December 30, 2017

Strangers: The Reckoner, Book One

Written by David A. Robertson
HighWater Press
216 pp.
Ages 14+
October 2017

David A. Robertson, author of the Governor-General's literary awarded illustrated children's book When We Were Young (illustrated by Julie Flett, HighWater Press, 2016), returns his writing to young adults with Strangers, the first book in a new supernatural thriller series called The Reckoner. Still honouring his Cree roots with a story installed in the fictionalized Cree community of Wounded Sky, David A. Robertson shows us life on a remote Manitoba reserve where a past tragedy and current illness and murder have its inhabitants reeling in suspicion and anger.  And it doesn't help that that trickster Coyote is playing a leading role.

Seventeen-year-old Cole Harper has been living in Winnipeg since his Aunt Joan and grandmother moved him there to forget "everything he'd lost in the tragedy and his role in it" (pg. 13) ten years earlier.  Now his friend Ashley Ross is summoning Cole back to Wounded Sky with cryptic messages about needing to come home.   But Cole's return is far from welcome and he learns from Ashley that his phone had been missing and he'd never sent any messages to Cole.  And he tells Cole this minutes before he is shot dead.  While he awaits RCMP Constable Wayne Kirkness, Cole is visited by Choch, the anthropomorphized spirit being Coyote, who reminds Cole of a deal they'd made ten years earlier when Cole had saved two friends, Eva and Brady, from a burning school in which everyone else perished, including Cole's mother. Now Choch expects payback though he doesn't tell Cole exactly what he needs of him.  After Ashley's murder and an illness hits the community, Cole is sure it is to make things right here at Wounded Sky.  But then two more murders and deaths from the illness have the community turning on Cole, whose arrival coincided with the newest tragedies.  How can he do right by Wounded Sky when it's obvious the community, except for a few, resent his return from the city and his earlier role in the fire in which he only saved two lives?

There are mysteries aplenty in Strangers and not all are able to be solved in this first book in the series.  Who murdered Ashley?  How is the research facility, now closed, involved in the tragedies at Wounded Sky? How did the fire at the school start? With the advice of his grandmother to find his peace and "If you accept yourself for who you are, you belong anywhere" (pg. 109), Cole faces the challenges of an angry community, the antics of an arrogant and reckless Choch, and his own anxiety to be the hero needed to heal himself and others.
All legends, Cole, come from some place of truth. Whether they're about Coyote or a sky that was cut and bled the heavens like tears, or a boy that saved others. Look at your own scars. (pg. 124)
Beyond David A. Robertson's intricate plotting, he creates a character of Wounded Sky itself.  He makes sure that readers, Indigenous or not, get an authentic glimpse of life on a reserve: remote, ignored, self-reliant, challenged, vulnerable and cohesive.  From Elder Mariah making hot muskeg tea and Cole's tobacco tie, to the northern lights of spirits playing and Coyote's pranks, Strangers is both singular and inclusive, educating readers and encircling many in its story. I look forward to Book 2 in The Reckoner series so that I can witness how David A. Robertson resolves mysteries first revealed in Strangers and undoubtedly creates a few more for Cole to confront.

December 28, 2017

Don't Tell the Enemy: Book launch (Brantford, ON)


Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

who has dazzled middle grade readers
with her historical fiction and non-fiction books
including picture books,

is back with her newest

Don't Tell the Enemy
Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic Canada
184 pp.
Ages 10-14
January 2018


Tuesday, January 16, 2018


7 p.m.


Braemar House School
36 Baxter Street
Brantford, ON
(Map here)


Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch 
will speak about the real mother and daughter 
who risked their lives to hide three Jewish friends 
during the Holocaust.

This is their story (from the blurb on Scholastic Canada website:
How much would you do for a friend? Krystia’s family hides Jews from the Nazis at immense risk to their own lives.

Life is becoming dangerous for Krystia. It’s 1941 and her town in Ukraine is now occupied by the Soviets. Some members of her family are harassed, while others are arrested and killed. When the Nazis liberate the town, they are welcomed with open arms. But Krystia’s best friend Dolik has doubts. His family is Jewish and rumours are that the Nazis are even more brutal than the Soviets.

