October 30, 2015

Retribution: Trilogy and Contest

A new, young adult, high-interest series

from Orca Book Publishers


is just out 


there's a contest!

The three books in the series,
which can be read in any order,
focus on three teens who come together to get Retribution
for the misdeeds, crimes others have committed against them and those they love and want to protect

"Tarnished warriors out to take on the big bads with a bit of beauty, brawn and brains." 
(from Exposed, by Judith Graves, pg. 87)

by Natasha Deen
Orca Book Publishers
161 pp.
Ages 12-17

by Judith Graves
Orca Book Publishers
137 pp.
Ages 12-17

by Sigmund Brouwer
Orca Book Publishers
160 pp.
Ages 12-17

And here's the contest:

Contest runs from October 13 to November 30, 2015

I just finished all three books, which I will review shortly,
and know it's worth entering the contest
for that $100 gift card you can use
 for the books in the Retribution series or for any of Orca's publications

Good luck!

October 29, 2015

All Year Round

by Émilie Leduc
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Groundwood Books
28 pp.
Ages 2-5
August 2015

All Year Round is sure to become a teacher favourite for the teaching of the months of the year and all year round! It’s original French-launguage edition, La ronde des mois (Éditions de la courte échelle, 2012) has already garnered author-illustrator Émilie Leduc much acclaim as a Governor General finalist for illustration in French-language children’s literature, and now, through Shelley Tanaka’s astute translation, All Year Round can be enjoyed by all Canadian children in both official languages.

Before even examining the content of All Year Round, it becomes evident that much effort has been put in organizing the picture book into a visually-appealing and child-friendly format.  Its consistency will first and foremost be a compelling read for teachers and parents to little ones.  There is one double spread for each month of the year.  Except for June and November whose illustrations cover both pages, there is one full-page illustration on the right side of the spread (see October’s spread below) and on the left-hand side there is the free verse accompanying text, titled with the name of the month, and a small complementary artwork.

Émilie Leduc’s illustrations will be immediately identified as soft.  There’s a feel of rich oil pastels with blurred edges, though I read that she actually used coloured pencil on Mylar.  The Mylar paper gives a frosted, translucency to the artwork, perfect for her engaging child (who features in each spread and whose words, spoken in first person, are the basis for the book).  The broad-faced child traipses through the snows of January and February, enjoying a hot chocolate in the latter; celebrating a birthday in March; staying dry in April; communing with flowers in May; cycling in June; swimming in July; sand-sculpting on the beach in August; swinging amongst the falling leaves at the playground in September; costumed with a pumpkin for Halloween; and back to the snows in November and December.  Just like the year, All Year Round comes full circle.

And it’s evident from the text that the young boy finds everything he experiences, inside and outside his home, to be part of a sensory exploration that he enthusiastically relishes.  From his swimming “skin all pruney” in July, or the teasing winds of September, or tromping through the forest “Crunch! Swoosh!” in January, the little boy takes in everything that he sees, feels, hears and shares with his cat, Clementine.

All Year Round will be a welcome teaching tool but enjoy it with little ones as a refreshing exploratory of the senses by a much-loved little boy and cat as they traverse their world together both temporally and spatially.

October 27, 2015

Gerbil, Uncurled

A Tell-Me-More Storybook
by Alison Hughes
Illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2015

Fitzhenry & Whiteside have a new addition to their Tell-Me-More Storybook collection and young readers have a delightful story that will tell teach them about gerbils and working together to formulate the best rules for all.

All the gerbils know the Gerbil Mottos in Gerbil, Uncurled.  They are:
  • The Night is Short: Keep Busy
  • Always Keep Your Whiskers Clean
  • Celery Tops Come To Those Who Wait
  • Many Paws Make Quick Work
  • Curl Up Nose To Toes
Important rules to follow to live to a good long life like Grandpa Gerbil who is a five whole years old!

But Little Gerbil, try as she might, is not a curl-up-like-a-ball sleeper.  And though she promises Grandpa Gerbil to try, she panics, desperate for fresh air and to stretch out in the sunshine. So when day ends, she scrambles back to her family’s bedding to wake up with the rest, huddled as she should be.  However, Little Gerbil can’t handle the guilt of accepting congratulations while she “was living a gerbil lie.” (pg. 12)  Nonetheless making some careful observations helps Little Gerbil guide her elders and family to rethink the Gerbil Mottos so that all may be successful.

Alison Hughes shares important lessons about cooperation, family and being true to oneself in Gerbil, Uncurled but young readers will be just as charmed by Suzanne Del Rizzo’s plasticene art of the little rodents and their environs.  Following in the artistic steps of Canada’s Grande Dame of plasticene, Barbara Reid, Suzanne Del Rizzo fashions warm hues of oranges and bieges, with touches of blue and turquoise as complementary colours, into gerbil life and details.  Her creatures are adorable and jump off the page with their curls and cedar shavings and braided textures.  I can’t possibly enumerate all the details in which children will delight–a teddy bear, a banana, celery, knitting, alphabet blocks–but they’ll be delighted that Suzanne Del Rizzo shares with them how to mold the dough into their own gerbils.  And everyone, teachers and parents included, will appreciate the additional information about different rodents and gerbil behaviour included in this Tell-Me-More Storybook appendix.

