June 17, 2024

Meet Jim Egan (Scholastic Canada Biography)

Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Mike Deas
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2024
I didn't know who Jim Egan was. But, like all Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas's books in this illustrated biography series from Scholastic Canada, Meet Jim Egan gives readers the opportunity to be introduced to extraordinary Canadians and learn of their historical impact in civil rights, athletics, science, business, the arts, activism, and more. With a season of Pride starting in June for several Canadian provinces, including the two in which Jim Egan lived, it is only fitting to celebrate the life of this LGBTQ+ activist now.
From Meet Jim Egan, written by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas
Jim Egan was born in 1921 Toronto. He enjoyed many things, like science and nature and reading, but he figured out that he liked boys, not girls. When he had to leave school at age sixteen, rather than pursue a career in medicine, he took on a variety of jobs, from farm work and working in a lab, to joining the merchant marines during World War II. It was during this last endeavour, travelling around the world to transport soldiers and supplies, that Jim Egan discovered places where gay men could gather and be themselves. For the first time, he realized he was not alone in his feelings for other men.
From Meet Jim Egan, written by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas
But, in many parts of the world, and certainly in Canada at that time, being gay was illegal. Fearing arrest and rejection from their families, their friends, their employers, and even landlords, many kept this part of their lives secret. But there were places where they could feel safe, and it was at one such place in 1948 that Jim Egan met his future life partner Jack Nesbit.

As a reader, Jim had always realized the discrimination that gay people endured but he was especially unhappy with the hurtful language used against LGBTQ+ people. He started writing letters to magazines and papers to educate them about gay people. It took a few years before his writing would be published but he got people talking and thinking about them. This started his activism and fight for gay rights, including his biggest fight: the right for equality in spousal recognition for gay couples. Gay people could not marry, adopt children, or receive government financial support like old age security as spouses. After being together with Jack for almost 40 years, Jim knew they had a new fight on their hands.
From Meet Jim Egan, written by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas
Although the two men had been together for over 50 years when they died in 2000, they never saw the landmark changes that Jim's activism pushed to happen, like making same-sex marriage legal in 2005. Still, Jim Egan's drive for equal rights for gay people was instrumental in making others aware of gay people and their right to equality.

From Meet Jim Egan, written by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Dea

Elizabeth MacLeod may give us the salient facts of Jim Egan's life, from his birth and employment, as well as milestones in LGBTQ+ history in Canada–see the timeline of his life complete with photographs–but she always keeps the heart of the man and his drive for equality at the center of his story. It is clear that Jim Egan was a passionate and sensitive individual who cared deeply for his partner and for equal rights for gay persons, and he had the determination to try to make things happen. Without his efforts, people would not have had the conversations about gay people and the baby steps towards legal equality would not have been possible.
As always, Mike Deas's illustrations keep a lightness to a life's story that is rife with struggles. His technique of blending digital with traditional media–sketches created digitally were painted with watercolour and gouache on watercolour paper and inked with black lines–easily takes us from a farm to the city, from the 1940s to the late 1990s. We see communities of gay people together but separate, embraced but also shunned, as well as the worlds in which Jim Egan lived and fought for his right to be himself and with his partner.
Meet Jim Egan is another wonderful addition to Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas's Scholastic Canada Biography, now totalling thirteen books. As always, they've introduced us to a significant Canadian whose story reminds us that doing the right thing for yourself and others may not be easy or always fruitful but it's always the best thing to do.
Meet Viola Desmond (2018)
Meet Chris Hadfield (2018)
Meet Tom Longboat (2019)
Meet Elsie MacGill (2019)
Meet Willie O'Ree (2020)
Meet Terry Fox (2020)
Meet Thérèse Casgrain (2021)
Meet David Suzuki (2021)
Meet Mary Ann Shadd (2022)
Meet J. Armand Bombardier (2022)
Meet Buffy Sainte-Marie (2023)
Meet Jim Egan (2024)


