September 20, 2018

The Reptile Club: Book launch (Winnipeg, MB)


 Maureen Fergus

for the launch of her newest picture book

The Reptile Club
Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Elina Ellis
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2018 


Saturday, September 29, 2018


1 p.m.


McNally Robinson Booksellers
Grant Park Shopping Centre
Winnipeg, MB

See my review today about this clever picture book about reptiles, passions, friends, and acceptance and then take in the book launch next week for The Reptile Club.

The Reptile Club

Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Elina Ellis
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2018 

There are a lot of clubs at Rory's school including glee, ballet, knitting, karate, theater, astronauts, prancing unicorn (!), extra math homework and cooking, but none speak to his passion so he starts his own reptile club. But who shows up to see his plastic reptile collection and eat his lizard-shaped cookies? Reptiles! After all, it is the Reptile Club.
From The Reptile Club by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Elina Ellis
There's Raoul the massive crocodile, Miriam the anaconda and Pierre the gecko, and they all introduce themselves as does Rory with interesting tidbits about themselves before the meeting transitions into discussion, play and food.

Once the other kids see what the Reptile Club is all about, they want to join too, and Rory has to convince the reptiles that "it wasn't nice to be prejudiced against others just because they had hair and could regulate their body temperature." (pg. 21) The Reptile Club flourishes with new members and activities like the game "Guess What I Just Ate?" until weeks later when the reptile members announce that they must say goodbye as winter is coming. But what of the Reptile Club?
From The Reptile Club by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Elina Ellis
Time and time again, author Maureen Fergus has shown her prowess at word play and seeing stories from unusual perspectives. Her picture book The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten (Kids Can Press, 2013) has a kindergartner affectionately chastizing her mother for her inappropriate behaviour at school. The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold (Tundra, 2016) twists the idea of children questioning the existence of the jolly old man to Santa wondering whether a particular child is real. In The Reptile Club, Maureen Fergus does the same, presenting a club that draws its members from the Class Reptilia not just those who are passionate about them. It makes for a funny story. But the story isn't just a clever take on school clubs. It's about honouring your passions, making friends and accepting others, regardless of their differences. When the reptiles are reluctant to let the other human kids into the club, Rory has to help them see that the differences aren't that big a deal since they already accept him, a lowly mammal. And if the humour throughout the book doesn't tickle a child's funny bone–I wonder if reptiles have funny bones?–then the illustrations of the UK's Elina Ellis with their youthful lightness in colours and shape, perfect for a school setting filled with children and animals, definitely will.
From The Reptile Club by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Elina Ellis
While I won't give away Maureen Fergus's surprise ending that will definitely get readers smiling, I can say that school clubs have never been so much fun and engaging and The Reptile Club is one to join for a chance at learning, laughing and literacy. 


September 19, 2018

Rosie's Glasses

Written and illustrated by Dave Whamond
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2018

Many of us know that feeling of waking up with a black cloud hanging over our heads. You've woken up late, it's raining outside and everything is grey.  Life has no colour. If anything can go wrong, it does. How does a child pick themselves up to see beyond the noise and strife and bad luck and gloom that pervades everything at home, on the street and at school?
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond
If you're little Rosie, you're fortunate to spot a colourful butterfly which leads you straight to a pair of round pink glasses that offer you a rosier perspective on your world. The blasé street scene now reveals flowers and bees and families with ice cream and singing birds and multi-coloured balloons. The park is filled with friendly chatter and play and joyful wildlife. At home, there's a new puppy.  
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond
Now waking up is vibrant and enthusiastic and Rosie, the darling with the rabbit-eared pigtails, sees rainbows and music and colour everywhere.  But, Rosie's new perspective may be in jeopardy when she loses her new glasses. Or is it?
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond

Rosie's Glasses may play on the premise that rose-coloured glasses tend to make life look better than it really is but Dave Whamond would not give Rosie the perspective of optimism without a bit of reality.  Her day really does start out poorly and things are dreary and unfortunate. Her pigtails even droop! But the magic that comes from those glasses is extraordinary, helping Rosie see the goodness in her reality, not just the bad.  Even when she has lost the glasses, Rosie has been infused with a dose of encouragement–the new puppy helps too–that will help her see the good and the bad, even on inevitable grey days of her future.