When the Nazis discover a mass grave of Soviet prisoners, they use it as an excuse and blame the slaughter on the Jews. Soon after, the Nazis establish ghettoes and begin public execution of Jews. Krystia can’t bear to see her friends suffer, so she smuggles food in for them. When word gets out that the ghetto will be cleared and Jews will be exterminated, Krystia must make an impossible decision. Will she risk her own family’s safety to save her friends?
on December 14, 2017.

Book sales and signing will follow the author's presentation.
(Proceeds will go to the Scholarship Fund of CFUW Brantford)

Light refreshments will be served.

December 22, 2017

The Spirit Trackers

Written by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Fifth House Publishers
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
November 2017

It's been far too long since the CanLit world has welcomed a book from Jan Bourdeau Waboose, a First Nation Anishinaabe of the Ojibway Bear Clan of northern Ontario.  Adding to her stunning collection of picture books which includes SkySisters, Morning on the Lake and Firedancers, Jan Bourdeau Waboose's telling tale of Ojibway traditions and the relationship between children and their uncle is breathtakingly illustrated by François Thisdale, award-winning artist of The Stamp Collector, Missing Nimâmâ, and French Toast.  The Spirit Trackers is a magnificent story in words and art, melding together First Nations and an intergenerational relationship with legends and spirits and the wonder of children.
Illustration by François Thisdale 
used in The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Two cousins are awed by the stories told by their uncle of their clan, the Moose Clan, and their heritage of extraordinary trackers but it's the story of the Windigo that truly captures their attention.  His story of the Wandering Night Spirit of Winter is a warning to the boys. 
"Watch out for the Windigo on a winter night.  It has a heart of ice, and its teeth are like steel.  It will eat anything in its way!" 
"Even the best Trackers disappear in Windigo's footsteps."
In the night, the boys are awakened by a Thump! Bang! and, upon seeing a black shadow cross the window, are convinced the Windigo has visited their uncle's house.  The next day, however, evidence in the snow and on a tree compel the two to put their tracking skills to work.  But far from the house, hearing a sad cry that "slices the air like a trapper's knife" the two are immobilized with terror.  It may not be the Windigo but the boys demonstrate the aptitude in tracking and their reverence for the natural world, especially for an animal they know to honour.

Jan Bourdeau Waboose infuses her atmospheric text with the companionship of family and an appreciation for traditions and legends of First Nations. Because of that, an occasion of storytelling becomes more; it becomes a lesson in caution and curiosity and heritage. Tom and Will are apt students at their Uncle's knee, listening, hearing and learning.  Resplendent in snow, the frigid medium of trackers, The Spirit Trackers is an appropriate visual and textual read for the winter season.  Artist François Thisdale makes sure that his illustrations transport readers to that frosty season and to a life of snowshoes, moosehide clothing, and ravens.  Combining photographs, drawings and paint with digital imagery, François Thisdale lends a supernatural essence to the story, perfect for a pair of boys already spooked by their disquietude about the Windigo but determined to follow the path of their tracker ancestors into the unknown winter stillness shattered by a haunting cry.
Illustration by François Thisdale 
used in The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Whether you believe in the Windigo is irrelevant.  The boys believe, as does their Uncle, and in the stillness and cold of winter, it's a story, like The Spirit Trackers, that has much to teach.


The illustrations included in this review are derived from illustrator François Thisdale's Facebook page at Thisdale illustration.

