April 28, 2021

We Dream Medicine Dreams

Written and illustrated by Lisa Boivin
HighWater Press
48 pp.
Ages 5-10
April, 2021

The cover tells you this is going to be a powerful book. From its vibrant colours and emotional depiction of adult and child resting and dreaming to the natural landscape of bear, vegetation and stars, the book cover of We Dream Medicine Dreams invites us into a different world.
From We Dream Medicine Dreams by Lisa Boivin
Lisa Boivin, a member of the Deninu K’ue First Nation, recalls her memories of napping with her grandfather and his teaching her of the importance of medicine dreams.
There is medicine in our dreams. This medicine teaches us to be skillful in the world and teaches us how to face the challenges in our lives. These skills are learned from animals.
With each animal dream comes a lesson. Bear teaches about listening and finding safety, finding food and being alone.
He is cradled by his love of the land when he sleeps, and he is encouraged by the land as he learns how to live a good life.
Bear teaches us that, though there will be times in our lives when we are alone, we have learned well from family and carry their love which will help us thrive.
There's also Hawk who teaches us to open ourselves to new good things, and Caribou who teaches us about generosity and respectfulness. Her favourite lesson from her grandfather is about Wolf who learns from his elders how to hunt and accepts failures as a part of learning.
From We Dream Medicine Dreams by Lisa Boivin
But her grandfather is now ill and in a coma, and his death is imminent. At the hospital, she crawls onto the bed to have one last nap with him to "dream a medicine dream for us."
From We Dream Medicine Dreams by Lisa Boivin
When her grandfather has passed, she takes his teachings to heart. Like Bear, she knows she has been taught well that the world loves her as he did and that he would want her to be happy. Hawk reminds her that she has received many gifts from her Grampa, and that she must be open to new ones. Like Caribou, she will be respectful of the gifts given to her and the lessons learned.  Finally from Wolf, she learns humility and to keep trying.
From We Dream Medicine Dreams by Lisa Boivin
Her grandfather, whose own mother had called him Little Wolf, now visits his grandchild in her dreams as a dark wolf to teach her to be happy with the world around her. 
We Dream Medicine Dreams is the whole package. Its story about the teachings that come from animal dreams blended with Lisa Boivin's impactful and vibrant digital art tells and shows and invites the reader to experience and learn. These lessons about being one's best self, of living as part of the world and with others are profound. Conveyed through a tender and meaningful inter-generational relationship, the message that animal dreams can heal with their teachings is not lost on the reader, as they were not on the granddaughter in We Dream Medicine Dreams. Her grandfather's words are touching in their sincerity and intent, demonstrating the compassion and wisdom needed to live life well.

Lisa Boivin's words are stirringly meaningful, and her illustrations are vivid and textured, so skillfully rendered digitally that I was initially convinced it was cut-paper art. It isn't. It's just so multilayered in colour and shape that it gives the impression of depth, energy and even daring.

From Lisa Boivin's dedication that begins with
"This book is a sacred ceremony..."
I know that this book honours the teaching of her fathers, grandfather and other, who shared with her Indigenous lessons of animal dreams. In creating this picture book, not only has she honoured them and their bonds, Lisa Boivin has shared restorative lessons for living with challenges including loss, lessons we've always needed, but especially now.

April 26, 2021

Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow

Written by Aimée Craft
Illustrated by Luke Swinson
Annick Press
60 pp.
Ages 10+
March 2021

At a size of 17 cm x 12 cm (6.75" x 4.75"), Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow is a small book. But its small size belies the depth of lesson and sharing about relationships with the land and water that Indigenous Peoples have and what a treaty really means.
From Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow by Aimée Craft, illus. by Luke Swinson
A girl and her Mishomis (grandfather) sit by the kitchi sipi (great river), where he'd lived all his life, on the land, in the bush and on the river. Though she'd grown up in the city, she has always considered the land home. This is where he'd taught her to listen to the land and remind her of her responsibilities to it and the water and to their stories.
From Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow by Aimée Craft, illus. by Luke Swinson
He tells her of the original treaty, with their grandfather sun and grandmother moon working with mother, the earth, to create life. The agreement to work together, known as aagooiidiwim for the Anishinaabe, is the basis for collaborations with all nations, whether deer, human or other, to ensure respect and find solutions to always honour the treaty.
From Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow by Aimée Craft, illus. by Luke Swinson
We were given the ability to learn from our relatives on this earth about their treaty relationships and through what we call natural law, or earth's law. (pg. 50)
As I read Aimée Craft's words, I wanted to make sure that I fully respected their profound meaning, evocative of culture and history, and ever enduring. An Anishinaabe-Métis lawyer and professor from Treaty 1 in Manitoba, Aimée Craft crafts her words from a place of understanding, both of people and place and time, taking the lessons from her elders and seeing their place in making treaties then and now. The magnitude of treaty words is never in question.
This is why the Treaty is for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the river flows. (pg. 23)
The reverence of Treaty Words: For As Long As Rivers Flow comes through in Aimée Craft's words, resonant and weighty, steadfast and dynamic. Luke Swinson, an Anishinaabe illustrator who is a member of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, could have attempted to match that weightiness with complex and detailed artwork but he chose better. His lines create the necessary movement, from and to place and time, to carry the same messages. Digitally created to reflect and honour the natural environment of water, land and sky, Luke Swinson takes us to the place in which treaties were and are made and demand awe and deference. 

