January 31, 2017

Blood Brothers: Book launch (Winnipeg, MB)

Here's a last minute book launch you won't want to miss 
if you live in the Winnipeg area.


Colleen Nelson 

author of 

Finding Hope (Dundurn, 2016)
250 Hours (Coteau Books, 2015)
The Fall (Great Plains, 2013)
Tori by Design (Great Plains, 2011)

for the launch of her newest young adult novel

Blood Brothers
by Colleen Nelson
240 pp.
Ages 12-15
February 2017

Hosted by broadcast journalist Joanne Kelly


Friday, February 3, 2017

7 p.m.


McNally Robinson Booksellers
Grant Park in the Atrium
Winnipeg, MB

The book is described as follows on McNally Robinson's website for the event
Close as brothers, Jakub’s and Lincoln’s lives diverge when Jakub gets a private school scholarship and Lincoln is lured into a gang. 
Fifteen-year-old Jakub Kaminsky is the son of Polish immigrants, a good Catholic boy, and a graffiti artist. While his father sleeps, Jakub and his best friend, Lincoln, sneak out with spray paint to make their mark as Morf and Skar. 
When Jakub gets a scholarship to an elite private school, he knows it’s his chance for a better life. But it means leaving Lincoln and the neighbourhood he calls home. 
While Jakub’s future is looking bright, Lincoln’s gets shady as he is lured into his brother’s gang. Jakub watches helplessly as Lincoln gets pulled deeper into the violent world of the Red Bloodz. The Red Bloodz find out Jakub knows more than he should about a murder and want him silenced — for good. Lincoln has to either save his friend, or embrace life as one of the Red Bloodz.

Look for my review of Colleen Nelson's latest YA on CanLit for LittleCanadians within the week.

January 30, 2017


Written and illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Monsieur Ed
16 pp.
Ages 4-8

Racines is an seemingly-inconspicuous accordion-style (leporello) picture book that shares both a powerful sentiment about our roots and a story of one girl's family influence. Don't let its small size mask the power of its story.

En racines s’incarne la sérendipité.
(translated: Roots embody destiny.)

Racines (translated to Roots) is a deeply-moving yet simple examination of a girl’s roots and her awareness of what they mean to her.  She recognizes the roles of the key people in her life–her grandmother, mother and grandfather–in shaping her with both the magical and the tragic.  But beyond the simple but profound words, Marianne Ferrer illustrates the intensity of emotion  in her starkly-coloured but complex artwork.  Playing on both the emotions and the words, Marianne Ferrer depicts the girl embedded in the landscape, her hair becoming branching roots that meld into the tassels of the rug from which her grandmother combs out tangles. This is her grandmother who climbed down from the mountains, from her own ancestral roots, to make her way into a new world in which she is transformed by the love of a dark-skinned and moustached man.

From Racines by Marianne Ferrer
It is then the girl's mother's story of life by the sea, of extraordinary stars and animals, and fears from which comfort is given and tragedies endured that become part of the girl’s story.  “Je suis toujours consciente de mes racines” (translated: I am always aware of my roots.)

From Racines by Marianne Ferrer
Marianne Ferrer's artwork is both complex and simple, embedding complicated messages of family and heritage in the soft textures of the characters' landscapes.  It is a shame that my own limitations in understanding French has kept me from promoting the profound artistry of illustrators such as  Marianne Ferrer but I hope that Racines is but the first of more French-language books that I might promote here on CanLit for LittleCanadians.

n.b. The interpretation of this French-language book is solely my own.  I take full responsibility for any errors in translation and interpretation of words and art, and apologize for any discrepancies from the author/illustrator’s intent.
Leporello format of Racines by Marianne Ferrer

January 26, 2017

Abigail's Wish

by Gloria Ann Wesley
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4-9

With Black History Month on the horizon, I think I will need to renew last year’s update of youngCanLit valuable for commemorating that important month to include, Abigail's Wish, a lovely picture book about a young girl of a Black Loyalist family.

