March 21, 2019

Ojiichan's Gift

Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Genevieve Simms
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2019

When Mayumi was born, her grandfather built a special rock garden to celebrate.  Then each year, she would visit him in Japan for the summer months, spending time with her Ojiichan while learning to tend to the garden, including how to weed, water, prune and the all-important raking of the gravel. Over this task, grandfather and granddaughter would bond.
From Ojiichan's Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illus. by Genevieve Simms
Amidst the bustle of her own city, Mayumi would recall those special times and that Zen garden by studying her tin box of treasures: dried leaves, tiny pine cones and smooth rocks.
From Ojiichan's Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illus. by Genevieve Simms
But with time, things change. Little girls grow up and grandfathers grow older.  The summer comes when Mayumi's parents must visit Japan to pack up Ojiichan's house which, like his garden, cannot be cared for by the now wheelchair-bound man. Frustrated by her Ojiichan's new circumstances, Mayumi's tries to take on the garden. But it's only when she concedes, creating a Zen garden for Ojiichan in a lacquered bento box, that Mayumi can find calm again.

Chieri Uegaki has honoured her Japanese heritage once again, having already helped showcase it in Suki's Kimono (Kids Can Press, 2003) and Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin (Kids Can Press, 2014). In these previous stories, a young girl looks up to her Obachan who gifted her with a kimono or to a grandfather who plays Second Violin in a symphony orchestra. In Ojiichan's Gift, a girl is again looking up to a grandparent, here a grandfather who has gifted her with a garden that celebrates her birth. But when he can no longer care for that garden, that little girl, not so little anymore, gifts him with a portable garden that would enshrine his original forever.
... if she closed her eyes and listened, she was certain she could still hear the pebbles' soothing chatter.
From Ojiichan's Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illus. by Genevieve Simms
Genevieve Simms creates that same distinction of adoration and respect in her illustrations. While her artwork goes beyond the garden, including spreads of air travel and life in a Canadian city, it's Genevieve Simms's illustrations of the garden that favour Chieri Uegaki's message of serenity and connection. The rocks and the shrubs, the trees and gravel, bamboo and sparrow all create a living world in a dry landscape. It's a world perfect for meditation and companionship.

The garden may have been Ojiichan's gift to Mayumi and her bento box garden may be the gift she presents to him, but the greatest gift is the relationship between Ojiichan and granddaughter and that's something special to contemplate.

March 19, 2019

The Moon Watched It All: Book launch (Saskatoon, SK)

I may have missed an earlier launch for this book, one at which 
both author Shelley A. Leedahl and illustrator Aino Anto 
were in attendance,


here is a second opportunity 
and in a city that generally has fewer book launches than Toronto

so I'm pleased to post about it here.



Shelley A. Leedahl


the Saskatoon launch of

her new picture book

 Written by Shelley A. Leedahl
Illustrated by Aino Anto
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
February 2019


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

7 p.m.


McNally Robinson Booksellers
Travel Alcove 
3130 8 St. E.
Saskatoon, SK 


March 18, 2019

The Moon Watched It All

Written by Shelley A. Leedahl
Illustrated by Aino Anto
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
February 2019

The moon may watch over all of us, sometimes only shining light or hiding in the dark, but, like a watchful deity, it is omnipresent, guiding with a subtle beacon for those seeking direction.

An orphaned boy with only vague memories of a woman's voice and a gentle hand survives alone seeking food and clothing wherever and living in the forest. Elsewhere a woman known as Miranda lives in her home near the woods, rocking and talking to the moon.
She praised it, like she once prized her children, in a time before a time that was then.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
After a man brutally chases the boy away–"Get you, Boy"–he runs far away, finding shelter in a chicken coop and food in an adjacent garden. The moon whispers to Miranda of the boy in the garden but it is not until she is ready to invite him inside for better food and shelter that the two become true companions, finding a way to be themselves with each other.

