September 29, 2017

Morgan the Brave

Written by Ted Staunton and Will Staunton
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Formac Lorimer
96 pp.
Ages 5-8
September 2017

Being scared is normal.  Still, being seen as being scared and labelled a chicken or a scaredy-cat is something all children and many adults would avoid at all costs.  That's Morgan's dilemma.  He and everyone from his class have been invited to new kid Curtis's birthday party at which the boy plans to show the horror movie Brain Eater.  Worse, the rumours about the movie elevate the scariness factor.
From Morgan the Brave 
by Ted Staunton and Will Staunton 
illus. by Bill Slavin
"I heard they use real earwax," whispers Charlie.
"My brother watched it," says Matt, "and he passed out!"
Melissa hisses, "Did you hear what they make the spaghetti out of?" (pg. 11)

Worse, his frenemy Aldeen (she's the tall one with the witchy hair in Bill Slavin's illustration above) says that scary movies are boring and she's seen a million of them.  So he gives one a try. He watches The Wizard of Oz in the safety of his home with his parents and he still freaks out, closing his eyes.  Is there a way to go to Curtis's party and watch that movie and not lose face?

Somehow father and son authors Ted Staunton and Will Staunton get into the head of the freakishly normal Morgan, knowing how natural fears can escalate to horrific proportions with the right inputs from peers and an active imagination.  Because the scenario in which Morgan the Brave finds himself is so commonplace, the story becomes familiar and funny and clever.  Though cautionary tales are generally more folkloric, Morgan the Brave is still a lesson-learning story that worries can exacerbate fears and that the anticipation is usually far worse than the reality.

Parents, you can reassure your children with a reading of Morgan the Brave while teachers can do the same with their early readers who would probably be more accepting of the premise that they shouldn't give into their fears if they read it for themselves.  At a Reading Level of 2.2. (i.e., that of a child in the second month of Grade 2) and accompanied by Bill Slavin's comical art, it's not an intimidating read at all.


Like Ted Staunton's original Morgan series, Morgan the Brave would be a great addition to the listing of #CanLitChoices for Grade 2 novel studies that I prepared almost exactly two years ago. Check out those titles here.

September 28, 2017

The Disappearance: Book launch (Hamilton, ON)

Join best-selling author

Gillian Chan

author of middle-grade and young adult
historical fiction, short stories and more

for the launch of her newest young adult book

The Disappearance
Written by Gillian Chan
Annick Press
208 pp.
Ages 12+
September 2017


  Saturday, October 7, 2017

1:30 p.m.


The Reading Room
Bryan Prince Bookseller
1060 King Street West
Hamilton, ON

I hope to review this book before the launch (thanks Annick Press for the review copy!) but, until it is posted, here is the publisher's take on what is sure to be a superbly suspenseful read:

A fast-paced, gritty mystery with a supernatural twist.

Jacob Mueller and Mike McCallum couldn’t be more different. After mystifying doctors, who finally decide that he is an elective mute, Jacob ends up in a juvenile group home, isolated, withdrawn, and bullied. Mike, also in the group home, is scarred physically and emotionally after the murder of his younger brother. He uses his horrific appearance, imposing size, sharp intelligence, and a calculated brutality to keep everyone at bay—until he encounters Jacob. Mike is fascinated by Jacob, particularly the way in which he seems able to shut out the world around him. This fascination becomes tinged with a mixture of awe and horror when Jacob starts to talk, and appears to have knowledge of Mike’s past, particularly of his dead brother. Mike takes it upon himself to solve the puzzle that is Jacob Mueller, and when he comes to the impossible conclusion that Jacob is from another time, he makes it his mission to return him home.
Retrieved from on September 28, 2017.

The lovely Gillian Chan promises
• a reading
• talk of books
• refreshments
• book sales and signing
• learning who disappeared and why.

Will you be there?

September 27, 2017

36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You

Written by Vicki Grant
Running Press Teens
288 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2017

This is a love story.  It's the story of eighteen-year-old Hildy meeting nineteen-year-old Paul–though they're supposed to refer to themselves as generic Betty and Bob–as participants in a university research project to determine whether the asking of 36 questions could facilitate personal closeness that might result in a relationship.  Although the two teens come into the study from different perspectives, where they end up is heart-warming with a final scene right out of a Hollywood romantic comedy. (Yes, the book would make a GREAT film.)

Hildy is a bit of a mess.  She seems to be a little clumsy and does a whole lot of babbling though it's clear she is bright and astute and interesting.  But she describes herself at the onset of the study as someone who has
"...a lot of stuff happening in my life right now.  My own fault, of course.  Big mouth.  Tunnel vision.  Faulty social radar." (pg. 14)
That statement is very telling.  Without revealing all there is about her situation, Hildy suggests a crisis in her family, for which she is willing to take blame, but what is going on with younger brother Gabe, ER doctor mom Amy, and school principal and drama coach dad Greg, is only revealed in dribs and drabs through the context of Hildy's get-togethers with friends as well as in her meetings with Paul a.k.a. Bob Somebody both in person and online. (They have to extend their session beyond the original hour needed after she reacts to some comments he makes and she throws a puffer fish at him.)

