November 26, 2020

If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden

Written by Kay Weisman
Illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
September 2020

Sea gardens are man-made reefs traditionally constructed by Pacific Northwest Indigenous peoples for cultivating clams and other shellfish. Some of these sea gardens which consist of boulders lined up at the lowest tide line have been around for thousands of years. They are significant cultural elements of the First Nations both for the food that is provided by the shellfish harvested here and the community that utilizes them and Kay Weisman brings readers to that community of gratitude with her words as Roy Henry Vickers delivers us to that sense of place.

From If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden by Kay Weisman, illus. by Roy Henry Vickers

If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden begins with a child and adult setting out in the early morning when the sea gardens are revealed by the lowest of tides. They take their canoe out at dawn and "Listen closely for the symphony of clams, welcoming us to their beaches. Here, there and everywhere they spurt and sputter, exhaling right on cue."

As they walk on the beach, the elder, whether grandfather or father, recounts the history of the sea gardens, around for thousands of years, sometimes built piecemeal over time, to give habitat to creatures including rock crabs, chitons, sea stars and, of course, butter clams, littlenecks and cockles.

Imagine the generations of First Peoples who have maintained this wall in order to feed their families. They have come here to build and care for the sea garden, harvest and eat clams, and share stories and knowledge about this special place.

From If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden by Kay Weisman, illus. by Roy Henry Vickers
Like the many to have come to the sea garden, they tend to the garden, returning stray boulders to the wall, clearing away debris and giving new opportunities for the sea garden to thrive. And then, with the tide, it is gone from view, until its next revival.

Kay Weisman makes this pilgrimage to a sea garden a sacred experience for people and the environment. From the interaction between child and adult, solemn and instructive, to the awe-inspiring landscape of forever, Kay Weisman is respectfully informing her readers and honouring the legacy of sea gardens.
From If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden by Kay Weisman, illus. by Roy Henry Vickers
With Roy Henry Vickers's illustrations, which I have admired since reviewing his earlier books (Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak; Hello Humpback; One Eagle Soaring), If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden is elevated. I learned from Kay Weisman's words but they are given life with Roy Henry Vickers's artwork. Using vector illustration tools, Roy Henry Vickers gives a smooth power to his images. While the people are kept in shadows, the scenes are bold and spirited and important symbols of Indigenous cultures are highlighted. The art both gives life and takes our breath away.

If you want to visit a sea garden and cannot tour the West Coast, I suggest a stroll with a child and guardian in Kay Weisman and Roy Henry Vickers's captivating picture book. It's a safe and vibrant way to understand the magic of these amazing sea gardens.

November 24, 2020

Canada Fun!

Written and illustrated by Paul Covello
30 pp.
Ages 0-4
October 2020

It doesn't matter whether there's snow on the ground or leaves in the trees, Paul Covello's latest volume in his Canada series of board books–which includes Canada Animals and Canada 123–shows young readers that there's lots to do in all parts of our country, no matter the season.
From Canada Fun! by Paul Covello
In single page illustrations or sweeping double-spreads of multiple activities, Paul Covello highlights a plethora of pursuits that young people, with or without adults in tow, can undertake. From hockey and cross-country skiing in winter or lacrosse and kayaking in the other seasons, Paul Covello covers all manner of endeavours, both organized and not. After all, isn't there as much fun making snow angels and building snow people, or leaf jumping and making maple syrup as playing on a sport?
From Canada Fun! by Paul Covello
Even better are the cultural and regional activities that he includes in his Canada Fun! treatise. There's attending a powwow or a ceilidh, watching the northern lights in the north, Winter Carnival in Quebec, whale watching on the coasts or checking out the polar bears. Everywhere that Canadian kids are having fun, Paul Covello makes sure to include them.

From Canada Fun! by Paul Covello
But it's the art–it always is–that will draw young readers. While teachers and reviewers will appreciate the diversity of Paul Covello's characters, scenes and activities, young readers will enjoy the vivid colours, the polished lines and the energetic shapes depicting all children having fun indoors and out in Canada.

