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.

August 20, 2018

Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See?

Written and illustrated by Chris Ferrie
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
32 pp.
Ages 2-8
April 2018

Canadian-born physicist Chris Ferrie, currently a lecturer for Quantum Software and Information at the University of Technology Sydney (Australia) takes his science focus from concepts (he has written multiple Baby University board books including Quantum Physics for Babies and General Relativity for Babies) to parody with this second homage to a well-known children's book. His first parody, Goodnight Lab (honouring Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon) took very young readers into the life of Einstein. In Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See?, Chris Ferrie follows Bill Martin Jr.'s classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? rhyming exploration to familiarize readers to twelve world famous scientists.
From Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See? by Chris Ferrie
From Albert Einstein to Marie Curie, Ahmed Zewail, Grace Hopper, James Maxwell, Ada Lovelace, George Carver, Chein-Shiung Wu, Alan Turing, Anna Mani, Charles Darwin, and Katherine Johnson, Chris Ferrie acquaints children with distinguished scientists in many fields from different countries and times. It's a light-hearted introduction to many scientists who excelled in their fields but whose names may or may not be known to most adults, much less children. By presenting each scientist with a rhyme that identifies their field and an uncomplicated illustration that details the area of the scientist's expertise, the reader (or listener for those who cannot read yet) will be compelled to ask questions and learn.
From Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See? by Chris Ferrie
As in the original book it mirrors, Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See? lets its patterned rhyming text draw readers to the end where all twelve scientists are depicted and short blurbs written about their scientist accomplishments.

Chris Ferrie gets the right balance of fact and fun with his words and art. His artwork of simple shapes and distinct line, vividly coloured for a young reader's appreciation, works to focus the reader's attention to recognizing the scientist's face, courtesy of oversized heads, and few but significant clues to their scientific contributions. 

If Chris Ferrie's intention was to inform while entertaining, then Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See? has accomplished that. Moreover, for STEM (or STEAM) teachers and parents who want to encourage science in everything and everyone, Chris Ferrie ends his About the Scientists section with a blurb,
And finally, YOU! You can be the next person to change the world. There are so many questions left. What will your answer be?
There are truly scientists every where and every when.
From Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You See? by Chris Ferrie

August 18, 2018

Inkling: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

 Kenneth Oppel
has a new book coming out,

then it's time to celebrate!


Join award-winning youngCanLit author

Kenneth Oppel

for the launch of his latest book

Written by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
HarperCollins Canada
272 pp.
Ages 8-12
September 2018


September 17, 2018

7-9 p.m.

Revue Cinema
400 Roncesvalles
Toronto, ON

Note:  Tickets are free but must be reserved for admittance.
Go to Eventbrite at
to register.

The Rylance family is stuck. Dad's got writer's block. Ethan promised to illustrate a group project at school—even though he can't draw. Sarah's still pining for a puppy. And they all miss Mom. So much more than they can say.

Enter Inkling. Inkling begins life in Mr. Rylance's sketchbook. But one night the ink of his drawings runs together—and then leaps off the page! This small burst of creativity is about to change everything.

Ethan finds him first. Inkling has absorbed a couple chapters of his math book—not good—and the story he's supposed to be illustrating for school—also not good. But Inkling's also started drawing the pictures to go with the story—which is amazing! It's just the help Ethan was looking for! Inkling helps the rest of the family too—for Sarah he's a puppy. And for Dad he's a spark of ideas for a new graphic novel. It's exactly what they all want.

It's not until Inkling goes missing that this family has to face the larger questions of what they—and Inkling—truly need.

Kenneth Oppel has given us a small masterpiece of middle-grade fiction. Inkling is funny and fizzy and exciting, and brimming with the kind of interesting ideas and dilemmas that kids will love to wrestle with. And Sydney Smith has created wonderfully inky illustrations to bring the story to vivid life. Get ready. A little ink blot is about to become your new favorite character!

August 17, 2018

Summer Constellations

Written by Alisha Sevigny
KCP Loft, an imprint of Kids Can Press
264 pp.
Ages 14+
May 2018
When you wish upon a star, you're a few million years too late. That star is dead, just like your dreams. (pg. 24)
Seventeen-year-old Julia Ducharme lives with her mom and nine-year-old brother Caleb at the campground they own and run. Even with all the work she does there, from carpentry to plumbing and sales at the Sugar Shack, Julia loves the Charming Pines Campground. But the past year has put an emotional and financial strain on the family after Caleb was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome from which he is just now recovering his strength and the use of his legs. No wonder Julia is looking forward to the return of Dan Schaeffer, her love interest from the previous summer. But when Dan and his parents arrive in their new and massive RV, he has a gorgeous girlfriend named Taylor in tow. Worse yet, Mom reveals that, because of expenses incurred over the past year, she is looking to get the campground appraised for possible sale to developer Mr. Constantine and his son Nick.

