July 31, 2013

Caribou Song / Atihko Nikamon

by Tomson Highway
Illustrated by John Rombough
Fifth House Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 4+
June, 2013

Joe and Cody are two brothers who travel with their parents by dog sled across the tundra all year round.  Joe plays the kitoochigan, an accordion, while his younger brother dances.  At one stop, a large rock in the middle of a meadow seems a fine spot for music and dance, especially when singing, "Ateek, ateek! Astum, astum!" ("Caribou, caribou! Come, come!"). Engrossed in their play, the two boys do not hear the rumbling of thousands of caribou heading their way, even though young Cody has fallen onto the caribou moss below.  While their parents fear for the boys' safety, the rapids of powerful beasts carry the boys along and the mystical voice of the herd invites them to know the caribou spirit.

Tomson Highway, award-winning Canadian and Cree playwright and author, originally offered this tantalizing story in 2001, illustrated by Brian Deines (HarperCollins, 2001). This new edition, illustrated by Chipewyan Dene artist John Rombough,  emphasizes the intensity of the story, specifically the emotional experience of the boys amidst the enormity of and the potentially fatal caribou run.  The bold and rich tones of blues and purples, strongly outlined in unrelenting black visually depict the fierce, almost violent nature of the landscape and the caribou in run.  The intermittent golden hues of the sky and other backgrounds lend a warm cushion that provides relief from the terror and hostility of the boys' circumstances.  

Presented in English and Cree, Caribou Song will take young readers to a world fast disappearing: one of a frozen landscape of snow and traditional hunting and life on the tundra.  For those readers who can appreciate the high Cree translation of Caribou Song, this new edition suggests that there are still valuable ways to retain their ancestral ways.

July 29, 2013

Eden Mills Writers' Festival (Ontario)

 Sunday, September 15, 2013 (noon-6 p.m.)

Village of Eden Mills (east of Guelph, Ontario)

(see details at the EMWF website for dates and times of additional events)

The 25th anniversary of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival is fast approaching!  It's been 25 years since Governor General award-winning writer Leon Rooke and his wife Constance Rooke invited an illustrious set of authors, including Michael Ondaatje, Rohinton Mistry and Jane Urquart, to help launch his newest book.  Over 300 people showed up that day to hear authors read, and twenty-five years later, thousands now participate in the outdoor festival that brings together authors, readers, artists, poets, and performers for a glorious September weekend of words.

The EMWF has grown to include additional workshops, presentations and concerts prior to the Sunday event and full details of this year's schedule can be found at its new website at http://edenmillswritersfestival.ca/. But, my focus here is to showcase the impressive line up of children's and young adult authors that are scheduled to visit. Take advantage of this early notice to book September 15 to attend, particularly as several authors will be releasing new books at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival before available in stores! Copies of many books will be on sale on-site courtesy of The Bookshelf (Guelph) and it's a perfect opportunity to get your books signed and maybe get your photo taken with a youngCanLit author and/or illustrator.

To date, these are the authors and/or illustrators (with covers of some of their most recent and important works) who CanLit for LittleCanadians fans may be interested in seeing. 

Deborah Ellis

Sheree Fitch

Rachel Hartman

Darren Hynes

Lesley Livingston

Kat Kruger

 Philip Roy

Anne Laurel Carter

Aubrey Davis

Sheree Fitch 

Monica Kulling

Jennifer Lanthier

Andrew “Too Tall” Queen

Frank Viva

Werner Zimmermann

Come for the words
enjoy the Eden Mills Writers' Festival!

July 28, 2013

The Rule of Thirds

by Chantel Guertin
ECW Press
192 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2013
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy 