Gerbil, Uncurled will amuse and inform while providing a sweet vehicle for teaching about rules and coming together to make better ones that work for all.

October 26, 2015

#CanLitChoices: Alternatives to The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
Dutton Books for Young Readers
336 pp.
Ages 14-17
Rl lexile 850
RL 5.5

The Fault in Our Stars, winner of the Teen Book of the Year by the Children's Choice Book Awards and the basis for a critically-acclaimed film, is a favourite novel read by teens across Canada and the U.S. The story focuses on the romance between Hazel, a cancer patient, and Augustus, a teen who lost his leg to osteosarcoma, who meet at a support group and bond over books, falling in love.

Themes upon which teachers focus lessons include the following:

But we have a plethora of youngCanLit that can fill the same novel study bill and, of course, I would like to promote them here.  Each one of these deals with the same themes but in different ways and are all the better for the variety of storylines covered.

     †                    †                    †                    †                    †  

Before We Go
by Amy Bright
Red Deer Press
222 pp.
Ages 12+
Reviewed here

After visiting her dying grandmother in the hospital, Emily meets another teen Alex and his sister who too are dealing with death.

Crush. Candy. Corpse
by Sylvia McNicoll
219 pp.
Ages 12+
Reviewed here

While volunteering at a long-term care facility, Sunny meets Cole and his grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer's.

The Death of Us
by Alice Kuipers
HarperTrophy Canada
216 pp.
Ages 13+
Reviewed here

Callie's reunion with former friend Ivy brings a summer of boys and, sadly, death.

Dying to go Viral
by Sylvia McNicoll
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
251 pp.
Ages 12+
Reviewed here

Jade's death in a skateboarding accident brings her back for one week to try to make things right for all.

My Beating Teenage Heart
by C. K. Kelly Martin
Random House
288 pp.
Ages 13+
Reviewed here

Ashlyn tries to piece together why her body-less self is watching teen Breckon who is dealing with the death of his younger sister.

The World Without Us
by Robin Stevenson
Orca Book Publishers
226 pp.
Ages 12-16
Reviewed here

Though Jeremy and Melody make a pact to jump from a bridge, Melody chooses not to do so and is left behind to deal with that choice.

In each of the above books, the protagonist must deal with a death or imminent death of someone significant–a friend, a sibling, a grandparent, herself!–and must deal with that grief with someone to whom they are emotionally drawn. There is grief, romance, guilt and fear. What else does a book alternative to The Fault in Our Stars need? Absolutely nothing!

Leave comments if you have any other suggestions for The Fault in Our Stars alternatives or to select an age-old novel that needs refreshing with #CanLitChoices.

October 25, 2015

Sing a Song of Bedtime

by Barbara Reid
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 0-6
October 2015

The Grande Dame (without the elderly factor) of plasticene art is our Canadian treasure, Barbara Reid, winner of some of the biggest national and international awards for children’s books and illustration and she’s back with her delightful take on bedtime rhymes and lullabies.  Adults and children alike will recognize the familiar rhymes but Barbara Reid’s illustrations show the reader a wholly unique and delightful perspective on some old favourites.

We know the words of the thirteen rhymes:  “Are You Sleeping/Frère Jacques”, “Little Boy Blue”, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”,  “Sleep, Baby, Sleep”, “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”, “Diddle, Diddle, Dumpling, My Son John”,  “Wee Willie Winkie”, “Jack Be Nimble”,  “The Man in the Moon”, “Star Light, Star Bright”, “A Wise Old Owl”, “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear” and “Hush, Little Baby.” And the text is large and bold, perfect for night time reading when the lights are low and adult readers may be becoming more visually-challenged.  But it’s always Barbara Reid’s artwork that will draw new readers and art lovers.

Her illustrations include a variety of characters, from children of colour, languidly-boating frogs, cherubic babies, a pajamed raccoon, and a family of teddy bears, with gorgeous backgrounds of oceans, blue fields under moon-shine, cornfields, cherry blossoms, and wisteria branches.  And I haven’t even mentioned the detailed textiles, like comforters, blankets (look at the images in the baby blanket above), and rugs, and softness a plenty.  Sing a Song of Bedtime is a visual celebration of textures and colours that will serenade every and any child into fulfilling slumber and sweet dreams.

October 22, 2015


by Kate Blair
Dancing Cat Books
194 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2015

Most of us are maddened when a good person becomes ill with a life-threatening disease. It just doesn’t seem fair.  And, even though we know that illness is not a reflection of goodness or badness, it’s hard not to lament an illness with “What did I do to deserve this?”, seeing it as a possible punishment for poor life choices.  But, in Transferral, illness is a punishment, one doled out to convicted criminals, the illness reflective of the severity of the crime.

That’s how Tranferral opens, with sixteen-year-old Talia Hale, daughter of the U.K.’s prime ministerial candidate Malcolm Hale, going to St. Bart’s hospital for a Transfer i.e., to get rid of the cold she was getting, knowing that on the other side of the hospital a criminal would be going through the painful process of being infected with that same cold.  But when leaving the hospital,  Talia witnesses a large black man wielding a meat cleaver at a young girl and Talia clubs him with a chair to protect the girl.  Though Talia’s actions are hailed as heroic and her father’s campaign manager, Piers, spins it to her father’s advantage, as leader of the National Law Party whose mandate is being tough on criminals and supporting the National Transfer Service, Talia begins to realize that the girl’s fear hadn’t been for the man hurting her but for Talia hurting the man.  Recognizing that the loss of her own sister, the same age as the young girl, and their mother to a criminal who broke into their house probably affected her take on the situation, Talia goes in search of girl she rescued.

