February 28, 2012

Starling: Coming soon

Lesley Livingston, author of Once Every Never (Puffin Canada, 2011) which I reviewed here on December 12, 2011, is heralding a new fantasy YA series with this debut book, Starling, published by HarperCollins.  According to Lesley Livingston's blog, the author is "thrilled to death and beyond" (Sunday, February 26, 2012) with this newly-revealed cover for Starling.

According to the blurb on the author's blog, the story starts with a young woman, Mason Starling, who rescues an unconscious young man named Fennrys Wolf.  Except for his name, Fennrys has no memory, even of his role in opening the barrier between our mortal world and the Beyond Realms.  But this breach allows access to a center of dark energy, located in New York City's East River.  The consequent power struggle between underworld cartels of Norse, Greek and Egyptian gods and other entities places Mason Starling in danger and wondering who she can trust and who wants her dead.

If she is true to her skills, Lesley Livingston will have written another great tome in which  mythology is interwoven with fantasy, romance and hopefully her signature humour.

Look for Starling in August, 2012.

National Film Board: From Paper to Film

With the recent Academy Awards ceremonies, I'd like to recognize the numerous contributions of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) to promoting Canadian literature.  As the NFB has been nominated for more Oscars than any production company or organization outside of Hollywood and has provided work experience for every Foreign Language film director nominated this year, its reputation for exceptional documentaries, animations and such is well established.

But did you know that there are numerous short and full-length films available for viewing on the National Film Board of Canada website?  As a blogger of Canadian literature for young people (as well as a teacher-librarian), I love the short films of popular Canadian children's books that offer a different perspective on the stories. (If you're a teacher, using text and film versions of a story is a great way to teach a variety of writing and reading skills.  Just look for resources about teaching with movies.)

Explore for yourself the variety of films available for viewing at the National Film Board of Canada website, including these particular favourites of mine:

by Manjusha Pawagi
Illustrated by Leanne Franson
Second Story Press, 1998

Director:  Jo Meuris
Producer:  Tamara Lynch

by Rachna Gilmore
Illustrated by Alice Priestley
Second Story Press, 1994

Director:  Michel Vo
Producer:  Tamara Lynch

by Lynette Comissiong
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Annick Press, 1997

Directors:  Chris Cormier and Derek Cummings
Producer:  Michael Scott

by Paulette Bourgeois
Illustrated by Izabela Bzymek
 Kids Can Press, 2001

Director:  Izabela Bzymek
Producer: Svend-Erik Eriksen

by Itah Sadu 
Illustrated by Roy Condy
Scholastic Canada, 1993

Director:  Vincent Gauthier
Producer:  Tamara Lynch

(The Hockey Sweater)
by Roch Carrier
Illustrated by Sheldon Cohen
Tundra, 1984

Director:  Sheldon Cohen
Producers:  Marrin Canell and David Verrall

by Dayal Kaur Khalsa
Tundra, 1994

Director:  Sheldon Cohen
Producer:  Marcy Page 

by Madeleine Thien
 Illustrated by Joe Chang
Walrus Books, 2001

Director: Joe Chang
Producer: George Johnson

(The Snow Cat)
by Dayal Kaur Khalsa
Tundra, 1992

Director:  Sheldon Cohen
Producers:  Sheldon Cohen, Kenneth Hirsch, Marcy Page

February 27, 2012

Ghosts of the Pacific

by Philip Roy
Ronsdale Press
251 pp.
Ages 11-14

Though the term "ghost" suggests frightening disembodied souls, it can also refer to a faint trace, a remote possibility, a false image, or even be a synonym for our spirit.  As such, the title of Philip Roy's newest book in The Submarine Outlaw Series, Ghosts of the Pacific, could evoke horror or things left behind or future possibilities.  Fortunately, Philip Roy has not chosen to emphasize one over another, but instead embraces a more comprehensive definition, resulting in another fabulously rich tale of adventure.

Since fourteen, Alfred has been exploring the world using a twenty-foot, diesel-electric submarine built by junkyard genius and friend, Ziegfried.  Accompanied by his crew of Hollie, his dog, and Seaweed, a seagull, Alfred has travelled from his home in Newfoundland around the Maritimes (Submarine Outlaw, Ronsdale Press, 2008), across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean (Journey to Atlantis, Ronsdale Press, 2009), and down the St. Lawrence River (River Odyssey, Ronsdale Press, 2010).  Now 16, Alfred is ready for his postponed trip to the Pacific Ocean, choosing to travel northward through the Arctic and head for Saipan, part of the Mariana Islands.

Travel to Baffin Island seems easy enough, until a hunk of ice with dark pebbles turns out to be a polar bear that chases a kayaking Alfred back to the sub.  This first "ghost" hails the onslaught of dangerous "growlers" (calved ice that has broken off icebergs and floats just below the surface) that are virtually imperceptible until they hit the sub, repeatedly.  Inattention in this unforgiving landscape puts Alfred and his crew into deathly peril several times (even if he does get some great photo ops).  However, it also provides him with the chance to meet Nanuq, an elder in Igloolik, who sadly talks of the sea dying and its inevitable destruction of all.

Death begins to haunt the story even more.  Travelling blindly beneath impassable ice, searching for occasional small breaks to allow for a battery recharge, and getting stuck for days in shifting ice brings out Alfred's fear but also his resilience and resolve.  His extraordinary character continues to help him endure the anguish of typhoons, the violent death of animals, the blight of garbage and the suffering of others.  Still, he enjoys the company of new friends, including a young girl named Cinnamon, learning more about the world, and consciously making a difference whenever he can.