It doesn't take Julie long to fall for Nick, a former musician who is teaching Caleb to play guitar and helping them fix up their grandfather's old cabin in the woods. In fact, Nick is even trying to find a way to help Julia's family fundraise for the campground. Still Julia and Caleb feel that time is running out for the Pines and wonder if they can find a hidden treasure Gramps alluded to in his old journal. But will they find the means to save the campground before Julia falls completely in love with the young man whose intentions may not be as clear as he indicates?

There's still time for a summer YA romance and Summer Constellations will fit the bill nicely by taking you to the Charming Pines Campground for some swimming, star-gazing and new love. It's sweet summer fare perfect for the beach or camping or lounging in the heat with a cool drink. Just as she gave us in her YA novel Kissing Frogs (Fierce Ink Press, 2014), Alisha Sevigny knows the right balance of highs and lows to keep the story going and a happy ending worthy of the journey. Without drama that requires the reader to suspend disbelief, Alisha Sevigny gives us a light, but not lightweight, novel for teens reflecting their typical worries about relationships, home and the future but reassures that there will always be pinpricks of light that light up the darkness.

August 15, 2018


Written by Hilary Leung
Illustrated by Niall Eccles
North Winds Press /Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
April 2018

Panda and Parrot are unlikely friends. Parrot is definitely left-brain dominant, happiest with books, logic and puzzle solving.  His part of their domed home is neat and orderly, everything in its place. Panda is not like Parrot.  He is the creative of the two, loving music and art and play. His area is chaotic and colourful and lively. 
From Stego-cumulus by Hilary Leung, illus. by Niall Eccles
Like many friends who get along, Parrot and Panda occasionally clash when their personalities need different things. Heading to the top of their favourite hill to lay on their blankets–Parrot on a neat black-and-white checkerboard, and Panda on his colourful random bubble one–for an afternoon of cloud-watching and daydreaming.
From Stego-cumulus by Hilary Leung, illus. by Niall Eccles
But while Panda sees a giant dandelion, Parrot sees the cirrostratus cloud. Panda sees Pegasus, but Parrot declares it a stratocumulus. For each cloud formation in which Panda imagines something extraordinary, Parrot sees the scientific and the factual. He tells Panda what the cloud is, not what it looks like. When the rain hits, courtesy of the nimbostratus cloud, the two frustrated friends part, disappointed by the other's lack of imagination or acceptance of science. 
From Stego-cumulus by Hilary Leung, illus. by Niall Eccles
However, Parrot and Panda are friends and are soon missing each other. With a little compromise to the other's leanings, the two find a way to support and be supported, ending with a declaration by both of seeing a Stego-cumulus.

While it's always wonderful to see Hilary Leung's illustrations (he did a bang up job on David Bruins' Ninja Cowboy Bear series), I am so impressed by the depth of his storytelling and to be introduced to a new illustrator, Niall Eccles of Prince Edward County, Ontario. The story is perfect for young readers who have noticed they are different from their peers or siblings and think that it means any of them are lesser for their differences. They just haven't learned that differences make our world better, fuller and richer.  By making his characters, a panda and a parrot, so different to begin with, Hilary Leung establishes the idea that differences can be what you look like, where you come from, what you like and how you think. Niall Eccles's pen and watercolour art brings those differences to the page with joyful colour, texture and line. The details in Parrot and Panda's home and their yards is striking, and parents and teachers will need to allow more time to get past those pages as young readers look for all the differences. (Teachers and parents can also share Parrot and Panda's cloud notes at the end of the book for a little humourous learning–Panda amends Parrot's scientific notes–as well as download two colouring pages from Scholastic Canada at
Colouring pages from Scholastic Canada at
The words and pictures are clear: differences do not make one better than another or negate the possibility of friendship. Parrot and Panda are equals all the way, just different, and Stego-cumulus shares that positive message about acceptance of those differences with the reward of friendship and learning.

