March 31, 2013

International Children's Book Day, April 2: Bookjoy Around the World

Each year a different National Section of IBBY has the opportunity to be the international sponsor of International Children's Book Day. It decides upon a theme and invites a prominent author from the host country to write a message to the children of the world and a well-known illustrator to design a poster.

The USBBY (United States Board on Books for Young People) has been awarded the sponsorship of the 2013 International Children’s Book Day, traditionally celebrated on April 2, Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. Program ideas, a poster created by artist Ashley Bryan and poet Pat Mora (there is a poem on the poster), and much more are available now at, courtesy of the USBBY International Children’s Book Day Resource Guide Committee (Alison O’Reilly, Doris Gebel, and Jackie DeStefano). If you have a great idea for celebrating International Children’s Book Day, you can share it with your colleagues around the world by submitting a program idea as well.

For those of you who cannot read Pat Mora's poem on the poster, I have retyped it here:

Enjoy International Children's Book Day!

March 30, 2013

World Autism Awareness Day, April 2: Book List

(updated June 2017)

According to Autism Society Canada, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder that affects the way the brain processes information, resulting in developmental disability.  Communication, social interactions and behaviours are affected to different degrees in individuals with ASD.

To encourage education and awareness of ASDs, April 2nd has been designated as World Autism Awareness Day. To support that mandate, I'd like to present this short list of youngCanLit book titles that includes fiction with characters that display ASDs or that aim to educate readers about Autism Spectrum Disorder. Share this reading with others and help extend those who have a better understanding of this neurological disorder.


Dinosaur Diego: The World's Smartest Dude: Asperger's Syndrome (Autism)
by Jill Bobula and Katherine Bobula
Illustrated by Rob Hall
Wildberry Productions
36 pp.
Ages 5-9
Diego may know everything about dinosaurs but his daily life isn't as clear cut as he tells readers about his Asperger's.


by Alma Fullerton
Dancing Cats Books/Cormorant
255 pp.
Ages 10-13
After her mom takes off, Casey must deal with her autistic sister Ginny, taunts from friends and bullies, and her mom's partner's despair and despondency.  

Don't Tell, Don't Tell, Don't Tell
by Liane Shaw
Second Story Press
272 pp.
Ages 12-16
Teen Frederick is taken outside his comfort zone of routines when he helps a friend.
Reviewed here

The Encyclopedia of Me
by Karen Rivers
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Canada
251 pp.
Ages 10-13
In the encyclopedia of her life that she writes while grounded, Tink deals with all events and issues, including living with her autistic older brother Seb.

Everyday Hero
by Kathleen Cherry
Orca Book Publishers
168 pp.
Ages 8-11
Thirteen-year-old Alice may be initially helped by goth-inspired Megan but it's Alice who ends up being the hero to her new friend.
Reviewed here

Fragile Bones: Harrison and Anna  
by Lorna Schultz Nicholson 
Clockwise, Press 
217 pp.
Ages 13+ 
Hugh-functioning autistic teen Harrison teams up with Anna in the Best Buddies program at their high school.
Reviewed here

Gemini Summer 
by Iain Lawrence 
Delacorte Press / Random House Canada
261 pp.
Ages 10-13
It's 1965 and the summer of the Apollo Gemini mission. In Canada, the tragic death of Beau River, the younger brother of the protagonist Danny, is initially blamed on Dopey, a boy who ostensibly has a developmental disorder such as ASD.

Looking for X
by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books
132 pp.
Ages 11-13
Eleven-year-old Khyber who lives with her mom and autistic twin brothers in Toronto's Regent Park befriends a homeless woman, X.

Seeing Red

by Ann Louise MacDonald
Kids Can Press
220 pp.
Ages 9-13
Frankie, who has disturbing dreams with unclear messages, volunteers at a therapeutic horse ranch where he works with a young autistic boy.

by Dianne Linden
Thistledown Press
134 pp.
Ages 9-13
When his mother joins a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, Mike becomes fixated on death, finding solace with unusual companions both real and otherwise. 

by Caroline Pignat 
320 pp.
Ages 12+
Five teens barricaded in a school washroom during lockdown include a girl and her older autistic brother.
Reviewed here

The Space Between
by Don Aker
HarperCollins Canada
245 pp.
Ages 14+
Eighteen-year-old Jace deals with middle-child syndrome, between his wildly successful older brother Stephan, now dead, and Lucas, his younger brother whose autism garners him much needed special attention.

Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (And other life lessons)
by Jodi Carmichael 
Illus. by Sarah Ackerley
Little Pickle Press/Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
152 pp.
Ages 7-10
Gr. 3 student Connor shares life lessons from a single day at school in which his ASD helps define his routines, likes and dislikes and interactions with others.

Waiting For No One
by Beverley Brenna 
Red Deer Press
187 pp.
Ages 13+
Taylor (from Wild Orchid, 2005) is becoming more independent after her summer of change. She is taking a university course, working at a bookstore and learning how to keep herself out of the "red zone" where she speaks and acts inappropriately.

Wild Orchid
by Beverley Brenna
Red Deer Press
156 pp.
Ages 12+
Eighteen-year-old Taylor, who has Asperger's, graduates from high school and pursues her goals to get a job, make a couple of friends and find a boyfriend.

You Can't Take Micky!
by Sonia Craddock
Scholastic Canada
137 pp.
Ages 9-11
Siblings Claire (13) and Adam (11) run away with their four-year-old autistic cousin Micky when they fear he will be placed in an institution.

March 28, 2013

The Way We Fall

by Megan Crewe
Hyperion Disney Group
308 pp.
Ages 12+

There are many ways to fall.  You can fall down, fall in love, fall apart, fall asleep, fall at someone's feet, fall back, fall away, fall behind, fall flat on your face, fall short, fall afoul. And in Megan Crewe's first book in her YA Fallen World Trilogy, The Way We Fall, someone at sometime has demonstrated each type of falling.  On an island that succumbs to the wrath of an infectious virus, "falling" becomes the norm.

Through the journal entries of sixteen-year-old Kaelyn, ostensibly to her former best friend Leo who is going to school off the island, the reader is taken on a harrowing trek from health to illness to fear and death, with valiant efforts throughout to manage, if not eradicate, a contagion.  When the infection first hits, it is hard to differentiate it from a cold, with the typical coughing and sneezing.  However, when relentless scratching is evident, followed by displays of extreme expression of affection, distrust and hysteria, coupled with delusions, hospitalization is required. As the microbiologist on the island, Kaelyn's father becomes a central figure in the investigation of the virus, and Kaelyn, her older brother Drew, and Mom, an islander who manages the local café at the local service station, are among the first to wear masks and keep themselves home to avoid contact with others.

With the spread of the illness and deaths recorded from it, some islanders find their way off the island, though some, like Kaelyn's Uncle Emmett and her seven-year-old cousin, Meredith, are encouraged to wait until the mainland has secured a site to process them.  But, when the island is quarantined, the residents become reliant on the mainland government for food and medical and other supplies, a position that many protest, with consequences.  The reactions of the islanders as well as the mainlanders, including soldiers sent to offer protection, to the quarantine could warrant a study in fear.

While Kaelyn volunteers to notify residents of the quarantine and help get ill residents to hospital, Leo's girlfriend Tessa is recruited to help grow plants that may offer hope for treatment (a passionate gardener, Tessa has her own greenhouse).   A young man, Gav, who'd organized a group of guys into a Fight Club, had them "looting" from the grocery store and storing goods in a warehouse, arranging deliveries to those who couldn't get out, were ill, or had no support systems.  Through a series of interactions, including Gav coming by to teach them some self-defense, he and Kaelyn grow closer, offering each other support and affection in a troubling situation.

While I have shared very little about the sequence of events that lead to the story's end, probably because the plot and subplots are complex (but elegant), the reader will not be given much reprise from action and chaos of a community faced with more than a contagion; the mentality of those quarantined presents as much turmoil as the fatal infection itself.  The psychological responses of the residents to living with a contagious illness and in a quarantined situation vary from heroic and charitable to egocentric and even mercenary.  With a complex menagerie of characters, coupled with Megan Crewe's plotting and organizational style i.e., Kaelyn's short, dated journal entries addressed to Leo, The Way We Fall successfully keep readers interested throughout, appropriately earning it a nomination for this year's Forest of Reading®'s White Pine Award.  While the book offers some hope in its conclusion, don't expect everything to be resolved by the time the ferry finally approaches the island again; after all that falling, it will take a lot to help everything right itself ("in love" exempted).

Luckily, The Lives We Lost, Book 2 in the Fallen World Trilogy, came out just last month, and the title of the third book, The World We Make, has been announced for release in the winter of 2014. Megan Crewe can be assured that this reviewer will be pursuing those titles promptly, determined to learn more about Leo, Drew, Aunt Lillian, the underlying hostility between Drew and Gav, and the only positive fall - Kaelyn and Gav in love.