Alfred has undertaken this journey to explore unbelievable places and their tragedies, from Franklin's expedition in search of the Northwest Passage ("...the Arctic was guarding them in an icy grave"; pg. 64), to Amelia Earhart's 1937 disappearance, to the graveyard of warships in the Bikini Atoll, and ultimately to the island of Saipan where Japanese civilians and officers chose suicide rather than surrender to the Allied forces in 1944.  But along his journey, his interest in the past brings him face-to-face with the tragedies of the present:  fishing trawlers whose illegal practices kill countless dolphins, sharks and turtles; acres of plastic garbage, twenty to thirty feet deep, trapping and killing all life, while slowly decomposing and killing even more; and the irradiated land and waters of the Bikini Atoll, testing grounds for atomic and hydrogen bombs during World War II.  Luckily, Philip Roy capably brings Alfred to see choices in his future that will allow him to continue exploration while addressing his new preoccupations.

Like a great adventure, Ghosts of the Pacific does not allow the reader the opportunity to be distracted or bored.  Even seemingly mundane tasks such as exercising or finding shelter become significant experiences which the reader must follow until settled.  The plot is relentless, always enriched with unexpected subplots, steeped in a multifaceted landscape of cold and warmth, hardness and softness.  Though Cinnamon who is still a vague character may take on a more important role, those of Ziegfried, Sheba, Hollie and Seaweed provide the depth to carry Alfred on further journeys.  Fortunately, I hear Philip Roy is already working on a fifth book in the series.

The video below captures Philip Roy talking about his Submarine Outlaw Series, including the submarine.
Uploaded by Overmarsh on February 12, 2010 to YouTube.com

February 24, 2012

The Willow Awards: Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice

On February 28, 2012,  young readers in Saskatchewan will be voting for their favourite books as part of the 2011 Willow Awards reading program. 

Established in 2001, the Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice (SYRCA) awards, the Willow Awards, encourage reading by nominating a variety of Canadian titles in three categories.  Young readers can participate in the reading programs through their schools and public libraries, selecting their favourite from one list.  The Willow Awards are truly conferred according the choices of Saskatchewan's young readers.

This year's lists of nominated titles were announced last year.  Since then, young readers have enjoyed reading exceptional Canadian books, anticipating their voting day next week.

The three Willow Awards i.e., Shining Willow, Diamond Willow and Snow Willow are detailed below, along with the 2011 nominated titles.
The Shining Willow Award winner is selected from those books written for youngest readers, those in Kindergarten to Grade 3.

The 2011 Shining Willow nominees are:

Clever Rachel
by Debby Waldman, illustrated by Cindy Revell
Orca Books

Fred and Pete at the Beach
by Cynthia Nugent
Orca Books

Giraffe and Bird
by Rebecca Bender
Dancing Cat Books

The Imaginary Garden
by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Kids Can Press

In Front of My House
by Marianne Dubuc
Kids Can Press

The King’s Taster
by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

The Little Hummingbird
by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Greystone Books/D & M Publishers

Timmerman Was Here
by Colleen Sydor, illustrated by Nicolas Debon
Tundra Books

Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged
by Jody Nyasha Warner, illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Groundwood Books

Willow’s Whispers
by Lana Button, illustrated by Tania Howells
Kids Can Press

    The Diamond Willow Award winner is selected from those books written for readers of Grades 4 to 6.

    The 2011 Diamond Willow nominees are:

    After All, You're Callie Boone
    by Winnie Mack
    Scholastic Canada

    Animals That Changed The World
    by Keltie Thomas
    Annick Press

    Fatty Legs
    by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
    Annick Press

    The Gargoyle In My Yard
    by Philippa Dowding

    The Midnight Curse
    by L. M. Falcone
    Kids Can Press

    The Odds Get Even
    by Natale Ghent

    by Maureen Fergus
    Kids Can Press

    Stolen Child
    by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
    Scholastic Canada

    Tumbleweed Skies
    by Valerie Sherrard
    Fitzhenry & Whiteside

    Walking Backward
    by Catherine Austen
    Orca Books

    The Snow Willow Award winner is selected from those books written for readers in Grades 7 to 9.

    The 2011 Snow Willow nominees are:

    Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom
    by Susin Nielsen
    Tundra Books

    Free As A Bird
    by Gina McMurchy-Barber

    A Hare In The Elephant's Trunk 
    by Jan L. Coates
    Red Deer Press

    by Barbara Haworth-Attard

    Home Truths
    by Jill MacLean
    Dancing Cat Books

    No Safe Place
    by Deborah Ellis
    Groundwood Books

    by Eva Wiseman
    Tundra Books

    by Holly Bennett
    Orca Books

    Thunder Over Kandahar
    by Sharon E. McKay
    Annick Press

    The Worst Thing She Ever Did
    by Alice Kuipers
    HarperTrophy Canada

    The nominated titles for the 2012 Willow Awards have been posted here on the March 2, 2012.

      February 23, 2012

      40 Things I Want To Tell You

      Written by Alice Kuipers
      HarperTrophy Canada
      283 pp.
      Ages 13+

      When I read a book that touches me, really touches me, I always finish it, close the cover, lay my hand over it, and just sit.  Sometimes I just re-immerse myself in the story, sometimes I weep, sometimes I wonder how the characters managed, sometimes I ponder the title and the cover.  With 40 Things I Want To Tell You by Alice Kuipers, I did it all.