August 13, 2018

Immortal Reign: Falling Kingdoms, Book 6

Written by Morgan Rhodes
391 pp.
Ages 13+
February 2018

I have avoided reading Morgan Rhodes's conclusion to her Falling Kingdoms series ever since I got my autographed copy at the beginning of February. I knew it would be stellar–it was– but, after five books, I wasn't ready to say good-bye to Magnus and Cleo, Jonas and Lucia, Nic and Felix and the rest that live in Mytica and elsewhere and carry Morgan Rhodes's story through every power struggle, magical conflict and romantic interlude. But, the time has come when I have to honour this final book, Book 6 in the series, and share with you the tempest that is Immortal Reign.

When last we visited the worlds of Falling Kingdoms, much deception resulted in the Kindred gods taking over the bodies of mortals to allow them reign: the fire god, Kyan, took over Nic's body; the earth Kindred took over Olivia's; the air Kindred went to Taran; and the water goddess took Cleo as her vessel. Because the ritual was interrupted, Cleo and Taran still have control over their bodies though Kyan is determined to remedy that by coercing Lucia to perform the ritual. But with the recent birth of her daughter, Lyssa, during which Lucia lost most of her magic, the sorceress is determined to do what's right for her daughter, including imprisoning Kyan back in his amber orb and reuniting with her father King Gaius and her brother Magnus. But all is more complicated as Magnus fights for his life after being buried alive, the king is assassinated and Lyssa is kidnapped.

Meanwhile, the Kraeshian empress Amara is set for her Ascension but, as much as she wants to rule, she is realizing that much of what she desires has been directed by her manipulative grandmother Neela. Still Amara has perpetrated far too many atrocities, against her family and others, for anyone to be her true ally so to whom can she turn? She intends to make things right, or somewhat right, but she has a lot of relationships to mend.
"I regret very few decisions I've made these last months, but I deeply regret how I've treated you. I've been horrible to you."
     Ashur gaped at her. "Horrible? You stabbed me in the heart." (pg. 57)
The dialogue is so clever, often draped in mirth, especially the banter involving Magnus, Jonas and Felix. Still the situation with the Kindreds is dire and, while Cleo and Taran fight off the powerful Kindreds attempting to take over their bodies fully, and Magnus, after freeing himself with some powerful dark magic, does all he can to keep Cleo safe, Lucia tries to regain her magic by stripping Jonas of his so that she might continue to fight for her daughter.

There is so much more to tell about Immortal Reign but  trying to condense a review of the book into a few sentences is near impossible. Morgan Rhodes's story telling is bigger than the worlds she has created in Falling Kingdoms. Her tale weaves in and out, backwards and forwards and sometimes sideways, and still creates a tightly-knit story of struggles, love and redemption.
We don't change. We are who we are throughout our lives. We can try other paths, other roads, but it never works. (pg. 294)
Immortal Timotheus believes these words as he says them but Immortal Reign shows us that change is possible for all.  From Book 1 to Book 6, all the characters have changed, becoming more sympathetic, less silly, less violent or self-righteous, more accepting of others and their mistakes, and open to possibilities they would never have accepted previously as viable or desirable.  I have grown to love each and every one of them as they've descended and ascended and transcended into the bountiful characters for whom readers have cheered and booed. (Check out some of the astounding fandom drawings of the characters that readers have shared on the Falling Kingdoms wiki, Tumblr, Pinterest and numerous blogs. These readers love these characters as much as I do.)

Morgan Rhodes could not have written a better ending to her six-part series. It's satisfying with unexpected elements and a frisson of the predictable (hurray for Magnus and Cleo finally getting together). She lead us through widespread rebellions and strife between nations, as well as personal triumphs and tragedies. And we followed. And we would do so again.  With Morgan Rhodes at the writing helm, it's a pleasure to accompany her on the voyage.


If you haven't read the whole series, do check out my reviews of Books 1 through 5 for a taste of what you've missed and the order to follow to get caught up. You'll definitely want to do so.
  1. Falling Kingdoms (2012)
  2. Rebel Spring (2013)
  3. Gathering Darkness (2014)
  4. Frozen Tides (2015) 
  5. Crystal Storm (2016)

August 09, 2018

My Teacher's Not Here!

