April 29, 2014

The Circus Dogs of Prague: Guest Post Review

by Rachelle Delaney
Puffin Canada
192 pp.
Ages 8+
April 2014

The following review has been submitted by Claire, a Grade 5 student, who read the advance reading copy of The Circus Dogs of Prague, just after reading the first book in this series, The Metro Dogs of Moscow as part of the Silver Birch Fiction reading program of the Ontario Library Association.

The Circus Dogs of Prague starts out with JR, the Jack Russell from The Metro Dogs of Moscow, going with his human, George, and George's girlfriend, Nadya, on a plane to Prague to see Nadya's family and the Circus Sergei.  Also travelling with them are JR's dog friends Beatrix, Robert and Pie and George's human friend, John.  When they arrive, they go to the apartment Nadya's brother Niko found for them.  When JR, Pie, Robert and Beatrix see some cats, and chase them next door, Nadya and George get mad.  Nadya wants to adopt one of the cats, naming it Kisa, although all the dogs except for Pie don't like it one bit.  Kisa is a stray and they have lots of them in Prague.

One night, Pie goes missing and JR wakes everyone up to search for him, but there isn't a clue.  They do find a note that says something about going to the circus so JR, Beatrix and Robert go there and have to bust down a locked door to find Pie with the other circus animals.  Pie wants to read a poem in the circus.  Robert convinces Pie to come home but JR senses something wrong with the animals.  He learns that none of the circus animals want to do what they are doing so JR knows that he must do something to help with all the help from the stray dogs of Moscow.   JR also learns that another circus called Circus Magnificus is stealing performers from Circus Sergei.  JR knows that Kisa is their only hope.

I really loved the new book The Circus Dogs of Prague.  The first book The Metro Dogs of Moscow was really enjoyable too.  My favourite part of The Circus Dogs of Prague was when JR and Kisa made up to each other and promised to work together to save the circus.  Everyone thinks that dogs and cats are not supposed to have anything to do with each other, like JR's embassy friends who wanted to bite Nadya for adopting Kisa.

Enjoy the book!

by Claire
Grade 5

April 28, 2014

The Circus Dogs of Prague: Blog Tour

by Rachelle Delaney
Puffin Canada
192 pp.
Ages 8+
For release April 2014

When author Rachelle Delaney introduced the lovable JR, a Jack Russell terrier, in The Metro Dogs of  Moscow (currently being read as a Silver Birch Fiction nominee), she created a new canine hero with a multitude of opportunities for travel and adventure via JR's Human, George, who works for the Canadian embassy.  In this new book, The Circus Dogs of Prague, JR extends his Europe-hopping tale when he and his embassy friends, both canine and human, head off to Prague to visit the family of Nadya, George's girlfriend.

You'd think with George and John Crowley, the Australian ambassador to Moscow, and four dogs–JR, the keenshond Beatrix, and shepherd brothers Robert and Pie–that the apartment that they're staying in would feel full enough to Nadya.  But when she spots a fluffy, long-haired gray cat that reminds of one she knew as a girl, Nadya is determined to adopt Kisa.  Sadly, the dogs, except for Pie, are happier to give chase and treat Kisa with disdain, if not worse.  When JR begins to shake when tormented by some stray cats, he would answer George's question about what he'd seen, if he could, with
"Our future, you lunkhead.  And it's terrifying." (pg. 52)
While the group does some touristing around Prague,  their primary purpose is to visit with Nadya's older brother, Niko, a trapeze artist for Circus Sergei, and his ten-year-old daughter, Masha.  While Niko can do some extraordinary tricks beyond the trapeze, the circus director, Sergei, will not abide change.  Those who want something different have been lured away by the splashy and profitable Circus Magnificus, including Masha's mother and Niko's ex-wife, and now they want Niko too.

When Pie, a budding spoken "word" artist, runs away to join Circus Sergei, JR et al. learn how unhappy the animal performers are, having no free will of their own and doing tricks they cannot do well.  Together the dogs and the circus animals concoct a plan to put on a show where everyone gets to do what they like, with some guest spots with Pie, Beatrix and Kisa, and directed by JR. 

Meanwhile, the home front is less than content with George constantly revealing new phobias, Nadya feeling hampered by George's reluctance to visit those attraction in which she is interested, and Kisa trying to be friends with the dogs but somehow managing to get them blamed and punished for her actions.  Will George and Nadya break up?  Will Kisa come between JR and George and Nadya?  What will happen to Circus Sergei and the animals Masha loves so dearly?