Most photographers will know The Rule of Thirds, the premise by which a frame is divided into thirds to help determine a photo's composition by placement.  This basic rule can make the difference between a photo that works and one that is solely documentation. Sixteen-year-old Philadelphia Greene, a.k.a. Pippa, photo editor of the school newspaper, president of the photo club, and daughter of a pro photographer, knows the rule of thirds.  And she can tell when there's something off about the composition of the parts.  But the photos that the new kid, handsome Ben Baxter, shows her to get in the photo club definitely work, thereby allowing him the opportunity to enter the Vantage Point photo competition.  Vantage Point, the temporal focus of all the chapter headings, drives everything Pippa does and wants, offering the opportunity to attend the Tisch School for the Arts camp at NYC.
"The photography competition–less than three weeks away, and whether I win or lose will alter the course of my life." (pg. 3)
But Ben's interest in her and confidence in connecting with her has Pippa perplexed, though somewhat intrigued. It's especially confusing when she gets a placement at St. Christopher's Hospital, the same hospital at which her father had died from pancreatic cancer just three months earlier. Here she reconnects with Dylan McCutter, an 18-year-old on whom she's been crushing for years.  Between dealing with panic attacks brought on by being around the hospital and other places associated with her father, and trying to get Dylan interested in her, even though he seems close to another girl who works at the hospital, Pippa continues to fulfil her placement obligations, visit her psychologist for grief counselling and keep photographing for Vantage Point.

Perhaps because of her grief, Pippa seems to be oblivious to a lot of goings-on around her, including how others see her.  So, when Ben continues to come on to Pippa, acting proprietary over her, and her best friend Dace starts running hot and cold, and there is a spate of technology thefts plaguing the school and the community, Pippa may notice but she doesn't take it in until it comes disastrously close to ruining everything she's been working towards.   

While Chanel Guertin does leave the reader satisfied that things will work out alright for Pippa in The Rule of Thirds, she doesn't distort circumstances to produce a blithe ending where the bad guy gets caught, the protagonist wins the competition, and boy and girl finally get together.  But things can and do still work themselves out, just as they often do in reality, though maybe not perfectly but credibly.  It's like that perfect photograph:  it might have all the right components but it's up to the photographer to see the art within and rearrange them to resonate for both the artist and the audience.  Chantel Guertin has accomplished that for the young adult reader, balancing fears, grief, romance, friendship, angst, ambitions and common sense, in different proportions to produce a picture that works.

July 26, 2013

Graffiti Knight

by Karen Bass
Pajama Press
288 pp.
Ages 12+
August, 2013

Many books of historical fiction focus on the atrocities and hardships of war time but few examine the aftermath of war, especially for civilians in the defeated countries.  Children's fiction and non-fiction of life in Nazi Germany abound, particularly for those who were victimized by the Nazis.  But, after Germany's surrender in 1945, its lands were divided between four occupation zones administered by the British, Americans, French and Soviets, as well as having certain lands inhabited by Germans recovered by Poland and Czechoslovakia. This is the story of Wilhelm Tauber and his family and friends as they endure life in the town of Leipzig in the Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.

Wilhelm, who prefers to be called Wilm, as he perennially tells his father, has much that angers him about Leipzig's current circumstances.  His father, who returned from war without one leg, is bitter about his loss and limited opportunities, and is regularly antagonistic to Wilm. His mother works as much as she can to help provide for the family.  His older sister, Anneliese, spends much of her time in her room, except when she goes to work, dressed in boy's clothing.  His friend, Georg, whose father died in the war, is essentially starving.  His friend, Karl, has a father who was taken to a POW camp but he knows nothing else of his fate.  And school is tedium for Wilm, doing well in math but only when applicable to real life.  But the harassment of the Schupos, the German police under Soviet control, and the Soviets themselves, have created a prison for all in Leipzig, restricting their movements, their food, their opinions–all their freedoms–and evoking fear, compliance and silence.  But nothing can compare to the anger Wilm experiences when he learns that Anneliese was raped by four Soviet soldiers at the train station where she went to meet her boyfriend, Ernst Weber, who promptly dropped her because she was no longer "untouched".

The game that Wilm, Karl and Georg regularly played, spying on the Schupos, pretending to be behind enemy lines and collecting intelligence for the Americans, becomes more real after Wilm begins taking chances to humiliate the Schupos and the Soviets, starting with the slashing of tires on several Soviet vans.  An older man, Otto Steinhauer, an engineer contracted to inspect bridges, intercedes when Karl and Wilm begin fighting over Wilm's negligence.  Soon Otto becomes a mentor to Wilm teaching him about bridges, math and engineering, as well as talking with him about Wilm's father, dealing with those in authority, and trust.

