March 28, 2014


by Karen Autio
Sono Nis Press
293 pp.
Ages 10+

In 1915 Port Arthur Ontario, Saara Mäki and her younger brother John, from Karen Autio's Second Watch (Sono Nis Press, 2005) and Saara's Passage (Sono Nis Press, 2009), may seem to be typical Finnish children in their community but, with the Great War on in Europe, nothing is typical anymore. John's Ukrainian friend Fred has had his father herded away to an internment camp. Then a man at the grocery store calls the Mäki family "enemy aliens". Even Saara has worries that she may not progress from Junior Fourth to Senior Fourth because she's been away for months helping her aunt who has TB. And the news is rife with the case of Carl Schmidt, a German who participated in dynamiting an armory, a plant and the Nipigon River railway bridge, almost. Suspicions abound.

Alternating chapters in the voices of Saara and John, Sabotage begins at the onset of summer holidays. While Saara, now 14, must work away at delivering her mother’s sewing work and completing assignments that would allow her to pass into the next form, John (9) delivers newspapers with Fred, and keeps his ears open to all the gossip and any news the reporters might share. Though Saara is pestered by John’s pranks and outrageous ideas, she is forced to watch him and even work with him whenever directed by their mother. When a new boy, Peter Schmidt, joins them in playing war, Saara meets his sister, Birgitta, and they become fast friends.

While John’s suspicious but observant nature helps him to find evidence of sabotage and get him rewarded with the moniker of “Scoop”, he and many others see sabotage and saboteurs everywhere, whether it be a fire in a grain elevator (a fairly common occurrence) or a person speaking German. But when their own actions are misinterpreted as suspicious, and their father is accused of attempting to blow up the grain elevator, John and Saara must work together and ask for help of those who disapprove of them if they are to help their father and prove that all landed immigrants are not dangerous enemy aliens.

Although the premise behind Sabotage is, well, sabotage, Karen Autio paints a picture of a Canadian community on the edge: men away at war, never coming back; women need to find work to help support their families and help with household duties previously shared with their spouses; families of internees are left without support, financial and emotional; flagrant prejudice is leveled against those who speak other languages regardless of their loyalties, community connections, and valuable contributions; censorship of letters shows up between children; attempts to unionize workers and institute labour reforms are seen as suspicious; and paranoia about everyone and everything abounds. The little pleasures of an ice cream with a beau are few and far between (though sweet), as is play for children. Youth like Saara and John, as well as Fred, Birgitta, Peter and others are slammed hard with the realization that the world and the adults running it are not always hospitable and generous, or even rational. It was a hard lesson to learn, I’m sure. Credit to those adults who could demonstrate sound judgement during a time of war, and impressed that model upon children, because in a world where there really were saboteurs aiming to do harm, there was enough to worry about.

March 27, 2014

Pay It Forward Kids: Book Launch (Toronto)

Celebrate International Pay It Forward Day
April 24 

by joining

author Nancy Runstedler

for the official book launch of

Pay It Forward Kids:
 Small Acts, Big Change
 Fitzhenry & Whiteside
64 pp.
Ages 10-14

Saturday, April 26, 2014
6:30pm - 8:30pm

Mabel's Fables Bookstore
662 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, Ontario

The book itself is enough reason to attend this book launch, 
but, for an added incentive, 
a percentage of all royalties from the book will be going to the Pay It Forward Foundation 
all attendees (max. 300) will receive an official purple and white Pay It Forward bracelet. 

  Help Pay It Forward!  

March 26, 2014

The Worlds We Make

by Megan Crewe
Disney Hyperion
288 pp.
Ages 12+
February, 2014

At the conclusion of Megan Crewe's The Lives We Lost (reviewed here on May 28, 2013), a hapless group of young people were leaving inhospitable Toronto to attempt to deliver a vaccine to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia in the hopes that the CDC would be able to mass produce the vaccine needed to save those uninfected with the widespread and deadly virus. The group, led by Kaelyn whose father had produced the vaccine, consists of Gav, her boyfriend, who she'd met while fighting the virus in their island community; Leo, her former best friend who had just returned to the island after making his way from New York City; Tobias, a young soldier who rescued them from the island; Justin, a reckless fourteen-year-old who'd forced them to take him; and a new recruit, Anika, a former ally of the scary Wardens and their leader Michael.  But getting the vaccine to the CDC is far more difficult than just finding a vehicle and gasoline to get it there.  The group must outwit and escape the omnipotent Michael and his legions of Wardens who are determined to get the vaccine for themselves.  So begins The Worlds We Make, the conclusion to Megan Crewe's Fallen World Trilogy.

Heading south in an SUV stolen from Michael's well-organized and well-supplied gang, Kaelyn and her entourage continue to deal with incredible snow storms and the fear that Gav and possibly Tobias have become infected with the virus.  A flat tire lays them up in a small town, searching for a new tire and supplies, attempting to contact the CDC by radio and, worst of all, isolating the now delusional Gav from all but the immune Kaelyn.  Gav's death leaves Kaelyn reeling, though his message to her on a scrap of paper in his jeans compels her to keep focused on getting to Atlanta. 