Forging her dad’s signature, Talia goes to Holloway Quarantine, essentially a prison, to speak to Jack Benson, the man with the cleaver.  His confusion leads Talia to recognize he wasn’t fully cognizant of his actions, and she promises to find a way to look after his daughter, the little girl, Tig.  With that, Talia makes her first foray into the Barbican, the criminal-rich but poverty-stricken estate, where she meets Tig and Galen, a young man who is caring for Benson's daughter.  Sure that she’s doing the right thing, Talia gets Tig taken by social services to a children’s home.  Too late, Talia realizes that she’s been making everything worse, even getting herself convicted for the forgery, though Piers thinks he can spin that too.
We’ll leak the story to the media, along with your apology, and we might be able to get you off with a stomach bug or strep throat. (pg. 105)
Slowly, Talia begins to see that wealth and privilege affect everything, and that because of her perspective, as a rich and advantaged young woman, albeit a victim of a man who murdered her mother and sister, she has not taken the time to learn Tig and Galen’s stories.  Once she does, though, she has to find the means, criminal or not, to make things right.

There’s a lot of edge-of-your-seat storytelling with Talia’s search for Tig and her ventures into the subculture of the Barbican, amidst dealing with her role in her father’s election campaign.  Kate Blair gets the right balance of trepidation and righteousness, with Talia starting to break free from what she has always known and what she is just now learning about the world.  Talia makes a lot of mistakes but her heart is in the right place and she is determined to be part of the solution.

Tranferral is a strongly plotted story that builds on the surreal premise of linking justice with illness and comes through it all with a healthy ending that is neither sappy nor all wrapped up but a convincing remedy for a disturbing basis for dealing with criminality. 

October 21, 2015

Oscar Lives Next Door

A story inspired by Oscar Peterson's childhood

by Bonnie Farmer
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Owlkids Books
Ages 4-8
September 2015

Canadian jazz lovers will all know pianist Oscar Peterson very well.  But with Oscar Lives Next Door, author Bonnie Farmer and illustrator Marie Lafrance will introduce younger readers to the legendary musician and his musical beginnings while providing a glimpse into a less-than-famous life-changing event that sent the young Oscar to the piano.

Told from the perspective of Mildred, the little girl who lives next door to Oscar in the predominantly black community of Little Burgundy in Montreal, Oscar Lives Next Door focuses on the musical family of brothers and sisters of which Oscar is but the trumpet player.  Yes, the trumpet player.  And as much as she is Oscar’s playmate running the streets of Little Burgundy, Mildred sees Oscar as a magician of music.
He blows a few notes and, like magic, a turbaned genie curls out of the trumpet’s mouth and floats above the telephone wires. (pg. 13)
Then Oscar’s red handkerchief, a common accessory of horn players, which was usually flying out from the boy’s pocket, is drawn lying useless on the ground. Oscar is ill with tuberculosis and hospitalized, and the music, the play with Mildred, and even the talking stops for Oscar. It is only after a year’s hospitalization and his return home that Oscar tries to find the magic again,  first taking apart his trumpet and then looking within the family piano.
Oscar sits at the piano.  His fingers pause over the keys for a moment before playing.  When they finally touch the keyboard, it sounds like rolling thunder. (pg. 29)
While Oscar Lives Next Door is a fictionalized story, his love of the trumpet, his life-threatening illness (the same illness from which his brother dies), and his subsequent though temporary lack of speech were all key events in Oscar Peterson’s life, helping to create the pianist he became and for which the world loved him.  Bonnie Farmer gets the right tone of reality and fiction by creating a neighbourhood friend who experiences Oscar’s musicality–sometimes to the chagrin of her hard-working, sleep-deprived father–and is there to offer a child’s perspective on his music and his illness.

Be sure to take note of Marie Lafrance’s touching illustrations which transport the reader to the working-class neighbourhoods of Little Burgundy and adjacent Saint-Henri of the 1930s.  With the easily-identifiable Union Church and the train tracks, smokestacks and cars, trucks and horse-drawn carts, Little Burgundy comes alive and becomes the playground and home of Oscar and Millie and a character in its own.  Marie Lafrance, whose artwork has graced numerous youngCanLit classics (including The Tweedles Go Online and The Tweedles Go Electric reviewed here on CanLit for LittleCanadians) conveys a time and place when children could play safely on the streets, when music streamed the air, and life was full, following the seasons and the workings of fathers.  What a treat it would’ve been to have Oscar live next door.

October 20, 2015

Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan

by Rui Umezawa
Illustrated by Mikiko Fujita
Groundwood Books
144 pp.
Ages 10+
September 2015

Because Rui Umezawa’s eight Japanese folk tales all include some element of the supernatural–ghosts, monsters, magical creatures, or spirits of the dead–these stories are a perfect read for the month of October and Halloween when all things creepy come to reside in the media and in classrooms.  But these tales have several additional key elements to which educators and readers in general will be drawn.  First the stories are firmly embedded in a Japan of fishing villages, cherry blossoms, Buddhists, and mountains, alongside samurai, kimonos and kawauso, lending opportunities to examine an ancient civilization and another culture with which most of us are unfamiliar.  Secondly, these eight stories focus on important life lessons and avoidance of the deadly vices including greed, envy, wrath and sloth.

