May 30, 2015

The Death of Us

Written by Alice Kuipers
HarperTrophy Canada
216 pp.
Ages 13+

Be prepared for heartbreak. 

Before you’ve finished two full pages, a girl will be showing Kurt and his friends a social media image of Ivy’s car being pulled out from the river below the broken rail of the bridge.  And he knows that Callie would have been in that car.

Rewind two weeks, and Ivy Foulds and her alcoholic mom are returning after 3 years away to live next door to Callie Carraway and her family again, now that Mom has reunited with former boyfriend, Kevin.  But there’s something suspicious about the way that they left and about some secret between Callie and Ivy that cools their reunion.  However, with Callie’s best friends away for the summer and her preachy and inattentive mom distracted with new baby Cosmo, Callie is drawn to reconnect with Ivy who is determined to give "shiny-penny Callie in the bank account of my life" (pg. 5) a great summer.  But when Ivy is introduced to Kurt Hartnett, the school zine editor, on whom Callie is secretly crushing, she decides that, "He's so going to help me get over everything." (pg. 35)

So that great summer is off to an odd start and there are so many obstacles to it: Ivy’s flirtatious ways, secrets being held back and lies being told.  Sadly the book’s opening foreshadows a friendship that will be the death of them somehow.

Alternating between the voices of Ivy and Callie in the weeks prior to the accident and Kurt at the time of the accident, The Death of Us  examines the friendship between the two girls, both from the past and in the current summer, as they navigate their family issues and own explorations with love.  Their story told from the pen of Alice Kuipers is never predictable.  Not. Ever.

The girls are complex, juggling what they know, what they need and whom they trust, within each’s precarious family dynamics.  Most of all, Callie and Ivy are trying to figure out who they are and put forward those personas.  But try as they might, they still don't have a handle on the people they are growing into.  Ivy likes to rely on self-help podcasts ("the best way to grow as a person is to step outside your comfort zone"; pg. 122) to navigate this learning while Callie tends to look externally to others, including books, to direct her ideas about self.  But Callie and Ivy are the products of their families–as is Kurt, in a different way–and they are so affected by their mothers, that I weep for mother-daughter relationships that can be so disheartening, even destructive.  But I cheer for those like Kurt and his friend Xander and Callie’s Granny who provide real and unconditional support and affection, even if only discreetly.

Even without the twists and turns of highly-plotted stories, there’s no way the reader will see the ending coming, just as author Alice Kuipers did in her book 40 Things I Want to Tell You  from HarperTrophy Canada, 2012.  You see, there is no need for Alice Kuipers to embellish truths and reality when the drama of real life is so captivating and she can write it so well.  The Death of Us will take you into that reality and walk you along that cliff edge, back and forth, wondering when the jump or the fall is coming, because you know it will. That's life.  And it will be The Death of Us, one way or another, predictably or not.

May 29, 2015

Swimming, Swimming

by Gary Clement
Groundwood Books
48 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2015

It's summer and a boy who is obviously obsessed with swimming (note the posters hanging on the blue water walls of his room, his t-shirts, and the goggles and flippers on the floor) is just getting up, getting dressed, packing his backpack and meeting his friends. Any guesses where they’re heading?  Yep, it’s summer so it’s the local swimming pool.

And once they’re changed and pre-showered and on the deck of the massive outdoor pool, it’s time for the Swimming, Swimming song.  What? You don't know the camp song “Swimming, swimming, in a swimming pool?” No worries.  Gary Clement will take you along for a colourful and quirky illustrated rendition of the song, and even share with you, via video (which I've also shared below), the gestures that go with it.  Ready?  Sing!
Swimming, swimming
In a swimming pool.
When days are hot
When days are cold
In a swimming pool.
Fancing diving too!
Oh don’t you wish you never had anything else to do?
From the boy and his friends, to moms and dads with little ones, swimmers with balls, flutterboards, an innertube or waterwings, everyone is getting into Swimming, Swimming.  I defy you to not find yourself amongst the goggled, sunglassed, gotteed, bearded and clean-shaven, bikini- and tankini-ed, full-suited and trunked floaters and active swimmers at the swimming pool.  Gary Clement has included everyone!  And when the day is done and they leave the community pool, stopping at the Mister Ice Cream truck before heading home for dinner, the boy ends the day tending to a small orange swimmer for whom he is responsible, before he’s in bed resting so he'll be ready for another day of Swimming, Swimming in a swimming pool.