The Circus Dogs of Prague is like a playful romp through an old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie where a bunch of friends see someone or organization that needs help and decide to put on a show to make things right.  The dialogue is brisk and flavourful, as "Biscuit Brains" (JR) or the furball (Kisa) would know.  And the details rich, like the contortionist duck known as The Rubber Chicken and the vanity of Beatrix, whose glare translates into scorn, when called "fluffy".
"Fluffy?" Beatrix shot him a glare.  "Pomeranians are fluffy.  We keeshonds are voluminous." (pg. 13)
While illustrating the story with Prague's Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Kafka Museum, the Bone Church (ossuary), and a sweet cake shop (cukrána) or two, Rachelle Delaney provides fodder for George's reluctance to engage in anything that he deems unusual.  Sadly, those venues or activities seem to be all those Nadya is interested in seeing.  But the friction between George and Nadya, just as it is for JR and Kisa, is ephemeral, lasting only as long as they forget how much they are hurting someone for whom they care.  And, with the acceptance that change isn't always a bad thing, whether for a circus, a dog, or a stubborn human, Rachelle Delaney is still able to lace the humourful plot of The Circus Dogs of Prague with a lesson or two, even for those who fight like cats and dogs.

April 25, 2014

Revenge on the Fly

by Sylvia McNicoll
Pajama Press
224 pp.
Ages 8+
April, 2014
Reviewed from advance reading copy

Never ever underestimate the efforts of a child who seeks revenge, especially if that revenge is in response to grief and heartache. Twelve-year-old Will Alton has lost his baby sister Colleen and his Mum to illness and that grief pervades his new beginnings with his father in 1912 Hamilton, Ontario.  So when Dr. Roberts, Hamilton’s health officer, visits Will’s new school to speak about the role of flies in the transmission of disease and to announce an essay contest and a fly-killing contest, Will is all in and Revenge on the Fly is on.

“You can be a hero to your city, vanquish disease, and win great prizes too.” (pg. 40)

As determined as Will is to kill “the miserable creatures that had caused my family so much grief” (pg. 50) and win $50 to help his father find them their own home (and away from the rooming house of vile Madame Depieu), hostile classmate Fred Leckie is just as relentless. Worse still, Fred has the advantage of wealth to bribe others to do the work for him and a father with a factory of workers compelled to help as well. Fortunately Will is tireless, clever and good-hearted, attributes that are always valuable when facing challenges.

Award-winning author Sylvia McNicoll who has penned numerous early chapter books, middle grade fiction and YA fiction, never submits to the predictable, in her storylines or characters. In Revenge on the Fly, Will, Fred, Ginny, Rebecca, Bea, Ian and Da have the true voices of individuals, never cardboard cut-outs. Even Finnigan has the yips and yaps of a true character, albeit a canine one. And while the ending is gratifying, it isn’t the all-tied-up-in-bows happy ending, because life isn’t like that and in 1912 it definitely wasn’t like that for poor Irish immigrants. Effortlessly Sylvia McNicoll finds the words to illustrate a tragic, but seemingly peculiar, episode in Canadian history and make it personal and unforgettable.

This review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.

Kubiw, H. (2014, May). [Review of the book Revenge on the Fly, by Sylvia McNicoll]. Quill & Quire, 80 (4): 36.

April 24, 2014

Severn and the Day She Silenced the World: Book Launch (Eden Mills, ON)

Celebrate Earth Day 2014


Janet Wilson
fine artist and author 

of numerous picture books 
non-fiction social justice books

One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists 
(Orca Book Publishers, 2008)
Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet 
(Second Story Press, 2010)
Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World 
(Second Story Press, 2013)
Shannen and the Dream For a School 
(Second Story Press, 2011)

for the launch of her newest book

Severn and the Day She Silenced the World
by Janet Wilson
Second Story Press
184 pp.
Ages 9-13
Released April 19, 2014

Tells the true story of Severn Cullis-Suzuki, daughter of environmentalists Tara Cullis and David Suzuki, who spoke at the closing of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio when she was only twelve-years-old and grabbed the attention of the world.

The Book Launch 

will be held on

Saturday, April, 26, 2014

from 2 - 3 p.m.


Eden Mills Community Hall, Club Room
108 York Street
Eden Mills, Ontario
(east of Guelph)

There will be a presentation, books for sale and signing, and refreshments. 

