September 30, 2014

Julia, Child

by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 4+
July 2014

The real Julia Child, chef extraordinaire and one of the authors of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf, 1961), would be delighted by Kyo Maclear's latest picture book, though there is a cheery disclaimer that states that "the story contains no true knowledge of (the real) Julia Child" (pg. 1).  Julia, Child may not be the real Julia Child's story but the little girl who looks to sweeten the lives of others with culinary treats provides a savoury tale.

From the taste of an extraordinary sole meunière at a young age, Julia's love of French food was whipped up, and her friendship with another young gourmet, Simca, feeds that passion. The two girls enjoy shopping for food and ideas at the market and experimenting in the kitchen, learning cooking and baking from the experts.  The girls'  goal is to continue cooking happily together even as adults.

But the adults they see around them look harried and starved for the joy of childhood.  And so Julia and Simca attempt to sauté, sizzle, simmer, and fricassee that joie de vivre back into the lives of the grown-ups they know.

The subtle message and word play of Julia, Child is what made me such a fan of Kyo Maclear's first pseudo-bio picture book, Virginia Wolf  (Tundra, 2012).  Within Julia, Child, we are slathered with rich essences of joyous play in the kitchen and life.
"They cooked extra slowly to bring out the flavor of not hurrying.  They used delicate spices so the worries would disappear and wonders would rise to the surface." (pg. 16)
Julie Morstad, award-winning illustrator of How To (Simply Read, 2013) and Singing Away the Dark (Simply Read, 2011), adds her own whimsy to Julia, Child, emphasizing the methodical nature of cooking with her delineating ink lines and the wonder of childhood in her warm, bright gouache.  While Julie Morstad's lines provide that definition and structure, her choices and frugal use of colour play up the extraordinary nature of the true joy of childhood.  The collaboration of Kyo Maclear with Julie Morstad to create Julia, Child is as inspired and scrumptious as Julia and Simca's recipe for reviving youth. Bon appétit!

September 29, 2014

The Memory Maze: The Hypnotists, Book 2

by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada
240 pp.
Ages 9-14
August, 2014

Prolific award-winning author Gordon Korman hit last year's awards lists with the first book in his newest series The Hypnotists, the story of Jax Opus, a teen in middle school who learns he has inherited the ability to bend minds i.e., hypnotize others. Unfortunately the manipulative power-hungry Dr.  Elias Mako attempts to use Jax's gift to manipulate an election and Jax and his parents are forced to flee NYC to the relative anonymity of Connecticut, where The Memory Maze begins.

Now known as the Magnus family, Jax and his parents are living in a rundown house with  Jax's ally, Axel Braintree, whom they refer to as his uncle, but is the head of the Sandman's Guild of New York City. But giving up everything, including others' memories of them, is tough on the Opus family.  Mom is no longer working as a chiropractor but stays at home and endures Axel's endless array of exercises. Dad has gone from a Bentley dealership to a used car salesman. And Jax is now Jack and is trying to control his mesmeric abilities and not draw attention to himself, which becomes impossible when he starts winning chess games and even a tri-borough championship.

In fact, it's through his chess-playing that Jax is introduced to billionaire Avery Quakenbush, a 96-year-old man, who knows Jax's real identity. Quakenbush enlists Jax's services to stave off his imminent death by hypnotizing him so deeply that his body would enter statis, essentially hibernation, until a cure was ready to save him. With $500,000 being offered to his family who'd given up so much for him, Jax accepts Quackenbush's offer readily.

Axel knows that only Jax is gifted enough to take on Mako but, until he learns to control his mind-bending ability, he is a danger to himself and others.  Axel takes on the role of mentor to Jax, teaching him about the history of mesmerism and how to control his gift, while keeping tabs on his Sandman's Guild.  However, when some of the Sandmen start disappearing, Axel has yet another worry to occupy his mind.

Everything becomes muddled when Jax begins his regular hypnosis sessions with Quackenbush, reliving all of the billionaire's memories from his war experiences on the beach at Normandy, the hardships of the Great Depression, and his financial triumphs,  often emphasizing his relationship with his brother Oscar.  What begin as short, targeted mind-bending attempts become frighteningly real episodes of tragedy that last hours.