      Amy, a.k.a. Bird to her family and best friends, is the queen of lists and the princess of planning.  She knows that she and her good friend, now boyfriend, Griffin, will have sex for the first time on her seventeenth birthday.  She knows what she needs to do and how hard to work to get to Oxford when she finishes school.  Bird is so in control that she sets herself up as "Miss Take-Control-of-Your-Life" on a website offering advice to teens.

      Unfortunately, there's a lot of stuff she needs to tell others but she doesn't.  She doesn't tell her best friend, Cleo, about the website until it's been up for months.  She doesn't tell Griffin that she is anxious about their first time, and then when she can't "do it" the night of her birthday, she doesn't tell him why.  She doesn't tell anyone that she's attracted to a new boy at school, Pete Loewen, not even him when he approaches her.  Cleo asks Pete out and he declines, and still Bird tells her nothing about her encounters with Pete which now include mind-blowing kisses.

      Of course, Bird isn't the only one who needs to share things.  Since the death of Griffin's dad several years ago, his mom's mental health has been rocky and getting worse.  Offers of help are declined and her condition minimized when he speaks to Bird.  Then, there's Bird's mom who denies anything is wrong, though her mood is off and her organizational expertise (passed down to Bird) is showing weakness.  But, when Bird's dad, an entrepreneur currently focusing on solar bricks, goes to the bank, unbeknownst to this wife, to get a mortgage on the house, which Bird's grandmother left her mom, Bird just can't face the fighting.  Bird just runs away from it, going to the park where she often sits.  A chance meeting with Pete leads Amy (as he calls her) to pitch her self-control and have sex with him.

      So, although she continues to offer free advice online, even listing "Top Tips" (e.g., Top Tip 18: When you make a decision, say it out loud; pg. 156), Bird has even more that she should be telling: to Griffin, to Cleo, to Pete, to her parents, and even to herself.  Self-denial is a big issue for Bird.  And, in her not-telling, all their interconnected lives are shattered and transformed.  She would have been wise to heed her own advice, as her own Top Tips continue to reflect the circumstances of her own life.

      I wish I could reveal the moving conclusion to Alice Kuipers' story of Bird, but I fear that I will spoil it for the reader.  Suffice it to say that Bird's reactions and resignations and decisions are poignant, heartbreaking and honest, as well as justifiable to her, whether you agree with them or not.  Alice Kuipers' skill at weaving an emotionally engaging story with remarkable characters, likeable or not, like those in our own lives, will disarm you effortlessly until you realize you have been invariably touched forever.

      Here are 5 things I want to tell you:
      1. If you're a teen, female or male, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
      2. If you're a parent of a teen, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
      3. If you are a teacher or counsellor, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
      4. If you appreciate great literature, read 40 Things I Want To Tell You.
      5. Read 40 Things I Want To Tell You. 

      February 22, 2012

      Saskatchewan Book Awards

      On February 16, 2012, the shortlists for the annual Saskatchewan Book Awards were announced at the University of Regina.

      Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada that has a provincially-focused book award program i.e., one representing Saskatchewan's writing and publishing contributions.  With an impressive community of over 300 authors and 75 book publishers, Saskatchewan has much to celebrate and promote.

      Established in 1993 by the joint efforts of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, the Saskatchewan Publishers Group and the Saskatchewan Library Association, the Awards have grown from four to fourteen, although the specific awards vary year to year.

      This year, the Saskatchewan Book Awards announced its short lists in thirteen award categories:
      • Scholarly Writing Award
      • First People’s Writing Award
      • Saskatoon Book Award
      • Regina Book Award
      • Award for Poetry
      • First Book Award
      • Children’s Literature Award
      • Fiction Award
      • Non-fiction Award
      • Book of the Year Award
      • First People’s Publishing Award
      • Publishing in Education Award
      • Award for Publishing
      Congratulations to all nominees.  As we are CanLit for LittleCanadians, we'd like to honour those nominated for the Children's Literature Award:
      • Adele Dueck, Racing Home (Coteau)
      • Leah M. Dorion; Rita Flamand, trans., Relatives with Roots: A Story About Métis Women’s Connection to the Land (Gabriel Dumont Institute)
      • Alison Lohans, Picturing Alyssa (Dundurn)
      • Anne Patton, Full Steam to Canada: A Barr Colony Adventure (Coteau)
      • Judith Silverthorne, The Secret of the Stone Circle (Coteau)
      • Alison Uitti, First Days: Night Movies (Hear My Heart Books)
      I'd also like to recognize those children's and YA titles that have been nominated for other Saskatchewan Book Awards.
      For the Saskatoon Book Award:
      • Beverly Brenna, Waiting for No One (Red Deer Press)
      For the Regina Book Award:
      • Alison LohansPicturing Alyssa (Dundurn Press)
      For the Fiction Book Award:
      • Arthur SladeEmpire of Ruins: The Hunchback Assignments III (HarperCollins Canada)
      For the Publishing in Education Award:
      • Penny Draper, Ice Storm: Disaster Strikes #6 (Coteau)

      The Saskatchewan Book Awards will be presented on April 28, 2012 at a gala ceremony in Regina.

      February 21, 2012

      Freedom to Read Week

      February 26 to March 3, 2012

      "Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Free expression on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read."

