May 29, 2018

Pulse Point: Q & A with author Colleen Nelson

Written by Colleen Nelson with Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (Great Plains Publications)
192 pp.
Ages 12-15
May 2018

Yesterday I reviewed Colleen Nelson's newest YA novel, Pulse Point, which she wrote with Nancy Chappell-Pollack.  Today Colleen Nelson with input from Nancy Chappell-Pollack answers a few of my questions about the book, their writing process and the future for Pulse Point.

HK:  Pulse Point is totally unlike any YA novel you have written to date both in genre and in its collaborative authorship, and I’d really love to delve into this.  First, how did you come to write the novel with your sister and what did you find most challenging as well as most advantageous about writing Pulse Point as part of a team?

CN:  Pulse Point began as an idea that Nancy had for a screenplay. Her background is in screenwriting and theatre, so we pitched it to a screen writing contest. I wrote the ‘treatment’ which is a type of synopsis used in the television/movie industry. We didn’t win, but the idea was too good to let go. Nancy and I were both invested in the idea, so we decided to work on it together.

One of the challenges writers face is the isolation factor. For hours every day, I sit in a room by myself and tap away on my laptop. Sometimes writing feels like a very slow, uphill slog and what’s worse, I have no idea if what I’m writing is any good! It was motivating to send Nancy a chapter and get her feedback on it. She knew the characters as well as I did and knew the direction of the story. We collaborated on every aspect of the book, even though I did the bulk of the writing.

As for the genre, writing dystopian wasn’t as different from realistic YA as you’d expect. Pulse Point might have a different setting and the characters face unusual challenges, but they still have to be relatable. Just like in realistic fiction, Kaia had to deal with conflicts with friends, family and figuring out who she is. We tried to remember it is the characters, not their dystopian world, driving the story.

HK:  Second, have you always wanted to write speculative fiction or did the idea for Pulse Point originate with your sister Nancy Chappell-Pollack?

CN:  The idea was Nancy’s. It started with a ‘what if’. What if a pulse point, implanted in a finger and meant to control a person’s life, suddenly malfunctions? How would they react to this sudden freedom? Other than continuing on with Kaia’s story, I don’t have any plans to write other speculative fiction.

HK:  Speaking of speculative fiction, do you consider Pulse Point more science fiction or dystopian, and why?

CN:  Nancy and I talked about this and decided that it’s more dystopian than sci-fi. We wanted to create an alternate version of our world where climate change has made it impossible to live outside, or so Kaia thinks. I think in dystopian, a writer can play with politics and economics and world building in a different way than in science fiction. 

HK:  The scientists who created the City under a dome seemed to have good intentions after global warming brought disaster after disaster to their world.  But, like the saying goes about good intentions, their decisions about the nature of the City including who should be allowed in and how relationships are structured, seem to be discriminatory and harmful.  What message did you want readers to get about this new world?

CN:  The scientific minds that created the City were concerned with saving a species. They were intervening with natural selection, or maybe speeding it along, by only selecting people with disease- and ‘defect’-free genetics. We were thinking of a couple of things when we wrote Pulse Point. The first is the Spartan society where weak newborns were left to die because the city-state wanted to raise only the strongest soldiers (and have mothers who would breed the strongest soldiers). The second was the lack of humanity that a purely scientific-based community would develop. In the same way that AI (read Erin Bow’s excellent Scorpion Rules for more on this topic!) uses reason, not empathy, to make decisions, the City relies on efficiency.

While the City’s decisions make sense at a practical level, they are harsh and inhumane. There is so much to discuss about the morality attached to embryonic testing and selection. You might have also noticed that there is no dance, art, religion or literature in the City. All of those things are considered unnecessary and a waste of resources. I’m really glad I don’t live there!

HK:  Because Kaia’s world within the City is very much dictated by genetic rankings in which features like blue eyes and birthmarks are considered defects, there is much discrimination.  Even Kaia expresses this disdain for her newly-discovered brother who is blind.  How difficult was it to have your characters express such negative thoughts and for you to write those ideas?

CN:  Kaia is a product of her environment, so her prejudices are a result of what she has been taught. The flipside is that the people she meets outside of the City do not have those same discriminatory ideas. The conflict that results lets Kaia grow to accept differences and see the value that everyone brings to a community.