I know I always go on and on about Dave Whamond's illustrations from his picture books like Oddrey (Owlkids, 2012) and My Think-a-Ma-Jink (Owlkids, 2009), his first graphic novel Nick the Sidekick (Kids Can Press, 2018) and, of course, his syndicated cartoon Reality Check (see samples at his website at but the art is fabulous! It draws the eye everywhere to reveal details in faces and in buildings, in scenes and in actions. With Rosie's Glasses being a wordless picture book, readers, children and adults alike, will be able to linger on illustrations and find more and more to discuss and contemplate. 

Rosie's Glasses is a story that offers encouragement on observing life from different perspectives and it's a buffet of colour and activity.  Teachers and parents will undoubtedly, as they should, take advantage of the book's value in teaching visual literacy but there's much more to the story and the art. So, be sure to smell the roses along that pedagogical path because there's much more here than a lesson. There's life: the good, the bad and the rosy.
From Rosie's Glasses by Dave Whamond

September 18, 2018

Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On

Written by Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming
Illustrated by Peggy Collins
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
June 2018

It's Science Literacy Week in Canada and Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming use rhyming verses and inclusive and diverse perspectives on biology, chemistry and physics in Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On to help children see the science in everything.

There are poems about geology, structures, life cycles, chemistry at work, seasons, magnetism, brain waves, senses, botany, force and differentiating between living and non-living things. It's the primary curriculum plus in a fun package of poetry and dynamic illustrations by Peggy Collins. And everyone is doing science: girls, boys, monsters, armadillos, physically-challenged individuals, kids with braces, kids with glasses, and kids of all hues and abilities.  It's science learning at its best and most lively.
She's hungry for science.
Her hunger's so great.
Stirring her mixtures
who'd guess that she's eight?
It's the manner in which the concepts are shared that makes Hungry for Science so entertaining. The life cycle of a flea in "An Ode to Flea" details the birth and death of Little Miss Pesky Flea who
Lived three months and caused such strife
a doggone long and itchy life!
Captain Chemistry helps unclog a sink drain with an all-purpose cleaner of baking soda and vinegar, and Scary Miss Mary shares how her odd garden of "carnivorous snappers and large creepy wrappers and that stinky, zombie-faced rose" grows.
From Hungry for Science: Poems to Munch On by Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming, illus. by Peggy Collins
With a glossary and descriptions of the concepts taught in each poem, Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming complete Hungry for Science with the expository text perfect for a book on science. Peggy Collins, who also illustrated Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming's earlier STEM picture book, Hungry for Math: Poems to Munch On (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015), ensures the lightness and brightness of tone is reinforced in her artwork, adding quirky creative details like a rainbow of plumes from the primary sense organs and an evil below-ground carrot in Scary Miss Mary's garden.
From Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On by Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming, illus. by Peggy Collins
Have some fun with teaching simple science concepts to children with Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch On and inspire a child to become a scientist everyday.

September 17, 2018

Bright Shining Moment

Written by Deb Loughead
Second Story Press
178 pp.
Ages 9-13
September 2018

Twelve-year-old Adèline (Aline) Sauriol is ashamed that her family is poor. Even though they have a roof over their heads and food on their table and her clothes are always clean and mended, she is humiliated that she never has coins for the charity box on Sister Madeleine's desk or magazines at home from which she could cut pictures for a scrapbook. And she's especially abashed that Jeanine Bonenfant, her tormentor and a school troublemaker who is always getting the strap (this is 1940s Ottawa), often contributes. This is especially frustrating as it is evident that Jeanine's family is far poorer than Aline's and there are rumours that Jeanine's father is a drunk who beats his children and that Jeanine steals from her ill mother.
I like my house, even though we can only use half of it now and tenants will be living in the other half soon. I like my bed, even though it's in the living room now. I wish we weren't poor, though. I wish Papa didn't scowl so much. I wish we had bright shiny new things like some others do. I wish for a lot of things that I know will never come true. Especially the one for an "English" nose. (pg. 54)
Aline wishes for many things to be different but, in a time of economic hardships, there's not much she can do. And then she steals a dime–she intended to only take a penny–for the charity box only to find it has already been collected from the class. As her guardian angel and the devil–she is a good Catholic girl after all–try to sway her, the girl spends it all on candy for herself and her cousin Lucille, purchasing more than they can possibly eat and hiding the rest. While a shameful reminder of her indiscretion, that bag of candy helps Aline make things right for a number of people, family and not, during times of tragedy and joy.