A Breath of Frost

by Alyxandra Harvey
496 pp.
Ages 12-18
Released January 2014

Starting to feel a bit of a chill? Not surprising when there's murderous magic and family secrets, as well as a potentially disastrous romance, tingling around young Emma Day in 1814 Regency London.  And she understands none of it.

While attending one of those infernal balls at which young debutantes attempt to win the attention of young gentlemen, seventeen-year-old Emma Day drops and breaks a small bottle of liquid which she carries as a talisman as a connection to her mother, Theodora, who has gone mad.  When an earthquake hits, chaos ensues, with Emma first finding an injured girl, Margaret York, and then witnessing a fire breaking out in the ballroom. Grabbing the first help that she can find is somewhat problematic, as it happens to be the debonaire Cormac Fairfax, the young man who'd kissed her over a year ago and then had ignored her so obviously ever since.  Worse yet, they find Margaret dead and covered in ice with a star-nosed mole exiting her chest!  Consequently, Cormac confuses Emma with talk about what she's done and insists she tell no one.

Confusing becomes even more bizarre as the night progresses and Emma and her two cousins, Gretchen Thorn and Penelope Chadwick, return home from the ball.  Gretchen and her twin brother Godric see the ghost of Margaret York and the strange mole.  Penelope, attending to her mother, Lady Bethany, in her sitting room, picks up a ring and falls into visions of being burned at the stake.  And Emma, determined to find out what is going on, steals away to Cormac's bachelor rooms to learn the truth, but not before she witnesses her hands and chest as if on fire.  Luckily, Emma's visit with Cormac is very revealing on several levels.

First, Emma learns she is a witch, one of the Lovegrove line, to which Theodora, Bethany and Gretchen's mother Cora all belong.  Secondly, Cormac is a Keeper for the Order of the Iron Nail, who keep order amongst those who do magic for nefarious purposes and tells her that a door to the Underworld has opened, perhaps because of Emma's "witch bottle", and as a result, Margaret was murdered.  Finally, it becomes evident that, although Emma feels she has been rejected by Cormac perhaps because of her mother's madness, Cormac is very much attracted to Emma but worries that there will be a conflict because of who she is i.e., a Lovegrove.  (Fortunately, I think Cormac will heed the advice of his wise mother that he should not let being a Keeper prevent him from finding true love.)

At 496 pages, A Breath of Frost is a lengthy read and I can't possibly share all the details within.  However, I can tell you that the Order is frightened by the power of the Lovegroves, and when several more young women are murdered, all frosted over, and Emma is the first to find each of them, the Order has her running as a fugitive.  Fortunately, Cormac does all he can to keep her safe, while enjoying stolen moments with her.  Moreover, there are secrets about Emma's heritage (did I mention she grows antlers?) that must be uncovered and worries about the newly-opened doors to the Underworld and the return of the really horrible Greymalkin Sisters, a trio of evil witches.

As I mentioned, A Breath of Frost is a long read but it has so many key characters and so many subplots, not to mention taking place in several time periods, that I'm surprised Alyxandra Harvey was able to keep it down to under 500 pages!  And how she is going to keep it to a trilogy is beyond comprehension, but I suspect that each book will focus on one of the Lovegrove cousins, this first centered on Emma.  In A Breath of Frost, Alyxandra Harvey has had to introduce the witch and magic contexts, and there are so many nuances to how magic manifests itself in general and for the individual, that there is still so much to learn. And that's just the content.

But A Breath of Frost's magic goes beyond its plots.  It sparkles with unique characters, great dialogue, some heart-grasping romantic interludes, remarkable imagery and a wit that twines throughout.  Take Godric's discomfort when he sees more ghosts: "Just when I thought it was safe to quit drinking." Or the image of a little girl with a toothless grin walking a gryphon on a silver chain down the street of Goblin Market. Alyxandra Harvey has created a lavish supernatural world that has all the perfect ingredients for casting a spell on readers of young adult fantasy, with a touch of true love.

