July 29, 2019

Aunt Pearl

Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
August 2019

Six-year-old Marta's mother has decided that her Aunt Pearl should come and live with them rather than living on the street or couch surfing. Not only does Pearl bring her shopping cart loaded with her "worldly goods" but a man in an old van brings more boxes and bags with the same miscellany. While Marta and Dan's mother tries to keep their home tidy and organized as she prefers it to be, Aunt Pearl fills her room, as well as the garage and basement, with her stuff, and the clash of sensibilities begins.
From Aunt Pearl by Monica Kulling, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Marta is quite fascinated with Aunt Pearl who is respectful of her new surroundings and family though she still feels the need to be true to herself.  Soon Marta is emulating Aunt Pearl, from her eclectic clothing choices to joining her on her forays to scour the neighbourhood’s garbage for treasures, always asking questions of Pearl and how she lived. Marta loves the drama of Aunt Pearl and always finds opportunities to role-play something she hears or sees associated with Aunt Pearl which unpredictably the older woman thinks strange.
From Aunt Pearl by Monica Kulling, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
But things are very different for Aunt Pearl now and over the summer and into the fall, she becomes more and more reserved, “staring into the ravine at the bottom of the yard where the trees grew tangled and green” and, with her mental health affected, she leaves.
From Aunt Pearl by Monica Kulling, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Aunt Pearl is a tough story about family and love and appreciation and authenticity.  Author Monica Kulling makes it clear that Marta’s mother wants to do what’s best for her aunt but it might not actually be what’s right for Pearl. Many would think it generous and appropriate to give Pearl shelter in the family home but it’s obviously not what’s best in the long run for Pearl. Whatever the reason for Aunt Pearl choosing to return to the streets, and there are those who do, she was still able to make a connection with Marta, to learn that she had a place she could go, and that there were still choices within her control.

Monica Kulling's words never criticize either Aunt Pearl or Marta and Dan's mother for their living choices. She is an observer not a judge, seeing the circumstances as a clash of two worlds in which all try to accept their differences with open hearts. Irene Luxbacher's rich collage illustrations, a mixture of pencil, watercolour and acrylics finished with found papers and gouache, push that same idea. While Irene Luxbacher makes Aunt Pearl a sympathetic character with her soft eyes and quiet smile, Pearl's clothes are usually loud and her presence larger than life. In the words and the art, Aunt Pearl is both subtle and bold, trying to fit her world into someone else's and ultimately that just doesn't work.

Aunt Pearl is a bittersweet story about homelessness and the power of family to love and accept and let go. It teaches compassion and urges us all to better understand what it means to be homeless and to love those who are.
From Aunt Pearl by Monica Kulling, illus. by Irene Luxbacher

July 25, 2019

Level 13

Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Press
241 pp.
Ages 8-12
July 2019

Cameron Boxer is a middle-grade slacker. He acknowledges this and is happy with a life style that allows him to play video games, hang with his friends Chuck and Pavel, and eat junk food. Of course, most parents and schools aren't supportive of slackers and so Cam has had to find a way to appease them with a façade of effort (see Slacker by Gordon Korman; Scholastic 2016) and he's done this by establishing P.A.G. a.k.a. Positive Action Group. But things tend to get out of hand when Cam is involved and his community service club has ballooned to 874 kids who think Cam, president of P.A.G., is a stand-up kind of guy who wants to do good work. So while all the paggers are working on a fundraiser for the public library, Cam is trying to avoid getting involved in anything that would take him away from his gaming and potential money-making endeavour as a live streamer.

Being the slacker he is, Cam comes up with a plan that would give him all the time needed for gaming and still look good. He lies to all, except Pavel and Chuck, that he's failing in his schoolwork because of his commitment to P.A.G. and allows Chuck's new girlfriend Daphne to take over as an interim president. To cover up his gaming, Cam creates a new account as GameFox229 and wears a disguise of an old Zorro mask and stuffs gummy worms in his mouth. When Chuck brings Elvis, the beaver the kids helped out in Slacker, over to Cam's house–Daphne is worried how thin he is–the number of followers and subscribers watching Cam explodes. Seems the rodent is mesmerized watching Cam play, getting into the game with sounds and expressions that suggest he knows exactly what's going on. Moreover, when Cam discovers an old version of the Guardians of Geldorf game with a banned Level 13 and is determined to make history with it, Elvis is all in.