Paul/Bob is more of a closed book.  When he's supposed tell the details of his life in four minutes (that's Question 11), Hildy assesses his answer as,
"That was a ten-second cover-up of a thirty-six-part docudrama.  What you didn't say was way more interesting than what you actually said." (pg. 62)
He gives very little away about himself and blankets most of his answers with an attitude Hildy doesn't appreciate. He does reveal his drawing ability in his endless doodling–mostly of a hand, Kong the puffer fish whom he adopts temporarily, and Hildy–and a love of drumming.  But Paul/Bob just wants to get this over with and collect his $40.

As the questions become more intimate and revealing, Hildy and Paul share more about themselves and seesaw between anger, frustration, appreciation and affection.  But when Hildy stands Paul up and can't locate him to try to make things right, it looks like the project and their budding friendship might all be in jeopardy.

Readers are going to fall in love with Hildy and Paul. They are so not perfect, separately and together.   They are masses of weaknesses and missteps especially when dealing with others and it's a wonder they ever got to the place where they'd want to do the psych study.  But, along with their weaknesses, they are strong and courageous and compassionate.  And yet, the two are infinitely different.  Still, Vicki Grant doesn't let that stand in the way of a great love story, one in which the complicated Hildy and the casual Paul can see beyond their frailties and foibles and expose themselves to possible happiness that no questions could have predicted. It is impossible not to laugh with them and laugh at them when you read their dialogue i.e., discussions based on the 36 scripted questions.

Question 10

Paul: If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

Hildy: I wish I hadn't been kept in the dark so much.

Paul: Explains why you're so pale.        
(pg. 53)

I know this may be a spoiler but I don't want readers to worry that Hildy and Paul might never get together.  Rest assured that Vicki Grant, with her trademark humour, will bring the two teens to completing their psych study obligation and, better yet, to undertaking a new, more personal, venture on their own, with or without Kong in tow. And it only took 36 questions.

September 26, 2017


Written by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2017

In a chain of events that begins with a flea, a series of animals that also includes a grasshopper, a rabbit, a dog, fish, a bullfrog and a horse cause leaping into, onto, and more in response.  But JonArno Lawson, whose stories Sidewalk Flowers (Groundwood, 2015) and Uncle Holland (Groundwood, 2017) have been reviewed here on CanLit for LittleCanadians, goes beyond this faunal domino effect and creates a living organism of movement in sophisticated poetry.
From Leap! 
by JonArno Lawson 
illus. by Josée Bisaillon
With each new LEAP!, JonArno Lawson plunges the young reader into a new environment with active vocabulary and emotional responses. 
Twist and spin!
The bunny bounds out
as the clouds roll in.
A dog gets a whiff
and barks at the wind –
bouncing, bouncing, springing
  and lunging!
Down the bank that dog goes
Gambol, lurch to 
In her signature collage style of cut-outs, watercolours, pencils and more, Josée Bisaillon produces multiple land and aquatic landscapes for JonArno Lawson's jumping, splashing, bounding creatures.  There are microcosms beneath bright flowers in cheery meadows and lakes filled with dozens of species of plant and fish, and a fenced farmyard with trees. From one to another to the next and back, Josée Bisaillon takes the reader down and over, under and above, seeing this natural world from all perspectives.
From Leap!
by JonArno Lawson 
illus. by Josée Bisaillon
For teachers who love a circular story that ends where it begins, Leap! is a treat, especially for the exquisite language and elaborate illustrations.  But I believe parents will find Leap! to be the perfect bedtime read for young ones who've been doing their own leaping all day.  In true poetic style, JonArno Lawson finds the word that rhymes with "leap" and brings closure to a day of activity.
From Leap! 
by JonArno Lawson 
illus. by Josée Bisaillon

September 25, 2017

Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / Only in My Hometown

Written by Angnakuluk Friesen
Illustrated by Ippiksaut Friesen
Translated by Jean Kusugak
Groundwood Books
24 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2017

Just as all families are different and children should see themselves in the families represented in youngCanLit, the communities in which those children are growing up are vastly distinct.  Some are close-knit and small, others heavily populated and expansive, and still others remote with scattered populations.  By bringing their hometown to picture book format, Nunavut sisters Angnakuluk Friesen and Ippiksaut Friesen transport young readers to a community in which elephants are mining artefacts, raw meat is feasted upon and everyone is welcome.

In her text, Angnakuluk Friesen gives us visual snippets of life in her hometown of Rankin Inlet, an Inuit community on Kudlulik Peninsula in Nunavut.  Its history may include the Thule people and mining but Angnakuluk Friesen spotlights the personal life of children in Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / Only in My Hometown.  It's about play and food, chores and the outdoors.  There's snow-shovelling, story-telling, watching Northern Lights and banding together during hard times and times of joy.  But Angnakuluk Friesen tells it without telling it directly.  It's all in the subtext of her words. 

Stories, images, memories
of spirits,playing happily, fluidly, chanting.
The Northern Lights can be seen in many places,
but they dance for me
only in my hometown.

