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 http://www.scholastic.ca/books/series/almost-epic/ 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.

February 20, 2019

Surviving the City

Written by Tasha Spillett
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan
HighWater Press
56 pp.
Ages 13+
November 2018

Though of different Indigenous heritage, Dez, who is Inninew, and Miikwan, who is Anishinaabe, are more like sisters than best friends. They completed a year-long Berry Fast together and have been important supports as Dez worries about the health of her kokum with whom she lives and Miikwan struggles with the loss of her missing mother.
From Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett, illus. by Natasha Donovan
Walking everywhere in the city, the two girls are seen among blue spirits of Indigenous women watching over them while scary black shadows partner with some men to encroach on their spaces and safety.  When Dez sees her grandmother with the social worker at their house, she is fearful of being sent to a group home. So Dez walks away, her phone battery draining, and ends up sleeping on a park bench, watched over by the spirits of murdered Indigenous women but vulnerable to the predators of white men shadowed by monsters.
From Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett, illus. by Natasha Donovan
When Miikwan does not hear from Dez for several days, she is scared that her best friend may be lost as her own mother was. After talking to the elder of the school's culture room, Miikwan agrees to participate in a march to recognize missing women, girls and two-spirit persons.

Fortunately, while Miikwan helps support her community in a march that attends to those who have been lost, Dez is helped by another Indigenous woman to the Ka Ni Kanichihk Indigenous centre and the two are ultimately reunited.
From Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett, illus. by Natasha Donovan
With extensive notes, including statistics and references, about murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, Tasha Spillett takes Dez and Miikwan's story from very personal to big picture. But don't be deceived that this story is anything less than personal.  It may reassure that the spirits of those missing and murdered are always there to guide and protect, and that there are those on this earth who want to help but the ubiquity of glowing blue spirits and shadowy monsters suggests that the stories of those missing and murdered and the families left behind are still too common. Sitting on a park bench should not be an invitation for assault. Being followed and in fear for your safety because of your heritage should not have become the norm for girls like Miikwan and Dez. But sadly Tasha Spillett reveals the very real worries of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons go beyond the everyday concerns and expand into those about personal safety and loss of home and family.
From Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett, illus. by Natasha Donovan
Author Tasha Spillett is of Nehiyaw and Trinidadian ancestry and dubs herself as a PhD student by day and a poet by night. Relevantly she begins Surviving the City with a poem titled "Little Sister" which, with poignant words, notes the starkness and vulnerability of being a young Indigenous woman but offers support, hope, and recognition.

Métis artist Natasha Donovan likewise focuses on the teen realities of Dez and Miikwan, from school to home and in between but overlays it with the supernatural blanket of spirits. The starkness of the city is conspicuous, with colour and brightness only evident when the teens honour their cultures and people and each other.

Surviving the City is not a happy-ending story of everything working out. It's a story about reality for far too many Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons who are negatively targeted rather than honoured for being just as they are. But, with Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan telling the story of Dez and Miikwan, reality is brought to the light and little sisters are seen.

February 19, 2019

A World Below

Written by Wesley King
A Paula Wiseman Book/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
261 pp.
Ages 8-14

It's a dark, dark place in the caves and tunnels of New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns and Eric, Silvia and the other students of Mr. Baker's small advanced middle-school class are going to find out just how dark it can be when a field trip goes from scholarly to scary.

When an earthquake hits, sending rocks falling and splitting the ground beneath, teacher Mr. Baker disappears into one crack and the kids are dragged deep into the earth by currents of cold water. When thirteen-year-old Eric Johnson drags himself out of the water, he finds himself alone and determined to find his way out. The other students have travelled further down, unable to extricate themselves until they reach still waters. After reviving one student with CPR, Silvia Rodrigues who is desperately trying to keep her anxiety in check is unofficially designated their leader and suggests they find Eric. But, in addition to chapters focusing on Eric and Silvia's perspectives, there are those told of a boy of similar age, Carlos, the King of the Midnight Realm, who is determined to keep his underground community safe from the exiled traitors called Worms and the dangerous "surface humans."