June 12, 2024

Willa and Wade and the Way-Up-There

Written by Judith Henderson
Illustrated by Sara Sarhangpour
Kids Can Press
40 pp.
Ages 5-7
June 2024
Willa is an ostrich and Wade is a penguin, and though they are both birds, neither can really fly though they would really love to. So, they ponder "the distance between the here and the there." (pg. 6) And since they seem to have a good grasp of basic science of flight, they consider what it would take to set themselves aloft.
From Willa and Wade and the Way-Up-There, written by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Sara Sarhangpour
First, Willa considers the concept of lift, while Wade wonders about velocity. How to get lift? How to ensure speed? They try ballet because ballet makes you light on your toes. No luck with flight. Then they try pogo sticks but it wasn't until sliding downhill that the two experienced a brief lift off the ground.
From Willa and Wade and the Way-Up-There, written by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Sara Sarhangpour
Next, they consider liftoff. That requires them to jump off a cliff. Of course, they become airborne, but it is, of course, temporary. It's not until they apply some scientific principles to their problem solving and engineer something that the two feel the magnificence of the way-up-there.
From Willa and Wade and the Way-Up-There, written by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Sara Sarhangpour
Judith Henderson, who has given us stories including the Big Words Small Stories series and This is a Dog Book!, knows how to give us the subtle humour with understated plots. Willa and Wade and the Way-Up-There is sweet and playful and emphasizes determination and camaraderie without flagrant slapstick humour or irreverence. Instead, Judith Henderson tells a story that invites early readers to think outside the box when problem solving. With digital illustrations by Toronto's Sara Sarhangpour, Willa and Wade and the Way-Up-There keeps its light tone and the focus on the two friends. Because everything is so understated, from the text, the art, and the messaging, young readers will just be entertained, pleased with their ability to read a book that is a step up from picture books–in their estimation, anyway–and still be given the opportunity to think about how they approach a dilemma or question that doesn't have an obvious answer. And it might also make them think about flight and concepts like lift and speed.

The way-up-there that Willa and Wade aspire to enjoy is not unlike the many ambitions we all have and, if two flightless birds can find a way to fly, then we can do our best to aim high and find solutions too.

June 10, 2024

Waking the Dead and Other Fun Activities

Written by Casey Lyall
Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins)
288 pp.
Ages 8-13
May 2024
Bringing people back to life is an unusual service for a funeral home, but it is one my family did with great pride. (pg. 1)
Twelve-year-old Kimmy Jones knows it's a privilege to have the Jones's gift of Waking those newly departed who have some unfinished business and to grant them one last wish. Her father, Nathan, now passed, had it and so does Kimmy's Grandma Bev on her father's side. In fact, Grandma Bev is training Kimmy now that the child has turned 12. Kimmy's mom Julia and her stepdad Alex know what Grandma Bev and Kimmy can do and allow them to perform Wakings at their Jones Family Funeral Home though they are cautious as Kimmy is still a trainee and everyone insists she honour the boundaries that have been placed on their gift. And though Kimmy is able to Wake, everything changes when Grandma Bev dies. 
When Kimmy tries to Wake Grandma Bev, knowing she had secrets still to share with Kimmy, including the recipe for her awesome cookies, all she gets is a nosebleed.
How could she let her spark move on and pretend she had no unfinished business?
She had me. (pg. 57)
Worse yet, months afterwards, Kimmy is still having no success in Waking, though the power she used to feel in her chest when she was trying to Wake someone has become a "tug, tug, tug" that never leads to anything. 

When a boy around her age is found dead in the park, Kimmy is convinced that here is a soul who definitely has unfinished business i.e., revealing who murdered him. She breaks into the hospital morgue and, pushing harder than she ever has, Wakes Devon who doesn't know what happened to him. Surprisingly, Devon does not return to dead when Kimmy breaks the connection. Now Kimmy has a bigger problem: she's got a kid who is supposed to be dead but isn't and who can't go home, and she needs to figure out why he's still Awake and how did he die. 

