September 19, 2017

The Water Walker

Written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson
Second Story Press
36 pp.
Ages 6-9
September 2017

At first glance from title and illustration, The Water Walker may look like an Aboriginal myth or a picture book story.  It is neither.  It is an illustrated piece of creative non-fiction that recounts the efforts of Ojibwe Grandmother (Nokomis) Josephine Mandamin originally of Manitoulin Island and her extraordinary efforts to raise awareness about the need to protect our water (Nibi).  Her story is true, as attested by three knee surgeries and countless pairs of sneakers.

As a child, Nokomis loved Nibi in all its attributes: cold, warm, calm, wild.  Every day she would thank Nibi for its gift of life. "Gichi miigwech, Nibi, for the life you give to every living thing on earth.  I love you.  I respect you." (pg. 9)  But after hearing an elder (ogimaa) speak of water's fate and Nokomis realized that water was being disrespected and wasted, she banded with her sister and women friends (kwewok niichiis) to formulate a plan to protect Nibi.  Four days later, a copper pail full of Nibi in one hand and a Migizi (bald eagle) Staff in her other, Nokomis lead the Mother Earth Water Walkers in their walk around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.  For the next seven springs, they walked, prayed and sang, offering sacred tobacco (seema) at every Nibi encountered.

From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
Though the media picked up on their walking for Nibi, Nokomis knew there was more to do.  The Water Walkers went to the waters surrounding Turtle Island (North America) and sang Nibi's praises and demonstrated their respect.  They went to the Pacific Ocean, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.  Still Nokomis prays and sings to Nibi and hopes everyone will help protect Nibi.
From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
The Water Walker in the story of a grassroots crusade to demonstrate respect and inform people about the importance and potential destiny for Nibi if we continue as we have.  With water rights being given away for pennies and contamination through industry and pollution, Nibi is at risk.  It is no longer the limitless commodity generations before us believed it to be.  Nokomis Josephine Mandamin did not wait around for disaster to compel her to act.  She let her heart drive her into action.  Now Joanne Robertson, a member of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and founder of the Empty Glass for Water campaign, is sharing that story through her invigorating illustrations, bold in line and colour.  Though most of her characters are seemingly lacking in detail, with their similarly rounded heads, expressionless faces and stiff walking postures, Joanne Robertson fashions them to be unique and distinct in dress and hair.  The illustration of the parade of Mother Earth Water Walkers with the sun blazing behind them is simple but powerful, as is the collage of memories of places and people visited on their walks.
From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
The Water Walker may be an illustrated biography of Nokomis Josephine Mandamin's walking for Nibi but it is also a tale of action, both accomplished and endless, to do for Nibi as it has always done for us.


The book launch for the book will take place on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at A Different Booklist in Toronto.  Both Grandmother Josephine Mandamin and author/illustrator Joanne Robertson will be in attendance to speak from 12:30 -2:30 p.m. with a book signing and reception fro 5-7 p.m. The events are posted here

September 18, 2017

Two Times a Traitor

Written by Karen Bass
Pajama Press
240 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2017 (Canada), August 2017 (US)

Selected as a Junior Library Guild Selection, Two Times a Traitor may seem a departure for award-winning author of historical fiction, Karen Bass, who won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for her books Graffiti Knight (Pajama Press, 2013) and Uncertain Soldier (Pajama Press, 2015) in consecutive years.  But, Karen Bass knows how to seamlessly weave a bit of the unexpected into her fiction, as she did in her suspenseful The Hill (Pajama Press, 2016), and as she does in Two Times a Traitor which blends a contemporary setting with Canada's past in Louisbourg 1745 through the use of time slip.