April 22, 2014

Outside In

by Sarah Ellis
Groundwood Books
208 pp.
Ages 10-13
For release May 2014

It's very reassuring to feel part of something–a family, a group of friends, a choir–and to be appreciated by the others.  Though thirteen-year-old Lynn is hardly part of a "typical" family, she has enjoyed the parental love of and stable home of her mother's boyfriend, Clive, for the past five years.  And with a mother like Shakti, Lynn's life hardly felt stable.  Shakti's self-absorption and twisted decision-making skills continue to wreak havoc in Lynn's life.  Take her recent affair with Brandon, the husband of a nurse at the extended care facility at which Shakti works.  Not only does Shakti put her relationship with Clive in jeopardy, she's oblivious to the real possibility of losing their home in Clive's townhouse and she's not willing to give Brandon up.  Then Lynn's mother quits her job because
"...it was a good opportunity because Shakti felt that it was time for a realignment of her energies and a reevaluation of her skills." (pg. 23)
Luckily, Lynn has got some exceptional friends in Celia and Kas and the three are looking forward to attending a choirfest in Portland, Oregon, giving Lynn a chance to extricate herself from an uncomfortable situation, at least temporarily.  But that doesn't happen either, because Shakti had forgotten to send away Lynn's passport application, as promised, too busy with her own dramas.

No Clive, no friends, no choir, and just her mother.  Lynn is ripe for finding something, anything, to keep her occupied while her friends are away.  She begins spending time with a girl named Blossom whose unusual nature intrigues Lynn.  Blossom admits that she is an Underlander and lives with her father Fossick and brothers, Tron (17) and Larch, in a cottage they've constructed and hidden beneath the reservoir.  The family is definitely different:  avoiding attention, using invisibility mugs, setting idea Traplines, and differentiating between steals and finds, and throwaways or keepsakes.  Lynn becomes "the visitor" at their home, promising that she will always keep it secret for them.

While Lynn is anticipating the collision of her old friends and new friends, the greatest threat to the familial goodwill she is enjoying with Blossom is Shakti.  And the resulting implosion is inevitable and devastating.

Sarah Ellis' writing has always juxtaposed the tenuous nature of family with its strength.  There's The Baby Project (Groundwood, 1986), Pick-Up Sticks (Groundwood, 1991) and Odd Man Out (Groundwood, 2006).  In Outside In, Sarah Ellis illustrates the fragility of our worlds and our families, both traditional and not, when secrets are kept, promises broken and new beliefs or ideas introduced.  Fossick has devised an alternative lifestyle for himself, Tron, Blossom and Larch, with their version of family functional as long as they all support and work towards its success.  While Lynn sees them as refreshing, their family is also in jeopardy when outsiders bring in new ideas or family members want to explore the outside world.

Bringing the outside in can be dangerous, as Fossick fears, and the disaster experienced because they trusted Lynn would bear witness to the validity of that view.  Lynn's own "family" knows that conundrum of letting someone from outside in with Shakti's involvement with Brandon.  But Sarah Ellis makes it clear that it's not that simple.  Whether it's Lynn appropriating some of Fossick and Blossom's views, or Larch venturing outside when he'd rather not, the outside and inside of anything are never clearly defined as good or bad.  Having witnessed this herself, Lynn could only hope that Shakti would embrace this learning herself.  But the imperfect family is a reality.  Sadly, I believe that Shakti has a lot more growing up to do if her selfish insideness is ever to be open to the goodness that Lynn and the world has to offer. 

April 20, 2014

The Boundless: Book Launches (Canada and USA)

Award-winning author

of these favourites

Kenneth Oppel

launches his newest book and series
a middle-grade fantasy with trains, murder, steampunk automotons
and no-end adventure

The Boundless

by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
336 pp.
Ages 10-14
Release April, 2014

While Kenneth Oppel will also be attending numerous schools, both in Canada and the United States,
most of the following tour dates at bookstores and such are open to all!


April 26, 2014
2:00 PM
Chapters Brampton
Brampton, ON 

May 5, 2014
7:00 PM
Munro's Books
Victoria, BC 

May 6, 2014
9:15 AM
Belfry Theatre
Greater Victoria Public Library
Victoria, BC 

May 6, 2014
7:00 PM
Vancouver Kidsbooks
Teacher’s Night Event
3083 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC

May 7, 2014
7:00 PM
North Vancouver District Library 
(Lynn Valley branch)
1277 Lynn Valley Road 
North Vancouver, BC
May 10, 2014
2:00 PM
Fish Creek Library
11161 Bonaventure Dr SE 
Calgary, AB 

May 11, 2014
2:00 PM
Chapters Sherwood Park
#500 - 2020 Sherwood Drive 
Edmonton, AB

May 12, 2014
7:00 PM
McNally Robinson Grant Park
1120 Grant Avenue 
Winnipeg, MB 

May 14, 2014 
1:00 PM
Point Claire Public Library
Point Claire, QC

May 14, 2014
7:00 PM
Beaconsfield Public Library
303 Beaconsfield Boulevard 
Beaconsfield, QC