December 21, 2017

Tangled Planet

Written Kate Blair
Dancing Cat Books
260 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2017

Four hundred years of ancestors have travelled on the ship Venture leaving behind Alpha Earth in search of a Beta Earth to colonize.  For seventeen-year-old Ursa, the ship has always been home.  As a junior engineer and daughter of a former captain, Ursa knows every control, vent and tech that keeps the Venture working, now in orbit above the planet being readied for full colonization. But there is silent dissension between those who want to embrace life on Beta fully and those who appreciate the safety and known entity that is the ship.
It smells right, here.  Not like the empty scent of Beta.
     It’s the smell of hundreds of years of skin cells, waste reclamation pipes, and generations of people stuffed in a cramped space. I never noticed it until we went to the planet, where the air is so clod and clear I choked on my first breath.  Here it’s rich and musky.  The smell of home. The Venture is cozy, human-sized, lived-in, unlike the muddy mess of the planet below.
(pg. 23)

It’s astonishing, Ursa.  Just being here.  Humanity, stretching out into the stars.  We’re the dream Alpha Earth had so many hundreds of years ago. (pg. 65)
When Ursa  discovers the murdered body of Orion, the husband of her sister Celeste and of former friend Vega, planet-side, Ursa becomes a suspect, though she had observed a wolf-like creature hiding in the forest.  Because of her reluctance to spend much time on Beta and because no animals matching that description or DNA had been created or released onto the planet by the genelab, few believe her.  But then a second murder leaves the crew reeling and Ursa begins to investigate in earnest to clear herself and keep her family and those for whom she cares safe.

Much like Kate Blair’s debut YA novel Transferral (DCB, 2015), Tangled Planet is speculative fiction, asking a “What if?” question, here about inhabiting new worlds of space or on new planets.  It’s about choosing that which is familiar but limited over that which is unknown but holds much potential.  Kate Blair makes it clear that in this sci-fi setting, even with the development of astounding tech, genetic manipulation and more, people are still human, enduring grief and resentment, loss and jealousy, and making decisions that are both selfish and selfless, resulting in the murder mystery at the book’s heart.  In this well-plotted and suspenseful novel, belied by its unremarkable cover, it’s clear that for all its newness, Beta Earth is nevertheless being colonized by those driven by old hurts and fears and the future may still be determined by what has happened in the past.

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

Kubiw, H. (2018, January/February). [Review of the book Tangled Planet, by Kate Blair]. Quill & Quire, 84 (1): 48.

December 20, 2017

Totsapalooza 10 Festival (Toronto, ON)



the tenth anniversary of

its annual festival 


 picture books, indie rock bands and DIY crafts

 for kids aged 2-8  


Saturday, February 3, 2018

1 - 4pm 


Revival Nightclub 
783 College St.


Limited number of Early Bird tickets:
 $12 Adults / $8 Kids 

After they are sold out:
 $18 Adults / $12 Kids

Authors in attendance include:

Dennis Lee
who will launch his new collection of poems for children, 
Good Night Good Night
lead a sing-a-long of his Alligator Pie 

Barbara Reid
who will read her latest book Picture The Sky 
present Sing a Song of Mother Goose 
with musical support from indie-rockers

Nadia L. Hohn
who will launch Malaika's Winter Carnival,
the sequel to Malaika's Costume

Other in attendance will include:

Drag Performers JP (Fay Slift) and Kaleb (Fluffy Soufflé) who will read and lead an activity with children as part of Drag Queen Storytime;

Rock trio Communism;

The Woodshed Orchestra, a horn, rhythm and vocal ensemble, who will perform a mash up of classic dance styles from around the world;

Choreographer Ann-Marie Williams of Movement Lab who will get the kids dancing;

DJ Castlefrank (a.k.a. Matt Blackett of Spacing Magazine) who will keep the party going with kid-friendly beats;


Wanda’s Pie-in-the-Sky who will sell healthy, handmade snacks from their pop-up bakery.

Get your tickets online now 
have something special to share at Christmas and then in February!

December 19, 2017

The Stone Heart: The Nameless City, Book 2

Written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
First Second
243 pp.
Ages 8-13

Yesterday I jumped on The Nameless City bandwagon with my review of the first book in this trilogy (The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, First Second, 2016) and am fortunate to have been able to read the second book The Stone Heart immediately. Now I just wish September 2018, the release date for Book 3 The Divided Earth, wasn't months away.

