March 22, 2018

Fania's Heart: Book launch (Montreal, QC)

The Montreal Holocaust Museum
(current home of the historic object highlighted in the book) 


Second Story Press


the book launch 


Fania's Heart
Written by Anne Renaud
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Second Story Press
32 pp.
Ages 7-10
March 2018


Sunday, March 25, 2018

2 p.m. Guided tour of museum
3 p.m. Reading by author Anne Renaud and book signing


The Montreal Holocaust Museum
5151 ch. de la Cote-Ste-Catherine
Montreal, QC

Here is the blurb about this lovely illustrated true story–which I will review tomorrow–as posted on the publisher's website:

A tiny birthday card, crafted against all odds within the confines of Auschwitz.

Ten-year-old Sorale discovers a tiny heart-shaped book among her mother’s belongings. Its pages are shaped like four-petaled flowers, upon which are written words in languages Sorale does not understand. Who wrote these words? Where did the heart come from? Why has her mother never mentioned this tiny book before? 

Fania’s Heart reveals the true story of the crafting of the heart, against all odds, within the confines of Auschwitz, and of the women of immeasurable resilience, courage, and loyalty who risked their lives for Sorale’s mother, their friend.

Retrieved from on March 21, 2018.

March 21, 2018

Eden Mills Writers' Festival: 2018 Poetry Contests for young people

Eden Mills Writers' Festival, one of Canada's foremost literary festivals, will be celebrating 30 years of wonderful readings by and discussion panels with Canadian authors of literature.  But the Eden Mills Writers' Festival offers more than an extraordinary contingent of authors whose words fill our idyllic valley just outside of Guelph. It also hosts a number of writing contests, two of which target children and young adults.

For each contest, a Canadian resident may submit one poem no longer than a single page by the May 30, 2018 deadline.  All details regarding the entry form, prizes, and submission are posted at

For elementary students, young writers may enter one of three age categories:
  • Primary (Grades 1 to 3)
  • Junior (Grades 4 to 6)
  • Intermediate (Grades 7 to 8)

For high school students, teens may submit their poem to one of two age categories:
  • Junior Teen (Grades 9 and 10)
  • Senior Teen (Grades 11 and 12)

If you are a teacher in Canada or know of a young person who loves to write poetry, please encourage them to submit a piece (only one poem of maximum one-page length per person) by the deadline of May 30, 2018.  This is a great way to get young people in Canada writing purposefully and showcasing their burgeoning talents, with a chance to win $25 (for children) or $50 (for teens).

See you at the Festival!

March 19, 2018

Blue Rider

Written and illustrated by Geraldo Valério
Groundwood Books
44 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2018

At first glance, Blue Rider might appear to be a story about a blue horse and a child with a book. But Blue Rider, like the early 1900s art movement–Der Blaue Reiter–it honours, is more about a rejection of the norms and finding new worlds of expression, whether through art or story.
From Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério
This is the story of one young child living in a sombrely coloured city, just one face in one room in one building in a city rife with buildings. 
From Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério
Even when they leave the building, the child is but one among the throngs hurrying, talking, using cellphones, bustling, bustling, bustling. Then the child spots a book, a book with a blue horse on the cover, in an opening amidst the crowd.  They grab it and take it up to their room.

From Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério
Opening that book and seeing that magnificent blue horse charging across the page similarly plunges the child into new worlds of colour and bold lines and shapes and new landscapes.  Page after page, the blue horse is transforming, its mane effervescing into comets of colour and audacious shape, morphing into its scenery, illuminating, animating and revitalizing all.  Finally the horse and the scene almost become one, a mix of brightness and bliss.  At that point, the child is seen mounted on the racing horse, while the dull room is transformed with new forms of colour.