With much humour and sharp investigative skills, Kimmy and Devon and a motley group of family and newly dead work to determine what is going on with the dead in their town of Basbridge, including Grandma Bev, and put things to right.
Casey Lyall, whose most recent book Gnome is Where Your Heart Is was nominated for a Silver Birch Fiction award, knows how to blend all the right elements for a comedic supernatural mystery, while making sure that readers understand how overwhelming death and grief can be. Still there is a message about life being for the living, except sometimes if you've been dead (!). Young readers on the Silver Birch Forest Kid Committee put this new book on their summer reading list of recommended Canadian titles for middle grade readers and they know great books when they read them. Waking the Dead and Other Fun Activities is a fabulous read. It has laughter and magic, mystery and life lessons about death and grief and living. 
Devon stared at the sign. "You live in a funeral home?'
His eyebrows crawled up his forehead. "And you bring dead people back to life?"
"I told you!" I flung a hand in the air. "It's not usually permanent!"
"Terrible business model," he muttered. (pg. 108)
For many young readers, Waking the Dead and Other Fun Activities will be a can't-put-it-down read, especially once they get invested in the characters, most notably Kimmy and Devon. They'll want to know if Devon becomes a zombie, gets to go home or dies again. They'll want to know why Kimmy can't find Grandma Bev's spark to Wake her for her last few minutes or whether the gift of Waking has died for the Jones family. There is a mystery to solve–remember Devon was murdered–and some family secrets and legacy to sort out. Did I mention there was magic at hand too?

The story in Waking the Dead and Other Fun Activities is rich, like Grandma Bev's complex cookie recipe that Kimmy just can't replicate. She tries but it's just so sophisticated that you can't always figure out why and how it works so well. That's what Casey Lyall's writing is like. I don't know how she does it, but Casey Lyall has always done mysteries well (see her Howard Wallace, P. I. series) but what brings everything to life–pun intended–is the way she weaves humour and compassion into her stories. Her books, like Waking the Dead and Other Fun Activities, are complete packages that have everything to entertain, to inspire the imagination, and to subtly support middle graders who might be dealing with their own family issues, including grief. Casey Lyall may not purport to provide answers but it's more than enough that she can delight us with her clever plotting, her vibrant characters, and her ability to astonish with the supernatural that is still wholly believable.

June 07, 2024

The Sun Never Hurries

Written by Roxane Turcotte
Illustrated by Lucie Crovatto
Pajama Press
40 pp.
Ages 3-7
June 2024 
Just like each grain of sand, every moment of your day is precious. 

Little Charlie may be of a generation that wants to eat at restaurants or drive everywhere but a day with her grandfather, Papa Jo, teaches her the value of taking the time to savour every moment and experience, making for a far richer adventure.
From The Sun Never Hurries, written by Roxane Turcotte, illus. by Lucie Crovatto
Charlie's day with Papa Jo begins with him showing her an hourglass, explaining that it helps him remember that a day is an almost infinite number of moments to enjoy and cherish. At lunchtime, instead of heading to a restaurant, Papa Jo enlists Charlie's help to peel vegetables for a delicious soup. Afterwards, instead of getting in the car and heading to the village, they stroll together through wildflowers. An excursion to an island becomes a series of small adventures: in the rowboat, on the beach, watching birds and dragonflies, and more. When the day ends and time has drained from the hourglass, there is still one more encounter with that unhurried sun to cap their day together.
From The Sun Never Hurries, written by Roxane Turcotte, illus. by Lucie Crovatto
We should all be taking the time to appreciate every moment, from cooking a meal to reaching a destination, to being fully present. Too many adults rush here and there and multitask and worry about not getting everything done. Too many children are rushing from one activity to another, expecting instant satisfaction from people, food, and experiences. There is great value in being mindful of the moment, whether with another or doing mundane tasks or feeling feelings. Roxane Turcotte gives us the encouragement to stop and enjoy the moments with Papa Jo and Charlie, and step back from anticipating what to do next, or how quickly can we do it, or how much we've accomplished. Through Papa Jo's words and examples, Charlie and young readers will relax and pause a little more, and appreciate everything the sun, the outdoors, the world has to offer.
Quebec's Lucie Crovatto gives us the warmth and luxury of the sun in all her illustrations. Imbued with cheerful yellows and oranges, whether in the carrots and potatoes, Charlie and Papa Jo's outfits, or the sunshine and the sunset, Lucie Crovatto makes us feel safe and content. However, her palette is not restricted to these colours because she takes readers outdoors with her characters: to walk in colourful meadows, to row over pale green waters, or to sway on an elaborate branch swing in a lush forest. No matter the setting, the art embraces and soothes, reminding us to feel and see and listen and truly experience each moment.
From The Sun Never Hurries, written by Roxane Turcotte, illus. by Lucie Crovatto
As Charlie learns throughout her day with Papa Jo and especially when it comes to sunset, the sun never hurries, and neither should we.

