February 14, 2018

Elijah of Buxton

Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Press
9780439936477 
288 pp.
Ages 9-12
2007

Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman is the first free child born in Buxton, Ontario, a town of slaves who have escaped from the United States.  His days are filled with fishing by throwing stones, going to school, staying away from snakes (of which he is deathly afraid) and continuing to run into the Preacher, a sweet-talking but manipulative man, who gets Elijah involved in more than one of his schemes. But when the Preacher steals all the hard-earned money that Mr. Leroy was saving to buy his wife and two children out of slavery, Elijah, a boy of innocence and a strong sense of fairness, finds himself heading across the border and into the world of slavers and those seeking freedom in Canada. His ma might call him "fra-gile" but Elijah proves that he is anything but.

Though Elijah of Buxton is a book of a harrowing journey into America by a black youth looking to right a wrong, it only becomes a perilous adventure in the last third of the book.  Christopher Paul Curtis takes time to set the stage for that venture, establishing his characters and cultural landscape through the complexity of voice and atmosphere.  Elijah's interactions with others in his community, both peers and those "growned-up," speak to the changing times, when racism could be overt or concealed and the divide between the United States and Canada was both conspicuous and subtle.

Elijah of Buxton begs to be read aloud to get the full nuance of language and tone that Christopher Paul Curtis instills in the narration and dialogue, just as he has in The Madman of Piney Woods and The Journey of Little Charlie.  The dialect can seem confusing at times but read aloud the text becomes rich and flavourful.

There are many difficult moments in Elijah of Buxton, times when my heart broke and I struggled to read on.  Not because the book wasn't an outstanding piece of literature but because of the injustices and horrors endured.   Mind you, even Christopher Paul Curtis's ending left me sobbing and still hopeful for a baby, for Elijah and for all. Christopher Paul Curtis had just set up the “most beautifullest, most perfectest” story he could.

••••••••••••••••••

Though I rarely review books not published in the past year, my recent review of The Journey of Little Charlie compelled me to review Christopher Paul Curtis's earlier books that reference the town of Buxton, The Madman of Piney Woods and now Elijah of Buxton.  These books are not a series, though Buxton is mentioned in each.  Please read them all.

February 13, 2018

The Madman of Piney Woods

Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Canada
978-1-44313-912-9
363 pp.
Ages 8-12
2014

Though I don't often review books older than a year, I referred to this title several times in my review of The Journey of Little Charlie yesterday so that I thought it was incumbent upon me to share the importance of this volume now.  Fortunately, I must also address Christopher Paul Curtis' book  Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007) which first speaks to the historically important town of Buxton, originally a settlement of runaway slaves.

In 1859, eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman is the first free-born child in Buxton, Canada, a haven for slaves fleeing the American south.  In his story, Elijah of Buxton, Elijah uses his wits to find justice when money earmarked to buy a family's freedom is stolen.

In 1901, forty years after the story of Elijah of Buxton, the storylines of two unlikely friends, Benji and Red, converge in an unexpected manner to tell a new story for Buxton.  Benji Alston is a black boy living in Buxton whose shenanigans with his friends Spencer and  others become imagined newspaper stories.  Benji spends much of his time in the pine woods between Chatham and Buxton, and makes the acquaintance of a hermit-like man in the woods who, similar to Benji, is more comfortable in the woods than anywhere else.  Red is an Irish boy who lives with his father, a judge, and his highly prejudiced Grandmother O’Toole in Chatham.  Meanwhile Red and his friends talk of the Lion Man of the South Woods of whom they've learned they should avoid.

The two boys become friends after meeting at a speech competition.  When Red suspects that the Madman, whom he knows to be a friend of Benji’s, has been shot, the two become forever entwined with the mysterious man of the woods whose story began in Elijah of Buxton.

Told in alternating chapters in the voices of the two boys, The Madman of Piney Woods becomes an adventure story with a haunting mystery based in the past.  The horrors that a Black Canadian soldier endured because of the American Civil War or that an Irish immigrant escaping the devastation of the Potato Famine suffered before a tortuous journey on a coffin ship are as real as the memories of enslavement of many Buxton inhabitants.  Benji and Red may never have endured these horrors but these very different and yet surprisingly ordinary boys are defined by their friends and family. Still Christopher Paul Curtis contrives an authentic story by which the two come together to work together and make things right that have been wrong for too long. As I wrote yesterday in my review of The Journey of Little Charlie, from the ordinary comes the extraordinary.