When we left the Nameless City in Book 1 of the series, Kaidu and Rat had helped save the ruler, the General of All Blades, and his son Erzi from assassination.  It is three months later and the General is proceeding with the plan of General Andren, Kaidu's father, to unite the factions of the Nameless City and beyond in one council.  Erzi believes the plan absurd but more so because he had always envisioned himself as the city's next ruler.

"You promised it to me." (pg. 19)

From The Stone Heart 
by Faith Erin Hicks
The secret of how the Northern People tunnelled through the mountain is at the heart of the power struggle and peace in the Nameless City and it seems everyone wants to learn all they can. There are legends of a great fire that could burn through rock and flesh but it is generally accepted that, even if the formula were discovered, perhaps hidden by the monks at the Stone Heart, no one now has the ability to translate their language.  Through back stories, we learn that Erzi's bodyguard, Mura, once lived at the monastery at the Stone Heart and was turned out after which she was rescued by Erzi.  She obviously harbours much bitterness towards the monks and this comes to play after Erzi becomes the new General of All Blades and the search for the formula drives them to storm the Stone Heart for answers.
From The Stone Heart
by Faith Erin Hicks
The clash of peoples who want different things for the Nameless City and for themselves is at the core of The Stone Heart.  Erzi's father is attempting to embrace all who live within the city and outside to help rule but Erzi will not have it, knowing the power he would lose.  How to balance the needs of a few over the greater good is key in The Stone Heart, and, needless to say, there is much violence, discrimination and power struggles as this balance is set askew. Faith Erin Hicks's story is both adventure and character study, a fine mix of "What's going to happen next? and "Did he really do that?"

It is only in The Divided Earth that we will learn how the Nameless City will be saved, and saved it will be surely with Kai and Rat at the front of the pack.

December 18, 2017

The Nameless City

Written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Color by Jordie Bellaire
First Second (Roaring Brook Press)
232 pp.
Ages 8-13

It's time for me to join the growing fan base of Faith Erin Hicks's The Nameless City graphic novel series before the final book, The Divided Earth, comes out in September 2018.  There is lots to applaud in this first book of the middle grade trilogy (and even more in Book 2, The Stone Heart, which I will review next), not least of which are its diverse cultural landscape and strong characters.  Oh, and did I mention Faith Erin Hicks's vivid artwork inked and coloured by award-winning artist Jordie Bellaire

The Nameless City, the place, is probably the most important character in The Nameless City, the book.  It is an incredible metropolis, albeit one akin to that of 13th c. China, that has many names but all those given by outsiders, hence its moniker by those in the know as the Nameless City. Because of a tunnel, created mysteriously by the long-gone Northern People, through the mountain to the ocean, the city has been conquered time and time again. For the past 30 years, the city has been dominated by the Dao whose warrior leader, the General of All Blades, rules over the city.  Kaidu, a thirteen-year-old boy from the Dao homelands, has just arrived at the city's palace to train as a Dao warrior along with other boys under the tutelage of Erzi, son of the General of All Blades, and Erzi's bodyguard, the strange Myra.
From The Nameless City
by Faith Erin Hicks
When Kaidu gets lost outside the palace, he meets Rat, a spry runner and roof-jumper who, in exchange for food, teaches him to race and climb. Rat, who lives at the monastery at the Stone Heart, harbours much anger towards the city's invaders but she warms to Kai and he to her as they attempt to find a way to bring peace to the city and its people.  Of course, there are plots emerging both to bring the city together and to tear it apart, including an assassination attempt on the General and his son, but Kai and Rat are at the heart of trying to make things right for all the inhabitants of the Nameless City.
From The Nameless City 
by Faith Erin Hicks
Faith Erin Hicks may have used ancient China as an informal blueprint for the setting of The Nameless City, but the book is its own story, both in plot and characters, though some scenarios are all too familiar.  The Nameless City may be rich in cultural diversity but, with the numerous groups within the city and outside vying for place, whether to dominate or to live amicably with others, there comes much intolerance and discrimination, mostly between the invaders and the conquered.
From The Nameless City 
by Faith Erin Hicks
Fortunately, Faith Erin Hicks has created a world of possibilities for peace and tolerance, and she's done it with flair and detail, illustrating a passion against bad and for good.  The Nameless City, nominated for a 2017 Silver Birch Fiction award, could promote itself as historical fiction with the credibility of place and time but, for young readers, it's the composite of story and graphics that have made it a hit which inevitably will sustain it through Books 2 and 3.


