December 29, 2022

The Bird Feeder

Written by Andrew Larsen
Illustrated Dorothy Leung
Kids Can Press
40 pp.
Ages 3-7
October 2022

As I watch the birds seek food at our feeders–2 nyjer feeders, a hopper, a tray and two suet holders–I am reminded how much joy is derived from just watching the birds. It's sitting back and observing their feeding, their interactions with other birds, and making a connection with the natural world, often from the confines of our man-made one. But this connection can be far greater than at first glance as Andrew Larsen shows us in his latest picture book The Bird Feeder.
From The Bird Feeder by Andrew Larsen, illus. by Dorothy Leung
After their grandmother comes to live with them, a child spends special time with her: chatting about their secret wishes, drawing, and enjoying the birds at the bird feeder Grandma brought with her. But when Grandma is taken into hospice, the child is initially bereft, not wanting to fill the bird feeder as they'd done for her.
From The Bird Feeder by Andrew Larsen, illus. by Dorothy Leung
After seeing the big picture window in Grandma's hospice room, the child surprises their grandmother by hanging the bird feeder on the tree outside.
"Oh, my! says Grandma. "You brought the birds!"
Together they watch the birds, eat purple Jell-O, draw, and visit with Suki, the therapy dog. And the next spring, as three tiny beaks poke out of a nest, Grandma passes.
From The Bird Feeder by Andrew Larsen, illus. by Dorothy Leung
In a touching story of a special grandmother-grandchild connection and the cycle of life, Andrew Larsen shows us that even in great sadness there can be joy and comfort. With that extraordinary bond between the two generations comes learning, art, togetherness, and support. Both give and take from the other, filling their lives with affection and contentment. And though Grandma is in hospice, that connection is re-established via a bird feeder, which gives Grandma solace and the two of them a link of focus, purpose, and appreciation. I must admit that I shed a tear with Grandma's passing, so subtly handled with Andrew Larsen's text that evokes love and loss without the fear and despair that often accompany death. It's this simplicity of message and story that Dorothy Leung emulates in her digital artwork. There is a clarity in her illustrations that conveys tenderness and caring and family while giving readers just enough detail in a framed family photo or leaves on a tree or weariness on a face to scaffold a memorable story.

I know there are birds in the story, but The Bird Feeder is more than a grandmother and grandchild sharing a love of birds. There is an intimacy here that transcends all. It's a tender story of life and love and the blessings that come with both.

December 23, 2022

Finding Your Stars

Written by Carolyn Morris
Illustrated by Lena Lee
38 pp.
Ages 3-8
November 2022

 May you be gentle with your clouds and generous with your stars.
With those wise words in her dedication, author Carolyn Morris begins her rhyming story to help children see that the strengths and positives in their lives will sometimes be accompanied or even overshadowed by challenges and weaknesses. Both are part of who we are.
We each have stars
inside that glow.
They're special skills
and games we know.
From Finding Your Stars by Carolyn Morris, illus. by Lena Lee
But, sometimes we fall, or we fail, and clouds move in. 
Your clouds are worries,
flaws and fears.
They cover your stars
in gloom and tears.
From Finding Your Stars by Carolyn Morris, illus. by Lena Lee
Young children will understand about clouds covering up their stars. They know what it's like to feel less than shiny. Whether it's because of a friendship gone wrong, a test failed, or family disappointments, the stars and the clouds get into a tug of war. Carolyn Morris suggests that whatever the child focuses on will become stronger. (There's a sweet tug-of-war game between a blue cloud and a golden star in which the cloud cheers its win.) By focusing on the clouds, even if only to dispel them, you give them power to spread "their fears, their faults, their pain." Acknowledging them is fine–"But, if you greet the storm, then spin, back to your stars"–but you should turn back to the stars who will help lift you up. And as you're lifted, you see more stars.
So don't forget how
bright you are,
Embrace your clouds,
then shine those stars.
Most of us get mired in our worries and fears. It's human nature to focus on the negatives because they're consuming. If things are going well, you don't attend those aspects because they aren't of concern. But Toronto author Carolyn Morris isn't necessarily telling us to ignore those "clouds"; instead she's suggesting that it's okay to acknowledge them but then focus on the positives as these are the things that will help you come out from the shadow of the clouds. The message is a simple one but, by creating an analogy with stars and clouds, Carolyn Morris helps kids see that trying to get rid of the clouds is impossible and that the stars will not always be shining. However, you can enjoy the shine of the stars and give the clouds a rest to float on by, which they will almost always do.
From Finding Your Stars by Carolyn Morris, illus. by Lena Lee
Lena Lee who illustrated Finding Your Stars gives the story an ephemeral quality with watercolours and pale colours, reminding young readers graphically that clouds are unenduring. They may reappear intermittently and perhaps infrequently but they are transitory. The bolder stars, on the other hand, stick around a lot longer. I like that neither the clouds nor the stars are aggressively negative or positive; they just are. That is very much like the clouds and stars in our lives. Seldom are the clouds so onerous that they cannot be put aside temporarily or so threatening to our stars that they cannot be managed. And children need to see that they often have the capacity to find their stars.