The Moon Watched It All may be marketed for ages five to nine but I think it is an allegory of such depth that it can and should be read beyond those ages. At its foundation, it is a story of an orphan boy, scorned and rejected, who finds a home with a woman alone who talks to the moon. But, in each, they find the family that they have lost.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
Shelley A. Leedahl's intense story may be in prose form but its intensity parallels that of poetry, steeped in the melancholy of Miranda ...
Her face in the moon's unwavering spotlight. She was a lake unruffled, the coal fire's glow. 
... and the isolation and trepidation of the boy.
Night came calling, and he thought of boots, of heels, and the finger-quick hands. He thought of the children with sticks, and villagers who possessed the power to look right through him. The boy held out his own hand, and could not keep it steady.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
There is a stillness of person and place that seeps into the story which is far more extensive in text and lyricism than in books typically for the very young. As such it has a strength of message that is both serene and profound. It bears being read over and over to capture the importance of the text and its voice of solemnity and grace.  I don't know if that comes from Shelley A. Leedahl's skill as a poet but her words lull and inspire and tug and reassure.

The same goes for Aino Anto's illustrations that take the readers through the forest and beneath the moon, watching and waiting as the boy and the woman do. This is Aino Anto's first picture book and her paintings evoke such emotion without indignation at what are sad circumstances for both the boy, whose identity is only that of Boy, and for Miranda, who endures the passage of time rather than biding it for hope. Or that was the situation until they make a family of their own.

I wept for a mother alone and forgotten and a boy ignored and abused. Each alone in their own ways, one speaking to the moon and one living outside in its light. And the moon watched it all as the two come together, as a waxing moon, growing into something important.

March 14, 2019

The Dog Who Wanted to Fly

Written by Kathy Stinson
Illustrated by Brandon James Scott
Annick Press
36 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2019

A chattering squirrel just out of reach is the frustration of many a dog. Though a chase may be all that is wanted, but unlikely to happen when the squirrel remains out of reach, that mocking babble is taunting, and Zora is determined to find relief. If only she could fly!
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Tully the cat may be the voice of reason, stating quite clearly that "Dogs can't fly" but Zora is resolute. She bounces as high as she can and she crashes. She flaps her ears and her tail and she crashes. She tries to springboard from a teeter-totter and she crashes. She considers using an umbrella but that idea is thwarted by a human. She fashions herself into a plane with ears, paws and tail extended but she cannot will herself "up." Still, when Tully begins to fall from a perch on a branch, Zora zings to the rescue.
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Zora's story is that of author Kathy Stinson's own dog Georgia to whom she dedicates the story, but it really is the story of every dog who watches wistfully at chase fodder a.k.a. squirrels. But, like anyone with big dreams that may be preposterous–let's face it: dogs can't fly–there still may be a way to achieve versions of those goals and that's what Zora does when her friend is in danger.  Kathy Stinson, who can write everything from picture books to YA novels, tells Zora's story with words and logic that young readers will understand and enjoy, ending it with the subtle humour that children will appreciate, sure to laugh themselves silly.
And the squirrel was very quiet.
From The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott
Brandon James Scott is an accomplished animator, creating the Emmy-nominated "Justin Time" TV series, but his artwork really shines when giving visual life to Kathy Stinson's story. He endows Zora with the cuteness to sweeten her story and the attributes of determination, imagination and compassion to carry it forward. Her expressive eyes and eyebrows, mouth and body language always speak to Zora's intentions, just as Tully and the squirrel voice their own views. (Check out the final illustration directly above.) Even Zora's backyard of fenced-in greenery is lush with light and life.

Here's to Zora who doesn't let logic keep her from her dreams and to the squirrel and Tully who will have to rethink what a dog can and cannot do.
Zora, The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illus. by Brandon James Scott


Annick Press, the publisher of The Dog Who Wanted to Fly, just posted this sweet book trailer for it on YouTube.
Uploaded by Annick Press to YouTube on March 12, 2019.

March 12, 2019

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

Written by Beverley Brenna
Illustrated by Tara Anderson
Pajama Press
128 pp.
Ages 7-10
February 2019

Finding one’s own purpose in life is not an easy task and one which many of us never find. Imagine being a hamster in a cage in a pet store and wondering about what life holds for you. Is it just anticipating fresh bedding? Is it waiting for extra peanuts? Is it to find a forever home? Is it to be free?  But with the hamster’s adoption by nine-year-old Jeannie, the hamster, first known as Harvey Owens and then Sapphire, looks for that meaning and finds it with the help of a rich collection of characters and a few nibbles on fingers.