Twelve-year-old Lazare Berenger is still angry with his father who moved the family from Ottawa to Boston while Laz was visiting his Grandmère's farm in New Brunswick the previous summer.  And now, when he'd been saving up for a parkour camp for spring break, Laz is with his parents and younger sister Emeline visiting Halifax.  With every new suggestion of his father, Lazare is reeling with anger so, while visiting the Citadel, Laz takes off on his own.
The air seemed to push against Laz, as if it didn't want him to return down the tunnel.  Something strange was happening, but he didn't know if it was this chamber, the whole tunnel, or if he'd had too much bacon for lunch.  He took a deep breath and his lungs refused to fill. (pg. 19)
When he knocks himself out, he awakens in an unfamiliar landscape of pirate-looking men at bonfires on shore, old-time sailing ships moored in the bay and a man with a sword taking him to Captain Hawkins on the ship called the Constance.  Believing it's all a role play as boot camp punishment from his father, he spouts off about 2017 and more, leading the captain to believe he is pretending madness to distract them from recognizing him as an Acadian in league with the French at Louisbourg.  His clothes, which might conceal weapons, are taken away, as is his grandmother's St. Christopher medal ("Papist witchery"; pg. 38) and he is put in fetters.  Ben, a young boy who has been apprenticed to the Constance, befriends him and Laz learns that it truly is 1745 and they are transporting militia to Canso to fight King George's War against the French.

With a militiaman named Cooper seeking retribution on "Master Berenger" and Commander Pepperell, the commander of the expedition, ready to hang Laz for treason, the boy is put to work alongside the militia and then blackmailed–he is convinced his medal is the means to getting back to the future– into going into Louisbourg as a spy to seed doubt and do mischief.  Under the guise of a farm boy warning the French of an incoming barrage of British ships, Laz is welcomed into Louisbourg, becoming the messenger of Port Commander Pierre Morpain, a man who treats Laz as the boy wishes his own father would.  As Laz builds a new family amongst the residents of Louisbourg, he is haunted by his need to fulfill his obligation to the British if he is ever to return to his true family and life in 2017.

Privileged Laz may think his life with his father is impossible but, after facing treason charges twice, once by the British and later with the French after he sabotages their gun powder, he realizes how easy life has been.  Still he wonders about remaining in the past, one in which Morpain keeps him safe and shows him deep affection and respect and Laz has a purposeful life which, though dangerous and unpredictable, feels like home.

While taking the reader into both sides of the 1745 siege of Louisbourg, Karen Bass makes sure that Two Times a Traitor is about Laz recognizing what home is to him.  He may have been angry with the move to Boston but he soon realizes that what matters are the people.  It's evident he adores his sister and is determined to get home for her but he has some qualms when Louisbourg starts to feel like home too.  But before he can make the decision about where he belongs, he has to stay alive. With both sides believing him to be a traitor and an angry militiaman out to kill him, not to speak of the cannon balls, mortar and muskets and bayonets, safety is a commodity in short supply. Readers will adore the action adventure story of  Two Times a Traitor but its story of historical events is extraordinary and not to be relegated to second place. Karen Bass does comprehensive research, providing astounding detail to setting and characters, plunging readers into the fray that was war.  By allowing Laz to be part of both sides and emphasizing his confusion about which side to favour, Karen Bass allows readers to see the conflict from different perspectives and takes history away from the one-sidedness of most textbooks. Moreover, she allows us to see that conflict, whether personal or historical, always has two sides that need to be seen.  Resolution may be amicable or there may be victors and those defeated, but how it plays out is all about point of view.

September 15, 2017

The Curiosity Cabinet

Written and illustrated by Ian Wallace
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 5+
September 2017

See Canada from inside Ian Wallace's The Curiosity Cabinet, a book and cupboard filled with mementoes of each province and territory.  From Ian Wallace's dedication,

Dear Canada,
Thanks for the
countless adventures
logged in my red
Converse All Stars.

to the rich endpapers detailing mugs of pens and T-shirts, a NWT license plate and a child's painting of a duck, The Curiosity Cabinet represents the accumulation of gifts, purchases and experiences Ian Wallace has received, made or had visiting communities across Canada.  They may be his curiosities but they are of our country and tell a story far greater than the totality of their numbers.

One day I realized that this vast land was a nation of families and diverse neighborhoods, and that I had left a piece of myself in each one – and they in me.