March 25, 2013

Mister Dash and the Cupcake Calamity

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Esperança Melo
Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 12, 2013

Mister Dash is back!  The well-mannered pooch from Monica Kulling's Merci Mister Dash! (Tundra, 2011) is still sharing his life with Madame Croissant who has started Cupcakes à Go-Go and using her well-bred (I mean polite; I'm not sure 5 different breeds in one dog would be considered successful breeding) canine for delivery.  And, just as in his first book, Mister Dash must contend with the lovely lady's hurricane of a granddaughter, Daphne.

In Mister Dash and the Cupcake Calamity, Madame Croissant is extending her cupcake baking enterprise into North America.  Using a well-used van and custom-made paniers for Mister Dash, the lusciously-decorated cupcake treats would be delivered très rapide! Though he's not thrilled to be in his new outfit, Mister Dash is nothing but accommodating and loyal, helping his mistress as he can (although when the van breaks down, he holds some hope for a reprise).

But Mister Dash cannot evade the enthusiastic flurry of Daphne, Madame's granddaughter, though he does try to slip out in a very clever disguise.  Sadly, even Madame cannot keep Daphne from creating havoc in the kitchen, while baking, and even on delivery.  But Mister Dash, the ever clever companion, comes to the rescue when the delivery of five hundred cupcakes to the mayor's house is in danger of being trashed.

Monica Kulling gives such sweet voice to Mister Dash who questions, ponders and evaluates before springing to action as needed. He is responsible, faithful, and has a flair for picking up the pieces (as well as flour, dough and cupcakes) after things go awry.  He is the embodiment of chivalry, albeit in a canine form, made all the softer for Esperança Melo's warm acrylic paintings.  Daphne may be a smiling bull in a china shop, and Madame Croissant the Julia Child of the fashionable baking set but Mister Dash is Sir Galahad:  courageous (you'd have to be to ride in the van driven by Madame Croissant), gentle and polite. The story is smooth, sweet and sparkles with goodness, not unlike Madame Croissant's cupcakes. A tasty treat, to be sure.

March 21, 2013

Assured Destruction

Written by Michael F. Stewart
183 pp.
Ages 13+
March 22, 2013

Tomorrow Michael F. Stewart's first book Assured Destruction hits the market and, with its savvy plotting and tech focus, it's sure to be the start of a successful series.  And there's even a little romance going on.

Assured Destruction may normally refer to a principle of military strategy but here it refers to the Ottawa service that Janus, 16, and her mother run with the mandate of destroying and recycling hard drives and other electronics.  Except for Fenwick, their forklift operator and general works employee, Janus does a lot to keep the business running, as her mother has multiple sclerosis and generally works on the administrative needs of Assured Destruction. But Janus has a little secret cache of hard-drives that she keeps back from destruction by their metal shredder, affectionately known as Chop-Chop, so that she can poke around for secrets.
Secrets are power. (pg.7)
In fact, the story begins with Janus taking the hard drive of a classmate of her's, Jonny Shaftsbury, after being dropped off by his mother. Though it is slated to be destroyed, Janus is intrigued because Jonny has seemed interested in her. So, along with her other Shadownet terminals, for which she has created different personas and Twitter accounts, Janus adds Jonny's which becomes Paradise57. 

When Janus realizes that two individuals from whom she held back HDs have been targeted, one by robbery and the other with allegedly posting pornography, and the police come by about leaked names from other computers dropped off at Assured Destruction, Janus knows something wicked is unfolding but she can't admit her involvement for fear of making the business liable.  But things go from bad to worse when Janus sets up a trojan to learn who has set up a site where she appears to be the administrator.  Instead, all of Janus' networked computers and server go down, and she is suspended from school, grounded at home and questioned by the police.

Soon Janus realizes that her Shadownet of virtual people does not provide the solace it once had.
...I'm not sure I care as much about these people anymore, they don't seem as real as they once had. (pg.120)
In fact, Janus is finding herself attracted to Jonny and another classmate, Karl, who both show an interest in her, but her precarious status has her questioning everyone's trustworthiness, including her mom's new boyfriend, Peter.  While Janus is very tech savvy, she had never anticipated someone hacking her and putting the life that she and her mom have in jeopardy.