The first story is called “Snow” and recounts a terrible night when a young boy and his mother are trapped in a snow storm and visited by a Snow Woman who spares the boy’s life on the promise he would never reveal what he’d seen.  It is his betrayal of this promise many years later and without malice that turns his world upside down.  Another supernatural creature appears in “Trickster”, a story in which a peddlar who attempts to cheat his customers with an elixir of questionable efficacy is himself tricked.  Similarly, a young man attempts to keep a beautiful immortal with him by stealthy kindness in “Captive.”

While “Honor” includes a samurai’s horrific death by chopstick, it is an ethical tale of two warriors who take mutual vows of brotherhood and honor each other even after death.  On the other hand, “Envy” examines sibling rivalry in which a jealous brother uses violence to deal with a brother whose goodness repeatedly provides him with wonderful surprises.

In the final three stories, the young men suffer the pains of their own vices, never acknowledging their own roles in their downfalls.  “Vanity” has a young man who feels he loves far too easily given the gift of returning to the time of Buddha to witness his teachings.  In “Paradise”, a lazy, drinking man is given a chance to live in an underwater paradise with a beautiful woman, and though he is wise and compassionate enough to help an abused turtle,
When an animal knows there is no hope, it smothers its own will to survive.  Otherwise, life becomes too painful to bear. (pg. 121)
he is not wise enough to help himself.  And, in “Betrayal”, a married man poisons his wife when he begins to see her as less than perfect.

Each story brings the reader to the fishing villages or festivals or town of a Japan of another time, and Mikiko Fujita’s black and white pencil drawings convey this same other-worldly atmosphere impeccably.  But it is Rui Umezawa’s emphasis on the lessons to be learned and the enlightenment to be had just for reading that will beguile the reader.  The scare factor is minimal–usually associated with the appearance of supernatural beings–but useful in teaching caution, suggestive of the dreadfulness that could arise for living lives of selfishness and wickedness.

Delve into another time and place with these eight stories in Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan, and teach and learn life lessons that are guided by other-worldly entities who may or may not wish to frighten.

October 18, 2015

#CanLitChoices for Grade 2 novel studies: stand-alone youngCanLit

Following up on my earlier post about #CanLitChoices for use with Grade 2 students eager to get into novels, this post will look at a handful of novels that are not part of series but still perfect for readers of ages 6-9. Links to reviews or brief descriptions are provided if the subject matter is not evident.  Some books are a little easier, some a little more challenging but all are perfect for those young readers who are just starting to delve into reading beyond the picture book area of the library or classroom and into that once out-of-reach section of the library once harbouring books only for older readers.

After all, there are #CanLitChoices for everyone!

Clover's Luck: Magical Animal Adoption Agency
by Kallie George
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
144 pp.
Ages 7-10
Reviewed here

Danny Who Fell in a Hole
Written by Cary Fagan
Illustrated by Milan Pavlovic
Groundwood Books
116 pp.
Ages 7-11
Reviewed here

The Four Seasons of Patrick
by Susan Hughes
Red Deer Press
80 pp.
Ages 7-10
Reviewed here

Kit: The Adventures of a Raccoon
by Shirley Woods
Illustrated by Celia Godkin
Groundwood Books/Douglas and McIntyre
92 pp.
Ages 8-11

Marsh Island
by Sonya Spreen Bates
Orca Book Publishers
64 pp.
Ages 7-9
Two young brothers go camping with their father on Marsh Island where a mystery awaits them.
The Mosquito Brothers
by Griffin Ondaatje
Illustrated by Erica Salcedo
Groundwood Books
128 pp.
Ages 7-9
May 2015
Reviewed here

Prove it, Josh
by Jenny Watson
Sono Nis Press
157 pp.
Ages 8-11
A dyslexic young boy takes to the water in a BC boat race to show his reading skills don't define him.

Tank and Fizz: The Case of the Slime Stampede
by Liam O’Donnell
Illustrated by Mike Deas
Orca Book Publishers
152 pp.
Ages 8-11
Reviewed here

Timo's Garden
by Victoria Allenby
Illustrated by Dean Griffiths
Pajama Press
48 pp.
Ages 5-8
Reviewed here

Very Serious Children
by Caroline Adderson
Illustrated by Joe Weissmann
Scholastic Canada
144 pp.
Ages 7-10
Two brothers, the children of circus clowns, run away to seek a "normal" life of friends, a home, nutritious meals and baths.