Don't let the small size of Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow mislead you into believing this book is anything but very, very big and important. Its lessons that relationships are the basis for making treaties are everything and should help us all understand how to ensure those relationships are sound, fair and lasting.

April 23, 2021


Written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
Megan Tinsley Books (Little, Brown and Company)
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2021

Ani Castillo charmed me and other readers with Ping (2019), her picture book about an amorphous being who had a message about communication and connecting with others. In Spark, a different entity akin to a child in a snowsuit delights in the spark that is life.

The story begins with a question.
What is this magical thing...
to be alive?
It's a big question. What does it mean? From the coming together of individuals who fall in love is created their little bundle of blue who revels in all that they can do: touch, smell, tell, cry, sleep, dance, love, give, share, make...There is so much for which to be thankful. 
From Spark by Ani Castillo
But more than the now is the anticipation of what can still be, in places to be explored, in lives to be touched and in letting the spark shine. And even with cold, rain and darkness, the gift of that spark of life endures. 
From Spark by Ani Castillo
Though I could see Spark being a great book for very young children to understand the concept of life–getting life, living life, and appreciating life–I think that it's really about the gratitude we should have for the lives we have. Not always perfect, sometimes totally disheartening, and often messy, but still there is a spark that persists as long as we're alive. And the spark isn't there because you have the most expensive toys or are the most famous or the wealthiest. It's there by virtue of the life spark within. Ani Castillo shows us that simplicity of idea in her text and her art. There are no superfluous words to cloud the message. There is just life lived in its most basic forms. Similarly Ani Castillo's art of pencil and watercolours extends this message of modesty and openness. We are all these beings, both shapeless and distinct, human and not, but all with life that is recognizable. 

As long as there is the spark of life, there is something worthwhile to hold onto and for which to be grateful.
From Spark by Ani Castillo

April 21, 2021

The Case of the Burgled Bundle (A Mighty Muskrats Mystery, Book 3)

Written by Michael Hutchinson
Second Story Press
208 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2021

The four cousins from the Windy Lake First Nations, who were first introduced in The Case of Windy Lake which was Michael Hutchinson's award-winning entry in Second Story Press's 2018 Indigenous Writing Contest, are back to solve a mystery at the National Assembly of Cree Peoples.

The week-long event begins with the handover ceremony during which the kids' grandfather, the head of the Windy Lake Elders Committee, receives the pipe from the Elder from last year's host, Butterfly Narrows. But this auspicious event does not go to plan when the ceremony is held under cover of Butterfly Narrows's teepee, excluding the majority of event participants, and Grandpa makes a joke that annoys their Elder Eugene Lone Man. 
The lands of Butterfly Narrows have taught them to hold tightly to what they have, to protect what they haven't yet lost. (pg. 19)
Grandpa is ever respectful and circumspect about this slight and invites Elder Leon Shining Deer and Mrs. Shining Deer a.k.a Aunt Dee as Bundle Holders to share the bundle for Treaty 12 and the stories that are linked with it in hopes of easing tensions. Following the protocols associated with the bundle, Elder Leon conducts a welcoming ceremony to which all are welcome. But, though the bundle is guarded all night long in the Butterfly Narrows teepee, it disappears. Worried that his own misstep of toppling the Elders' pipes accidentally during the meal may have damaged the ceremony, Otter and his three cousins, Chickadee and brothers Atim and Samuel, help their Uncle Levi of the RCMP to investigate.