In an adventure-survival story that feels a bit like a melding of Indiana Jones with The Lord of the Flies without the creepy parts, Wesley King, award-winning author of The Vindico (Penguin, 2012) and OCDaniel (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2016) celebrates kids who may see themselves as different and even weak because of their mental health issues or personalities but who are strong and bright and resilient and the stuff of heroes. Silvia tries to hide the vulnerability she feels with her anxiety and panic attacks that keep her from sleeping well but her peers see her as brave and a true leader. Eric and Carlos are living with the reminders of their fathers' strengths or failings and judging themselves by those memories. Eric's father, before leaving to make a new family, was a jerk to Eric's mom and called Eric weird because he was a loner who liked to read. Carlos is trying to lead his people as his father before him did but sees his compassion and insight as contrary and consequently dangerous to those he is destined to rule.
"We shouldn't be spending our whole lives trying to be exactly like our parents. That won't work." (pg. 189)
In an extraordinary world of tree-like mushrooms, rats the size of beagles, spiders and catfish-like creatures as large as cars, and oppressive darkness only relieved by occasional bioluminescence and intermittent flashlight or cell phone light, these young people struggle through their fears, shared and not, to survive and even learn about others and themselves.
"But keeping my distance ... it's just ... easy."
"Stupid things usually are," she said simply. (pg. 215)
Like Jean Craighead George's book My Side of the Mountain, to which both Eric and Wesley King both reference, A World Below allows young people to see what separation from our peers and families can deliver. It gives us a chance to see ourselves as we are, not as others might see us or as we think we are seen. There's a clarity of perception that comes with focusing on what really matters–here, survival–and finding new realities, both within and externally. A World Below may be a coming-of-age story, based solely on the youth of the characters and their efforts to understand themselves and the world around them, but it goes beyond that, guiding readers through the darkness of twisted thinking and fears and into the light of understanding and empathy for self and others.

February 18, 2019

The Sound of Drowning: Book launch (St. John's, Newfoundland)

Because I failed to include this book in my post
about upcoming winter and spring releases of youngCanLit
(now amended),
let me promote the book launch for

Katherine Fleet


her new young adult novel

The Sound of Drowning
Written by Katherine Fleet
Page Street Kids
384 pp.
Ages 14-18
March 2019


 March 26, 2019


7 p.m.


70 Kenmount Road
St. John's, Newfoundland

About the book:
Meredith Hall has a secret. Every night she takes the ferry to meet Ben, her best friend and first love. Though their relationship must remain a secret, they’ve been given a second chance, and Mer's determined to make it work. She lost Ben once before and discovered the awful reality: she doesn't know how to be happy without him…

Until Wyatt washes ashore―a brash new guy with a Texas twang and a personality bigger than his home state. He makes her feel reckless, excited, and alive in ways that cut through her perpetual gloom. The deeper they delve into each other’s pasts, the more Wyatt’s charms become impossible to ignore.

But a storm is brewing in the Outer Banks. When it hits, Mer finds her heart tearing in half and her carefully constructed reality slipping back into the surf. As she discovers that even the most deeply buried secrets have a way of surfacing, she’ll have to learn that nothing is forever―especially second chances.

Retrieved from Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40046016-the-sound-of-drowning on February 17, 2019.

February 15, 2019

2019 Forest Kid and Teen Committees: Applications due April 12, 2019

Do you ♡ reading?
Are you in Grades 4-8 or in high school?
Do you live in Ontario?
Do you want to help choose books that other kids will want to read?

the Ontario Library Association's
Forest of Reading
has a committee for you!

Last year's Forest of Reading Kid and Teen Committees brought readers in Grades 4 through 12 together to talk books and produce exceptional summer reading lists for those readers of the Silver Birch, Red Maple and White Pine reading programs.

This year the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading program is again asking students to apply to be on the 2019 Forest Kid Committee and Forest Teen Committee.

Who can apply?
For the Forest Kid Committee: Ontario students in Grades 4-8 (homeschoolers too!)
For the Forest Teen Committee: Ontario high school students

What will you do?
Come together at the Ontario Library Association's offices in Toronto with other readers to select 10-20 titles for a summer reading list. (Check out last year's Kid Committee and Teen Committee reading lists.) It's a full day of talking books, special treats and making new friends. And it's all about the books!