October 17, 2015

An Inheritance of Ashes

by Leah Bobet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
388 pp.
Ages 12+
October 2015
Reviewed from advance reading copy

An Inheritance of Ashes is a dark tale.  A dark, dark tale. And, though it has supernatural elements, An Inheritance of Ashes is a familiar tale of fears and love and heroes and isolation and pride, and family.  And it has a force within.  A force that good may come from evil.
The emptiness grew, and split, and ate the whole world in its wake.  It was never going to be all right again. (pg. 126)
Hallie, 16, and her sister, Marthe, 26, both inherited Roadstead Farm from their abusive father, and now run it–raising barley, goats, poultry, etc.–with Marthe’s husband, Thom Clarlund, or they did until Thom went to war against the Wicked God and his general and prophet Asphodel Jones and army of irregulars, and their creatures, nay monsters, everyone calls Twisted Things.  Though the two young women are cautiously hopeful of Thom’s return, now that a man named John Balsam who “by magic, skill or cunning killed the Wicked God” (pg. 23), Hallie and Marthe take on a vet named Heron for whom “No one’s waiting for me to turn life normal again” (pg. 13) to help with the harvest and running the farm.  

But things are far from normal at the farm. Twisted Things begin to appear, one here, another there, killing the air, burning whatever they touch, contaminating the remnants of their lives.  And Hallie worries that the Great Army, desperately searching for John Balsam, will quarantine the farm, if not take it away from them.  Though Hallie is reluctant to ask for help, Heron and their neighbours, the Blakeley’s, come to their assistance.  Moreover, even though Hallie recognizes that, because of the abuse of their father, “We were ruined for loving people.  We were ruined for being loved” (pg. 244), Tyler Blakely who has his own war ghosts begins to court her and, with his sister Nat and Heron, help her recognize that she doesn’t have to take on the evil alone, or hide or run from that which seems too much. “We made each other less alone.” (pg. 272)

There are things not of our world in An Inheritance of Ashes, and there are things that were never of their world either, including a Wicked God that is more storm than substance and bird- and lizard-like creatures that burn and kill that which they touch, and a violent purple and green world that is evident only through a hole in the air.  But fighting evil and finding strength with others and holding onto that which is everything–a home, family, friends–are our world, and Leah Bobet easily supplants readers from their comforts into the darkness of Hallie’s world.  Rife with atmosphere and Hallie’s longing for rightness, An Inheritance of Ashes demonstrates that what we get from family is not always what is expected.  If might be an inheritance of a family farm, or of fear, or isolation, but it can be the fortitude to continue on, when all expect failure to reverberate.  And, with powerfully evocative text, Leah Bobet allows Hallie and others in An Inheritance of Ashes to sift through the cinders and residue after a horror and find something worth keeping.

October 15, 2015

Junior Sleuth Academy & Book Launch: The Dead Kid Detective Agency, Loyalist to a Fault (Toronto)

Small Print Toronto 

in partnership with Toronto Public Library


Junior Sleuth Academy

a mystery-writing workshop for writers aged 8-12

with artist-author 
Evan Munday

creator of the widely lauded series
The Dead Kid Detective Agency

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

2:30 p.m.


Lillian Smith Library 
239 College St. (at Spadina)

Get your free tickets here.

The workshop involves some 
supernatural sleuthing and creating spooky stories 

followed by

the launch 
(with books available for purchase and signing)
of Book 3 in The Dead Kid Detective Agency series

by Evan Munday
ECW Press
304 pp.
Ages 9-13
September 2015

If you've kept up with the series, you'll know that October Schwartz made a promise to help solve the mysteries of the deaths of her five dead accomplices: Morna MacIsaac, Cyril Cooper, Tabetha Scott, Kirby LaFlamme, and Derek Running Water.  In Loyalist to a Fault, October looks into the death of Cyril Cooper in 1783, back to the time of the United Empire Loyalists.

2016 Forest of Reading nominees announced today!

Young readers, their teachers, school-librarians, public librarians, authors, illustrators, and publishers have waited anxiously for this day, the day that the Ontario Library Association announces the nominees for the 2016 Forest of Reading® programs. Now extending beyond Ontario, even more readers are enjoying new Canadian literature as part of the Forest of Reading® programs.

These readers' choice award programs invite teachers and librarians (school and public), as well as parents of home-schoolers, to sign up for these programs through the Ontario Library Association. Once you've registered for the programs and purchase the books, young readers will be on their way to voting for their favourites in April.

With over one hundred nominated titles, I have presented the nominees in multiple posts. See the lists below for nominees for the different programs.

October 13, 2015

Q & A with author Caroline Pignat: 2015 Governor General Literary Award finalist

Last week, the Canada Council for the Arts announced the finalists for the 2015 Governor General Literary Awards.  Amongst the many worthy nominees is Caroline Pignat for her recent book, The Gospel Truth.  Interestingly, Caroline Pignat has already won the GG for children's book text, in 2009 for Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008).

The Gospel Truth, which I reviewed on January 13, 2015 (review here) is a staggering achievement for a book of youngCanLit, both in its content and its form, and I now have the honour of interviewing author Caroline Pignat about her book.

Photo by Angela Flemming

HK:  What was the germ of an idea that had you focusing your story on the life of a young slave woman in Virginia in the mid-1800s?

CP:  To be honest, it started as a sequel to finish up my Irish series. Kit told her story in Greener Grass and Wild Geese, and then Jack told his in Timber Wolf. So I figured Annie, the third and youngest Byrne orphan, needed a chance to tell hers. She was five when we last read about her. To make her at least fifteen, meant setting her story in 1858 and I just Googled “Canadian history 1850s.”