Though The Case of the Burgled Bundle is a great middle-grade mystery with a host of suspects and red herrings to confuse the young investigators, it's the lessons about treaties, treaty bundles, ceremony and customs that gives the story its unique perspective and opportunities for learning. Michael Hutchinson, a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation, has not just told a story about a stolen item. He has taken us to an assembly of Cree Nations, each different in their histories, their needs and their expectations.
"Grandpa says, you are the land you live on. And the Cree people are spread across some pretty different landscapes." (pg. 8)
There is an appreciation for the differences between First Nations and the treaties they made (Treaty 12 is a fictional treaty), including how they were made and the responsibilities involved with them. Though the components of the bundle are never revealed in detail, its presentation provides the memories of its creation and the importance of guarding it and the stories for all time. With that and a culprit not easily deduced by the reader–the Mighty Muskrats are far more savvy than this reader–The Case of the Burgled Bundle has given us a whodunit rich in relevant Indigenous lessons of history, culture and people.

• • • • • • •
The Mighty Muskrats Mystery Series
The Case of Windy Lake (2019)
The Case of the Missing Auntie (2020)
The Case of the Burgled Bundle (2021)

April 19, 2021

The Sorry Life of Timothy Shmoe

Written by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
Illustrated by Zoe Si
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2021 
Poor Timothy Shmoe.  He's a kid who never intends to do wrong or misbehave. In fact, according to the myriad of apologies he has to write, he always has a reason behind whatever incident has landed him in hot water again. Unfortunately, things just keep happening. (Funny, huh?)
From The Sorry Life of Timothy Shmoe by Stephanie Simpson McLellan, illus. by Zoe Si
Timothy Shmoe was not a bad kid...
But sometimes he did bad things.
From calling his father a bad name to expressing his dislike for a gift, playing hockey inside or touching other people's things, Timothy is a kid who just does things and doesn't think about the consequences. In other words, he's like many kids.

From The Sorry Life of Timothy Shmoe by Stephanie Simpson McLellan, illus. by Zoe Si
For each sorry event, Timothy is required to write a letter of apology. He often starts them with "I'm sorry that..." before going on to explain why what happened has happened. He was just trying to be honest or wanting to cool his mother down on a hot day or he woke up on the wrong side of the bed or Fluffy scratched him or...or...or. There's always something with Timothy that explains away his behaviour, or so he thinks.
From The Sorry Life of Timothy Shmoe by Stephanie Simpson McLellan, illus. by Zoe Si
But all those little episodes become a colossal comedy of errors when Timothy attends his sister's dance recital and he and his marbles end up creating an act of their own.
From The Sorry Life of Timothy Shmoe by Stephanie Simpson McLellan, illus. by Zoe Si

Parents and teachers know that impulse control in children may develop earlier (ages 3-4) but may take years to become entrenched, and Timothy is just learning to see that his actions have consequences. Like many parents, his are frazzled, trying to find the means to teach Timothy the behaviours that are less destructive or hurtful and the letter-writing may be a good start. Though he's obviously a reluctant apology writer, Timothy starts to accept that his actions are impacting others. In fact, his final letter suggests that his parents may wish he was never born because he wrecks everything. There is one more letter, this one from his dad, that expresses something very different.
I would only be sorry if you were not my son.
Stephanie Simpson McLellan, who has written a number of my favourites including The Christmas Wind (20017), takes both a light-hearted and serious tone in The Sorry Life of Timothy Shmoe. Yes, he does some silly things that older kids and adults usually recognize as potentially disastrous, but the frustrations that he and others feel are very real and even distressing. For a child to feel unwanted is sad. Thankfully Stephanie Simpson McLellan has given Timothy parents who are understanding and loving and, with their help, he's sure to grow into his self-control.

Vancouver cartoonist and illustrator Zoe Si uses ink and watercolour to play on that tenuous relationship of humour and consequence. She easily turns Timothy's initial delight in his play into frustration, embarrassment and even shame with his body language and facial expressions. We know how Timothy feels, as well as everyone in his orbit of activity. Except for the crazy dance recital where everything goes awry, Timothy is always the focus of Zoe Si's artwork, with significant white space being used to emphasize his limelight. 
There are laughs in The Sorry Life of Timothy Shmoe but also lessons about intention, consequences and forgiveness. Timothy Shmoe is anybody who makes mistakes and then has to face the consequences for those mistakes. That's all of us. Here's hoping none of our mistakes are ever too consequential for forgiveness.

April 16, 2021

Interview with Jon Klassen, author-illustrator of The Rock from the Sky

The Rock from the Sky
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press
96 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2021
After yesterday's review of Jon Klassen's picture book, The Rock from the Sky, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author-illustrator about his newest creation. Here is that Q & A.

Jon Klassen, author-illustrator of The Rock from the Sky

HK:  Between the little hats worn by Turtle and Armadillo, and the rock hanging in the air, I suspect that you’re a fan of the surrealist artist René Magritte.  Is this actually the case or is there another influence that inspires your art?