Where I come from
glimpses of hope are always appreciated.
From Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / 
ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / 
Only in My Hometown 
by Argnakuluk Friesen 
illus. by Ippiksaut Friesen
Similarly, her sister Ippiksaut Friesen illustrates each memory and experience with a focus on the personal.  It's the girl atop the abandoned mining equipment, the children amidst the laundry and scattered toys, a pair watching the Northern Lights, the family at their winter camp and a gathering around a newborn.  It's their life as they see it and experience it in all its wonder and hardships and fellowship.  Her illustrations are actually of two different styles.  One, as seen on the cover, is reminiscent of William Kurelek's classic A Prairie Boy's Winter (Tundra, 1973) of a life so vast in time and space that must be filtered down to just a few poignant moments that define it. These are all-embracing images.  But Ippiksaut Friesen also goes up close and personal, getting right into the faces, concentrating on the expressions of life rather than the landscapes of their hometown.  Both blend to illustrate the life that is Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / Only in My Hometown

From Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / 
ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / 
Only in My Hometown 
by Argnakuluk Friesen 
illus. by Ippiksaut Friesen
Translated into Inuktitut by Jean Kusugak and written out both in syllabics and transliterated roman characters,  Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / Only in My Hometown tells both all and only some of what life in a small northern town can be for an Inuit child.  It is a book to share with children who need to see themselves in the book or learn about others.  In other words, it's a book for all.
From Kisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani / 
ᑭᓯᒥ ᑕᐃᒪᐃᑉᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᖏᕐᕋᕆᔭᕋᓂ / 
Only in My Hometown 
by Angnakuluk Friesen 
illus. by Ippiksaut Friesen

September 21, 2017

Le Jardin Invisible

Written by Valérie Picard
Illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Monsieur Ed
64 pp.
Ages 4+
August 2017

When her family travels far from the city to the country to attend her grandmother's birthday celebration, Arianne enters a marvelous world of lush vegetation, magnificent creatures and an adventure of epic proportions, like all in Le Jardin Invisible (translation: The Invisible Garden).

As pleased as she is to see her grand-maman, Arianne is the lone child in a house full of guests.  A parent suggests she go play in the garden.  A city child, unaccustomed to making play in the outdoors, Arianne is bored and lays down in the grass. A small pebble (caillou) brings her to see another world in which the pebble is a mountain, locusts are as big as cars, and plants like trees.  She chases after the locusts but loses them and catches a ride on a dandelion seed to continue her quest.  Skipping her pebble into the water, she drops in too, witnessing the wonders of the sea including the evolution of aquatic creatures to land dinosaurs who assist her in capturing a star that she releases into the cosmos.
From Le Jardin Invisible 
by Valérie Picard 
illus. by Marianne Ferrer
Perhaps Le Jardin Invisible is but the imaginative dream of a child bored with adult activity who takes bits and pieces from her surroundings and builds them into a story.  Ah, but what a story!  She sees mountains, and travels on fluffy seeds, races with creatures small and large and reaches into the heavens for a touch of magic.  No wonder when the family is returning to the city late at night, Arianne declares to the sky of stars and ethereal shapes, "À beintôt, les dinosaures!" (translation: See you soon, dinosaurs).
From Le Jardin Invisible 
by Valérie Picard 
illus. by Marianne Ferrer
Surprisingly, in 64 pages, there are few words.  The text is essentially a series of questions and exclamations.  But Valérie Picard's sparse text blossoms into a full story with Marianne Ferrer's illustrations.  Marianne Ferrer's art, first reviewed here from her picture book Racines (Monsieur Ed, 2016), gives an ethereal context to Arianne's journey from city to country to Le Jardin Invisible.  When the insignificant child is delegated to the garden, she becomes part of something larger, much larger than herself but still part of it.  Marianne Ferrer's locusts are majestic in every facet, her plant life varied and sumptuous in tones of blue, green and rose and her underwater scenes are resplendent in shades and hues of blues.  Like Arianne, these worlds are largely ignored until looked at with a closer lens.
From Le Jardin Invisible 
by Valérie Picard
 illus. by Marianne Ferrer
Whether Arianne visited this lavish garden by way of her dreams or simply her imagination is irrelevant.  Le Jardin Invisible is one to be seen and appreciated from any perspective.

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.

September 20, 2017

Stratford Writers' Festival

The 2017 Stratford Writers' Festival
is set to take to the stages


October 20-22, 2017


Stratford, ON

There are workshops and panels on songwriting, self-publishing, social media, blogging, memoirs, grief, art and literature, history and healing, satire, food and, of course, writing.

The plethora of authors attending the three-day event include:
• Chantel Acevedo
• Marianne Apostolides
• Jason Barry
• Mark Billingham
• Kerry Clare
• Deborah Cooke
• Glenn Dixon
• Terry Fallis
• Emm Gryner
• Drew Hayden Taylor
• Scaachi Koul
• Dayna Manning
• Marina Mapa
• Lee Maracle
• Mark Medley
• Catherine Mellinger
• Heather O'Neill
• Shane Peacock
• Eden Robinson
• Jennifer Robson
• Rebecca Rosenblum
• Ron Sexsmith
• Richard Scrimger
• Craig Terlson
• Eric Walters
• Alice Zorn

But I wanted to draw your attention to a panel relevant to those who read CanLit for LittleCanadians.