The story is also available in its original French language edition, Le sablier de Papijo (Dominique et compagnie, 2022).

June 05, 2024

Queer History A to Z: 100 Years of LGBTQ+ Activism

Written by Robin Stevenson
Illustrated by Vivian Rosas
Kids Can Press
64 pp.
Ages 10-14
May 2024
What a perfect month to review this extremely comprehensive book of non-fiction that celebrates the key players and events in the history of LGBTQ+ activism! I was riveted by what I learned.
From Queer History A to Z, written by Robin Stevenson, illus. by Vivian Rosas
Author Robin Stevenson has long championed LGBTQ+ stories in both fiction (e.g., When You Get the Chance) and non-fiction (e.g., Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community), but in Queer History A to Z she takes the opportunity to inform on the history of those for whom LGBTQ+ issues have always been paramount. Basing her information according to the letters of the alphabet, Robin Stevenson educates readers on everything from terminology like drag and Indigiqueer and significant historical events like the protests at the Stonewall Inn and the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights to bios of important activists like Bayard Rustin and Marsha P. Johnson who fought and inspired movements.
From Queer History A to Z, written by Robin Stevenson, illus. by Vivian Rosas
I did not exaggerate when I used the word "comprehensive." Queer History A to Z may be  based on 26 key ideas but it goes beyond just those 26 people, terms or events. It gives us so much more, including an additional 35 short bios of queer activists, a thorough timeline of a hundred years of key events, a glossary, and references of LGBTQ+ resources for young readers as well as references for books, websites and films which might be useful. If you want an introductory book about LGBQT+ history that is also inclusive and extensive, Queer History A to Z fits the bill.
From Queer History A to Z, written by Robin Stevenson, illus. by Vivian Rosas
Robin Stevenson's thorough and informative text is accompanied by Vivian Rosas's bright and bold digital art that includes everyone in the LGBTQ+ communities. Not only does she depict historical figures accurately–I know this because every story so intrigued that I was constantly checking for more info online–Vivian Rosas gives the events authenticity and the pride that is conveyed from within.
From Queer History A to Z, written by Robin Stevenson, illus. by Vivian Rosas
For all readers, young and old, Queer  History A to Z may be a primer on LGBTQ+ activism for the past 100 years but it is also an acknowledgement of communities that have endured the full gamut of discrimination for that same time. The book is in itself an act of activism to empower those who have been and may still be denied the rights to be themselves everywhere and anywhere. 
"We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers." ~ Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

June 01, 2024

THE FACTORY: Cover reveal

Time to get excited about an upcoming book.
Let's get that buzz started! 
Catherine Egan is the author of middle grade & young adult novels including Sneaks, The Witch's Child series (Julia Vanishes, Julia Defiant and Julia Unbound) and The Last Days of Tian Di series (Shade and Sorceress, The Unmaking, and Bone, Fog, Ash and Star).
Soon, Catherine Egan will have a new middle grade novel which will be coming out in January 2025. I'd like to help get everyone talking about this new book of speculative fiction for middle grade readers with this cover reveal.


Written by Catherine Egan
336 pp.
Ages 8-12
January 7 2025 
Here is a blurb about The Factory from Catherine Egan herself:
You make a bargain—this for that.
You think you know what you're giving up, what the risks are, and you believe the payoff will be worth it.
Some bargains are riskier than others.
Some payoffs are hard to resist.
But what if there’s a lie at the heart of the bargain? What if you’re wrong about the thing you’re giving up?

Welcome to The Factory.