From Abigail's Wish
by Gloria Ann Wesley 
illus. by Richard Rudnicki
It’s spring and young Abigail is witnessing the dawn of a new season in the world of her new homeland of Nova Scotia.  She still recalls the noise and fears endured during the American Revolution and their long journey by ship from New York in 1783 to the new colony of Birchtown. But she can see forward, looking past the hardships of little food and simple shelter, to the specialness of a day when a new baby would be welcomed.  Abigail’s Aunt Dinah is ready to give birth, and that birth
"…would mean a big celebration: people would bring what they could spare to eat, and the singing and laughter and dancing would be such fun.  Surely, a new dress was needed for such a celebration, Abigail hoped." (pg. 13)
That is Abigail’s wish, for a new dress, and she hopes her mother will use some of their payment of vegetables from cleaning Mrs. Spinney’s house for trade for some fabric at Mr. Tobin’s store.  But it is not to happen.  Returning home, the community has gathered to celebrate the birth of her new cousin, Isaac.  Still Abigail hopes, heading to the church with her mother to see if any donations had arrived from which a suitable dress might be found.  However, as it had been a cold spring and few had undertaken their spring cleaning during which donations often arose, Abigail finds nothing.  Still there is reason to celebrate and Abigail puts her efforts into sewing a quilt for her new cousin from bits and pieces of fabric.  It’s weeks after the celebration that a very special donation just for Abigail helps make her wish finally come true.

From Abigail's Wish
by Gloria Ann Wesley 
illus. by Richard Rudnicki
Gloria Ann Wesley, poet and author of Chasing Freedom (Roseway, 2011) and If This is Freedom (Roseway, 2013), brings a story of the pioneering spirit and the joys of simple successes to the forefront of this picture book of historical fiction.  The birth of a new baby, a job well-paid in produce, a gift of a piece of licorice–all are riches to be appreciated for a Black Loyalist girl who’d already seen much horror in her short life.  A dress becomes the icing on a cake already enjoyed for its flavour and rarity.  Painter Richard Rudnicki, well known for illustrating Gracie, The Public Gardens Duck (Nimbus, 2007) and Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged (Groundwood, 2010), produces a fine mixture of realism and the divine, both which must have impregnated the experiences of Black Loyalists making their way to Canada to establish new homes.  Hardships are plenty but still there are opportunities for diversion and gaiety.  Richard Rudnicki’s art, steeped in the browns and taupes of the naturalness of the land, the everyday clothing and the wood-based interiors, still finds the means to add some mauves and blues, with some reds and yellows, to brighten the reality.  With his art, Richard Rudnicki is able to line Glora Ann Wesley’s story of toil with a quilt of simple joys and appreciation for the goodness of life, helping Abigail's Wish to bring young readers a new awareness of history.

January 24, 2017

The Best Mistake Mystery: Q & A with author Sylvia McNicoll

The Best Mistake Mystery
The Great Mistake Mysteries, Book 1
by Sylvia McNicoll
120 pp.
Ages 9-13
January 2017

Yesterday I reviewed Sylvia McNicoll's newest middle-grade book, The Best Mistake Mystery, the first in her new series The Great Mistake Mysteries. Today, let me share this interview with the book's author, Sylvia McNicoll, about her new book so that you can get a feel for your next great middle-grade mystery read. 

HK:  I think mysteries are great reads for hooking readers but the characters of The Best Mistake Mystery will grab readers just as easily.  Stephen could be any middle-grade reader who loves dogs, deals with humiliation, feels like he’s always making mistakes, overthinking everything he does.  Though he is no one special, he actually is someone very special in that he represents the majority of preteens on the cusp of puberty. How did you manage to create a character so real and likeable without making him so complex that readers couldn’t relate to him?

SM: Thank you, Helen. My life is full of quirky characters and I love observing, interacting and writing about them. Stephen is probably every writer I’ve ever met, over-analytical, and self-deprecating. Renée, too, asks too many questions and bubbles over with the information she discovers through her hyper-curiosity, very writer-like. I think the key is always to live and breathe through your characters as you write and if you like them, readers will too.

HK:  Stephen suggests that one of the biggest mistakes he might have made may have been misunderstanding Renée and almost closing himself off from a friendship with her.  But I think Stephen’s a fairly “open” character: receptive to new experiences and easily talking to strangers.  Is he modelled after someone or several kids you know, like your grandchildren whom you mention in your dedication?

SM:  My 15 year-old grandson Hunter and I used to walk to school together and we were always making up stories, usually involving the dog, on the way. At our house he chatted up the dishwasher repair guy or the neighbor planting his garden, everyone and anyone, always curious and interested. He was (I think he’s grown out of it) afraid of flying too, just like Stephen Noble which leads to Stephen’s greatest anxiety that feeds all the other tiny ones. Stephen fears for his own mother’s safety. The fearful mistake maker Stephen, however, is based more on the students to whom I teach writing in various workshops. They are always asking “Is this okay? Am I doing this right?” Or saying “Mine isn’t any good. I didn’t do it that way. I did it wrong.” You can’t try new things without making mistakes. Mistakes need to be applauded because they demonstrate effort, sometimes in a new direction.