  Friday, October 20, 2017, 

 6-7 p.m.


Knox Presbyterian Church

a trio of youngCanLit authors will present a panel titled 

A Means to a End: Keeping a Series Alive

In attendance will be three of the authors of Orca Book Publishers' Seven series,  The Seven Sequels and The Seven Prequels:

To create a story that is riveting and engaging is an accomplishment on its own. To continue a story throughout many novels and hold an audience’s attention takes an extraordinary talent.

These three authors have mastered the art of keeping a story alive through their tales of triumph, discovery, and self-actualization. Join us as award-winning authors Eric Walters, Richard Scrimger, and Shane Peacock discuss the process of series writing and how to keep readers coming back every time.

Full details of this event and all panels and workshops can be found at DigiWriting's website at with tickets available at Ticketscene

September 19, 2017

The Water Walker

Written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson
Second Story Press
36 pp.
Ages 6-9
September 2017

At first glance from title and illustration, The Water Walker may look like an Aboriginal myth or a picture book story.  It is neither.  It is an illustrated piece of creative non-fiction that recounts the efforts of Ojibwe Grandmother (Nokomis) Josephine Mandamin originally of Manitoulin Island and her extraordinary efforts to raise awareness about the need to protect our water (Nibi).  Her story is true, as attested by three knee surgeries and countless pairs of sneakers.

As a child, Nokomis loved Nibi in all its attributes: cold, warm, calm, wild.  Every day she would thank Nibi for its gift of life. "Gichi miigwech, Nibi, for the life you give to every living thing on earth.  I love you.  I respect you." (pg. 9)  But after hearing an elder (ogimaa) speak of water's fate and Nokomis realized that water was being disrespected and wasted, she banded with her sister and women friends (kwewok niichiis) to formulate a plan to protect Nibi.  Four days later, a copper pail full of Nibi in one hand and a Migizi (bald eagle) Staff in her other, Nokomis lead the Mother Earth Water Walkers in their walk around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.  For the next seven springs, they walked, prayed and sang, offering sacred tobacco (seema) at every Nibi encountered.

From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
Though the media picked up on their walking for Nibi, Nokomis knew there was more to do.  The Water Walkers went to the waters surrounding Turtle Island (North America) and sang Nibi's praises and demonstrated their respect.  They went to the Pacific Ocean, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.  Still Nokomis prays and sings to Nibi and hopes everyone will help protect Nibi.
From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
The Water Walker in the story of a grassroots crusade to demonstrate respect and inform people about the importance and potential destiny for Nibi if we continue as we have.  With water rights being given away for pennies and contamination through industry and pollution, Nibi is at risk.  It is no longer the limitless commodity generations before us believed it to be.  Nokomis Josephine Mandamin did not wait around for disaster to compel her to act.  She let her heart drive her into action.  Now Joanne Robertson, a member of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and founder of the Empty Glass for Water campaign, is sharing that story through her invigorating illustrations, bold in line and colour.  Though most of her characters are seemingly lacking in detail, with their similarly rounded heads, expressionless faces and stiff walking postures, Joanne Robertson fashions them to be unique and distinct in dress and hair.  The illustration of the parade of Mother Earth Water Walkers with the sun blazing behind them is simple but powerful, as is the collage of memories of places and people visited on their walks.
From The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson
The Water Walker may be an illustrated biography of Nokomis Josephine Mandamin's walking for Nibi but it is also a tale of action, both accomplished and endless, to do for Nibi as it has always done for us.


The book launch for the book will take place on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at A Different Booklist in Toronto.  Both Grandmother Josephine Mandamin and author/illustrator Joanne Robertson will be in attendance to speak from 12:30 -2:30 p.m. with a book signing and reception fro 5-7 p.m. The events are posted here

September 18, 2017

Two Times a Traitor

Written by Karen Bass
Pajama Press
240 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2017 (Canada), August 2017 (US)

Selected as a Junior Library Guild Selection, Two Times a Traitor may seem a departure for award-winning author of historical fiction, Karen Bass, who won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for her books Graffiti Knight (Pajama Press, 2013) and Uncertain Soldier (Pajama Press, 2015) in consecutive years.  But, Karen Bass knows how to seamlessly weave a bit of the unexpected into her fiction, as she did in her suspenseful The Hill (Pajama Press, 2016), and as she does in Two Times a Traitor which blends a contemporary setting with Canada's past in Louisbourg 1745 through the use of time slip.