Check back for my review of Book 2 in The Nameless City trilogy, The Stone Heart (First Second, 2017).

December 14, 2017

Birthdays Around the World

Written by Margriet Ruurs
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Kids Can Press
40 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2017

Global perspectives are difficult concepts for very young children to grasp.  They are typically just learning about their own place, here and now, and understanding that there is much beyond that is challenging.  By focusing on a familiar and shared concept such as birthdays, Margriet Ruurs has found a way for young children to connect with those around the world.
From Birthdays Around the World
by Margriet Ruurs
 illus. by Ashley Barron
Birthdays around the world, boldly illustrated by cut-paper collage artist Ashley Barron, looks at children in 14 different countries around the world and tells about their family, birthday greetings, celebratory activities and food.  The children and countries depicted in each double-spread include:

  • Arvaarluk from Canada (Nunavut, specifically)
  • Alana and Kainoa  from the United States (Hawaii)
  • Opal and Delroy in Jamaica
  • Mercedes in Peru
  • Ieva in Latvia
  • Dmitry in Russia (on the border of Europe and Asia)
  • Bram in Belgium
  • Maame in Ghana
  • Nthabeleng in Lesotho
  • Ninoshka in India (Kashmir region)
  • Shinobu in Japan
  • Athom and Arunny in Cambodia
  • Phúc Khang in Vietnam
  • Thea on Norfolk Island, Australia
From Birthdays Around the World 
by Margriet Ruurs 
illus. by Ashley Barron
A mixture of boys and girls of different ages and living in different types of communities (big cities, islands, remote towns, rural areas) will ensure that young readers might see something of themselves in these children.  Some of their stories are presented by a sibling e.g. Athom speaks for baby sister Arunny.  Some are atypical celebrations that are held country-wide rather than commemorating the birth day of an individual. And, even though many of their celebrations will be foreign to young readers e.g. the dumping of flour on Delroy's head, there is much that they can envision, different as they may be.  Special foods and treats, good wishes and blessings, family and friends.  Whether they dress in a silk kimono, a palaka aloha shirt or a favourite outfit, these children know how special this day is for them and others to celebrate with them.

Margriet Ruurs does a stellar job of bringing the world in a little closer to home.  She always does (e.g., Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey, illus. by Nizar Ali Badr, Orca, 2015). In Birthdays Around the World, Margriet Ruurs has endeavoured to include all continents (except Antarctica) and cover the full range of birthdays, from simple days of food and family to elaborate days of military parades and more. Both secular and religious observances are included, as is appropriate, and Margriet Ruurs even helps direct discussions of the reader's birthday celebrations in an addendum called "Your Birthday" and provides activities for parents and teachers relating to the book's contents and more.  And everything is so much better for the unique art of Ashley Barron, whose cut-paper graced earlier works Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones (Susan Hughes, Owlkids, 2017) and Kyle Goes Alone (Jan Thornhill, Owlkids, 2015).  The cut-paper artwork adds astounding depth and clarity to the text, guaranteeing that Birthdays Around the World is a relatable and visually expressive children's book on the global perspective of birthdays.
From Birthdays Around the World 
by Margriet Ruurs 
illus. by Ashley Barron

December 12, 2017

Mermaid Warrior Squad

Written by Karin Adams
Illustrated by Janine Carrington
James Lorimer & Co.
150 pp.
Ages 7-11
August 2017