As with most children, Aline sees what she perceives others to have as better than what she has, whether it be money to share for charity, a big house and hot water as her friend Georgette has, or a radio, beautiful clothes and a Christmas tree as their new tenants, the English-Protestant Coleman family, have. In her home, Aline knows how fortunate she is, proud of her mother's baking and care of her family, or her father's hard work and telling of Ti-Jean stories, and her siblings who bring life to her family. But when at school or on the street or visiting the Coleman's apartment or Georgette's house, she is envious of all they seem to have. Of course, Deb Loughead makes sure that Aline realizes that the grass is not always greener and that there are those who are happy to share their bounty. Fortunately, Deb Loughead's touch in Bright Shining Moment is subtle, never moralizing, always recognizing that people's stories are far greater than outward appearances may suggest. There is an appreciation for those who struggle and understanding for those who put on façades while still recognizing that there are those who are more fortunate and still charitable.

Aline may be searching for bright shiny new things, but Bright Shining Moment is one in itself, with its setting effusive with the times and the lessons both discreet and smart. Amidst her personal struggles with envy and shame and wishes for more, Aline eventually finds that brightness and it comes from the familiar. It comes from home.

September 14, 2018

Fox and Squirrel Help Out

Written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
32 pp.
Ages 2-7
August 2018

Teaching young children about empathy is not always easy because our expectations of when they should express empathy does not always jive with their feelings that empathy is necessitated. Programs like Roots of Empathy–a program in which babies visit classrooms so that students might develop their own emotional literacy–work well because children have a natural empathy for babies and those smaller and more vulnerable than themselves. That's why Ruth Ohi's latest picture book, Fox and Squirrel Help Out, her fourth Fox and Squirrel book, provides a literary model for teaching empathy while charming little ones with the honest and endearing friendship of two special friends.

From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
When something falls onto Fox's head, squeaking frantically and loudly, the two friends are flummoxed as to how to help the little creature. Though Fox sees beyond the noise and delights in the bat's warmth and softness, he recognizes the need to appease Squeak. Like a parent or babysitter trying to calm a restless baby, Fox and Squirrel try food and entertainment but it's only when Fox rocks back and forth on one leg that the little guy is calmed and comforted.
From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
Squirrel may be a little disgruntled because Fox insists on focusing on Squeak's needs but it's upon Squirrel's head that Squeak finds the coziness necessary for sleep. But that's only before his real family comes looking for him and Fox and Squirrel must say goodbye.

I know that everyone thinks they can write a picture book but they can't. I get a lot of picture books for review by writers who have not learned what it takes to make one great. Ruth Ohi knows how to do it right, with each and every book she creates. (Check out Kenta and the Big Wave and Shh! My Brother's Napping as two important examples of her work.) Fox and Squirrel Help Out checks off all the boxes: it tells a charming story, with simple but impactful text, which is enhanced with unique illustrations that tell more about the characters and their motivations than the words alone. Ruth Ohi's artistic style which blends daintiness with cartoons invites readers in to her scenes. (Has anyone ever thought of how awesome stuffies of Fox and Squirrel would be?)
From Fox and Squirrel Help Out by Ruth Ohi
I could tell you that Fox and Squirrel Help Out has an important message about the empathy needed to "babysit" a young one who is away from its own family, but anyone who reads the story will get it. The book doesn't preach or need to in order to impress lessons upon the reader.  What is does do is share an anecdote of two friends spending time with another who needs their help. Sure there's acceptance of differences and appreciation of diversity of needs–Squirrel's attempts at entertaining, while adorable, just don't cut it with Squeak– but it's the two friends working together that continues to create the intimacy necessary to speak to children, here helping young ones see that they have the capacity to make things right in the world just on their own scale. It would appear that Fox and Squirrel Help Out more than just a young bat.

If you head to author-illustrator Ruth Ohi's website at, you can get a variety of Fox and Squirrel activities, including bookmarks, cut-outs for stick puppets, etc. for Fox and Squirrel Help Out, as well as the other three books in the series.