Here's to everyone finding their stars and weathering the clouds as they come and go.
⭐⛅⭐⛅⭐⛅⭐⛅⭐⛅ ⭐
Additional resources, including printable colouring pages, are available at and would be handy for parents and teachers who want to help young children.

December 21, 2022

Queen Among the Dead

Written by Lesley Livingston
Zando Young Readers
416 pp.
Ages 14+
January 2023

Hold onto the reins of your horse or your chariot because Lesley Livingston is going to take you on an epic ride through Celtic mythology. There will be conflict and battles, romance and magic, questionable birthrights, and imminent death, and oh so many characters. Like I said, epic.
Young Neve lives with her older sister Úna and their father who is the Dagda, leader of the Tuatha Dé, the descendants of the Scathach Queen, and rulers of Eire. Neve wishes she could become a warrior and that her sister could become the next Dagda, but neither is possible for the two crown princesses. Still Neve likes to sneak away from the palace and head into more dangerous areas like Blackwater Town of the oppressed Fir Bolg villagers. As a child, Neve had met a rogue Druid apprentice and thief named Ronan on one of these jaunts and he'd helped her fight a demon using a banned spell stone. Seven years later the two restless spirits become reacquainted when Neve saves Ronan from the óglach who are sent out with their harrow hounds to hunt down illicit magic users and spell traders. But more than this reintroduction is the recognition that there is some magic between them, and not just of the romantic kind.

As Gofannon, the Dagda's chief Druid advisor and monument builder, begins to assert control while the Dagda obsesses over the erection of his formidable mortuary temple, it becomes evident that there is much manipulation of persons and magic in a struggle for power. Who will survive and who will rule is all up to Lesley Livingston.

This is another world, something Lesley Livingston creates with finesse. It's Eire, long ruled by the Tuatha Dé people, led by the Dagda after defeat of the shape-shifting Fomori and their elite female warriors, the Faoladh. It's the oppression of peasants and the Druids usurping the power of magic. It's a high fantasy built upon Celtic mythology with mythical creatures, potent magic and struggles for control. But it's also the story of a boy and a girl from different backgrounds who are drawn together to make the world right for themselves and others. 
The two of them would never truly be able to understand each other. Or each other's worlds. They both carried hidden fire, but they were not the same. Unleashed, Ronan's would be snuffed out by harrow hounds.
     Neve's, he feared, might just burn until the whole realm was on fire. (pg. 125)
This is Zando Young Readers inaugural young adult novel, and I can't think of a more dramatic entry to the YA booksphere than with Lesley Livingston and her Queen Among the Dead. Both have the drama of superb storytelling. As she has done in her earlier series like Wondrous Strange, Starling and The Valiant, Lesley Livingston drops us into worlds that are real and yet not. That's because she bases these stories in legitimate mythologies and immerses readers in the cultures of those legends. The stories were real to those cultures, and they become real to readers of Lesley Livingston's books. Even though she embeds magic and creates the fantastic characters who can make the impossible happen, she will have you convinced to look up the Fir Domnann and the Fé Fíada in Wikipedia. I won't give it away though I will warn you to keep crib notes as Queen Among the Dead is packed with characters, creatures, places, and cultures of wildly unique names. At over four hundred pages, this novel packs a lot of story and it's a story that will draw you and hold you there and take you for a wild ride. And all I can hope is that there is more story to come because I need more of Neve, a young woman who learned she was a warrior in more ways than she'd known.

December 19, 2022

Who's Hockey?: A 'Hockey is for Everyone' Book about Acceptance

Story by Jeff McLean
Drawings by Nicola Pringle
Words by Terri Roberts
Game Seven Media
40 pp.
Ages 4-9
November 2022

The question may be Who's Hockey? but the answer is "Everybody!"