Twelve-year-old Lazare Berenger is still angry with his father who moved the family from Ottawa to Boston while Laz was visiting his Grandmère's farm in New Brunswick the previous summer.  And now, when he'd been saving up for a parkour camp for spring break, Laz is with his parents and younger sister Emeline visiting Halifax.  With every new suggestion of his father, Lazare is reeling with anger so, while visiting the Citadel, Laz takes off on his own.
The air seemed to push against Laz, as if it didn't want him to return down the tunnel.  Something strange was happening, but he didn't know if it was this chamber, the whole tunnel, or if he'd had too much bacon for lunch.  He took a deep breath and his lungs refused to fill. (pg. 19)
When he knocks himself out, he awakens in an unfamiliar landscape of pirate-looking men at bonfires on shore, old-time sailing ships moored in the bay and a man with a sword taking him to Captain Hawkins on the ship called the Constance.  Believing it's all a role play as boot camp punishment from his father, he spouts off about 2017 and more, leading the captain to believe he is pretending madness to distract them from recognizing him as an Acadian in league with the French at Louisbourg.  His clothes, which might conceal weapons, are taken away, as is his grandmother's St. Christopher medal ("Papist witchery"; pg. 38) and he is put in fetters.  Ben, a young boy who has been apprenticed to the Constance, befriends him and Laz learns that it truly is 1745 and they are transporting militia to Canso to fight King George's War against the French.

With a militiaman named Cooper seeking retribution on "Master Berenger" and Commander Pepperell, the commander of the expedition, ready to hang Laz for treason, the boy is put to work alongside the militia and then blackmailed–he is convinced his medal is the means to getting back to the future– into going into Louisbourg as a spy to seed doubt and do mischief.  Under the guise of a farm boy warning the French of an incoming barrage of British ships, Laz is welcomed into Louisbourg, becoming the messenger of Port Commander Pierre Morpain, a man who treats Laz as the boy wishes his own father would.  As Laz builds a new family amongst the residents of Louisbourg, he is haunted by his need to fulfill his obligation to the British if he is ever to return to his true family and life in 2017.

Privileged Laz may think his life with his father is impossible but, after facing treason charges twice, once by the British and later with the French after he sabotages their gun powder, he realizes how easy life has been.  Still he wonders about remaining in the past, one in which Morpain keeps him safe and shows him deep affection and respect and Laz has a purposeful life which, though dangerous and unpredictable, feels like home.

While taking the reader into both sides of the 1745 siege of Louisbourg, Karen Bass makes sure that Two Times a Traitor is about Laz recognizing what home is to him.  He may have been angry with the move to Boston but he soon realizes that what matters are the people.  It's evident he adores his sister and is determined to get home for her but he has some qualms when Louisbourg starts to feel like home too.  But before he can make the decision about where he belongs, he has to stay alive. With both sides believing him to be a traitor and an angry militiaman out to kill him, not to speak of the cannon balls, mortar and muskets and bayonets, safety is a commodity in short supply. Readers will adore the action adventure story of  Two Times a Traitor but its story of historical events is extraordinary and not to be relegated to second place. Karen Bass does comprehensive research, providing astounding detail to setting and characters, plunging readers into the fray that was war.  By allowing Laz to be part of both sides and emphasizing his confusion about which side to favour, Karen Bass allows readers to see the conflict from different perspectives and takes history away from the one-sidedness of most textbooks. Moreover, she allows us to see that conflict, whether personal or historical, always has two sides that need to be seen.  Resolution may be amicable or there may be victors and those defeated, but how it plays out is all about point of view.

September 15, 2017

The Curiosity Cabinet

Written and illustrated by Ian Wallace
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 5+
September 2017

See Canada from inside Ian Wallace's The Curiosity Cabinet, a book and cupboard filled with mementoes of each province and territory.  From Ian Wallace's dedication,

Dear Canada,
Thanks for the
countless adventures
logged in my red
Converse All Stars.

to the rich endpapers detailing mugs of pens and T-shirts, a NWT license plate and a child's painting of a duck, The Curiosity Cabinet represents the accumulation of gifts, purchases and experiences Ian Wallace has received, made or had visiting communities across Canada.  They may be his curiosities but they are of our country and tell a story far greater than the totality of their numbers.

One day I realized that this vast land was a nation of families and diverse neighborhoods, and that I had left a piece of myself in each one – and they in me.

From The Curiosity Cabinet by Ian Wallace
Except for an introduction and four pages of illustrator's notes, which identify all the curiosities and the province or territory depicted, there is no text on the double-page spreads representing each region.  From his home province of Ontario represented by tamarack geese gifted from Attawapiskat and Moose Factory, and the sparrow carving for the launch of The Sparrow's Song (Groundwood, 1976) to the snow globe illuminating a reading at the Owen Sound Public Library circa 1978, Ian Wallace reveals his travels, his books and his memories of visits. 
From The Curiosity Cabinet by Ian Wallace
The illustration for Alberta honours the native land of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Nova Scotia's salutes the people of the sea and his book Boys of the Deeps (Groundwood, 1999) and Yukon's illustration celebrates the aurora borealis, the work of Robert Service and Ted Harrison, and Jan Andrew's story Very Last First Time (Groundwood, 1985) which Ian Wallace illustrated. Sadly this memory page is all the more poignant for the losses of Ted Harrison in 2015 and Jan Andrews just over a week ago.