      Freedom to Read Week is an annual event organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council to raise awareness of issues involving intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      From Vernon, B.C. to Coaldale, Alberta, and Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg, to Innisfil, Toronto, Ottawa and Peterborough, all the way to Cornerbrook, Newfoundland Labrador, libraries and other organizations are organizing events to celebrate our freedom to read.   A wide variety of contests, displays, films, readings, concerts, workshops, read-a-thons, and benefits are planned throughout Canada.  Check the Freedom to Read Week 2012  web site for a full listing of events.

      A personal note:
      Many readers are able to choose their reading unhampered by the will of others.  When the readers are young, it's not unusual for parents to help direct their children's choices of reading materials.  Similarly, teacher-librarians (if you're fortunate enough to have one in the school) or public librarians are experienced in offering readers' advisory and can offer assistance.  But just as there is a wide range of readers, both in interest, capabilities and experiences, the richness of literature available to children and young adults is far-reaching (contrary to the "there's nothing to read" refrain).  What a child chooses to read or a parent of a child allows to be read is personal, as is their reaction to any text.  We all choose what we want to read, are willing to read, or refuse to read.  That's freedom to read.  But, censorship is the expectation that we have the right to choose what others may read.

      As reviewers, we must be diligent to avoid focusing on those attributes which may be deemed objectionable by some and to instead focus on the literary quality of the book: the plot, the characters, the writer's craft, vocabulary richness, themes.  To overwhelm a review with red flags of inappropriateness is both arrogant and unprofessional.  Of course, I pick and choose what I review, based on what books are available, on my reading preferences and on my personal reactions to the theme or the author's writing or whatever.  After all, I can't review every book so I choose those I look forward to reading.

      But, anyone who decides that a particular book should not be included in a school or public library, or used by a teacher for a novel study, or honoured with a nomination on a selection list (such as for the Forest of Reading) is practising censorship.  And don't for a second believe that they are protecting anyone with their book challenges.

      Decide for yourself what you will read.  Don't decide for all readers.  Not your job.  Nor mine.

      February 20, 2012

      Chasing the White Witch

      by Marina Cohen
      157 pp.
      Ages 8-12

      The old adage "Be careful what you wish for" should have been the title of the book that twelve-and-a-half-year-old Claire picks up at the grocery story.  But it isn't.  While Claire deals with her first pimple (extraordinarily perched at the end of her nose), enduring the relentless taunts of her fifteen-year-old brother, Jordan ("But I can't see you behind the mountain in front of your nose. Oh wait a minute - that is your nose!"; pg. 10) and then noticing her enemy, the beautiful and perfect Hollis Van Horn, is in the grocery store too, the little book that flutters to her feet is titled Remedies, Rituals and Incantations.  It must have been a sign - right? Claire thinks so.

      Her first order of business is to get rid of that nasty pimple, and fortuitously there is an acne remedy in the little green book penned by the White Witch.  When the concoction (which includes yogurt, oatmeal, Limburger cheese and garlic) with the prescribed chant doesn't work, Claire reads the introduction (which she had ignored earlier) that states that the spellcaster must be pure of mind and spirit.  After cleansing herself by being helpful, meditating and taking a hot bath, the pimple is gone, and Claire is encouraged to co-opt her best friend, Paula-Jean, into performing an avenging spell on  Jordan.  The  spell works but Paula-Jean's uneasiness with the magic makes her aloof and ready to yield to Hollis' offer of friendship.  In reaction, impulsive Claire puts a hex on Hollis.  The unforeseen consequences of that act send Claire to team up with seriously-ill Hollis in order to locate the White Witch and learn how to make things right.  

      Marina Cohen's earlier books (Ghost Ride, Dundurn, 2009; Mind Gap, Dundurn, 2011), both well received by readers, examine the serious consequences of choices made by young men.  In Chasing the White Witch, the theme is similar but I enjoyed the light-hearted manner in which Marina Cohen addresses it.  While the consequences of casting spells could be dire, the reader is fairly sure that the outcome of this story will not be tragic; after all, first you have to suspend disbelief to even accept that this magic works.  And Cohen's choice of materials (Limburger cheese?) and the farcical nature of the chanting suggest a story based in "make-believe" rather than reality.

      But, it is the humour in the story that is most enchanting (pun intended), from Jordan and Claire's relationship (e.g., "Jordan could bungee-jump over cactuses using spaghetti as far as I was concerned."; pg. 16) to the publisher's name (Mixed Pickle Press) to Claire's imagination (e.g., "I had imagined the green crusty blotches and hobbit-feet and all.."; pg. 85) and her father's endless stream of aphorisms (If you kick a stone, you'll hurt your foot; pg. 29; Where you are going is more important than how fast you get there; pg. 69) and her reactions to them (e.g., "Please, Dad, I don't have time to do something as trivial as think"; pg. 70). As convinced as Claire is about her power to cast spells, her take on the circumstances is so authentic but impetuous that the reader is engaged in following her through to the end.

      Though a short read at only 157 pages, which is often insufficient to develop any character well and fully, Chasing the White Witch introduces us to several distinct characters, namely Claire, Jordan, Paula-Jean and Hollis, who could easily return in a sequel.  By not tying up Chasing the White Witch's ending in a nice bow, Marina Cohen has created an opportunity to take these characters in a totally different direction and still delight the reader.