April 28, 2014 
4:30 PM
Children's Book World
Philadelphia, PA

April 29, 2014 
10:30 AM
Politics and Prose
Washington, DC

April 30, 2014
6:30 PM
St. Charles City-County Library 
Spencer Rd. Branch 
St. Louis, MO

May 2, 2014 
7:00 PM
Anderson's Bookstore
Chicago/Naperville, IL

May 20, 2014
7:00 PM
Copperfield's Books
Petaluma, CA 

May 21, 2014
7:00 PM
San Francisco, CA 

May 22, 2014
7:00 PM
Reading Bug
San Carlos, CA

Get more details at
 Kenneth Oppel's blog at http://kennethoppel.blogspot.ca/ 
check out the book trailer  here.

April 18, 2014

Lockdown: Book Launch (Vancouver)


Maggie Bolitho 
at the launch of 

her young adult disaster/survival book

by Maggie Bolitho
Great Plains Teen Fiction
192 pp.
Ages 12+
Release June, 2014

 This Book Launch 

will take place on
May 2, 2014

7:30 p.m.

Lynn Valley Library
Vancouver, British Columbia


The following blurb comes from Great Plains Spring 2014 catalogue at http://www.greatplains.mb.ca/wp-content/uploads/GP-Spring%202014_web.pdf
When a great earthquake rocks the Pacific Northwest, fifteen-year-old Rowan Morgan is hiking in a suburban forest. Tremors rip the coast from Oregon to Alaska and turn Rowan’s world upside down.  After her father is wounded and taken to the hospital, he orders Rowan and her brother to stay inside his earthquake-proof, survivalist home. While the electrified fences offer some protection, it isn’t long before mobs gather, desperate for some of the food and water rumoured to be held inside.
Rowan knows that if the hungry neighbours had any true idea of the riches in father’s cellar and water tanks, they wouldn’t be so easily sent away. Early one morning, Rowan leaves the compound and sets off in search of her father. She is turned away from the hospital and so goes to check on nearby friends where she finds a local gang has moved in. She escapes from them only to run into a stranger she met in the forest the day before.  Why is he following her and what does he want?

That certainly gets my interest up.  I suspect it will do the same for many a reluctant reader as well.  Earthquake, survivalists, mobs, suspense, maybe a romance? Seems to have it all. Enjoy the book launch!

April 17, 2014

Not My Girl

by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Annick Press
36 pp.
Ages 6-9
January, 2014

Last year, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's first biographic story, Fatty Legs (Annick, 2010), was successfully transformed into a picture book, When I Was Eight (Annick, 2013), reviewed here on April 28, 2013.  This book started the telling of Margaret's delivery to a residential school and her experiences there.  A subsequent book, A Stranger at Home (Annick, 2011) has Margaret, or rather Olemaun as she is known to her family, returning home.  Not My Girl is the poignantly illustrated version of that second book.

Margaret had been sent from her home on Banks Island, part of the Arctic archipelago, to attend a Catholic residential school in Aklavik, North West Territories, almost 750 km away as the crow flies (though I'm sure Margaret's journey was far more arduous). Two years later she returns to her homeNot surprising, when her mother sees her daughter, now with shortened hair, wearing clothes and shoes unfamiliar in their community, she shouts out, "Not my girl!" (pg. 3)

Thankfully, a warm welcome from her father, calling her Olemaun again, has her mother and siblings joining in that accepting embrace.  But no matter how much Olemaun wants to fit back into her family, her stomach is unaccepting of their food, the sled dogs don't recognize her scent and she has forgotten her language and the skills she'd learned as a child.  Her disappointment even leads to negligence when she keeps a new pup from his mother, almost causing his death.  But with patience and practice, both mother and daughter find their way back to each other, and the words, "My girl!" (pg. 35) spoken with pride again.