The group's journey is essentially a series of driving episodes interjected with stops to search for supplies and encounters with individuals or evidence of those who are no longer around (having died or left). Mostly they are observers of phenomena from fire balls in the sky, to a suicide victim, a well-stocked hunter's cabin, a commercial pig farm where the animals were left caged to die, and isolated communities of people, sometimes welcoming, sometimes not.  Though they connect with a Dr. Guzman at the CDC who prepares for their arrival and analysis of the vaccine for production, their capture by Michael's Wardens suspends their travels and threatens their only goal and their lives.

While the plot is very directed i.e., the group endures different horrors as they attempt to reach the CDC, the story is bigger than the plot in The Worlds We Make.  It has more to do with the premise of creating a world we choose, not as we deem it to be as thrust upon us.  Sure the epidemic changed everything and everyone is reacting to that change.  Some don't change their ways at all and may remain safe or may become victims.  Some completely alter their behaviour, such as Michael who was formerly a policeman and now uses the knowledge he learned to successfully establish a criminal organization, based on fear and hostility.

Kaelyn begins to see their world as a new dynamic, based on survival and power, essentially without room for empathy.  Every choice they make now must be weighed against the potential for infection, attack and successful delivery of the vaccine.  Trust is a commodity in short supply.  Anika, the last to join their group, constantly looks ready to run.  Justin's bravado covers his insecurities related to his youth, his interest in Anika, and even his desire to make amends for his perceived lack of effort. Kaelyn is less able to edit her comments, never realizing the effect they have on others around her.  That is, until she comprehends that they see her as a leader, their leader, and she must not refrain from showing how much she values them just to avoid the hurt of losing them.

The world that Megan Crewe has created is one of desperation and paranoia.  The bad is often highlighted because it is overwhelming and tragic, but there are slivers of goodness like freshly-baked bread and home-made sandwiches, hugs of reassurance, and a simple smile.  The strength of character with which Megan Crewe has imbued Kaelyn carries the reader, as well as the group, to a surprising resolution to create a new actuality where bad and good must come together to make something better.

March 24, 2014

28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6: Book Launch (Aylmer, QC)

Are you a young reader or young writer, maybe even in Grade 6 or not, and would like some advise about conquering your fears of school or sharing your writing?  Do you live in or will be visiting the Gatineau area this coming weekend?

Catherine Austen
author of
Walking Backward (Orca, 2009)
All Good Children (Orca, 2011)
  My Cat Isis (Kids Can Press, 2011)
26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6 (Lorimer, 2011)

for the book launch 
of her newest middle grade fiction 

28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6
192 pp.
Ages 8-12
Released March 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014
2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.


Lucy Faris Library
115 rue Principale
Aylmer (Gatineau), QC

Catherine Austen invites you to come out for a reading, 
live music, crafts, refreshments, 
an open mic session for fearless young writers.

March 23, 2014

Shh! My Brother's Napping

Written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
For release April 2014

When Mommy and her boys return from grocery shopping, it is evident that baby brother needs to rest.  He's already sleeping in his stroller, and Mommy insists that everything be kept quiet because he's napping.  In rhyming verse, Ruth Ohi shares the older brother's reminders from Mommy and himself about his sleeping brother, though he is still a young child himself and interested in making music with pots and pans, and wanting to include his little brother in his fun. He does soon realize that there are lots of activities that he can do quietly, like reading and painting.  Of course, he may know that he's supposed to be quiet, but the illustrations indicate that his actions don't always focus on the quiet aspects.  After all, reading can be quiet, if you don't throw your book when it gets scary.  And painting can be very calming and silent, as long as you don't take your paintbrush to your little brother's face.  And building a town of blocks and books is very structured, unless it falls.  But it's the reciprocity of their relationship that brings this story to its surprisingly appropriate conclusion.

Everyone knows Ruth Ohi from her darling books about Chicken, Pig, Cow (Annick Press), siblings, and most recently Kenta and the Big Wave (Annick, 2013; reviewed here).  As in most of her books, including those she illustrates for others, Ruth Ohi speaks to relationships between friends or family members, both positive and those in need of reconciliation.  Here big brother knows what he should be doing, as Mommy reminds him, "Shh! Your brother's napping." He tries to follow Mommy's instructions and do quiet activities like reading, painting, and block-building, though it is hard when there's so many fun things to do, including with your little brother.  There is no evident meanness or sibling rivalry, just the desire for the boy mouse to include his baby brother in his play, though not always in the most thoughtful of manners.  In fact, when little brother does awaken and the two siblings start to interact, baby brother recognizes the need to reciprocate that kindness of quiet.  Well, maybe.  Shh! My Brother's Napping is a delightful tale of sibling love from several angles, including the one from which Mommy observes them.