Blue Rider is a wordless picture book, the story told solely through Geraldo Valério's illustrations.  What the reader takes from the plot of the book and its artwork is very personal.  Blue Rider may pay homage to Der Blaue Reiter, the avant-garde art movement that focused on distorted abstractions and gave intensity and movement through form and colour, but it’s also about the value of going outside of societal norms to embrace new opportunities and ways of seeing.  It gives the message that conformity may be soul stifling and that, when possibilities present, it is important to seize them as they provide chances to move into new worlds and enhance life. The book the child discovers takes them away temporarily but permanently enhances their world and consequently those of others to one of colour and vivacity. As all readers and art lovers know, art–written, visual and more–can give life and soul to those lost in mass existence, just as a book does for a child in Blue Rider.
From Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério

March 13, 2018

The Better Tree Fort

Written by Jessica Scott Kerrin
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2018

Tree houses offer children a refuge from the everyday, a place to dream and create, to escape and grow, and to be whomever they choose, imaginary or their true selves.  But imagine if the building of that tree fort and sharing of it was a shared experience between father and son.  How much better is that true fort than a castle in the sky?
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng
 When Russell and his dad move to a new house with a massive maple tree in the backyard, the child suggests they build a tree fort.  Russell’s dad is obviously not a handy man with wood and tools and it takes many trips to the lumber and hardware store and much guidance from others for him to construct the tree fort.  Though it doesn’t have the special features Russell had in his plans like a balcony, slide, skylight and basket for hauling, Russell declares it to be perfect.
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng
Then, three houses down, a construction crew marches in and constructs a larger and more elaborate tree fort with all the bells and whistles.  Russell makes the acquaintance of Warren, the boy whose father had ordered the plans and hired the crew, and is invited in to view the spectacular house in the tree.  But is it really a better tree fort than Russell’s?
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng
Jessica Scott Kerrin’s message is not really about tree forts.  It’s about relationships, specifically a father and son relationship, and how nothing–not something bigger, better, bolder–could ever compensate for that unique connection and special bond.  Russell’s dad is not the kind who would pay someone to make his son’s dreams come true.  He’s the kind who tries to do it himself, no matter how arduous the task or clumsy and unimpressive the results.  This father and son don’t need to bling out a tree fort when they can enjoy the simple pleasures of peanut butter and jam sandwiches , birding from the open window, or sleeping in bags on the floor.  Warren has no idea no much he’s missing in his “better” tree fort.

I have reviewed numerous books illustrated by Qin Leng and she continues to astound me with the astuteness of her artwork for interpreting the text.  In The Better Tree Fort, Qin Leng’s ink, watercolour and pencil crayon illustrations lend an innocence of task and purpose to the story, making the building of the fort by father for son an intimate endeavour.  The construction of Warren’s turreted tree fort lacks the tenderness of relationship.  Not surprising, when Russell’s dad acknowledges that “There will always be a better tree fort,” Russell knows that it’s his father that is the best component of all.
From The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illus. by Qin Leng

March 12, 2018

Where's Bunny?

Written by Theo Heras
Illustrated by Renné Benoit
Pajama Press
24 pp.
Ages 1-3
March 2018

Author Theo Heras and illustrator Renné Benoit's very young brother and sister from Hats On, Hats Off and Baby Cakes have returned in a story about getting ready for bed and the routines involved with that evening ritual.

The two never-named children (making it easy for any and every child to see themselves in the story and embrace the routines of healthy bedtime practices) know it is time for bed and begin to fulfil their rituals as listed in a "Bedtime Checklist" posted on the book's endpapers. First, they pick up their toys and put them away. Though the text includes the question "Where's Bunny?" young readers will be able to spot the rabbit nestled in a wagon. Next, it's bath time with play time in the warm water that "tickles toes" alongside a rubber ducky and a squirty sheep before washing hair, towelling off and ensuring Bunny is nearby. He is. Then bedecked in the softest of hooded plush robes, the two brush their teeth whilst Bunny watches on. (A second checklist on the back endpapers provides links to dental associations for proper techniques.)
From Where's Bunny? by Theo Heras, illus. by Renné Benoit
Then it's pajamas on, into bed, storytime and singing a song, all only with the big sister (who can't be more than 5) helping her little brother. A final hug and kiss and little brother is off to dreamland snuggling his own soft charge to his cheek.