Ian Wallace has chosen to illustrate exclusively in the subtle graphite that produces both an eeriness and an emotional distance.  It is like seeing a museum display, highly appropriate for a book titled The Curiosity Cabinet.  Still there is an intimacy because of the content of the cabinet, as each memento has a very personal attachment to the author/illustrator.  With each item and illustration, Ian Wallace remembers and celebrates the people and places of our Canada, as they have touched him. While reminding us of the plethora of books he has written and illustrated, The Curiosity Cabinet is a relevant and gratifying way to celebrate Canada 150.
From The Curiosity Cabinet by Ian Wallace

September 14, 2017

Stolen Words

Written by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Second Story Press
24 pp.
Ages 6-9
September 2017

A young girl's simple request of her grandfather to learn how to say a word in Cree reveals much about the system that stole his language from him and so many Aboriginal children but more about the affection and courage of those who have the grit to ensure those words do not remain silent or withheld forever.
From Stolen Words 
by Melanie Florence 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
It's evident from the words and actions of the seven-year-old girl and her grandfather that their relationship is a cherished one.  She is exuberant from her day at school, pleased with what she's made and learned, and comforted with his attention as he escorts her home, holding her hand and carrying her backpack.  But when she asks, "How do you say grandfather in Cree?" his response is a lesson in history and one muted with hurt and needless shame.  As his granddaughter continues to ask "Where did they take them?", "Who took you away, Grandpa?" and "Where did they take you, Grandpa?", her grandfather tells the history, heartbreaking in the capture of the Aboriginal children's words like a raven in the cage of Gabrielle Grimard's grim illustrations of the residential school.
From Stolen Words
 by Melanie Florence
 illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
But his hurt and lack of words does not deter the child's curiosity or compassion, and she brings home a worn book titled "Introduction to Cree" so that together they might speak the language of home and release the formerly imprisoned language.

Nôsisim, he whispered.
The word felt familiar in his mouth.
It felt like his home. His mother.

As the grandfather reconnects with his past and makes a new connection with his young granddaughter, I wept for his loss, his family, his struggle and his courage to take steps forward. It's an emotionally charged series of interactions and memories that are pure Melanie Florence.  They will astound readers and sadden them, while encouraging healing and learning without shame or anger.  Her words, thankfully not stolen, make for leaps forward for those whose language was pilfered from them as vulnerable children. Gabrielle Grimard's illustrations are similarly strong and soft, taking the reader into the intimate relationship between a grandfather harbouring hurts and a child wanting to help.

Melanie Florence took on the gut-wrenching issue of missing Indigenous women in her award-winning picture book Missing Nimâmâ which was divinely illustrated by François Thisdale (Clockwise Press, 2015) and similarly addresses the emotional trauma of the residential schools in stifling language.  While the generations after the residential schools are still affected by their inconceivable legacy, the healing will come through them.  The grandfather's words may have been stolen but his loving granddaughter is the means by which they will be restored.
From Stolen Words 
by Melanie Florence 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

September 13, 2017

A Bedtime Yarn: Book launch (Hamilton, ON)

Picture book author

Nicola Winstanley

Cinnamon Baby illus. by Janice Nadeau (Kids Can Press, 2011)
The Pirate's Bed illus. by Matt James (Tundra, 2015)

launches her new book

A Bedtime Yarn
Written by Nicola Winstanley
Illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
Release September 2017


 Saturday September 30, 2017

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Epic Books
226 Locke Street South
Hamilton, ON

This darling tale is described as:
Frankie is a little bear who has a hard time falling asleep. The dark is scary, and he hates to be alone. So his mother gives him a ball of yarn to hold when he goes to bed, and she keeps the other end in the next room, working it into a surprise for Frankie. 

Every few nights the yarn color changes, and Frankie dreams in all the colors that he and his mother pick out. One night he's swimming in turquoise water, another night he's in a cool gray fog. He plays with a marmalade kitten and eats delicious chocolate cake. Eventually Frankie and his mother create something special--and Frankie learns that he's always connected to those he loves, even when he's alone in the dark.

A beautiful story of love and crafting, A Bedtime Yarn will appeal to knitters, sleepy little bears and any parents dealing with their child's fear of the dark.
on September 12, 2017.

This book launch has all the hallmarks of a great event:
•  treats
•  crafts
•  story reading
•  book signing by the author

Do attend!

September 12, 2017

Saving Grad

Written by Karen Spafford-Fitz
James Lorimer & Co., Ltd.
160 pp.
Ages 13+
RL 5.0
August 2017

Mandy is right about one thing.  I have no idea how to be fun.  I had it beat out of me a long time ago. (pg. 97)
It's been beat out of her by her alcoholic, cocaine-abusing step-dad, Duncan, who has made her life and that of her mother Sophie a misery for two years.  Her mother is reluctant to leave, accustomed to the fine home and life style of wealth, but Vienna sees beyond the facade of a good life, apprehensive what could eventually happen if they stay.  When Duncan has a fall that lands him in hospital, Vienna is determined to pack themselves up and flee.  They head to Edmonton where, with the help of an outreach worker, they get a basement apartment and begin to make a new life, slowly.