March 21, 2014

Revenge on the Fly: Book Launch (Burlington)


Sylvia McNicoll

youngCanLit author 
of numerous middle-grade and young adult fiction

for the launch of her newest book

 Revenge on the Fly
by Sylvia McNicoll
Pajama Press
224 pp.
Ages 8+
April, 2014 

In 1912 Hamilton, Ontario, twelve-year-old Will Alton must deal with a new life without his mother and baby sister Colleen but vows to contest to rid his world of as many disease-transmitting flies as possible.

Sunday, April 6, 2014
2:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.


 A Different Drummer Books 
513 Locust Street
Burlington, Ontario

Sylvia McNicoll promises refreshments, including Shoo Fly Pie!

March 18, 2014

Author Interview: Angela Misri, author of Jewel of the Thames

Angela Misri
author of Fierce Ink Press' newest YA novel,

Jewel of the Thames
A Portia Adams Adventure
Fierce Ink Press
238 pp.
Ages 12+
March 2014

has graciously agreed to allow
CanLit for LittleCanadians
to delve into her writing world
and learn some details about her and her book.

HK: Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic literary character that many writers have found different ways to incorporate him into their own writing. Why have you chosen to do this?

AM: Portia was not always based out of Baker Street, though since she shimmered into my imagination she has always been a young Canadian detective. Two things inspired me to place her in the home of Sherlock Holmes. First, the style and writing of the Conan-Doyle Casebooks, which felt like a natural way to write detective fiction for me. The second is that I was inspired by Stephen King’s Holmes short story called ‘The Doctor’s Case’ which opened my eyes to the idea that Holmes could live on beyond the stories written by his original creator.

HK: How did you have to adjust your style of writing to accommodate the 1930’s time setting of Jewel of the Thames?

AM: Like the style of the casebooks, I found that when writing about Portia, my voice naturally becomes more formal. I had to do a lot of research into the actual words and slang used at the time, and my editor actually helped me with that as well. I found that by keeping Portia Canadian (that went back and forth in development by the way), I was able to more easily account for her slight difference in speech from the Londoners she finds herself around.

HK: I notice that there are nine casebooks listed on your Portia Adams blog. Will each book have its own stand-alone mystery that needs solving or will the books be revealing new information that will go towards solving a big mystery?

AM: Yes, each casebook is a mystery to be solved, much like the original casebooks were written. I would have been happy to publish each casebook on its own (like The Green Mile by Stephen King) but found that there was more interest in a larger story arc wrapped around the mysteries that Portia solved. So for the first book, I took the first three cases and fleshed out that larger story – of Portia’s evolution from newly orphaned Canadian girl to an aspiring consulting detective in London.

HK: Your book has elements of historical fiction, romance, and mystery. Which of these was the most difficult to incorporate into your first Portia Adams book.

AM: Oh for sure the romance. I think because I read a lot of historical fiction and mystery, writing those two feels entirely natural to me, but I don’t read much romance at all, and therefore found it hard to write. My publishers helped me a lot with it, asking me the right questions that led to me write out scenes that only played out in my head.

HK: I have one favourite question that I like to ask authors. This is it: would you rather produce one book of extraordinary importance that becomes a classic but one to which all your writing is forever compared, or would you prefer to author many different books for different audiences and which could not be compared to each other easily?

AM: Wow, that is a hard one! I believe I would like to author many different books for many different audiences and I pick that because I do actually write very different books. Portia Adams is my first series, but I have written another historical fiction novel based in 300BC India called Savitri (unpublished), and a time-travel romance I published under a penname and I have the outline for a dystopic fiction series that would probably fall under the fantasy YA genre. So I have a LOT of stories in me (like many people I know) but I don’t think I yet have the idea for a book of ‘extraordinary importance.’ Maybe someday ; )

Many thanks to Angela Misri 
for taking the time to answer these questions
to Colleen McKie at Fierce Ink Press 
for making arrangements and including me in the blog tour for Jewel of the Thames

March 17, 2014

Jewel of the Thames: A Portia Adams Adventure

by Angela  Misri
Fierce Ink Press
238 pp.
Ages 12+
March 2014

Take yourself back to London after the turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is), after the death of Queen Victoria and at the beginnings of the city's transformation into a modern city with an underground, electric trams above ground, and a mixture of Gregorian, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Nouveau stylings.  And Scotland Yard working against all nature of crime, sometimes with the help of consulting detectives, the most famous of which was Sherlock Holmes.  But in this London, add a youthful, female version of Mr. Holmes, named Portia Adams, and you have Angela Misri's new young adult book, Jewel of the Thames.

With her mother's death from breast cancer in 1930 Toronto, nineteen-year-old Portia has lost all the family she has ever known: her father, Charles Eagle, to the Great War; her maternal grandmother, Constance Adams; and now her mother, Marie Jameson née Adams.  But the appearance of the elderly and wealthy Mrs. Irene Jones of New Jersey as the only person other than Portia mentioned in her mother's will brings a new guardian into Portia's life, one who will ensure her care and education and allow her to accept her inheritance of the house at 221 Baker Street, London.