HK:  Many young adults will be delighted to know that there is frisson of romance brewing under Pulse Point’s main plot.  But with Lev and Gideon both in the picture, Kaia may have some choices to make. Did you always intend to have a romance as a subplot in Pulse Point or did it develop as your story took shape?

CN:  The truth is, I hate writing romantic scenes. There’s nothing more cringey than a cheesy kissing scene with awkward dialogue. It can kill a story and put a damper on good writing. Nancy was the one who pushed for more romantic tension and the creation of a love triangle between Kaia, Lev and Gideon. Like with most things, Nancy’s instincts were correct and I agreed to write it.

This book went through so many drafts, characters and plots changed drastically with each one. The one thing that never changed was Kaia’s strength and determination as a female lead. We did not want her to be focused on her hunt for a mate, or a potential romance. We wanted this book to be accessible to male and female readers and to make sure the romance furthers the tension, but doesn’t make it seem that all female characters need a male-focused romance.

HK:  Readers will recognize that Kaia’s story is not over at the conclusion of Pulse Point. When you started writing Pulse Point, was it always your intention to have a sequel? What plans are there for publication of a sequel or sequels?

CN:  At first, we envisioned Pulse Point as a trilogy, but our editor suggested we make some significant changes to the ending. Those changes altered our original plan from three books to two. I’d love to write a second book and find out what happens to Kaia and Lev and the Prims. I think there’s more going on in the City than we know about and I hope it doesn’t take us another seven years to find out what it is! 

Thanks to Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack
for talking about Pulse Point with CanLit for LittleCanadians.  
It's always a pleasure to talk books with writers of wonderful stories 
and to learn about the creative process.


Check out other blog tour stops for more about Pulse Point

May 28, 2018

Pulse Point

Written by Colleen Nelson with Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (Great Plains Publications)
192 pp.
Ages 12-15
May 2018

With global warming, many of us acknowledge that things in our world are going awry.  Scientists have been warning about its consequences that include increased flooding, droughts, fires, mudslides and more, though it seems too few are listening now and in the world from the time Kaia's elder Mae (whom we would call grandmother) was much younger. But, in their world, when those impacts escalated and became dire, the scientists had prepared and created self-sufficient Cities run on the energy of its Citizens.

Though the Citizens may not consider it to be a problem, happy to be safe under the dome of the City, the social constructs of their new home have been exclusionary and are discriminatory. Only people with the right skills and genetics are allowed to live in the City.  Those excluded, called Prims (for Primitives), retreated to the Mountain outside, and the City is constantly on guard and setting Prim Threat Levels. Within the City, each Citizen is connected via a pulse point or microchip implanted in a forefinger to allow for monitoring of energy generation to ensure balance with energy usage. Kaia, who lives with her birth elder Sy, a gardener, and Mae, works as a fetal assessment technician (where defectives are identified for termination) and endeavours to generate extra energy at the gymnasium to share with the elderly Mae.  Anyone who cannot produce sufficient energy must undergo balancing, the process by which the Council ensures the City stays in equilibrium.

But Lev, the progeny of an Overseer, Kellan, a fallen hero, and Tar, a Councillor, is smitten with Kaia, though her genetic ranking is far beneath him. With Tar manipulating people and circumstances to ease Lev's path to becoming a leader, and Kaia's pulse point no longer working, essentially taking her off the grid, Kaia makes a decision that will take her from the only life and people she has known into a wilderness and on the run.

Colleen Nelson is well known for her dramatic YA fiction (The Fall, 250 Hours, Finding Hope, Blood Brothers) and Pulse Point is no less suspenseful in its story nor less powerful in its delivery.  However, because it is her first speculative fiction and collaborative work with her sister Nancy Chappell-Pollack, Pulse Point reveals layers in characterization and world-building that are new.  It's a tense read with all the attributes of great YA: relationship drama, interfering progenitors (i.e., parents), burgeoning romance, secrets, confusion, and conflict. But, all that takes place in a world in which stasis is achieved through the generation of energy and elimination of the unproductive, in which blue eyes are considered a defect, romantic matches are based on genetics, and everyone is monitored (a.k.a. linked) through their fingertips, making Pulse Point a bigger story. Look carefully and you'll see how Pulse Point's worlds could be our own. The two communities, one outside the City and the other under its dome, are a sharp contrast of old ways and new ways and the distrust and clash between the two is inevitable. While Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack resolve the story, revealing Kaia's origin story and secrets long kept hidden, they also leave a door open for a sequel. It's a good thing because there's still a whole new world that needs to evolve to make things right for Kaia and Lev, and Citizens and Prims alike.