When will we meet?
Tentatively May/June 2019

Applications are due April 12, 2019
Details about the program are found at the OLA website 

Don't miss this great opportunity 
to share your ♡ of Canadian books!

The Forest Kid Committee and Teen Committee were a huge success.
Now it's your chance to become a committee member on the 
2019 Forest Kid Committee or Forest Teen Committee
and help your peers find great books to read.

Apply before the April 12th deadline 
for your chance 
to be part of something great! 

February 14, 2019

The Dog Who Wanted to Fly: Welcome Book Party (Rockwood, ON)

For a special March break activity

take in this special

Welcome Book Party


children's author

 Kathy Stinson


her newest picture book

The Dog Who Wanted to Fly
Written by Kathy Stinson
Illustrated by Brandon James Scott
Annick Press
36 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2019


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

10:30 -11:30 a.m.


Rockwood Branch
Wellington Country Library
121 Rockmosa Drive
Rockwood, ON
N0B 2K0 

From Annick Press's website:
Who says dogs can’t fly?

Meet Zora: a dog with a big dream and an even bigger personality. All Zora wants to do is learn how to fly so she can catch that pesky squirrel in her yard. But try as she might to prove to her friend Tully —a skeptical cat—that dogs truly can fly, nothing seems to work. Until Zora finds the right motivation, that is.

Kathy Stinson’s charming story of perseverance is beautifully brought to life by Brandon James Scott’s exuberant and wonderfully expressive illustrations. Touching on themes of optimism and determination in the face of failure, The Dog Who Wanted to Fly is a book anyone—even a cat—will love.
Retrieved from
on February 13, 2019.

  • • • • • • •
More details about the event are posted at the library website at https://calendar.wellington.ca/library/Detail/2019-03-13-1030-Welcome-Book-Party-with-Kathy-Stinson

February 13, 2019

I Want My Hat Back

Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press
40 pp.
Ages 3-8
New edition for release March 2019

With the release of this new board book edition of Jon Klassen's award-winning I Want My Hat Back, I am pleased that I can review this gem and introduce new readers to this delightful story. Originally published in 2011, a year before I started this blog, I missed out on reviewing Jon Klassen's first picture book, though I remember well sharing it with little ones.
From I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
A bear has lost his hat and seeks it by asking a fox, a frog, a rabbit, a turtle, a snake, and an armadillo, "Have you seen my hat?" Their answers are varied, some confused, some preoccupied, and some defensive but all are negative. Ever polite, even helping a turtle to climb a rock, the bear often replies with a "Thank you anyway."
From I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
It's not until a deer asks the bear what the hat looks like that he realizes he did see his hat. Mystery solved but what will bear do to get his hat back?
From I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Those who've read this book will all remember the twist that I Want My Hat Back takes and those who have not are in for a surprise but one that requires little ones to read the clues. From a series of repetitive enquiries to the revelation of the theft and finally the bear's response, both evident and not, I Want My Hat Back propels the reader from beginning to end, with subtle but dark humour that suggests consequences for actions.

In I Want My Hat Back, as well as in its sequels This is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012) and We Found a Hat (Candlewick, 2016), Jon Klassen beguiles with his simple but characteristic illustrations of animals and their landscapes. But the simplicity is hardly unsophisticated. It may be more reminiscent of folk art with its clarity of line and austere backgrounds but the art is punchy, just like the story. Bear may get his hat back but it's not a happy ending for the rabbit. Be prepared. Life is like that. And isn't grand that there are those like Jon Klassen who recognize that children's books don't need to be sugar and unicorns to be exceptional and appreciated?
Jon Klassen's hat trilogy

February 12, 2019

Bear for Breakfast / Makwa kidji kijebà wìsiniyàn

Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Jay Odjick
Translated by Joan Commanda Tenasco
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
February 2019

Robert Munsch's picture books have become a staple of youngCanLit from the publication of his first book almost 40 years ago and, with Bear for Breakfast / Makwa kidji kijebà wìsiniyàn, Robert Munsch continues to provide diversity in his story-telling, always honouring young readers whose lives provide the basis for his tales.