Margaret Pokiak-Fenton dedicates this book as follows:
"For all the children still trying to find their way home.  May you each discover a way to step out from the darkness behind you into the light ahead." (pg. 36)  
She obviously can recall the darkness of the residential school trials and knows of the difficulties associated with going home as a child altered by her experiences.  It is only with the love of her family and the connections with those who were similarly displaced that Olemaun/Margaret was able to find her way home.  While A Stranger at Home indicates that the process of that acceptance was much more complex than illustrated in Not My Girl, the selection of anecdotes here presents a general impression of those struggles without overwhelming younger readers with the horrors and emotional pain that were inevitable.  Gabrielle Grimard's multi-faceted illustrations display that same complexity of spirit, using pencil, gouache, watercolour and even oil paint. There are subtle details in watercolour, the brights of gouache and the depth of oil.  But it's Gabrielle Grimard's drawings of people that convey the breadth of emotions with just the simplest of strokes.  The sorrow and disappointment that must have been part of Olemaun/Margaret's homecoming are evident in the eyes, the turned cheek, the frowning lips.  But just as striking are the brilliant dance of the northern lights and the snow-flying dog-sledding.

Take Not My Girl as a biographic telling of a dark history for Olemaun/Margaret and so many Aboriginal People but experience the lesson of how a little girl and her family were able to turn to the light eventually and together.  The hope for that light is in the words and the illustrations of Not My Girl, and not to be missed.

April 16, 2014

Weeds Find a Way: Book Launch (Calgary)

What a perfect beginning to gardening season and spring!

Carolyn Fisher

invites youngCanLit readers to celebrate
the recent release of her non-fiction picture book

Weeds Find a Way
by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
Illustrated by Carolyn Fisher
Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
Released February, 2014

Join her


Saturday, April 26, 2014
2:00 p.m. 
Calgary, Alberta

Listen to the story, then make some weedy art!

Everyone welcome!

April 15, 2014

The Legend of Lightning and Thunder

by Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt
Illustrated by Jo Rioux
Inhabit Media
40 pp.
Ages 6-8

Taking a story that is typically told orally and transforming it into a text can be difficult but also disastrous.  The oral storytelling tradition relies heavily on the storyteller's craft: of rhythm, intonation, pacing and dramatic effects, all with the aim of interacting with the audience.  Attempting to harness those key features in text, without making that text cumbersome or awkward, and still retain the essence of the story, is a craft in itself.  Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt, whose bio indicates she is from Baker Lake, Nunavut, has obviously learned well from her grandmother and other elders in her community, but she has demonstrated a strong skill in putting her traditions to paper, penning a strong and accessible origin story with a twist here in The Legend of Lightning and Thunder.

During a festival when Inuit from far and wide come together to celebrate the beginning of spring, an orphaned brother and sister are turned away.  Secretly the two children steal some caribou meat and hide away to consume it.  When finished and still hungry, the two search through the belongings of visitors, looking for more food.  When they find no food, they try to distract themselves with play.  The sister finds a dry caribou skin which she waves in the air and bangs with her hand, while her younger brother uses a rock and a piece of flint found near a tent to create sparks and hopefully fire.  But when the night begins to fall, the children find a way to hide, convinced that they will be punished for their thefts.

Although the story explains how the two orphans ran away to hide in the sky and thus create thunder and lightning whenever they are bored or lonely and in need of play, the culminating message is far more broad.
"So, you see, because two orphaned children were neglected and ignored, we now have lightning and thunder in the world." (pg. 33)
I could hardly begin to understand the depth of the Inuit mythology which The Legend of Lightning and Thunder reveals but the clarity and richness of Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt's story easily and eloquently tells the legend.  Jo Rioux's illustrations, in blacks and grays, with the tints and shades of oranges and browns, and few inclusions of blue or red, match the desperation of the children's situation and the actions they choose to take.  Though generally an illustrator of graphic novels, Jo Rioux's drawings capture the spiritual and supernatural elements of the story well, and I look forward to enjoying her artwork in more youngCanLit.  In fact, pairing Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt and Jo Rioux again to bring more Inuit stories to book form would be a promising endeavour and an enriching one for all young readers.

April 13, 2014

Secrets Underground: North America's Buried Past

by Elizabeth MacLeod
Annick Press
88 pp.
Ages 9+
February, 2014

I love a good mystery.  So when multiple mysteries are presented in a single tome, even if it is non-fiction (something I tend to review less), then I'm a happy reader.  Elizabeth MacLeod is an accomplished author of non-fiction for young people but she excels at historical mysteries, as demonstrated by the success of her Royal Murder: The Deadly Intrigue of Ten Sovereigns (Annick, 2008) and Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Help Solve History's Mysteries (Annick, 2013).  Secrets Underground: North America's Buried Past can easily be added to that collection of intriguing historical secrets.