HK:  You describe Ping and Pong, modelled after your own dog Mortie and your daughter’s dog Worf, as mismatched twins, because they are very  different in temperament and physical nature.  But mismatched as they are, they obviously miss each other when Pong goes missing.  Is the relationship between the two fictional dogs similar to that of Mortie and Worf?

SM:  Definitely Mortie and Worf’s relationship is bizarre and complex with  the same Ping/Pong rivalry i.e nudging each other out for pats, racing to be the first through the door, marking and remarking posts along their walks. Worf (aka Pong) is a usually a strong silent dog but Mortie (aka Ping) is a hyperactive barker who seems to goad Worf into a constant duet. Because of his height Worf, left on his own, will steal food off counters but we joke that Mortie eggs him on and certainly shares the gains. Usually Worf is food and toy possessive but I have watched the two dogs swim together, carrying either end of a stick in their mouths, perhaps only grudgingly sharing. At the leash free dog park, larger dogs may start a fight with Worf but tiny Mortie will yell at them and defend Worf. 

HK:  I loved the anecdotes Stephen’s mom likes to tell him that are related to animals and the people with whom she works at the airlines.  And I’m glad that the ones you let her tell Stephen always have happy endings.  Are these stories true?

SM:  All of the stories Mrs. Noble tells Stephen, from the dog escaping an airplane’s cargo and swimming away in a nearby harbor to the kitten who closes the New York subway for hours are true stories researched from news clippings posted on the Internet.

HK:  A great mystery, especially the cozies, use red herrings to throw the snoops and readers off the scent of the real culprit.  You peppered your story with red herrings in the form of potential suspects.  Without giving away the actual culprit, did you know from the onset of the story who would be guilty of the bomb threat and the Beetle crash or did the story evolve as you wrote it?

SM:  When I begin any Great Mistake Mystery, I have a definite idea about the “whodunit” part of the ending. But I still regard the rest of characters with suspicion and throw as much plausible motivation their way to create red herring suspects. Sometimes those characters persuade me that they are the best criminals and I end up changing the ending.

HK:  Your message that mistakes can be fortuitous is inspirational without being preachy.  How do you manage to be positive when meeting with challenges like mistakes?

SM:  It may surprise readers that I write story to explain the world to myself. As such, I am very much dealing with my own anxieties about mistake making when I write this series, many of the crazier mistakes are mine transferred to Stephen. Not surprising then is that writing The Great Mistake Mysteries is really helping me to just roll with my errors and look for their silver linings. Writing is very much adventuring onto the wrong paths and trying to navigate to the better ones.  

HK:  Could you please share some insider scoops about upcoming The Great Mistake Mysteries like the next titles, when they are set for release and whether the same characters will be featured?

SM:   Coming in September of 2017, is The Artsy Mistake Mystery, in which a whole city learns how important art can be. Besides Stephen, Renée, Ping, Pong and Attila most of the original cast makes an appearance.  However a new crossing guard Madam X (nicknamed such for the reflective tape X on her back) will make an appearance, also William Kowalski, the elderly jogger/painter. In January of 2018, The Snake Mistake Mystery will show Ping and Pong playing an important role in finding a missing slithery pet with which Noble Dog Walking is entrusted.  Janet Lacey, a rug hooking artist from The Artsy Mistake Mystery, will play a more leading role in her job as animal control officer. All of the stories will feature guest anecdotes from flight attendant mom, loveable dog antics from Ping, Pong and other canine clients, lots of mistakes, close to thirty, on the character’s part and a great meeting of all suspects where Stephen and Renée identify the criminals and solve the crime.

Thank you, Sylvia McNicoll, for helping readers to appreciate their mistakes as serendipitous circumstances, for bringing The Great Mistake Mysteries to print, and for answering my questions here. Thanks also to Dundurn publicist Jaclyn Hodsdon for arranging for this Q & A with Sylvia McNicoll and sharing a review copy of The Best Mistake Mystery with CanLit for LittleCanadians.

January 23, 2017

The Best Mistake Mystery (The Great Mistake Mysteries, Book 1)

by Sylvia McNicoll
120 pp.
Ages 9-13
January 2017

"I know that if you relax enough to stretch, reach, and risk, the twists along your path will lead to something amazing." - Sylvia McNicoll

Student Stephen Nobel sees mistakes in every turn of his path, past and present, anticipating more in his future.  His days as a Grade 7 student are logged as a compendium of mistakes, though Sylvia McNicoll only shares three consecutive days, of ten mistakes each, in The Best Mistake Mystery, demonstrating that a whole lot can happen in three days, both gaffes and opportunities, depending on how you look at them.

