October 18, 2017

Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament

Written by Anne Renaud
Illustrated by Felicita Sala
Kids Can Press
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
September 2017

Those delicious potato chips we purchase for their crispiness and salty goodness?  Seems they originated when a picky, picky patron of Mr. Crum's restaurant in the mid 1860s just could not be appeased.  Fortunately, the chef, Mr. George Crum, found a clever and tasty way to resolve a potato predicament.
From Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament 
by Anne Renaud 
illus. by Felicita Sala
Author Anne Renaud weaves a fictionalized account of the very real Mr. Crum, a Native American and African American, who loved to cook and opened a restaurant to which people flocked.  When a oddly dressed man named Filbert Punctilious Horsefeathers orders a "heaping helping of potatoes", Mr. Crum delivers up his traditional wedged potatoes that had been boiled, fried in lard and sprinkled with salt.  But Mr. Horsefeathers sends the food back, declaring the potatoes too thick.  A second helping is also deemed too thick and "bland as burlap."  This continues with Mr. Crum cutting his wedges thinner and thinner, and salting them more and more, until playfully exasperated he cuts the "thinnest, slimmest and trimmest of slices" and fries them so crispy that they crackle and drenches them in salt.  The picky Mr. Horsefeathers finally declares them to be perfection.
From Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament 
by Anne Renaud 
illus. by Felicita Sala

Quebecker Anne Renaud has written both children's non-fiction (e.g., Pier 21: Stories from Near and Far, Lobster Press, 2008 and The Extraordinary Life of Anna Swan, Cape Breton University Press, 2013) and picture books (e.g., Missuk's Snow Geese, Simply Read, 2008).  By blending the informational aspects of the story with a fictionalized context, Anne Renaud has created a revealing text that both entertains and informs.  Similarly, Australian illustrator Felicita Sala, who also illustrated Monica Kulling's On Our Way to Oyster Bay (Kids Can Press, 2016), capably imagines the people and places of the time with the details to entrance rather than just accurately depict.

Enriched with an author's note, photographs, and references, including newspaper articles, Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament pays tribute to the history of chef Mr. George Crum as developer of the potato chip, though the author acknowledges that others have laid claim to this invention.  Still, at a time when communications across a country were not instantaneous and communities were essentially isolated from hearing of new inventions, it's not surprising that the potato chip may have been developed at several locales at the same time.  As we know, potatoes are a staple in most households and trying to do something different with a common ingredient is not unusual.  What is unusual is that, in Anne Renaud's story, that need for innovation was at the behest of an unhappy customer who just thought potatoes should not be so thick or so bland.  The brilliant Mr. Crum found a way to appease that problematic customer and to retaliate for his seemingly ridiculous requests by inventing a food that has flourished for over 160 years.  That's a tasty example of serendipity.
From Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament 
by Anne Renaud
 illus. by Felicita Sala

October 17, 2017

The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain

Written by Carolyn Huizinga Mills
Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
October 2017

Mondegreens, the mishearing of a word or phrase, is typical with songs for which the listener does not see the words they are hearing.  It seems reasonable that the same could be applied to any repetitive rhyme that is misheard like the nursery rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep."  When little Sally hears her mother repeating that old English nursery rhyme to her baby brother, she is convinced that she hears,

"Baa baa black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for my master.
One for my dame.
And one for the little boy...
Who lives down the DRAIN.
From The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain 
by Carolyn Huizinga Mills 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
No wonder her ears perk up.  And, boy, does she have a lot of questions about what's happening with that wool and about his living arrangements.  
From The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain 
by Carolyn Huizinga Mills
 illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
As a child who seems to be dealing with busy parents, a  crying baby, and twin sisters who won't let her play with them, Sally is in need of a little companionship and conversation.  That little boy who lives down the drain seems like a perfect friend.  At least, he's available, sitting down the very drain of the tub in which she takes her baths. 
From The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain 
by Carolyn Huizinga Mills 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
After the water lets out, Sally shouts down a cheery "Hello" to the little boy.  Her voice echoes and as she talks away about herself and her family, she envisions him using the wool to fish in the drain.  The little boy down the drain listens as she laments the attention she lacks and the annoyance of her brother and sisters.  When she can't hear his responses, she speaks more emphatically into the drain, telling him "I know you're probably trying, but you need to try something different!

What she hears back is the echo of her final words "Try something different" which gives her the courage to do just that with her family.  Her own words help bring some resolution to her issues with her family but the story doesn't end there.  You see, Sally eventually hears a different ending for the rhyme and interprets it in her own charming way.