Cam and her family have just moved, again, and, though each move is a new adventure, it's also a challenge, especially with leaving behind her hockey team and finding new friends with whom to play. The first morning at the new house, Cam and her dog Gordie are outside promptly, dragging her net and sticks and gear out onto the basketball court in the park. But it's just the two of them and she's ready to head home after shouting out "Doesn't anyone play hockey around here?" and hearing crickets.
From Who's Hockey? by Jeff McLean and Terri Roberts, illus. by Nicola Pringle
But, from her back yard, Lidia hears Cam and when Cam mentions she's looking for hockey, Lidia asks, "Who's Hockey?" Cam proceeds to tell Lidia, and also her little brother Cooper, about the greatest game on earth and they help Cam recruit a few more players in the park.
From Who's Hockey? by Jeff McLean and Terri Roberts, illus. by Nicola Pringle
Soon they almost have two full teams, but no one knows about hockey or how to hold a stick or play. Cam is happy to teach them everything about her favourite game and Gordie is happy to be part of the action.
From Who's Hockey? by Jeff McLean and Terri Roberts, illus. by Nicola Pringle
It's a full day of learning and fun and making new friends. If Who's Hockey? shows readers anything, it's that hockey can be for anyone and everyone and sometimes fitting in means sharing what you like as much as conforming to what others are all about. 

The story of Who's Hockey? comes from former pro hockey player Jeff McLean–co-creator with Dean Petruk of PRIDE hockey tape– with Newfoundland's Terri Roberts putting it to words. The basis for it are the principles of the NHL of which acceptance of all who love the game is but one. Cam offers anyone the opportunity to learn to play the game regardless of age, size, backgrounds, and abilities. It's about having fun and playing together. Alberta illustrator Nicola Pringle makes sure that everyone is included and accepted. Whether right-handed or left-handed, a person of colour or not, wearing glasses, a hijab, or a ball cap, all are welcomed and encouraged to be part of a team and have fun. There is joy in the playing and there's joy in the story of Who's Hockey?, ensuring that young readers will get the positive message about opening themselves up to new things and new people for the opportunity for good things to happen.

December 15, 2022

Luna's Green Pet

Written by Kirsten Pendreigh
Illustrated by Carmen Mok
Sleeping Bear Press
40 pp.
Ages 5-8
August 2022
What is Luna's green pet? Is it a turtle? A parrot? A fish? A frog? It's none of those because Luna's apartment does not allow pets.  Though her friends suggest a rock or a pet-a-guchi, Luna can't seem to connect with them. But, one day, she rescues the perfect pet for her.
From Luna's Green Pet by Kirsten Pendreigh, illus. by Carmen Mok
In a trash bin outside her apartment, she discovers a small plant. It even had its name on a marker: Stephanotis floribunda. Because it's quite a mouthful, Luna calls her Stephanie. And Luna is the best pet caregiver. She transfers Stephanie to a new and bigger pot, gives her new soil, and waters her. She reads stories to Stephanie and even takes her for walks in the park.
From Luna's Green Pet by Kirsten Pendreigh, illus. by Carmen Mok
Luna's friends may not be impressed with Stephanie's personality, but Luna loves her new pet and Stephanie is thriving. In fact, Stephanie grows so much that Luna must shape her long stems into an animal form. But then one day, Stephanie exhibits strange growths and Luna is concerned, ready to take her pet to a botanist for examination, until she learns it's just the natural cycle of life blossoming in Stephanie.

Not every child is fortunate to live in a household where they can have a pet, whether because of building restrictions or familiar limitations with respect to health or finances. But having a pet is a
privilege and one that Luna takes seriously. Her pet may be a plant, but Stephanie gives Luna companionship, offers the child opportunities for responsibility and learning, and nurtures Luna's empathy and self-confidence. By having Luna think outside the box about what a pet can be, BC's Kirsten Pendreigh offers kids an exemplar in problem solving. Luna has a problem i.e., no pets in her building and needs to find a solution i.e., a pet that will be allowed. She finds both a solution and a pet in Stephanie. Even better, hers is a rescue that needed a home and some loving care to become the star Stephanie would become. (I suspect that Stephanie would've been much loved regardless of becoming a winner at the pet parade.) And, if all that goodness wasn't enough, through the miracle of a life cycle, Stephanie's seeds are to be spread further afield to bring joy to others.
From Luna's Green Pet by Kirsten Pendreigh, illus. by Carmen Mok
As a picture book, Luna's Green Pet uses illustrations to help convey the story and bring it to life. Carmen Mok, who has illustrated a number of fabulous books including When I Listen to Silence, Viola Shrink and Tough Like Mum uses a variety of media including gouache, India ink, dry pastel and colour pencil to create her refreshing artwork. Green is a star in Luna's Green Pet, highlighting the importance of flora in the natural world, but Carmen Mok makes sure to use a full palette and soft lines and shapes to draw young readers into Luna's world. Kids may identify themselves in Kirsten Pendreigh's story, but they'll see their lives in the artwork Carmen Mok has created for Luna's world of home, school, and outdoors.