His dad’s new business, Noble Dog Walking, has given Stephen the opportunity to regularly walk the Bennetts’ two dogs: Ping, a small Jack Russell, and Pong, a tall greyhound.
And we’re off–like a wagon pulled by a mismatched team, a horse and a pony.” (pg. 18)
Just like for the dogs, for whom every step is a new adventure of sounds and smells and textures, Stephen becomes witness to a myriad of happenings which will all become part of a bigger mystery or two.  He finds a bag of poop lodged in a tree.  He meets up with an annoying and relentlessly questioning classmate, Renée, with whom he learns that an earlier school drill was actually a response to a bomb threat.  Ping tackles a skateboarder.  Pong urinates on some bricks being worked by a contractor, Mr. Mason.  Then the teen sees the principal, Mrs. Watier, in the orange VW Beetle he’d seen their former custodian Mr. Sawyer driving earlier.  Later Stephen observes that same VW driving around the school’s parking lot late at night.

The mysteries begin to mount when school is cancelled the next day because that orange car had crashed into the school overnight and, because of a brick on the accelerator, filled the school with fumes.  Worse, the car belongs to Renée’s older brother, Attila, who is questioned, though he denies any role, since his car was at the high school auto shop.  The twists and turns of who did what, who was where and why something happened become a full-blown pot boiler with threatening texts, an impending wedding, a dognapping and ransom demand, and a whole lot of snooping, with and without dogs in tow. 

I love a good mystery and The Best Mistake Mystery is a great one.  Sylvia McNicoll throws in so many red herrings and suspects that readers will be changing their hunches as to who did it and why repeatedly.  Just like the winding neighbourhood through which Stephen walks Ping and Pong, a lovable but unlikely duo of canine champions, The Best Mistake Mystery is bursting with characters, storylines, life lessons and dogs. And readers will love all of that.  

But personally, I adore Sylvia McNicoll’s message, and the premise for this new series, The Great Mistake Mysteries, that mistakes are opportunities that enrich our lives.  They may certainly feel like challenges, even curses, but ultimately most mistakes should be considered serendipitous, providing chances to learn and grow and tweak our lives for the better.  And, if you solve a mystery or two in the process, all the better.

Check back tomorrow for my interview with author Sylvia McNicoll about The Best Mistake Mystery and her new series, The Great Mistake Mysteries (cute logo posted below).

Also, get in on one of the book launches for The Best Mistake Mystery this week for a chance to get a signed copy of the book, and maybe share a doggie treat with your own canine best friend. Details here. 

January 20, 2017

Julia Vanishes

by Catherine Egan
Alfred A. Knopf
375 pp.
Ages 12-17

I’ve always been on the Catherine Egan-bandwagon, an auspicious venue for readers of fabulous fantasy and struggles in other worlds. The Last Days of Tian Di, her trilogy  (Shade and Sorceress, 2012; The Unmaking, 2013: Bone, Fog, Ash & Star, 2014), took readers to imaginary lands of  Mancers, Faeries and Sorceresses and an exceptional evil vs. good conflict.  But now I’ve joined the ranks of fans of her Witch’s Child series, debuted with Julia Vanishes, who’ve recognized Catherine Egan’s latest high fantasy as something truly special, not unlike Julia herself.

Whilst miscellaneous persons are being murdered and their brains messed with after encountering a mysterious woman and her baby Theo, sixteen-year-old Julia works reconnaissance as the housemaid Ella at the home of the elderly and wealthy Mrs. Och.  After Julia’s mother Ammi was drowned as a witch in one of Prime Minister Agoston Horthy’s ritual Cleansings of those practising outlawed element worship and magic, Julia and her older brother Dek, a great mechanical tinkerer, were taken in by Esme who runs the criminal underworld. As part of Esme’s band of crooks, which includes Gregor and Csilla and Julia’s love interest, the artistic Wyn, Julia has been charged with staking out Mrs. Och’s household from within, watching the lady herself, as well as her guests Professor Baranyi, who had once been in prison for his heretical writings and continues to dabble in mysterious work with his assistant Frederick, and Mr. Darius whose bizarre behaviour and entrapment in the cellar draws her curiosity.  Thankfully Julia has an inane ability to vanish, to be unseen.

There is a space I can step into, a space between being myself in the world and I know not what, where people’s eyes simply pass over me.” (pg. 7)

Julia’s vanishings allow her to learn of Mrs. Och’s smuggling of witches, and of strange experiments on the kind Mr. Darius, and of concerns that the murders and other mysterious goings-on indicate a search for  someone or something.  When Julia reports to their client, Pia, a cagey woman in goggle spectacles, that Mrs. Och has two new house guests, Bianka Betine and her young child, Theo, Julia becomes enmeshed in a dangerous plot that pays phenomenally well but costs her much in self-respect and remorse and leads her to face evil, both inside and out.

