May 30, 2019


Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
Groundwood Books
159 pp.
Ages 10-14
April 2019

We each have a soundtrack for our lives. It may be seem like a temporary playlist of current favourites or be multiple long-playing albums of the tragedies and joys experienced. Charlie's favourite teacher, her music teacher Mr. K, obviously recognizes this, giving his students an assignment for each to select a song for that moment in their lives. While he introduces them to numerous genres of music, from jazz to reggae, 1980s rap and blue grass, and Charlie contemplates her song, she spends some time crushing on Emile, a nice guy with a passion for entomology, and worrying about Luka, a beautiful boy now absent from school who performed at the winter concert, not caring about the reactions he got.
From Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
But when Mr. K introduces them to opera, Charlie finally discovers her passion. Researching the life of opera singer Maria Callas (1923-1977), she learns how an unloved child used her voice to dream and become someone deemed worthy of affection, regardless of the  detractors who ridiculed some elements of her voice.
From Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
As Charlie selects her song and Luka's and Emile's stories are revealed, the three classmates and Charlie's friend Addie find a way to connect in a meaningful and supportive way, creating the beginnings of a new soundtrack as the Freaks of Feeling.
The show goes on. It always does. And somehow hearts don't stop.
Instead they beat out new rhythms. (pg. 147)
These middle school kids, on the cusp of graduating Grade 8, are trying to figure out who they are and what they want and need. Is it to be the centre of attention or remain comfortably in the background? Is it to be laid back and mellow or loud and brash? Like the music they are trying on for size and comfort, there will be missteps and surprises, quieter moments and deafening junctures. And as Maria Callas herself experienced, there will be critics and fans.
From Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
But, there should be none but admirers for Kyo Maclear and Byron Eggenschwiler's Operatic. It's a full opera in stories and pictures. There are duets and solos and choruses that support the leads. There's the ordinary of parlando and the arias that take the plot to greater heights. And fools and villains, lovers and friends. There is the extraordinary and the ordinary, all reflected in Byron Eggenschwiler's artwork. The mostly black with gold and yellow illustrations may emulate the caution and optimism of a coming of age story, as the blues of Luka's story and the reds of Maria Callas's story focus on the nature of their lives, but the art is hardly ordinary. It is effusive with emotion for the angst of finding one's life songs, whether they be for Charlie, Luka, Emile or Maria Callas, and singing them privately or publicly. Fortunately, Kyo Maclear does not end Operatic on a tragedy or comedic note but one of hope, recognizing that wobbles happen but don't define life. 

May 29, 2019

A Box of Bones

Written by Marina Cohen
Roaring Brook Press
288 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2019

Sometimes people need lies. Little lies to help them deal with truths that are too huge and too difficult to face. (pg. 273)
Twelve-year-old Kallie is only interested in facts and the organized and logical world that she and her father, who works in risk management for an insurance company, live in. She has no appreciation for the arts, turning her nose up at music and seeing stories as "ugly little lies wrapped in pretty packages" (pg. 59), going so far as to refer to her dead mother only with disdain as "The Writer." Unfortunately, the world seems to want something different for her than she expects.

While at the buskers' Festival of Fools with her Grandpa Jess, Kallie is handed a small puzzle box seemingly made of bone. After much work to open it, nine smaller cubes fall out of the box, each with its own unique image. Strangely, no matter how she drops these cubes, they always land in the same order: an animal, a goblet, an oval with holes, a castle, a cylinder with flames, a coffin, a skull, a long pointed object, and a blank. Soon, Kallie's life, thrown off kilter by a new imaginative student named Anna and by secrets she is learning regarding her mother's death, is following a path based on those bone images, starting with a strange animal with amethyst eyes that appears to her.

Interspersed with Kallie's story is one of Liah, a bone carver's apprentice. In her story, distinguished to the reader by its italics font, Liah and the bone carver are heading to the evil Empress's palace to sell his carvings, travelling through an ancient forest haunted by those whose bones were buried without ancestral care. Heedless of the bone carver's warnings, Liah removes a skull, hopeful of carving something special from it. But their foray into the palace becomes something dangerous for the bone carver and Liah after a Lie-peddler they meet confronts the Empress with his stories.
There is such a thing as too much truth. (pg. 272)
How Kallie's and Liah's journeys are related is only revealed at the end of Marina Cohen's latest middle grade novel but they are entwined, both learning that
...a good story never really ends. It lives on inside you forever (pg. 222)
and that truths and lies are not very different, both necessary and still tenuous.

While Marina Cohen does creepy middle-grade really, really well–do check out several of her earlier novels such as The Inn Between (2016) and The Doll's Eye (2017)–A Box of Bones tells a great mystery without worries of keeping young readers up at night. There are eerie bits, both in Kallie's and Liah's stories, but they add to the mysteriousness, demonstrating that not everything is straightforward, logical or expected, just like life, and that stories give life as well as honour it.

May 27, 2019

Tough Call (Lorimer Sports Stories): Guest blog post

Occasionally I invite young readers to review books 
for CanLit for LittleCanadians. 
I'm very pleased to present this review 
by eleven-year-old Bronte L., a Grade 5 student.

Written by Kelsey Blair
128 pp.
Ages 10-13
September 2018

In Tough Call by Kelsey Blair, Malia King signs up to be a basketball referee to help her family with the basketball fees for her and her sister, Flo. She is assigned her first basketball game to referee. Malia is excited to find out that she is the referee for Flo’s first game. During the game, she makes a call favouring the rival team, Boundary. Her sister Flo gets furious with her because she feels that it was a close call and it cost them the game. Shouldn’t Malia have made the call in her sister’s favour? After that call she finds out how difficult reffing truly is.

When Malia gets her full reffing schedule, to her disappointment she is one of the referees for Flo’s games during the playoffs. People were still coming up to her in the halls and giving her a hard time about not making calls to help her own school win. How will refereeing more of the games make things for Malia in school? This new schedule is putting pressure on her to choose between favouring her school or making fair calls.

I thought Tough Call was a great book with lots of dialogue and detail. Kelsey Blair did a marvellous job describing the basketball games. Her play by play description of the action made it like I was there watching Malia and Flo! Kelsey Blair created a very believable main character. Her vivid descriptions of Malia’s emotions were so strong, you could feel them yourself.

Tough Call is a great light read for grades 4-8. At only 127 pages, it is easy and enjoyable for students to read. Her plot line is very relatable for students of this age group and the events in the book are family friendly. I encourage all basketball fans to read Tough Call.  True fans of the sport will appreciate the finer details and understand the pressure in these situations. Readers who are not fans of basketball will still enjoy Malia King’s story, as everyone can relate to being under pressure at school. I would give this book an 8 out of 10 as it has a great plot line, an inspiring story, and genuine characters.

Written by Bronte L. (11)

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.