With the continued hostilities from the Soviets and the Schupos, including that of Anneliese's ex-boyfriend, Ernst, now a Schupo, Wilm feels compelled to escalate his attacks, becoming known as the Marionette Wolverine for the stickman puppet graffiti he leaves as his mark. But Wilm's resolve to get an innocent Georg released from jail has him questioning his own motives and actions, particularly after a final explosive act forces him to flee Leipzig, with friends and family in tow.  What begins as civil disobedience in search of justice becomes a harrowing escape, jeopardizing the lives of all for whom he cares.

Karen Bass' thorough research, as she describes in her Historical Notes at the back of the book, provides the authentic background for Graffiti Knight, challenging all that readers might think they know about Nazi Germany and its aftermath.  While all will see the Nazis as the criminals to humanity, we often forget that for others, the Soviets were just as barbaric to their victims, using some different means to oppress.  By seeing Leipzig and other parts of Germany through the eyes of a young man of sixteen, who lives through World War II but experiences further injustice in its aftermath, when so many were celebrating victory, Karen Bass provides enlightenment via a new perspective.  Heroes are not just made in war.  Courage and compassion, the virtues of heroes anywhere and anytime, can make a knight out of anyone, even Wilm.

July 22, 2013

Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl

by Emily Pohl-Weary
304 pp.
Ages 13+
September, 2013

Forget about any kind of ordinariness for Sam Lee.  At eighteen years old, she's one third of the popular band, The Cream Puffs, and their primary songwriter too. Along with their bad-girl lead singer, Jules, and sexy, bookish drummer Malika, The Cream Puffs are the hip band in New York City.  But Sam's life is not one that fans envision for a rock musician, especially one that performs with so much power on stage.  She eschews the parties and the fans, rides her bike at night, and lives on the top floor of a converted pickle factory that she owns.  And, except for crushing on Harris Walls, who is animating a video for the band and who has a gorgeous girlfriend, Sam is considered the loner tomboy (although there was a large guy who kept staring at her during a concert and tried to talk to her afterwards who obviously didn't think so).

But, after taking a nasty fall while careening through Central Park on her way home from the concert, Sam is jumped by a large dog, and then rescued from it by another dog that takes a gash out of her forearm.  Except for a voracious appetite, unquenchable thirst and a slight fever, Sam experiences no frightening symptoms but she goes to Emerg to get checked out.  But, with evidence of the bite gone and her status as a rock musician known, Sam gets out of there promptly when the medical staff start talking about testing for drugs and a psych assessment. 

Things go from bad to worse, or weird to bizarre, at their photo and video shoot, when Sam cannot eat enough roast beef and turkey sandwiches and gets aggressive with Jules, definitely odd for the introverted vegetarian.  She's sweating through her custom-made shirt, annoying their director and she can detect Harris' scent! Insisting that she is sick, Sam takes off. On her ride, she is followed by Marlon, an art school friend of Harris', who offers her beef jerky and a mega-water bottle and claims that he just wants to make sure she's okay, knowing what she's going through.  Finally, freakish dreams, messages from her nasty neighbours about her big dog (?), attacks by girl-gangs dressed as dogs, and a fan photo of her devouring a whole BBQ chicken help Marlon persuade Sam that she needs his help.

The title may give away what has happened to Sam, but it cannot even allude to the multitude of subplots involving Marlon's brother Owen, mutated werewolves, other supernaturals, and Sam's worries about revealing herself to her friends and the public.  And, of course, the love triangle of Sam, Marlon and Harris.

Emily Pohl-Weary's writing is evocative, ensuring the reader truly understands the depth of Sam's physical and emotional transformation, and her characterizations are explicit and fully revealing, reading like exposés from any teen magazine.  Emily Pohl-Weary (website here) takes Sam from a talented young woman who works in the social realm of music performance but prefers to live in a private world, to a wolf girl who finally finds the freedom to be herself.  While not an easy transformation, particularly if there's some confusion whether it is real or imagined, Sam's metamorphosis takes her through the full gamut of emotional responses: horrified, dazed, hysterical, logical, numb, secretive, embarrassed, angry, and appreciative.  Surprisingly, with people like Marlon and Malika volunteering to support her in her changeover to wolf girl,  Sam's Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl storyline becomes all the more credible (if you can say that about werewolves) and definitely less horrific.