After young Donovan bemoans that there is nothing to eat, much to his mother's surprise who has filled the refrigerator with her shopping, he is reminded of his grandfather telling him he used to eat bear for breakfast. So grabbing a rope, Donovan heads out to snag a bear for their breakfast.  With the "thump, thump, thump, thump, thump" of his feet, and calling out "Bear, bear, bear, bear, bear!" Donovan is often answered by a refrain of "Kid, kid, kid, kid, kid!" Spotting an ant or a squirrel or a dog, he shoos them away. But when a bear appears to his call and growls at the boy, Donovan starts to tiptoe away, before walking quickly with a pat, pat, pat and finally running with a whomp, whomp, whomp as fast as he can home, though with the bear following. It's only after Donovan's grandfather takes a frying pan to the bear who has crashed into the house that they are able to finally eat breakfast, and it is definitely not bear.
From Bear for Breakfast by Robert Munsch, illus. by Jay Odjick
Bear for Breakfast / Makwa kidji kijebà wìsiniyàn has all the trademark Robert Munsch elements of a child's bravado, humour in all the right places, and repetitive lines and action sounds that little ones will want to help read. Though many will not be familiar with eating bear for breakfast, those children for whom it is not unfamiliar will appreciate acknowledgement of their experiences. To help embed that experience, this edition is a dual-language one of English and Algonquin, translated by Joan Commanda Tenasco. Useful for children familiar with one language and learning a second, dual-language books have been suitable for English-language learners but recently they have become increasingly popular in Canada to help preserve Indigenous languages. Although I have seen Cree, Inuktitut, Michif and Mi'kmaq editions of dual language books, this is the first I've seen in Algonquin and, by providing a translation of a Robert Munsch story, Bear for Breakfast / Makwa kidji kijebà wìsiniyàn will win new readers across cultures.
From Bear for Breakfast by Robert Munsch, illus. by Jay Odjick
Moreover, with Anishinàbe artist Jay Odjick's illustrations to add veracity to Robert Munsch's words, Bear for Breakfast / Makwa kidji kijebà wìsiniyàn becomes more of an Indigenous cultural experience than a silly animal story. From the outdoor scenes of coniferous forests, typical of La Loche, Saskatchewan, the home of the Donovan who inspired the story, to the boy's home's decorations of a thunderbird and other Indigenous art, Jay Odjick ensures a genuineness to Donovan's story. Though young children will be able to see themselves and their family in Donovan and his mom and grandfather, little touches like Donovan's T-shirt with a feather and his grandfather's braids add a distinction that shows respect for another culture and its ways of living.

Whether you choose the English edition of Bear for Breakfast or the dual language edition of Bear for Breakfast / Makwa kidji kijebà wìsiniyàn (there are also French and French-Algonquin editions), there will be enlightening discussions about cultural meal choices along with animated story-telling. Clap, clap, clap.

February 11, 2019

The House of One Thousand Eyes

Written by Michelle Barker
Annick Press
354 pp.
Ages 14+

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a dark book but 1980s East Berlin was a dark time and place. It was a time of the Berlin Wall and the Stasi (the State Security Service) and repression of thought, opportunity and interaction. It was a time of oppression and control and secret-keeping. It was dark and even more so for seventeen-year-old Lena Altmann.

When she lost her parents in a factory explosion, Lena was sent to an asylum. After three years of treatment, she was released into the care of her aunt, a Party member, who treats Lena as a simpleton in need of direction to prevent her readmission to the hospital.
... but Auntie was a good citizen, and goodness was rewarded.
     Badness, however, got you a one-way ticket to smartening up ... (pg. 57)
Unfortunately, her Uncle Erich, whom she adores and visits weekly, is a writer and a man of opinions and insight. 
Paper could get a person in trouble. When you wrote something down, you gave it life and made it yours. (pg. 22)
When she witnesses the removal of his things from his flat and finds a new tenant in place who tells her he has lived there for five years, Lena wonders whether she is delusional. She is told by all that she has no uncle. She cannot locate any of his books at the bookstores or library (her own have disappeared as have her photos of him) and is told there is no birth record of such person.