September 07, 2018


Written by Caroline Pignat
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
All ages
June 2018 

When Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale, powerhouses in word and art, come together, you know that the result will be powerful and extraordinary and Poetree is.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
From germinating seed to young shoot and sapling and then flowering and fruiting and more seeds, Caroline Pignat shares intimate glimpses of trees and their communities through the four seasons. For each season, a two-line verse introduces the life activity portrayed. Spring is introduced with...
A sleeping seed begins to grow
     shoots and roots in the ground below. (pg. 2)
Spring is thus announced and given life with acrostic poems about seeds germinating and the onset of roots and shoots, and leaves and flowers. Summer has us feeling the breeze and the rain, and witnessing the promise of a nest (beautifully described as "nature's nursery") and the activity of a variety of insects.  Fall takes us to the bounty of harvest, particularly apples, and the changing colours and falling of leaves. 
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
Though you might be forgiven for expecting the book to end with Winter, which is advanced with...
Beneath a blanket, frosty white,
     the old tree sleeps long winter's night. (pg. 22)
and poems about snow, bareness, exposed rings of fallen trees and snow, it is not the end of Poetree. Caroline Pignat, in her infinite wisdom and artist's eye, knows that ...
Somehow each ending is not the
Scatters new beginnings.
(pg. 31)
I hope Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale will forgive my tardiness in reviewing their elegant book of verse and artistry but I think that Poetree shouldn't be lost in summer reviews when teachers are not necessarily purchasing books for classroom and school libraries. Poetree needs to be in all libraries for lessons on the seasons and acrostic poetry and life cycles in nature and for evoking the beauty of our enduring and fragile environment.

Caroline Pignat has the poet's sensibilities and command of words to convey content and feeling without the verbiage. I recommend any of her books, but particularly her Governor General award-winning YA novel in free verse and my favourite, The Gospel Truth (Red Deer Press, 2014), to relish further the finesse she demonstrates in Poetree. Pairing her verse with the art of award-winning François Thisdale is inspired.  François Thisdale, whose art illustrated picture books including The Stamp Collector (by Jennifer Lanthier, from Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2012) and Missing Nimâmâ (by Melanie Florence, from Clockwise Press, 2015), combines drawing and digital images to produce evocative scenes of fresh landscapes and micro views and underground perspectives. It's inspiriting to see how insignificant humans are–a lone man is occasionally seen in the background–to the unfolding of life in the natural world.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
A masterful exploration of arboreal life from beginning to end and to new again through the four seasons, Poetree sustains the reader with verse and art as dramatically as the earth does our natural world.

September 05, 2018

Anna at the Art Museum

Written by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert
Illustrated by Lil Crump
Annick Press
36 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2018

Little Anna's mother has taken the girl to an art museum where everything seems "old and boring." But when Anna goes exploring and tries to have a little fun, roaring at the Babylonian ceramic panel of a lion, the guard chastizes her to be quiet. When she plays peekaboo with a baby, she almost topples a decorative urn. Even a colourful modern sculpture that looks like an interactive toy is not to be touched. Again her mother has to have the talk with her about "No shouting. No running. No climbing. No touching."
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins & Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
While art is emulated unknowingly by the patrons (this will be the fun part for young readers to find), Anna thinks about "If only the museum could be turned inside out. Or the world outside in." But after the attendant allows her to peek in a workroom where conservators work at restoring art, including one in which she sees a little girl just like her (Mary Cassatt's Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878), Anna's perspective on art changes.
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
Anna at the Art Museum is so charming and so real.  Any teacher or parent who has ever taken a young child to a museum or art gallery for the first time knows that, in order to grab a child's attention, a connection must be made. Without a connection, art is just stuff on the wall and on pedestals. It's the same for text and people and ... everything.  Problem is that, while Anna is trying to find her connection with the art, all the adults around her are telling her she's making the wrong connections because she's trying to do it through touch and play. Finally, when she is able to make a visual connection, the art in the museum and her world come together and become real.
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
Authors Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert have taken a big story of a little girl in an overwhelming art museum and brought it to the perspective of a child. We see and hear what Anna does, how she is experiencing the museum.  For that reason, Anna at the Art Museum will be a worthwhile addition to home, classroom and school libraries for reading prior to and after visits to places like museums and art galleries where, on the surface, children might be challenged to make connections easily.  But connections can be made and, if the plethora of artwork depicted by Nova Scotia artist Lil Crump is any indication, there's always something with which a person can connect. 
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
Still Lil Crump's illustrations go beyond the famous artwork she reproduces in cameos throughout the book. (The appendix About the Art describes each piece and its creator, as well as details about the medium and gallery where it is displayed.) Lil Crump gives Anna life and lots of it. She is bored and playful and inquisitive and surprised. She is a child and, thank heavens, she still has the spark to see beyond the surface.

