Marcus/Mark in the past and she and Clare make plans to return to 500 A.D., leaving Milo and Piper behind to ground them when they shimmer.

But Allie and Clare shimmer onto a Roman ship lead by Paulinus, chasing a second Roman ship which the Scathians stole with Boudicca’s gold and taking Marcus and Morholt with it.  Both ships have something the other wants: the Romans want the stolen gold back, and Mallora–Boudicca’s sister–wants Llassar, the Druid blacksmith who knows the black magic.

The saving grace is a digital camera memory card upon which Clare had recorded images that would be useful to them in the future (actually their present).  Milo gets a hacker friend to help them recover the images and he and Piper pursue the clues to get themselves in position to help Clare, Allie and, hopefully, Marcus/Mark shimmer back.

Add some weird ocean vector spirals, an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the reappearance of Boudicca’s daughter Comorra and her prince Connal, a kidnapping by Skraelings (skin-walkers), a power-hungry Roman, and a big oops moment, and Now and For Never takes the reader from one cardio crash to another.  Just when it looks like it’s all going to work out, Lesley Livingston throws in another twist that will prevent the future from turning out as it should.

Though readers will have their favourite characters, whether the geeky but romantic Milo, or the girl-inexperieced Marcus Donatus/Mark O’Donnell or the unlucky Clare, all the characters add to the story, showing growth and change, learning from their mistakes (some sooner than others), and revealing that sometimes they are misunderstood, rarely in a positive way.  But, I defy anyone to read the series and not enjoy Lesley Livingston’s fantastical storylines of Celtic and Roman history that intertwine the past as present, the present as the future, history, treachery, boy-girl crushes, and supernatural elements into a story bigger than the sum of all its parts.

September 09, 2014

What There is Before There is Anything There: A Scary Story

by Liniers
Translated by Elisa Amado
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-385-8
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2014

When it's time for bed, many of us are so thankful for the respite. But what of those that imagine or anticipate all manner of frights linked with the simple act of going to bed and the turning off of the light?

The little boy in What There is Before There is Anything There knows what will happen.  His parents wish him good night, turn off the bedroom light, and then his nightly visitors appear from what was his ceiling.  That dark expanse above his head becomes a black hole from which one odd little creature will float down, using his umbrella to soften his descent. Then it stands at the end of his bed and stares at the boy.  More quirky creatures, including monsters, a clown and a cat, come and circle his bed, also staring and speechless.  

What follows is what truly scares the boy.  A black, shapeless entity, with twig-like extensions, reaches towards the boy, now hunkered down in his bed, and speaks the only words he hears, "I am what there is before there is anything there." (pg. 17) The boy's solution is to run to his parents' bedroom for safety.

Though most picture books that want to reassure young ones that the monsters and bogeymen and shadows that frighten them at night are not real, What There is Before There is Anything There doesn't offer that consoling reassurance.  Argentinian cartoonist Liniers wouldn't lower himself to such a pat storyline. After all, there is no reason for anything to change because he is in his parents' bed: the darkness is everywhere in the house and he still brings the imagination that created the creatures.  In fact, Liniers' cross-hatched darkness is perhaps more frightening than a fully-darkened page.  This darkness is suspended around the boy's room, pressing down its crushing load of fear all about him.  I won't tell you how it ends, but be prepared to offer an explanation before you read it to someone young.  They'll expect an appropriate and satisfying answer.  Otherwise you'll never get them into their own bed again. (Maybe kidding, maybe not.)

September 07, 2014

Graves of Ice: The Lost Franklin Expedition, George Chambers, The Northwest Passage, 1845

by John Wilson
Scholastic Canada
978-1443107945
208 pp.
Ages 9-12
January 2014

The lost Franklin expedition has been in the news again  recently with an armada of Canadian Arctic vessels hunting new locations for the ships and men lost in 1848.  Now, courtesy of the incomparable John Wilson and Scholastic Canada's I Am Canada series, young readers will be able to accompany eighteen-year-old George Chambers on his own journey as a cabin boy on  the HMS Erebus, 1845.

Growing up in Woolwich, England listening to his father's tales of fighting Napoleon under Nelson in the Royal Navy and saving the life of a young John Franklin when sailing under Captain Cooke, George William Chambers is desperate to join Franklin's advertised expedition to complete the Northwest Passage.  Assigned as a cabin boy to Sir John and Commander James Fitzjames, George is essentially a servant and errand boy, but he takes advantage of any opportunities to learn all he can in training for a possible future as a marine.

The arduous journey of the Erebus and Terror ships, with numerous and necessary stops for water and provisions, sees them through the Orkneys, to Greenland, through Baffin Bay and then into the Arctic archipelago in which their truest hardships arise.  Time and time again, ice bars their travels, and the men must endure the cold, darkness, spoiled food and relentless boredom.
"I began to see us as mere toys at the whim of a cruel and uncaring nature." (pg. 88)
Though they wait out their first winter at Beechey Island, there is a second winter trapped in the ice off the north end of King William Island.  The cruelty of nature slams them with further losses of life and the ships' integrity, with conflicts arising more often as the men anxiously consider their few options.  George recounts the events until September, 1849, including the numerous search parties that set out by sled and the deaths of key figures on the expedition, notably Sir John Franklin, explorer Francis Crozier, marine William Braine, and Commander James Fitzjames whose last words to George emphasize the enormous nature of Arctic exploration:
"This land does not forgive.  Either meet it on its own terms, as the natives who live here do, or it will destroy you, as we are destroyed." (pg. 164)
The immensity of this expedition is well conveyed by John Wilson's formal accounts by George and other participants, whether in discussion with others or in their journals and notes.  The gravity of their exploration is easily depicted in the determination of the officers and marines to fulfil their mandate even while starving and confused.

Though John Wilson presents a plausible, albeit fictional, account of the outcome for the Franklin expedition of 1845, he provides the historical background in text and photographs that support his story.  It may only be with the ultimate discovery that completes the evidence picture that we will ever know how much of Graves of Ice is definitive or conjecture.  From John Wilson's pen, I suspect much legitimacy.