Told in the alternating voices of Sapphire and Jeannie, Beverley Brenna begins Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life with a long-awaited trip to the pet store for Jeannie’s promised Christmas gift of a hamster.  Though the visit almost doesn’t happen as Jeannie’s mother deems her daughter’s behaviour at the mall as inappropriate, Jeannie picks out the white hamster with the navy blue eyes and purchases all the materials to make his home perfect. But the hamster, whom she originally names Harvey Owens after her father who has moved out of the house, is frightened by the new sounds, smells and temperatures and lashes out by biting, even more so after they are involved in a car accident. Jeannie, who is dealing with her own stresses that include not being heard, a father who seems to be off with a new life and a mother struggling with two young children and trying to deal with her own grief and anger about her marriage, recognizes that the little guy bites when scared or surprised, and helps educate all who come near him to be considerate. And since he is such a great comfort to all of them–Jeannie, her brother Alistair, her mom and others–once they learn how to be kind to him, he has much to offer them back. And it makes no difference when he is identified as a her.

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is far greater than a story about a girl getting a pet hamster. It’s about struggling to find your place. Jeannie is a pretty good caregiver for Sapphire but she’s trying to figure out why her father isn’t keeping in touch, whether her parents are “getting put back together” (pg. 40), why her little brother seems stressed, how to be a friend, why her Mom’s new friend Anna Conda seems reserved though really cool, and the questions that kids want answered but no one will respect them enough to tell them the truth. Meanwhile Sapphire is recognizing how nice her new home is, singing when pleased, and beginning to understand freedom, especially after a dangerous escape outdoors in frigid January.
It seems to me that Free is just a little bit too big to think about for very long. (pg. 67)
It’s perfect that Jeannie’s story and Sapphire’s come together to become something bigger and better. Just as the two are better for having each other in their lives, Beverley Brenna’s text is enhanced with the adorable illustrations by Tara Anderson which head each of the forty-two chapters. Her pencil sketches of Sapphire make up the majority of these illustrations and show the little hamster eating, playing, sleeping, hiding and just being all-around cute. I had some trepidation about an animal story, especially one which begins in a pet store, but Tara Anderson’s charming artwork reassured me that Sapphire’s story would turn out well.

A perfect early reader for kids who love animals, Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is actually more about giving significance to managing our own stories. It may require a nip or a bite or some yelling to be heard, or perhaps a snuggle or a quiet voice might be in order, but it's about finding the meaning of your own life, even if only for the time being.
From Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna,               illustrated by Tara Anderson

March 11, 2019

What Makes Girls Sick and Tired

Written by Lucile de Pesloüan
Illustrated by Geneviève Darling
Second Story Press
48 pp.
Ages 12-18
March 2019

I know last Friday was International Women's Day. I was certainly flooded with notices about books celebrating women and their day. But I didn't want to post this review on that day because I didn't want it to get lost in that flood. I think What Makes Girls Sick and Tired deserves to be recognized beyond that day as all women should be.

The girl's frustrated look on the cover says everything about What Makes Girls Sick and Tired. She certainly looks disgusted and weary and, with the plethora of problematic situations which girls must endure, it's no surprise.
From What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan, illus. by Geneviève Darling
From how girls are told they should behave and how their societies and cultures treat them, any compassionate human should cringe. Lucile de Pesloüan is candid about how women are treated and the unrealistic and ridiculous expectations settled upon them. From domestic roles and judgements placed upon them to emphasize their appearance and not their substance, women are regularly faced with discrimination and criticism. Worse yet, Lucile de Pesloüan shares devastating stats from the likes of the United Nations UNITE Campaign and the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017 about inequities in wages, vulnerabilities in war and with illness, and more. For those who don't believe that injustices are levelled against girls and women, the numbers don't lie.

From What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan, illus. by Geneviève Darling
In graphics of faded lavender, a little grittier than the pinkish purple of the floral, Montreal artist Geneviève Darling provides unique visuals that depict all women. Women of different ages, shapes, colour, relationships, cultures, and circumstance. Everyone is here. She makes sure to ensure inclusivity and diversity. By representing everyone, girls can see their story within, even if those stories are uncomfortable or troubling.
Girls are sick and tired because sexism affects everyone, every day, in ways that are both obvious and subtle and both simple and complex. (pg. 2)
And that's why girls are sick and tired and why they have every right to be.
From What Makes Girls Sick and Tired by Lucile de Pesloüan, illus. by Geneviève Darling
Girls are less sick and tired when they are encouraging, supportive, and united in solidarity with one another. It's one of the best parts of feminism.  (pg. 47)
Here's hoping that every day there will be fewer and fewer girls who have reason to be sick and tired. What Makes Girls Sick and Tired is a fair and equitable portrayal that makes a great start at informing the world.