July 21, 2013

Compliance (The Dust Chronicles, Book Two)

by Maureen McGowan
378 pp.
Ages 12+
June, 2013

In Deviants (reviewed here on January 6), Glory Solis had made the escape from their enclosed community of Haven with the help of the enigmatic but alluring Burn.  Having found safety for her Deviant brother Drake at the Settlement where her father, long thought dead, lives, Glory has returned from the Outside to Haven as an undercover agent for the Freedom Army to rescue other Deviants from inside. 

Her return has been accepted on the premise that she had been kidnapped by a Deviant and cannot remember her painful experiences at his hands.  In fact, Mr. Belando, the Junior VP of Compliance, has had Glory placed in Compliance Officer Training (COT), believing her kidnapping may give her insight into Deviants, particularly those conspiring against Management and launching terrorist attacks prior to the President's Birthday. 

So, by day, she participates in Comp training, along with her HR department-sanctioned dating partner, Cal, for whom she has conflicting feelings after being with Burn, and enduring the harassment of their Recruiting Captain, Larsson, and fellow classmates.  At night, she searches out Deviants to hand off for transport to the Settlement.  But everything changes when she learns from Burn that her regular contact for transport, Clayton, was killed along with a young Deviant, and that he blames her.  Determined to make things as right as she can, Glory searches for an elusive Deviant named Adele Parry.

Meanwhile, with Cal continuing to cover for her and protect her regularly against any harassment, Glory confides in him about her work for Mr. Belando and a suspected mole in COT.  Everything becomes even more complicated when Cal's brother Scout is seriously injured and video shows Burn loosening the bolts on their scaffolding!  With Scout "going to the Hospital" which many believe is a euphemism for execution, Cal and Scout's dating partner, Jayma, are distraught, unlike Glory who has been reassured by Mrs. Kalin, the VP of Health and Safety, who has taken a special maternal interest in Glory, that the Hospital is perfectly safe.

Whereas Deviants emphasized the false premises upon which Haven has been established and the journey from Haven to the Settlement, Compliance underscores the role of trust in moving the plot forward.  Nobody seems to trust Deviants. Deviants have valid reasons not to trust others, knowing their inevitable fate is being expunged to the Outside and attacked by Shredders.  Glory is confused by the trust she has for Cal, though he is a Comp Recruit, and for Burn, whose tenderness has been replaced by nastiness.  Who to trust now?  And what of Mrs. Kalin with whom Glory feels safest?  Or Jayma who has always been her best friend but may not accept Glory's Deviance?  But as Glory tells a young Deviant she is rescuing,
"I figured out that it's one thing to be cautious and another to never trust anyone." (pg. 7)
Maureen McGowan has topped the uneasiness of Deviants' dystopian story with Compliance's psychological tension, as neither Glory nor the reader ever has any indication whom to trust.  Moreover, trust is an ephemeral concept, appropriate in one situation and not in another.  Glory's strength in continuing to be fair and non-threatening i.e., harnessing her own Deviance just exacerbates the reader's heart-stopping trepidation each time she interacts with someone, friend or foe, Deviant or not.  While Maureen McGowan does relieve some of the reader's tension at Compliance's ending, it's not quite resolved for Glory, whose confusion is now compounded with the convergence of her two worlds, previously separated by space and time.  It's inevitable that Book Three of The Dust Chronicles will extend Compliance's gripping adventure but it's a relief to know that there will be some respite from the tension by way of the unavoidable amorous interludes Glory will share, hopeful of alleviating some confusion.

July 17, 2013

Northwest Passage

by Stan Rogers
As seen by Matt James
Groundwood Books
56 pp.
All ages
September 2013

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage...
                                                             – Stan Rogers, 1981

And so begins a journey.  A journey of  explorers to find a northern route to Asia.  A journey for singer-songwriter Stan Rogers to discover the multitude of pulse points of our nation. And yet another journey.  That of Matt James, award-winning illustrator of I Know Here (Groundwood, 2010), in his visual interpretation of the Stan Rogers' 1981 song that many believe may be the epitome of a Canadian ballad.