While I would consider myself familiar with the use of technology, the programming and hacking exploits of Janus and others would have left me confused if not for Michael F. Stewart's ability to explain without explaining.  Janus' reactions and valiant efforts to stay the consequences of the cyber attacks provide clarity enough to know when something is working or not working. Keeping the hard drives may seem reprehensible but for a girl who is working hours upon hours at the family business (since her dad took off), her Shadownet people are her friends.  She has no time for others.  Maybe she shouldn't have saved them from Assured Destruction but what has been done to her and those whose hard drives she has "borrowed" is far beyond justifiable.  The hacker's actions are not there to incite better behaviour; they are completely selfish.  And Michael F. Stewart has no problem convincing the reader that the world of the Shadownet and hacking is a dark and dangerous one, not a strategy game for all ages.  While there were a few instances where I felt that the writing could have been tighter to ensure clarity and impact, Assured Destruction's fast pace, intricate plotting and atmosphere of unease has me looking forward to Michael F. Stewart's next instalment. 

Just as I was preparing this review, I learned of this trailer for the book and thought readers might be interested.

Uploaded by Michael Stewart on March 20, 2013 to YouTube.

March 19, 2013

M in the Abstract

by Douglas Davey
Red Deer Press
216 pp.
Ages 14+
March, 2013

We all have voices in our heads directing our actions.  They may be the voices of our parents who reminded us what to do or not do; our consciences lacing our decision-making with guilt or clarity; our inner children begging to be heard; or even our own voices silently repeating a mantra for living a better life.  Most of us can tell the source of those voices and heed them accordingly.  But what if you couldn't discern the source of the voices?  Or they're so loud and insistent that they're impossible to ignore?  Or what if they seem to be accompanied by dark wispy shadows that torment and tantalize?  How do you make sense of your voices then?

This is Mary's reality (or maybe not).  For Mary, whose real name is Mariposa (though her mother always calls her Posey), the voices are persistent, often warning her against interactions with others and arguing with her choices or suppositions.
This is not a place for you (pg. 38)
Remember the last one seemed friendly (pg. 60)
Stop this before you get in over your head (pg. 63)
But with a move from the suburbs to town, Mary is exposed to new people at school and elsewhere.  Her mom may want Mary to change her look, to make new friends and to wipe away all memory of her dad (who'd inexplicably left ten years earlier), but these stresses continue to bring forth the voices and the dark shadows that drift around her.

Mary tries to appease her mother and even thinks about making herself happy, considering having a boyfriend after two different boys show an interest in her.  But her lack of experience interacting with others have her reconsidering every decision she makes, sometimes overreacting and confusing others.  As Mary tries to navigate successfully into new relationships, she begins to consider what the voices and shadows truly mean.

Douglas Davey presents Mary's situation in haunting colours of loneliness, confusion, dismal weather, and wispy shadows.  Even as Mary meets new people and experiences positive interactions, Douglas Davey does not allow the reader to forget the trepidation that accompanies each new encounter.  Sadly even as she enjoys moments of camaraderie and fleeting affection, they're sabotaged.  But the source of the sabotage is unclear.  When I began reading, I wondered whether M in the Abstract was speculative fiction and the voices fantastic elements of a new world. (In my defense, I try not to read too much about any book before I read it to ensure my review is truly my own.)  I realized soon enough that I was wrong. As the title suggests, Mary is an enigma, unsure of herself. When she signs the class register, she signs it as M, not Mariposa, not Mary.   The book M in the Abstract is as abstract as its protagonist in that it is a complex examination of a girl with legitimate worries and in transition.  How she interprets and deals with those concerns is profound, as is how the story resolves itself.  To its very end, the story is abstruse, just as it would undoubtedly be in reality.

March 17, 2013

Vanish: Book Launch Invitation (Edmonton)


author Karen Spafford-Fitz
with Orca Book Publishers


Sunday, April 14, 2013


2:00 pm 

Audrey's Books
10702 Jasper Ave NW, Edmonton, Alberta

for the launch of her newest middle-grade novel, 
part of the Orca Currents series

written by Karen Spafford-Fitz
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-45980-349-7 (pbk)
131 pp.
Ages 10-14
March, 2013

A story about an important friendship between a teen at a new high school and a kindergartener with secrets in her background.

  • a brief author discussion
  • readings from Vanish
  • a book signing, and 
  • refreshments

The official invitation (below) is posted on Karen Spafford-Fitz's FaceBook page.

March 15, 2013


by Julien Béziat
Translated by Evan Jones
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
36 pp.
Ages 5+
January, 2013

Don't let anyone tell you differently but art is sustenance.  Without art, there is no life.  Perhaps that seems like an over-the-top statement but in Julien Béziat's Mäko, translated by Fitzhenry & Whiteside editor Evan Jones, we learn that this is a reality.