Theo Heras makes her text simple and readable for those just learning to decipher books, and it is sweetly appropriate for a concept book about bedtime routines. Many concept books tend to be flat, emphasizing only the concept in the simplest of texts. Thankfully Theo Heras does more than just assert a concept. There is a story here, one of sibling affection and a young child's bond to his stuffed animal, that is elevated with Renné Benoit's artwork. The children are so beautiful and angelic with their bright faces and cowlicked hair, and their surroundings are as soft and inviting to the reader as to the children. From Bunny with his carrot-topped hat and the towels and robes and bedcovers, Renné Benoit draws readers into the warmth of the children's home and lives and asks them to stay for a bit.
From Where's Bunny? by Theo Heras, illus. by Renné Benoit
Another invitation that is extended to readers comes by way of Pajama Press's unique picture book format for the very young: a padded cover with rounded corners, and extra-heavy paper. It has been a winner since its first use. More embraceable than the board books typical for the very young, these softly padded books make for a sweet tactile experience to reading. If the affection so captivated in Renné Benoit's watercolour and digital artwork could extend beyond the siblings, it would be sure to include their books. Like the words and the art of Where's Bunny?, the book says, "Hug me" and the very young will be sure to oblige at least once before lights out.
From Where's Bunny? by Theo Heras, illus. by Renné Benoit

March 08, 2018

Sleepy Bird

Written and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
Scholastic Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-5
March 2018

It's late.  Why isn't Bird sleeping?!
From Sleepy Bird by Jeremy Tankard
Bird is not sleepy, or so he thinks.  He wants to play and party and seeks out each of his animal friends to keep him company.  Each one tells him it's bedtime and recommends a sleep aid like hugging a blankie (that from Fox), or reading a bedtime story (Beaver), snuggling with a stuffie (Rabbit), singing a lullaby (Raccoon) or counting sheep (obviously from Sheep).  But he poohpoohs their suggestions, storming off like he often does (remember, he was Grumpy Bird in his first book).
From Sleepy Bird by Jeremy Tankard
But, after a little while, he is reduced to tears and questioning empathically "WHY SHOULD I GO TO SLEEP?"  His friends, ever faithful, come running and support their dear friend with all the recommendations they'd made earlier, helping their feathered companion find a way to dreamland.
From Sleepy Bird by Jeremy Tankard
What parent doesn't know the child who will not go to sleep?  In fact, they will recognize the crankiness, protestations, and eventual winding down of a little one, and their own ploys used to help a child fall into slumber.  Undoubtedly they will also recognize some comments made by Bird's friends, especially "I thought he'd NEVER fall asleep," as proclaimed by Fox.  But it's Bird's responses that always have me laughing. (I think, Jeremy Tankard, there's a Funny Bird in your future.) Bird's replies to his friends, ever escalating in their intensity, include "Blankie shmankie", "Are you TRYING to give me nightmares?" and to Sheep's suggestion of counting sheep: "HOW CAN YOU GET SLEEPY COUNTING TO ONE?"

But, as clever as the text is and as pertinent as its theme, Sleepy Bird will grab readers and non-readers with its bold and colourful illustrations.  Jeremy Tankard's wacky characters are as familiar now as Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit and Mo Willems's Elephant and Piggie and we love everything about them: their vibrant colours, coarse lines and clean shapes as well as their expressive poses and faces. What is more is that Jeremy Tankard's landscapes of splatterings of flowers, rocks, and trees amidst enormous ground-level stars and a moon provide a surreal contrast to a very commonplace story i.e. putting a reluctant child to bed.

So, the next time you have to help little ones find their way to rest, grab those blankies and stuffies and read Sleepy Bird.  I can't assure you that they'll go to sleep but you'll at least enjoy the attempt until they decide for themselves that sleep is best.