So Portia, who chooses to use her mother's maiden name of Adams now, becomes landlady at 221 Baker Street and chooses to live upstairs from her tenants, an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dawes, and their son Brian, who is completing his Scotland Yard training for a police constable.  This startling life change is nothing compared to Portia's learning that she is the granddaughter of Dr. John Watson, the biographer and friend of 221B Baker Street's most famous resident, Sherlock Holmes.  While puzzled by the secrets both her grandmother and mother kept from her about her heritage, Portia is delighted to learn of her grandfather's work through his long-stored case books and to share her predilection for justice, as well as inductive and deductive reasoning, with Brian Dawes with whom Portia establishes a fast friendship.

While the book is named Jewel of the Thames, it's also the title of the first of three case books shared in Angela Misri's first Portia Adams AdventureJewel of the Thames focuses on a string of burglaries that Brian is investigating for Scotland Yard, and which he discusses with Portia.  Gleaning valuable information about robberies, crime scenes and using disguises from the wealth of case books left to her, Portia pursues possible solutions to the crimes. But, while her skills of logic and detection have earned her the support of her Somerville College professor, Chief Inspector Archer of Scotland Yard, her intrusion into police cases is seen as meddling by Brian's supervisor, Sergeant Michaels, regardless of how he can take advantage of her positive results.

Her second case, A Case of Darkness, comes her way via a classmate, Mr. James Barclay, who requires some discreet inquiries made regarding the strange behaviours of his older sister, Miss Elaine Barclay, particularly in regards to their father's mysterious and debilitating illness.

The final case in this tome is titled Unfound and centers on a missing child aboard the train on which Portia is travelling to Scotland to visit Mrs. Jones for the Christmas holidays.  Even with an eight-hour non-stop journey, the search for the little girl seems impossible, until Portia intervenes.

The inclusion of three cases in one book is very Holmesian (or should that be Conan-Doylely?) but the three are easily tied together by Portia's continuous research into her family, often relying on Mrs. Jones for information.  Ever the traveller, Mrs. Jones pops in randomly to check on her ward and evade or discreetly answer the barrage of questions posed to her by Portia.  Portia is determined to learn everything about why and how her grandmother and mother separated themselves from her British relatives, and what role Mrs. Jones plays in this secret history. 

Angela Misri's research into 1930's London and the books of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's cases for Jewel of the Thames has obviously been extensive.  Without relying on the smog and poor sanitary conditions of Holmes' turn-of-the-century London to establish atmosphere (no pun intended), Angela Misri easily embeds Portia Adams in a London of many textures, from its landscape to its climate and people, to its politics and society.  The criminals may not be losing themselves in the pea soup smog or crowds in Sherlock Holmes' early years, but they still make use of the bridges, fear, poisons and common practices of the people to get away with their nefarious actions.  

Luckily Portia Adams is clever but never arrogant (unlike the oft-condescending Holmes), regularly questioning herself and chastizing herself about her mistakes.  Moreover, she attempts to use her skills to make things right, whether it be for a banished cat, a sibling rival or a victim of abuse.  She wraps her logic and solutions in compassion, recognizing that sometimes good people do bad things.  It is that thoughtfulness and sincere modesty that make Portia Adams a finer detective than Holmes could ever have been, and a far more worthy character for readers to admire and follow. And follow Portia Adams I will, into her subsequent cases, into resolving the secrets of her family history and into an upcoming romance with a character already-introduced that isn't Brian Dawes.  The suspense is killing me!  That's one mystery only Angela Misri can solve, with Book 2 in her Portia Adams Adventure series.

(1) This word cloud in the silhouette of Portia Adams was created by Angela Misri and retrieved from her website for her Portia Adams Adventures at


As part of the Jewel of the Thames Blog Tour, running from March 17 to April 3, Fierce Ink Press has generously offered an ebook giveaway of Jewel of the Thames for a reader of CanLit for LittleCanadians.  Leave a comment below (before noon (EST) on March 19, 2014) explaining why you'd like to read Jewel of the Thames, for your chance to win a copy of the ebook.


Watch this site tomorrow for a Q & A with Jewel of the Thames author Angela Misri as part of Jewel of the Thames Blog Tour, for revealing thoughts about her new series and more.