Mäko is a walrus who, like most animals, spends much of his time searching for his food.  But after fishing, Mäko returns to the giant ice floe on which he and other animals live and uses his tusks to carve amazing ice sculptures.  

His sculptures are more than just a joyful hobby for Mäko - they provide key information to the locations of the fish that the animals need to survive.  When the giant ice floe breaks apart and all his ice maps are destroyed, so too do the fish disappear.  It's up to Mäko to find a way to help everyone survive.  But how?

The simplicity of Julien Béziat's story, whose integrity is maintained by Evan Jones' thoughtful translation, speaks of art, appreciation, global warming, responsibility and logic.  Why does the ice floe break apart?  Where have the fish gone?  Why does Mäko bother sculpting ice?  Do the other animals appreciate Mäko's efforts and artistry?  What sculpture could result in the reappearance of enough fish to feed everyone? Most important, the question that is answered so simply but eloquently is: what is the value of art?

The text is sparse, the illustrations are pen and ink with watercolour, and the story is succinct.  For any age, Mäko teaches that art is integral to life.

March 13, 2013

A Taste of Heaven

by Meg Tilly
Puffin / Penguin Canada
258 pp.
Ages 8-12

With the recent presentation of the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards, more Canadians will know the name of actress Meg Tilly, who won Best Actress in a Drama Series for her work in Bomb Girls, Global TV's original series about women working in a 1940's munitions factory.  Some may even recall her noteworthy performances in the highly-acclaimed movies The Big Chill (1983) and Agnes of God (1985).

But, readers of youngCanLit have had Meg Tilly on their radar more recently with the short-listing of her middle-grade novel Porcupine (Tundra, 2007) for the 2008 Canadian Library Association's Book of the Year for Children Award.  Now Meg Tilly has come back to the youngCanLit stage with her newest book, A Taste of Heaven.

For some, A Taste of Heaven may be chocolates and candies, as the cover suggests, but everyone has their own vision of what constitutes heaven. In this "the-grass-is-always-greener" story, the town of Rosedale is delighted with the news that a TV series starring Hollywood actors Jessica Ashton and Grant Palmer will be filming there. The book's protagonist, Madison Stokes, is thrilled at the prospect, even if her five-year-old sister Gina can't appreciate it, and her mom is just too busy going to her bank job while her dad keeps looking for more than a part-time job.  A lot of the kids at school are also hyped about the filming, especially snooty Olivia who is convinced she'll get a part, since her mother runs modelling and tap classes.  But when a new girl arrives the second week of school, Olivia finds Alyssa Hawkins to be a snob, though Madison is happy to befriend her.  

In fact, Madison and Alyssa become fast friends, with Alyssa spending a lot of time at Madison's house, playing in the room she shares with Gina and enjoying helping with chores and eating with the family.  When Madison asks about visiting Alyssa at her house, Alyssa is reluctant but welcomes her new friend to the massive house with its flawlessly decorated rooms, elaborate menus and staff, including a housekeeper and driver.  Alyssa may feel imperfect in her own home but her art studio where she paints allows her the freedom to be herself.  When Madison learns that Alyssa's mom is the actor Jessica Ashton, she promises to keep her secret, even if Madison then feels more embarrassed about her own family.  Understandably so, especially after a very funny scene in which little Gina is sitting on the toilet using her sister's baseball mitt to catch her poop!

But the friendship falters when Madison becomes uncomfortable with the lies she must tell her family in order to keep her promise to Alyssa.  So, though she has been discretely helping Alyssa to learn the identity of her father, Madison is accused of wanting to tell the tabloids and of revealing Alyssa's secret to her classmates.

Having moved regularly because of her mother's profession, Alyssa is new to having and being a friend. As such, she purports to trust Madison but she is too ready to accept that Madison would deceive her to the paparazzi and the tabloids. Similarly, Alyssa has not given her own mother a chance to do the right thing with regards to sharing the identify of Alyssa's father. Given the opportunity to share or defend Alyssa, both Madison and Jessica Ashton are respectful and accommodating. But, like many young people, having taken few opportunities to develop friendships or engage her mother, Alyssa doesn't know what to expect and consequently she is most comfortable expecting disappointment. There are more than a few lessons to learn about friendship here.