Secrets Underground: North America's Buried Past delves underground (literally) to explore caves, tunnels, accidentally and deliberately buried treasures and terrors, and other spaces that hide a history of who we are as people and what we have done.  The stories take us from Mexico, to California, West Virginia, and New York, to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, spanning from the 1500's to the 1900's.  (I suspect a second volume could easily extend both the time period and the locations, perhaps even focusing exclusively on Canada, if so chosen.)

The first section, "Hidden Temples", examines the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán which was established in the 1300's and was led by Moctezuma at the time of Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors arrival in the 1500's.  With the massacres of the Aztecs and the destruction of their temples and other buildings, Cortés proceeded to cover the ruins with the new, Mexico City.  It wasn't until 1978 that an electrical worker revealed an artifact that lead to the unearthing of Tenochtitlán.  "Buried Sailing Ships" reveals the grand sailing ships abandoned and buried beneath landfill in San Francisco, while "The War Beneath" tells of massive power converters and a president's possible train car hidden during WWII.  The two secrets from West Virginia reveal a cave of great value to the Confederate side during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and extensive fall-out shelters ready for any eventuality during the Cold War.  The single Canadian story, "Gangsters Belowground" demonstrates that underground tunnels, initially used for warm travel-ways, found multiple uses as a refuge for Chinese workers and the means to smuggle prohibited alcohol and evade capture by authorities during Prohibition in 1918-1933.

These six exposés are enhanced by further information in the form of a timeline, resources for further reading, and recommendations for visits to relevant sites.  Rounding out this well-organized book of non-fiction are countless well-captioned photographs, intriguing tidbits in sidebars and information boxes, and an inviting and informative graphic design. 

As any book of history, Secret Underground: North American's Buried Past has the compelling nature of secrets uncovered.  But, beyond the curiosity factor, these "secrets" have shaped our present and will perhaps shape our future, especially if we look at these Secrets Underground as potential for learning. It also brings into question the ethical dilemma of choosing between the past and the present: should contemporary structures be dismantled or even destroyed to allow excavation of historical treasures, or should secrets underground remain underground?  Elizabeth MacLeod puts forth these questions, as well as the answers others may have chosen, but she never judges the choices made, just puts them out there for discussion, as a true objective storyteller of non-fiction should.

April 09, 2014

Jamie's Got a Gun: Book Launch (Edmonton)


young adult author 
Gail Sidonie Sobat

and illustrator
Spyder Yardley-Jones

for the launch of their new graphic novel for young adults

Jamie's Got a Gun
Text by Gail Sidonie Sobat
Illustrated by Spyder Yardley-Jones
Great Plains Teen Fiction
224 pp.
Ages 12+
May 2014


May 22, 2014

at 7 p.m.


the Roxy Theatre
Edmonton, Alberta

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The media release from Great Plains Teen Fiction tells this about Jamie's Got a Gun:

Jamie Kidding finds a semi-automatic handgun in an inner city dumpster. An aspiring artist, Jamie initially resorts to his notebook to record the reality of his complicated life with his mother, his deadbeat stepfather and the bullies he faces daily at his high school. Gradually, the weapon takes over Jamie’s life and his imagination, tantalizing him with deadly solutions to his personal troubles. Seduced by a sense of power, one fateful day he takes the gun to school. 

April 08, 2014

The Tweedles Go Electric

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
Released March 2014

With Earth Day 2014 soon upon us, and the world seemingly looking towards the future for greener technologies, Monica Kulling shows us that green was in our past and maybe we didn't always recognize it for its worth.  In The Tweedles Go Electric, the reader is taken back to the turn of the century–19th to 20th, that is–when the environment may not have been a focus but some wise people were looking beyond the popular when it came to transportation.

The Tweedles, an endearing family of Papa, Mama, twelve-year-old Franny and eight-year-old Frankie, are considered old-fashioned, even fuddy-duddies, because they still get around by walking or cycling, with an occasional foray into the country by horse and cart.  But everything changes (or does it?) with Papa's announcement that, "We're going modern.  We're buying a car!"

They buy a smart car.  A green car.  An electric car!  The family members' reactions to the new purchase are as varied as could be expected.  Papa is excited, though somewhat intimidated and needs to get used to it.  Mama is thrilled, just like Frankie, always having wanted a car.  Only the cerebral Franny takes it all in stride, less than engaged with their new purchase.  As with anything new and different, there are the critics.  However, when an emergency arises, the smart, green car impresses more than a few as to its indubitable value. 