Ballads are perfect for wrapping up history in story-telling, and the selection of Northwest Passage for an illustrated book is inspired.  Matt James' acrylic paintings easily transport the reader from the beautiful but dangerous iridescent turquoise waters of the Arctic through the snow-clad or barren lands of the tundra and our mountainous regions.  There are sightings of narwhal, snowshoe hare, polar bear, bear and buffalo.  There are crisp cold nights, and bright sunny days, overcast skies and impenetrable fogs. There are the travellers on old sailing ships, the coureurs de bois and Aboriginal People in canoes, First Nations on horseback, Canadians in planes and musicians in Rogers' yellow touring van.  And there are those points in history and the characters who gave substance to the ballad: Sir John Franklin, David Thompson, Alexander Mackenzie, and others, all included in the double-spread titled, "A Gallery of Explorers."

Matt James' selection of Northwest Passage is all the more profound for the number of young readers who will never get to experience Stan Rogers' talent first-hand.  But, though thirty years have passed since Rogers' death, Matt James has refreshed his memory with eloquence and colourful passion.  Northwest Passage, the book, will have Canadians such as myself revisiting the song, over and over and over again, while introducing younger readers to Stan Rogers' legacy, hopefully compelling them to search out his music and biographic information at the Stan Rogers and Fogarty's Cove website http://stanrogers.net/ or elsewhere.

While no young reader wants to hear this, I believe that Northwest Passage will be a unique teacher resource for melding language and music with Canadian history, supported by the wealth of additional content about the First Arctic Peoples, the explorers, especially Franklin's expedition, and the European settlement of Canada.

July 15, 2013

Mr. Flux

by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Matte Stephens
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
 April 2013

For some, change is a way of life and, for others, it is the traumatic departure from the expected.  Young Martin and the members of his neighbourhood despair when Mr. Flux, an artist who "enjoyed mixing things up," moves in.  When Mr. Flux receives a box labelled "Property of Mr. Flux", he gives it to Martin, telling him that it's full of change.

 He suspected it contained cacophony, disorder and germs.

When Martin expresses his reluctance to experience any change, Mr. Flux explains that everything changes and that it's best to start with little changes.  With carefully chosen samples, Mr. Flux introduces Martin to new things, allowing Martin to share these with others.  In return, he reveals his own art to Mr. Flux.

With the essence of the artist and the spirit of a sensualist, Mr. Flux changes the way his neighbours think about change, allowing them to experience life and art more fully without negating their own choices for change. 

While all readers of picture books may not be interested in the art history or movement of creative thinking associated with Fluxus, based on the premise that the art of life always changes, Kyo Maclear does introduce readers to the idea that art is experiential and malleable, as is life.  Young Martin may not know much about change, though he obviously has an opinion about it, preferring to ride his familiar old bike rather than his new one.  But with a little exposure to new ideas and an open mind (though not wide open!), Martin, his family and neighbours come to appreciate Mr. Flux for the experiences and new truths he has brought into their lives.  And Matte Stephens' gouache illustrations, which have a 1950's feel, emphasize the people and places of an urban neighbourhood predominated by straight lines and polygon-flavoured structures and spikes them with intriguing animal and decorative elements that ameliorate the harshness of single truths. 

Recommended for ages 3-7, Mr. Flux may just be a delightful picture book that helps children see that change can be fun, even if they anticipate it to be traumatic.  Accept Mr. Flux as you feel appropriate.  Just be prepared to accept it as much more once you've enjoyed it for yourself.

July 14, 2013


by Kim Firmston
James Lorimer & Co. Ltd.
978-1-4594-0371-0 (epub)
978-1-4594-0369-7 (pb)
101 pp.
Ages 13-18

Most people would see having the magic touch -- finesse -- as a positive attribute, especially if used for charitable or beneficial needs.  If used to manipulate and sway others to your preferences, that same touch can be undesirable or shameful.