It is so easy to get swept up in the world of Spira City (a map is included and necessary) and beyond, a world of magic and subterfuge, witches and immortals.  There is menace and kindness, compassion and cruelty, and the difference is not always clear. Catherine Egan, who knows a few things about writing of evil and villains (see her guest post here), riddles her evocative and atmospheric writing with characters, like Julia, who appear to bridge that continuum of good vs. evil–yes, even Julia has some things of which she is not proud–making them as real as you and me but in a world of fantasy where writings can become wishes and owls can become cats.  Her characters are exceptional for their diversity and natures, and her plotting has the highs of turrets and the depths of dungeons, the twists of secret staircases and darkness, so much darkness.  But it is Catherine Egan’s writing that draws me in so fully.  It’s rich in the textures of shadows and excitement, going far beyond words into realms of new worlds.
A hand jerks his head up by the hair.  A wetness at his forehead, a spreading blackness.  He thinks of struggle, but fleetingly, as if from a great distance–already this sudden, brutal ending has become part of somebody else’s story.” (pg. 28)
When Wyn draws the Twist, he makes all the ugliness, filth, and poverty beautiful somehow–this is his gift, his magic: to transform with love.  And he works his magic on me as well, so that when he touches me, my horrible dress and uncombed hair are nothing, nothing at all to the beauty he draws forth.  I am not the same Julia–motherless, broke, badly dressed, a crook.  In his arms, for a short while at least, I am perfect.” (pg. 87)
From the depths of cruelty to the sublime of love, Catherine Egan writes with a fluid pen and transports readers to worlds where magic is possible. Thankfully Julia Vanishes is but the beginning of that story. Julia Defiant, out in June 2017, will carry us further.

January 18, 2017

Write for a Better World 2017: Contest for Canadian students in Gr. 5-8

World Literacy Canada

presents its annual

for Canadian students in Grades 5-8

This year, the writing theme was created by  
Melanie Florence
(who will also be the final judge)

 author of the award-winning 
Missing Nimâmâ
by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Clockwise Press
32 pp.
Ages 8+

What to do?
Using this story starter, tell what happens next in 400 words or less:
"I remember how I felt when something was stolen from me.  I swore I'd do anything to get it back.  Then, Kateri and her grandmother had someone stolen from them.  Kateri is my best friend and I knew I had to step up and help.  Sometimes a friend just needs a superhero..."

April 1, 2017

Full Details

n.b. A French language version of the contest, Écris pour un monde meilleur, is also available.

January 17, 2017

The Caterpillar Woman

by Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Carolyn Gan
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 7-10

Piujuq was a beautiful woman who loved to dance with the butterflies by the lake. One day she meets a woman with glowing, green-tinged skin who introduces herself as Tarraq and admits she has become lost and separated from her camp.  Wearing only a thin jacket of strange material, Tarraq shivers with cold and asks Piujuq if they could trade coats, to which the kindly Piujuq agrees.  Soon after the stranger leaves, Piujuq realizes her hair has become spiny and her skin has transformed, becoming prickly and fuzzy and green. Not wanting to frighten her family, Piujuq wanders the land before secluding herself in an abandoned tent.

When three men, on a search for wives, come across her, she offers them tea and mends their ripped clothing.  Though she is saddened when they leave, knowing she was not beautiful enough to become one of their wives, one of the men, an older man named Amaruq, returns and declares that she is very kind and he would like to have her as his wife.  The two fall in love and make a good life together, each caring for the other.  When Piujuq asks him to make a drum so that she might once again dance with the butterflies, Amaruq finds an abandoned drumbeater that makes magical music, ultimately transforming both husband and wife.
From The Caterpillar Woman 
by Nadia Sammurtok
illus. by Carolyn Gan
Inuit writer Nadia Sammurtok has written The Caterpillar Woman as a traditional Inuit tale. The legend which has a moral or message about seeing beyond skin-deep beauty is steeped in Inuit traditions from parkas to drums but with the supernatural element of a caterpillar woman and a magical drumbeater. Though the transformation of Piujuq to a caterpillar woman may be somewhat frightening, and Australian artist Carolyn Gan does this creepiness very well, it is Piujuq’s kindness and the inner beauty both she and Amaraq see in each other that uplifts the story to one of magic.  It’s a story of redemption, though had Piujuq and Amaruq never been transfigured to beautiful and youthful, The Caterpillar Woman would still have had a happy ending and a lesson in seeing beyond superficial appearances.