Jon Klassen:  I am a Magritte fan for sure – I don’t think I used to be, but I’ve come around – though the hats and the rock have other sources too. The bowler hats I think do a few jobs, referentially – Magritte, but also Laurel and Hardy, since I think of these stories as kind of like little comedy skits, and also Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I’m not positive they wore bowler hats in that, but it feels like they did, and Beckett’s work generally has been a big deal for me. The rock itself is very Magritte, I agree, though there’s a weird reference for that one too – the first Edward Gorey drawing I remember seeing was on the cover of an edition of The 39 Steps by John Buchan and it’s just a drawing of a huge rock hanging in the sky over a flight of stairs going down a cliff, and it had a really big effect on me. I still love that drawing.

HK:  Was the germ of an idea from which The Rock from the Sky arose Magritte’s work The Castle of the Pyrenees or  something else altogether?
Jon Klassen:  I think it actually arose mostly from a talk I heard Alfred Hitchcock give on the nature of suspense, and how you could make an interesting scene out of a group of people sitting around a table talking about something very boring if you had told the audience ahead of time that there was a bomb under the table that would go off in 5 minutes. I enjoy drawing characters doing next to nothing, but I need some sort of setup that gives me permission to have pictures like that, so the rock from the sky was my “bomb under the table.” I really have been drawing rocks for like 15 years just hoping there will be a story for them some day. The back cover of the book, and the spreads where it’s just the rock in the sky, are kind of why I started the book in the first place.

HK:  Though there are only three characters–Turtle, Armadillo and Snake–and minimal dialogue and action, they are clearly distinct, especially Turtle and Armadillo. Why choose a turtle, an armadillo and a snake for your characters in The Rock from the Sky?
Jon Klassen:  They were kind of intuitive choices. I wanted this book to kind of connect with the other books I’d done, almost like the bit players from those books that finally got to put on their own show. The turtle was useful, practically speaking, since he moves slowly and it helps contrast with the rock falling. The armadillo-type guy just looks kind of humble, but also I think of him as kind of a man alone, out in the sticks a little more, so maybe he’s wise that way, kind of knowing. The snake just made me laugh. Snakes scare me badly in real life, so making him mute and kind of unknown to us was the best I could do. Also, he doesn’t get a bowler hat. I think he would have wanted one but there were only two so he had to settle for the beret.

HK:  Although we don’t actually know the source of the rock other than the sky, there is a suggestion that it is other-worldly. Why use a rock then, something so commonplace and familiar, rather than an unrecognizable structure, similar to the alien creature?
Jon Klassen:  I like the word “rock,” firstly, and as I say I really like drawing them. It’s such a blunt thing, and there’s no questions about it. If it was some kind of otherworldly structure, there would be all sorts of problems to solve that I wouldn’t know how to solve. It kind of reminds me of what I read about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey where they had all these initial complicated ideas for what some kind of alien beacon would look like, but in the end they kind of had to admit there was no knowing, and the black monolith they finally used became almost a visual admission of that. We just don’t know. 

HK:  The book is divided into five parts which is different from your earlier picture books. While each chapter progresses the story, from the rock’s arrival and the animals’ interactions with it until the ending, each part still tells its own tale. It reminds me of I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat, and We Found a Hat, which were written as three different books but are linked.  Did you write The Rock from the Sky as individual stories ever or were they always destined to be part of one? 
Jon Klassen:  I wrote the first story on its own, but kind of knowing that, even if I solved it, it was going to be too light to justify a whole book. But when it was done, I had these three characters who I knew something about, and I had a rock sitting there, and I wanted to see what the next little while felt like after it showed up, even if it didn’t do anything. The idea that their lives just kept going and their relationship problems just kept puttering along in the face of this thing, and all that it implied, was fun to think about. Cause you kind of have to keep going. What else are you going to do?

HK:  Though your humour is incredibly sophisticated in its layering and messaging, kids get it, even if differently from adults. Do you find yourself rethinking how you present a story to make sure it’s accessible for all or do you endeavour to always match the audience for which the book is slotted?
Jon Klassen:  I sort of ride the middle between myself and the kids, I think. If I’m interested, or laughing, or whatever I’m hoping will happen to an audience, that’s about the best I can hope for, and then the job isn’t so much to think about what they’re going to take out of it, but what they’ll understand, event-wise. Clarity in the words and the pictures, so that even little kids are given a good shot at least getting what’s physically going on, is a big goal and takes up a lot of my time. But past that I don’t find I’m very good at adjusting for different audiences or guessing who is going to get what.