Many Canadian readers will be familiar with Gary Clement’s political cartoons in the National Post but I believe that his illustrations have that originality and funniness that are the heart of great humourous picture books.  Obviously others think so as well, since Gary Clement did win a Governor General’s Award for Illustration for his book The Great Poochini (Groundwood Books, 2010).  Just like his loveable relatives in Oy Fey So? (Cary Fagan, Groundwood Books, 2013), Gary Clement’s very real characters who are less-than-perfect-morphologically steal the story, again bringing all readers into the book, whether they want to go swimming or not. (And, for reference, the endpapers will show you the different strokes!)

(BTW, thanks, Gary Clement, for keeping the Speedo-ed strutter out of the community pool!)

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Swimming, Swimming Sing Along

Uploaded by House of Anansi on April 27, 2015 to YouTube.

May 28, 2015

See You Next Year

by Andrew Larsen
Illustrated by Todd Stewart
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
March 2015

I'll bet lots of families are already thinking about their summer plans, and many already know where and when they’ll be vacationing because it’s become an annual ritual.  It’s a ritual embedded in a known car trip, a familiar cottage à la motel, and a proverbial beach.
We’ve been coming to the same place every summer since I was little.
Nothing changes.
That’s why I like it. 
(pg. 8)
In See You Next Year, the intimacy of the location is only surpassed by the familiarity of the activities.  The very people may change from year to year but the sand-raking tractor, the umbrella-toting visitors, the evening concert at the gazebo bandstand and the beach bonfire are all the same.  However, a new friend,  not unexpected, adds some new milestones to the young girl’s summer.

The rhythm of Andrew Larsen’s text will easily transport older readers to summer holidays as children: the lapping of the waves on the beach, the pattern of the sea of umbrellas , the patter of that inevitable day of rain, the routine of waking, swimming, playing, staying up late and sleeping in.

And Todd Stewart, for whom this is his first picture book, captures the essence of those summer holidays with family in his retro art and minimal palette.  In illustrations in which he could have emphasized a myriad of colours across bathing suits, umbrellas, and blistering heat, Todd Stewart chooses eloquently to underscore the turquoise of the water, the sandy golds of the beach, the midnight blue of a clear sky, or the taupes of a rainy day inside.  It works so well.

I suspect Andrew Larsen may be recreating his own memories or sharing those of his own children.  Either way, summer will seem very familiar and too far in the future until it’s already gone, and a postcard and warm memories are all that are left.  Until next year.

May 27, 2015

Orca Book Publishers: Spring Book Launch (Victoria, BC)

Orca Book Publishers
 will be launching their newest spring books


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

7:30 pm

Munro's Books
Victoria, BC

Authors and illustrators in attendance will include:

Sara Cassidy

Not for Sale
Orca Echoes
(early reader for ages 7-9)
64 pp.

Michelle Mulder

Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World
Orca Footprints
(non-fiction for ages 8+)
48 pp.

Mike Deas

Tank and Fizz: The Case of the Slime Stampede
Ages 8-11
152 pp.

Reviewed here

Alex Van Tol

Chick: Lister
Orca Currents
(middle-school fiction for reluctant readers; RL 2.4)
144 pp.

Diane Dakers

Orca Soundings
(teen fiction for reluctant readers; RL 3.5)
120 pp.

Sean Rodman

Tap Out
Orca Soundings
(teen fiction for reluctant readers; RL 3.0)
128 pp.

Robin Stevenson

The World Without Us
Ages 12-16
226 pp.

Reviewed here

Brian Harvey

Beethoven's Tenth: A Frank Ryan Mystery
Rapid Reads
(short books for adult readers; RL 4.5)
160 pp.

Dayle Campbell Gaetz

Disappearing Act: A Leena O'Neill Mystery
Rapid Reads
(short books for adult readers; RL 4.2)
160 pp.
There's something for everyone, 
as the above books indicate, 
and all ages are welcome.

May 26, 2015

Nut and Bolt

by Nicole de Cock
Translated by Margriet Ruurs
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 3+
April, 2015

Nut is a mouse.  Bolt is a donkey. And they are friends.  Real friends.  And "real friends would do anything for each other!" is the message that Nut and Bolt shares with young readers.  

While the very simple story is based on the litany of Nut's generosity–providing games, shade, cleaning, entertainment– all provided with great effort, joy and efficacy, the young reader will start to wonder whether the friendship is one-sided.  Nut is working tirelessly for his friend and Bolt enjoys the fruits of Nut's labours, page after page, but what of Bolt and his friendship for Nut?

