May 24, 2019

The Missing Donut and The Traveling Dustball

The Missing Donut
Written by Judith Henderson
Illustrated by T. L. McBeth
Kids Can Press
56 pp.
Ages 5-8
September 2018

The Traveling Dustball
Written by Judith Henderson
Illustrated by T. L. McBeth
Kids Can Press
56 pp.
Ages 5-8
April 2019

In the Big Words Small Stories series, Montreal author Judith Henderson introduces young readers to some very, very big words via some very, very silly stories. It's an entertaining way to learn new vocabulary in context.

From The Missing Donut by Judith Henderson, illus. by T. L. McBeth
In the first book, The Missing Donut, readers are introduced to Cris and his cat Crat, along with the Sprinkle Fairy who has a word factory in Sicily and uses her helpers, the Sprinklers, to add "Big Words"–highlighted in their own font–to the story. In the first tale, The Missing Donut, Cris learns his jelly donut has been "purloined." Readers are introduced to "discombobulated" after Crat rides Cris's new bicycle into an accident in It's All Downhill and to "bamboozled" when the two get into The Trouble with Chipmunks. The final two stories, Museum of Fabulous Art and Mr. Footz's Fine Footwear, will acquaint readers with "smithereens" and "galoshes."

From The Missing Donut by Judith Henderson, illus. by T. L. McBeth
In the second book, The Traveling Dustball, the main characters have changed to Davey and his dog Abigail, though the Sprinkle Fairy and her Sprinklers are still hard at work adding rich vocabulary to the stories. Abigail finds Davey's sweeping  of the troublesome dust bunnies "irksome" in the titular story though that dustball becomes a vehicle for incredible journeys throughout the book. In Spaghetti and Meatballs, that dustball ferries them to Italy and causes quite a "brouhaha" while in The Big Wave, Abigail does some "lollygagging" before they head to the beach for some more relaxing. While young readers will love learning about a Swiss "phenomenon" of a Stinky Cheese that smells terrible but tastes great, I learned the new word "collywobbles" when the Davey travels to China for Cloud Tea to remedy Abigail's stomach ache.

From The Traveling Dustball by Judith Henderson, illus. by T. L. McBeth
And just as a friendly reminder of all the new words highlighted, and that includes a pronunciation guide too, each book ends with a section called A Small Play on Big Words, in which the Sprinklers bring all the words into play (pun intended).

This is a great new series for early and early middle grade readers to learn new vocabulary, complete with pronunciation and definitions. Moreover, with the books topping out at 56 pages each and published in a smaller format (17.5 cm x 22.5 cm), kids will not feel like they're reading picture books, though the illustrations by American T. L. McBeth make the stories the hit they are. The art may be deceptively simple but it emulates the flow of a graphic novel's illustrations without the intensity of frames and speech bubbles and it works so well with Judith Henderson's dialogue and characters. 

I don't want to burden The Missing Donut and The Traveling Dustball with the label of educational so I'll just encourage parents and school libraries to get these quirky stories into young readers' hands so that they can enhance their vocabularies, chuckle at the antics of personality-rich characters like Crat and Abigail and visit some worlds that might be familiar but also fantastic. (But I have to warn you: learning is going to happen.😊) 

From The Traveling Dustball by Judith Henderson, illus. T. L. McBeth
Book 3 in the Big Words Small Stories series, Smell the Daisies, comes out October, 2019.

May 23, 2019

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

Written by Sabina Khan
336 pp.
Ages 14+
January 2019

Rukhsana Ali's parents have three rules by which she, a Muslim Bengali, must abide: No parties, no shorts, no boys. The hardest rule to keep is the parties one because she's seventeen, living in Seattle and set to graduate in a couple of months and she's in love with Ariana. Rukhsana is hopeful that once she turns 18 and heads to Caltech, where she has a full scholarship, she'll be able to come out to her parents and live and love as she chooses.