March 15, 2014

Mouse Tales

by Philip Roy
Art by Andrea Torrey Balsara
Ronsdale Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
February, 2014

Happy the Pocket Mouse, the star of Philip Roy's new picture book series from Ronsdale Press, doesn't seem very happy when he can't sleep and insists that he would fall asleep very quickly if John, his human friend, would just tell him a bedtime story.  With the love of a parent or caregiver, John awakens (okay, Happy does have to open his eyelid) and considers the best story to tell, without frightening Happy.  He starts with the story of Hansel and Gretel, providing answers to Happy's multitude of questions and comments e.g., "How poor were they?" "That's not scary." "She made her house out of GINGERBREAD and CANDY?" Although he's being very brave and inquisitive, Happy is shocked to learn that witches keep spooky things like mouse tails in little jars. Well, Happy's very ready to go to sleep then (or at least end that story) but he has more questions, to which the answers are even more unsettling.  So our adorable little rodent, with the incessant questions, clever ideas and passive determination (really!), finds the means to sleep, albeit with a few detours.

Happy and John take me back to the days of Topo Gigio snuggling up to "Eddie" on The Ed Sullivan Show*, though I see a compassionate John Lennon in Mouse Tales' John. (Is the same name just a coincidence?)  The repartee Philip Roy has penned between the two is brisk, endearing and expressive, and never will the reader believe there is anything but love between these two individuals. And Andrea Torrey Balsara, a new illustrator definitely to watch in youngCanLit, gets the right mix of sweetness and reality, never going saccharine on the characters or the setting.

I love Mouse Tales and look forward to reading it to my kindergarten students, luckily never close enough to bedtime for them to adopt Happy's concerns.  But I especially look forward to more adventures in the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, knowing that the collaboration between Philip Roy and Andrea Torrey Balsara is marked for great youngCanLit success.

* If you're too young to remember Topo Gigio, check out the first 30 seconds of the YouTube video at

March 14, 2014

From There to Here

by Laurel Croza
Illustrated by Matt James
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
For release May 2014

The little girl in I Know Here (Groundwood, 2010), Laurel Croza and Matt James' first book together and the 2011 winner of the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, recollects all the wonderful attributes of her home in northeastern Saskatchewan.  After father's work on a dam there is complete, the family would be moving to Toronto, and the young girl was anticipating that move and what she would miss of her home.  Now the little girl and her family have arrived in Toronto and, in poetic observations, she compares their life "there" to their new life "here", in From There to Here.

Of course, it is so easy for the young girl to still see all the positives of her former home and how different everything is in Toronto.  From her father's job, to the type of roads, the buildings, time with family, the vegetation, the sky–everything is different.  

"It's different here, not the same as there."  

Laurel Croza's clean text emphasizes the simple thought processes of the girl as she navigates her mindset from the country to her new urban setting.  It's succinct but progressive.  And illustrator Matt James, who won the 2013 Governor General's Award for Children's Illustration, emphasizes with elegance the differences between the "there" and the "here", never making one look better than the other, just different but similar.  Matt James juxtaposes the colours and lines of trees with bed-frames and windows blinds, or the northern lights and the street lamps, with such refinement. As in any great picture book, the text should be complemented by the illustrations, as Laurel Croza and Matt James have done so easily in From There to Here.   They found the means to endow memories and new experiences with the quality of perspective, effortlessly taking the reader on a smooth journey From There to Here.

March 11, 2014

The Rule of Three

by Eric Walters
405 pp.
Ages 12-18
January, 2014

While the Eden Mills of Eric Walters' The Rule of Three becomes a dystopian world, it is not a futuristic community under a totalitarian or an environmentally-degraded one.  It's the suburban neighbourhoods so many of us live in. The story begins in a high school with teens desperate to complete an assignment, a typical event in any high school in Canada or the US today.  But everything changes when the power goes out.  Not just the electricity that ultimately provides heat, light, water, sewage, refrigeration, and the countless amenities of our power-dependent lives, but also computerized devices like cell phones, lap tops, cars, etc. The unpleasantness of a dystopia is not immediately evident, but it's coming.

For Adam Daley and his family, the onset of the power outage doesn't create as much chaos as it does for the majority of the population.   Because Adam's 1970's Omega doesn't rely on fancy electronics, they have one of the few functioning vehicles around.  Mom is a police captain who works in the nearly precinct, so not only is she close to home, she commands some respect among those who may be acting less than nobly.  Dad is a pilot for Delta and was safely grounded in Chicago (not in the air) when all devices stopped working, and had been helping Adam, who is learning to fly, to build an ultralight plane in their garage.  Probably most significant is the close relationship the Daley family has with their elderly neighbour, Herb Campbell, whose former governmental job that took him around the world (Adam wonders if he was a spy) has him well-prepared for any disaster and skilled in diffusing dangerous situations.

As people become more desperate for food and water, and fearful for their families, Herb recognizes that, "We have to become increasingly more organized as the world becomes more disorganized." (pg. 141) In addition to patrols and checkpoints and a credit system to prevent further looting,  they conduct a census to determine what skills are already within the community.  Moreover, they convince the Petersons, the parents of the girl that Adam is crushing on, to transport all their farming equipment and animals to Eden Mills to share their knowledge of farming, building wells, etc. with them.