When Dylan meets the friendly Coral at art camp, the two eleven-year-old girls seem destined to become partners.  They both love oceans and know a lot about the sea animals, perfect for an art camp themed as "Art Under the Sea." Even better, they come into the camp with different strengths:  Coral loves to draw and Dylan likes to write.  In fact, both had already created mermaid characters: Coral's is a tough-looking mermaid she calls Crash, the Mighty Mermaid Warrior, and Dylan's is a mermaid renegade named Driftwood whose mission it is to protect the oceans.  The two decide to merge their ideas and collaborate on a comic book in which the two mermaids become the Mermaid Warrior Squad.
From Mermaid Warrior Squad 
by Karin Adams
 illus. by Janine Carrington
While the two girls work on their project, as depicted in illustrator Janine Carrington's graphic insets of the two mermaids, they are also dealing with getting to know each other and their fellow campers.  Dylan loves having a friend–she's obviously a bit of an introvert–but she's having difficulties dealing with Coral's exuberance and tendency to get carried away with her efforts, silliness and volume.  The other campers include Lynn, another quiet girl; Ben, the annoying prankster; Jade and Sarina, the trendy girls; and decent guys Ryan and Lamar.  From this crew, Dylan and Coral contrive new characters like a dolphin-mermaid hybrid, the villain Captain Fishhead, the evil Seaweed Sisters, and Shark Dudes.  Their story is evolving but so is their friendship as Coral decides unilaterally on their skit for the camp's culminating performance and Dylan is compelled to stand up for herself. Ultimately, though, their friendship means more to Dylan than sitting back and watching Coral be humiliated, and she's there to rescue her friend, even if it need happen on stage.

Karin Adams's story approaches multiple themes of oceans and creating art as well as clashing personalities with humour and much insight.  It's obvious that, as much as they have common interests, Dylan and Coral have very different personalities.  Overcoming these differences so that they might work together and be supportive of each other is a key element of Mermaid Warrior Squad.  Just like their mermaid characters, the two girls' efforts are more impactful when they work together than when they are at odds with one another.  This is an important lesson for children who are often forced to work together in school and extracurricular activities.  Not every child is a Coral who wants to be at the heart of the action.  Some need to quietly work at the side in order to reach their full potential.  Though most people, including teachers, are extroverts who don't see the harm done by expecting all children to love group activities or being part of the rah-rah crowd, Mermaid Warrior Squad recognizes that children will find their own ways to be true to themselves, taking risks as they choose, and still make friends with those unlike themselves.  Strength comes from both being yourself and working with others, whether you have a mermaid tail or not.

Whether a child is heading to camp, dealing with making and keeping friends, understanding their own personality or one who loves oceans or comic books, Mermaid Warrior Squad is an entertaining light read that will engage those who are beyond early readers but might find much middle-grade fiction more daunting.  It's a nice little package of humour and lessons for middle-graders.

December 07, 2017

Coyote Tales

Written by Thomas King
Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
Groundwood Books
60 pp.
Ages 6-9
October 2017

If anyone ever believes that the storytelling tradition of First Nations has disappeared, they need only read aloud the Coyote stories of Thomas King.  Undoubtedly told better in his own booming voice, these Coyote Tales are told with the mischief and wisdom to impart awe and lessons aplenty.

Coyote Tales is actually two previously published Coyote stories by Thomas King.  The first, Coyote Sings to the Moon (originally published in 1999), has that trickster Coyote interrupting the nightly song by Old Woman and the animals praising the Moon.  When Coyote offers to join them, they deny him a voice, knowing how poorly he sings.  Chastized, Coyote leaves in a huff, criticizing the Moon for its disturbing brightness.  Moon, not to take criticism, plunges itself into a pond to enjoy a game of chess with Sunfish.  While Old Woman and the animals search for Moon, Coyote struggles in the darkness, using a skunk as a pillow and falling off a cliff.  But clever Old Woman uses Coyote's horrible singing to force Moon to flee the pond and fating Coyote to a nightly song to keeps Moon from returning to the pond and a life of leisure.