It may be raining or snowing outside right now here in Canada–in fact, where I live it's doing both!–but what better a time to talk to children about growing plants, whether it be as a school project to learn about a plant's life cycle, or in preparation for a spring planting, or as a pet to be loved. With a story to bolster any of that learning and some guidance from Kirsten Pendreigh–she appends her story with some background into Stephanie and growing plants–as well as the brightness of Carmen Mok's illustrations, Luna's Green Pet will get kids clamouring to develop their green thumbs and perhaps look at plants as the engaging living things they are.
From Luna's Green Pet by Kirsten Pendreigh, illus. by Carmen Mok

December 13, 2022

While You Sleep

Written by Jennifer Maruno
Illustrated by Miki Sato
Pajama Press
24 pp.
Ages 2-5
November 2022
My father used to say he was busy moving the clouds and polishing the stars when we were sleeping and now I know that he was telling me the truth. Seems a lot goes on when we sleep and, as the child in Jennifer Maruno's latest picture book might realize if she awoke in the night, there is a multitude of night-helpers whose tasks keep the world right.
From While You Sleep by Jennifer Maruno, illus. by Miki Sato
After a day of play, a child and her stuffies are put to bed by her mom and the cat. But, though she sleeps, there are many who are at work.
For while you sleep, there's work to be done.
Someone has to polish the sun,
Comb the grass, straighten the trees,
Place a dot on the black-eyed peas.
There is so much that goes into making the natural world wonderful: butterflies to be dusted, flowers painted, rainbows charged to keep their glow. And Jennifer Maruno tells us about all of them in the sweetest of rhyming couplets. In her dreams, the child envisions the endeavours of her own bunny stuffies sewing and weaving and creating, all to make the world she will love to be tidy and polished.
From While You Sleep by Jennifer Maruno, illus. by Miki Sato
The child may be sleeping with eyes closed but While You Sleep is a very contemplative story of seeing what could be happening in her dreams and in our natural world. It's opening eyes to the possibility of nightly magic to make our world lovely with flowers and plants, animals, and skies. Jennifer Maruno takes us into the dream world of this child to imagine and to build. It's about softness and security, wishes and hopes. It's imaging how things come to be and appreciating how they are. And, by telling her story through rhyme, Jennifer Maruno gives While You Sleep a dynamism of flow, making it a journey of childhood dreams of what might be.

Those wanderings through the natural world of her dreams are all essentially an adventure of time and space because of Miki Sato's textured collage art. Using paper, textiles and embroidery silk, Miki Sato makes the child's worlds, both her real and dream, touchable and deep both in dimension and spirit. There are elderflowers cut from lace and a Milky Way embroidered onto a midnight blue sky, and butterflies, flowers, clouds, stars and more. With deftness of cut and placement of shape, Miki Sato and her night-helpers make this child's world heavenly.
From While You Sleep by Jennifer Maruno, illus. by Miki Sato
I'm saving this book for a dear friend, envisioning her reading it to her future grandchildren. While You Sleep has the love and whimsy that I know she'll want to share with little ones, guiding them through the natural world she so appreciates and cultivates. Infused with sweetness and gratitude for a world of natural beauty, While You Sleep will be a great bedtime read and reminder that our world is one to cherish.