Check back tomorrow for my Q & A with authors Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack in which they reveal much about their writing process and story lines from Pulse Point.  Always an insightful discussion when speaking with Colleen Nelson, we learn more than any blurb on a cover could reveal!

Here are all the stops on this blog tour:
Be sure to check them all out!

May 27, 2018

Ruthless Magic: Online book launch

Megan Crewe

author of multiple books of speculative fiction including her trilogies
Fallen World 
Earth and Sky
launches her new series

Conspiracy of Magic

with its first book

Ruthless Magic
Written by Megan Crewe
Another World Press
352 pp.
Ages 13+
May 30, 2018


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

8 a.m.- 11:30 p.m. (EST)


The online launch which will take place throughout the day will include:
• games
• giveaways
• a virtual book signing (you can request a signed bookplate)
• live chat from 9:30-10:30 p.m. EST, and
• guest authors visits (30 minutes each):
Kristin D. Van Risseghem - 9 a.m.
Olivia Wildenstein - 10 a.m.
Nina Walker - 11 a.m.
Alison Ingleby - 12 p.m.
Tessonja Odette - 1 p.m.
Tiki Kos - 2 p.m.
Merrie Destefano - 3 p.m.
Cordelia Castel - 3:30 p.m.
Jesikah Sundin - 4 p.m.
Kristine Schwartz - 6 p.m.
K.M. Robinson - 7 p.m.
C.L. Cannon - 8:30 p.m.
Julie Hall - 11 p.m.

Get more details about the book at or read Megan Crewe's synopsis on her blog at

In the contest to keep their magic, the only options may be die… or kill.
Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages’ Exam.
Disadvantaged by her parents’ low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic.
Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth.
Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win? 

May 25, 2018

Ebb & Flow

Written by Heather Smith
Kids Can Press
232 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2018

If you've been reading this blog for a number of years, you'll know what a fan I am of novels in verse. These are stories told in free verse form and the authors who do it well are highly accomplished at writing with impact and few words.  I can now add author Heather Smith to that very short list of accomplished writers of novels in verse.  And she is extraordinary.

Ebb & Flow is the story of twelve-year-old Jett who has been sent to spend the summer with his Grandma Jo. Though he has been sent to stay with her because of a troublesome year, Jett is happy to see Grandma, having many positive memories about her before his move with his mother to the mainland.
I remembered
hugs that were big for her size,
her arms growing
like expandable straws. (pg. 9)
Wordplay is the dialogue between the two who love talking in puns, with Grandma telling her story as if she were a character in a series of anecdotes.  Sadly, because of the mistakes he made over the past year, Jett sees himself as the villain of his stories, deserving of little goodness, including his grandmother's love. Even away from the negative influence of Junior Dawson, a bully and angry classmate, with whom Jett teamed up, the boy cannot shake the bad thoughts about people and the anger he harbours about his own actions.  

In titled chapters of only one or two page verses, Heather Smith subtly reveals Jett's history and the events that led to his relocation for the summer.  In fact, Jett's character development is so subtle that the change in Jett from angry and confused boy to responsive and responsible is as inconspicuous as the tides that come in and go out.


Why can't things just stay the same?

Because life is like the tides.
In, out.
Back, forth.
Push, pull.
High, low.
You just have to go with the flow, you know?

(pg. 177)
The reader will sense Jett's progression in increments, as slow as when he and Grandma Jo creep along the beach looking for sea glass, and then he's there, asking to visit his father and telling his own story to his grandmother.

Ebb & Flow may refer to Jett's responses to the ever-changing circumstances that impact him, including his own choices and mistakes, but the book makes a powerful statement about resiliency and the power to ride the tidal motion of life. Sometimes you need a little help, like Jett gets from Grandma Jo who never pushes her grandson to come to an epiphany, though she helps him get there with her love and guidance. Ebb & Flow makes it clear that, with forgiveness to others and self, people and relationships can be salvaged and, like sea glass, taken from sharp edges to soft gemstones.
In Grandma's hand,
five pieces of sea glass –
two white, two green,
one red.