The second story is Coyote's New Suit (originally published in 2004), a charming tale of vanity and envy.  Coyote is perfectly content with his suit of gold, toasty brown until Raven's comments convince Coyote to steal Bear's suit left on a pond's shore. When Bear returns to find his suit missing, Raven tells him that the humans hang clothes they no longer need on ropes and encourages him to help himself.  Coyote continues to steal the suits of Porcupine, Raccoon, Beaver and more animals who, in turn, help themselves to the human clothes hanging on the clothes line.  All orchestrated by Raven, the shenanigans come to a head when Coyote holds a yard sale to clean out his closet and humans and animals alike come in search of new suits.
From Coyote Tales 
by Thomas King 
illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
Thomas King's Coyote Tales recognizes the traditional Coyote stories of First Nations, taking readers to "a long time ago, before animals stopped talking to human beings" (pg. 11) when lessons were learned at the antics of a mischievous and oft humiliated Coyote and the clever playfulness of Raven and the natural world was honoured and celebrated. The legends are told here as comical allegory but are rich in lessons and advice.

Groundwood Books is doing something very clever in opening up previously published picture books to new audiences.  By re-releasing them as very short anthologies, perhaps only two or three stories, with new and fewer illustrations (here by Calgarian Byron Eggenschwiler), they are capturing the early reader and middle grade reader who might not want to be seen reading "babyish" picture books.  Margaret Atwood's A Trio of Tolerable Tales (Groundwood, 2017) was such a collection and I'm hoping that there are more in the offering from Groundwood, especially for Thomas King who still has more Coyote tales to share.

December 06, 2017

The Hanging Girl

Written by Eileen Cook
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
308 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2017

Skye Thorn is a tarot card reader, helping her peers with their questions about love, school and more.  But, though she cultivates an image of having psychic powers, Skye is just an astute observer of human nature and a sneak at private files and conversations.  Her mother might purport to have the gift but Skye knows she herself does not.

Still Skye is a teen who has always wanted a certain life and had a willingness to make it happen. 
Destiny is like a boulder.  Bulky and hard to move.  It's easier to leave it alone than to try to change it.  But that never kept anyone from trying.  Trust me: I'm a professional. (pg. 1)
She hates her name, Candi, the one she was given by her 15-year-old mother, and has managed to get her friends and school to use her middle name, Skye.  She had woven a story about her father, whom she has never known, being a military hero.  That story ended badly, though, and had her labelled a liar and headed for counselling.  Now, she’s telling her best friend Drew that she’s saving her money so that they’ll be able to get an apartment in New York City when Drew heads to art school next year.  But she hasn’t. 

When she is approached to use her psychic flair in a scheme to kidnap popular and wealthy Paige Bonnet, Skye convinces herself that it would be alright.  Paige would not be hurt and Skye would get some of the ransom money.  Her role would be negligible: all she had to do was convince the police that she was having visions of Paige’s disappearance and to help direct their investigation.  Ah, the best laid plans…

Like the tarot card called the Hanged Man, which suggests someone at the crossroads, Skye is balancing who she really is with what she wants people to see and what they actually do see in her.  From her mother to Drew and classmates and then the police and others, Skye's self is hanging, perhaps precariously as she makes choices.  She truly is The Hanging Girl. But the mystery that is Skye extends beyond her, embedding readers in a young adult thriller with a myriad of twists and reversals and red herrings.  Never, never can the reader tell what will happen next or whom to believe.  The tagline "Trust no one. Deceive everyone" is especially apt.  The plot is intricate and multilayered and, even when Skye figures things out in a climactic graduation ceremony setting, I was never convinced I knew the truth. That just tells you how convincing Eileen Cook's writing is.  It is tight but complex, and she never lets the plot lag or the storyline get caught on ineffectual plot twists.