December 09, 2022

Twelve in a Race

Written by Catherine Little
Illustrated by Sae Kimura
Plumleaf Press
38 pp.
Ages 3-12
March 2022
I know many of us our preparing for our holiday celebrations and that those celebrations will take many forms. One celebration that will be observed very soon will be the Lunar New Year which will take place on January 22, 2023. Twelve in a Race may have come out earlier in 2022 but reviewing it now seems a perfect opportunity to get it some deserved attention before the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.
From Twelve in a Race by Catherine Little, illus. by Sae Kimura
The theme of Catherine Little's Twelve in a Race is the origin story of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac as they participated in a race set by the emperor.
Some started fast,
others were slow.
Courage and wits
were tested from "Go!" 
Along raging rivers,
over mountains and dunes,
The animals ran for
many moons.
From Twelve in a Race by Catherine Little, illus. by Sae Kimura
As the animals race, their attributes–and those we associate with the different years of the Zodiac–impact their standing in the competition. Rat is persuasive and smart, Horse is cheerful, independent, and quick, and Monkey is agile and clever. For each, Catherine Little gives positive attributes and follows the correct order of the Chinese Zodiac as the myth prescribes. It's charming and informative and I suspect every child will be looking up their sign. (A zodiac appends the story with years from 1996 through 2031 so children and young adults and even future kids are covered. Oldies such as myself probably already know our signs–I was born in Year of the Pig–or can look them up online.)
Toronto's Sae Kimura gives us illustrations that take us to a Chinese countryside of luscious, stylized plants and water. The landscape components are shaped with softness and give further movement to the racers. Even the clouds float with purpose and delicacy in the bright sky. Though I don't know why, I think Sae Kimura's Japanese heritage–she was born in Odawara, Japan–contributes to the tradition of the story of Twelve in a Race. She instills a traditional majesty to her characters and an art deco essence to her borders of meandering geometric shapes.
From Twelve in a Race by Catherine Little, illus. by Sae Kimura
Toronto author Catherine Little tells me that she wrote Twelve in a Race to help her biracial son learn about the Chinese side of his heritage that didn’t portray Chinese culture as “foreign” and I believe that she has succeeded in doing so. The story honours the myth of the zodiac and makes it accessible for all children to learn a traditional story while finding themselves in it. Knowing your zodiac sign is just the beginning.

December 07, 2022

Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of): Guest review

This review was written by Grade 8 student Hasini K.

Written and illustrated by Kathleen Gros
Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins)
304 pp.
Ages 8-13
October 2022
From the classic story of Anne of Green Gables comes this incredible adaptation. This is a story that takes place in our modern world with the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and plot lines that improve the story and allows it to reach a wider audience in the present era.
From Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros
Anne Shirley is a teenager in the foster system, and she’s sick of it. She’s already moved from one house to another, from one foster placement to the next. Anne is tired of starting over every time she has to move. So, when Alexandra, Anne's social worker, tells the girl the exciting news that she's about to move to another place, Anne has mixed feelings. She’s so grateful that someone wants her and really hopes it will work out but a part of her wonders if she'll just end up back in the system afterwards.
From Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros
However, things don’t start off as she hopes. When she first meets Matthew Cuthbert, her new foster guardian, he seems confused. When they arrive at the Avon-lea, the apartment building where the Cuthberts live, we learn that Matthew and his sister Marilla had been expecting a younger kid. Anne is devastated and is sure that she'll be sent back, especially when Marilla calls Alexandra. Explaining about a glitch in the system, Alexandra asks them to keep Anne until they can arrange something else. Anne is determined to try her best to make sure the Cuthberts keep her.

But, Anne quickly finds herself in trouble, from physically hurting a classmate to accidentally dyeing her hair green. The Cuthberts may be cool, but Anne worries that she may be too much for them. Still, she has other worries, including developing feelings for her closest friend Diana. Anne wants to ask Diana to the winter dance but what if Diana doesn't feel the same way? You'll need to read Kathleen Gros's book to find out if Anne finally ends up finding her forever home.
From Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros
Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) is not the kind of book I usually read, but I absolutely enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to readers in Grade 6 and up. In the book, Anne struggles a lot with embracing her appearance, and I love how she gained confidence throughout the story. Kathleen Gros turned the story into something which everyone could relate to, from being the new kid to trying to find friends and fitting in. Although I haven't read the original Anne of Green Gables–I'm very tempted to do so after finishing this book–I think Kathleen Gros's graphic novel version will appeal more to this generation of readers, especially with its diversity and gorgeous artwork and very appealing colours. But most important is Kathleen Gros's message that families come in different forms, and they are all worthy of love, no matter how crazy they may be.
~ Written by Hasini K., Age 13

December 06, 2022

Do You Know Quantum Physics? (Brainy Science Readers)

Written by Chris Ferrie
Text adapted by Brooke Vitale
Illustrations by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
Sourcebooks Explore
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2022