From The Curiosity Cabinet by Ian Wallace
Except for an introduction and four pages of illustrator's notes, which identify all the curiosities and the province or territory depicted, there is no text on the double-page spreads representing each region.  From his home province of Ontario represented by tamarack geese gifted from Attawapiskat and Moose Factory, and the sparrow carving for the launch of The Sparrow's Song (Groundwood, 1976) to the snow globe illuminating a reading at the Owen Sound Public Library circa 1978, Ian Wallace reveals his travels, his books and his memories of visits. 
From The Curiosity Cabinet by Ian Wallace
The illustration for Alberta honours the native land of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Nova Scotia's salutes the people of the sea and his book Boys of the Deeps (Groundwood, 1999) and Yukon's illustration celebrates the aurora borealis, the work of Robert Service and Ted Harrison, and Jan Andrew's story Very Last First Time (Groundwood, 1985) which Ian Wallace illustrated. Sadly this memory page is all the more poignant for the losses of Ted Harrison in 2015 and Jan Andrews just over a week ago.

Ian Wallace has chosen to illustrate exclusively in the subtle graphite that produces both an eeriness and an emotional distance.  It is like seeing a museum display, highly appropriate for a book titled The Curiosity Cabinet.  Still there is an intimacy because of the content of the cabinet, as each memento has a very personal attachment to the author/illustrator.  With each item and illustration, Ian Wallace remembers and celebrates the people and places of our Canada, as they have touched him. While reminding us of the plethora of books he has written and illustrated, The Curiosity Cabinet is a relevant and gratifying way to celebrate Canada 150.
From The Curiosity Cabinet by Ian Wallace

September 14, 2017

Stolen Words

Written by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Second Story Press
24 pp.
Ages 6-9
September 2017

A young girl's simple request of her grandfather to learn how to say a word in Cree reveals much about the system that stole his language from him and so many Aboriginal children but more about the affection and courage of those who have the grit to ensure those words do not remain silent or withheld forever.
From Stolen Words 
by Melanie Florence 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
It's evident from the words and actions of the seven-year-old girl and her grandfather that their relationship is a cherished one.  She is exuberant from her day at school, pleased with what she's made and learned, and comforted with his attention as he escorts her home, holding her hand and carrying her backpack.  But when she asks, "How do you say grandfather in Cree?" his response is a lesson in history and one muted with hurt and needless shame.  As his granddaughter continues to ask "Where did they take them?", "Who took you away, Grandpa?" and "Where did they take you, Grandpa?", her grandfather tells the history, heartbreaking in the capture of the Aboriginal children's words like a raven in the cage of Gabrielle Grimard's grim illustrations of the residential school.
From Stolen Words
 by Melanie Florence
 illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
But his hurt and lack of words does not deter the child's curiosity or compassion, and she brings home a worn book titled "Introduction to Cree" so that together they might speak the language of home and release the formerly imprisoned language.

Nôsisim, he whispered.
The word felt familiar in his mouth.
It felt like his home. His mother.

As the grandfather reconnects with his past and makes a new connection with his young granddaughter, I wept for his loss, his family, his struggle and his courage to take steps forward. It's an emotionally charged series of interactions and memories that are pure Melanie Florence.  They will astound readers and sadden them, while encouraging healing and learning without shame or anger.  Her words, thankfully not stolen, make for leaps forward for those whose language was pilfered from them as vulnerable children. Gabrielle Grimard's illustrations are similarly strong and soft, taking the reader into the intimate relationship between a grandfather harbouring hurts and a child wanting to help.

Melanie Florence took on the gut-wrenching issue of missing Indigenous women in her award-winning picture book Missing Nimâmâ which was divinely illustrated by François Thisdale (Clockwise Press, 2015) and similarly addresses the emotional trauma of the residential schools in stifling language.  While the generations after the residential schools are still affected by their inconceivable legacy, the healing will come through them.  The grandfather's words may have been stolen but his loving granddaughter is the means by which they will be restored.
From Stolen Words 
by Melanie Florence 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

September 13, 2017

A Bedtime Yarn: Book launch (Hamilton, ON)

Picture book author

Nicola Winstanley

Cinnamon Baby illus. by Janice Nadeau (Kids Can Press, 2011)
The Pirate's Bed illus. by Matt James (Tundra, 2015)

launches her new book

A Bedtime Yarn
Written by Nicola Winstanley
Illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
Release September 2017


 Saturday September 30, 2017

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Epic Books
226 Locke Street South
Hamilton, ON

This darling tale is described as:
Frankie is a little bear who has a hard time falling asleep. The dark is scary, and he hates to be alone. So his mother gives him a ball of yarn to hold when he goes to bed, and she keeps the other end in the next room, working it into a surprise for Frankie. 