Written by Lana Button
Illustrated by Christine Battuz
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2018 

For our youngest students, school can be a daunting daily ritual only made bearable by an awesome teacher who greets you, helps you throughout the day and always knows what you need. But if that teacher is away, what happens to your day? In easy rhyme that young children will love, Lana Button tells the story of Kitty whose day goes from shaky to manageable, even fun, when her wonderful teacher Miss Seabrooke is absent and replaced, for the day, by the substitute teacher Mr. Omar. 
From My Teacher's Not Here! by Lana Button, illus. by Christine Battuz
The first thing our story's narrator notices when she arrives via school bus is the absence of her teacher on the playground. She's sure they must all go home but is shocked to realize that things will proceed as normal but without Miss Seabrooke.
Call back those buses!
Close school for today!
Wait! Why's the BELL ringing?
Do we start ANYWAY?!
But Miss Seabrooke, like all good teachers, is still thinking about her students though she is ill. She leaves them a message about Mr. Omar (teachers: get this note copied to use in your classrooms)...
From My Teacher's Not Here! by Lana Button, illus. by Christine Battuz
...and plans for fun activities which Mr. Omar follows to the best of his abilities. Still, he needs a little help from the students who know their routines best, especially Kitty who observes Miss Seabrooke's directive to help him out because she's counting on them.  Soon enough...
The school bus is here!
I made it! I'm done!
I survived the WHOLE day.
(I even had FUN.)
Even with that little worry that Miss Seabrooke might not return the next day, Kitty and her peers have managed to endure the day, be helpful to their teachers and classmates, and even find that Mr. Omar's differences-he is a tall, deep-voiced giraffe-add a new flavour to their school day.

Most of us don't like change to our routines and it can be even more distressing for our youngest who thrive on routines. They gain comfort from them, making them feel safe and in control in a world that can be very big and baffling. Miss Seabrooke and Mr. Omar know how important it is to follow routines for the children to be their best selves. By giving voice to what a child might be thinking and experiencing when a teacher is absent, Lana Button is demonstrating that a successful teaching day begins with detailed lessons and instructions and a substitute teacher who follows them while gaining important information directly from their students. Lana Button, who works in early childhood education, recognizes this, and the capacity of children to adapt to new circumstances, sharing this through her upbeat rhyming with vocabulary that is perfect for our youngest students. Even though Kitty's distress, as conveyed in the title and her initial reactions to an absent teacher, is evident, Lana Button writes in a cheeriness to the situation, which Christine Battuz encourages with her illustrations.
From My Teacher's Not Here! by Lana Button, illus. by Christine Battuz
Christine Battuz, whose artwork enhanced Wade's Wiggly Antlers (2017), creates a diverse class of cat, pig, koala, bunny, fox, hedgehog and more, taught by a hen and then a giraffe. Every animal, and hence every child and teacher, are represented by her wonderful collection of characters. The colours are bright without being primary, making My Teacher's Not Here! a great read for kindergarten as well as Grades 1 and 2.

As teachers start preparing for the upcoming school year, they should ensure that a copy of My Teacher's Not Here! is purchased and sitting on their desk in anticipation of that inevitable day when they will be absent and a substitute teacher needs a gentle reminder for students that they and the day are going to be okay.

August 08, 2018

The Fish and the Cat

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Princeton Architectural Press
92 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2018

In a lovely floral-wallpapered room, a fish in a fish bowl is visited by a curious cat who proceeds, much to the fish's distress, to attempt to capture it.

From The Fish and the Cat by Marianne Dubuc
Amidst the swirling water produced by the cat's pawing, the fish is propelled into the air and flies out through the window. The cat gives chase as the fish, flying now, goes from rooftop through a house, among a forest of trees with red birds, in which the fish is camouflaged and into a starry sky.  Still, the cat pursues.
From The Fish and the Cat by Marianne Dubuc
Onto the moon, the cat touches down, temporarily losing sight of the fish but witnessing the grandeur of the night sky before catching a ride on a falling star to continue his pursuit.
From The Fish and the Cat by Marianne Dubuc
Through a dark cave and a town, the fish leads the cat to the sea where the fish promptly finds home and the cat, though willing to check out the water, gives up his quest and partakes in a glowing sunset.

The Fish and the Cat is Marianne Dubuc's most recent wordless picture book. Her intense message without words or with very little text has garnered her many awards for works such as In Front of My House (Kids Can Press, 2010), The Lion and the Bird (Enchanted Lion Books, 2014) and The Bus Ride (Kids Can Press, 2015) and she does the same in this book, a new edition of the previously published La mer (La Pastèque, 2007) and The Sea (Officina Libraria, 2012).
While I've given away more of the story than I intended, I've actually told very little, only the meaning I have taken from the story.  Because each reader will find a different story within, The Fish and the Cat is much more than I've described here. It's the wonder and the interpretation of the illustrations that makes wordless books so rich. With Marianne Dubuc illustrating the book, the expansiveness of the story is even greater. Using only black and white with red reserved for the fish and the birds among which it hides, there is an inherent simplicity that actually lends a boldness to the story.  It's saying, "This is it. Take what you will from it." Well, from it, I take a message of chasing a dream, whether to reach the sea or to capture a fish, and finding what you need, though not always what you desire.