March 06, 2018

The Marrow Thieves

Written by Cherie Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books/Cormorant
231 pp.
Ages 14+
Poisoning your own drinking water, changing the air so much the earth shook and melted and crumbled, harvesting a race for medicine. (pg. 47)
This is the world in which Frenchie is trying to survive.  After his father had gone with the Council to the Southern Metropolitan City, hopeful of enacting some change, and their mom passed, it was just Frenchie and his older brother Mitch evading the Recruiters, truancy officers seeking Indigenous people to place in their new version of residential schools.  Seems that, though all were highly impacted by the stresses of water shortages, climatic shifts and conflict, non-Indigenous people lost the ability to dream and sought out Indigenous Peoples for their bone marrow as a source for that ability.  What actually happened in the schools, though, was the stuff of rumours and nightmares.

When Mitch sacrifices himself to the Recruiters to save Frenchie, the teen heads north and joins a  group headed by a man named Miigwans and the Elder Minerva, along with teens Chi-Boy and Wab, twelve-year-old twins Tree and Zheegwon, and a young boy Slopper and seven-year-old RiRi.  Along with a new arrival, Rose, the mixed group of Cree, Métis and more, from the east coast and the west lands and everywhere in between, work to stay safe, learn "old-timey" skills like hunting and homesteading but also language which has been lost.  Each comes with their own creation story, framing their lives with the scars of their histories and the jewels of their heritage.  How they will outrun their pasts and those who seek to harm them while making some future in a world gone terribly wrong can only be told by those telling the story and dreaming.

While the environmental degradation alone could result in the dystopia of The Marrow Thieves, it is but a fraction of the agony of the world Cherie Dimaline has created.  It is a world that has gone beyond decline and into catastrophic collapse.  The heinous racism against Aboriginal Peoples coupled with the carnage perpetrated against them is terrifying but not unfamiliar.  By telling this story in a dystopian world set decades into the future, Cherie Dimaline tells much more about the past.  Still, within that horror, there is a wisdom of self and others, a pocket of compassion and understanding that might be the only hope.
"...running only works of you're moving towards something, not away. Otherwise, you'll never get anywhere." (pg. 217)
Moreover, Cherie Dimaline tells it with such depth of feeling and imagery that The Marrow Thieves becomes a lyrical epic.
Out here stars were perforations revealing the bleached skeleton of the universe through a collection of tiny holes. And surrounded by these silent trees, beside a calming fire, I watched the bones dance.  This was our medicine, these bones, and I opened up and took it all in. And dreamed of north. (pg. 9)
The accolades for The Marrow Thieves have been robust and far-reaching.  They include winning the 2017 Governor General for Young People's Literature and the 2017 Kirkus Prize; a nomination for the Forest of Reading's White Pine Award; selection as The Globe and Mail Best Book; and most recently selection for CBC's 2018 Canada Reads battle of the books. The Marrow Thieves deserves each honour and more as does its creator Cherie Dimaline for weaving a cautionary story of sorrow and history with a future that still has a sliver of reverie.

March 02, 2018

Sugar and Snails

Written by Sarah Tsiang
Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
Annick Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2018

Though many nursery rhymes have some dark meaning behind them,  I like to think the old English nursery rhyme about boys being made of “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails” and girls being made of “sugar and spice and everything nice” was an innocent poem people may have used to poke fun at the differences between boys and girls.  Then again, maybe not.  But Sarah Tsiang takes the sexism out of that nursery rhyme and shows us that boys and girls can be just about anything they want to be.