From The Caterpillar Woman 
by Nadia Sammurtok 
illus. by Carolyn Gan

January 16, 2017

The Ferryland Visitor: A mysterious tale

by Charis Cotter
Artwork by Gerald L. Squires
Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides
36 pp.
Ages 7+

This is a mysterious tale but a true one of a visitor to the Ferryland Newfoundland lighthouse taken over by artist Gerald L. Squires, his potter wife and two young daughters, Esther and Meranda, in the early 1970s.  Believe it or not.

They could always see when somebody was coming to visit, because they could see most of the road from the kitchen window–curving through the downs, inching along the narrows, twisting up the hill and disappearing around the corner.” (pg. 6)
The Narrows on the Road to the Ferryland Lighthouse 
by Gerald L. Squires
From The Ferryland Visitor by Charis Cotter
So the family is surprised when a knock on the door heralds a large man in a long black coat and big boots. When he says “Your dog asked me to come in” (pg. 14) it seemed true, as Houndie was more pleased than alarmed by the stranger’s appearance on their doorstep.

A former policeman in Ferryland, the man regaled them with stories, including one about the death of a boy from pneumonia and his wake at the lighthouse.  But when he left, thanking them for their hospitality and acknowledging  “now I know you’ll be good for this lighthouse” (pg. 17), Esther couldn’t spot him on the road.

The next day when visiting  a neighbour on the other side of the hill, Esther and her father tell Arch about their visitor.  After asking a number of questions, Arch reveals that the man sounded like Dick Costello, a constable who had been good friends with the keeper.  But Dick Costello had died twenty years earlier.

The following year, Gerald L. Squires shared the story with the visiting daughter of Dick Costello who, though stunned, confirmed that her dad always said the same thing when he walked into someone’s house: “Your dog asked me to come in.”

The story of The Ferryland Visitor could well be considered a ghost tale, something Charis Cotter, whose own The Swallow: A Ghost Story (Tundra, 2014) won the 2015 IODE Canada Violet Downey Book Award, knows a thing or two about telling well.  But this is a true story, and one that publisher Marnie Parsons recounts hearing upon her own move to Newfoundland with her family.  Still, at its heart, it’s a story of family and community, and using Gerald L. Squires’ own artwork, as well as photographs, brings that sense of place and people to the story’s core.  There’s a feeling of desolation and isolation and expanse, along with surprise and magic, to the landscape and the story, told spookily but straight up.  The Ferryland Visitor is an amazing story for eerie October, the month in which the mysterious visitor came to call, or anytime young readers want to be transported to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and stay for a good yarn.

Dark Cave Under the Light by Gerald L. Squires
From The Ferryland Visitor by Charis Cotter

January 12, 2017

The Best Mistake Mystery: Book launches (Burlington, ON)

Attention young readers who are lovers of dogs and mysteries: 


Sylvia McNicoll
author of over 30 books for children and young adults

for the launch of her new middle grade series

The Great Mistake Mysteries

with Book 1

The Best Mistake Mystery
by Sylvia McNicoll
120 pp.
Ages 9-13
January 2017


Family Literacy Day
Friday, January 27, 2017

1:30 p.m.

Brant Hills Branch, Burlington Public Library
2255 Brant St.
Burlington, ON


Sunday, January 29, 2017

2 p.m.

along with author Deb Loughead
launching her recent young adult book
The Secrets We Keep
 Reviewed here

A Different Drummer Books
513 Locust St.
Burlington, ON

Look for my review of The Best Mistake Mystery next week here on CanLit for LittleCanadians, along with my interview with author Sylvia McNicoll.  But, just to see how much you'll want to read this book and attend one or both of these launches, here is the blurb from publisher Dundurn's website:

Some people count their blessings, but dogwalker Stephen Nobel counts mistakes. 

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building. 
To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name. 
Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? To find out, Stephen will have to count on all of his new friends.

January 11, 2017

Fishing with Grandma

by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 5-7

The beginning of the year is a wonderful time to catch up on hidden gems that I missed last year, especially ones that were released at extraordinarily busy times or at incongruous times, like a winter book in the spring.  To that end, I am so pleased to review Fishing with Grandma, a marvelous picture book that provides a glimpse into Inuit traditions of fishing and food and the important role of female elders in the family and community.