HK:  The audience suggested for The Rock from the Sky is for readers of ages 4 to 8. I think that the book is sophisticated enough for older readers. In fact, I could even see it becoming one of those classics like Where the Wild Things Are or The Little Prince that were written for children but revered by adults who derive deeper meaning from the text and art. For whom did you write The Rock from the Sky?
Jon Klassen:  That is a very very nice thing to say. I do always hope that adults will like the books too, or at least understand what interested me about making them. You don’t want anyone to think you were bored. Who I have in my head when I’m making them I think is sort of a murky mixture, kind of ghosts fading in and out. It’s me now, it’s me as maybe a second or third grader, which is when I remember a lot of these books really connecting, but it’s also friends I had then, my brothers as they were then, my parents. I remember being kind of a ham at family reunion dinners and things like that, and that table was about 25 people, and I probably think of that size crowd at a maximum. That’s the room I know how to play to, even if everyone would rather just be eating.

HK:  Your art is described as created digitally with watercolours. Do you start with watercolour and then work with it digitally or are some images digitally rendered? Essentially what I’d like to know is where you start and how your progress to end up with such austere but powerful illustrations.
Jon Klassen:  Any austerity comes from the roughs, I think. My stories kind of live and die based on characters facing a certain way or walking from one spot to another one, and that has to be clear so I try not complicate it, visually. The roughs are all big shapes and big decisions, so I can have fun inside those shapes later but I know what their job is going to be also. I’m not looking for the final rendering of anything to carry the story, or the book, it’s just there to make it look better and hopefully add to the mood. Once the roughs are done and I know where everything is going to go, I do a lot of versions of the separate pieces - the skies, the ground, the rocks, the characters, and try and allow for happy accidents in there, knowing I can control things later. Then I just pick out my favourite ones and assemble them on the page. The digital part comes in when everything is on the page together and I want to make it all look cohesive. It’s a very relaxing way to work, usually, because there’s no phase that seems super high stakes, and I really enjoy enhancing or subduing all the weird things the paint does, but minding that it doesn’t take over or distract from the story, either.

 • • • • • • •
Interviewing Jon Klassen has been such a treat for me. 
I've admired his work since the publication of his first book 
I Want My Hat Back 
released in the month prior to this blog's inception.
I continue to be impressed by the depth of his work 
and this interview supports the validity of that assessment. 
So, many thanks to Jon Klassen for responding to my questions.

Thanks also to Sarah Dunn
Marketing and Publicity Director at ZG Stories,
for facilitating this interview.

April 15, 2021

The Rock from the Sky

Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press
96 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2021
With his characteristic grim humour and understated but commanding illustrations, Jon Klassen returns with a new extended picture book (96 pages) to take on a story of fate, pride and connection. It is both of our world and not.
From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
In a series of five separate stories, each numbered and titled, Jon Klassen chronicles the interactions between a turtle, an armadillo, a snake and a rock. In the first, The Rock, the hat-wearing turtle–Jon Klassen does like his hats– has positioned himself at his favourite spot beside a rose-coloured flower. Though the reader can see, in the next double-spread, a massive rock suspended in the air, Turtle is oblivious. When Armadillo, in his own bowler, comes along and gets a bad feeling, he checks out a spot farther away beside a leafy stem where the beret-wearing Snake joins him. As Turtle shouts at them that his spot is better, approaching them to be heard, the massive rock drops onto Turtle's favourite spot.

From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
In The Fall, Turtle has climbed up upon the rock and fallen off onto his back. As can happen to any turtle, he is stuck, but he refuses to acknowledge to a concerned Armadillo that he had been climbing or that he had fallen. Moreover, he refuses the very help he requires.

I never need help.

What are you doing?
I came to take a nap.
It is nice under here.
You can take a nap
too, if you want.
There is just enough 
room for two.

No. I am not tired.