From Sugar and Snails
by Sarah Tsiang 
illus. by Sonja Wimmer
Sugar and Snails begins with an embroidered piece of stitchery with the old rhyme on it, and then page by page a grandfather unravels that saying for his grandchildren after the boy wonders about sweet boys such as himself.  The elderly man suggests a myriad of things boys and girls could be as he pretends to recall how the rhyme goes.  But as he suggests things, the grandchildren recognize that they just don't fit.  She doesn't like dresses, and he doesn't like frogs.  There's rocks and butterfly socks, rain boots and whales, and even dirt and lemon dessert.  Any of these could be assigned to either child or both.  It's an equal opportunity rhyme of a menagerie of delights, which ends with the grandfather proclaiming to them, "Dangnamit, I give up.  What in the heck are you made of?" and the stitches of the embroidery being unravelled by little hands.
From Sugar and Snails
by Sarah Tsiang 
illus. by Sonja Wimmer

Sarah Tsiang makes Sugar and Snails a wacky speculative poem that attempts, amusingly though foolishly, to differentiate between boys and girls.  But it's German artist Sonja Wimmer's surreal illustrations that bring that outrageousness to the forefront.  Sonja Wimmer, who illustrated Belle DeMont's wonderful I Love My Purse (Annick, 2017), lends wonderful fluidity and connectedness between the children and that which might define either of them, with a frisson of humour and folly. 

From Sugar and Snails
by Sarah Tsiang 
illus. by Sonja Wimmer

If Sugar and Snails teaches us anything, it's that labelling is restrictive and inappropriate, and children, girls, boys or non-binary, should just be themselves, no matter what an old rhyme proposes.

March 01, 2018

Lucky Me

Written by Lora Rozler
Illustrated by Jan Dolby
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 8-12
February 2018

I always loved those posters that would communicate a single message in different languages, whether it be Welcome, Hello or Thank you.  Lucky Me is like an expanded and illustrated version of the Thank You poster, sharing the many events for which children might express gratitude in various languages.

The text of Lucky Me is a series of statements about experiences for which children in Canada might be  grateful, whether it be treasures big and small, being able to ask question, tasty pancakes , another candle on a birthday cake, playing in the snow, or having a friend by your side.  For each, the term for “thank you” is giving in another language, identifying how to pronounce it as well as the language used.  Lucky Me is like an international thesaurus of thanks.
From Lucky Me 
by Lora Rozler 
illus. by Jan Dolby
With 32 languages covered (English, Armenian, Romanian, Greek, Japanese, Tagalog, Hebrew, Cree, Spanish, Portuguese, Somali, Mandarin, Dutch, Finnish, Polish, Arabic, Hindi, Swahili, Tamil, Vietnamese, Korean, Hungarian, Russian, Albanian, Italian, Persian, Cantonese, Punjabi, German, Turkish, Urdu and French), Lora Rozler has covered most continents and the children from the diverse cultures within though the children are very much ensconced in a Canadian setting.  Still children will see themselves outdoors, at home, at school and the many places they experience life.  Jan Dolby, whose gave life to Joyce Grant’s Gabby in Gabby (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013) and her follow up books (Gabby Drama Queen and Gabby Wonder Girl) energizes Lora Rozler’s text with children who are lively and effusive in their activities alone and with others.  They’re open to life and can see the worth in all their experiences.
From Lucky Me 
by Lora Rozler 
illus. by Jan Dolby
While I might have liked to have seen more children who appreciate the quiet of contemplation rather than always activity, the wide variety of experiences and ways of saying thank you demonstrate that we all have much for which we should be grateful and a single book would probably never be enough.  Fortunately, Lora Rozler and Jan Dolby have given children a very, very good start to seeing all for which they could be exclaiming “Lucky Me.”  
From Lucky Me 
by Lora Rozler 
illus. by Jan Dolby

February 28, 2018

Picture the Sky: Art show and sale (Toronto, ON)

Last August, 

author/illustrator Barbara Reid

the Queen of plasticine art

launched her newest picture book

Picture the Sky
Written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-8

Now youngCanLit readers and art enthusiasts can enjoy
  Picture the Sky
through Barbara Reid's amazing art 

in an Art Show and Sale

which runs from

  Saturday, March 3, 2018 - Thursday, April 12, 2018


special events 

on the official launch day

Sunday, March 4, 2018

1 p.m.:  Launch of the Art Show and Sale
2 p.m.:  Story time


The Young Welcome Centre
Evergreen Brick Works
550 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, ON