From Canada Fun! by Paul Covello
Whether it's to help children see all the fun they can be having–just hand them the book when they start complaining that there's nothing to do!–or to introduce them to activities new to them, Canada Fun! covers it all with gusto and colour, as vibrant and varied as our country and its people.

November 20, 2020

What Do You Want, Little Friend?

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Princeton Architectural Press
24 pp.
Ages 0-4
October 2020

At its simplest, What Do You Want, Little Friend? is a story about a kitten trying to help a fly and listening to what the fly needs. In twelve short lines of text, a relationship is formed and compassion extended. Ah, if all interactions were this positive.

From What Do You Want, Little Friend? by Marianne Dubuc

While flying a kite, a little kitten steps on a fly that is on the ground. Desperate to make things okay, the kitten encourages the fly to walk like the ants or to fly like the birds but there is no response from the fly. Each time, the kitten comes back to ask the fly, "Don't you want to?" to check with the fly as to its needs.

From What Do You Want, Little Friend? by Marianne Dubuc

It's only when the kitten stops to listen, that things are made right for the fly and thus for the kitten as well. By speaking up, the fly gets what it needs, and by listening, the kitten gets to help.

From What Do You Want, Little Friend? by Marianne Dubuc
Although Marianne Dubuc's premise may be a simple one of showing caring for others, What Do You Want, Little Friend? reminds us that sometimes the best way to help others is to listen. Not to decide what is best for them. Not to always offer suggestions as to what they would do. Not even to advise them as to the most logical action to take. It's just to listen. Whether an injured fly, a weeping child or a depressed person, sometimes just offering support by listening will make things better. As the little kitten realizes soon enough, a solution is at hand if they only listen and hear. (Of course, it is also incumbent upon the fly to ask.)

Like many of Marianne Dubuc's picture books (see Little Cheetah's Shadow, The Fish and the Cat, and The Lion and the Bird), What Do You Want, Little Friend? is about the interaction of two unlikely allies. The story that results from their meeting is the stuff of legends. It's simple but powerful, all the more so because of Marianne Dubuc's uncluttered illustrations. There is a lightness in the austerity of her shapes and colours which brings focus to the text and the kitten's expressions. (We never see the fly's visage.)

The messages are clear in What Do You Want, Little Friend? First, if you do harm, make it right. Secondly, ask and listen to those who might need help. These mighty messages may be aimed at our youngest children because of the delicate board book in which they are found but they are messages which we should all heed.

November 19, 2020

The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass

Written by Adan Jerreat-Poole
328 pp.
Ages 13+
September 2020
The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass is a book of contradictions. That beautiful cover belies the harshness of a girl cobbled from hawthorn berries, beetle shells, spider webs and glass and the darkness of the plot within. Of course, I should have been prepared when the titular girl stabs a man in his skull on page 3. At least you'll be prepared.

Eli is a witch's tool, created by the witch Circinae, whom she calls "Mother," to carry out missions for the Coven. She travels from the City of Eyes through the Vortex into the City of Bones to assassinate ghosts who've taken over the physical bodies of humans. But when Eli realizes she has killed a human rather than a ghost, she is unnerved, especially as it could result in her being "unmade." Surprisingly she is promptly sent out on another mission. Again something seems amiss. Fortunately, she makes the acquaintance of Cam and Tav in the human world who help her out when the Vortex prevents her from returning to her own world.