      February 16, 2012

      Timber Wolf

      by Caroline Pignat
      Red Deer Press
      206 pp.
      Ages 11-14

      Waking in the snow, numbed by pain and cold, the young narrator of Timber Wolf comes to the violent realization that he knows neither his name, what has happened nor where he's from.
      "Homeless.  Nameless.  Hopeless.  Yet, try as I might, nothing comes to mind but the fat flakes drifting down from the endless winter black." (pg. 3)
      Although his recollections return slowly and intermittently, it is the first, that of his father, Da, teaching him to carve wood with a knife, that has him hopeful of family searching for him.  While he awaits his rescue, he does his best to find shelter and food.  Two key events occur which set the stage for the young man's journey back to himself.  First, he has a frightening but companionable encounter with a wolf who continues to help him throughout his ordeal.  Second, when the young man retrieves a snared rabbit, which he shares with the wolf, he meets a young Anishnaabeg, Mahingan, who saves his life.

      Under the care and guidance of Mahingan's Grandfather Wawatie, the young man regains his health and strength, and learns some of the Anishnaabeg ways.  But, Mahingan's relentless anger compels him to abandon the young man when they come across a logging camp shanty.  The memories unleashed by the shanty bring the young man closer to his story but they also reveal that he is responsible for harming others.  As he continues to search for his life, he encounters his companion wolf, a bear and a frightening trapper with his own memory issues.

      While the narrator will not determine his own name until page 171, his identity has been introduced in the first two books by Caroline Pignat: Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008) and Wild Geese (Red Deer Press, 2010).  In Greener Grass, the 2009 winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Text, we are introduced to Kit Byrne's family (Mam, Da, brother Jack, little sister Annie) who have endured the hardships of farming in 1800's Ireland.  With the famine and subsequent starvation and evictions, Kit and most of her family, as well as her friend Mick, escape to Canada, hopeful of a better life.  This background information is not necessary to appreciate the story of Timber Wolf, which capably works as a stand-alone text, but the connections revealed in the books are important.  Readers who have not enjoyed Greener Grass and Wild Geese are encouraged to partake in these fine reads, even after reading Timber Wolf.

      In Timber Wolf, Caroline Pignat's emphasis on the characters within an accurate, historical context draws the readers in, effectively bringing fear, despair, and hope to the foreground. The challenges of survival without solid memories that could provide a foundation for endurance and success are overwhelming and powerfully told in Caroline Pignat's rich writing.  Her imagery ("They pull his full form up onto the log where he flops like a load of wet laundry"; pg. 77) and perspicacity (Grandfather Wawatie's assertion that "even the tiniest hole left too long will eventually destroy the whole boat"; pg. 192) provide the beauty for this adventure story.  Although Caroline Pignat, in the interview notes at the conclusion of the book, does not confirm whether there will be additional books related to the Byrnes, I will look forward to another book to enlighten me historically and emotionally, as all three of these books have.

      February 14, 2012

      Forest of Reading: Most Passionate Fan

      Do you participate in the annual reading programs of the 
      Ontario Library Association? 

      Are you 18 or younger and love the Forest of Reading?
      Could you effectively and enthusiastically 
      share your love of the Forest of Reading?

      The Ontario Library Association is looking for 
      the Forest of Reading's biggest fan

      Just tell us why you love the Forest of Reading
      in an essay (max. 500 words)
      or in a video (max. 5 min; uploaded to YouTube.com)

      for a chance to win

      VIP Tickets to the Festival of Trees
      including backstage access and the chance to meet the authors
      for your school or library (max. 20 tickets)

      Email your entry (with link, if a video) to 
      Communications Co-ordinator Carla Wintersgill at cwintersgill@accessola.com
      Deadline for entry is April 1, 2012

      • VIP tickets only includes the price of the tickets, not travel or accommodation to the Festival
      If the winner is unable to attend the Festival due to distance, a set of the 2013 books from that reading program may be taken in lieu of the tickets

      By submitting an entry, you authorize the Ontario Library Association to edit, alter, copy, publish or distribute your video or essay for purposes of publicizing the OLA’s programs or for any other lawful purposes. The prize of VIP Festival tickets cannot be exchanged or refunded for cash or credit.

      February 13, 2012

      Emily For Real

      by Sylvia Gunnery
      Pajama Press
      196 pp.
      Ages 12+
      Available April, 2012

      Secrets can be kept hidden, or they can be shared thoughtfully or they can slip out unceremoniously.  Regardless, depending on who is keeping the secret and the focus of that secret, the impacts can be catastrophic, enlightening or inconsequential.  Emily For Real involves many such secrets, crossing three generations. 

      Seventeen-year-old Emily Sinclair attempts to keep her boyfriend Brian's breakup with her a secret just until after her family has dealt with the funeral of her grandfather, Karl Sinclair.  But, Cynthia Maxwell, an older and mysterious visitor to the funeral reception, gets Emily curious about her Granddad, particularly as he was not a warm, affectionate man.  In fact, Emily's mom, Winnie, clearly did not respect her father-in-law, although his twin children, Emily's dad, Gerry, and her Aunt Emma, have irresolute sentiments about him.  Although dementia prevents Meredith, the caring woman who Granddad married within a year of his first wife's death, from offering clarification, additional probing by Emily and others brings new information about the accidental death of Gerry's and Em's mother.

      With Granddad's secret revealed only after his death, the family is left to find their own ways to deal with it: ignore it, pursue it, embrace it, accept it.  Whether by cowardice, shame or self-righteousness, he left the family with more questions than answers.