March 07, 2019

Moon Wishes: Book launch (Toronto, ON)


Patricia and Guy Storms


Milan Pavlović

in celebrating the launch of 

Moon Wishes

Written by Guy and Patricia Storms
Illustrated by Milan Pavlović
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2019
Reviewed here


Sunday, March 10, 2019

10:30 - 11:30 a.m.


TYPE Books Junction
2887 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON

This free event for all ages
cookies, music and fun!

Moon Wishes

Written by Guy and Patricia Storms
Illustrated by Milan Pavlović
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2019

Everyone makes wishes to the light of the moon but what does the moon wish for? That’s the question Guy Storms and Patricia Storms answer in their first picture book collaboration with illustrator Milan Pavlović.

From Moon Wishes by Guy and Patricia Storms, illus. by Milan Pavlović
With a beginning that allows young readers to put themselves up in the night sky, Guy Storms and Patricia Storms introduce Moon Wishes with "If I were the moon ..." and then propose the loveliest of sentiments to brighten the world from the darkness that extends far beyond nightfall. There would be the creation of art by shimmering over waters teeming with fish and over "dreams of snow." It would "wax and wane over the Earth's troubles" to soothe and light the way for travellers including human, bird and marine and showcase those who play, sing and reside outside. And the moon would always shine with love and light.

From Moon Wishes by Guy and Patricia Storms, illus. by Milan Pavlović
In a series of glorious images, as iridescent with their glowing moons as the cover, Milan Pavlović gives these heartfelt moon wishes substance. They are no longer wishful thinking or dreams for something better. They are real. Readers can see the lustrous moon paving the way for lives to be lived. From refugees trekking across an expansive landscape to the trumpeter serenading delighted felines or the whales swimming in seafoam green waters, Milan Pavlović shows the smiling moon, serene in all its phases, making the world a brighter place for all.

From Moon Wishes by Guy and Patricia Storms, illus. by Milan Pavlović
I will be adding this book to my Read a Book of Bedtime booklist because it belongs among those titles that help ease little ones to slumber.  With its meaningful intentions and luminous illustrations, Moon Wishes will certainly hush children to sleep knowing that the moon is watching over all and wishing only goodness.

The book launches this Sunday (March 10, 2019) in Toronto. Details here.

March 06, 2019

The Triumphant: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

It's finally here!

The final book in
The Valiant Trilogy

Fallon's story began in

and her fight continued in



Lesley Livingston

completes Fallon's story with
the launch 


The Triumphant
Written by Lesley Livingston
416 pp.
Ages 12+
February 2019


Thursday, March 7, 2019
(sorry for the short notice!)

7 -10 p.m. 


Dominion Pub and Kitchen
500 Queen St. E.
Toronto, ON

The event is open to all ages! 
(Don't let the pub in the venue name dissuade you from taking in this event.)


The following blurb about the book comes from Penguin Random House Canada at
The final book in the Valiant series takes Fallon and her warrior sisters on an epic journey from the corrupt Roman Republic to the wonder of the ancient world: Alexandria, Egypt.

In the wake of their victorious fight to win back the Ludus Achillea, Fallon and her gladiatrix sisters have become the toast of the Republic. However, as a consequence of his actions during the Ludus uprising, Fallon's love Cai has been stripped of his Decurion rank and cast down to serve as one of Caesar's gladiators.

Amid fighting for Cai's freedom, Fallon soon learns that Caesar's enemies are plotting against him and planning to get revenge on his fearsome gladiatrices. When Caesar is murdered by these conspirators, Fallon and the girls lose any sort of protection they once had. Fallon also realizes that the foreign queen Cleopatra is now in grave danger.

Fallon rallies her war band and Cai's friends to get Cleopatra out of the city, and the group heads to the safety of Cleo's homeland, Alexandria, Egypt. Once there, the gladiatrices are promised a place of honor in the queen's elite guard, but is that what any of them really want? 


Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press
48 pp.
Ages 4-9
March 2019

Young readers met Circle and her friends Square and Triangle in Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen's earlier books in the Shape trilogy, Triangle (Candlewick, 2017) and Square (Candlewick, 2018), but now it's Circle's turn to reveal herself. In each of the books, the shape at its centre have dealt with personal issues of trust and self-confidence and, above all, friendship, and now Circle finds herself similarly challenged in this final book in the Shape trilogy.
From Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Circle and her friends Square and Triangle are playing a game of hide-and-seek near Circle's waterfall but she insists that they cannot hide behind the waterfall. But Triangle chooses to do just that and Circle slips in behind the falls to find him.
From Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
It is very dark in the cavern behind the falls but, as Circle goes in farther, calling out to Triangle, it becomes pitch black. Only Circle's eyes are visible until a second pair appears. As Circle chastizes Triangle for his rule-breaking and disregard for his friends, the second pair of eyes remains silent. Finally Circle apologizes for her rant and tells Triangle that they love him, just as a third pair of eyes appear behind Circle with Triangle's voice thanking Circle for her declarations. Then things get a little harried as the two realize the third set of eyes does not belong to their friend, though in hindsight, Circle recognizes something highly relevant.
"You know," she said, "that shape in the dark might
not have been bad. It might have been a good shape.
We just could not see it."
From Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Let's talk about the subtlety of message which is perfectly understated for the very young for whom this board book was written. Kids will know about playing and rules and friends and getting frustrated and angry and then taking all back. They'll know about being afraid of the dark and confronting their fears. But, while Circle speaks to all that, in the hands of that dynamic duo of American Mac Barnett and Canadian Jon Klassen, it also speaks to larger issues of forgiveness and tolerance. Big concepts for a little book but presented in such a sophisticated way that it will permeate any barrier.
From Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
There is a quietness to Jon Klassen's earthy illustrations, created with a combination of coloured pencils, gouache and crayons, evoking the natural setting for the stories of the three shape friends. Like the rocks and the cavern and the shapes themselves, the illustrations have substance but are not oppressive, while giving hints of harmony and freshness with the touches of mint green for Circle's waterfall. It's so easy to fall into Jon Klassen's art and swim around, even if in the pitch darkness of the deepest depths of that cavern.

I am sorry to see this trilogy end but I am ever hopeful that the partnership of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen will continue, as it should, to add to the canon of picture books that tell powerful stories with distinction and without preaching.
Shape trilogy by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

March 05, 2019

What We Buried

Written by Kate A. Boorman
Henry Holt and Company
320 pp.
Ages 14-18
February 2019

You created your reality; live with it. (pg. 260)

But the realities that have been created for eighteen-year-old Jory Brewer and his sixteen-year-old sister Lavinia (Liv) are only minimally their own doing. Jory, born with Moebius syndrome, has several paralyzed craniofacial nerves which affect his appearance, his speech and his eating. He may choose to say very little and be more socially withdrawn but how others respond to him is not on him. He'd had one corrective surgery as a child and doctors had recommended further intervention but his parents didn't think it was a good investment. On the other hand, what they thought was a good investment was putting Liv on the child beauty pageant circuit, including a stint on Darling Divas, the reality TV show about pageants and their contestants. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of that career, Liv is now suing her parents for "irreparable and lasting harm." (pg. 11)

On the day of the trial, their parents disappear from the courthouse. Liv returns to the house, for the first time in months, ostensibly to help Jory but more to learn what has happened to their parents whom she believes Jory is helping. When she thinks she knows where they've gone, the two siblings head out to an old cabin their mother had inherited and which their father had always wanted to sell. But in a chilling road trip during which the two are haunted by fleeting visions, possible déjà vu, recurrent memories and danger, Liv and Jory transform from squabbling sibs to something unexpected.
And there it was–an uncanny sense of temporality. Like my reaction to what was happening–the focus of my attention–was a better measure of time than the minutes clicking over on the digital clock.  Everything was beginning to feel malleable and unfixed, like if I looked hard enough at the road illuminated by our headlights, I'd see beyond it, or behind it, or something. (pg. 103)
Kate A. Boorman has written a thriller that is equal parts plot and character in which both are significant and extraordinary. As the reader struggles to sort out the plot including what happened to the teens' parents, how the repeating news story on the radio is important, and what is real and either supernatural or illusion, Jory and Liv are exploring who they were, who they are and who they want to be.
Book jacket of What We Buried by Kate A. Boorman
The front cover of What We Buried may look like the story is about Liv and her perceptions but the back cover reveals that Jory's perspective is just as important. It's the way the two siblings see things about themselves, each other, their parents and the outside world and how it sees them that makes What We Buried intense and emotional.
You know the saying "Seeing is believing"? It's a problem, when you think about it. I mean, it's reasonable for people to want proof before they accept something they've been told. I do. I'm a fan of logic and demonstrable facts. But the idea inherent: that you can believe what you see? That's majorly flawed, because people usually have no idea what they're looking at. It's why people think my sister is a lovely, tragic victim. It's why they so often assume I can't tie my own shoes. (pg. 6)
The contrast of reality and illusion is a complex one in What We Buried and that's because Kate A. Boorman draws us in but doesn't join us for the journey. It's up to the reader to determine what might be real and what might be memory or what might be something else entirely. See if you can see beyond the masks of Liv's beauty and Jory's disorder and look deeper into their stories to find what may be buried, both literally and figuratively.