But the Awesome Threesome, Cam, Pavel and Chuck, are struggling to stay a cohesive group while Chuck tries to balance his commitment to Daphne and Pavel struggles to keep up his stellar grades while always helping to transport Elvis to join Cam for his streaming sessions.

You know things have to go wrong. Soon all the paggers, without letting anyone else know, are taking over Cam's schoolwork to ensure that his marks improve so he can once again lead them in P.A.G. Elvis is not getting any fatter and Daphne is starting to worry about his health and the frequency of his absences from his habitat. Chuck and Pavel, knowing the truth of Cam's successes, are dismayed to see him held up as a hero of good works and marks. Even Cam's sister Melody gets into things by blackmailing him. Cam and his schemes are a runaway train and he has to get things back on track before he loses everything: his reputation, his friends, and even his health.
When he got mixed up in things–even dumb things–they could balloon to Hindenburg size in the blink of an eye.
     Then again, remember what happened to the Hindenburg. (pg. 122)
Gordon Korman gives kids a story they'll laugh at while envying Cam. Think about how many children would admire Cam for his artful scheming, continued luck, and ability to avoid scandal. He may call himself a slacker but he puts so much effort into his plans and their realization that he becomes a slave to his hobby. Level 13 could be considered a cautionary tale about the dangers of addictive behaviour and taking advantage of others but it's more a laugh on how the best laid plans can go wrong, even for those like Cam who were born under a lucky star. Regardless of the glitch in Cam's plan to becoming a professional gamer, he keeps leveling up, learning more about himself and others and appreciating a life beyond that of a slacker. For the Win!

July 24, 2019

Still More YoungCanLit Illustrators: R-Z, List IV

....and now our final grouping of illustrators in this Who's Who of youngCanLit illustrators. Do check out all the lists from 2013, 2015 and 2017. (Details at https://canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.com/2019/07/still-more-youngcanlit-illustrators.html)

Kass Reich

Richard Rudnicki 

Kari Rust 

Drew Shannon

Kim Smith

Lori Joy Smith 

Jan Thornhill 

Veselina Tomova

Noel Tuazon 

Geraldo Valério

Roy Henry Vickers 

Joe Weissmann

Britt Wilson


July 23, 2019

Still More YoungCanLit Illustrators: H-Q, List IV

Here is the second listing of illustrators in this fourth list.

Scott B. Henderson

Karen Hibbard

Faith Erin Hicks

Janet Hill

Kelly Hill

Loraine Kemp

Soyeon Kim

Torill Kove

Lenny Lishchenko

John Mantha

Josée Masse

Nina Matsumoto 

Joe Morse

Caitlin Dale Nicholson 

Guillaume Perreault

Emma Pedersen

Jennifer Phelan 

Tomorrow, look for the final group of illustrators in my List IV of youngCanLit illustrators.

July 22, 2019

Still More YoungCanLit Illustrators: A-G, List IV

Here is my first group of illustrators in this fourth listing. Revel in the variety of media and styles, in the richness of line and shapes, and more.

Danielle Arbour

Astrid Arijanto 

Roxanna Bikadoroff

Valérie Boivin

David Buist

Tamara Campeau

Janine Carrington 

Alice Carter 

Aidan Cassie

Mathilde Cinq-Mars 

Pierre Collet-Derby

Peggy Collins

Lil Crump

Derek Desierto

Byron Eggenschwiler

Chris Ferrie

Toma Feizo Gas 

Thomas Gibault

Stephanie Graegin

Illustrators whose last names begin with letters H-Q and R-Z will follow in subsequent posts.