But the message, that we often wish for that which another has, is explicitly depicted in A Taste of Heaven.  While Alyssa truly believes what Madison has is A Taste of Heaven, Madison revels in the wealth, celebrity and independence of Alyssa's existence.
"My crazy family ... and especially since yours is so fancy, I wanted everything to be perfect when you stayed overnight." 
"Coming here," Alyssa continued, "for me, it's like a taste of heaven." (pg. 102)
Meg Tilly shows that, while the worries of these middle-grade girls may not be life-threatening but rather anticipated stresses based in perception and humiliation, they are very real.  Madison and Alyssa each worry about others' perceptions of their wealth or lack thereof, their appearances, their acceptance by others, and their privacy.  Essentially they are concerned with possible emotional bullying that comes with rejection and dejection from those about whom they care and even those they don't. Luckily they both learn a little bit more about appreciating what they have rather than what they don't, a valuable lesson for anyone to learn or at least of which to be reminded.

March 11, 2013

Modo: Ember's End

Be part
of an extraordinary
youngCanLit experience!

Author Arthur Slade and illustrator Christopher Steininger are collaborating to bring readers one extra story of Modo, the steampunk hero of The Hunchback Assignments series. Though the series ended with a fourth volume, Island of Doom (reviewed here on July 16, 2012), Arthur Slade and Christopher Steininger are bringing Modo and fellow agent Octavia back in a graphic novel called Modo: Ember's End.

Modo: Ember's End is the basis of an indiegogo campaign to raise $15,000 for the production of this 72-page graphic novel.  The campaign, only on until April 11, 2013, allows donors to contribute and choose from a variety of perks, including a digital copy of the book, a collector's edition, signed copies, limited edition prints of the artwork or an original page of art.  And if you can afford to put out the big bucks, you'll even get a "steampunk portrait of you or your dog or subject of your choice."

Details about the book, the campaign, and perks for your contribution can be found at

Just to get your interest up (if the promise of a limited edition copy of an extra story about Modo isn't enough), check out this video uploaded by Arthur Slade about Modo: Ember's End.

Uploaded by Arthur Slade on March 2, 2013 to YouTube.

And this is the book trailer posted.
Uploaded by Arthur Slade on March 5, 2013 to YouTube.

Remember - it's only on until April 11, 2013, so don't miss this extraordinary opportunity.

March 10, 2013


Written by R. J. Anderson
Orchard Books
357 pp.
Ages 11-15

Every once in a while I decide to review a book that was published a few years ago just to bring attention to a worthwhile read that I may have missed.  In fact, I have enjoyed the first two books of R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels series, Spell Hunter (HarperCollins Canada, 2009) and Wayfarer (HarperCollins Canada, 2010), reading them when they were published, and had looked forward to a third book in the series.
However, the third book was never published in Canada, only in the United Kingdom, and its name follows the alternate titles for the books published in Great Britain.  Arrow is the title of this third book, following Knife (Orchard Books, 2009) and Rebel (Orchard Books, 2010).

So, now that I've tried to clarify that there were only two books in the series prior to Arrow, but with different titles depending on where they were published, I insist that you read them before this third book just because you'll not want to miss out on the superb story-telling and strong characterizations of the very different faeries and how they all come together in Arrow.  And in case you're convinced that faeries are for little girls, I might remind you of a mermaid prejudice I had that was completely unfounded. These faery books are not for little girls.  There is romance and treachery and bullying.  In Spell Hunter, there is talk of stealing children, a suicide attempt and a man using laudanum as a pain-killer.  Not your typical faery book.  What is typical of each of R. J. Anderson's books is the flavourful and robust language (e.g., "Great Gardener" is the faery expletive) and the intricate plots and subplots, chock full of connections and relationships, and secrets and revelations.  And I haven't even mentioned the humour.

Just for a little background, in Knife (a.k.a. Spell Hunter), a world of faeries live in the Oak, rarely leaving, for fear of death or losing their powers, except as dictated by their queen. Knife has become the Queen's hunter and freely leaves the Oak, reacquainting herself with a human young man, Paul. Together they learn the truth of the Sunderling, an event that cost the faeries their magic.

With the last vestiges of magic, fifteen-year-old faery, Linden, leaves the Oak in Rebel (a.k.a. Wayfarer), and with a human ally, Timothy, attempts to find other faeries and help the Oakenfolk recover their magic as well as ensure the people don't die off.  Together they bring back the Stone of Naming from the Green Isles, home of the Children of Rhys, to help protect them from the Empress, a self-appointed ruler who learns the true names of faeries to bind them to her forever.

Now the Oakenfolk, all female faeries under Queen Valerian, with Rob and the rebel faeries who escaped the Empress' control, and Garan and other Children of Rhys, who'd taken the Stone of Naming and left the Green Isles without permission, are preparing for an attack by the Empress. 