While occasional forays in the ultralight reveal much destruction and the establishment of other communities, the group works to build up their own community, establish better defense strategies, and attempt to deal with potential allies and enemies.  Sometimes mistakes, even fatal ones, are made as they learn what works and doesn't work, but they develop, amend and create solutions that might help them all survive yet another day.

The consummate author of engaging books for young readers, Eric Walters will have no difficulty grabbing fans of adventure, survival, dystopian or speculative fiction with The Rule of Three and its series. (There are sequels coming, as the last line in the book suggests.) Strangely, Eric Walters does not need to rely on supernatural elements or demand that readers completely deny their common sense.  Every and any reader could place themselves in the role of Adam, Lori, or another character, and recognize that their reactions are very honest and real.  There are the know-it-alls, the aggressors, the innocents, the ignorant, the leaders and the followers.  There are those you'll despise, those for whom you'll cheer and those you'll want as your neighbours.  Herb calls it well when he declares that, "Crisis doesn't change people; it reveals them." (pg. 325) In The Rule of Three, Eric Walters reveals us to ourselves in a time of crisis, albeit with names of Adam, Herb, Brett, Ernie, Howie and Stan, and we may not always like what we see.  Luckily, though The Rule of Three seems very real, it's only fiction. Right?

March 10, 2014

Finding Melissa

by Cora Taylor
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
184 pp.
Ages 14+
December 2013

In 1990, two-year-old Melissa Warren goes missing from her family's tent in the middle of the night while camping in northern B.C. The family dog has been found killed and the authorities suspect a sow grizzly may have taken Melissa who was prone to waking early.  Or she may have fallen in the river.  There is no definitive answer.  Melissa's five-year-old sister Clarice could offer no help, something that seemed to frustrate their mother.  Twelve years later, mom and dad have split, dad has remarried and has a new daughter.  Mom has spent much of those years volunteering at Child Find in the hopes of solving Melissa's disappearance.  Meanwhile Clarice has become the unmanageable teen who craves even a portion of the attention her mother still bestows on her missing child.

Finding Melissa alternates between Clarice's first person reminiscences of that June camping trip and her current struggles and two other narratives. One set of narratives, titled Leesa, shares the spring and summer happenings in the life of a young teen who lives in northern Alberta with her old-fashioned Aunt Rosie, having been deposited there after Leesa's mother and then her father, Rosie's brother Hector, abandoned the child.  But, a third set of accounts, appropriately in bold font, recount the twisted actions and thinking of Hector Weldon, focusing on his drug trafficking, his incarceration and his horrific plans for Leesa.

Each of their lives begin to unravel at the twelve year mark.  First, Clarice has flashbacks about seeing Melissa leave the tent that night and spotting an extra set of headlights in the campground. What better way to appease the guilt of not remembering those details earlier than volunteering at Child Find and establishing detailed databases to allow for cross-referencing?  For Leesa, who has been plagued by nightmares, a live-in babysitting stint for Rhonda and Peter Friesen and their two children, Aggie, 5, and Dawson, 1, has her exposed to the dysfunctional machinations of the Friesen family.  In response, Leesa is determined to be spunky and do what's right for both children, but especially Aggie.  But Leesa will also need that spunk to deal with Hector.  Newly released from prison, Hector, appropriately shortened to Heck, starts coming around, intending to take Leesa away from Aunt Rosie.

Finding Melissa is a riveting story that takes an old missing child case and escalates it to thriller as Clarice, Leesa and Heck's stories begin to converge.  However, the anticipation of that convergence is not rife with hope and a happy ending.  There are too many secrets and deceit and hard feelings at play to lead to a gratifying resolution for all characters.  Cora Taylor plays off her characters' needs for love and support, sometimes sincere, sometimes misplaced and occasionally manipulative.  And what if there is conflict between those who give you love and those who are family?  Clarice and her parents, Leesa and Aunt Rosie and Heck, Aggie and her parents–all their lives are in flux by virtue of their relationships, both perceived and real, and by choosing to move forward with that instability or fight it will make all the difference.  Cora Taylor gets it right for her characters, especially for the repugnant Heck.

March 08, 2014

Kung Pow Chicken: Let's Get Cracking!

by Cyndi Marko
80 pp.
Ages 5-7
January 2014

Young readers who believe they're too old for picture books (though I believe no one ever is!) and still not proficient readers for humourous illustrated novels like the ever popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Kinney, Harry N. Abrahms), Dear Dumb Diary (Benton, Scholastic) or Geronimo Stilton (Stilton, Scholastic) will love this new Kung Pow Chicken series from Cyndi Marko.  Forget that Scholastic Branches books, written at a Gr. 2 reading level, should appeal to Gr.1-3 readers, though they will.  Focus on the hysterical word play, weirdly funny plots, empowered superhero chickens and the laughter that young readers will not be able to contain.