As such, the two acquaintances remain in place, with Turtle wide awake and stuck on his back, and still stubbornly refusing help, while Armadillo naps.
The third story, The Future, has contemplative Armadillo thinking about the future and what might grow and become of the area around the rock. But his imagination reveals a one-eyed, multi-legged creature as tall as the rock, sending out laser waves and blasting a flower into a charred mess before Turtle decries that...
I don't want to imagine into the 
future with you anymore.
Ever pensive, Armadillo ponders the beauty of the setting sun when Turtle approaches him and Snake in The Sunset. Shouting from far away, Turtle demands to know what they're doing. Of course, he cannot hear their responses so he just comes closer and closer until he misses the sunset completely, never stopping to notice it.
From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
Feeling disregarded by the sleeping Armadillo and Snake in No More Room, the final chapter in The Rock from the Sky, Turtle leaves, affronted by their apparent rejection. Turtle suggests that perhaps he will go away and never come back, shouting at them to ensure they hear him. Thinking they still cannot hear him, he approaches while repeating his message. However, Armadillo and Snake are quite awake now, seeing the strange creature behind the oblivious Turtle. Once again, Turtle has no idea what a close call he's going to have.
From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
Though there is much simplicity in the dialogue between Turtle and Armadillo–Snake does not speak–Jon Klassen uses subtle distinctions to embed more meaning in the story of the three acquaintances, perhaps even friends, who are as different in attitude and intention as a turtle, an armadillo and a snake might be. Through font colour and capitalization, Jon Klassen differentiates between his characters and the nature of their voices. He portrays Turtle as a proud and even tedious character who sees little beyond himself, never wanting to look anything but capable. Armadillo, on the other hand, is imaginative and attentive, both insightful and considerate while never arrogant. And Snake? He just is, taking things at face-value. Armadillo is the quiet leader, Snake the congenial follower, and Turtle the naive but self-important simpleton. Their fates and their connection with each other are what give The Rock from the Sky their stories.

Of course, Jon Klassen's distinction is in his artwork, having won the Governor General's Award for Children's Illustration, as well as the prestigious Caldecott and Kate Greenaway Medals. The Rock from the Sky is no less distinguished than his earlier award-winning books, especially those whose stories he penned like This is Not My Hat. The art, created digitally with watercolours, is authoritative. It is both organic, in line and shape and most definitely colour, but also otherworldly, importing the surreal or perhaps alien, to help us see better how things truly are.

I know many people think picture books are only for children but The Rock from the Sky is so sophisticated in its art and wry storytelling that I encourage it be read by all. It has a wicked tongue-in-cheek story about seeing what is in front of you, or above you, and ahead of you, and about listening to make sure you don't miss the obvious. I hope I was able to see and hear adequately to experience the true nature of Jon Klassen's extraordinary tale.

✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

I'm so excited to announce that tomorrow I'll be posting an interview I had with author and illustrator Jon Klassen about The Rock from the Sky. It was a thrill to get his perspective on his inspirations for The Rock from the Sky and to learn more about the process by which he created his new book. Do check back tomorrow for this special posting.

✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

April 13, 2021

The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.

Written by Colleen Nelson
Dundurn Press
256 pp.
Ages 12+
April 2021
Who is Frankie D.? Before the girl with the skin that resembles scales had been found, at 10 years of age, dirty and dehydrated in an alley, who was she? Is she the Goth she has transformed into, embracing the darkness and hiding her lamellar ichthyosis under thick makeup? Or is she just an abandoned child, considered too hideous to love by a family? Perhaps she's related to the girl in the old-fashioned dress that keeps appearing in her dreams alongside a circus ringmaster? Whatever her story, it's both one she wants to know and not know. 
In the seven years since she was discovered, Frankie has endured fresh traumas, including at the hands of Foster Mom #2's Boyfriend #3. Still, the last two years with Kris Steffanson, the social worker who'd first drawn her out of that alley, have been as close to normal as she can remember. At home anyway. At school, where she is bullied by the Aprils–her name for the beautiful, normal, mean girls–Frankie takes very few classes but her art class with Mr. Kurtis offers her sanctuary before school and confidence for her drawing skills. So it's not surprising that Frankie begins to draw the characters that continue to appear in her dreams. 

When Kris gifts her with tickets to ComiCon, Frankie is thrilled. There she bumps into the new kid at school, Max, whom Frankie suspects is a foster kid too but she is most surprised by his recognition of the man in her ringmaster drawing as Monsieur Duval. At ComiCon, they spot a man who looks like Monsieur Duval and follow him to a booth called the Circus of Marvels and Wonders. There the man, Monsieur Philippe Duval, presents performers that include Concetta, the limbless woman; the contortionist Ahmed; conjoined twins Ella and Elvira; the hirsute Daniel; and Yuri, a magician with Albinism. They are also invited to another performance at a warehouse which Frankie learns is near the alley where she was found at age 10. 

At this event, Monsieur Duval reveals a sepia photo of the girl in Frankie's dream, a girl with ringlets, petticoats and skin like Frankie's, a girl named Frances, the only name Frankie knew when she'd been found in the alley. Then, Frankie is asked if she'd like to join them.

Frankie, with Kris and Max's help, tries to piece together what is happening but, with few people in her life who can give her answers or whom she can trust, it's a struggle for Frankie. Coupled with her dreams which are getting more and more elaborate, and include many of the performers at Monsieur Duval's side show, Frankie learns her place, and that of the others, in Frances's story. But shocking of all is what they want of her.