The versatile Monica Kulling will delight readers with this newest book, just as she has with her illustrated biographies such as In the Bag! and Making Contact!, and her picture books of Mister Dash and Lumpito.  The text is fresh and lively, no matter whether the voice of a Tweedle or a salesperson or neighbour.  I love these Tweedles!  Marie Lafrance embodies her characters with the normalcy of members of a functional family but still with familial foibles and their own personalities. And the setting will easily transport the reader to a different time and capture that atmosphere of invention and growth.  With much kindness and no preaching, the Tweedles take the message of progress and fashion beyond the here and now (or there and then), and into the realm of open possibilities.

There is always a morsel of delightful learning in Monica Kulling's books, as there is in The Tweedles Go Electric. A little research reveals a plethora of electric cars were available in the early 1900's. In fact, in 1900 U.S., an astounding 38% of automobiles were powered by electricity. (1) Even though most of the vehicles were steam- or gasoline-powered at the time, and everyone's love of the automobile seemed to include the noise, consumption and pollution, it's easy to appreciate those who could see outside the box and open themselves to those new, albeit few, options. Definitely how we should always be seeing, wouldn't you say?

(1) Retrieved from http://www.edisontechcenter.org/ElectricCars.html on April 6, 2014.

April 05, 2014

Enigma (Camp X series, Book 6)

by Eric Walters
Puffin Canada
256 pp.
Ages 9+
November, 2013

If you haven't shared in the Eric Walters' Camp X experience, then hold onto your fedora, homburg or baker boy's cap.  The series that began with brothers Jack and George discovering  a Canadian spy training camp, Camp X, near their summer residence in 1942 Whitby, Ontario has moved through four additional books and World War II continues to wreak havoc across the world and extend its reach.

George Braun, now 12, and his brother Jack, 15, are accompanying their parents by ship to England as part of a convoy of cargo ships, destroyers, corvettes and such when one of the ships is torpedoed by a U-boat in the Atlantic.  Before the U-boat is sunk, the Marines retrieve a device that has the MPs requesting that the boys' mother, Betty, and the rest of the family transfer to the destroyer Valiant for speedier delivery to England.  The device is an Enigma machine, the encrypting system the Germans were using, and "the key to winning the war" (pg. 55) according to Bill Stephenson, who leads the British security forces.

The family is taken to Bletchley Park, the headquarters of British encryption operations, where Mrs. Braun is asked to work with the genius, Professor Alan, and where Captain Braun is to assess, test and revamp security.  The boys who have already proved themselves in earlier adventures to be keen observers are invited to deliver messages and do odd jobs while helping to determine whether any spies or Nazi sympathizers may have already infiltrated Bletchley.  George and Jack meet up again with Ray, the ex-convict and master of disguise who they met in Trouble in Paradise and who now works for the government out of Bletchley Park.

But, everything seems to go amiss when the boys accompany Ray to London by train.  Jack goes along so that he can meet up and spend some alone time with Louise, the British princess they'd all originally been coming to England to visit.  George is to join Ray on the hunt for potential code-breakers.  When Ray is spotted by some old criminal colleagues, they are all taken at gunpoint and held until Ray gets into Naval Intelligence (where he now has access) and sneaks out the plans for which the Nazis are willing to pay Bruno and his fellow thugs loads of money. 

If this sounds like an edge-of-your-seat adventure, in which secrets must be kept and you don't know whom to trust, then you've got a good idea of how Enigma plays out.  George and Jack are typical brothers, always hassling each other, even more so now that Jack is in the throes of teen love.  Eric Walters does not disappoint in carrying the reader effortlessly through this newest Camp X adventure, making the boys' exploits seem almost realistic and probably the envy of every young reader who believe espionage to be a possible career option. (Is it?) By including the factual details of Enigma and Bletchley Park, as well as real persons like Ian Fleming, Bill Stephenson and Alan Turing, Eric Walters creates such authenticity in Enigma that some readers will wonder if the adventures are "just" stories or historical accounts of little-known events from World War II.  And that is an amazing accomplishment for any author.

If Enigma seems like a great read for a young person in your life, especially a boy who enjoys historical fiction suffused with spies, adventure and war, check out the whole Camp X series which includes six books to date:
  1. Camp X
  2. Camp 30
  3. Fool's Gold
  4. Shell Shocked
  5. Trouble in Paradise
  6. Enigma
With the publication of Enigma, Penguin has redesigned the covers of all books in the series.
Be assured, though, that regardless of the cover, the same great stories and writing will be found within.