In Anna at the Art Museum, Hazel Hutchins, Gail Herbert and Lil Crump have shown us that there is much life in art and art in life and that seeing it might just take a fortuitous connection.

September 04, 2018

A West Coast Summer: Book event (Victoria, BC)


 Carol Evans


 Caroline Woodward


A West Coast Summer
  Illustrated with watercolours by Carol Evans
Text by Caroline Woodward
Harbour Publishing
32 pp.
All ages
September 2018

From A West Coast Summer, art by Carol Evans, text by Caroline Woodward

a presentation

about their new book


 Friday, October 5, 2018


4 p.m.


Maritime Museum of British Columbia
634 Humboldt Street
Victoria, BC

August 31, 2018

A West Coast Summer

Illustrated with watercolours by Carol Evans
Text by Caroline Woodward
Harbour Publishing
32 pp.
All ages
September 2018

While A West Coast Summer may be a perfect book for reminiscences of a summer past, I think we should enjoy one last plunge into a summer on Canada's West Coast.

A West Coast Summer is a print gallery of dramatic artwork by watercolour artist Carol Evans who lives on Salt Spring Island. Her paintings–cameos, single pages pieces and art that spans double-spreads–depict children in activities along the coast, both on land and on the water, sometimes solitary, often with companions as they explore, play and reflect. It's an intense experience for all the senses as the reader steps foot in the water, cycles on a land spit, scrutinizes the small amidst the majestic landscape of trees and rock, honours their ancestry and accompanies friends and family on common and extraordinary adventures.
Art by Carol Evans from A West Coast Summer, text by Caroline Woodward
You will hear descriptors of the art as gorgeous, breath-taking and beautiful and they are all those things. By Carol Evans's hand, the water becomes palpable, lapping or still, serene or powerful, a playmate, a well of life, or a depth of secrets.  Her ability to give light to landscapes both open and sheltered is astounding. Most readers will feel the need to look closer to convince themselves that Carol Evans's art is not photographic or at least not produced with a camera.  It is not, but it is certainly true to life while evocative of time and place and feeling.
Art by Carol Evans from A West Coast Summer, text by Caroline Woodward
Caroline Woodward, author children's book including Singing Away the Dark (illustrated by Julie Morstad, Simply Read Books, 2011), knows how to put power in words. She hears what children are feeling and thinking and takes the reader with them to the places they visit. The lines
To the sea, to the sea,
who or what waits here for me?
are repeated several times through the book, with rhyming answers like
Sea salt in the air floats everywhere
and cedars smell so sweet beside the shore.

We explore the bog and flip over a log
to find beetles and bugs galore!
Art by Carol Evans from A West Coast Summer, text by Caroline Woodward
The dedication from Carol Evans is a telling statement about the intent of her art and the book:
Dedicated to all the children who will inherit this coastal homeland. And to the children who come to visit her. May we hand it down to you intact.
For those who live on or visit the west coast, A West Coast Summer will be familiar and comfortable.  It will be home.  For those who have never been, the book will be an invitation.

August 30, 2018

Unity Club & Push Back: Double book launch (Edmonton, AB)

Join author
Karen Spafford-Fitz

for the launch of two new hi-lo books 
for middle grade and young adults:

Unity Club
Written by Karen Spafford-Fitz
Orca Book Publishers
131 pp.
Ages 10-14
August 2018

Brett is president of her school's Unity Club. When a new group home for at-risk youth opens in the neighborhood, Brett becomes friends with Jude, one of the boys who lives at the home.

After a series of acts of vandalism, the community starts demanding that the group home be shut down. Brett doesn't believe that Jude, or any of the other teens, is responsible, but when an elderly woman is seriously injured, Brett begins to have doubts. 
Retrieved from Orca website at


Push Back
Written by Karen Spafford-Fitz
184 pp.
Ages 13-18
September 2018

Sixteen-year-old Zaine Wyatt has a lot to be angry about. His mother walked out of his life when he was 12, and he was kicked out of his Aunt Sarah's place by his uncle. After living on the streets and getting badly beaten up, he is back at Aunt Sarah's, but Zaine is still angry, afraid, and uncertain that he has a permanent place to live. When his mother breaks yet another promise to take him back, he flees to an empty art studio he has taken refuge in before. But now it is just a storage shed, and he vents his rage by trashing the place and injures the new owner as he flees.