Every few nights the yarn color changes, and Frankie dreams in all the colors that he and his mother pick out. One night he's swimming in turquoise water, another night he's in a cool gray fog. He plays with a marmalade kitten and eats delicious chocolate cake. Eventually Frankie and his mother create something special--and Frankie learns that he's always connected to those he loves, even when he's alone in the dark.

A beautiful story of love and crafting, A Bedtime Yarn will appeal to knitters, sleepy little bears and any parents dealing with their child's fear of the dark.
on September 12, 2017.

This book launch has all the hallmarks of a great event:
•  treats
•  crafts
•  story reading
•  book signing by the author

Do attend!

September 12, 2017

Saving Grad

Written by Karen Spafford-Fitz
James Lorimer & Co., Ltd.
160 pp.
Ages 13+
RL 5.0
August 2017

Mandy is right about one thing.  I have no idea how to be fun.  I had it beat out of me a long time ago. (pg. 97)
It's been beat out of her by her alcoholic, cocaine-abusing step-dad, Duncan, who has made her life and that of her mother Sophie a misery for two years.  Her mother is reluctant to leave, accustomed to the fine home and life style of wealth, but Vienna sees beyond the facade of a good life, apprehensive what could eventually happen if they stay.  When Duncan has a fall that lands him in hospital, Vienna is determined to pack themselves up and flee.  They head to Edmonton where, with the help of an outreach worker, they get a basement apartment and begin to make a new life, slowly.

Though initially happy to drown her sorrows, Sophie gets a job at a Starbucks and insists that Vienna get registered for her final year of high school.  To make it more difficult for Duncan to find them, Vienna decides to go by Vienna Fleury, using the last name of her Métis grandmother, Mémère.  Sophie and her mother may not have spoken for years–since they'd argued about her marriage to Duncan–but Vienna misses Mémère and calls her occasionally to keep her from worrying, though she never reveals where they are.

At her new high school, Vienna tries to stay under the radar but a friendly classmate named Mandy draws her into the school's social scene, enlisting Vienna's help on the grad party committee. Although Vienna begins to enjoy school and her mother is establishing a support system and relishing her independence, regardless of how financially strapped they are, you know things have to go awry.  Saving grad may be the least of Vienna's worries.

As part of Lorimer's SideStreets series of hi-lo (high interest-low vocabulary) books, Saving Grad is a fast read in plotting and word count.  But don't mistake a hi-lo read for a lesser story.  Author Karen Spafford-Fitz capably creates an intense plot of relationships between family and friends which can be positive and negative, supportive or destructive, and she makes sure to take us along on that bus ride.  Like Vienna and Sophie ending up in Edmonton in the middle of winter, the destination may not be an easy one at first but it is a fulfilling one in the end.  Saving Grad is bigger than the indisputable distress of physical abuse.  It's a story of resilience and strength and making something good out of something bad.  Karen Spafford-Fitz makes Saving Grad into saving Vienna and Sophie and others too.

September 11, 2017

The First Page: Student writing challenge from CBC Books

CBC Books has created a writing challenge 
for students in Grades 7 to 12 
the two winning entries 
 (one for Gr. 7-9 and one for Gr. 10-12) 
will be selected by
 award-winning YA author
Erin Bow

The Challenge:  
• Write the first page of a novel (any literary genre) set in 2167 with the protagonist dealing with an issue currently relevant  (climate change, diversity, gender, refugees, leadership, etc.) and show how it has played out 150 years from now.
• Write 300-400 words.  Be sure to give your "book" a title.

Eligible Participants:
• All Canadian residents who are full time students enrolled in Gr. 7 to 12 may enter.

• Submit between November 9, 2017 9 a.m. ET and November 30, 2017 6 p.m. ET

• Author Erin Bow will judge the entries based on the following criteria:
  • use of language;
  • originality of subject;
  • expression of a current affairs theme;
  • writing style; and
  • adherence to the contest's requirements.
• Shortlists of 10 entries per grade category will be selected from which the winner will be chosen.

• One year subscription to OwlCrate, a monthly delivery of a box of books (winner may select middle grade or young adult)
• The school library of each winner will also receive 50 YA books chosen by CBC.

Full details of this writing challenge are provided at CBC Books