      Meanwhile, Emily continues to berate herself about Brian, hardly sharing with anyone, especially Leo Mac, a new student with whom Emily is asked to work.  His absence from a group presentation as well as a chance Halloween encounter has her asking questions of Leo who freely but angrily reveals his hidden truths.  Still reluctant to share all her secrets, except with the disinterested Meredith, Emily capably determines the nature of Leo's complicated situation and offers him friendly support, sadly something that she cannot accept.  However, when a final secret, both more personal and unnerving, is carelessly revealed, Emily's innermost feelings ask for a voice.

      As the narrator who shares her responses to a stream of stupefying revelations, Emily becomes a real girl, not a cardboard cut-out of a teen.  In dealing with a death, a funeral and her family dynamics, her inertia is quite evident, few things rousing her attention or interest.  Her brain may keep taking her back to thoughts of Brian and the others' secrets, but she finds solace in visiting Meredith and in her own diversionary interest in Leo.  Leo's gruff and protective manner intrigues Emily while providing the reader with a sympathetic character for whom we can cheer.  

      Although Emily's dad and aunt play significant roles in her dramas, I could not fully empathize with them, finding their reactions generally incredible or vague.  I was most responsive to Emily's mom whose sarcasm, indignation and resolve are more in keeping with the circumstances of her family life.  She may not be totally likeable (few people are) but she is more real than her husband or sister-in-law who probably should be more emotional and reactive, given the circumstances.  Luckily, Emily is real enough to deal with these issues in her own way; after all, she is Emily For Real.

      February 10, 2012

      The Taming

      by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten
      Doubleday Canada
      229 pp.
      Ages 13-17

      If all the world's a stage, then high school provides the acting classes for life. Few teens have the confidence or wherewithal to be themselves; most take on roles they believe will make them popular or celebrated or conspicuous.  Not Katie.  She's happy being relatively invisible, enjoying the company of her two friends: brilliant, rich and nonconformist Lisa, and emo-boy, goth-looking Travis.  But everything changes when Katie gets the lead role in her drama class' production of  The Taming of the Shrew.  Not only does Katie enjoy the acting, but guys are starting to notice an attractive spark in her when on-stage. In fact, a dashing new student, Evan, whose familiarity with the play earns him the role of Petruchio, sees something captivating in Katie, asking her out.

      The Taming's chapters alternate between Katie's voice and that of Evan, sharing different perspectives of their relationship. Living in subsidized housing with a single mother whose goal it is to capture a man, Katie has enjoyed anonymity, only sharing herself with Lisa and Travis.  But now, enjoying Evan's avid attention and her first dating experience, Katie has difficulties balancing her former life and friends with Evan's wishes.  It is evident, from Evan's entries, that he left his last school under negative circumstances, that he abhors his father, a jet-setting businessman, and that he carefully calculates every move involving Katie.  How their two lives intertwine is neither unexpected nor universal.

      In a twisted contemporary version of The Taming of the Shrew, Katie is neither a shrew nor in need of being tamed.  However, Evan's knowledge of relationships is highly influenced by his parents' and his father's words and actions, whether he consciously chooses to follow them or not.  As such, although he seems to truly care for Katie, Evan's actions are focused on manipulating her to think and act according to his wishes, ultimately forcing her to make dangerous choices that threaten her sense of self.

      Those readers who choose to read this book solely for its romance will not see the subtext that exists for most relationships.  Eric Walters and Teresa Toten meld their writing to bring the personal nature of any liaison with the challenges of understanding and relating to others.  Juxtaposing Shakespeare's tale of a strong woman subjugated by a suitor with Katie and Evan's contemporary dating situation, Eric Walters and Teresa Toten demonstrate that relationships through the ages may differ in context but the bases are essentially the same.  Relationships can be grounded in respect, trust and caring, or in false impressions, abuse and inequality.  The hope is that those who find themselves in superficial romances with private abuses find the strength and support to choose different roles as Katie is fortunate to do.

      February 08, 2012

      Darkest Light: coming soon to our blog

      Today, Penguin Canada uploaded the book trailer for Darkest Light, the sequel to Hiromi Goto's Half World (Puffin, 2009).  When Half World was released, it won acclaim from all sectors, winning the Carl Brandon Parallax Award (for speculative fiction) and the 2010 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic (Young Adult category), and was nominated for the White Pine award, the Young Adult Library Services Association (of the ALA) Best Fiction for Young Adults, the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and the international IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. (Whew!)

      Half World, written by Hiromi Goto and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, is a dark tale of loss and courage (suggestive to me of a contemporary version of Danté’s Divine Comedy) that bridges different worlds of the flesh and the spirit.  Protagonist Melanie Tamaki is devastated by her mother's death.  As expected, her mother leaves the Realm of the Flesh (our world) to enter Half World (a world of suffering and atonement) until she is welcomed into the Realm of the Spirit.  But the balance of the three worlds has been destroyed and Melanie, a cumbersome girl, must endure the horrors of Half World to re-establish harmony between worlds.
      In Darkest Light (Razorbill, 2012), many years have passed and Melanie's younger brother, Gee, who was not raised with his sister, enters Half World in search of his past.  Until I have my copy to review, that's about all I can tell you, so I'll let the book trailer entice you instead.