Facing charges and a possible criminal record, Zaine agrees to participate in a restorative-justice program to keep from being kicked out again by his aunt. Zaine works to fix the damage he has caused and helps the owner's disabled grandson Lucas get to and from school, but his attempts to stay on the right side of the law are challenged by a group of teens who want to recruit him into a gang. Can Zaine complete the restorative-justice program and prove himself worthy of a home, whether with his mother or not?

Both books 

are set to launch on

Sunday, September 16, 2018


 2 p.m.


Audrey's Books
107092 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, AB

August 28, 2018

The Defiant

Written by Lesley Livingston
371 pp.
Ages 13+
January 2018

Gladiatrix Fallon went from king's daughter to human chattel and fighter and finally Victrix in Lesley Livingston's The Valiant (HarperCollins, 2017) but, instead of resting on her laurels and rewards as bestowed by Julius Caesar himself, she's still fighting, now to restore sister's legacy and keep her fellow gladiatrices alive to battle another day.

The Defiant begins with a mock sea battle between Fallon's sister Sorcha's academy, the Ludus Achillea, and that of their rivals, the Ludus Amazona, which belongs to the nasty Pontius Aquila whom Fallon discovered in The Valiant to be part of a dark cult called the Sons of Dis who feast on the hearts of fallen fighters.  But that rivalry explodes when Pontius Aquila arrives claiming that the gladiatrices at the Ludus Achillea have revolted against the Lanistra (Sorcha) who is absent and must be dead. He has bought the ludus from her second in command, Thalestris, who is now also gone. Aquila who had been thwarted when he first wanted to purchase Fallon is determined to have her fight for him. With a little help from her Roman paramour Caius and his fellow legionnaire Quintus, as well as a few unlikely allies, including a kitchen slave, the murderer of her first love and a supposedly-dead Gaulish chieftain, Fallon with many of her oath sister gladiatrices escape and embark on a new struggle: to save Sorcha from the vengeful Thalestris and reclaim the ludus.

I wish I could tell you so much more about the plot of The Defiant, including the legionnaire's instruction of the formidable gladiatrices in coordinated team fighting; the battle with the Amazons, a reclusive group of women on Corsica; Fallon and Cai's romance amidst new trust issues; the reappearance of the vile Nyx, Fallon's rival in Caesar's arena; and a myriad of characters whose trustworthiness is always in question. But a single post is not sufficient to share the richness of Lesley Livingston's newest book.

However, I can tell you that, like every book I have ever read of Lesley Livingston's, there is so much complexity to her plotting, a blend of fantasy infused with well-researched reality, here the history of ancient Roman times, that readers will experience the full effect as a sensory experience. There is brutality and inequality, discrimination and power struggles, and moments of tenderness, sorority and much passion.   

Most importantly, The Defiant has positive messages about the strength of women to battle for themselves and determine their own destinies as they can.  Fallon and Sorcha, and even nasties like Nyx and Thalestris, defy the odds to rise in a paternalistic world, to choose for themselves beyond the rule of men, an intriguing concept for their time. They are sisters in arms and philosophy.
Help me see that we are not the equal of man, we are better. (pg. 248)
But Lesley Livingston goes beyond that decisive message and masterful plotting and characterizations.  She writes with command of language.  Every word embeds the reader in the time and place of The Defiant, often with colourful imagery that reveals and amuses.
The next morning I awoke with a head full of sheep's wool and bootnails. (pg. 37)
Fortunately, The Defiant is not the end of Fallon's story. In February of 2019, The Triumphant, the conclusion to the Valiant series, will be published, and there is news of a series in development at The CW based on the first book in the series.  There may be much in her world that wants to put her down but readers of Lesley Livingston's fantasy would never let her fade away.  She is valiant, she is defiant and she will be triumphant.


We're delighted that Lesley Livingston will be joining YA authors Natasha Deen and Kari Maaren on a speculative fiction panel at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival on Sunday, September 9, 2018.  We're sure to have a great discussion and you'll get a chance to hear the authors read from their works, to ask a few questions, and to even get a book or two autographed.  Do come and join us!