With the FBI on the hunt for the Vote Whisperer (i.e., the moniker they've given Jax; see The Hypnotists, Book 1 for details), a lip-reading neighbour questioning Jax's family dynamics, Quackenbush reliving 96 years of reminiscences, Sandmen disappearing in New York City, and, most importantly, Jax discovering memories of a brother named Liam, The Memory Maze is aptly titled.

The farce that is Jax's attempt to not bring attention to himself is balanced well with the realism of Quakenbush's life, having lived through many historical milestones and significant events.  The hilarity of the mind-bending that Jax and others perform, both innocently and deliberately, adds a lightness that is necessary when juxtaposed against tricking death and the burden of guilt.  Gordon Korman has always successfully introduced drama into humourous situations and humour into dramatic storylines, so that his young readers are able to enjoy a little bit of everything.  The Memory Maze accomplishes that as well, drawing the readers in with the amusement of mind-bending and Jax's own comic failings, but showing them the downside of that ability and the consequences of manipulating others.  If Gordon Korman didn't have a sense of humour, it would be rather frightening.

Luckily, one thing we do know at the conclusion of The Memory Maze is that Jax and his parents are on their way to a new adventure and we'll need to wait until Gordon Korman shares that one before we know whether our heart or funny bone will be aching.


Gordon Korman will be in attendance at Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair in November.

September 28, 2014

The Haunting of Heck House: Book Launch (Toronto)


Lesley Livingston & Jonathan Llyr
Steven Burley

will be launching

Book 2 of The Wiggins Weird Series

The Haunting of Heck House
Puffin Canada
280 pp.
Ages 8-12


Saturday, October 25, 2014

3 p.m.


An Sibin Pub and Restaurant
709 Queen St. East
(Queen at Broadview)
Toronto, ON

It's a Haunted House Costume Party 
so wear your Halloween costume to win "cool stuff"!
(Those without costumes are still welcome)

The invite promises:
Tricks, Treats, Popcorn, Prizes, Food, Drink, Reading, Live Music, Book Signing, Ghost Busting and one HECK of a Good Time!

All ages welcome!

In this sequel to How to Curse in Hieroglyphics, Cheryl and Tweed, join their friends Pilot and Artie, in unraveling the mystery of Hecklestone Manor, the haunted house in town, as well as facing off against some new babysitting competition.  

Sounds like lots of fun!

See you there!

Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair: November 13-16, 2014

There's the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Bologna Children's Book Fair, Book World Prague International Book Fair, and now we have Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair, right here in CanadaNow we really are an international city!

From November 13 to 16, 2014, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building will become home, albeit temporary, to thousands of authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, exhibitors, workshop participants and readers.  And it's your chance to speak with, listen to, engage with and learn about all things book!

The schedule is extensive and available at 
I can't possibly cover all those scheduled to read or speak or just be in attendance, but I can focus on some of the youngCanLit luminaries whom I will try to visit. (n.b.: this is an international book fair, so international book people, illustrators and authors, children's and adult, will be in attendance so you may also get to see some exceptional non-youngCanLit people as well. There are some. Okay, many.)

  1. Kelley Armstrong 
  2. Ashley Barron 
  3. Hugh Brewster 
  4. Sigmund Brouwer
  5. Geneviève Côté 
  6. Claudia Dávila 
  7. Deborah Ellis 
  8. Mimi Fay 
  9. Beth Goobie 
  10. Linda Granfield 
  11. Jacqueline Guest 
  12. Jon Klassen 
  13. Gordon Korman 
  14. Julie Kraulis 
  15. Michael Kusugak 
  16. Aaron Kylie 
  17. Karen Levine 
  18. Elly MacKay 
  19. Kyo Maclear 
  20. Rosemary McCarney 
  21. Norah McClintock
  22. Brian McLachlan 
  23. Sylvia McNicoll 
  24. Mireille Messier 
  25. Sarah Mlynowski 
  26. Evan Munday 
  27. George Murray 
  28. Mahtab Narsimhan 
  29. Debbie Ridpath Ohi 
  30. Ruth Ohi 
  31. Shane Peacock
  32. Kris Pearn 
  33. David Poulsen 
  34. Pierre Pratt 
  35. Barbara Reid
  36. Richard Scrimger
  37. Alan Silberberg
  38. Ashley Spires 
  39. Ted Staunton
  40. Patricia Storms
  41. Allan Stratton 
  42. Caitlin Sweet 
  43. Kevin Sylvester 
  44. Meg Tilley 
  45. Vikki VanSickle 
  46. Frank Viva 
  47. Eric Walters
  48. Mélanie Watt 
  49. David Weale 
  50. John Wilson
  51. Cybèle Young 
  52. E. Paul Zehr 
If you look back over three years of postings here on CanLit for LittleCanadians, you'll see the majority of these authors and illustrators have been covered.  And those who haven't been just tells me that I'd better get to reading and writing a little faster!