But sixteen-year-old Ethan is honestly impressed by his dad's talent to persuade everyone, whether at his IT security workplace or at home.  In fact, Ethan is eager to impress his father with his own skills in hacking, tech and engineering, hoping to emulate his father's success at age 19 winning a robotic competition.  He even tries to manipulate his girlfriend Maddie into cozying up to their competition, Antoine, to get a look at his plans.  Needless to say, Ethan soon learns he doesn't always demonstrate his dad's proficiency at enticing others to his will.

Though close to his father, Ethan is comfortable with his father's new wife and younger step-sister, Haley, and considers them his family.  But when Haley's attention-grabbing antics (e.g., cutting her long hair and dying it black with red tips; going Goth; having meltdowns) eclipse his successes and accolade-grabbing stunts, Ethan is less than compassionate about what may be troubling Haley.  Not surprising that when Haley tells her mother that Ethan's dad has been touching her inappropriately, Ethan does not believe her.

After his dad moves out without letting Ethan know, Ethan's confusion is exacerbated, having him wondering about his own place in the family and where his loyalty and trust should lie.  With his dad continuing to manipulate him to keep tabs on Haley and Mom, Ethan begins to see how control is not everything, especially when compassion, cooperation and compromise can achieve so much more.

Part of Lorimer's SideStreets series, Touch offers a contemporary story line, based on the issue of sexual abuse, in a hi-lo format i.e., high interest, low vocabulary.  While it is too predictable from the title and opening scenes that Haley is being sexually abused, Ethan's responses offer the perplexity needed to deepen the story.  While dealing with his own disbelief and conviction of his father's innocence, Ethan comes to see his father's manipulative techniques as selfish and detached, not admirable or effective.  With that change in perspective, Ethan is able to redirect the skills he was using to impress his father to expose him instead.  That twist in his purpose saves Ethan from his own narcissistic path and unexpectedly has him becoming a real big brother to Haley, protecting her as much as he can.

While the hi-lo format can restrict the story development and expression of characters, a good writer can augment the base story elements with enough details, secrets and innuendo to take a story from ordinary.  Personally I would have appreciated more evidence that Ethan could develop a change of heart, but Kim Firmston has a good solid plot here in Touch, adding Ethan's finesse with technology, to provide readers with greater substance on which to focus our story demands. 

July 09, 2013

Follow Your Money: Who gets it, Who spends it, Where does it go?

by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka
Annick Press
56 pp.
Ages 9-12

With the increasing number of Canadian households spending more than they bring in, it's not surprising that many young people aren't getting the financial literacy education they need to make wise decisions about money.  If parents are overspending, unaware of the ultimate costs for these spending habits, how can they possible share financial wisdom with their children?  Fortunately, Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka have put together Follow Your Money, a non-fiction text that can help young people understand how money can fly out of their wallets, ways to keep a tighter handle on it, and how everything is interconnected.  

After a brief history of money and profit, readers will examine key purchases that they or their family might make on a regular basis.  Items like bread, jeans, pizza, computers, transportation, gas, heating, pets, and sports equipment, are examined with respect to the costs of production, the parties involved from creation to sales, any profits made, and taxes paid. (I would like to mention that, as new caregivers to two kittens, that the joy and goodwill we get back from these little brothers is priceless, even if we do need a new wingback chair!)  In addition, readers are introduced to the concepts of banking, interest, loans, credit and debit cards, and those critical fees and penalties. 

Young readers will definitely never look at a price tag the same way after reading Follow Your Money.  I probably won't either.  Looking at the cost of public transit, I can now see why the government helps cover some of the costs.  And the next time I buy ink cartridges for my printer, I will remember that it's one of the most profitable products we buy.  Forget gold -- buy ink!

Having Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka author this book together is inspired.  Author Kevin Sylvester has successfully entertained young readers with a variety of his award-winning picture books (e.g., Splinters, Tundra, 2010), novels (e.g., Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure, Simon & Schuster, 2012) and non-fiction (e.g., Game Day: Meet the People Who Make It Happen, Annick Press, 2010), as well as illustrating those of other authors (e.g., Don't Touch That Toad and Other Strange Things Adults Tell You by Catherine Rondina, Kids Can Press, 2010).  Michael Hlinka, who regularly shares his business commentary on CBC Radio, brings his financial know-how, partnering well with Kevin Sylvester.  Together they have produced an entertaining look at money management for young people, complete with relevant and amusing illustrations, and organized to enhance readership and understanding.  We can all learn something from Follow Your Money.