       Uploaded by to youtube on Feb 8, 2012

      February 07, 2012

      SEVEN: Orca's upcoming series

      Today's release of the following book trailer launches the hype for Orca's upcoming series, Seven. Watch the trailer to discover why the books of Seven will be much anticipated.

      Uploaded by on Feb 7, 2012

      As obvious as it may seem, the number seven is the key to the whole series.  In his will, adventurer and grandfather David McLean leaves seven letters for his seven teen-aged grandsons: D.J., Steve, Spencer, Bunny (a.k.a. Bernard), Rennie, Jim (a.k.a. Webb) and Adam.  In the letters, each boy is asked to undertake a specific task that will lead him on an adventure to Iceland, Spain, France, Tanzania or somewhere in Canada. Each book will tell the adventure of one grandson.

      The series will be authored by seven of Canada's exceptional writers for young people.  As of today, the Seven website lists the following titles and authors as the books in the series:
      • Between Heaven and Earth by Eric Walters;
      • Lost Cause by John Wilson;
      • Jump Cut by Ted Staunton;
      • Ink Me by Richard Scrimger;
      • Close to the Heel by Norah McClintock;
      • Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer;
      • The Last Message by Shane Peacock.
      Seven, unlike any other series, will have all seven books released on the same day: October 10, 2012.  Judging by the quality of these authors' writing, this is definitely a date to mark on your calendar.  I anticipate much thrilling action, vibrant settings and convincing characters, with each author bringing their own strengths to the books.  Readers can undoubtedly look forward to Richard Scrimger's sense of humour, Norah McClintock's sense of mystery, John Wilson's take on history, Shane Peacock's dark plotting, Eric Walters' character-building challenges, Ted Staunton's musicality, and Sigmund Brouwer's problem-solving strategies to enrich the tales. Definitely a series for all readers.

      Details about the books (plus a countdown widget) are available at the Seven website.

      Charlie's Key

      by Rob Mills
      Orca Books
      254 pp.
      Ages 12+

      The cover art of Charlie's Key may suggest a dark and eerie, spine-tingling story but the suspense here is much more common and sadly relates to Plato's question: "Who will watch the watchmen?"

      Charlie Sykes, 13, and his father, Michael, leave Fort McMurray, Alberta, for Newfoundland shortly after his father gets a troubling phone call.  A car accident with a moose (very common in Newfoundland) leaves Charlie an orphan but not before his father slips him an unfamiliar key.

      Under the watchful eyes of the police, who seem to react to the Sykes name, Charlie is shunted from the hospital to "The Hollow", a juvenile facility, until a foster placement becomes available for him.  At the school, an older, nasty kid, nicknamed Flarehead, targets Charlie, physically abusing him whenever Frankie Walsh, another teen, isn't around to stand up for Charlie.  Frankie, a tough guy, takes an interest in Charlie upon learning his last name, and helps protect him in exchange for completing a reading proficiency test that Frankie repeatedly fails but needs to pass in order to be released from The Hollow. Another significant contact Charlie makes here is with Clare Dalton, a teen at the adjacent girls' rehab facility, who does some on-line research about the Sykes family.  Charlie learns of his uncle Nick, his father's brother, who has recently been released from prison where he'd been incarcerated for murder. His victim had been Brother Sullivan, one of the monks in charge of Cliffside, the orphanage at which Nick and Michael stayed after their parents' deaths in a fire.  A second murder in prison added more time to Nick's sentence.

      When Frankie is released the same day that Charlie is to attend the memorial service for his father, he helps Charlie get away from the police (Sergeant Grimes, a.k.a. Tubby) and Child Services people (including his advocate, Dez) but not before Charlie meets his uncle.  Even when Frankie and his preppie friend, Gerald, take Charlie to a party at Clare's house (Clare, now out of rehab though still using Oxy (i.e., oxycodone), is a friend of Gerald's), Nick finds him and threatens him to get the key. But, it is only with several more encounters between Nick and Charlie, as well as other key characters, that the full story is revealed.

      Rob Mills' writing seamlessly brings together the pathos of Charlie's situation with the coarseness of Frankie's and Nick's circumstances.  Their worlds, choked by alcoholism, intense anger and/or societal limitations may be difficult to comprehend for some, especially with the crude language used (particularly in references to women or to the abuse), but their realities are just that.  However, although Charlie's reality moves from one of naiveté and relative safety to one interconnected with Frankie and Nick, he is able to adjust well, applying his past to new experiences to help him make appropriate and ultimately self-sustaining decisions.  Beyond Rob Mills' strong characterizations is the suspenseful plot of Charlie's Key, which spends little time focusing on the mystery of the key itself but rather on the balance and merger of the past and the present.  The cliff hangers, beyond those of its setting, repeatedly lead the reader to anticipate but instead surprise, just the way a great thriller should.

      February 06, 2012

      Small Saul

      by Ashley Spires
      Kids Can Press
      32 pp.
      Ages 3-7

      Any child participating in the Ontario Library Association's Blue Spruce reading program this year will know Small Saul as a nominated title. But I would bet that most readers will recognize Small Saul as someone they know, perhaps their own child or even themselves. Small Saul is a character with a big heart, a formidable work ethic and a unique creativity but he just doesn't seem to fit in.