Information about tickets, programming, authors, exhibitors, etc. is all available at the Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair website

September 25, 2014

Any Questions?

by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books
60 pp.
Ages 6-9
September 2014

Of course you have questions.  Children are insatiable when it comes to asking about...everything! But when it comes to how someone does something, like write and illustrate a book, they seem to have even more questions, only knowing the quality of the finished product, never the steps involved.  And, how are they to attempt the same without some direction?  Fortunately, Marie-Louise Gay, creator of Stella and Sam, Caramba, and so many much-loved characters and books, shares everything!
"Marie-Louise Gay has scribbled, scrawled, sketched, doodled, penciled, collaged and painted the words and pictures of a story-within-a-story that might answer your questions about how brilliant ideas creep up on you when you least expect it and how words sometimes float out of nowhere asking to be written."                                                    (blurb on back cover)
See?  She tells everything! And I  everything about Any Questions?

From the dedication to those who ask the questions and those who try to answer them, to her self-portrait and inclusivity of every child anywhere, to the whimsy of her words and ideas floating from the heavens, to the story within, The Shy Young Giant, Any Questions? is splendid and resplendent in its colour, forms, text, fonts, joy, inquiry and artistry.  I love the overwhelming details in Marie-Louise Gay's illustrations: the birds flying from the giant's hair; the expressive children using mega-tools like brushes, pencils, paint and scissors; the forest animals and cat who accompany their efforts and comment seamlessly on all facets of the process; and the colours!–brilliant purples, oranges and greens and soft blues and mauves–that cannot be replicated anywhere but in Marie-Louise Gay's artwork.

Will I read this story to my students and little ones to share the joy of creative writing and illustration?  Will I watch their wonderstruck eyes and smile at their gaping mouths at the marvel that is Any Questions? Will I share every nuance of every illustration and let them find the distinctions that I missed?  Just as Marie-Louise Gay does, throughout the book and in an appendix of questions and answers, I certainly will!

September 23, 2014

To This Day: For the Bullied and the Beautiful

by Shane Koyczan
Annick Press
72 pp.
Ages 9+
For release September 2014

When Canadian spoken word artist Shane Koyczan wrote and performed his poem To This Day, about his experiences and those of others being bullied when younger, he probably could not have foreseen the truly amazing global impact that it would have. But global it did become when his performance of the poem was animated in a video posted to his YouTube channel as part of the To This Day Project in February 2013.  Over 14 million views later, To This Day continues to send an important message of anti-bullying.

This month, Annick Press releases a static version of Shane Koyczan's poem with double-page spread illustrations by thirty international artists, over half Canadian. In a variety of media and styles, artists interpreted the words from the poem To This Day, providing graphic substance to a poem as real and tangible as it could get.

For anyone who has experienced bullying, as a victim, an instigator, or an observer (and sadly, that probably means everyone), To This Day will resonate loudly with the tales of Shane Koyczan's experiences with bullying, as well as those of other children. From French artist Barroux's powerful image of hands flinging blackened speech bubbles at a boy attempting to protect his face, ears, and eyes from them, to Canadian Kim Stewart's waves of sleeping forms over which the bullying victim cautiously treads upon a tightrope, all the illustrations pound out the viciousness of bullying and juxtapose it against the frosting that could be love and kindness.  A full listing of the artists' bios is available at for more details.

In addition to the graphic representation of the poem, To This Day includes the story behind the development of the video, resources for help against bullying, links to sites related to the poem and personal anecdotes of bullying experiences of the artists.

If you are left with only one message, take this one from Shane Koyczan from his introduction, i.e., Greetings, in which he encourages everyone to find the perfect medium to express yourself.
"Remember that the world will never hear you if you choose to say nothing." (pg. 1)

September 18, 2014

Finding Ruby Starling

by Karen Rivers
Alfred A. Levine Books/Scholastic
304 pp.
Ages 10-14
August, 2014
Reviewed from advance reading copy

Karen River’s latest book for young readers is a successful take on a Parent Trap-type plot, albeit with the benefits of modern technology and perhaps a friendly spirit. 