I didn't find anything, I said.

You will.
(pg. 26)

May 24, 2018

Sun Dog

Written by Deborah Kerbel
Illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
May 2018

Falling asleep at night during the summer can be difficult in the Arctic because the sun never falls below the horizon, hence its moniker of "land of the midnight sun." Imagine being a little pup who knows she's supposed to go to bed with her boy but feels compelled to go outside and play. This is Juno, the Husky pup who lives with her boy in "a red house overlooking a faraway town perched on the edge of an invisible circle at the very top of the world.
From Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Juno, born in the spring, loves the sun and playing outdoors, though she yearns to be big like the sled dogs.  But when her boy goes to bed, Juno isn't ready to sleep. The pup sneaks out to play but finds the world a strange place to be without her boy. "She feels like an iceberg adrift on a giant sea.
From Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Suzanne Del Rizzo
But when a polar bear approaches the house whose door Juno left open in her rush to go outside, the little dog finds a storehouse of courage within her big heart and is able to withstand her fear and give warning and, with a little help, keep her boy safe.

Children will love the story of Juno as Sun Dog, not least of which because she is an adorable dog, thanks to Suzanne Del Rizzo's elaborate and emotive dimensional art.  But I think that Deborah Kerbel's message that "Juno might be little, but there's a big dog inside her" is an meaningful one for young children who often feel too little to do anything significant and wish to be big so they can stay up late or go somewhere alone or just not be hindered by their youth or size. Juno takes it upon herself to do all those things, though she puts herself and others in danger.  Still, that small body holds a big heart filled with love for her boy and life and from that a boundless courage bursts forth.  Juno may have been frightened but she did all she could to ensure a happy ending.

The joy of being outside and the beauty of the Arctic landscape are beautifully conveyed through Suzanne Del Rizzo's artwork.  I've oohed and aahed over her polymer clay and acrylic paint art that graced her own My Beautiful Birds and other picture books and Sun Dog is no exception.  Those summer skies of yellow, pink, purple, and blue, with many shades in between, took me to that land of the midnight sun and the home of children who rarely saw themselves in books. Within that landscape, Suzanne Del Rizzo brought playfulness and charm, with the reality necessary to tell Deborah Kerbel's sweet story.
From Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illus. by Suzanne Del Rizzo
It's lovely for me to review books by creators like Deborah Kerbel and Suzanne Del Rizzo whose work I've seen transform and evolve with each imaginative work.  Now, with their collaboration, a charming story has been synthesized from message and art into the brilliant and heart-warming combination that is Sun Dog.

May 23, 2018

Sun Dog & My Deal with the Universe: Double Book Launch (Toronto, ON)

What's better than a book launch?  

A double book launch!

Author Deborah Kerbel  
is launching two new books 

 Her first picture book 
with amazing plasticine artist
 Suzanne Del Rizzo


Sun Dog
Written by Deborah Kerbel
Illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
May 2018

as well as

a new middle grade novel

My Deal with the Universe
Written by Deborah Kerbel
Scholastic Canada
240 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2018


Join Deborah Kerbel and Suzanne Del Rizzo


Saturday, June 2, 2018

2 p.m.


Indigo Yorkdale
Yorkdale Shopping Centre

There will:
• readings by author and illustrator
• prizes
• refreshments
• plasticine activities, and
• book signings.

A little bit about the books:

Sun Dog, from Pajama Press website at
Juno and her boy live in a red house at the top of the world. One day Juno will be big and strong enough to help pull a sled across the tundra, but for now she is just a small puppy with a big-dog heart. Small puppies have to go to bed when their boys do, but Juno can’t sleep with the midnight sun shining out across the town. She slips outside to play. Returning to see a hungry polar bear sniffing around the open door, Juno has no time to be afraid. It’s time to find her voice, summon the big dog inside her, and save her beloved boy.

My Deal with the Universe, from Scholastic Canada's website at
Maybe "normal" isn't all it's cracked up to be.... All twelve year-old Daisy Fisher wants is to be normal — or at least to not stick out like a sore thumb. But growing up in the house disparagingly referred to as the “Jungle” makes that pretty much impossible. When your parents’ activism brands them as a nuisance and your house is overrun with vines and critters, it’s not so easy to fit in. And it definitely doesn’t help when the neighbours declare your family public enemy number one. Or when your best (and possibly only) friend leaves for summer camp and forgets you exist. Or when your twin brother’s cancer might be growing back.