Eileen Cook, whose books Unraveling Isobel (Simon Pulse, 2012), The Almost Truth (Simon Pulse, 2012), Remember (Simon Pulse, 2015), and With Malice (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) have been reviewed on CanLit for LittleCanadians, always has some mystery amidst the teen drama but she is particularly adroit at relationship dramas.  Her characterizations and dialogue between characters and inside Skye's head are especially compelling in The Hanging Girl.  Except for several chapters conveyed as Paige's written account of her ordeal, most of Eileen Cook’s text is in the first-person narrative of the young tarot card reader trying to assess her situation prior to Paige's disappearance and then while the teen's family and police investigate.  She's gotten herself involved in something desperate and is in far too deep to get out cleanly.  Still, though she lies and manipulates, it's surprising how sympathetic Skye is as a character.  She always believed that she was destined for a nothing life, so the readers will cheer for the girl who tries to see herself beyond a life at Burger Barn.  As such, the ending will floor you.

See beyond the mess that is Skye and the situation in which she finds herself and discover a thrilling plot of truths and lies and shadows in The Hanging Girl. It's a little dark but more angsty than criminal and definitely an accurate take on the desperate measures people will take to achieve the lives they feel are warranted.

December 05, 2017

Woodrow at Sea

Written and illustrated by Wallace Edwards
Pajama Press
24 pp.
Ages 3-5
November 2017

Not since an owl and a pussycat set off to sea have two wholly unlikely friends shared a boat on the open water.  But the story of Woodrow at Sea is less love story than story of friendship and a far more poignant one than Edward Lear's nonsense poem.
From Woodrow at Sea 
by Wallace Edwards
When Woodrow, the elephant, waves goodbye to his family, setting off on his adventure with only a boat, a paddle and a spyglass, he could never imagine finding a small white mouse marooned on a purplish mound in the open water.  The mouse tells of his own tale of saying goodbye to his own family who gift him with a compass and heading out in a teacup vessel until upturned by a purple, gold and orange creature. 
From Woodrow at Sea 
by Wallace Edwards
Together the travellers set out to seek adventure, with the mouse teaching Woodrow to sing. When a foul cloud blows in nasty weather and the calm sea is awoken into turmoil, the little mouse uses the spyglass to rescue Woodrow. Together they battle their way to calmer waters and, though they both return to their different island homes, they're both richer for their encounter and adventures.
From Woodrow at Sea
by Wallace Edwards
Because Woodrow at Sea is a wordless book, author-illustrator Wallace Edwards allows his illustrations to carry the story.  But it really isn't just one story.  Everyone will read something different into his touching and considerate artwork.  Though less elaborate than his art in earlier books such as Once Upon a Line (Pajama Press, 2015) and Unnatural Selections (Orca, 2014), Wallace Edwards provides more than enough depth of detail for our youngest readers to interpret the illustrations in a myriad of ways.  They will easily recognize the value of friendship and teamwork but there will be questions.  Why did Wallace Edwards choose and elephant and a mouse? Are the elephant and mouse singing or whistling?  Does Woodrow know how to sing or did the mouse have to teach him?  Were the two animals planning on an extended adventure that was interrupted by calamity or were these just day trips? When recounting their adventures to family, why did they focus on different events though both emphasize the goodwill of the other?  For a story told with no words, Woodrow at Sea has much to tell.  And a lesson in creative thinking and visual literacy would not go amiss here.

Woodrow at Sea is truly a story about the importance of friendship and the good fortune of having a friend who has your back when seas get a little rough. It may not always be an angry ocean or a purple monster, but there's always something that is eased with the support of a friend.
From Woodrow at Sea 
by Wallace Edwards

Wallace Edwards will launch his newest picture book this weekend in Toronto. Details for this event were posted here.

December 04, 2017

Woodrow at Sea: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

The wonderfully talented author and illustrator

Wallace Edwards
is set to launch his newest picture book of youngCanLit

Woodrow at Sea
Written and illustrated by Wallace Edwards
Pajama Press
24 pp.
Ages 3-5
November 2017
Review here


  Saturday, December 9, 2017

11 a.m. -12:30 p.m.


Queen Books
914 Queen St. East
Toronto, ON

In addition to book sales and signing by Wallace Edwards,
there will be:
• story time
• a drawing lesson
• crafts
• light refreshments

Look for my review of this special wordless picture book tomorrow!