A young boy and his sister go to visit their grandmother, Anaanatsiaq, in search of an adventure.  With the house smelling of bannock, the children playing string games, and their grandmother sewing a sealskin, with her ulu on the ground beside her, the setting will be familiar to many Inuit but eye-opening for many others.  The children ask their anaanatsiaq to take them jigging for fish, a type of fishing the uses a jig or a lure. Their grandmother instructs them how to dress appropriately for the outdoor activity and then loads up the ATV with the appropriate equipment and they're off. While teaching her grandchildren how to test the ice for walking, how to make holes in it, and the movements of the wrist necessary to entice the fish, Anaanatsiaq introduces them to tools such as a tuuq, an ice skimmer, a jigging stick and an ice probe.  But it's the excitement of the sounds of the ravens and other fisher people jigging from their mats and of the sights of fish swimming by, as well as the thrill of the catch that elevates the outing to an adventure.
From Fishing with Grandma 
by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula 
illus. by Charlene Chua

The story of Fishing with Grandma balances the blending of old and contemporary cultures with a special intergenerational relationship, making it a wonderful story for teaching acceptance and cultural competence. I love the children's grandmother, wise in tradition and facility, knowing the right thing to do and with the right tool.  I suspect that Nunavut author Susan Avingaq learned from her own grandmother just as she now would take her own grandchildren fishing and camping to teach them important land skills.  Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula's text of Fishing with Grandma is like Grandma herself, forthcoming without preaching, modelling acceptance and wonder and a joie de vivre.  Illustrator Charlene Chua, whose artwork in Akilak's Adventure (Inhabit Media, 2016) drew much attention, keeps the children's admiration and fascination for their grandmother and the adventure elevated as she does for young readers of the story.  Most importantly, the essence of being Inuit, from going jigging and sharing their catch with the community, is always uppermost in the story's text and illustrations, both teaching and entertaining readers of all cultures.

From Fishing with Grandma 
by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula 
illus. by Charlene Chua

January 10, 2017

Crushing It: Book launch (Hamilton, ON)

The very funny author
 Joanne Levy

who delighted readers with her 
Forest of Reading-nominated 
Small Medium at Large
by Joanne Levy
Bloomsbury Children's Books
193 pp.
Ages 9-13

is back with another funny middle grade read

Crushing It
by Joanne Levy
240 pp.
Ages 9-13
January 2017

which she will launch 


Saturday, January 28, 2017

2-4 p.m.


Hamilton Public Library, Westdale Branch
955 King St. W.
Hamilton, ON

Joanne Levy promises a reading, a Q & A, swag, light refreshments and, of course, books for purchase and signing.

Although I can't share my review of Crushing It yet–read it, loved it, giggled repeatedly–I can reveal that it's a middle grade story of first crushes gone sideways, when twelve-year-old Kat ends up helping her cousin Olivia snare the boy next door, Tyler, who is so not into popularity-craving Olivia and more into Zombie-slashing gamer Kat.  If things can go wrong, they do, but with much hilarity, courtesy of Joanne Levy's funny (ha!ha!, not strange) writing.

The book is out today, though, so you can always purchase it now, read it and then bring it to the launch for an author's signature and some swag. Whatever way you do it, get the book, enjoy the story.

January 09, 2017

9th Annual TOTSAPALOOZA: Toronto

Time to get ready for 

Small Print Toronto's
9th Annual Totsapalooza

a festival of indie music, picture book authors and DIY crafts

with singer-songwriter Fred Penner


picture book authors

Tyler Clark Burke
launching her debut picture book Bill Bowerbird & The Unbearable Beak Ache! (OwlKids Books)

Elise Gravel
sharing her new books I Want A Monster! and The Cranky Ballerina (HarperCollins Canada)


Andrew Larsen
inspiring storytellers with his latest picture book, A Squiggly Story (Kids Can Press).

  Saturday, February 4, 2017

1 - 4 p.m.


783 College Street
Toronto, ON

The Movement Lab children’s dance studio will be back to keep the crowd on their toes and Kensington Market bakery Wanda’s Pie-in-the-Sky will have healthy, handmade snacks on hand.

Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event.

Tickets are available for purchase at 

(n.b. early bird ticket sales ends today!)