The field of quantum physics would seem a challenging STEM topic for adults, much less for children. But one thing Chris Ferrie does very well is distilling down complex scientific ideas into manageable bites and he does the same for quantum physics with his latest in the early reader series called Brainy Science Readers. With clear and concise text and illustrations, and analogies between balls and parts of an atom, Chris Ferrie introduces young readers to atoms, electrons, neutrons, protons, energy, and quanta.
From Do You Know Quantum Physics? by Chris Ferrie, illus. by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
STEM books tend to be either extensive middle-grade non-fiction texts or picture books that embed a scientific concept within. Do You Know Quantum Physics? is very different in that it is an early reader devoted to the concept of the quantum theory of the atom at its heart. The illustrations carry the message, but the words are dedicated to explaining what an atom and its component particles are and how electrons gain or lose energy. The vocabulary is appropriate for beginning readers and the repetition of words helps highlight key ideas. Moreover, the digitally-rendered artwork by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott always matches the text directly, allowing for improved retention of the ideas. Chris Ferrie has not wrapped the learning in a story of a little electron looking for its friends or home. It's just the science of how things work. Because of that, it hits the mark. 
From Do You Know Quantum Physics? by Chris Ferrie, illus. by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
The Brainy Science series aims to "improve reading skills while immersing children into scientific theory." (pg. 1) And while quantum physics may not be on many, if any, pre-school through Grade 2 curricula, Do You Know Quantum Physics?, with its simplicity of text, ball analogy and bold illustrations, will be a fabulous introduction to the atom.
From Do You Know Quantum Physics? by Chris Ferrie, illus. by Chris Ferrie and Lindsay Dale-Scott
(Marie Curie even makes a very brief appearance.)

December 05, 2022

Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge

We know that kids who read gain worthy skills in language, knowledge, critical thinking and far more. And writing is just as worthwhile, allowing them to express their individuality while giving them opportunities to develop their imaginations and creativity. I encourage young people, and their teachers and parents, to consider entering this free annual writing challenge from the Ripple Foundation, a Canadian educational charity that is run 100% by volunteers. Its mission is to advocate for creative literacy in young people through a variety of programs including the Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Writing Challenge. Check out the details below and get your kids writing!

Challenge: Single authors (no partners or groups) are invited to submit an original story, written in English, with a maximum of 5000 words. It can be fact or fiction, prose or poetry. (A story checklist here will help direct your writing as will these tips.) There is no entry fee!
Eligible participants:  Canadian residents enrolled as full-time students (public, private, institutional or home schools) in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 at the time of their entry are eligible.
    (There are some other restrictions related to employees, agents, and representatives of Ripple, yada, yada, yada, which you can check out here.)
What to submit:  A story of maximum 5,000 words (includes the words “a,” “an,” and “the"), typed in 12 pt Times black font and in a .doc or .docx format.
How to submit:  Entries must be made by either the parent/guardian of the minor author of the submission or by the author’s teacher with the author’s parent/guardian’s permission at the following link:

Deadline for submissions: 11:59:59 pm ET on March 31, 2023
Judging Criteria: Entries will be judged on the following criteria:
  •     Creativity and originality of plot and/or themes (40%)
  •     Story structure, characters, and setting (40%)
  •     Style and tone i.e., the quality of writing (20%)
Prize: The winner with the highest score (see judging details here) will be published in a professional e-book and paperback book by the Ripple Foundation and sold on Amazon, Apple, Google Play and Overdrive with proceeds donated to the author's Canadian charity of choice.

Prize announcement:   June 1st, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario.

December 02, 2022

How to Be a Goldfish

Written by Jane Baird Warren
Scholastic Canada
240 pp.
Ages 9-12
October 2022
Most kids will end up doing a family tree or genealogical research sometime in school. Many will have family members they can talk to or use the internet to seek details. But, in 1981, when given a family history project called "Every Family Has a Hero," 13-year-old Lizzie Ross wonders how she's ever going to manage. Her family is basically her mother Susan and her grandmother Emma. Her grandfather had died in the war, and her mother had never married the man who'd fathered Lizzie. Thankfully Lizzie does have Harry, the elderly farmer next door, who cares for her after school. Harry, on the other hand, certainly has some stories, from being sent to Canada as a Home Child to saving a man at Juno Beach. When her mom, a lawyer, heads to nearby Toronto, to help in the defence of gay men who were being harassed by the police after the infamous bathhouse raids–it is 1981–Lizzie goes digging into old family photos and memorabilia hoping to get something to present.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, eleven-year-old David Macrath is still trying to adjust to his new life after the passing of his grandfather with whom David and his mom Carla had once lived. Now they live with Mom's latest boyfriend and her boss, Cameron Kelch, above his real estate office. At home, David is dealing with Kelch who wants David to man up and play sports and forget about his comics, movies, and favourite Star Wars. In fact, Kelch would love to send David away to boarding school, especially as he has big plans to develop the land and farm which Carla inherits from her father.