Gordon Blue was an ordinary chicken until he and his younger brother Benny fell into a vat of goopy green toxic sludge at their Uncle Quack's science lab. Now Gordon Blue's birdy senses tingle when there's wrong-doing happening, and he and baby brother transform (with a leotard outfit change) into superhero Kung Pow Chicken and his sidekick Egg Drop!  In Let's Get Cracking, the chickens and their classmates head to the Fowl Fall Festival in their city of Fowladelphia.  When chickens at the Festival start losing their feathers in explosive reactions to cookies they've eaten, and sales of Granny Goosebump's Warm Woolies sweaters skyrocket, Kung Pow Chicken and Egg Drop are on the case. 

I don't know where Cyndi Marko has been before Kung Pow Chicken but I'm going to assume she's young and just getting started in children's books.  Because if Let's Get Cracking is any indication of the breadth of her illustrating skill and quirky funny-bone and word play, it would have been shame to have missed out on her creations.  Luckily, there are multiple volumes of Kung Pow Chicken on the publishing horizon and I intend to purchase them all for my school library.  I suggest other teacher-librarians, public librarians, parents and grandparents consider doing the same to encourage early readers to transition from picture books to novels effortlessly and happily.

Retrieved from on March 8, 2013.

March 05, 2014

Oddrey and the New Kid

by Dave Whamond
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
September, 2013

While young readers have been enjoying Dave Whamond's Oddrey (Owlkids, 2012) (reviewed here) as part of the Blue Spruce reading program, Oddrey has been going to school and embracing her uniqueness, as do her peers who are all a little different and willing to explore their individuality.  So the addition of a new classmate just gives Oddrey one more friend to encourage and with whom to play.  But, while Maybelline is well-travelled and filled with stories, she reveals her intrinsic need to lead and direct all her classmates in their explorations.  This approach to friendship is not one that Oddrey appreciates very much, though she is generally too good-hearted to say anything.  But a field trip to the zoo has Oddrey questioning the extent and truth of Maybelline's adventures and seeing first-hand how Maybelline's adventures really turn out.

Oddrey is the same joyful child of the original book and her generosity of spirit has no bounds.  Dave Whamond's illustrations are so detailed and playful that Oddrey's take on situations and people is always apparent and entertaining.  With his thoughtful and unambiguous text that still allows for personal interpretation by young readers (they will all know of or been a new kid), Dave Whamond will have children smiling, laughing and wondering.  Oddrey and the New Kid is playful both in its delightful illustrations and story, even if some of that play may be imagined.

March 04, 2014

Celebrate World Read Aloud Day (March 5) with youngCanLit authors

If you're fortunate enough to have someone read aloud to you this day, enjoy.  Or if you can read aloud to a child, a class, a loved one, then do it.  The intimacy of words dispersed from one person to another is something that can rarely be duplicated.  But, if you'd like to listen to a youngCanLit author read aloud from his or her own work, enjoy these selected readings for World Read Aloud Day, several of which were produced by our wonderful Canadian Children's Book Centre. (n.b. There are so many more youngCanLit authors reading from their books on the Canadian Children's Book Centre channel including Kathy Stinson, Richard Scrimger, Patricia Storms, Marsha Skrypuch, Sylvia McNicoll, Richard Scarsbrook, Rosemary McCarney, Karen Krossing, Stephanie McLellan, Kari-Lynn Winters, Rick Revelle, Maggie de Vries, Cora Taylor, Helaine Becker, Amanda West Lewis, Jan Coates and Beverley Terrell-Deutsch.  Whew!  The CCBC has done an astounding job of getting our youngCanLit authors and illustrators to read from their own books.  Well done, CCBC!)

Jan Andrews: Rude Stories 
Tundra, 2010

Uploaded by Jan Andrews on November 9, 2010 to YouTube.

Marty Chan: The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon Gate
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013
Uploaded by Canadian Children's Book Centre on February 24, 2014 to YouTube  

K.V. Johansen: The Storyteller and Other Tales     
Sybertooth, 2008
Uploaded by SybertoothInc. on April 18, 2011 to YouTube.

K.V. Johansen: Torrie and the Pirate Queen
Annick, 2005
Uploaded by SybertoothInc. on April 18, 2011 to YouTube.

Barbara Reid: Perfect Snow         
Scholastic Canada, 2009
Uploaded by BarbaraReidAuthor on February 16, 2014 to YouTube.

Arthur Slade:  Jolted        
HarperCollins, 2008   
 Uploaded by the Canadian Children's Book Centre on February 24, 2014 to YouTube  

Kevin Sylvester: Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure 
Simon & Schuster, 2012         
Uploaded by the Canadian Children's Book Centre on February 27, 2014 to YouTube.

Robert Paul Weston: Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff
Razorbill, 2013 
Uploaded by the Canadian Children's Book Centre on February 24, 2014 to YouTube  

 Happy World Read Aloud Day! 