March 04, 2019

Dodger Boy

Written by Sarah Ellis
Groundwood Books
176 pp.
Ages 10-14
September 2018

Most people would not think of the 1970s as the setting for historical fiction but, at 40 plus years ago, it definitely qualifies, and it was a time rampant with fodder for fiction writers. From Apollo 13 to the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, the pioneering of in vitro fertilization and, of course, Watergate, the 1970s rolled through on a plethora of highs and lows. But for many it will be the decade during which the Vietnam War finally ended. Before that end, however, lives were being shaped by either going to war, protesting it or dodging the call to military service, and those who met those individuals were likewise forever changed. Such are the circumstances of Sarah Ellis's newest middle grade novel, Dodger Boy.

Vancouverites Charlotte Quinlan and her best friend Dawn Novak, both 13, attend a hippie event called an Easter Human Be-In. There, amidst the music and dance and fun, they meet Tom Ed, a draft dodger from Texas, who is invited to stay with Charlotte's Quaker family while he tries sort out his plans. When Tom Ed gets a job as a car jockey and has to drive a car up to 100 Mile House, Charlotte and Dawn accompany him. But while, Charlotte appreciates how Tom Ed talks to her like an adult, Dawn sees the trip as something else.

Meanwhile there is a war against the girls' teacher, who is affectionately known as O.O., from a parent seeking her firing for including the book The Catcher in the Rye in her classroom library.  Even within the context of a greater conflict, Charlotte is compelled to protest the censorship and the attack on her teacher, learning about civil disobedience and taking herself out from Dawn's shadow to find her own voice.

Dodger Boy piggybacks on an era of free love and peace but is embedded in a time of conflict. Sarah Ellis may use the Vietnam War as the big conflict, one between nations, but by including those involved with censorship  and between friends, she makes it personal. There may be discussions about pacifism and Nixon and the war but there is also much learning about differences and similarities between Americans and Canadians, about growing up and being an Unteen or a teenager, and about having a friend and being one.  It's a comprehensive look at the 1970s while still being selective about where Charlotte's focus is. Sarah Ellis, in her crafty subtlety, takes a massive picture of life in the 1970s and angles it at the individual, acknowledging what is important to Charlotte: her family, her friends, her school and the freedom to be her best human "be-in."

March 01, 2019

Celebrating author Jan Andrews and To See the Stars

Celebrate the life of author and storyteller

Jan Andrews

and her final young adult novel

To See the Stars
Written by Jan Andrews
with drawings by Tara Bryan
Running the Goat Books & Broadsides
156 pp.
Ages 13+
February 2019


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

5 - 7 p.m.


A Different Booklist
 Cultural Centre  
779 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON

There will be tributes, readings, and refreshments

Presented by Toronto Storytelling Festival,
A Different Booklist and CANSCAIP

This event is a celebration of Jan Andrews but, as readers will certainly want to pick up a copy of her final book, here is the blurb about To See the Stars:

In her deeply affecting final novel, acclaimed children's writer and storyteller Jan Andrews gives us Edie Murphy, an indomitable and engaging heroine on the cusp of womanhood. The novel moves from Edie's remote Newfoundland outport to St. John's, and finally to New York City's Lower East Side. Against the backdrop of the history-making "Uprising" of 1909, when 20,000 garment workers went on strike for better working conditions, and the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911), Edie begins to find her own voice, hone her already-strong will, and learn about the true nature of home. A celebration of the strength of women and the power of community. 
Retrieved from on February 26, 2019.