Though initially happy to drown her sorrows, Sophie gets a job at a Starbucks and insists that Vienna get registered for her final year of high school.  To make it more difficult for Duncan to find them, Vienna decides to go by Vienna Fleury, using the last name of her Métis grandmother, Mémère.  Sophie and her mother may not have spoken for years–since they'd argued about her marriage to Duncan–but Vienna misses Mémère and calls her occasionally to keep her from worrying, though she never reveals where they are.

At her new high school, Vienna tries to stay under the radar but a friendly classmate named Mandy draws her into the school's social scene, enlisting Vienna's help on the grad party committee. Although Vienna begins to enjoy school and her mother is establishing a support system and relishing her independence, regardless of how financially strapped they are, you know things have to go awry.  Saving grad may be the least of Vienna's worries.

As part of Lorimer's SideStreets series of hi-lo (high interest-low vocabulary) books, Saving Grad is a fast read in plotting and word count.  But don't mistake a hi-lo read for a lesser story.  Author Karen Spafford-Fitz capably creates an intense plot of relationships between family and friends which can be positive and negative, supportive or destructive, and she makes sure to take us along on that bus ride.  Like Vienna and Sophie ending up in Edmonton in the middle of winter, the destination may not be an easy one at first but it is a fulfilling one in the end.  Saving Grad is bigger than the indisputable distress of physical abuse.  It's a story of resilience and strength and making something good out of something bad.  Karen Spafford-Fitz makes Saving Grad into saving Vienna and Sophie and others too.

September 11, 2017

The First Page: Student writing challenge from CBC Books

CBC Books has created a writing challenge 
for students in Grades 7 to 12 
the two winning entries 
 (one for Gr. 7-9 and one for Gr. 10-12) 
will be selected by
 award-winning YA author
Erin Bow

The Challenge:  
• Write the first page of a novel (any literary genre) set in 2167 with the protagonist dealing with an issue currently relevant  (climate change, diversity, gender, refugees, leadership, etc.) and show how it has played out 150 years from now.
• Write 300-400 words.  Be sure to give your "book" a title.

Eligible Participants:
• All Canadian residents who are full time students enrolled in Gr. 7 to 12 may enter.

• Submit between November 9, 2017 9 a.m. ET and November 30, 2017 6 p.m. ET

• Author Erin Bow will judge the entries based on the following criteria:
  • use of language;
  • originality of subject;
  • expression of a current affairs theme;
  • writing style; and
  • adherence to the contest's requirements.
• Shortlists of 10 entries per grade category will be selected from which the winner will be chosen.

• One year subscription to OwlCrate, a monthly delivery of a box of books (winner may select middle grade or young adult)
• The school library of each winner will also receive 50 YA books chosen by CBC.

Full details of this writing challenge are provided at CBC Books 

September 10, 2017

Clutch: Book launch (Toronto, ON)


debut author

Heather Camlot

for the release of her middle-grade book

Written by Heather Camlot
Red Deer Press
208 pp.
Ages 8-12
September 2017


Thursday, September 14, 2017


6:30 p.m.


Mabel's Fables
662 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON

From publisher Red Deer Press's website:

It's 1946. A poor Jewish neighbourhood in Montreal where a few dollars equal a fortune, and no matter where you go, you'll find the best home cooking anywhere on earth. It's also a million miles away from the posh mansions on the other side of town. But a 12—year—old boy can hope. 

Just across town something incredible is happening. Jackie Robinson is playing for the Montreal Royals. And he's going to change the world. If Jackie can do it, then so too can a poor Jewish kid from The Plateau. 

Retrieved from on September 8, 2017.

September 08, 2017

The Winnowing blog tour: Q & A with author Vikki VanSickle

Let's celebrate the release of Vikki VanSickle's newest novel!

The Winnowing
Written by Vikki VanSickle
Scholastic Canada
312 pp.
Ages 12+
September 2017

As part of the blog tour for The Winnowing, Vikki VanSickle kindly answered some questions about her new book.  Her answers are revealing and provide background to the book's premise and her writing of it, and I am delighted to share this interview with readers of CanLit for LittleCanadians.

HK:  Using the word “winnowing”–an agricultural term for cleaning the chaff from the grain–is a brilliant term for the process to which adolescents are subjected in The Winnowing.  How did you ever come up with this term?

VVS:  I actually came up with the title long before the plot or characters, which is something that has never happened to me before. I stumbled across the word in another book and even though it's an agricultural term, it felt eerie to me. I walked around for days thinking 'the winnowing, the winnowing' and eventually ideas started to come together. The first image I had was of the kids gathering at the abandoned pool in the middle of the night for a secret meeting. I didn't even know why they were there, I just liked the image. Things started to snowball from there.

HK:  The process of winnowing comes about to help alleviate the detrimental effects of puberty, like going ACES (Adolescent Chronosomniatic Episodes) and imps (Adolescent Physical Impairments).  The coming of age that is puberty is never an easy transition for young people and this has been a common theme in your earlier novels.  Why make puberty a focus of the government’s control? 