It's clear from the onset of The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. that there are many layers to Frankie's story and it's this deep mystery of who Frankie D. (D. for Doe) is that grips the reader. Colleen Nelson draws us in and it's impossible to step back from the question of Frankie's story, whether it's before she appears at age 10 or how she is connected to Frances, Monsieur Duval and the others. Her story is layered with the past and the present, and even the future, and then infused with other layers of trust and abuse and bullying and friendship. Fortunately, Colleen Nelson, who is a master in getting into the heads of young people dealing with trauma (check out Blood Brothers (2017), Finding Hope (2016) and The Fall (2013) as three superb examples of this), keeps Frankie's voice authentic, strong when needed, confused when vulnerable, and always real. Colleen Nelson doesn't do platitudes about being resilient ("Being resilient doesn't mean you're going to be okay. It just means you don't give up." pg. 134) or winning over the bullies (there are always bullies) or offer healing of Frankie's skin disorder. What she does so effectively is take the reader along with Frankie, as she dreams, finds her strengths, remembers and evaluates what is and what was, so that she might be able to have a what-will-be. Colleen Nelson makes us care, and shows us that we can be hopeful that Frankie will get the life she deserves, unencumbered by those who deem to use her to get the lives they desire.


An online book launch for The Life and Deaths of Frankie D., along with that for Deborah Kerbel's new middle-grade novel Like A Duck, takes place this Thursday, April 15, 2021. See details here.

April 12, 2021

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know

Written by Brittany Luby
Illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
Translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere
Groundwood Books
44 pp.
All ages
March 2021 

Written in Anishinaabemowin and English, this gorgeous picture book lets readers accompany a child and her grandmother as they take in the small and tremendous wonders of the natural world as it transforms in each season.

Beginning with Aaniish ezhi-gkendmaanh niibing? or How do I know summer is here?, the pair travel by canoe to pick blueberries. There is the Loon on the water and the green Luna Moth in the birch trees, bumblebees and fireweed in blossom, and hot sand. This summer outing ends with...
Mii maanda ezhi-gkenmaanh niibing.
This is how I know summer.
From Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know by Brittany Luby, illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
In the fall, grandmother and child, with an enthusiastic dog, walk the shore and forest to witness the cattails swelling, and animals like the Red-Winged Blackbird, Black Bear and Mallard, before picking orange mushrooms.
From Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know by Brittany Luby, illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
Winter comes and, with the hot cereal, warm coats and boots for the child and her grandmother, come the animals outdoors responding too. The Deer strip the cedar trees, the Mouse finds shelter inside and the Woodpecker, Blue Jay, and Fox do their own winter thing.
From Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know by Brittany Luby, illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
Finally comes spring with the black ice softening, the green shoots peeking out of the snow, a Gull roosting, the dog having puppies and the spring Peeper singing, "Good night, little one."
Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know is such a sensory read of words and art. I may not be able to appreciate the Anishinaabemowin text (as translated by father and son Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere of M'Chigeeng First Nation) for its quality of sound and rhythms but Brittany Luby's words in English saturate the reader with the experience of being outdoors and savouring the textures and colours of the natural world in its transformations through the seasons. Whether she speaks of the plants or the animals, the weather or the sky, Brittany Luby, who is of Anishinaabe descent, draws us into the wholeness of the season, sharing its quietness and roar, subtlety or outburst, as nature chooses, as seen from a special intergenerational relationship.
When insects billow black from the trees,
and the sun slips into an orange dream.
The power of her words are matched wholeheartedly by the dynamic intensity of Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley's artwork. A member of Wasauksing First Nation, Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley depicts the world of land and sky, animals and plants in a woodland style, digitally rendered with vibrant colours and shapes outlined with dark lines. The illustrations have a two-dimensional feel but are lush in form and hue that are both calming and energized, lending a naturalness to the story.
From Mii maanda exhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know by Brittany Luby, illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
For those who understand Anishinaabemowin, there will be another layer of story to Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know to which I am not privy. Still, with only the English text and artwork accessible to me, Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know is a triumph of art, literal and graphic, that invites readers to use all their senses to appreciate the splendour of nature through the seasons.