February 28, 2019


Written by Herve Paniaq
Illustrated by Germaine Arnaktauyok
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
November 2018

In another outstanding Inuit origin story picture book from Inhabit Media, Igloolik elder Herve Paniaq tells the haunting tale of the mythological mother of the sea mammals, Takannaaluk, also known as Nuliajuk and Kannaaluk.
From Takannaaluk by Herve Paniaq, illus. by Germaine Arnaktauyok
Though her parents wish her to marry so there would be another man around to help out, their only daughter refuses all those who ask her and so she is called Uinigumasuittuq, the one who never wanted to marry. Men appear, though they are animals such as the caribou and the bearded seal transformed into persons, and she refuses them all. When a very tall and handsome man, seated in his qajaq and wearing snow goggles, calls to her, she goes with him. It's not until much later in their journey that she sees he has been sitting on a stool and his legs are very, very short and he has scary red eyes. She realizes she has been tricked as he is a fulmar, a type of seabird, transformed into a man but he refuses to let her go back to her parents. Uinigumasuittuq has no choice but to go with the man and learn how to be his wife.
From Takannaaluk by Herve Paniaq, illus. by Germaine Arnaktauyok
But then her father, who'd been so adamant about marrying his daughter off, decides to bring her back home and away from her horrible husband. When the husband pursues them, Uinigumasuittu's father ridicules his son-in-law who transforms into a fulmar, flying in such a way to cause the winds to pick up. Her angry father throws Uinigumasuittuq into the water and, as she clings to the side of his boat, he chops at her fingers with his knife. Where her fingers fall, seals appear.
From Takannaaluk by Herve Paniaq, illus. by Germaine Arnaktauyok
Her father, guilt-ridden at his actions, kills himself by drowning in the encroaching tides and Uinigumasuittuq, lost to the water, becomes known as Takannaaluk which means "the one down there" and becomes feared and revered as the legendary mother of the sea animals.

Herve Paniaq's retelling of this Inuit myth has the richness of great storytelling. There are villains and victims, choices and consequences, conflict and resolution. But this origin story becomes extraordinary with the illustrations by Germaine Arnaktauyok. I have always believed picture book illustrations are works of art but Germaine Arnaktauyok's images should be in art galleries. They are gorgeous, rich in colour and shape, culturally relevant and wholly appropriate for a story from the Arctic, making Takannaaluk bewitching as well as edifying.

February 27, 2019

The Almost Epic Squad: What Blows Up

Written by Ted Staunton
Illustrated by Britt Wilson
Scholastic Canada
163 pp.
Ages 8013
January 2019

Thirteen years ago, four babies in the Dimly, Manitoba hospital were irradiated (or should that be irreidiated?) with reidium from the dust of its Dimly light bulbs when the electrical system overloaded during a storm. Since that time, the four children have been tracked by Dr. Fassbinder who is currently at the Institut de l'ennui/Boredom Institute. Now that the four are reaching puberty and their almost-epic superpowers are kicking in, everyone wants a piece of the action, whether to study them or abuse their powers.