But her parents have a different idea for her life.
It is our job is to make all the important decisions. That way we can make sure there is nothing for anyone to gossip about. (pg. 17)
And one of those ideas is that she must learn how to be a good wife and marry a Bengali man. In fact, there is talk of potential matches, even with the handsome Irfan who admits his love for Sara, a white girl, of whom his parents would definitely not approve. Learning that Rukhsana is gay, the two are determined to support each other in their love choices. But then Rukhsana's mom catches her daughter and Ariana kissing. Soon Rukhsana and her parents are leaving for Bangladesh, ostensibly because her beloved grandmother is at death's door. Of course, Nani is far healthier than announced and Rukhsana's parents delay their return and begin to welcome potential suitors and their families. When the teen realizes what they are doing, going so far as to lock her in a room and get a jinn-catcher to relieve her of the demons that inhabit her body, Rukhsana is determined to find a way to escape. With the support of Nani, who offers courage via her own diary of pain within a loveless marriage, as well as that of her cousin Shaila and a potential groom Sohail, Rukhsana makes a plan to return to Ariana. But will she have a girlfriend waiting for her when both of their parents have been discouraging their relationship? Can their love survive the distance, the families and the cultural divide?

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is packed with the teen angst of intense love, parental expectations and choosing what is best for oneself. But author Sabina Khan goes beyond that common YA theme and embeds it in a culture and religion that seem to pose obstacles rather than support development. The teen's parents only see her successes as matrimonial currency, continuing to favour her brother Aamir. The community talks of LGBTQ individuals as abnormal and disgusting, even inspiring violence against them. How is Rukhsana to balance being herself with that of being an obedient daughter of Muslim parents? But Sabina Khan has Rukhsana maneuvering her way through, advancing herself to a life with love and without lies. Like the front and back book covers of The Love and and Lives of Rukhsana Ali demonstrates, Rukhsana can be both but she must and does decide who she will be and accept both the burdens and blessings of each.

May 22, 2019

Eric Walters launches summer lending project

School is Out for the Summer 
(and your books should be too!)

This week 

Eric Walters

Canadian author of over 100 books 
for young people 
and recipient of the Order of Canada 

proposed that school libraries in Canada 
run a summer lending program
to help prevent the summer slide
i.e., a decline in reading ability

To get schools on board,
Eric Walters is offering a few "nudges" 
that include 
• a poster and bookmarks (just provide school's address)
• compilation of data to assess the project's successes
• very special deals through Orca Book Publishers to help purchase new books


Let's try to involve schools from across Canada, 
from the north to the south, west to east, 
rural and urban, small and large,
by registering


Eric provides full details in an article 
in the newest edition of 
the Canadian School Libraries Journal

 Let's keep all young people reading over the summer! 

May 17, 2019

The Magpie's Library: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

I loved her sci-fi YA

Transferral (DCB, 2015)

Tangled Planet (DCB, 2017)

and now


is set to launch 

her middle-grade fantasy

The Magpie's Library
Written by Kate Blair
208 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2019


Thursday, May 23, 2019

6:30 p.m.


84 Harbord Street
Toronto, ON

From DCB's website at
Silva and her family visit her grandfather, only to find his health has taken a bad turn. As they struggle with this news, Silva seeks escape in books – at the local library.

But she gets more than she bargained for when a magpie guides her to a secret, magical room containing books that she can not only read, but that she can live. Silva finds herself in the worlds of the characters … who all turn out to be real people. People she knows.

There’s a catch, though: she soon discovers that the magpie has lured her to these books for selfish and dark reasons. Going back to the books could mean losing her soul …

May 16, 2019

2019 Forest of Reading® winners announced

The Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading's book awards have been an important part of my school library program and my personal volunteer experiences for many years, so I am always proud to post the results of this wonderful reading program.

It's impossible to congratulate all those who made this reading program and the Festival of Trees such a success but here are some of the amazing people who play important roles in its success:

• the readers;
• the selection committees who read so many books to choose the best for the shortlists;
• the steering committees that organize and put on the fabulous Festival of Trees;
• the OLA staff, with Meredith Tutching at the helm;
• the authors and illustrators who create the wonderful youngCanLit; and
• the publishers who publish youngCanLit and promote it.