Will this be the summer Daisy changes things for the better? She can’t help where she lives, but if she could find a new friend, cultivate some courage, and figure out a way to keep her brother healthy, maybe life will finally be normal. Or will it? When her anxiety about her brother getting sick again threatens to boil over just as the Jungle comes under investigation, Daisy has to face down her greatest fears, not to mention the neighbours who are threatening her home. In the process, she learns some surprising truths about herself, and that maybe “normal” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. My Deal with the Universe is a contemporary middle-grade novel by Deborah Kerbel about tolerance, diversity, individuality, friendship and the strength of family.

May 22, 2018

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow

Written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
Groundwood Books
44 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2018

If Jan Thornhill's winning of the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award last fall for The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk (Groundwood, 2016) and Jess Keating's winning of the Blue Spruce award this week for Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017) tell us anything, it is that picture books are as beloved for telling non-fiction as they are for entertaining young readers. With her newest, The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow, Jan Thornhill again tells a compelling story of natural history which informs as well as entices us to learn more.

Jan Thornhill's story of the small brown bird which lacks flamboyance but teems with adaptability is a tale of survival, unlike that of the bird of her earlier book, The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk. She begins by telling of the House Sparrow's Middle Eastern ancestor beginning to rely on grain as a food source and losing the need for migration. With the spread of agriculture, the House Sparrow was soon designated a pest for raiding fields and orchards and breeding far too quickly, aiding in its spread. The small bird became such a nuisance that bounties and laws were enacted to speed its elimination.
From The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill
But migrating Europeans saw the House Sparrow as a resourceful reminder of home, and the bird was introduced to New York City in the 1800s and then across the country, multiplying far more than expected. Again the exploding population of House Sparrows coupled with its aggressive pursuit of grain pitted the House Sparrow lovers and haters against each other.
From The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill
However, it is the actions of humans which have had the most impact on the House Sparrow, though not always intentionally. With the onset of the automobile and the decline of horses, fed with grain, the House Sparrow's populations began to diminish again, and perhaps more so because of changes we've implemented in home construction, in farming, in keeping cats as pets and even in how we eat. Whether these impacts alone explain the decline of the House Sparrow is not known completely. But, it is certain that as much as the little bird may be an omen of our negative impact on the environment, it continues to find ways to adapt and survive.

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow may tell the bird's story of proliferation and decline as an piece of non-fiction, supplemented with  a map of the bird's global distribution, an illustrated life cycle and a glossary, but it's Jan Thornhill's telling of that story that is the most compelling. Told as a narrative and strengthened by Jan Thornhill's realistic illustrations, The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow gives us lessons in ecology and adaptation, in history and in the impact of humans on the environment, and will be a valuable addition to science classrooms and school libraries everywhere.
From The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill

May 19, 2018

2018 Forest of Reading® winners announced at the Festival of Trees

If it's May, then young readers have voted for the winners of the Forest of Reading awards of the Ontario Library Association.  Here are their selections for 2018!

Blue Spruce


Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist  
Written by Jess Keating
Illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns


Silver Birch EXPRESS

Smiley: A Journey of Love
Written by Joanne George 
Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Silver Birch FICTION

From Ant to Eagle
Written by Alex Lyttle 
Central Avenue Publishing

Silver Birch NON-FICTION 


Top Dogs: True Stories of Canines That Made History
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod 
Annick Press

Le prix Peuplier 

Tarzanette et le roi du petit déjeuner
par Pierrette Dubé
Illustré par Marie-Ève Tremblay 
Les Éditions Les 400 Coups

Le prix Tamarac 


Youtubeurs 01-Clique sur j'aime
par Olivier Simard 
Les Éditions de la Bagnole

Le prix Tamarac EXPRESS


Le Champ maudit
par François Gravel
Illustré par Cathon 
La courte échelle

Red Maple Fiction


The Winnowing
Written by Vikki VanSickle 
Scholastic Canada

White Pine FICTION

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined
Written by Danielle Younge-Ullman 
Razorbill Canada


Congratulations to everyone!