Readers met Jessica Flem, the first of Dimly, Manitoba's almost superheroes in Kevin Sylvester's Mucus Mayhem (Scholastic Canada, 2018) and in What Blows Up, Ted Staunton introduces us to another, Gary Lundborg. Gary is a tall and clumsy kid–his nickname is Clumsborg–who is forgetful and has difficulties concentrating, though he does get "feelings" to which he pays attention. He seems pretty average, even if intuitive. But during testing, Dr. Fassbinder and his mouse research technicians realize that Gary is telekinetic, moving objects by simply imagining doing so. Strangely, his power cycle is between 3 and 6 a.m. only but it can be boosted by eating garlic.
From What Blows Up (The Almost Epic Squad) by Ted Staunton, illus. by Britt Wilson
When Gary gets the call from Bernard Cheeper of Department C, the boy is whisked away, first to training camp and then to the Balkan country of Pianvia, one of the few sources of reidium along with garlic, in order to help thwart the criminal plan of the elusive Boss. Seems the Boss, aided by teen evil genius Malevia Spleene and her Green Bay Packer bots, along with a work force of moles, has a plan of her own when it comes to the almost epic superheroes of Dimly.
But now, a quick perfume spritz and back to work. There was still Greep and Bafflegab to scream at and the Cat-A-Tonic gas dispenser to top up. So little time, so much evil: a villain’s work was never done. (pg. 107)
In a plot rife with minions, villains, superheroes (sort of), yaks, and double-crossing and humour, Ted Staunton continues The Almost Epic Squad as the very funny middle-grade series it is. (Kudos to Scholastic Canada for choosing such exceptionally humourous writers for the series.) Though What Blows Up, and you'll have to read the book to find out what that is, touches on Jess Flem's story and hints at the remaining squad members in the next two books, it is a solid stand-alone that will draw chuckles and sympathy for the awkward Gary and boos and jeers against the weirdly-costumed Boss and an assortment of freelance masterminds. The plot is complex with its multi-layers, and hilariously entertaining with its voice and unique story elements like a polo game on yaks, a mouse looking to cut a reality TV deal and an assortment of mishaps by poor Gary.
Machines beeped and hummed as he guided balloons (tricky), printed on a whiteboard (very tricky), and threw darts (don't ask) using mind power. Then came a couple of accidental don't-asks involving a tennis racquet and a Bunsen burner. (pg. 27)
Add some graphic novel-like illustrations from Britt Wilson and Ted Staunton's What Blows Up truly feels like a superhero story, albeit one in which the superhero doesn't always know what he's doing but he tries. With the last two kids of The Almost Epic Squad having their stories told in Lesley Livingston's Super Sketchy and in Richard Scrimger's Irresistible, these unlikely champions look like they're heading to make the world a safer place from villains while entertaining readers with their quirkiness and almost epic efforts.
There are loads of extras including videos, etc. at the Scholastic Canada website so do check it out for more fun.

February 25, 2019

Body Swap

Written by Sylvia McNicoll
248 pp.
Ages 12-15
September 2018

Why do we all think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? Is it because we can see over the fence but don't know what it feels like till we're over there? Or is it that we assume it must be better elsewhere because our sides of the fence seem less than perfect? In Sylvia McNicoll's latest middle-grade/YA Body Swap, the proverb of that greener grass is found to be accurate i.e., the grass is not always greener.

Fifteen-year-old Hallie Prince can't seem to get her nose out of her cell phone and, while rushing into the mall to catch her crush Chael Caruso, she is hit by a Hurricane SUV driven by 82-year-old Susan MacMillan. Both die, temporarily, and are transported to a carnival-like world where Eli a.k.a. God gives them five days to accomplish something positive that might give their lives different endings. But Eli, who reappears throughout the story only identified by his tattoo of Carpe diem, switches their souls so that the independent Susan, once plagued with the ailments of the elderly like arthritis, heart problems and digestion complications, is now in the robust, dark-skinned body of a teen who is mobile, eats everything, and is waiting for her first kiss. Meanwhile Hallie is expected to drive, though she doesn't have a license, suffer the tedium of Susan's son Ron and his wife Sheryl who are convinced she needs to go into a seniors' facility, endure physical limitations, wear boring clothes and more.

By convincing all that Hallie is Susan's adopted granddaughter arranged through an empathy project at school, the two interact regularly, including via their new cell phones. In a comedy of errors, Susan and Hallie learn to adjust to their new bodies and circumstances and take on some sleuthing to investigate mechanical problem with vehicles like Susan's Saji Motors' Hurricane, hopeful of ensuring no lives are lost as theirs (almost?) were.

What a ride! From accident to a visit to the other side and back again, Body Swap takes readers to places they will probably never know. Just like Susan and Hallie who get to see the lives of others by swapping bodies, readers get perspectives on youth and the elderly, making good choices for themselves and others, and being open and compassionate to all. Susan and Hallie may believe at first that Eli has cost them their own lives but their new bodies and perspectives gain them so much in the way of learning.

I know when I pick up a Sylvia McNicoll YA novel like her Crush. Candy. Corpse (Lorimer, 2012), Dying to Go Viral (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013), and Best Friends Through Eternity (Tundra, 2015) that I'm going to get real teens. Their stories may have unique elements like returning from death or being charged with manslaughter but never, never are they outrageous or unbelievable. Sylvia McNicoll knows how to weave a story around characters who could be our best friends or neighbours or classmates and never have us rolling our eyes at plot lines or voice. She gets it right every single time. Body Swap continues that tradition, giving true voice to a teen as well as an elderly woman, allowing readers to share in their lives as Susan and Hallie share in each other's. It's a compassionate look at walking in another's shoes and at the gains of having relationships with those different than ourselves.