Working as a night cleaner at Stasi headquarters, also know as the House of One Thousand Eyes, Lena tries to determine what happened to her uncle and cut through the deceit and illusion that all is right in the "Better Berlin." But will the wall she has built up in her own mind continue to protect her from harmful thoughts and brutality such as that she suffers nightly at the hands of one Stasi officer? Or is it like the real Berlin Wall, still in place in 1983, doing more harm than good or in danger of crumbling?

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a brilliant novel of historical fiction. The setting may only have been thirty-six years ago, still in my lifetime, but it's of a time and place so inaccessible, concealed in the propaganda disseminated by those in power and perpetuated by those choosing to survive at all costs, that it will seem far more distant.  It is a hard and dark time for East Berliners who had to choose whether to deceive themselves about the inequities perpetrated by a corrupt regime or to suffer the consequences, as does Lena's uncle, for free thought and disapproval. Just as Uncle Erich knows about veiling one story in another, Michelle Barker's subtext about mental health, social inequalities and the freedom of expression is never lost in the story of Lena as she searches for her uncle and tries to make sense of a world that often made no sense at all. But Michelle Barker builds up Lena's worlds, real and "schrullig," into a monument that honours lives lived with courage and conviction, never blocking the light of truth, and she does so with strength of words and greatness of style.

February 08, 2019

Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess

Written and illustrated by Janet Hill
Tundra Books
48 pp.
Ages 4-8 (but really for all ages)
January 2019

With Valentine's Day on the horizon, many will be thinking of romantic love. But I can't think of a better time (other than International Day of the Cat on August 8th) to promote Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess as Miss Mink's sixty-seven lovely felines share their wisdom about living well and loving self. It's love with a difference.

From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill
As with Janet Hill's first book, Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess (Tundra, 2016), there is a detailed introduction to Miss Mink and her circumstances. Readers will learn of Miss Marcella Mink's living with her cats and starting her own feline-friendly cruise company but, overwhelmed with her business's success, Miss Mink becomes unhappy. Only by heeding the advice of her cats does she learn how to live "a purrfect life."

From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill
In a series of twenty double-spreads, Miss Mink recounts the lessons gleaned from her ever-wise cats. From "Start the day off right with a proper grooming" to "Find happiness in the little things" and "Don't be afraid to voice your opinion (loudly)," Miss Mink recognizes the actions and thoughts that her cats practise daily. There are lessons in gratitude, enterprise, positivity, friendship and mindfulness. It's about being in the moment and taking in what's good around you, not worrying or negating experiences as insignificant or worthless. There's a reason that cats may have been worshipped or at the very least held in the very highest of esteem. Their poise and shrewdness, along with savvy behaviours, provide guidance to living well and in the moment. Janet Hill recognizes that they impart wisdom wrapped up in love, knowing that they will always know better than their human counterparts.
From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill
But the life lessons go beyond the words. With a clowder of cats from which to choose, Janet Hill expands the learning from words of wisdom to exemplars for living well. Though her paintings have a romantic feel to them, embedded in the glamour of the 1920s, Janet Hill gives them more whimsy and affection, the emphasis on the tenderness and care rather than the amorous. With mental health issues on the rise, Janet Hill and Miss Mink and her felines share some wonderful coaching on self-care and appreciation to which we should all attend.

For the animal lover, especially of cats, who might appreciate an absorbing and heartfelt book about taking care of oneself to make the most of life, courtesy of life lessons from those who live lives to their fullest, Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess is the book to pick up this weekend. It's a Valentine for self that can be shared with others.
Lesson Twelve: Love others, but don't forget to love yourself too.                         From Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill 

February 06, 2019

The Creepy-Crawly Thought

Written by Alison Hughes
Illustrated by Jennifer Rabby
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
February 2019