Back on the Green Isles, the Elders of the Children of Rhys are convinced that they have been cursed by the removal of the Stone of Naming, but are assured that they are not threatened by the Empress.  Rhosmari, formerly betrothed to Garan, is determined to retrieve the Stone of Naming.  Leaving the Green Isles through its secret portal, Rhosmari heads to the mainland and meets Martin, a faery who is trying to evade the Empress and her "enforcers", the Blackwings.  Having heard that the Empress has already attacked the Oak and burned it to the ground, Martin offers to work with Rhosmari to find Garan.

R. J. Anderson's newest faery rebel book plays on several keys themes, including trust vs. deceit, and freedom vs. bondage. While the power and control that the Empress seeks, at all costs, is the obvious example of bondage, Martin recognizes that the Children of Rhys have their own bondage.  Moreover the subjugation to which Rhosmari and others subconsciously relinquish control goes beyond these extraordinary constraints, often including the much more typical ones of guilt, remorse, survival, and love. The extent to which the individual chooses to accept or reject these restraints or even see them as such depends on the individual.  And the submission of one's trust to another, for their affections, or their loyalty or their admiration.

But if you're not looking for understanding or clarification with regards to these themes, and would still enjoy a fantastical romp, Arrow (after Knife and Rebel) provides an inviting portal into the faery realm.  But be forewarned:  Arrow's world of faeries has little in common with those in which faeries scatter sparkly dust and flit around granting wishes.  This one is immersed in politics, love, and allegiances - all the issues sure to cause heated discussions among humans and faeries alike.

March 06, 2013

Every Never After: Book Launch Party (Toronto)


Penguin Canada

invites you to join

YA author
Lesley Livingston

and celebrate the launch of her newest book

Every Never After
the sequel to Once Every Never

Friday March 22, 2013

7:30 p.m.

The Dominion on Queen
500 Queen Street East
Toronto Ontario
(corner of Queen and Sumach, 
between Parliament and DVP)

RSVP by March 15 to

March 04, 2013

Shadow Girl

by Patricia Morrison
Tundra Books
217 pp.
Ages 9-13

A recurring theme in many books I've read in the past year and a half has been the abandonment of children, whether by choice, by accident, or by misfortune.  There was Fostergirls by Liane Shaw (Second Story Press, 2011); The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan (Dancing Cat Books, 2011);  No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, 2011); Middle of Nowhere by Caroline Adderson (Groundwood Books, 2012); I'll Be Home Soon by Luanne Armstrong (Ronsdale, 2012); and  A Tinfoil Sky by Cyndi Sand-Eveland (Tundra, 2012). Yet as predominant as this theme may be, each of these books, as does Shadow Girl by Patricia Morrison, takes a unique perspective on being without one's parents.

In December of 1963, Jules is only eleven years old but has become very self-sufficient living without a mom (who left when she was 4) and with a dad who has a serious drinking problem.  Though Jules will not acknowledge that her dad is an alcoholic until much later in the book, she believes that she knows how to keep things relaxed so he won't drink and what to expect when he does.  She makes most of her meals herself (when there's food in the house) and tries to keep things clean and tidy to prevent her dad from getting angry because he is a mean drunk.  But, calling her a "bloody stinking leech" (pg. 30) for being hungry and asking for more food isn't half as bad as him throwing food and dishes and pulling out the phone or staying away overnight.  Luckily Jules finds refuge in her bedroom where she likes to make blanket forts that help her feel secure.  And she loves to visit the local Zeller's toy department where she sits and reads or plays and now knows the two employees, Mrs. Adamson and Francis.  

But when dad doesn't come home for days, and she's left alone to fend for herself, Jules vacillates between anger and frustration aimed at anyone or anything ("I hate you, house, as much as you hate me! Stupid walls.  Stupid brown carpet.  Smelly, old kitchen.  I hate you!"; pg. 58), guilt and making resolutions (e.g., "Oh, dad, I'm sorry.  I won't do it again.  I won't ask for anything.  I'll leave you alone.  Just come back.  Please!"; pg. 59) to disqualifying herself, feeling worthless, non-existent, or crazy (e.g., "How can a stranger be like this to me? To Jules, the stinking weirdo?"; pg. 66)  But even with Jules trying to hide her dad's absence, Mrs. Adamson picks up on her sadness and learns some of the story, calling in the Catholic Children's Aid.