Here are this year's readers' choice winners for each reading program as announced at the Festival of Trees in Toronto on May 14, 15 and 16, 2019:

Blue Spruce


Barnaby Never Forgets
Written and illustrated by Pierre Collet-Derby


Silver Birch EXPRESS

Meet Viola Desmond
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Mike Deas
Scholastic Canada

Silver Birch FICTION

Written by Linwood Barclay

Silver Birch NON-FICTION 


Carey Price
How a First Nations Kid Became a Superstar Goaltender
Written by Catherine Rondina

Le prix Peuplier 

La doudou qui aimait trop le chocolat
Écrit par Claudia Larochelle
Illustré par Maira Chiodi
Les Éditions de la Bagnole

Le prix Tamarac 


Gladiateurs virtuels
Écrit par Paul Roux
Bayard Canada

Le prix Tamarac EXPRESS


Mammouth rock
Écrit par Eveline Payette
Illustré par Guillaume Perreault
La Courte Échelle

Red Maple Fiction


A World Below
Written by Wesley King
Paula Wiseman Books

Red Maple Non-Fiction


Every Falling Star
The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea
Written by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland
Abrams Amulet

White Pine FICTION

The Agony of Bun O'Keefe
Written by Heather Smith
Penguin Teen Canada


Thrilling news for all authors, illustrators and publishers!

Enjoyed all the more for being selected 
by young Canadian readers!

Congratulations to everyone!


The full list of winners and honour books is posted
 at CanLit for LittleCanadians Awards here.

May 15, 2019

Anne's Alphabet

Inspired by Anne of Green Gables
Written and illustrated by Kelly Hill
Tundra Books
28 pp.
Ages 0-4
May 2019

For parents and teachers who might like to introduce concepts like the alphabet with a truly Canadian flavour, there is a wonderful series of board books from Kelly Hill inspired by L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. Anne's Alphabet is just one of the latest.
From Anne's Alphabet by Kelly Hill
Anne's Alphabet starts with, of course, A for Anne, but then fans of the quintessential Canadian novel will recognize the birch grove of B, G for Gilbert, I for imagination which the young girl has in abundance, K for kindred spirit, L for Lake of Shining Waters, M for Marilla and Matthew, and ending with the Zs as Anne drifts off to sleep.
From Anne's Alphabet by Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill's vocabulary selections for each letter will undoubtedly spark discussions about the inspiration for her book but it's her illustrations made from cut fabric and embroidery that steal the presentation. They are colourful and textured. They are eye-catching and draw the reader to explore details in the letters, in Anne's dress and expressions, and the landscapes of her Green Gables and environs. 
From Anne's Alphabet by Kelly Hill
You can see the shadow effect on the letters to make them look three-dimensional, the sewing stitches, and the twisting of yarn in Anne's hair. Kelly Hill makes everything in Anne's Alphabet so enchanting that the alphabet may offer opportunities for study but the art invites indulgent scrutiny.

May 14, 2019

Sophie Trophy

Written by Eileen Holland
Illustrations by Brooke Kerrigan
Crwth Press
120 pp.
Ages 6-9
March 2019 

No, her last name is not Trophy but when her friend Brayden thinks she deserves it as a nickname for her goofy ideas, he's actually applauding her imagination which is stellar. Unfortunately, her classmate Jordy begins to use it as a taunt whenever she does something a little...different.  But it's just Sophie's creativity getting ahead of the third grader.

When Brayden brings a spider to school in a jar, it sets off a series of unfortunate events, all thanks to Jordy's removal of the lid and his exaggerated response to the spider. "It attacked my nose! I may have to go home sick." (pg. 7) But what's worse is that Miss Ruby, their teacher, obviously does not like spiders.  The next day, when Sophie, who sits in the front row, spots the spider first jiggling above Miss Ruby's voluminous hair and then falling into it and onto her hoop earring, Sophie ends up getting sent to the principal's office because of her outrageous and seemingly rude directives to her teacher.