VVS:  I'm obsessed with puberty! I have very vivid memories of that period (pun intended) and how out of control I felt. Everything was so intense. I wanted SO much to be an adult, but I also felt a deep sense of loss, as if childhood was something physical I had left behind and could never get back. It didn't help that the transition was rockier than I expected. I found a lot of solace in books, which is one of the reasons I write for this age group. It's really for my 11-year-old self. Years later as a camp counselor I worked with kids in the midst of puberty and found I was STILL fascinated by it. There's still a lot of shame, confusion, and a lack of conversation around puberty. I like to think I'm adding to the conversation in small ways.

I'm highly aware of the ways in which governments control our bodies already, mostly through health care and legislation. I'm thinking specifically of women's bodies, but this extends to children's bodies and our health and autonomy over our bodies as a human race. I don't think it's that farfetched to imagine a situation in which a government intervenes as drastically as it does in The Winnowing.

HK:  There is much discussion about natural vs. normal when someone who is Natural i.e., conceived without aid of SuperGen hormone, is made to feel abnormal.  The idea of different being worrisome is especially poignant in today’s world.  What message did you hope readers would take from this in light of our current climate?

VVS:  I want readers to think carefully about labels and what they imply. Natural vs unnatural, villain vs hero, conqueror vs refugee, all of these labels depend on the perspective of the person doing the labeling. At the beginning of the book Marivic is a black or white kind of thinker, but as the book progresses she learns to live in the grey space between these opposites. This is also part of adolescence. We teach the concept of opposites very young (think of all those board books: cold/hot, wet/dry, up/down), but as we grow up we learn about ranges, spectrums, and all the possibilities that exist between those opposites. Most importantly, we learn that these differences are okay. Adolescence is an age where people should be expanding their horizons, not limiting them.

HK:  When I saw Dr. Roddenberry’s name, it brought to mind the creator of the original Star Trek TV series, Gene Roddenberry.  Then I noticed several other characters shared surnames with key writers of speculative fiction like J. J. Abrams, William Barton and Lois Lowry.   Is it just a coincidence or did you honour more than several characters with famous writers’ names? 

VVS:  This is definitely intentional! I am a science fiction fan and I wanted to pay homage to creators who made an impact on me. Some of them (like Roddenberry and Lowry) are more obvious than others. I also like the idea of leaving Easter eggs for readers to discover throughout the book. Because there is so much secrecy and conspiracy in the book I thought it would be fun to drop hints and references here and there for the reader in a way that doesn't affect the narrative.

HK:  On your blog at you write about being a fan of The X Files TV show, even winning a story pitch contest.  The  Winnowing has so many of the elements that made the series popular: conspiracy theories, aliens, the little guy fighting nefarious plots, secret government practices.  Is there any overlap between that story pitch and The Winnowing?

VVS:  That's a great question! The pitch was a response to a scenario the moderator gave us, which was "How does Mulder find out the truth about his sister?" (I'm paraphrasing a bit here). If you're not familiar with The X-Files, Mulder's sister Samantha was abducted (potentially by aliens) when they were kids. This mystery drives him to become an FBI agent and study the supernatural and unexplained. In my pitch, Mulder is called into an FBI tribunal and discovers his sister Samantha is not only in charge of covert FBI operations, but is a double agent for the aliens. So not exactly related, but this is essentially Abrams' biggest fear come to life. I never made that connection before! The mind works in mysterious ways.

HK:  There are probably quite a few YA readers who will be craving a romance between characters.  Is there a reason you chose not to include one?  

VVS:  First love and crushes are definitely a huge part of adolescence, but I think this need is very well serviced in YA and even middle grade fiction. It can be trickier for kids who are not into romance to find books that don't go down that route. I wanted The Winnowing to be another kind of love story, about the love between friends. Marivic isn't motivated by heroism or altruism- in fact she has very little interest in 'saving the world.' She wants to avenge/save her best friend, Saren. At no point during the writing process did it feel natural to give Marivic (or Abbot or Kamal) a crush–they were all far too busy!

HK:  Though you tie up all loose ends in The Winnowing, making it a perfect stand-alone novel, there are many stories within that could still be told.  Abbot’s, Kamal’s or Ren’s stories could all reveal so much more about their world.  Even a story from the perspective of the Kesla is viable.  Are there any plans for follow-up stories? If not, will you continue to write science fiction or speculative fiction?

VVS:  After doing all the world-building for The Winnowing I understand why fantasy and science fiction writers create series.  I have so much material that no one will ever see! It feels like an awful lot of work for one book. That being said, I don't have any plans for a direct sequel. At one point I conceived of a three book ARC for The Winnowing, but in the end I was more interested in telling a small, singular story (Marivic's tale) in the midst of a big, highly conceptual story (what if puberty was dangerous and controlled by the government?) I would like to explore science fiction again. I have been noodling a time travel story around in my head for ages, maybe I'll try that next!


Thank you to Vikki VanSickle
for sharing her writing with us,
 in The Winnowing and in this Q & A,
 and for allowing us a glimpse into her world.


You can learn more about Vikki VanSickle 
and her books and writing

If you're in southern Ontario this weekend, you can purchase 
a copy of The Winnowing at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival this Sunday 
and even get Vikki VanSickle to autograph it.  Bonus!