April 09, 2021

Kimmy & Mike

Written by Dave Paddon
Illustrated by Lily Snowden-Fine
Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
March 2021 

I'm sure siblings Kimmy and Mike have had some pretty extraordinary adventures on the sea but even I find it hard to believe how a simple fishing outing could become a round-the-world trip of danger and folly. But that's a tall tale for you. See what you believe in this narrative poem and tall tale from Newfoundland and Labrador's Dave Paddon.
It has often been said, and I can't disagree,
That there's no one as tough as our folk of the sea.
But two of the toughest, if the rights was known,
Were Kimmy and Mike, who lived in Belloram.
So begins the tale of Kimmy and Mike who go fishing on order from Mom to "Get something for the pot!" Unfortunately, their best fishing spot lands them only a few sculpins and kelp so they scull around the Gulf and the Straits and elsewhere before deciding they need to cross the pond i.e., the Atlantic Ocean.
From Kimmy & Mike by Dave Paddon, illus. by Lily Snowden-Fine
Not only do they cross the ocean, they pass through two hurricanes, declaring the 90-knot winds and 60-foot waves to be "a bit of a lop", and catch a small submarine and a squid with 60-foot arms and a 30-foot head. But, throwing both back, they head southward towards the Cape of Good Hope where they encounter a 100-mile iceberg which they cleave with an axe, before Kimmy fights off some pirates single-handedly.
From Kimmy & Mike by Dave Paddon, illus. by Lily Snowden-Fine
Then there's the merman named Saul and a visit to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii before their mother finds them. Having taken out their father's old punt, she's been doing her own fishing and intends to continue on, sending the twins home.
She said, "Get on home out of it, through the Panama Canal,
And make your father his tea–you know he's not well.
I'm just going to dart 'round Cape Horn while it's light
And stop into Rio for bingo tonight."
From Kimmy & Mike by Dave Paddon, illus. by Lily Snowden-Fine
The twins eventually make it back home, after a stop at the Galapagos and tunnelling beneath the Panama Canal, while their mother, having won a jackpot in Rio and salting and drying her plentiful catch, returns the next morning.

Readers will finish the rhyming story of Kimmy & Mike with a smile upon their faces, envisioning the twins' exploits and the extent of their travel. (This would be a fun geography lesson, especially when coupled with math to determine the probability of this all happening in one day.)  It could even become a ballad if set to music, with its rousing story, melodic nature of ups and downs, highs and lows, and big moments. Add a fiddle, an accordion and maybe an ugly stick and you got a kitchen party going. With this tall tale of fisherfolk, Dave Paddon takes us to Newfoundland and Labrador, to the people who have stories to tell, who use a language of their own (I had to look up several of the words like crousty, stage and sooky in the "Glossary" provided) and try to outdo each other with their tongue-in-cheek stories.

With Lily Snowden-Fine's gorgeous gouache artwork to complement Dave Paddon's story, though, Kimmy & Mike goes beyond just a folk tale. It may have the whimsy that is often associated with folk art but there is a refinement in Lily Snowden-Fine's lines and shapes that make each illustration a work of art, stark but refined, colourful and resonating with the spirit of the Newfoundland and Labrador. 

In the tradition of the recitations, which Dave Paddon discusses in his "Afterward," Kimmy & Mike's fishing adventure would win any kitchen storytelling contest, for its rhyme, plot and artwork. I only wonder what Kimmy and Mike, and their mother, will get up to next time because, you know, there will be another story to tell.

April 08, 2021

Double Book Launch: The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. & Like a Duck (Online)

Here's an event to celebrate!
It's a
The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.
Written by Colleen Nelson
256 pp.
Ages 12+
April 2021

Like a Duck
 Written by Deborah Kerbel
Scholastic Canada
240 pp.
Ages 8-12
March 2021

 Thursday, April 15, 2021


7 PM (CT) / 8 PM (EDT)

(use the QR code to register or the link here)

Join authors Colleen Nelson and Deborah Kerbel 
as they discuss and read from their new books.
And, there are promised surPRIZES.

April 07, 2021

"How Do You Find Home?" Writing Contest

Orca Book Publishers
with author Jen Sookfong Lee
author of Finding Home: 
The Journey of Immigrants and Refugees
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
Illustrated by Drew Shannon
Orca Book Publishers
120 pp.
Ages 9-12
March 2021
are holding a writing contest for young  writers
to address the question
How Do You Find Home?

Here's what young writers need to know:

What to write? 
Write about 500-700 words about what "home" means to you, where your family is from or where your home is today. It must be an original piece of work and "written solely by the entrant."

Who can submit?
Young people of ages 8-13 at the time of entry.
How to submit?
At the contest page of publisher Orca Book Publishers, complete the form and either cut-and-paste your writing here or attach as a MS Word file.

Author Jen Sookfong Lee will select three winning entries. Each winner will receive an Orca Prize Pack (free books!) and a $200 gift certificate to the bookstore of their choice.

Deadline is May 16, 2021. Winners will be announced May 31, 2021.

Everything you need to know about contest and the submission form can be found at https://www.orcabook.com/Finding-Home-Writing-Contest.aspx

Good luck to all young writers!

✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