February 26, 2018

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me

Written by David Gutnick
Illustrated by Mathilde Cinq-Mars
Second Story Press
32 pp.
Ages 7-10
Mach 2018

If this was June 21, Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me would be a valuable tome for International Music Day.  If it was December or March, we could acknowledge Beethoven’s birthday or death with this picture book.  But in February, this wonderful story about a music teacher and his student celebrates embracing one’s passion, here a love of music.
From Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me 
by David Gutnick 
illus. by Mathilde Cinq-Mars
This is the story, inspired by true events, of a young girl and her parents who have just immigrated to Canada from China.  While the child swings in the park, her father chats with an elderly man whom he introduces to his daughter as Mr. Daniel Mergler, a man who has taught piano to hundreds of children over more than fifty years.  Though the family obviously does not have money for extras such as piano lessons, Mr. Mergler sees something in the young girl who had taught herself sufficiently well to play for their church. 
Something tells me she understands the magic that music can bring to her life.  If she does, that is all the payment I will need.
From Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me 
by David Gutnick 
illus. by Mathilde Cinq-Mars
At Mr. Mergler’s studio, the child begins her lessons with the elderly man, while a bust of the stern-looking Beethoven looks down from his perch upon the piano.  Though she finds reading music and the lessons difficult at first, she progresses well and is the recipient of many gold stars from her teacher who shares with her the magic of the music. 

But her time with Mr. Mergler is cut short after "twenty-six magical lessons" when the man falls ill and pens a moving letter to his “star pupil” and bequeaths her his Beethoven bust. 

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me has all the elements to inspire.  There is music, and passion, and determination and effort and empathy.  In less than a year, one man found a seed of music in a young girl and nurtured it into a skilled talent, demonstrating the ability of music to make time disappear and touch the heart, even making the cranky Beethoven happy. Author David Gutnick takes this story from a documentary he produced for CBC's The Sunday Edition called “Beethoven’s Bust” (listen to it here based on the dying piano teacher’s need to speak about the best student he’d ever had.  Accompanied by Quebec artist Mathilde Cinq-Mars’s soft and harmonious illustrations of gentle pencil colours and line, Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me is a complete package of kindness and empathy: in actions, in the words and in the art.  Save it for International Piano Day (March 29) or maybe World Kindness Day (November 3). Or any day a little magic is needed.
From Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me 
by David Gutnick 
illus. by Mathilde Cinq-Mars

February 22, 2018

Here So Far Away: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Hadley Dyer

author of middle-grade and young adult novels and non-fiction
including the best-selling

Johnny Kellock Died Today

 is set to launch her newest YA

Here So Far Away
Written by Hadley Dyer
368 pp.
Ages 14+
March 2018


  Wednesday, March 21, 2018

7:30 p.m.


TYPE Books
883 Queen St. W.
Toronto, ON

From HarperCollins Website:
Award-winning author Hadley Dyer’s YA debut is smart, snarky, and emotionally gripping, about a rebellious cop’s daughter who falls in love with an older man, loses her best friend, and battles depression, all while trying to survive her last year of high school. 

Feisty and fearless George Warren (given name: Frances, but no one calls her that) has never let life get too serious. Now that she’s about to be a senior, her plans include partying with her tight-knit group of friends and then getting the heck out of town after graduation.

But instead of owning her last year of high school, a fight with her best friend puts her on the outs of their social circle.  If that weren’t bad enough, George’s family has been facing hard times since her father, a police sergeant, got injured and might not be able to return to work, which puts George’s college plans in jeopardy.

So when George meets Francis, an older guy who shares her name and her affinity for sarcastic banter, she’s thrown. If she lets herself, she’ll fall recklessly, hopelessly in love. But because of Francis’s age, she tells no one—and ends up losing almost everything, including herself.

This is a gorgeous, atmospheric, and gut-wrenching novel that readers won’t soon forget.

Retrieved from on February 22, 2018.