They take her to the Hedge-Witch, the leader of a group of rebels, who offers to help Eli if she would help Cam and Tav get around the City of Eyes. But there's much secrecy about their mission and even more confusion about who or what Tav is.
A boi who could see ghosts and wasn't afraid of Eli's strangeness, didn't run from the yellow eyes. Who could, with one touch, make Eli's bones sing and her hands tremble. (pg. 125)
What Adan Jerreat-Poole has created in The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass is a dark fantasy of two worlds, connected and not, as they seek control over self and others. But it's also a love story. As a witch's tool, Eli had found intimacy with Kite, an enigmatic witch and Heir to the Witch Lord. But when she meets Tav, Eli is confused and attracted to them. How can the charge she feels from touching Tav make any sense, especially as they seem to be more than human? Moreover, knowing that they are each tasked with missions that might challenge what the other is doing, both Eli and Tav tend to keep their secrets close to their chests. But, in the worlds of The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass, that's not unusual. Whether human, tool, witch or ghost, all seem to keep secret who they are.
Sometimes if you looked carefully, you could see the true colour of intention in the movements of the people who were supposed to love you. (pg. 15)
This is Adan Jerreat-Poole's debut novel and, with it, they have created contrasting worlds of chaos and fear, power and struggle. Their characters are complicated, not only because of their fantastical natures but also because of their personalities as reflected in their behaviours, including their desires and motivations. And they're all just trying to figure things out.
Eli's hand clenched and unclenched around the dagger as she warred with herself, caught between bloodlust and love, between past and future. (pg. 218)
Readers will need to wait until next May when the book's sequel, The Boi of Feather and Steel, is scheduled for release to learn what will happen to Eli, Tav, Cam, Kite and everyone in The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass. Until then, introduce yourselves fully to the darkness and the fantasy within The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass, knowing there's more to Adan Jerreat-Poole's worlds than meets the eye.

November 16, 2020

A World of Mindfulness

From the Editors & Illustrators of Pajama Press
Text by Erin Alladin
Illustrations by Suzanne Del Rizzo, Carmen Mok, Tara Anderson, Sue Macartney, Gabrielle Grimard, François Thisdale, Rebecca Bender, Miki Sato, Aino Anto, Amélie Dubois, Emma Pedersen, Andrea Blinick, Tamara Campeau and Scot Ritchie
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
November 2020
Our world needs more mindfulness. With all the strife and worries, we need to become aware of the present, appreciate the now and bring calm. A World of Mindfulness will help all of us, but especially children, find that.

From A World of Mindfulness, illustration by François Thisdale
Fourteen illustrators provide artwork to complement Pajama Press editor Erin Alladin's words. The text is sparse but impactful, from the first lines, "I am here. I know who I am" through acknowledging one's presence even with eyes closed ("I can hear birds and breezes and a dog barking. Even with my eyes closed, I know where I am") and acceptance of the stresses as normal ("Sometimes my mind is like a mixed-up swirling snowstorm. It isn't right or wrong–it's just how I feel."). The text acknowledges, accepts, instructs and quiets.

From A World of Mindfulness, illustration by Suzanne Del Rizzo
For  each message, another illustrator from a selection of artists whose work has graced picture books from Pajama Press gives colour and life to Erin Alladin's words. From François Thisdale's mixed media illustration of a boy taking in his urban surroundings with eyes closed, to Suzanne Del Rizzo's textured polymer clay artwork that also adorns the cover, the art of A World of Mindfulness is striking and unique.
From A World of Mindfulness, illustration by Miki Sato
Whether trying to permeate the text with the calm resulting from mindfulness or the wish to find joy or the angst that compels a need for mindfulness, the illustrators complete the messages of enlightenment and support in their medium of choice. There are coloured-pencil drawings, cut-paper art, digital illustration and more. As diverse as the ways to attain mindfulness, the illustrators of A World of Mindfulness explore the concept with their own form of creativity.

From A World of Mindfulness, illustration by Emma Pedersen
When Pajama Press came out with its first collaboratively-created picture book, A World of Kindness, it impressed all with its poignant messages and stunning and varied artwork. It ushered readers through recognizing the need for kindness, especially when faced with unkindness, and how to be kind. A World of Mindfulness similarly takes the reader on a journey of discovery, of how to find the calm within, of focusing on moments and tasks and of immersing oneself in the experience that is. Whether for quality of life or therapy, mindfulness works and so does A World of Mindfulness.