May 14, 2018

Ben and the Scaredy-Dog

Written by Sarah Ellis
Illustrated by Kim La Fave
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
April 2018

It's so nice that Sarah Ellis and Kim La Fave's Ben who originated in Ben Over Night (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005) has found a new home at Pajama Press. With its predecessors, A+ for Big Ben (2015) and Ben Says Goodbye (2015), Ben and the Scaredy-Dog solidifies the boy's place in guiding those in preschool and kindergarten to understanding more about the big world of siblings, change, friendships and dogs.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave
When Ben's friend Peter moved away in Ben Says Goodbye, the little boy was devastated, not knowing how he could continue with his routines and play. But Ben found the way to deal with that loss, and now he's ready to welcome a new friend–or so he hopes–into the house across the street and into his life. But, as much as he enjoys playing with the new kid, Erv, he is very apprehensive of their very big dog. Thankfully when the neighbours drop by, Max is on a leash. But when Ben is invited to their house where he anticipates the dog will be unleashed, the little boy is surprised to see the dog sitting complacently on a mat in the playroom. Poor Max has his own fears: he's scared of the unfamiliar and very shiny floors. When Erv gets called away, Ben reminds himself of all the things he'd learned about dogs so as not to provoke Max. Fortunately, Ben's way of self-soothing works on Max as well and the two unlikely friends find a way to be brave together.

Sarah Ellis demonstrates that children have enormous potential to learn coping strategies for all manner of fears and anxieties. Ben's fear of dogs is valid, especially for very little children and very big dogs, but by comparing how Ben's siblings see dogs–Robin sees their playfulness, Joe sees them as loving creatures–with how the little boy sees them–"When Ben looks at a dog he sees jaws and teeth. That's a dog to Ben. Jaws and teeth."–Sarah Ellis legitimizes all perspectives. Even the baby-steps approach to dealing with Max lends credence to the ability for children to learn how to cope while trying a multitude of strategies, including self-talk and mindfulness.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave
I love Kim La Fave's illustrations of Ben and company. His emphasis on perspective–looking up from a child's point of view and at their eye-level–encourages empathy for Ben's distress and concerns. Even with the bright colours of the kids' clothing and Max's soft expressions, Ben's fear is validated. But, with that lightness of line and colour, Kim La Fave pulls together Ben's thoughtful personality, Erv's playful exuberance and Max's big puppy nature.

It's nice to know, courtesy of Ben and the Scaredy-Dog, that anyone can be scaredy-dog about something and that it can be lightened with a little help from inside and out.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave

May 11, 2018

Nick the Sidekick

Written and illustrated by Dave Whamond
Kids Can Press
48 pp.
Ages 6-9
April 2018

Celebrated cartoonist of the syndicated Reality Check and author-illustrator of the three Oddrey books (Oddrey, Oddrey and the New Kid, and Oddrey Joins the Team; Owlkids, 2012, 2013 and 2014) and My Think-a-Ma-Jink (Owlkids, 2009), Dave Whamond brilliantly applies his cartooning skills to a new genre, the graphic novel, and superbly masters it with the flair of a superhero and the diligence of a loyal sidekick.

Nick is a superhero assistant with incredible hearing courtesy of his incredibly-large ears.  Though his classmates may ridicule him, his best friend Tess always has his back.  That comes in handy when you're the superhero assistant to the egotistic Super Fantastic Guy who wants to use Nick's super hearing without giving him the credit for his cleverness or contributions.  Super Fantastic Guy can't even remember Nick's name, always calling him Rick, and even getting all his details wrong on his membership to the National Superhero Society. And Nick does not appreciate the lack of respect and his designation as a (sigh!) sidekick, especially considering he does all the crime-solving! But it's Nick who learns that he is the true superhero when he uses his super talent to save Super Fantastic Guy and let Tess help bring the egomaniac down a bit from the superhero pedestal he's always taken advantage to enjoy.
From Nick the Sidekick by Dave Whamond
As much as Nick is a superhero (he does have the card to prove it), he's really the anti-hero in that he accomplishes much good without the public recognition and even his partner's appreciation.  Nick is probably the antithesis of the highly-acclaimed superhero in that he doesn't parade himself in front of the public and demand accolades, though he would appreciate a little respect and for everyone to stop calling him a sidekick. 
From Nick the Sidekick by Dave Whamond
Dave Whamond's artwork is made for graphic novels. Okay, I know it's also great for his cartoons and his picture books but, by applying it to storytelling in the graphic novel format, he can tell more story by creating action-packed plot lines that move with the force of his illustrations.  There's movement and energy and kapow!  Nick the Sidekick delivers a punch in character and story and has just launched Dave Whamond's career into a different layer of the stratosphere, though we knew it was inevitable. As much as Nick can't fly and hates all the clichés related to superheroics, from the Spandex onesies and to the criminals' responses when caught, he's going to be joining Dave Whamond on that trajectory. Happy travels to our newest superheroes!
From Nick the Sidekick by Dave Whamond