The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain was just nominated yesterday for a Blue Spruce award.  That's high praise indeed for Carolyn Huizinga Mills' first picture book.  Sally is so spontaneous and sweet, honest and innocent, never assuming she's misheard the words.  She is determined to speak with the little boy who lives down the drain, and treats him with such reverence and curiosity.  There is a surprise ending here that will have readers laughing out loud with its simplicity and cleverness.  And Brooke Kerrigan, who has illustrated several Blue Spruce-nominated titles including Fishermen Through and Through (written by Colleen Sydor, Red Deer Press, 2014) and Kiss Me! (I’m a Prince!) (written by Heather McLeod, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011) brings a sweetness to Sally and her bathtub antics, as well as to her efforts to engage her family.  Just like Sally, Brooke Kerrigan's illustrations have a guilelessness to them.  Her characters are so natural, her settings clean and subtle, and yet they are enriched with detail as appropriate. (See the illustration of Sally trying to get her busy family's attention in the illustration above.) Together Carolyn Huizinga Mills and Brooke Kerrigan have created a picture book about a little girl's naiveté but turned it into a lesson in empowerment.  For good advice about being empowered, you really must listen, like Sally did, to The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain.


To see a list of all the Blue Spruce nominated titles for the 2018 Forest of Reading® readers choice awards, including The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain,  go to my awards page here.

October 16, 2017

2018 Forest of Reading® nominees announced

It's here, it's here, it's finally here.  It's the day that the Ontario Library Association announces the nominees for the 2018 Forest of Reading® programs. Now extending beyond Ontario, even more readers are enjoying new Canadian literature as part of the Forest of Reading® programs which includes the following programs:

  • Blue Spruce™: K to Grade 2 reading level 
  • Silver Birch® Express: Grades 3-4 reading level
  • Silver Birch® Fiction: Grades 5-6 reading level
  • Silver Birch® Non-fiction: Grades 5-6 reading level
  • Red Maple™ Fiction: Grades 7-8 reading level
  • White Pine™ Fiction: Grades 9-12 reading level
  • Le Prix Tamarac: les titres en français
  • Le Prix Tamarac Express: les titres en français
  • Le Prix Peuplier: les albums français

  • These readers' choice award programs invite teachers and librarians (school and public), as well as parents of home-schoolers, to sign up for these programs through the Ontario Library Association. Once you've registered for the programs and purchase the books, young readers will be on their way to voting for their favourites in April.

    With ninety nominated titles, I have presented the nominees in multiple posts on my Awards blog.  See the lists below for nominees for the different programs.

    October 13, 2017

    That Inevitable Victorian Thing: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

    I know it's a little late notice but, if you can, you really must go!

    E. K. Johnston

    YA author 
    extraordinary fantasy, sci fi and more

    is launching her newest book

    That Inevitable Victorian Thing
    Written by E. K. Johnston
    Dutton Books for Young Readers
    336 pp.
    Ages 12+
    October, 2017

    October 13, 2017

    6:30-9:00 p.m.


     Bakka-Phoenix Books
    84 Harbord Street
    Toronto, ON

    Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history. The imperial tradition of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage. But before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer of freedom and privacy in a far corner of empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process.

    Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved not by the cost of blood and theft but by the effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.
    Retrieved from 
    on October 13, 2017.

    October 12, 2017


    Written by Deborah Ellis
    Groundwood Books
    144 pp.
    Ages 10-13
    October 2017

    The premise for Sit is simple.  There are eleven short stories based on chairs and other places upon which the young protagonists sit, rest, work, deliberate, speculate.  Each begins with a name, descriptor of the seat and usually the place.
    Jafar was sitting on a work bench in the furniture factory. (pg. 11) 
    Miyuki was sitting on a tatami in the evacuation centre. (pg. 72) 
    Mike is sitting on his heels on the floor of his cell. (pg. 91)
    Except for two scenarios to which the protagonists return in somewhat different settings, each story is unique.  Still all are touching and deeply personal and insightful about the human condition and humanity, all told based on where we sit and why.

    The first story, The Singing Chair, is the story of Jafar, a young boy who works in a furniture factory in Jakarta in order to pay off his family's debt.  But his life is more than this because after work he attends a school for working children and he is learning to read and write.  Jafar returns in the final story called The Hope Chair which focuses on the school and the overwhelming hope it gives him to write himself a bigger and better story.

    More stories of a contemporary setting but which transport young readers to global locations include an escape from Taliban rule in Afghanistan to an equally reprehensible "safety" (The Hiding Chair) and Miyuki's story of entering the danger zone after the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in order to rescue her mother's donkey (The Glowing Chair).  Still a little different is the story titled The Question Chair in which a Berliner named Gretchen is thrown into intense contemplation about the experiences of the Jewish people and the Germans during World War II after sitting on a toilet at a concentration camp museum outside of Krakow.

    Some stories read as more local but of worlds perhaps unknown to many readers and sadly familiar to others. There is the Mennonite community in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy (The Plain Chair) and a prison in which a young man in solitary confinement finds hope from an anonymous source (The Freedom Chair).  Even The Day-off Chair has a little girl on a street bench trying to find calm in her angry world, one in which harm is expected. The Time-Out Chair, represented by the pink chair with dinosaur on the cover, is the chair to which seven-year-old Macie is relegated for her multitude of "sins" but where she finds solace in her imagining of a forest house. The only other stories in which the protagonists are revisited are The Knowing Chair and The War Chair which focus on children in a family in transition.  From a food court table and chairs to a swing outside the neutral location for the family custody switch, Barry and his little sister Sue are pulled along in their parents' conflict. Regrettably this story may be all too familiar to some children.