The facts fascinated me, particularly those about the Fugitive Slave Act and the influx of people escaping from slavery to Canada. After researching the Underground Railroad and the role of abolitionists, I pitched Annie’s story to Red Deer Press and they offered me a contract.

I began writing it in the alternating voices of Annie and a house slave named Phoebe. But I soon realized that I didn’t care about Annie and I was skimming through her parts to get to Phoebe’s. Though mute, Phoebe had much, much more to say. Her voice felt stronger. Richer. Much more engaging. I knew then, that this wasn’t Annie’s book, it was Phoebe’s.

HK:  The Gospel Truth is written in free verse and an astounding accomplishment for your first foray into that form.  But I believe your writing is so well suited for free verse as you are able to use words both sparingly and powerfully.  What made you choose this form for The Gospel Truth?

CP:  In the beginning, I wrote my chapters in prose, alternating POV between Annie and Phoebe. Because of the research I’d done to tune in to Phoebe, she had a very distinct voice. Sparse. Simple, but wise. Figurative. I had previously written free verse for the voice of Will, the bullied character in my first novel, Egghead. I loved the form and was keen to try it for an entire novel, but none of my books since seemed to be a good fit. When Phoebe spoke, I realized that her diction, syntax, and the symbolic way she saw her world truly was poetic. She was speaking in free verse, but I was writing it in prose at first. Switching to free verse was liberating, it felt like cleaning away all the clutter and getting right to the heart of her. Many early poems came word for word from those first draft chapters.

HK:  Writing The Gospel Truth in six different voices–Phoebe, Master, Miss Tessa, Doctor Bergman, Bea the housekeeper and Shad another slave–must have been challenging because they are so unique.  How were you able to keep their voices distinctive and still find the means for them to experience the commonalities of life on a plantation in 1858? And how difficult was it to get the voices right, with dialects of the slaves and people of the region of which you wrote?

CP:  Egghead is told in three voices; the Greener Grass series is told in Kit and Jack’s voices; Ellie is narrating Unspeakable, but I also included Jim’s journal entries; and my upcoming novel, Shooter (Penguin, May 2016) is in the voices of five students in a lockdown. I love seeing a common experience through different perspectives. I love figuring out what filters flavour each character’s interpretation of that reality. But writing in multiple POV means treating each one of those narrators as a main character. It means knowing them intimately and developing them completely so they appear distinct, authentic, and believable.

My research informed my characters’ attitudes, experiences, and perceptions. I read many biographies and autobiographies of abolitionists as well as those by enslaved people like Josiah Henson, Harriet Jacobs, and Solomon Northrop. But what helped me really tune in to their voices --  particularly those of Phoebe, Shad, and Bea -- was reading transcribed slave narratives, like those in Unchained Memories. Those vivid descriptions of slave life, their turns of phrase (“and that’s the Gospel truth”), and their varied experiences and resilient spirits affected me deeply and inspired my characters.

HK:  There is a lot of self-deception going on in The Gospel Truth.  Whether it’s the bird playing dead–“That bird just so scared of what it, it gotta go pretending what isn’t” (pg. 18)–or Will telling his brother Shad that “being blind to what is, don’t make it false” (pg. 87), it’s all about self-protection.  How important do you think this is amongst your characters and for people in general when dealing with challenges?

CP:  I think we grow into our truth. We discover it and accept it, as we are ready. Self-deception can be a kind self-protection, for a time, it may be necessary, but if we stay there, in denial, we are as trapped as that bird in the cage.

Parts of this journey for Phoebe are the baby steps she takes: to learn her letters; to steal a notebook; to meet with Bergman; to help Will escape. With every choice, she moves one step closer to discovering, accepting, and eventually speaking her truth.

HK:  Secrets play a tremendous role in The Gospel Truth and in fiction in general.  And Phoebe makes a very insightful declaration about secrets in the book.
Every one carry secrets inside,
but once they spilled
there ain’t no taking them back.
And just like blood,
Everyone that secret touches 
be stained.” (pg. 167)
What do you think is more difficult to write about: the keeping of secrets or the telling of secrets?

CP:  Secrets are powerful. Though dangerous in real life -- they’re fabulous in fiction. A juicy secret can drive character motive, stir fear, and raise tension. It complicates relationships because a secret weakens integrity, arouses suspicion, and undermines trust.

In multiple POV, secrets bring even more to the story because now the reader knows not only the secret, but who is in on it, and what is at stake. Usually, the longer a character tries keep a secret, its telling becomes even more difficult and destructive. If a plot includes a secret, I try to make the most of the scene where it’s revealed.

HK: I know that you are an accomplished writer of historical fiction, having already won a Governor General Literary Award for Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008) among many other book awards, and I anticipate more such volumes in the future.  But, will you consider writing more novels in free verse–please, please, please!–whether it be historical fiction or not? In fact, do you have any plans or works in progress or set for publication already that follow that format?

CP:  I love writing free verse -- and I’m so encouraged by how The Gospel Truth is being received. Because free verse is so sparse, it forces me to focus on that one meaningful moment. It makes me notice and highlight what really matters. Where first person is like being in someone’s head --  free verse is like being in their heart. It’s raw, honest, and intense. I would love to write another novel in free verse -- assuming I find a character whose voice is best expressed in that form.