While goofing around online with a face-matching app called FaceTrace, 12-year-old Ruth Quayle, adopted daughter of a heart surgeon and a scientist, discovers a British look-alike in trendier clothes named Ruby Starling. Through a series of Tumblr posts, emails with her best, talking to her parents, and contacting Ruby, Ruth determines that she and the other girl are identical twins who somehow became separated.
“I feel like half of me has just been peeled away, like a decal being pulled off its back sticky bit, making me just the waxy papery rubbish left behind.” (pg. 11)
Unconvinced about Ruth’s theory, Ruby reaches out to her friends for advice, though she knows that only her mother – a busy artist distracted by her work – and her deceased grandmother could tell her the truth.  Finding the need to talk to grandmother, Ruby writes letters (obviously never sent) to air her thoughts.  When a painting by Ruby’s mother of her as a baby with a shadow baby in the background falls off the wall, Ruby becomes convinced that her Nan has sent her a message from beyond the grave indicating that Ruby and Ruth are indeed twins.

By using only emails, letters, and Tumblr posts for Ruth and Ruby to communicate their secrets, concerns and questions, Karen Rivers’ ensures that the girls’ youthful voices are always maintained.  And, though the twins have bigger issues with which to deal, including fear, abandonment and grief, Karen Rivers embeds those issues seamlessly within natural interactions with family and friends, adding quirky teachings from a Buddhist calendar, occasional ghostly messages and some boyfriend-girlfriend drama to help keep the heavy issues from detracting from the story’s feelgood nature.

Karen Rivers’ story of long-lost twins could have easily followed a typical, comedic path. But by showing how the lives of Ruth and Ruby are enriched by the discovery of each other, the author has created a more complex narrative that explores themes of family and friendship.

(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2014, October). [Review of the book Finding Ruby Starling, by Karen Rivers]. Quill & Quire, 80 (8): 38.

September 17, 2014

Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL: Authors share

Stories by Chris Benjamin, Ben Boudreau, Gerard Collins, Alison DeLory, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Patti Larsen, Cale Liom, Chad Pelley, Lee D. Thompson and Jo Treggiari 
Forward by Susin Nielsen
Edited by Allister Thompson
Fierce Ink Press
205 pp.
Ages 13+
For release September 23, 2014

Yesterday's review of Becoming Fierce is a great introduction to the ten Canadian writers who gave life to their stories about becoming and being fierce.  Like greatness, some people have fierceness (is that ferocity?) thrust upon, while others grow into that fierceness with age and experience.  I wonder if some of us never become fierce.

These ten authors have agreed to answer this very simple request:  If you could tell your pre-fierce self something in three little words, what would it be?

I expected something similar to "It gets better".  Now we know why they are the writers and I simply give them space for their words.  Sometimes the answer can't be restricted to a mere three words, the idea of becoming fierce being such an overwhelming concept.  But here are the gracious and personal responses of the authors: 

Jamie Fitzpatrick 
These Memories Can’t Wait 

You are lucky


Ben Boudreau
(Nova Scotia)
Say It’s Okay

Keep aiming higher


Jo Treggiari 
(Nova Scotia)
Love You Like Suicide

Create and Live


Chris Benjamin 
(Nova Scotia)

Hunger for Justice


Gerard Collins
The Long Last Year 

Don't be afraid


Alison DeLory 
(Nova Scotia)
Some of My Parts

Embrace your uniqueness


Chad Pelley 
Before I Was Me

For better or for worse, the real world could not be more different than the bizarre and temporary world of high school.


Lee D. Thompson 
(New Brunswick)
Diary of a Fluky Kid

Always be yourself


Patti Larsen 
(Prince Edward Island)
Prince Nameless

Trust the Universe
Just keep writing
You got this


Cale Liom
(Prince Edward Island)
I Used to Think I’d Make a Good Boy

Learn martial arts


Each author's words will resonate with the reader after you've read each of their stories and perhaps even before you do.  And for anyone who is in need of becoming fierce, the stories will tell you in so many different ways that it does get better.  Learn from those who have been through it.  Read Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL.