    As very different as the stories are in situation, each is a story with a young person struggling either with others or with themselves in order to survive emotionally and/or physically the trials of their lives.  What they learn of others and themselves in the process of sitting is extraordinary.  For Deborah Ellis's young people, sitting is but a starting point for new life stories.  Given the choice of remaining seated, condemned to a suspended existence, or getting up and moving forward, Deborah Ellis's young people choose life in whatever form is available.
    Maybe she would live.  Maybe she would ride a great train of suffering for a long, long time, but there might be one day when that train would stop, and she could have a belly full of food and a face full of sun. (pg. 117)

    October 11, 2017

    Canada 123

    Written and illustrated by Paul Covello
    HarperCollins Canada
    30 pp.
    Ages 2-5
    September 2017

    For little ones who are only discovering that they live in Canada, Canada 123 will take them on a fun romp through the cultural and physical landscapes that define us.  It's fun and comprehensive and bold in colour and message.

    From Canada 123 by Paul Covello
    From the icy landscape of 0 zero degrees, each double-spread shows the number in numerical value and word with an appropriate Canada attribute.  There’s 1 flag, 2 official languages, 3 polar bears, 4 seasons, 5 farms (including crop, dairy and wind), 6 hockey players (diverse in gender and race), 7 geese (yes, Canadian), 8 Mounties (similarly diverse in gender, skin tone and head gear), 9 whales, and 10 sled dogs.  Then Paul Covello jumps to 25 fishing boats, 50 train cars, and 100 snowflakes (there truly are 100).  Finally, the back endpapers sum up Canada in 10 provinces, 3 territories, 1 country.
    From Canada 123 by Paul Covello
    Canada 123 has a little bit of everything that is Canada including urban and rural scenes, Arctic, Pacific and Maritime displays, and sights from across the country.  Paul Covello's illustrations are vibrant and upbeat and dramatic and the lines and textures smooth, perfect for our youngest non-readers and readers.  It's a great introduction to counting and Canada and is a worthwhile addition to my booklist of Canada picture books (which I'll now amend to include this Canada 123).
    From Canada 123 by Paul Covello

    October 09, 2017

    The Theory of Hummingbirds

    Written by Michelle Kadarusman
    Pajama Press
    160 pp.
    Ages 8-12
    September 2017

    Middle-grader Alba has always been defined by Cleo.  Cleo is her left foot, the foot with talipes equinovarus, a deformity formerly known as club foot.  She has endured multiple treatments and restrictions on what she can and cannot do but, with her most recent surgery, Alba is convinced the normalcy she has always craved is almost upon her.  She is sure that, once her cast is removed, she will be able to shed her timekeeper role and run in the year-end cross-country race.
    The idea of being NORMAL hovered ahead of me like a glittering, shining new world–a place that I had never been allowed into.  Somehow I knew that if I could just run in the race like everyone else, it would prove that I deserved to be there–in magical Normal Land. (pg. 48)
    Alba is adamant that she will run and so, when best friend Levi isn't an enthusiastic supporter of her plans–he's wrapped up in proving there's a wormhole in the librarian's office–she lashes out, calling him weird and his ideas stupid.  Even Coach and her doctor caution her about making plans before they see how the foot has healed and how the physiotherapy works.  Sadly, in her efforts to get that normal life, she twists the truth, manipulates her mother and almost loses a friend. She may see herself as fierce but, like the hummingbird of the title, she can be vicious. Alba's story may not turn out as she plans, in a blaze of running glory with new friends, but it's closer than you think, resolving  itself appropriately and ultimately better for Alba, Cleo, Levi and others than expected.  

    Alba is like the hummingbirds of the title.  Most people would see them as delicate creatures, perhaps fragile and vulnerable. But Alba and Levi, hummingbird aficionados, know that the little birds are not always what they seen.  They can be intense, even ferocious, not unlike Alba herself.  While the birds' behaviour is driven by survival, Alba's may be the same, or as she feels it to be so, especially when she doesn't get the reactions she wants or the outcomes she desires.  Fortunately, she gets some valuable guidance from friends and family about appreciating herself and being the best person she can be, regardless of things which might hold her back.

    The Theory of Hummingbirds is Michelle Kadarusman's first middle-grade novel (Her first book, Out of It (Lorimer, 2014), was written for young adults.) and she's made it reader friendly in more than just vocabulary and content.  Her characters are both sensitive and gritty, as the need requires, and neither goody-goody nor reprehensible.  In other words, they are real children with strengths and challenges.  Because she underwent a series of surgical procedures to correct her own congenital talipes equinovarus, Michelle Kadarusman writes from experience.  Hence Alba's determination and drive for normalcy is written with authenticity and reads the same.  If  there's a lesson to learn, it's that seeing the hummingbirds and Alba and Levi and others only one way does a disservice to them and anyone.  We are all far more than our greatest challenge or weakness or even strength.  For that, on this day, we should all be ever thankful.