August 07, 2018

Fire Song

Written by Adam Garnet Jones
Annick Press
232 pp.
Ages 14+
March 2018

Maybe the game is rigged and the only way to win is by giving up. (pg. 115)

So much about Shane's life hurts that it's hard to find the faith he needs to help endure it.  It should be full of hope and promise. He's finishing his final year of school and anticipating a move to Toronto for post-secondary. He's smart, given the nickname of "College".  He has a pretty girlfriend, Tara, who adores him. But much is a facade because underneath it all, Shane is a mess of grief, confusion and guilt.

Fire Song begins the day of the memorial for Shane's younger sister Destiny who took her own life six weeks earlier. His mother Jackie is despondent, unwilling to leave Destiny's room, even with the constant ministrations of elder Evie. Fortunately, his Anishinaabe reserve community, the only home he's every known, is tight and supportive.
His heart beats under this ground and the roots of the trees spread through his lungs. (pg. 14)
But Shane has secrets and burdens that are disturbing his potentially bright future. He has just learned that his funding for school isn't available from his reserve because he is registered with his father's reserve, though his father is long passed and Shane never lived there. School wants a hefty deposit but Jackie hasn't worked since Destiny's death. Moreover, the roof on their house is disintegrating and, though the materials are in at the store to repair it, his family does not have the money for both the roof and his schooling. But Shane's most emotional struggle comes with balancing his growing sexual relationship with David, Evie's grandson, and his public romantic involvement with Tara, a teen eager to find a new life away from an abusive father and a private writer of introspective prose and poetry.
How can it be
That the smell of home and
the smell of lonely are the same? (pg. 70) 
As Shane tries to keep a roof over their heads and prompt his mother into action, hide his relationship with David while craving it desperately, make some money in a community with few opportunities, and grieve the loss of his sister, his life continues to fray and threaten his future. It's all about choices and not one of them is easy.

Adam Garnet Jones tells Shane's painful story in such expressive prose and poetry, the latter courtesy of Tara's writing, that the reader is carried on a wave from anguish to heartbreak to misery. Shane's story is a tragedy on so many levels: family, school, community, love. But, in each of those circumstances, there are still slivers of buoyancy: a mother who loves him but has abandoned him in her grief; acceptance to school in Toronto, though the money is not at hand; a community of friends who support Shane but would not accept his being a two-spirited person; and a boy and a girl who love him but confound his life's plan.  Adam Garnet Jones may not pretty up Shane's story but he does bring a fitting conclusion to it. I won't tell you if the roof gets fixed or if Shane goes to school in Toronto or if he chooses David or Tara, but I can tell you that things get worse before they get better but better they do. With acceptance of his choices and the life he needs, Shane survives another day to love and be loved.


Fire Song is based on a film by the same name, written and directed by Adam Garnet Jones and produced by Fire Song Films Inc. and Big Soul Productions Inc. I encourage readers to check out the trailer for Fire Song which premiered at TIFF in 2015.

Retrieved from YouTube at on August 6, 2018. 
Uploaded by TIFF Trailers on August 13, 2015.

August 02, 2018

Raw Talent

Written by Jocelyn Shipley
Orca Book Publishers
138 pp.
Ages 11-14
August 2018

Everyone wants to help out Sunflower Farm, the family farm of Stonehill High students Vanessa and Heath. Since the death of their father, their mother has been struggling to keep the farm running and the school community is coming together for Farmshine, a performance and market fundraiser.  Raw Talent's narrator, Paisley who is Heath's Grade 9 classmate, intends to volunteer with her best friend Jasmeer but what Paisley really wants to do is perform. Her ambition is to be a singer-songwriter and she has no problem posting videos of herself performing but her stage fright is discouraging her from signing up to sing at Farmshine.  With a mother who is an accomplished flutist with the symphony and a university music teacher, Paisley is just not sure she can cut it on stage.

With celebrated singer-actor Maxine Gaston staying at Jasmeer's parents' B & B while her local home is being renovated and she is performing at the Stratford Festival, Jasmeer arranges for her to coach Paisley to help get over her performance anxiety.  Maxine Gaston is a great help but Paisley, who has much to overcome because of a disastrous audition at age 10 with the award-winning Sweetland Singers, is being harassed online, by phone and in person by Cadence, the self-important girlfriend of Heath and soloist with the Sweetland Singers.  Can Paisley get beyond her insecurities about her lower singing voice and Cadence's nastiness to stand up in front of an audience and do what she loves?