March 03, 2014

Running Scared

by Beverley Terrell-Deutsch
Red Deer Press
176 pp.
Ages 9-12
October, 2013

How far would you go out of your way to avoid walking past  a point that held traumatic memories?  Twice as far?  Three times as far? Grade six student Gregory is willing to take a route between school and home that is four times longer than the direct route past the Jiffy Mart to avoid where his father was killed in a car accident last winter.  He might have to deal with the big yellow dog that barks at him when he runs (to save some time) but it's his choice to take this route, a secret he only shares with his best friend, Matt.  But everything is set to change.  It has been announced that their school will be closing January 1st and the bus that Gregory and others will be taking to their new school will be picking them up in front of the Jiffy Mart. 
So what are Gregory's options?  He has tried, with and without Matt's help, to overcome this fear and continues to try, now with the help of new student Teisha too.  But, he's convinced that they must stop the school from closing, joining the Save Our School campaign.  The only saving grace in his school life (especially since his grades have definitely been slipping in the past year) is participating in the Math Club.  Gregory loves numbers and patterns, as does Teisha, and Gregory doesn't find it difficult to concentrate on the problems the club works on. 

Ultimately, the big yellow dog becomes an important focal point by which Gregory helps Teisha (who has her own issues), by which Gregory helps the dog, its owner and an elderly woman who also cares for the dog, and perhaps sets the scene for making things better for Gregory and his mother.  By helping others, Gregory is ready to find the means (or the math) to help himself. 

Running Scared may seem to follow a straightforward storyline.  You know: boy has fear/dilemma, boy conquers fear/dilemma.  But the inclusion of Teisha who has her own issues with which to deal, Sam Briggs, whose bravado only masks her own needs, and Miss Sunny Marshall who searches for the means to stay independent and successfully navigate her way to and from the Jiffy Mart suggest that everyone needs some help some time and is not always willing to ask for it.  Beverley Terrell-Deutsch creates an assortment of characters who become a community of allies, helping and taking help as given, all without looking fragile or debilitated.  Problem-solving, whether with numbers or issues, is the means why which fear can be alleviated or at least by-passed. Gregory had the right idea all along.  He just forgot that, as in math, reciprocity can lead to balance and progress.

March 02, 2014

Seven the Series: News about Sequels and Secrets

Seven the Series, Orca Book Publishers' tremendously successful set of adventures for young readers, has sold over 100,000 books and is now looking to the future.  Introduced over two years ago, Seven the Series tells the stories of the seven grandsons of adventurer David McLean upon his death.  The seven teenagers–D.J., Steve, Spencer, Bunny (a.k.a. Bernard), Rennie, Jim (a.k.a. Webb) and Adam–are sent on different missions by their grandfather, as relayed in packages presented to each by their grandfather's lawyer.  The series, the brainchild of author Eric Walters, includes the following seven books, written by seven of Canada's best writers of children's fiction:
  • 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; and
  • The Last Message by Shane Peacock.


The wildly successful series will be followed by seven more books by the same seven authors and called The Seven SequelsSet for release this October (2014), here's Orca's blurb about the series:

New secrets will be brought to light…
When a visit to their grandfather’s cottage leads to the astonishing discovery of a hidden cache of passports and foreign currency, the grandsons from the bestselling Seven (the series) begin to suspect that their beloved grandfather was a spy, or even worse, a double agent. Determined to unearth the true story of their grandfather’s mysterious past, the seven cousins set off on seven new adventures that will take readers from the depths of the Caribbean sea to the top of the London Eye. (Retrieved from on February 27, 2014.)
Eric Walters' sequel is called Sleeper but that is the only title I know.

A book trailer released by Orca Book Publishers on March 12, 2014 to YouTube can be viewed on our Book Trailers blog here.


And More?
Yes.  Not to let the grass grow under his publishing feet, Eric Walters has put together an outstanding team of female Canadian authors to pen another seven books in a series called Seven Secrets. The premise behind these books is as follows:
Seven girls in an orphanage in 1964 are each given a clue to their past that sends them on an adventure. (Retrieved from Kelley Armstrong's blog on March 1, 2014.)
(This is not an official logo, only my own graphic.)
Set for release in the fall of 2015, Seven Secrets has Eric Walters joining these grand dames of youngCanLit (listed here with a sampling of their books):
  • Teresa Toten (The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, The Taming, Me and the Blondes)
  • Marthe Jocelyn (How It Happened on Peach Hill, Folly, Mable Riley, Would You
  • Kelley Armstrong (The Summoning, The Gathering, Loki's Wolves, Sea of Shadows
  • Vicki Grant (The Puppet Wrangler, Pig Boy, Quid Pro Quo, Not Suitable for Family Viewing
  • Kathy Kacer (Hiding Edith, The Diary of Laura's Twin, Clara's War, Shanghai Express
  • Norah McClintock (Taken, Not a Trace, Guilty, Victim Rights

Again, few details about the Seven Secrets have been released except that Eric Walters' contribution is titled Innocent and Kelley Armstrong's protagonist is named Tess.

As more news is released, I will be sure to share.