August 25, 2018

Weave a Circle Round

Written by Kari Maaren
Tor Books
367 pp.
Ages 12+

After fourteen-year-old Josiah and adult (but not mother) Cuerva Lachance move in to the house on Grosvenor Street, everything in Freddy Duchamp's life goes topsy-turvy. That's saying a lot since life hasn't been that stable to begin with. Maybe Freddy has always been too sensitive–something she doesn't appreciate, knowing that "Sensitive people got stomped on by life" (pg. 12)–but with her parents' hostile relationship transitioning into divorce and her mother marrying Jordan Fukiyama whose irascible son Roland, also 14, seems to hate Freddy, the teen finds little solace anywhere or with anyone. She feels ignored at home (Mom and Jordan are essentially absentee parents) and at school (maturing friends Rochelle and Cathy have left Freddy behind). She's angry at Roland who's a jerk and gets special attention because of his hearing impairment and treats her like she doesn't belong in her own home. And she's frustrated with her brilliant younger sister Mel who gets along with Roland and is often involved in his role-playing games (RPGs).

Though Freddy clashes with the disagreeable Josiah, he seems to be the only one around actually being friendly to her. But Roland has a real problem with Josiah and Cuerva Lachance and warns Freddy and Mel to stay away from them, without any explanation. There are hints of chaos on the horizon: Cuerva Lachance aggravating all with her bizarre behaviour; Mel's surveillance of their neighbours revealing Josiah in two places at the same time; and Freddy and Roland's conflict escalating into verbal assaults and threats.

And then, without warning, Freddy is in 9th c. Sweden in the midst of a battle between feuding Viking families. Josiah is there, explaining that they have time-travelled and that no matter where or when they reappear in the past, Josiah will be there as himself, with Cuerva Lachance as a new character and a third person whom they call Three. Jumping from times that include ancient China, the Upper Palaeolithic, 18th c. England (where they meet Sam Coleridge whose poem Kubla Khan gives the line "Weave a circle round him thrice") and the future of the 32nd century, Freddy attempts to make sense of the dynamics between the three characters and her role while surviving abductions, battles, and Josiah's perplexing attitude.

Weave a Circle Round is all about the struggle between balance and chaos, with a choice that needs to be made as to which will override the other.  In the case of Josiah and Cuerva, the balance of power shifts regularly and Freddy is forced to look within and around her to make sense of the world, both in her personal timeline and in those of Josiah, Cuerva Lachance and Three. How it is resolved is all on Kari Maaren.

Short-listed for the 2018 Sunburst Award for excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic in the YA category as well as the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, Weave a Circle Round has already made its mark for Kari Maaren who has blended a story that balances its own chaos with harmony and produced a tale of fantasy with complex characters seeking to fit in. They evolve, they mature, and they learn. From her protagonists Freddy, Roland, Josiah, Cuerva Lachance, and Mel, to her secondary characters like Freddy's mom and friends Rochelle and Cathy, all the characters in Weave a Circle Round are complex beings who are motivated by fear and uncertainty and follow their instincts, good or bad, to pursue becoming the characters they choose to be.

The writing is brilliant, both intricate and honest, giving voice to those who seek understanding of self and others.
As far as I can tell, crying about something you can't change is a slightly more sophisticated version of throwing a tantrum because the sun has melted your ice cream. (pg. 17)
And even through the complexities of time travel and the characters' personal development, there is humour.
"...and it doesn't really matter for me. I eat paradox for breakfast. I'm also fond of waffles." (pg. 131)
Weave a Circle Round is A Wrinkle in Time meets Dr. Who. It's a wonderful fabric woven of a fantastic plot and rich characters on a backing of science and history. The message is clear that all lives fluctuate between stable and chaotic, sometimes one more than the other, but the need for balance is irrefutable. And, with the introspection and problem-solving Freddy achieves via her time-travels and interactions with all, Weave a Circle Round becomes her coming of age story. She learns, a little later than sooner, that it's all about writing your own narrative and choosing the roles you'll play and that, if you want to see how things are going to work out, it's best to look where everything begins.