January 06, 2017

Waiting for Snow

by Marsha Diane Arnold
Illustrated by Renata Liwska
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
November 2016

Polish-born Calgary artist Renata Liwska may be the author-illustrator of her own picture books including the Governor General Award-nominated Red Wagon (Philomel Books, 2013) and Little Panda (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), but she is best known for providing artwork for award-winning American writers such as Deborah Underwood (The Quiet Book, The Loud Book), Doreen Cronin (Boom Snot Twitty and Boom Snot Twitty This Way That Way), and Nina Laden (Once Upon a Memory).  In Waiting for Snow, Renata Liwska again provides the distinct landscape of art that takes Marsha Diane Arnold's words from story to showpiece.
From Waiting for Snow
by Marsha Diane Arnold 
illus. by Renata Liwska
Badger is desperate for snow to come.  He studies the sky, bangs pots and pans to wake it up, and follows his friends’ advice.  Rabbit recommends punching holes in the clouds with pebbles to allow the flakes to fall.  Vole suggests a snow dance. Possum proposes Badger wear his pajamas backwards.  His friends even use sugar to simulate snow when the winter flakes don’t appear.  But, just as Hedgehog in his cryptic way advises, the snow does come when it is time.
From Waiting for Snow 
by Marsha Diane Arnold 
illus. by Renata Liwska
Renata Liwska's pencil drawings coloured digitally effuse the story of childlike desperation with a tenderness and softness that materialize the animals from two-dimensional to stuffie.  Though you know that the fur of badgers and opossums may be more coarse in reality, Renata Liwska makes all her characters appear downy.  And her landscapes from outdoors to bedrooms and classrooms, both in daytime and night, are similarly relaxed and serene.  Waiting for Snow is for anyone who has ever waited for something or someone to come and been told that it will only happen in its own time.  It’s the old saying of a “watched pot never boils” acknowledging time as the truest measure of when something will happen.  No matter how much you crave it or are determined to make it happen, with snow dances or rituals or superstitions, time will be the determinant.

January 05, 2017


by Trevor Lai
32 pp.
Ages 0-5
December 2016

Trevor Lai, founder of Up Studios, the very trendy Asian studio that created the BOOMi Camera mobile app, may be all over the internet, photographed with celebrities and promoting his studio's animations and media products, but Piggy, the title character of his first picture book, must be his alter ego, because he's just a demure little guy who loves to read and wants to make a friend.

From Piggy by Trevor Lai
Piggy, the red-spectacled boy-pig, was always too busy reading to make friends until he reaches his last book and decides to save it and try something new.  After a valiant effort at flying a kite–as instructed by a book, of course–Piggy decides to step outside of his comfort zone and make friends with a similarly book-loving girl-cat. But no matter what impressive endeavours he undertakes like blowing giant bubbles, or flying a plane, or sending flowers her way, she does not notice and never takes her nose out of her book.  It's only when he makes a small but sincere gesture at sharing his last book with her that Piggy learns it's Kate's eyesight that has stopped her from noticing his gestures.  With another large pair of red eyeglasses, Piggy helps Kate read the written words better and see the glorious friendship to be had with him.

From Piggy by Trevor Lai
Piggy has all the right messages about reading, sharing, compassion, friendship and perseverance, and Trevor Lai embeds them in a sweet, sweet story with a pig and a cat that very young children will adore.  The illustrations are bright in colour and whimsical in line, shape and size (the eyeglasses are especially outrageous).  It has a Porky Pig meets Hello Kitty vibe to the story but without the silliness or excess that might have handicapped the story.  The lightness of the tone and artwork enriches the story to become one of wholesomeness not saccharinity, sure to please both adults reading Piggy and little ones listening to it.  Piggy may make friends with Kate but he’ll become a character of affection for many more. (And there's an upcoming book, Piggy in Love, that we can look forward to reading too.)

January 04, 2017

A Harbour Seal in Halifax

by Doretta Groenendyk
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4-9

On March 5, 2015, a young harbour seal found itself lost on land in the city of Halifax, confused by the textures of the city and looking for the water of home.  This is his story.

Told in bold lines and colours of a cold, winter’s night, Doretta Groenendyk shares the harbour seal’s trek through Halifax, confused by the lights and buildings and the lake of water, taking refuge under a car.  The owner of the car, startled by the seal, enlists the help of two police, Officer and Constable, who locate the roaming seal and return it to its watery home.  This simple story gains depth with Doretta Groenendyk’s approach of seeing the situation from both the perspective of the seal, unfamiliar with his surroundings and people, and the police, unfamiliar with the seal’s natural behaviour and viewpoint.  Together the three unlikely compatriots find a way to make things safe for all concerned.
From A Harbour Seal in Halifax 
by Doretta Groenendyk

A Harbour Seal in Halifax is a delightful story based on a true event that will charm readers with its happy ending and message of doing good for others.  It may not have a complicated plot but A Harbour Seal in Halifax tells the story well and with illustrations that will delight and transport readers to a cold wintery night when something unfortunate could have ended in tragedy but instead resolves with a feel-good finish.

From A Harbour Seal in Halifax 
by Doretta Groenendyk