At the office, Sophie's thoughts go wild, launching off of the secretary's pencil, an eraser she finds, and a gold pen she discovers on the floor.  But nothing is ever simple when Sophie gets an idea. Before all is resolved with Sophie and her teacher and the spider safely returned to its new home outdoors, the little girl breaks a special pen belonging to Mr. Homewood (whom she calls Mr. Homework), finds herself stuck hanging out his office window before falling and getting covered in mud and accidentally tripping Jordy.  In the end, the whole story comes out and Sophie makes sure Jordy knows she doesn't appreciate the way he uses her nickname. There may even be a happy dance from a spider.
From Sophie Trophy by Eileen Holland, illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
Early reader fiction is tough to write well. Too often the books are too juvenile–children tend to read up i.e., higher than their age–or lack the content to develop stories fully. They can't rely on illustrations to carry the bulk of the story as is possible in picture books–though Brooke Kerrigan's black-and-white sketches enrich the story–and don't have the volume of text to establish characters and plots as read in middle grade novels. But, when it's done well, as BC's Eileen Holland does in Sophie Trophy, young children get to know a few great characters, can empathize with their stories and cheer for an ending that makes sense without being artificial. Sophie is likeable and, while prone to day dreaming which includes musings about the mundane and the fantastic, it all comes from a good place. Her intentions are driven by her heart as she tries to protect her teacher from a spider, to prevent her friend from getting in trouble for bringing the spider to school, to repair her principal's special gold pen, and to keep the spider safe. For Sophie, doing the right thing just happens to occur while she's imagining ears flying off to overhear conversations and readying herself to swat at her teacher with a fish net. Never a dull day for Sophie Trophy, queen of the quirky ideas.

May 13, 2019

Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths

Written and illustrated by Graham Annable
First Second
128 pp.
Ages 6-10
April 2019

The sloths from Graham Annable's first graphic novel in this charming series, Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths (First Second, 2018), have returned with a greater problem than managing their differences. Ernesto, the beige-coloured sloth, is filled with
From Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths by Graham Annable
music and joie de vivre and lots of optimism compared to his friend Peter, the grey sloth who is more cautious and realistic and certainly a homebody. But when a hurricane hits and their home tree, along with many in the area, is destroyed, the two and their sloth friends must search beyond their comfort zone and familiar grounds for a new home. Of course, Ernesto leads the way.
From Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths by Graham Annable
But the world outside of their own area has many unknowns and the group of six come across peccaries shouting about a jaguar, tree vines that are actually snakes, biting ants, a cave full of bats, and a river of crocodiles. But they also make friends of some armadillos, have a fun mud fight with an anteater and find a new home and roommate.
From Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths by Graham Annable
I was captivated by these two unlikely friends and their search for a new home. They might handle each new set of circumstances differently, one ready to plunge right in and sing his way through while the other focuses on logistics and making good choices, but they are together all the way.  And, as they find that new tree and tree-mate, everyone is reminded that communities are built with unity and support.
From Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths by Graham Annable
While animation and film fans may be more familiar with Graham Annable as one of the directors of the Academy Award-nominated animated film The Boxtrolls, I think the Peter & Ernesto graphic novel series will win him new fans, middle grade ones, who will appreciate the humour, the graphics and the relationship between the two lovable sloths. Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths has the right blend of those important story elements for this age group: uncluttered artwork, unambiguous dialogue, and a linear story line with the perfect balance of surprise bumps and hilarity along the journey. (The jaguar is not what is expected!) There are life lessons about friendship and acceptance and finding strength from others. Enjoy to your new home, Peter & Ernesto, and I hope to visit with you again.