As I wrote The Gospel Truth, I realized this story was really about Phoebe’s inner journey to choose freedom. It was fascinating to watch her slowly progress beyond her fear and come to that moment of decision. Will she risk everything and leave all she has ever known?

Though I had researched the URR for the outer journey, it didn’t belong in this novel. Maybe it deserves a sequel --  but I’m still discerning that one.

HK:  I often ask this question of authors and I would love to know your take on 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?

CP:  Hmmm. Tough question, Helen!

Do I want to live in the shadow of one super-fantastic book... or in productive obscurity? As a one-hit wonder... or as muzak?


In which one of these scenarios am I on a beach in Cuba?

When I think product, yes, I would LOVE to create a book of extraordinary importance. But when I think process, I would HATE to believe that I had peaked as a writer. I need to try new things. I need to feel inspired and excited about my next work-in-progress. Comparison only leads to creative constipation.

So, I’d choose to author many books for different audiences. Besides, classic or not, I believe that each book is extraordinarily important to someone.

And sometimes that someone is just me.

HK:  If there is anything else that you would like to share with readers of CanLit for LittleCanadians about The Gospel Truth, your nomination for another Governor General Literary Award, or your writing, please fee free to do so.  We’d really love to know more!

CP:  You’ll find links to excerpts, reviews, and research materials on my website:


Right now, I’m working on a Study Guide for The Gospel Truth. It should be available for free download in early November. Great for book club discussion, as a Novel Study Unit, or as a resource for Black History Month in February.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Many thanks 
to the generous Caroline Pignat 
for sharing her writing, with much honesty and humour, 
to children's book publicist Winston Stilwell 
for arranging this Q & A.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •


There is a giveaway, yes GIVEAWAY, starting today October 13, for one of 10 free SIGNED copies of The Gospel Truth on Goodreads, so it's a perfect chance to get your own copy, if you don't have it yet.  In addition to being named a finalist for the 2015 Governor General's Literary Award, The Gospel Truth is also a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award, the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, and the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People and is an honour book for the CLA Young Adult Book of the Year Award!  The giveaway is open to readers in the US and Canada.

So enter now for your chance to win one of ten SIGNED copies of The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat.

October 10, 2015

Between Shadows

by Kathleen Cook Waldron
Coteau Books
100 pp.
Ages 8-12
April 2015

"When we lose people we love, we need to remember how they lived, not just how they died.  Life is more than shadows, it's the light behind those shadows." (pg. 12-13)
Ari Martin's memories of his 9th summer at his Gramps' cabin are filled with learning how to swim, paddle, and picking mushrooms and berries.  That is, until an accident with a logging truck takes his mother's life and Ari and his father never return.  Finally, Ari is 12 and set to visit Gramps alone this summer. Then his grandfather dies.  So what had been a perfect plan becomes Dad and Ari flying from Toronto to meet with Dad's sister Laurel and go to the cabin, now painted in the colours of the rainbow, to settle Gramps' estate.

But, regardless of Gramps' will which leaves the cabin and 160 acres on Canoe Lake to Ari, everything can be sold by his father and aunt if they decide to do so and put the money into a trust for him.  And Aunt Laurel, who'd already put up a locked gate to the property, has arranged for a realtor to appraise the property and is talking to a developer who wants to put up a resort and golf course.

However, Ari is out there reliving the summer with his Gramps and making the acquaintance of a girl named Tam who knew his grandfather–seems like everyone nearby did and really liked the man–and shares with Ari a secret way to a secluded beach that his grandfather allowed locals to use.

The family they once were–with Mom and Gramps–is gone, now in the shadows, and only ever briefly do Ari, Dad and Aunt Laurel come together to act as a normal family.  But Ari is holding out for a family and friends and a place to call home more than his father and aunt realize and, with a little help from new friends and Gramps, he's going to do it.

I'm sorry I missed Between Shadows when it first came out because it is a great read: inspiring and honest and pitched perfect for a middle-grade readership.  While still dealing with difficult issues of death and grief and family dynamics, even dysfunctional ones, Kathleen Cook Waldron gets inside Ari's head and knows what a kid–and he could be any child from 8 to 12–wants and needs without having him become precocious or demanding.  He's just a kid who wants to feel the love of family and the safety of home and friendship.  That's not asking that much.  And by getting Ari to see Between Shadows for the good stuff that was out there and within his grasp, Kathleen Cook Waldron provides a cheery reminder that sometimes things work out just fine.

October 09, 2015

An Inheritance of Ashes: Book Launch (Toronto)

Just in time for Halloween and all things scary comes

author Leah Bobet's newest YA

a dark fantasy
(which I am just finishing now)

An Inheritance of Ashes

Scholastic Canada 
400 Pages
Ages 12+
October 2015

launches on

Thursday October 15, 2015

7-11 p.m.