I'm pleased to announce that writer Kari Maaren will be joining YA authors Lesley Livingston and Natasha Deen on a speculative fiction panel at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival on Sunday, September 9, 2018.  Do come out to hear these authors speak, to ask a few questions, and to get a book or two autographed.  It's a wonderful outdoor event to celebrate words.

August 23, 2018

My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River

Written by Anne Laurel Carter
96 pp.
Ages 7-12
September 2018

Stella Bowles, her parents, younger brother William and dog Zappa live on the LaHave River in Nova Scotia. Though they have a wharf, a motorboat and her brother and father sail, Mom expects them to swim in their above-ground pool rather than the river where many swim regularly. After an issue with their septic system, eleven-year-old Stella learns that many people on their 97 km-long river, that runs from the Annapolis Valley to the Atlantic Ocean, still use straight pipes i.e., pipes that let toilets flush directly into the river.
From My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River by Anne Laurel Carter
After meeting Dr. Maxwell, a man who had been testing the water of the LaHave for several years and reporting it to the government without any action, Stella posts a large sign-"This river is contaminated with fecal bacteria"-to warn people about the dangers hidden in the river and begins a science project, under the guidance of Dr. Maxwell, to test the water for contamination. Readers learn much about the scientific method and Stella's experimental process while she endeavours to inform herself and others about the health of her river, garnering much attention both locally and online.
"My poop river project had gone viral." (pg. 43).
From My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River by Anne Laurel Carter
Though Stella finds much physical evidence of toilet waste (you don't really need the details), it's her test results for enterococci bacteria that are startling, revealing that several sites were not even safe for skin contact. Stella presents her findings at her local and regional school science fairs but the biggest hurdle is getting three levels of government to become involved in helping residents replace straight pipes with septic systems.  It's an arduous task, especially for one so young, but Stella Bowles is passionate about her river and getting it cleaned up.

Award-winning author Anne Laurel Carter caught wind of Stella Bowles's story after purchasing a property in the area in 2003. By telling Stella Bowles' story in the voice of the young teen, Anne Laurel Carter, best known for her acclaimed fiction, has made My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River a worthwhile read of citizen science and activism.
While My River does include some of the features of non-fiction text like photographs, information boxes and diagrams that can help provide clarification and greater depth to the story, it is the text of Stella Bowles's story of helping to put a stop to polluting practices on the LaHave River that carries the tale. It's the small steps in learning and discovery that make My River an exemplar of activism by young people with the message that, with perseverance and science, while looking in your own backyard, you can help change the world.

August 22, 2018

Turtle Pond

Written by James Gladstone
Illustrated by Karen Reczuch
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
May 2018

Through the year, a young child and his family visit a conservatory of a local public garden to watch the many turtles who inhabit a man-made pond within. The boy is an ardent observer and young aesthete of the Red-eared Sliders as they interact with their environment and each other. From the playful activity of the young in spring to summers of basking and the later seasons with their own behaviours, Turtle Pond takes young readers on a scientific pilgrimage of observation and appreciation.
their mouths are moving.
Are turtles speaking?
We try to hear them,
the sounds they're making at turtle pond.
From Turtle Pond by James Gladstone, illus. by Karen Reczuch
There is swimming and feeding, resting and playing, all told in James Gladstone's five-line stanzas which always end with the words "turtle pond." The text may appear simple in its form but it is telling in its information and awareness. There is inquisitiveness and thought with appreciation and acceptance.
under fat goldfish,
it swims up around them
in turtle circles,
poking at tail fins in turtle pond.
From Turtle Pond by James Gladstone, illus. by Karen Reczuch
But the story is only half-told without Karen Reczuch's realistic illustrations. I have always thought of Karen Reczuch as the Robert Bateman of children's book illustration because of her detailed depictions of the natural world. (Her award-winning Loon by Susan Vande Griek is a prime example.) But that moniker does a disservice to her art which goes far beyond natural settings and animals. (Check out her illustrations in Ainslie Manson's Just Like New and David Booth's The Dust Bowl.) It is her eye to detail and evocative imagery that takes the reader to her settings, here to watch the turtles in their lush environs of orchids, bromeliads and aquatics, in which the people are but tertiary.
From Turtle Pond by James Gladstone, illus. by Karen Reczuch
With its subtle verse and luxuriant illustrations, Turtle Pond would be a great teaching tool for poetry, science, and inquiry. It's a virtual field trip when a visit to a turtle pond is called for but impossible to arrange.