History may take place in the past but The Madman of Piney Woods reminds us that the past engraves the present and the future for the survivors of war, slavery and all manner of disaster as well as for those who love them.

February 12, 2018

The Journey of Little Charlie

Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-4263-2
234 pp.
Ages 8-13
February 2018

Little Charlie Bobo, the son of a white sharecropper on the South Carolina plantation of Mr. Tanner, can hardly be called little for his size. At twelve, he is 6'4".  So, when Little Charlie's father is killed and cap'n Duke, the abusive overseer on the plantation, claims that he'd paid him fifty dollars upfront to help him retrieve money stolen from Mr. Tanner, Little Charlie has no recourse but to accompany the man.

Heading to Detroit, Little Charlie knows enough to listen and not say much to the brutal and racist cap'n Duke.
You can learn from anybody.  Even dimwits can teach you if you listen careful and pick at the kernels of corn from the horse crap they's dishing out. (pg. 71)
He quickly learns that the "thieves" they are searching out are slaves Lou and Cleytus and their young son Sylvester who'd escaped from the Tanner plantation ten years earlier.  With some assistance from the equally reprehensible Sheriff Turner and his associate Keegan, cap'n Duke captures the parents who have made a good life for themselves and their family and  now go by Eloise and Chester Desmarest.  But cap'n Duke is determined to get all the family, including the two-year-old twin daughters and son Sylvanus, a student at a school in Saint Catharines, Canada.  Though warned about going into Canada to retrieve escaped slaves, cap'n Duke with Little Charlie in tow get themselves cleaned up and travel by ferry and train to deceive Sylvanus into returning to the United States with them.

The Journey of Little Charlie may begin as a debt the young man is trapped into repaying but it becomes a journey of learning beyond any his poor existence at home had provided him.  Though his parents imparted some wisdom to him about survival and living a life of subservience, Little Charlie has had few opportunities–he cannot read–and never expected much from his life. Accompanying the vile cap'n Duke, Little Charlie is able to see for himself how the world outside of Possum Moan, South Carolina works, including entering Canada, a country which had abolished slavery decades earlier. For the first time, he could see, not just learn second-hand, what life was like for others, including the poor, the rich, "colored folk" and everyone.  The Journey of Little Charlie is a coming-of-age story of historically immense proportions; it is Little Charlie's journey outside of what he has always known and been taught. And he heeds the words of the old railway man, Ol'Jerry, they meet outside of "Dee-troit."
"I 'membered thinking at the time 'tis too bad this can't be a reg'lar part of living, where we all gets a chance to walk away from whatever train wreck we's made of our lives and run off to start up building something new." (pg. 79)
Just as he did in The Madman of Piney Woods (Scholastic, 2014), Christopher Paul Curtis brings together very different voices on a similar journey, though their intentions and perspectives vary greatly.  In The Madman of Piney Woods, he gives voice to a boy living in the shadow of his grandmother's harrowing immigration from Ireland and a distinct one to another whose family and friends live with the legacy of slavery.  They, like Little Charlie and cap'n Duke, live ordinary lives for the times.  But from the ordinary comes the extraordinary.  It is the righting of wrongs and redemption that carries the story forward, delivering history from the every day and teaching compassion from cruelty.
They never once looked back.                                                    If I was them, I wouldn't-a neither. (pg. 232)

February 09, 2018

Black History Month: Additional titles


In 2014, I posted my first listing of youngCanLit which could be read to commemorate Black History Month.  There were 54 titles in that initial listing which is posted here.






In 2016, I updated that listing, adding more titles of those recently published and those I'd missed, reaching a total of 76 titles.  That post is available here.




But the list keeps growing.  Rather than updating the list i.e., posting the previous list with new additions, I am going to just prepare a list of new titles that could be added to those previous lists.  Some were only published since my last book list was posted and others were just titles I missed. Hopefully this collection of titles, which includes both stories of history and those of contemporary experiences, will help to make my book lists for Black History Month more complete.  At least for now.