Raw Talent is a feel-good hi-lo novel for older middle graders and young teens. While written at an easier reading level, Raw Talent's story, part of the Orca Limelights series based in the performance arts, will resonant with young teens aspiring to new endeavours but unsure of their abilities. Jocelyn Shipley makes sure that the reader realizes that having a dream is futile if you don't set goals to achieve it.  It's up to Paisley to decide what she can and cannot do. Not her mother, not Cadence, not the director of the Sweetland Singers. Just her. She might have been devastated when she didn't get into the Sweetland Singers but she found a way to continue singing and performing albeit in the privacy of her room while still sharing it publicly. Then, with Maxine's coaching, she has the opportunity to take steps forward. Though not easy, especially with self-doubt and bullying that erodes her confidence, Paisley steps up. Jocelyn Shipley doesn't just hand Paisley the opportunity, though.  She makes sure the girl works for what she wants. Maxine Gaston is encouraging but she is not effusive and she makes it clear that, if Paisley isn't willing to put herself out there, she's not going to bother coaching her. That could be an "ouch" moment, but it's not because it's a challenge that Paisley accepts. Similarly, the bullying that Paisley experiences via Cadence is nasty but impactful and still she finds the means eventually to toss it off with a "Whatever". 

Whether Jocelyn Shipley intended, she's affirming Nietzsche's belief that "That which does not kill, makes us stronger".  Paisley's performance anxiety and Cadence's bullying can't stop her and, in fact, they give her the opportunity to be more than she could have imagined for herself.

August 01, 2018

Fifteen Point Nine

Written by Holly Dobbie
240 pp.
Ages 13+
June 2018

The bullying that fifteen-year-old Agatha Murphy and others endure at the hands of “Those Girls” and the “Idiot Boys” who follow them around is physical, degrading and unconscionable.  They only see that Susan is overweight, that Carson is very small, that Travis is highly intelligent, and that Nicole has sweat issues. But it’s Aggie’s countless issues that are at the heart of Fifteen Point Nine. Aggie’s mother Jane is a paranoid alcoholic who scavenges and hoards and is oblivious to her daughter’s needs for food, clean clothes, and even a functional washroom. The bullies may ridicule Aggie for being dirty and smelling, as well as rummaging for food, but they and everyone else, including the school, doesn’t know about her mother and Aggie’s need to self-harm to relieve her anxiety and despair. Aggie may lighten that despair with barbed monikers including “The Torture Chamber” for school and “The Dump” for home, by ranking potential moments on her Official Romantic Scale, and by imagining outrageous scenarios that would whisk her away, but Aggie knows her situation is becoming intolerable.
I’m going to try to be more of a human being and less of a rodent, although it’s obviously something that I’m not very good at. (pg. 14)
In an attempt to take some control, Aggie decides to use an old camcorder to document the bullying in all its visual and audio horror. Unexpectedly, Susan becomes an ally in Aggie’s video endeavour, as do Carson, Travis and Nicole. These teens, deemed misfits by their cruel peers, become the Warriors Video Club and resolve to expose the bullies.

While Aggie continues to suffer at the hands of her horrid mother and the bullies, there are unexpected glimmers of something better, including  kindness from a school janitor and several moms, some Johnny Cash-infused wisdom from Jane’s newest suitor,
"Pain ain’t no good thing. Aint’t nobody out there gonna hand you a prize for storin’ shit in your heart.” (pg. 185)
and, most importantly, notes from an anonymous boy who wants her to attend the Winter Solstice Carnival dance. But, when a classmate commits suicide, Aggie’s perspective on survival and taking charge is put to the test.

Fifteen Point Nine may be Holly Dobbie’s debut novel but her teaching experiences with teens have served her well in telling the story convincingly. For those living through bullying, parental neglect, suicide of a peer and dejection, the authenticity of Fifteen Point Nine will hit hard, particularly in its harshness and near hopelessness. Still, Holly Dobbie makes it clear that, for those who do suffer at the hands of others, every day of survival is a victory and making it past fifteen point nine (just less than sixteen years of age) is a triumph.

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

Kubiw, H. (2018, September). [Review of the book Fifteen Point Nine, by Holly Dobbie]. Quill & Quire, 84 (7): 37.