When David, his mom and Kelch head out to check out the farm and find Harry living there, the two story lines come together, with the two kids becoming allies. But will their alliance help them to save Harry's farm and protect the families they want and deserve?

Because this is historical fiction, author Jane Baird Warren embeds the reader in a time of the original Star Wars, the bathhouse raids and homophobia, no cell phones or computers–hence no easy genealogical research–and more. But this really is a story of family and family secrets and thus has no time constraints. It's about making family from bits and pieces, sometimes related and sometimes not. And that is a story for all times, regardless of the setting. By making family the focus, young readers will recognize the different configurations of family as authentic, though Lizzie and David still have to deal with small-mindedness related to those families.

As someone who lived in the 1980s, I can attest to the turbulent times. The news was rife with protests, war, strikes, riots, homophobia, and all manner of discontent. But it was also a time of learning and understanding with the opportunity to see that diversity enriched our lives and that different did not mean bad. How to Be a Goldfish reminds us that, in the right environment and with people in our corners, we can flourish and be and do better.

November 30, 2022

Chickadee Criminal Mastermind: Guest review

This review was written by teacher Elizabeth Cook.
Written by Monica Silvie 
Illustrated by Elina Ellis
Kids Can Press
36 pp.
Ages 4-7
June 2022

A Chickadee Criminal Mastermind? This book captured my interest right away. The story is narrated by the chickadee himself and it starts with him telling the reader how the forest has a criminal living there. It is him, calling himself "a real rapscallion and all-around bad seed.” He then explains to the other animals, and the readers, how he started his life of crime in the forest.
From Chickadee Criminal Mastermind by Monica Silvie, illus. by Elina Ellis
His story starts when he was a pink, featherless baby still in the nest learning all that he could from his parents. After his long childhood of sixteen days, he flew off to start his own adult life in the forest. He quickly discovered that finding food was of the utmost importance and that it got harder and harder as winter encroached on the forest. As such, he had to start stealing from the mother lode of all treasures…a box full of bird seed hanging from the tree branches. Using a map reminiscent of Kevin's battle plan from the movie “Home Alone,” the chickadee steals his seed each day. This may have made him a well-fed “King of Thieves” in the forest…but it also made him lonely.
From Chickadee Criminal Mastermind by Monica Silvie, illus. by Elina Ellis
One day, when Chickadee hears young children gleefully watching him, he remembers one of his parents' lessons about something called a bird feeder. They'd told him that a bird feeder was a safe place for birds. Realizing this, Chickadee wonders if he perhaps isn't the "bad seed" he'd always seen himself as and that perhaps his forest peers might now become his friends. In fact, it looks like he just might make one new friend when another chickadee appears.
From Chickadee Criminal Mastermind by Monica Silvie, illus. by Elina Ellis
This picture book by BC's Monica Silvie is adorable. From the outset, I was engaged with the story of this criminal mastermind bird. Monica Silvie’s writing helps the reader see the humour in a story of our chickadee while still teaching readers quite a bit about these common birds. I found myself cheering for the little chickadee on his adventures as a “King of Thieves” and also in his quest to make friends. The story is appended with additional information about chickadees, including sources for further research. The artwork by Ukrainian-born UK-resident Elina Ellis is quite precious as she brings expressions to our dear chickadee that really help the reader feel connected to him.

This story will be a delight to share in classrooms and with children in your home. As a teacher, I am already thinking of some great activities including watching for chickadees in the forest behind my school, making bird feeders with the students, and even some creative writing from Chickadee’s perspective. This book will also tie in nicely with many science curricula. You definitely want this delightful book in your school library.

~ Elizabeth Cook is a teacher in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature.  


November 28, 2022

Cocoa Magic

Written by Sandra Bradley
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2022

There is much kindness in giving gifts in secret, in not expecting thanks or acknowledgement. It's giving for the sake of giving and not for reciprocity or reward. With the holiday season upon us, Sandra Bradley's book of Cocoa Magic, deliciously illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, reminds us of the goodness of giving.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Daniel's Great Uncle Lewis is known as the Cocoa King of Charlottetown. From a very young child, Daniel learned the magic that came from a cocoa bean when vanilla, sugar and milk were added. By the time he is eight, he is spending an hour crafting chocolate into treasures at his uncle's shop before he is delivered to school.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

When a new girl, Sarah, arrives at school, looking a little hesitant, Daniel comes up with a plan to make her feel more welcome. The day after her arrival, he slips a gold box with a single chocolate caramel into her desk. Like magic, when she opens the little box, Sarah smiles for the first time. He repeats this for several days, with a luscious vanilla fudge, a coconut cream and a piece of nougat. And each day Sarah seems less scared and more cheerful.