Margriet Ruurs, whose recent book A Brush Full of Colour (Pajama Press, 2014) demonstrates the breadth of her writing, keeps the message of Dutch author Nicole de Cock's text short, simple and powerful.  And just when the reader will start to wonder what Bolt does for Nut, Nicole de Cock provides a final illustration, an endearing rendition of what Bolt gives Nut.  It's Home. It's Shelter. It's Comfort. It's Life.

It's a Delight.

May 20, 2015

The King of Keji: Book Launch (Wolfville)


author Jan L. Coates

and illustrator Patsy MacKinnon

for the launch of their new picture book

 from Nimbus Publishing

The King of Keji
32 pp.

More than just a camping trip to Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park

on Saturday, June, 6, 2015

11:00 a.m.


The Box of Delights Bookshop
466 Main Street
Wolfville, Nova Scotia

May 19, 2015

2015 Forest of Reading winners!

The Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading's book awards have been an important part of my school library program and my personal volunteer experiences for many years, so I am always proud to post the results of this wonderful reading program.

It's impossible to congratulate all those who made this reading program and the Festival of Trees such a success but here are some of the amazing people who play important roles in its success:

• the readers;
• the selection committees who read so many books to choose the best for the shortlists;
• the steering committees that organize and put on the fabulous Festival of Trees;
• the OLA staff, with Meredith Tutching at the helm;
• the authors and illustrators who provide enviable youngCanLit;
• the publishers who publish youngCanLit and promote it; and
• the winners and honourees in each reading program.

Here are this year's readers' choice winners for each reading program:

Blue Spruce


The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten
by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Kids Can Press


Silver Birch EXPRESS


Let's Get Cracking: Kung Pow Chicken #1
by Cyndi Marko
Scholastic Canada

Reviewed here

Silver Birch FICTION

The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier

Silver Birch NON-FICTION 


Annaleise Carr: How I Conquered Lake Ontario to Help Kids Battling Cancer
by Annaleise Carr, as told to Deborah Ellis

Le prix Peuplier


Le voleur de couche 
by Nadia Sévigny, AnneMarie Bourgeois 
Éditions de la Smala

Le Prix Tamarac 


La plus grosse poutine du monde
by Andrée Poulin
Bayard Canada

Le Prix Tamarac EXPRESS


Guiby - Une odeur de soufre 
par Sampar (Samuel Parent)
Éditions Michel Quintin

Red Maple Fiction


The Rule of Three
by Eric Walters 

Red Maple Non-Fiction


The Last Train: A Holocaust Story
by Rona Arato

White Pine FICTION

by Eve Silver
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins


Thrilling news for all authors, illustrators and publishers!

Enjoyed all the more for being selected 
by young Canadian readers!

Congratulations to everyone!

The full list of winners and honour books is posted at CanLit for LittleCanadians Awards here or from the news release from OLA .

May 11, 2015

Susan Juby and Susin Nielsen: Book Launches

Two authors

two new books

The Truth Commission reviewed here
We Are All Made of Molecules reviewed here

many book launch events

Monday, May 11, 2015
7:00 p.m.
Indigo CrossIron 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
7 :00 p.m.
Chapters Brampton

TORONTO (North York)
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
7:00 p.m.
Toronto Public Library, North York Central Branch 

Thursday, May 14, 2015
6:30 p.m.
Ottawa Public Library, Carlingwood Branch

VANCOUVER (Kitsilano)
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
7:00 p.m. 
Kidsbooks in Kitsilano

We are All Made of Molecules

by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books
246 pp.
Ages 12+
For release May, 2015

Blending families can be difficult but even more so when each family has a young teen burdened by the issues related to why their original family no longer exists.  We Are All Made of Molecules is told in the alternate voices of two young teens, Ashley and Stewart, whose families are joined together when Stewart’s dad, Leonard Inkster, and Ashley’s mom, Caroline Anderson, decide to move in together.  Stewart’s wonderful mother, Janice, has died of ovarian cancer, and Ashley’s father, Phil, has realized that he is gay and now lives in the laneway house behind the very house Stewart’s dad, Ashley’s mom, and Ashley and Stewart, and Stewart’s cat Schrödinger, will now cohabit.  Yep. Awkward.