So, just days before Christmas, Jules enters temporary foster care while the Catholic Children's Aid attempts to find her father.  When he contacts them, Jules finds herself facing even greater challenges, negotiating between the inequitable treatment at her foster family's house, and her dad and his uncertain role in her life.

While there are some moments of surprising delight for Jules, her story is not a happy one, but it certainly is not a unique one.  She is a child who has had to grow up too fast and become responsible for herself, albeit without the maturity and financial support needed to be successful.  While everyone purports to want to help her, most of them have placed some limitations on that help, whether it be because of constraints dealing with time, money, or emotional engagement.  For all she has endured, Jules is still a young girl who must imagine happiness and unconditional love but even that is becoming more and more difficult.
How am I going to get through all the years of being a kid and getting pushed around?  How am I going to make it?  (pg. 182)
Patricia Morrison is able to get inside Jules' head and provide her with the confusing thoughts of a child in turmoil and at risk.  Jules' self-talk shows her confusion in finding the right voice that would keep her safe and worthy of love.  She's a multiple personality (probably like most of us), trying to decide which one personality will be the most successful: the brash girl who willingly skips school and hangs out at Zeller's; the girl who hides in her blanket fort and lacks the substance to be more than a shadow; or just a young girl who can enjoy childish pursuits, like skating and playing with dolls, as well as accept the affection of others.  As I said, Jules' story in Shadow Girl does not necessarily end on a happy note, but Patricia Morrison does allow Jules to come out from her vague Shadow Girl status and gather the substance and texture to become a daughter, a sister and a friend, and completely real.

March 03, 2013

CLA Book of the Year for Children Awards: A History in Book Trailers

Since 1947, the Canadian Library Association (CLA) has awarded the Book of the Year for Children Award (BOYCA) to an outstanding book, published in Canada in the previous year, which appeals to children up to and including age 12. (A complete list of award winners by year is available at the CLA website here.)

On Friday, March 1, 2013, the short lists of books nominated for each of the CLA's book awards, including the Book of the Year for Children Award, were announced and I've posted them on the CanLit for LittleCanadians: Awards site. 

Until the winners are announced in mid-April, I'd like to encourage readers of youngCanLit to look back at some of the most recent winners of BOYCA to refresh their reading with some classics. And to that end, I would like present an impressive collection of book trailers of these recent BOYCA winners, as created by the graduate students at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies (SLAIS) for Professor Judith Saltman's Library Services to Children class at the University of British Columbia. Just as these past winners exemplify a full range of genres and themes, so too do these creative book trailers.  Except for the first BOYCA winner, I can only provide links to their YouTube book trailers.  Please explore and enjoy!

1998 Winner
by Kenneth Oppel
222 pp.
Ages 8-12
Book Trailer by Kaitlyn Sparks and Ashley Pettet
Uploaded by Kaitlyn1909 on November 22, 2012 to YouTube
2002 Winner
Orphan at My Door: The Home Child Diary of Victoria Cope, Guelph, Ontario, 1897
by Jean Little
Scholastic Canada
221 pp.
Ages 10-13

Book Trailer by Monica Spreitzer and Larissa Image
2005 Winner
Last Chance Bay
by Anne Laurel Carter
Penguin Canada
169 pp.
Ages 10-13
Book Trailer by Layla Naquin and Julia McKnight

2006 Winner
The Crazy Man
by Pamela Porter
Groundwood Books
214 pp.
Ages 8-12
Book Trailer by Kate Longley and David Waddell

2007 Winner
Johnny Kellock Died Today
by Hadley Dyer
152 pp.
Ages 9-12
Book Trailer by Sabrina Wong and Helen Brown

2008 Winner
Elijah of Buxton
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Canada
288 pp.
Ages 9-12

 Book Trailer by Kayla Cormier and Chelsea DiFrancesco

2009 Winner
The Shepherd's Granddaughter
by Anne Laurel Carter
Groundwood Books
222 pp.
Ages 11+
Book Trailer by Lindsey Krabbenhoft and Michal Sitbon

2010 Winner
Watching Jimmy
by Nancy Hartry
Tundra Books
144 pp.
Ages 10-14

2011 Winner
Half Brother
by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
377 pp.
Ages 12+
Book Trailer by Laura Hebert and Megan Melashewsky

2012 Winner
The Whole Truth
by Kit Pearson
HarperCollins Canada
261 pp.
Ages 9+
Book Trailer by Elizabeth Bell and Mariya Tokhtarova

Many thanks 
to Professor Judith Saltman and her students for allowing me to share these, and 
to Kay Weisman and Ellen Wu of CLASC for liaising with them.