PICTURE BOOKS
Abigail's Wish
Written by Gloria Ann Wesley
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4-9
2016
Reviewed here

A Change of Heart
Written by Alice Walsh
Illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4-10
2016
Reviewed here

Community Soup
Written and illustrated by Alma Fullerton
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
2013
Reviewed here
Freedom Child of the Sea
Written by Richardo Keens-Douglas
Illustrated by Julia Gukova
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 9-12
1995

Gift Days
Written by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by Stephen Taylor
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 7+
2012
Reviewed here
A Good Trade
by Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Karen Patkau
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5+
2012
Reviewed here

Grandpa's Visit
Written by Richardo Keens-Douglas
Illustrated by Frances Clancy
Annick Press
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
1996




Greetings, Leroy
Written by Itah Sadu
Illustrated by Alix Delinois
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
2017
Reviewed here

In a Cloud of Dust
Written by Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
2015
Reviewed here 

Malaika's Winter Carnival
Written by Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 3-7
2017

Name Calling
Written by Itah Sadu
Illustrated by Rasheeda Haneef
Canadian Scholars' Press
34 pp.
Ages 4-8
1992

The Nutmeg Princess
Written by Richardo Keens-Douglas
Illustrated by Annouchka Galouchko
Annick Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
1992


Oscar Lives Next Door
Written by Bonnie Farmer
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Owlkids Books
Ages 4-8

The Stone Thrower
Written by Jael Ealey Richardson
Illustrated by Matt James
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
2016
Reviewed here

A Touch of the Zebras
Written by Itah Sadu
Illustrated by Stephen Taylor
Canadian Scholars' Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
2003







NOVELS
Aluta
Written by Adwoa Badoe
Groundwood Books
216 pp.
Ages 14+
2016

Blue Mountain Trouble
Written by Martin Mordecai
Scholastic
341 pp.
Ages 9-13
2009

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War
by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine
Illustrated by Claudia DΓ‘vila
Kids Can Press
48 pp.
Ages 10-14
2015
Reviewed here

The Journey of Little Charlie
Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Canada
256 pp.
Ages 9-13
2018







NON-FICTION
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13
Written by Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
Christy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan
40 pp.
Ages 7-12
June 2018

From the Heart of Africa: A Book of Wisdom
Collected by Eric Walters
Tundra Books
40 pp.
Ages 6-10
2018

Runner: The Life of Harry Jerome, World's Fastest Man
Written by Norma Charles
Red Deer Press
208 pp.
Ages 12+
2017

February 07, 2018

Sadia: Blog Tour Guest Post by author Colleen Nelson


Yesterday I reviewed Colleen Nelson's newest novel, Sadia, from Dundurn Press. I adore Colleen Nelson's novels for their variety of themes and strong characters with voices that resonate with all.  Today Colleen Nelson shares a few things you need to know about Sadia, so please join me in welcoming her.
πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€

Colleen Nelson



Hello CanLit for LittleCanadians!


My newest book, 

Sadia

launches this month 
and 
 I thought I’d share

  5 Things you didn’t know about Sadia.

1. I hear voices. Yep, that’s how all my books start. The character talks to me when I’m doing random things, like washing dishes or driving to work, and all of a sudden a whole story is spinning in my head. I liked Sadia as soon as I heard her talking in my head and even more once I made her into a basketball player.

2. I don’t play basketball. I’m not good at any sports except yoga (and I don’t think that counts as a sport). But my husband went to Gonzaga University and I’ve been forced to watch many of their games. My boys both like basketball, so I asked them for help when it came to the basketball scenes in the book.

3. I would love to do a project like ‘If You Give a Kid a Camera’. I’ve done versions of photography projects with my elementary students. If any teachers want to try it, reach out to me. I’d love to see what your students come up with. Photography is such a powerful way to communicate ideas. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

4. The original manuscript was called ‘The Brilliance of Bees’ (The old cover is still floating around in cyber space), but had to be changed because it didn’t really capture what the story was about. Mr. Letner used to be an entomophile, which is a lover of insects. I sprinkled facts about bees throughout the book, but ended up deleting them. There are a lot of similarities between bee hives and classrooms: bees are hard-working and cooperate, everyone has a job and no job is more or less important than another’s. I now have a lot of bee facts ‘buzzing’ in my head so maybe they will appear in another book.

5. Sadia was written because a student of mine requested books with Muslim characters. I couldn’t find any in our library except Deborah Ellis’ ‘Breadwinner’ series, which she’d read. I asked other Teacher-Librarians and our local book seller, but no one had any suggestions. About the same time, I came across an article about a team of Muslim girls who sewed their own basketball uniforms so they could play games. From that point on, the plot came quickly and Sadia was written in six weeks over summer holidays.

I hope you enjoyed discovering more about Sadia.

Thanks for having me on your blog!

~ author Colleen Nelson


πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€

It is always my pleasure to welcome Colleen Nelson
to CanLit for LittleCanadians
and to continue reviewing her stellar YA novels.