May 10, 2018

Family of Spies: Blog Tour

Today I'm reviewing Jodi Carmichael's newest middle grade novel Family of Spies as part of the book's blog tour.  Please check out the others stops on the tour as listed at Chapter by Chapter Blog Tours and Promotions and enter to win a free copy of Family of Spies here.

Written by Jodi Carmichael
Yellow Dog (an imprint of Great Plains Publications)
288 pp.
Ages 8-13
April 24, 2018

Most people who delve into their family histories are hoping for the unusual like connections to royalty, a hint of scandal or extraordinary accomplishment.  But for most, the exercise of discovering family history details is more likely to be a slog and end in disappointment, since  most people in the past lived lives of work and family with few opportunities for the exotic or the mysterious.  Not so for the great-grandfather of thirteen-year-old cousins Ford MacKenzie and Ellie Whitaker and Ford’s older brother Gavin.  Great-Granddad’s story would be the stuff of legends, if it didn’t have to be sealed.

The MacKenzie and Whitaker families, from Canada and the US respectively, are meeting in Paris for a European vacation. Soon after their arrival, Ford begins to experience moments of déjà vu that seem to time-slip him into Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II.  These episodes are especially emphatic when he touches any of the personal effects–letters, photos, postcards, bookmarks, etc.– in his great-grandfather’s briefcase. A visit to a psychic confirms Ford to be a clairvoyant who is able to connect to the past. 

Using a letter his mother received denying them access to Edward Crawford’s service records,  Ford connects to that military office and sees his great-grandfather’s file identifying him as part of  Special Operations Executive, a top-secret spy agency in operation during the war. But the three teens’ search at the military library alerts other forces to their interest in E. H. Crawford and soon Ford’s “visions” are not the only worries they have.

Assessing the various materials in his great-grandfather’s briefcase, Ford determines that he can connect with Great-Granddad and would be able to envision what he was doing during the war by (re)visiting a café/restaurant, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and several more stops.  With each visit, Ford reveals more about his great-grandfather’s covert activities, as well as his fears and guilt for a mission gone awry.

The story is very loosely based on Jodi Carmichael’s own grandfather whose military records remain sealed.  By weaving family history with Ford’s supernatural ability to divine the past, Jodi Carmichael has created a multi-layered mystery that honours her family and entertains readers with intrigue, adventure, a bit of the fantastic and a history lesson like no other. Family of Spies also reveals much about family dynamics and reminds us that, like Great-Granddad’s records of spy activity, nothing is ever final, even in relationships modified by guilt or jealousy because forgiveness can unravel much.

For young readers who enjoy an action-adventure story with a bit of history and the supernatural, Family of Spies will completely captivate and satisfy, and leave them anticipating Ford, Gavin and Ellie’s next adventures (fingers crossed) as the family continues their travels to London and Cairo.


Jodi Carmichael’s dreams of becoming an author began to come true when she attended her first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in 2007 and was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. A champion for the underdog and kids who think differently, she wrote Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and Other Life Lessons) (2013) which won numerous awards including a Gold Mom’s Choice and a Silver Moonbeam in 2013. In 2016 her novel about relationship abuse, Forever Julia (2016), won the Manitoba Book Award, the McNally Robinson Books for Young People Award - Older Category and received a Bronze Moonbeam Award for Young Adult Fiction - Mature Issues.

When not channeling characters from her books, she can be found strolling Manitoba beaches with her husband, two daughters, and exceedingly scruffy Border Terrier named Zoe.