While I don't want to suggest that this is a teacher resource, Annick Press has made a lesson plan available based on Follow Your Money.  It can be accessed at http://www.annickpress.com/content/lessonplans/FollowYourMoneyLessonPlan-1.pdf

There's also a video posted by Annick Press to YouTube of a workshop conducted by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka in February of this year.  I've posted it on my Book Trailers and Other Media page at http://canlitforlittlecanadianstrailers.blogspot.ca/2013/03/follow-your-money-who-gets-it-who.html

July 08, 2013


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

When the piskeys of the Delve leave their below-ground home (built into an abandoned human mine) for the Lighting celebrations on the surface, it is a time of frivolity, feasting, storytelling and music.  It is the same for ten-year-old Ivy except that, unlike the other female piskeys, she was born without wings, and must make the arduous journey through the tunnels with her mother, Marigold, to reach the surface.  But, when her mother disappears that night, surely kidnapped by the legendary evil spriggans, life in the Delve will never be the same for Ivy, her young sister Cicely, her hunter older brother, and father Flint, a miner.

Five years later, at Cicely's first Lighting, a piskey-boy, Keev, goes missing and a spriggan is captured and jailed.  Ivy helps the spriggan, who is actually a faery she calls Richard, once she learns that he was sent by her mother Marigold.  She agrees to help him escape if he teaches her to shape change into a bird so that she might fly. But when Cicely disappears, Ivy declines to go with Richard so that she may search for her sister, albeit in swift form.  Injured during her search, Ivy is rescued by Richard who takes her to hide at the home of his human friend, Molly, a young girl who loves everything faery. In fact, when Richard goes missing, it is Molly who takes Ivy to Truro to find her mother.

What should be a wonderful reunion with Marigold is clouded with the unsettling truths her mother shares with Ivy regarding the history of the piskeys, faeries and spriggans, about Ivy's own heritage, and the dangers afflicting the Delve.  Confused as to what recourse she has, Ivy becomes even more enmeshed in the human-faery world when she purchases a clay sculpture of a faery that she is convinced has Richard trapped within.  Determined to help Richard, find Cicely, and return to the Delve to ensure the survival of the piskeys, Ivy must manage to understand the machinations of the human world, the trickery of a faery plotting revenge and the inclinations of the piskeys and her family from whom she fled.

Swift is a fantastical adventure of mesmerizing proportions, from the tiniest of piskey and faery to the legendary spriggans and large, unfamiliar humans, everyone has an agenda, selfish or otherwise, governed by the truths they believe and the affections and resentments they harbour. The plot twists and turns with new revelations and discoveries, mostly surprising, taking Ivy from the sheltered Delve to a larger world of duplicitous entities and strange circumstances, and then back to her endangered homeland.  R. J. Anderson deftly creates a world of fantasy in Swift, taking the reader effortlessly from the below-ground tunnels and nooks of the Delve, to the flight arenas of the swifts and other birds, all visually tangible.  And she draws her readers in, promising answers to questions of family loyalty, community, and self-awareness, while teaching that the answers are actually within us all the time. 

    ≈   ≈   ≈   ≈   ≈   ≈    

The sequel to Swift is slated to be named Nomad, and is tentatively scheduled for release in early 2014 from Orchard Books.

July 07, 2013

The Power of Harmony

by Jan L. Coates
Red Deer Press
260 pp.
Ages 9-12
May, 2013

There's a nebulous haze that pervades the atmosphere of The Power of Harmony.  Sometimes it's the darker gray or mauve of coal-mining, grief and prejudice but sometimes there's a vague yellow of the canary peeking through, working at bringing up a message.  Though it is often difficult to heed a message that is unusual or contrary, those who listen will know the benefits of it.  In 1968 Springhill Nova Scotia, nine-year-old Jenny knows the gray of Springhill's mining disaster, perennial sinkholes, and the bullying by Sarah Saunders (a.k.a. Queen Smirkle Bee) and the Bad Boys (Junior and Wade) but her wonderful parents, joyous baby sister, Bethy, and books bring much light into her life.