From A World of Mindfulness, illustration by Scot Ritchie

November 14, 2020

The 2020 CCBC Book Awards: French-language Winners announced

Two weeks ago, the Canadian Children's Book Centre announced the winners of its six English-language book awards. Yesterday, the final two awards, specifically for French-language children's books, were announced as a part of Salon du Livre de Montreal. From the nominees posted here, the following awards were presented:
  • Le Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse ($50,000) Sponsored by TD Bank Group; and
  • Le Prix Harry Black de l’album jeunesse ($5,000) Sponsored by Mary Macchiusi
Congratulations to all nominees and most especially to the winners:

Le Prix TD de littérature pour l'enfance et la jeunesse canadienne: WINNER

Les étoiles
Written and illustrated by Jacques Goldstyn
Éditions de la Pastèque


Prix Harry Black de l'album jeunesse: WINNER

Des couleurs sur la Grave
Written by Marie-Andrée Arsenault
Illustrated by Dominique Leroux
Éditions la Morue verte

The winners of the English-language awards were announced on October 30th and the winners posted here.


November 13, 2020

Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer

Written by Suzie Napayok-Short
Illustrated by Tamara Campeau
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 7-11
September 2020

I know summer is over and it has definitely passed in the far north but learning about other cultures and ecosystems, life cycles and food chains, is never out of season, and certainly not in schools so Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer is undoubtedly a great read at any time of year.
From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Akuluk, who lives south of the Arctic and had been spending time in Nunavut with her grandparents, has just arrived in Saattut to visit with her aunt and uncle. Even though it is summer, she is dressed warmly in her atigi, a duffle parka, when the northern float plane delivers her and her stuffed polar bear, Piulua. Even driving from the dock, Akuluk can see new life on the tundra in the form of fox kits playing and at the house, there are seven month-old puppies born to their sled dog Blackie. 

The next day, Akuluk's Aunt Sulie and Uncle James, along with Uncle Tommy, take her out on the boat to check out their summer camp grounds, now inhabited by polar bears. With a wealth of food, that includes dried Arctic char, palaugaaq bannock and aqpiit (a glossary of Inuktitut words explains these and more at the conclusion of the story), they begin their foray on the Arctic Ocean.
From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Their sighting of a pod of creamy white beluga whales, including a grey calf, mesmerizes Akuluk, and even more so when they use a recording device to hear the mother's cooing, clicking, chattering and whistling sounds. Based on the Inuktitut word for small, mikilaaq, Akuluk names the baby Miki. But when another lone calf appears, they watch as the mother and the other whales check it out, perhaps to adopt the orphan.

From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Finally they arrive near their old camp and see the polar bear and her cubs who'd previously found their fishing nets filled with char and now return annually. The family willingly gave up "their traditional land to help these large animals survive." (pg. 21) They place themselves between the bears on land and the whales and watch the bears eat their catch of seal meat, as seagulls, hopeful of remnants, look on.  Akuluk learns that normally the Arctic foxes would be following the bears, eating any meat left behind, but in the summer they have their kits and stay away from the nanuit (sing. nanuq) who would prey on the very young.
"Everywhere we go, Inuit and animals, we all have a need to stay close, so we can help one another," she says, putting an arm around Akuluk. "The wildlife do what they can to help one another, in their own way, and we do what we can in ours. We have to share our earth with all the wildlife that live here. We need to look after our land, and the plants in it, too." (pg. 29)
Suzie Napayok-Short who was born in Frobisher Bay and has lived on Baffin Island and Nunavut takes delight in Akuluk's visiting and learning, perhaps because these were her own experiences. Not only does Akuluk get to spend time with family and witness animal wonders in the Arctic, she learns of the traditional ways, piusituqait, and their importance in maintaining ecosystems. Author Suzie Napayok-Short embeds her storytelling, perhaps recounting, with a respectful gravitas, recognizing Akuluk's visit as pivotal for the young girl. 
From Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short, illus. by Tamara Campeau
Illustrator Tamara Campeau who also illustrated The Muskox and the Caribou and In the Sky at Nighttime stays true to her artistic style of realism with a hint of the personal. She doesn't make her illustrations frivolous or silly; instead, the art depicts the true nature of the familial relationships and the wonder of the natural world. By blending the authentic with the deferential, Tamara Campeau dignifies Suzie Napayok-Short's story while giving it colour and shape.

Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer goes beyond summer and gives a picture of life in Nunavut for its people, its animals and the land, and it's a great place to visit through Suzie Napayok-Short and Tamara Campeau's work.