      Bespectacled and bantam-sized, Small Saul's life-long goal has to live at sea but his limitations force him to look towards being a pirate rather than a member of the navy. After achieving his Pirate Diploma ("You ARRR a Pirate"), Small Saul is taken on by the last pirate ship around, The Rusty Squid. As hard as he tries, Small Saul is an oddity amongst the tough, treasure-driven pirates. But, when the captain unceremoniously pushes Small Saul overboard, the pirates soon recognize the treasure they had overlooked in the small pirate.

      Readers will quickly get the message that it is important to be true to yourself and show perseverance.  When he couldn't get into the navy, Small Saul substituted piracy to still meet his dream of a life at sea.  When Saul wanted to show the others that he cared about the ship, he tidied and redecorated.  And, when he had kitchen duty, he didn't just serve bland gruel - he served pineapple upside down cake.
      Ashley Spires, the creator of Binky the Space Cat (Kids Can Press, 2009), winner of the 2011 Silver Birch Express Award, has created a dear character with whom all readers can identify (albeit one in pirate garb).  Her ink and watercolour artwork are bright and straightforward (important for the littlest ones) but still include elements that will have children searching for quirky details like the recurring rat, the hang-in-there poster and the colourful bandages. Arrr, so ye be wantin' t' read this here book.  "Tis th' best.

      For parents, teachers and librarians:
      Kids Can Press, publisher of Small Saul and the Binky Adventure series, provides a great downloadable document of Storytime Activities for Small Saul available at their website, as they do for Binky the Space Cat and other books in their catalogues.

      February 05, 2012

      USBBY 2012 Outstanding International Books for Young People

      On January 20, 2012, the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) announced its annual list of Outstanding International Books. The U.S. division of IBBY selects books for children originating or first published outside of the U.S.   As such, Canadian books would be eligible for inclusion on this honour list.

      This list, also announced at the American Library Association conference,  is published in School Library Journal and in a bookmark format.  The bookmark displayed below is available for download from the USBBY website.

      Canadian titles have been highlighted in yellow. The ten titles indicated below were published by Annick, Groundwood or Kids Can Press.
      Constance Vidor and Ragina Shearer prepared a Google Map displaying all honour books on this list, as a useful tool for teaching.
      Created on January 24, 2012 by Constance Vidor and Ragina Shearer

      February 04, 2012

      Neil Flambé and the Crusader's Curse

      Written and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young People
      291 pp.
      Ages 8-14

      It's not easy to empathize with Neil Flambé, teen chef and Vancouver restaurateur: he's precocious, arrogant and haughty.  How he ever got his cousin, Larry, to partner with him in the restaurant business or young perfumier Isabella Tortellini to become enamoured with him is beyond comprehension.  But, when his culinary skills and his extraordinary sense of smell (he is called The Nose, after all) seem to fail him, especially when hosting a group of food critics who send back their food or get food poisoning, those around him begin to worry.  After the setbacks Kevin Sylvester documented in Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders (Key Porter, 2010) and Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction (Key Porter, 2011), Neil has had to refurbish Chez Flambé with new appliances, cutlery, furniture, heating/cooling, etc.  He should be in culinary nirvana, amazing everyone with his gifts, but now, on his fifteenth birthday, he's apprehensive and confused.  Something is very wrong.

      Of course, the reader is privy to a series of historical episodes, starting in the 1200's, in which an ancestral Flambé chef (seems they were always great chefs) is prohibited from cooking but continues to create dishes using unlikely ingredients (e.g., seagull, tree bark, narwhal) and recording the recipes in a notebook of parchment.  History shows that, through time, many Flambés have been cursed.

      Of course, the Nose knows no curse.  All he knows is that his glorious dishes now taste worse than sawdust and the restaurant's re-opening is doomed to fail.  Then Neil's life seems to flip out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire: the safe with his recipes is stolen; a new restaurant, Carrion, is slated to open across the street; Greta Carbo from the Health Department shuts the restaurant down; and computer wiz and rival, Stanley Picón, with computer Deep Blue Cheese (DBC) challenges Neil to a cooking duel.  Luckily, Neil does have allies: Larry, Isabella, her bodyguard Jones, his mentor Angel Jícama, food critic Jean-Claude Chili, and police inspector Sean Nakamura.  With some clever sleuthing, innovative gastronomy, a little travel and even some charity, Neil and his associates discover a plot cooked up to flambé his reputation and his restaurant.

      Kevin Sylvester has created a winning character in Neil Flambé. (Speaking of winning, did you know Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders won the 2011 Silver Birch Fiction Award and Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction is nominated for the 2012 Silver Birch Fiction Award?) Of course, Neil is not necessarily likeable (his arrogance tends to rule his personality) but he is growing up and learning to get along better with people (hence his proliferating entourage).  All Kevin Sylvester's characters are quirky and rich with life, even those who only appear in a single caper.  There are no two-dimensional stereotypical players in these plots.  In fact, the plots which may seem directional (i.e., problem to solution) are quite rich, teeming with red herrings and subplots and sub-subplots, perfect for a younger reading audience.  What will always endear the Neil Flambé Capers to readers, as it does here, is the nutty humour of the narrator and the characters.  It is often so subtle,  just a play on words (e.g., "..humming now, a little ditty DBC liked to call 'Happiness Is a Warm Bun - an Ode to John Lemon.'"; pg. 63), that I wondered if all readers "get" it.  But, if you check out some of the book trailers made by enthusiastic young readers of the Neil Flambé Capers and attend a Festival of Trees™ celebration with thousands of cheering readers, you'll know that they "get" it and they love it.  We all do.