Then Daniel notices Ben watching Sarah enjoy her treat and decides to surprise the boy too with some magic. Was it the chocolate that made Ben a little kinder that day? Everywhere Daniel looks, it seems someone needs to be touched by a little cocoa magic. With a tearful classmate and an injured boy and more, Daniel enlists his uncle's help in delivering little boxes to the whole class.
From Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Then his uncle goes away to the World's Chocolatiers' Conference in Switzerland and must close the shop for five days. Daniel is devastated. He misses his uncle, working in the shop and he worries that without their secret chocolate gifts, the joy would disappear from his classmates. He's wrong. In fact, his classmates bring the magic to Daniel when he needs it.

What a wonderful story of empathy! Daniel understands Sarah's nervousness at attending a new school, one which he himself finds cold and lonely, and then sees what his other classmates are feeling. He sees their distresses and finds a way, his way, to make them feel better. Sandra Bradley, a clinical social worker and therapist, makes the story of Cocoa Magic one of kindness without expectation of reciprocity. She shows the positive nature of giving both on the recipient and the giver. It is only when children feel safe and secure that they can appreciate the emotional needs of others and Daniel, embraced in the warmth of his uncle and his chocolate shop, has the capacity for that empathy. But by showing empathy for his classmates, Daniel gives them the capacity to feel for others. That is magic in itself.
From endpapers of Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Gabrielle Grimard's illustrations, created with watercolour, gouache, coloured pencil and digital media, are filled with the sweetness of love, kindness, generosity and confections. (The endpapers are filled with an assortment of confectionary delectables too!) Though Gabrielle Grimard transports readers to the 1920s when boys wore knickerbockers, school desks had lift-tops and inkwell holes, and a special treat didn't need to be expensive or extravagant, she makes Sandra Bradley's story contemporary enough that young readers will see themselves in the diverse students who feel fear, sadness, pain and especially joy. 

There may be magic in the cocoa and the sugar but most of it comes from the empathy demonstrated through the gift giving. Perhaps at this time of year, that's the important message to cherish from Cocoa Magic.

November 23, 2022

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature

By Briana Corr Scott
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
All Ages
November 2022
It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas out there: snow on the ground, nip in the air and Christmas songs on rotation. It may be a little early for counting down the advent calendar or the twelve days of Christmas–technically between December 25 and Epiphany–but the joy of art in Briana Corr Scott's new picture book is a lovely way to herald the joy of the season in the natural world.
From The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature by Briana Corr Scott
Nova Scotian artist and author Briana Corr Scott maintains the traditional symbols of the twelve days: the partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings, geese a-laying, swans a-swimming, ladies dancing, lords a-leaping, pipers piping and drummers drumming. But she embeds them in a natural world of birds and other animals, playing with the words and their meaning. For example, though the milkmaids are often depicted as young women at their farm task, Briana Corr Scott has eight monarch butterflies working milkweed. The drummers are northern flickers, a common drumming woodpecker of Canada. And the ladies are ladybugs on flowers of echinacea and mums among other plants. The words are familiar, but the images are uniquely of the natural world–as explained by Briana Corr Scott in her afterword–and bustling with the life of the outdoors.
From The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature by Briana Corr Scott
Briana Corr Scott uses gouache and oil paints to create these lovely double-spreads of ethereal scenes of fauna and flora, often using rose, teal, and gold to emulate the warmth and coolness of nature. As with her earlier books–Mermaid Lullaby, Wildflower, The Book of Selkie, and She Dreams of Sable IslandBriana Corr Scott keeps us in the outdoors, contemplating the interactions between plants and animals and the interrelationship of all living things. This could have been a counting book for young kids–and it could still work that way–or a fun predictable read because of the repetition of lines, but when the detailed art is the highlight, with amaryllis, Christmas cactus, cygnets and more hidden in the illustrations,  The Twelve Days of Christmas becomes the celebration of nature Briana Corr Scott intended.
From The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration of Nature by Briana Corr Scott