Even though Stewart could continue at Little Genius Academy, he chooses to attend Ashley’s high school, claiming “It’s time for me to work on my ungifted parts.” (pg. 31) In fact, he makes a list of things he will do at his new school like getting more involved, smiling more, making jokes, and not getting discouraged.   And with a new “sister” like Ashley who melds her drama queen with mean girl to perfection, Stewart has to work pretty hard.  But the serendipitous attraction between Ashley and a jock hottie and bully named Jared puts Stewart in the awkward position of liaison, one that gives him some respite from attacks on two fronts but also breeds some doubts.

Ashley’s emphasis on the Social Ladder and everyone’s placement on it,
People like Stewart don’t even count. They don’t even have a foot on the ladder. They can’t even touch the ladder.  They are forbidden from going anywhere near the ladder. (pg. 74)
is re-assessed courtesy of Stewart and his quality self.  Susin Nielsen dedicates her book “To Oskar–Boy, did Dad and I hit the Jackpot” and I think Stewart’s family did the same.  He’s a quality human being: incredibly gifted, kind-hearted, compassionate and loyal.  He could rip into Ashley any number of times for her selfishness and cruelty–and her misuse of common phrases are to dye for! (my deliberate faux pas)–but holds back, though he still thinks,
She doesn’t have to changes houses, and bedrooms, and neighbourhoods! And sure, her parents are divorced, but at least they are still ALIVE! (pg. 24)  
Still Stewart shares with Ashley the knowledge that they are all made of molecules, explaining his quirky but tear-jerking way of harnessing any remaining molecules of his mother’s soul. By contrasting these two teens, one with quirky wisdom ringed with love and the other who sees differences as hierarchy and can’t see the difference between “joie de beaver” (pg. 122) and joie de vivre, Susin Nielsen has once again created a story that slices into your heart with tenderness and splinters your side with humour.

Look for We Are All Made of Molecules on award lists everywhere soon. 

May 10, 2015

Giraffe Meets Bird

Written and illustrated by Rebecca Bender
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 2-5
May, 2015

Rebecca Bender’s award-winning duo, Giraffe and Bird, from Giraffe and Bird (Dancing Cat Books, 2010) and Don’t Laugh at Giraffe (Pajama Press, 2012), have returned in Giraffe Meets Bird and young readers will finally learn how the two unlikely but perennial friends came to be.

When little Bird emerges from his shell in the very tree which Giraffe has enjoyed, the two begin the dance of friendship, a fascinating play of learning more about each other’s personality quirks.

Then, not unlike many a friendship, a conflict creates a turning point. Scratching himself against the tree, Giraffe accidentally pitches little Bird into the grass, not far from a reclining lion! Giraffe springs into action, saving Bird and ensconcing them safely back in the tree (I know!) to wait out the departure of their potential predator. But then what?

As a teacher I might be tempted to use the text of Giraffe Meets Bird to demonstrate the richness of synonyms (e.g., fascinated/tickled, surprised/amazed, cross/angry) as the pair of creatures respond similarly but differently to their circumstances. Or I might focus on the value of sharing and thinking of others. But as a reader and lover of children’s illustration, I prefer to revel in a charming story about an unlikely friendship. Rebecca Bender’s story is sweet and hopeful and enchanting. But it’s her artwork that would charm birds out of the trees. (Oh wait, it already has!) Bird is a bundle of lime fluff, with a singing stance worthy of any Idol wannabe, whereas Giraffe has the wide-eyed wonder–and gorgeous lashes!–of a lanky and clumsy juvenile. They are young and naïve and innocent and generous of heart. And the rich turquoise sky and the flirty acacia tree (I used the book's endpapers of acacia branches as a frame for the book cover above) will transport young readers to a very real savannah, even one with a lion and elephant or two.

Rebecca Bender could have taken Giraffe and Bird on another adventure with a life lesson about friendship, but I am so glad that first she made sure that Giraffe Meets Bird and had the two became the extraordinary friends they are today.

May 09, 2015

Mad Miss Mimic: Book Launch (Toronto)

Sarah Henstra 


will be launching her first book

Mad Miss Mimic
by Sarah Henstra
272 pp.
Ages 13+


Tuesday, May 19, 2015
7-10:00 p.m.


High Park Curling Club
100 Indian Road
Toronto, ON

Wear a fancy hat (DIY embellishments encouraged!)
and participate in a contest  (judging at 8:30 p.m. sharp)
to win a free, signed copy of Mad Miss Mimic and other prizes

Special performance by Cantores Celestes Women's Choir

Book City will have copies on sale