Meet Asher Doyle: He made this bargain to save his mother. A dreamer with problems of his own at school, he thinks the Factory might be the answer. But he was specially recruited, and the question of who wants him here and why becomes more and more pressing.  
Meet Faith Ford: She made this bargain to save her family. Smart and determined, Faith thinks she can tough it out, power through, like she always does. She's wrong this time.
Meet Troy Sanchez: He made this bargain to save his brother. A gentle soul, Troy is nonetheless a survivor, but the price he pays will be greater than any of them, and the Factory might be one thing he can't survive.
Meet Violet Shu: She made this bargain to save herself. Vi is a force to be reckoned with. She doesn't wait for the fight to come to her—she brings it. Also, if anyone messes with Troy, she will end them.

Every day the kids at the Factory are shut in Extraction Containers as part of a highly classified experiment in harvesting electromagnetic energy from the human body. A risk, a bargain. The process is terrifying, but the payoff is huge. They all signed up for this. They all have their reasons. They are desperate, and this might be their only chance to change their circumstances. But the machines aren't really extracting electromagnetic energy. So what is being extracted?

Asher. Faith. Troy. Vi.
They team up to figure out the real cost of the bargain they've made.
But they're running out of time.

My new middle-grade novel THE FACTORY will be out January 2025 and I am so excited to share this creepy, evocative cover with you all - I GASPED when I first saw it! The artwork is by the brilliant Angelo Rinaldi (https://www.artistpartners.com/portfolios/angelo-rinaldi/). Much more to come, but keep your eyes out for THE FACTORY next winter! 
~ Catherine Egan

From the cover and Catherine Egan's blurb, there is much promise in The Factory for an epic read of speculative fiction for middle grade readers. Only 7+ months until its release! So put it on your TBR list and/or pre-order it to ensure you have your copy to visit The Factory in January 2025.

May 29, 2024

Wild Trails to the Sea

Written by Penelope Jackson
 Illustrated by Elena Skoreyko Wagner
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2024
Wild Trails to the Sea is a reflection of parents who are hopeful for children to enjoy play in the natural worlds of shorelines, oceans, and forests but it reads like a love song to their children, to nature and all its elements, and to curiosity and exploration. 
From Wild Trails to the Sea, words by Penelope Jackson, art by Elena Skoreyko Wagner
The day begins with a mother carrying her young daughter and looking out the window at the dawn and hoping "the peepers always wake you a little too early." And then there are a multitude of days of outdoor play, with parents watching and interacting and showing and learning as their little ones explore wild areas. It's taking off your shoes to feel the sand and rocks beneath your feet. Or tasting spruce tips. Or leaping into freezing waves. It's going from spring when the first mayflower opens to the summer of bathing suits and hot sands, and then to fall when they "climb the tallest hill to watch whirls of colour tumbling toward the ocean" and winter to fling pebbles onto an icy pond. It's a full year and life in the outdoors for this family and these children, and one that will become a tradition for generations.
From Wild Trails to the Sea, words by Penelope Jackson, art by Elena Skoreyko Wagner
Halifax's Penelope Jackson has a story to tell, whether of her own childhood or that of other children. She tells it with an almost perceptible sigh of contentment and respect and awe. The natural world is one of wonder, one of extraordinary treasures to be appreciated. Penelope Jackson's text is written in free verse but it is still rhythmic without rhyming. Her words are cadenced, almost like a song, and it is a song of hopes for children to experience their natural worlds and for nature to be recognized and valued. And it is the promise that that wonder will extend beyond themselves.
I hope that when you are grown
and making pathways of your own
you still follow every salty wind...
and walk the wild trails to the sea.
That sensibility of Penelope Jackson's words is matched with Elena Skoreyko Wagner's collage art. With an eye to both colour and shape, Elena Skoreyko Wagner, originally from Nova Scotia and now of the UK, creates vignettes that are so textured that they seem almost tangible. Whether it's a child's hair being tossed by the wind, or the layers of spruce and pine tree branches in a forest, or smoke curling from a bonfire, Elena Skoreyko Wagner has found a way to bring a new dimensionality to the people and landscapes of Wild Trails to the Sea.
From Wild Trails to the Sea, words by Penelope Jackson, art by Elena Skoreyko Wagner
We may not all have access to a maritime location, but we all have opportunities to get out and play and discover. While Wild Trails to the Sea speaks to one family and the joy and experiential learning of outdoor play, it reminds us that there is much promise if we just open our eyes and take in our surroundings for more than just a backdrop to our structured and scheduled lives.