February 21, 2018

Tess of the Road: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Rachel Hartman

who brought the world her award-winning book

Written by Rachel Hartman
Doubleday Canada
480 pp.
Ages 14+

and its sequel

Shadow Scale
Written by Rachel Hartman
Doubleday Canada
608 pp.
Ages 14+

is back with a third book in her fantasy series!

Her new young adult fantasy novel

Tess of the Road
Written by Rachel Hartman
Penguin Teen
544 pp.
Ages 14+
February 27, 2018


March 31, 2018

3-5 p.m.


84 Harbord Street
Toronto, ON

From Penguin Random House Canada website:
In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can't make a scene at your sister's wedding and break a relative's nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.

Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it's a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl--a subspecies of dragon--who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she's tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.

February 20, 2018


Written by Charlotte Gingras
Illustrated by Daniel Sylvestre
Translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
Groundwood Books
264 pp.
Ages 14+
March 2018

Ophelia is what she calls herself, though her peers at high school have affixed the label of "rag girl" on her.  But Ophelia, like Shakespeare's tragic character, is much more than she appears.  She is a complex teen, overridden with fears and anger and anxiety and isolation that goes far beyond the teen angst label many use to underplay overwhelming personal issues.  

Ophelia's story, past and present, is told in letters to an author, Jeanne D'Amour, who visited Ophelia's school and gifted the teen with an ink-blue notebook. The unsent letters reveal Ophelia's crushing worries of abandoned children; of being seen as ugly; of her struggles at school; of being alone or of finding love; of a mother who had been undeclared unfit once, forcing Ophelia into foster care, and could be again; of never knowing her father; and of her sexuality, especially as she harbours trauma from an incident of childhood sexual abuse.  
I don't love anyone for real, Jeanne.  If I dive down, down to my very depths, all I find is dark and hard.  Nothing alive. (pg. 122)
But when Ophelia, a girl who goes out at night and tags walls with oil-pastel broken hearts, discovers an abandoned building with walls on which she might express herself artistically, everything changes.  She soon learns that her workshop had previously been discovered by another marginalized teen, a new student and fat young man who decides to call himself Ulysses.  The two work out a schedule so that they do not have to interact, and Ophelia can continue to work on her art–first an "upside-down girl" as a depiction of her namesake, then an empowered "right-side-up girl" and more–while Ulysses endeavours to dismantle an old van he has named Caboose, hopeful of setting it to rights so he could take it on a long journey. 

Ophelia is still overpowered by her anger and worries but the innocuous Ulysses subtly begins to share his own fears and pains and finds a way to connect with Ophelia.
He'd defused my suicide-bomber belt with his chocolate bars and calming voice. (pg. 86)
Similarly Ophelia's artwork begins to have a positive impact on the two teens, enabling them to become the warriors she creates on the walls.  But can those shifts in Ophelia and Ulysses be sustained and carry them through a violent invasion into their safe space as well as their emerging sexualities?

Ophelia is a powerful book of a teen's struggles, a deep and insightful introspection of her shattering anger and apprehension.  Though Ophelia writes with the chaotic musings of a young person in trauma, alternating recollections of the past, with current struggles and anticipation of the future, there is a lifeline of progression from out-of-control angst to increasing self-reflection and empathy to self-acceptance and empowerment that is so real that it is visceral.
From Ophelia 
by Charlotte Gingras 
illus. by Daniel Sylvestre
I am so pleased that Groundwood Books has brought Ophélie (Courte Echelle, 2008), the original French-language novel from Governor General-award winning author Charlotte Gingras, to English readers through this translation by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou.  Emboldened with the artwork of Montréaler Daniel Sylvestre, readers will catch glimpses of the fury and anxiety of Ophelia in her sketches and tags as they bear witness to her progress.  But it is the voice of Ophelia, heartfelt and agonized, as she verges on implosion and explosion, as well as that of Ulysses struggling with his own issues, that need to be heard and heeded by young readers and those who care for them.  There may not be a happy ending but there is hope for better.