May 09, 2019

Shout Out

Written by Joamette Gil, CJ Walker, Day Irwin, Kieron Gillen, Marie Anello, Andrew Wheeler, Elodie Chen, Nichole Robinson, Sunny Ôchumuk, Nicholai Farber, Anthony Oliveira, Angela Cole, Crystal Frasier, Derrick Chow, H. Pueyo, B.C. Holmes, Lindsay Smith and Ashley Gallagher

Illustrated by Kelly & Nichole Matthews, CJ Walker, Vivian Ng, V. Gagnon, Liz Parlett, Michelle Dix, Elodie Chen, Anika Granillo, Shaina Lu, Nicholai Farber, Josh McKenzie, Cheryl Young, Molly James, Derrick Chow, Dante Luiz, Alex Moore, Adrienne Valdes, Helen Robinson, Amara Sherm, Hien Pham, Maia Kobabe, Pez Moreno and Kristina Luu

Colors and Letters by Joamette Gil and Nichole Matthews

Edited by Andrew Wheeler

TO Comix Press
198 pp.
Ages 13+
May 2019

I love a good anthology.  It offers an opportunity to provide a medley of stories with different settings and characters and plots. Shout Out may be founded on a theme of diverse queer stories, but it roars beyond that, telling stories of Vikings, fairies, virtual reality, superheroes and humans whose stories need to be shared. They are fantasy and legend, reality and historical. And, with a diverse list of contributors, from Canada to the US, Chile to Northern Island, Shout Out becomes a global compilation of stories, providing readers with a little something for everyone.
From Sunlight (in Shout Out), written by Anthony Oliveira, illus. by Josh McKenzie, color by Nichole Matthews
Many of the eighteen graphic short stories in Shout Out include an element of the supernatural.  Some include spirits or fair folk like Amaranthine which tells of a fairy protecting a garden of flowers that can restore life. The Name of the Forest by Toronto-based Day Irwin and Vivian Ng has a character seeking their heart's desire from a forest spirit only to be impeded by not know their own true name.
I guess I don't know who I am either, though. Sorry, I only know who I'm not. (pg. 23)
In Curio by Andrew Wheeler and Michelle Dix, a young man picking gooseberries makes the acquaintance of Curio, the warden of the beasts, with whom he shares a kiss that is both surprising and scary.
From Love in the Cloud (in Shout Out) by Derrick Chow
Technology comes into play in several stories including Glitches Get it Done, a sci-fi story in which a space traveller learns from a hologram of a sociologist about past supports to help those in transition, and Love in the Cloud, the story by Torontonian Derrick Chow, in which two different teens in the virtual world of Polyberg become separated on the cusp of its dissolution.

Warriors, both historical and supernatural, stay true to themselves in three different stories. In Ergi, Aric is desperate to reunite with his love Eldan who has reached Valhalla, whereas there is a secret crush happening between Louis and superhero Vigil who is adept at rescuing everyone from evil villains in Sunlight written by Anthony OliveiraSidekicks and Allies written by Toronto's B. C. Holmes reveals the quandary for Liv who identifies as female but for whom entry through a portal prohibited to males could thwart her plans to enter the Under Realm to stop the destruction of the world.
I'm the universe keeps finding new ways to ask me to prove my gender, and the stakes are completely over the top. (pg. 164)
From Sidekicks and Allies (in Shout Out) written by B.C. Holmes, illus. by Alex Moore
There are so many stories, including of finding love at a speakeasy (Shine So Bright), a young man learning How to Summon a Demon to see if he really likes boys, and two Indigenous girls who are drawn to each other in The Fisher and the Jeweler.
From Torontovka (in Shout Out) by Nicholai Farber
In addition to the eighteen stories, there are five single-page illustrations that support Shout Out's mandate of inviting young readers to see themselves–gay, trans, non-binary, asexual and more–as individuals with their own stories.  Even with supernatural elements, these characters are real. They have questions, show integrity, and feel anger, compassion, and love. Their connections with others make them heroes, as they should be, battling conventions, discrimination, villains and ignorance.