September 16, 2014

Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL

Stories by Chris Benjamin, Ben Boudreau, Gerard Collins, Alison DeLory, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Patti Larsen, Cale Liom, Chad Pelley, Lee D. Thompson and Jo Treggiari
Forward by Susin Nielsen
Edited by Allister Thompson
Fierce Ink Press
205 pp.
Ages 13+
For release September 23, 2014

I'd been wondering about the idea of being fierce, a word I always recall using to describe lions and tigers. In fact, fierce always seems to be synonymous with wild, savage, intense and violent.  None of these are actually traits to which someone might aspire, are they?  But more recently, fierceness has taken on the positive dimension of being bold and gutsy, without arrogance or insolence.  Everyone will experience a time when becoming fierce is the only option, other than concession or worse.  I celebrate the writers of the ten short stories in Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL who share their own experiences in teenhood, about themselves and others, when becoming fierce releases them from the holds of fears, bullies, confusion, family, drugs, and even country.

These short stories all come from Atlantic writers whose experiences may or may not be defined by their regions.  Cuisvé by Chris Benjamin tells the story of an international exchange he shared with a young man, Ben, from St. Lucia.  Though Chris, 19, felt fierce breaking up with his girlfriend, sure that their relationship would never survive their three months separation, it's Ben's Uncle Dingo whose passion for his country is truly fierce in so many ways.  In The Long Last Year, Gerard Collins struggles with graduating from high school in Newfoundland, without any decisions made for his future, and dealing with his father who suffered a debilitating stroke which ultimately cost him his life.  Gerard Collins' fierceness needed to wait until the day he was ready to go beyond his home. The rather isolated community of Summerside, PEI, probably contributed to Cale Liom's necessity for fierceness, with the bullying and abuse she endured, as described in I Used to Think I'd Make a Good Boy.  Growing up with relentless homophobic comments because she was a girl who just wanted to have the same opportunities to do sports and such like the boys pushed Cale Liom into further confusion and suicidal thoughts, though her strength came from surviving it all.

As in Cuisvé and The Long Last Year, family can play a significant role in becoming fierce.  Lee D. Thompson's Diary of a Fluky Kid relives, in nine innings, his ever-changing relationships with the fathers in his life: his own father who was relentless about teaching his eldest daughter to play baseball, and the fathers of two friends, Gino and Murray, who taught him how to hit, to anticipate a curve ball, to sprint and finally to love the sport his father adored.

But, as with so many teens, self-esteem and self-acceptance are often tied to one's friends and peers, and that can be both valuable and disastrous.  Ben Boudreau's camp counsellor experiences, recounted in Say It's Okay, started with bullying by the "real" counsellors who were neither pimply nor awkward. Here he meets Pete, who has special needs, continuing to babysit the boy years later when Ben is in university and Pete is 13.  A power outage at Pete's house when Ben is babysitting reveals the fierceness both have developed in very different ways.  The boy in Jamie Fitzpatrick’s These Memories Can’t Wait relies on music to focus and give himself an identify, whether as a preteen asking a girl to dance or a teen wrapped in the powerful volume of new music.

Both Patti Larsen and Alison DeLory share their own self-doubts alongside fairy tale-like stories in which they finally recognize their own worth.  While Patti Larsen's Prince Nameless shares her struggle with popularity, or lack thereof, juxtaposed with a warrioress enamoured with a prince, Alison DeLory examines her teen body image (i.e., Some of My Parts) against the story of a red-hoodied girl lost in a forest with a wolf.

Two of the most intense stories for me included Love You Like Suicide by Jo Treggiari and Before I Was Me by Chad Pelley. The intensity of the losses both writers endure feels like a weight, a boulder that could drag them down or one upon which they could scramble up and look beyond.  Jo Treggiari's teen has the fierceness that comes from perceived invincibility, until she learns otherwise and reinvents herself. On the other hand, Chad Pelley speaks to Dani, a girl with whom he'd fallen in love in high school because of her "fearless passion to be alive in the most immediate, desperate way" (pg. 143). His message to her includes the wish that she'd stayed fierce enough to find out who she really was, something that he didn't do until he was much older.

Real fierceness comes from surviving those circumstances in which you didn't have fierceness.  And, then when you have it, it's not always evident because those circumstances just seem to slide right on by.  The trick is to get through those challenges and accept the new fierceness as an armament tucked away until needed again.  And Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL provides others the opportunity to see that it does get better, if you can just hang in there. I'm glad all these writers did.


Tomorrow, the ten short story writers of Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL have kindly agreed to share some advice they might have given to their pre-fierce selves, advice which would be useful for most of us to heed.  Look for that post tomorrow.