Support Canadian authors and #youngCanLit
by checking out Sadia and Colleen Nelson's other books


Sadia (Dundurn, 2018)
Blood Brothers (Dundurn, 2017)
Finding Hope (Dundurn, 2016)
250 Hours (Coteau, 2015)
The Fall (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2013)
Tori By Design (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2011)

February 06, 2018

Sadia

Written by Colleen Nelson
Dundurn
978-1-45974-029-7
240 pp.
Ages 12+
February 2018
As I passed the classroom door, I caught sight of myself in the small pane of glass.  Was it the hijab that Mariam was running away from?  Seeing me must remind her of who she really was, who she'd always be.  I wished she'd realize that taking off her hijab wasn't going to change that. (pg. 82)
For Sadia's friend Mariam, de-jabbing i.e., removal of her hijab when at school and changing into more revealing clothes improper for a Muslim girl are the means to fit in and become recognized by athletic classmate Josh.  While Sadia would never contemplate doing the same, she tries to understand her friend's need to shed her headscarf and appreciate her perspective on being a Muslim girl in a Winnipeg high school.  And perspective is everything she and her classmates realize after their teacher–and also basketball coach–Mr. Letner gives them an assignment based on the premise of "If you give a kid a camera."  While Sadia and her classmates begin to take photos of their lives, they reveal much about what they experience at home and at school including family challenges, hidden passions and friendships lost and found.

While she undertakes her project, which evolves to include a passion project to help newly-arrived refugees, Sadia grapples with Mariam's de-jabbing and drive to fit in which becomes more complicated after Sadia is chosen for the school's All City Pre-Season Co-ed Basketball Team on which Josh plays.  Sadia is thrilled to be playing the game that her brother taught her and accepts the accommodations she must make to play–changing in private, covering up far more than her teammates, and wearing her hijab–but being on the team causes more friction with Mariam, especially after Josh's attentions are directed towards Sadia.  It all comes to a climax at the tournament when Sadia's hijab becomes a mobilizing force for family, friends, teammates and strangers.

Sadia addresses Sadia's honest acceptance of her Muslim culture but also how she finds the means to meld it with her love for basketball, rather than abandon one passion for another.  Sadia's self-acceptance is mature and extraordinary and she would be an impressive role model for Muslim girls trying to find their own way.  Without being deceptive or disingenuous, Sadia helps new Muslim girl Amira prepare for her new life in Canada and show Mariam that it is possible to be a practising Muslim and have fun.  Just like the photography assignment Mr. Letner gives his class, it is all about point of view.

Author Colleen Nelson continues to ramp up her writing, developing characters with whom all readers can identify.  From those dealing with bullying, guilt and grief (The Fall, 2013), or abandonment and discrimination (250 Hours, 2015), or with sexual abuse and drug addiction (Finding Hope, 2016) and poverty and violence (Blood Brothers, 2017), Colleen Nelson pens real characters whose decisions propel them into life-changing situations.  For the first time, Colleen Nelson has given Muslim girls a role model, a girl who recognizes that she has been accorded much attention and discrimination because of how others perceive her hijab, often incorrectly, but who appreciates what being a Muslim means and accepts those cultural traditions as the basis for whom she is.  Sadia does not struggle with wearing the hijab, as does her friend Mariam, but when thrust into the limelight where wearing the hijab might prevent her from playing basketball, she considers with great thought and insight what it means to continue wearing it.  Still she stays true to herself, empowered, not restricted, by her hijab or being Muslim.  For her, de-jabbing would be negating her true self, just as not playing basketball would.  In Sadia, being yourself is better than having it all and being Muslim is in itself empowering.

πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€

Check back tomorrow for Colleen Nelson's guest blog post titled "5 Things You Didn't Know about Sadia" and upcoming blog tour stops at Lost in a Great Book, MG Book Village and Dundurn Press.


February 05, 2018

What Happens Next: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Join 

author Susan Hughes 

and

 illustrator Carey Sookocheff 


for the launch of their first book together


What Happens Next
Written by Susan Hughes
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Owlkids Books
9781771471657
40 pp.
Ages 4+
March 2018

on

  Saturday, March 3, 2018

2-4 p.m.

at

Queen Books
914 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON


It is a book about the bullied, the bully, the bystander and family.


This will be an important book
 for children to read, 
with which educators can teach and 
which can help parents relate to the emotions of one who is being bullied.



This trailer from Owlkids Books captures a glimpse of the book's message.

What Happens Next book trailer

 Uploaded by Owlkids to YouTube on December 22, 2017.