But, when a new student, Melody Summer Syliboy, joins their class, Jenny watches how her Nanny and others respond to Melody with a full-range of prejudices levelled against Aboriginal People.  Melody may withdraw from the taunts of the Bad Boys and ignore other insensitive comments, but she stands up for Jenny when she is bullied and saves her when she almost drowns in Pit Pond.  The two girls become friends, sharing a love of singing and the need to share their fears and secrets.

With the upcoming Miners' Hall Concert, on the tenth anniversary of the Springhill mining disaster, Melody and Jennifer are asked to sing a song together. They heed the words of surprise guest, Anne Murray, who tells them,
"Remember - sing with your heart and soul; harmony's a powerful thing." (pg. 238)
The harmony of Melody and Jenny is a powerful force, helping the two girls face extraordinary life challenges of death, shame, prejudice, grief, fear, and abuse.  Together they support each other as no one else could, providing the strength needed to overcome those challenges.  For two young girls, they endure much trauma, both within their families and more publicly.  But Jan L. Coates does not depict Melody and Jenny as anything but ordinary children, albeit more aware of how people treat each other.  They are emotive ("Try to swallow the fat lump of sad in my throat." pg. 143) without being emotional; kind without gushiness; and clever without being smart-alecky.  It's Jan L. Coates evocative text and careful plotting that elevate the girls to extraordinary while the history of Springhill, Nova Scotia, including the coal mining, the residential school and the prison, ground the story in reality.  The Power of Harmony could have been a cacophony of anger, abuse and prejudice but, with Jan L. Coates' considerate story-telling, it is a sensitive coming of age story in a socially-evolving Canadian setting.

July 04, 2013

Beautiful Goodbye: Book Launch (Paris, ON)


Nancy Runstedler

for the launch of her first book

Beautiful Goodbye
Dundurn Press
152 pp.
Ages 9-12


August 10, 2013

2 - 4 p.m.


Green Heron Books
47 Grand River Street
Paris, ON

Although I have not read Beautiful Goodbye yet, 
reviews in Quill & Quire and Resource Links  
mention the use of an Ouija board that transports 
a trio of kids to 1915, when the spirit who they contact lived.  

(I was always warned against playing with Ouija boards!)

July 03, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

Written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April, 2013

Everyone's favourite squirrel, Mélanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel, is back and thinking about camping.  But, he's not thinking about going camping because there are too many hazards and preparations.  So, content to experience the camping experience digitally, Scaredy Squirrel starts setting up his TV.  Oh no! The electrical outlet for the TV is so far away he'll need to prep himself for entering the wilderness after all.

Ever the compulsive planner, Scaredy Squirrel lists the supplies he needs, all the gear for his wilderness outfit, a detailed schedule, training routines, and an elaborate map of the area.  As always, Scaredy Squirrel is prepared for everything, except the one thing that is never part of the plan! Luckily, Scaredy Squirrel always finds a way to accommodate the unexpected, even if he panics at first, and resolves the situation triumphantly.

When Mélanie Watt introduced young readers to this rodent in Scaredy Squirrel (Kids Can Press, 2006), he was an immediate hit.  He's cute, he's compulsive, he's troubled, and he's quick thinking.  And things always seem to go wrong, no matter how prepared he is.  While his books never have predictable endings, they're always satisfying.  And, in Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, young readers can look forward to Scaredy drifting off into the sunset.  Natural bliss!

If you and yours are planning to enjoy Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping or just a little camping, Kids Can Press provides a few accompanying activities at their website here.

If you haven't enjoyed the full range of Mélanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel books, check out these available or coming soon from Kids Can Press:
  • Scaredy Squirrel (Kids Can Press, 2006)
  • Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend (Kids Can Press, 2007)
  • Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach (Kids Can Press, 2008)
  • Scaredy Squirrel at Night (Kids Can Press, 2009)
  • Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party (Kids Can Press, 2011)
  • Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas (Kids Can Press, 2012)
  • Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping (Kids Can Press, April 2013)
  • Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween (Kids Can Press, August 2013)