1292 Bloor St. W. (Bloor at Lansdowne)

This book launch promises: 

• music including by Deborah Linden and Leslie Hudson a.k.a. Sinderella •
• delicious baked goods •
• reading •
• signing •
• raffle prizes •
• original art •

Details are posted on the books Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1187448317937840/

October 08, 2015

Small Bones

Written by Vicki Grant
Orca Book Publishers
256 pp.
Ages 12+
September 29, 2015
Reviewed from audiobook

We’ve probably all wanted to reinvent ourselves but Dorothy (Dot) Blythe probably has more reasons than most.  With the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girl burned down and the eldest seven girls being sent away, with only a few scraps to help them determine their heritage, Dot doesn’t have that much to hold onto.  So it’s not surprising that when, dressed in a fine suit donated by the wealthy Mrs. Welsh, Dot does not reveal her orphan background to the young man, Eddie Nicholson, whom she meets on the train.  Eddie helps get her to the Dunbrae Arms, a lodge where she needs to get a job, after having been robbed of her money and finding her destination, a men’s clothing store named Howell’s of Buckminster, closed.  Seems the town of Buckminster is her go-to place for answers, being the name on the cashmere overcoat in which she had been swaddled when deposited at the Home.  Other than a few barely legible initials and a tiny silver spoon with a crest, Dot doesn’t have much to go on.  So with no money and Howell’s closed, she gets a job a a seamstress at the Dunbrae Arms.  And there she pursues her history, asking questions of the snarly Mrs. Smees, who runs the housekeeping for the lodge, and Bas Simmonds, the laundry man, as well as Eddie who seems to know everyone and begins to spend time with Dot.

But, it is evident that Dot’s small frame and face remind others of someone but the confusion  or even anger her presence evokes is never clear to her.   And then she is invited to a summer party to commemorate ByeBye Baby, the unexplained discovery of a tiny baby in the woods seventeen years earlier.  A baby that was seen but disappeared before help arrived.  Knowing she must have been that baby, Dot encourages Eddie to pursue the story–he is a summer reporter for the Buckminster Gleaner–so that she too might learn everything she can about that baby and the mystery surrounding it.  And I haven’t even mentioned the small bones that begin to appear around the seamstress’ cabin where Dot rooms.  Fragile, incomplete, and mysterious bones, probably those of birds.

Vicki Grant weaves a loaded story about a pregnancy that was kept hidden and a birth that was obscured from small-town gossip and yet so important as Dot’s seemingly insignificant origins.  The cover up about her birth may have been haphazard but it was effective in keeping the truth concealed.  And yet many individuals knew a little something about the event.  Some knew better than to talk about it, afraid of ruffling feathers, but others just didn’t realize that they knew anything important.  With astute questioning and biding her time, Dot is able to piece her story together from a patchwork of details, and though her story may have been a tad frayed around the edges–she does jump to a few incorrect assumptions–it is heart-warmingly trimmed with a happy ending or two.  In fact, Vicki Grant, with her light-touch and say-it-straight writing manner, makes sure that it’s “Better than any fantasy” (pg. 239) that Dot could ever have imagined.

October 07, 2015

2015 Governor General Literary Awards: Shortlists announced today!

I know that I've created a blog just for book awards but I think that several major awards always bear mentioning on both blogs.  Here is an abbreviated posting about the recently-announced shortlists for the 2015 Governor General's Literary Awards.

The Governor General's Literary Awards are Canada's national book awards, honouring the best of our literature in seven categories, in both official languages.  Today, the finalists for the 2015 Governor General Literary Awards were announced on the Canada Council website. Below are the nominees for the children's literature awards for English and French texts and illustrations.

English Children’s Literature: Text 

Audrey (cow)
by Dan Bar-el
Tundra Books
Are You Seeing Me?
by Darren Groth
Orca Book Publishers

We Are All Made of Molecules
by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books / Penguin Random House Canada

Reviewed here
The Gospel Truth
by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press

Reviewed here

Young Man with Camera
by Emil Sher
Scholastic Canada

Jack, the King of Ashes

by Andy Jones and Darka Erdelji
Running the Goat Books & Broadsides
Sidewalk Flowers
by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith
Groundwood Books

The Good Little Book
by Kyo Maclear and Marion Arbona
Tundra Books

A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories
by John Martz
Koyama Press

Bug in a Vacuum
by Mélanie Watt
Tundra Books

Les forces du désordre
par Camille Bouchard
Éditions Québec Amérique

Dessine-moi une martien
par Denis Côté
Soulières Éditeur
par Roger Des Roches
Les Éditions de la courte échelle
Direction Saint-Creux-des-Meuh-Meuh
par Sandra Dussault
Éditions Québec Amérique
Maria Réparatrice
par Louis-Philippe Hébert
Les Éditions de La Grenouillère

Le voleur de sandwichs
par Patrick Doyon et André Marois
 Les Éditions de la Pastèque

par Jacques Goldstyn
 Les Éditions de la Pastèque

Quand j'écris avec mon coeur
par Mireille Levert 
Les Éditions de la Bagnole/ Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature
Rosalie entre chien et chat
par Mélanie Perrault et Marion Arbona
Dominque et compagnie

Douze oiseaux
par Renée Robitaille et Philippe Béha
Les Éditions de la Bagnole/ Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at http://ggbooks.ca/   

But wait, there's more!

Until the winners are announced, get involved in the Canada Council for the Arts contests for a chance to win an iPad and the 2015 GGBooks collection.  It's as simple as taking a selfie with a nominated book and posting it tagging the Canada Council for the Arts on Facebook or @CanadaCouncil on Twitter, and using #GGBooks and #MyCanLit.  Be sure to watch for my selfies at @HelenKubiw to see that #MyCanLit always includes great #youngCanLit!