We all get them, those creepy-crawly thoughts that interfere with sleep, daytime thinking and life in general. When they come, everything is tainted with worry and anticipation of something bad.
From The Creepy-Crawly Thought by Alison Hughes, illus. by Jennifer Rabby
So what can I do with creepy thoughts
that move right in to stay?
I'll plan a plan, I'll list a list
for shooing them away ...
A list of strategies is what Alison Hughes, author of picture books, middle-grade and YA novels, recommends for the young afflicted with the creepy-crawly thoughts. You can flush them down the toilet, blow them away, chuck them in the fireplace, or sing them away (apparently "bad thoughts hate harmony"). There are loads of suggestions for dealing with those fears and all are manageable for young children. No logic is needed to convince a child that those creepy-crawlies aren't real because reason doesn't always come into play with fears. But by placing control of those bad thoughts directly into the imagination of a child, something can be done.
I'll crowd out the creepy-crawlies
when all my happy thoughts appear,
and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze them out
until they disappear.
And even if those thoughts return, as they are want to do, a child has the means to send them into oblivion once again.
From The Creepy-Crawly Thought by Alison Hughes, illus. by Jennifer Rabby
As a teacher, I know how anxiety can affect children and telling them they have nothing to worry about just doesn't work. Invalidating their feelings while trying to reassure often creates new problems. But by placing the control in their small hands, children can visualize getting rid of these pesky thoughts with action and imagination. And with a variety of strategies for dealing with those creepy-crawlies, Alison Hughes ensures that there's at least one that will work for any child. Moreover her rhyming text, sure to annoy those monstrous thoughts, brings a lightness and manageability to the plight of a child dealing with anxiety.
From The Creepy-Crawly Thought by Alison Hughes, illus. by Jennifer Rabby
Jennifer Rabby's illustrations are relatively simple but effective in giving form to the creepy-crawlies. After all, how do you illustrate a negative thought that pervades without creating new fears for children? By making the creepy-crawly thoughts vague and nebulous blobs of different colours and facial (?) expressions, Jennifer Rabby suggests that there are a variety of detrimental thoughts that cause anxiety and worry and need to be eliminated. Moreover, their fuzzy shapes suggests the enigmatic nature of most fears and worries, allowing children to see their own within these amorphous forms.

Alison Hughes and Jennifer Rabby hope to donate copies of The Creepy-Crawly Thought to local, provincial and national child protection agencies and children's social services but you should purchase your own copy because you know that those creepy-crawlies can slither in at any time and rejection can be just a playful rhyme away.

February 05, 2019

Say Something!

Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Orchard Books (Scholastic)
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
February 2019

In his extraordinary way of blending message with art, Peter H. Reynolds, creator of The Dot (2003), Happy Dreamer (2017) and The Word Collector (2018), brings young readers to speak from the heart and make the world a better place for all.
From Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds
In a series of double spreads, children are encouraged to speak from the heart "with words, with action, with creativity" when they spot a lonely person or someone being hurt, or when they see an empty canvas or lot that could blossom to life, or when there are ideas and beauty to be shared.
From Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds
From Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds
It's about being yourself and being your best self, helping everyone to understand and to say something too.
Sometimes you'll say something
and no one will be listening.

But keep saying
what is in your heart ...
... and you will find someone who listens.

Keep saying it ...
... and you may be surprised 
to find the whole world

Peter H. Reynolds encourages all to say something in their own way, recognizing that some have strong voices that are easily heard and others are quieter, imparting their messages through poetry, art, fashion and science. This acknowledgement of differences, including in our ways to communicate, makes Say Something! relevant and accessible to all.
From Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds
As a bonus, there's a wonderful activity pack available free from Scholastic that includes a heart-shaped card that would be perfect for a Valentine's Day class activity. Check it out at https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/scholastic/kids/pdf/say-something/Scholastic_SaySomethingActivityPack.pdf

Say Something! says loads about standing up, sitting down, speaking out and stepping forward. It's inspiring and motivating and empowering. Thank you, Peter H. Reynolds, for cheering those who've led by saying something and encouraging all of us to do the same.


For more inspiration and to see more illustrations from the book, check out the official trailer posted by Scholastic on YouTube.

Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds | Official Trailer
Posted by Scholastic on February 1, 2019