March 30, 2022

Josie's Busy Calendar

Written by Jenn Wint
Illustrated by Allison Arndt
East 26th Publishing
42 pp.
Ages 3-7
October 2021
Like many children in Canada, Josie has had to endure the challenge of staying at home and away from school and friends and activities that have always added to her life. She has found many things to do, from creating art to running laps, watching TV to baking, but she misses her old life.
But, after weeks of playing on her own, Josie was officially lonely.
From Josie's Busy Calendar by Jenn Wint, illus. by Allison Arndt
But, then things open up again and Josie is able to return to school. The little girl is thrilled. Once she reconnects with her friends, she is filling her calendar with play dates for soccer and baking, riding bikes and swimming. But, like anything, too much of a good thing can be just as onerous, and Josie finds that "her tummy was in knots" though she doesn't understand why.
From Josie's Busy Calendar by Jenn Wint, illus. by Allison Arndt
Realizing that she misses her alone time, Josie schedules herself into that calendar and finds that a balance of commitments to others and herself is what makes her feel calm enough to do it all.
From Josie's Busy Calendar by Jenn Wint, illus. by Allison Arndt
Vancouver's Jenn Wint knows that, like adults such as herself, children experience anxiety but probably don't understand it, and coming out of this pandemic–fingers crossed–there will be many children who have and will experience anxiety to some degree. After years of restricted social activities–a source of anxiety for some–many children will go overboard and want to do everything: sports, music, play, etc. But, if Josie’s Busy Calendar teaches us anything it’s that there is always a limit. Too little opportunity for interaction and activity is just as bad as too much. Down time is also important. In fact, for many, it’s the only means by which they can recharge to do those activities in the first place. 
From Josie's Busy Calendar by Jenn Wint, illus. by Allison Arndt
With Allison Arndt's whimsical illustrations, Josie comes across as a typical child whose life is filled with people and activities but who has learned to appreciate quiet time, whether it's for reflection, for the clean fun of bubble baths or creating art. So, for your children and your students, consider that busy calendar as a potential source of both fatigue and fun and schedule in some time for quiet, whether to look inward with self-reflection or to daydream about what could be.

March 28, 2022

I'm Not Sydney!

Written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2022
Why is Sydney not Sydney? It's because he's a sloth. And while his tree looks like a deciduous tree of Canada, the child imagines himself in the lushness of a tropical forest. As a sloth, he is happy to smile, sleep and daydream his days away, though his companion, Sami, scampering up the tree, sees herself as a spider monkey.
From I'm Not Sydney! by Marie-Louise Gay
As sloth and spider monkey enjoy their new personas, little Edward, ready for baseball, responds with the most charming of answers when they tell him of their exploits.
"Well, well," said Edward. "How about that?"
With that, he's down on all fours, his elephantine form disappearing into the tall grass of the savanna, feeling the sun, hearing the grasshoppers and smelling the grass and earth.
From I'm Not Sydney! by Marie-Louise Gay
Anamaria becomes an anteater and quiet Brigitte a bat and the quintet of friends play at make-believe animals until the elephant's trunk–or was that a water hose?–drenches them with water and laughter. They may return home when called for dinner by their parents but their imaginings carry them through their meals, bath time and sleep, with Brigitte even staying up, anticipating her flight into the night.
From I'm Not Sydney! by Marie-Louise Gay
Oh, to be a child with the freedom of play and imagination. For Sydney, Sami, Edward, Anamaria and Brigitte, a tree and meadow become the ground for creating a new world or two, and allows them the abandonment to visualize themselves as different in body and behaviour. They don't just pretend. They become. And Marie-Louise Gay lets us peek at them at their play, turning their realities into new worlds, as true as those in which they are called for dinner and given baths. Marie-Louise Gay, creator of the popular Stella and Sam and Princess Pistachio series, always, always, takes us to the heart of children's play of imagination, revealing both their innocence and sophistication in visualizing that which may not be there. In both words and art, she makes worlds resplendent in butterflies, caterpillars and birds among overgrown flora profuse with flowers with the children as stars in their own worlds, created or not. They are the gardeners of those daydreams, cultivating and nurturing life from whatever seeds are present. Whether those worlds last but a day or are ones they will revisit regularly is all up to them as well as the pen and watercolours of Marie-Louise Gay.
From I'm Not Sydney! by Marie-Louise Gay

March 26, 2022

A Soft Place to Fall

Written by Tanya Christenson
Red Deer Press
409 pp.
Ages 12+
January 2022

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls;
the most massive characters are seared with scars.
~ Kahlil Gibran 

Kahlil Gibran's words may end Tanya Christenson's debut novel, A Soft Place to Fall, but they work well as a preface to a story of struggles, challenges and loss from which triumphs emerge from the ordinary.

The story is told from the perspective of Creighton Fischer, a boy whose singing mom, Gracie Rae, left when he was just five, and whose father's work with the carnival has kept them moving for many years. When, after Creighton's Grade 7 year, Dad decides it's time for them to settle down, they move to Breton, Mom's old home town. Because of gaps in his learning and attendance, it is recommended that Creighton join an alternate school. There, under the compassionate and diverse teaching methods of Ms. Hayworth, Creighton becomes part of a unique cohort. The dozen or so students soon reveal themselves to be impacted by various traumas and disabilities but Ms. Hayworth's approach is to meet their needs and not slot them into the rigid curriculum. And by showing flexibility and empathy, she brings out the best in most of them. That is, except for Carlos a.k.a. Carcass. And for Creighton, he finds his first real friends in Carin, Ratchet and Schooner and the support system he and all of them need to brave the loss of loved ones, economic hardships, bullying, past traumas, criminal charges, and even love.

The twelve kids in Ms. Hayworth's class may attend L.O.S.E.R. (Lane Oslo School of Educational Reform) but they aren't losers. They may be flawed through trauma, mental health, disability or circumstances beyond their control but they are not losers. They are human. Their resilience may at times be shaky but it is undeniable and it thankfully allows them to persist.
BC's Tanya Christenson, a teacher and school counsellor, knows kids and she's written these kids as human as you and I. And she doesn't wrap up their struggles with happy endings, ribbons or balloons. Tanya Christenson makes their outcomes as real as the kids. They've suffered abandonment, abuse and upheaval, and they have endured. Sometimes they've triumphed over those struggles and  sometimes not, and like all of us, they have needed support and a soft place to fall. Because, after all, we will all fall some time, some way. I just hope that there will always be a soft place to fall, perhaps even land, for anyone challenged by life. And that's everyone.

March 22, 2022

The Gift of the Little People : A Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak Story

Written by William Dumas
Illustrated by Rhian Brynjolson
HighWater Press
48 pp.
Ages 8-12
February 2022
While many of us are not fortunate enough to hear a storyteller like William Dumas share the tales of his oral storytelling tradition, illustrated books like The Gift of the Little People are an ideal method for getting those stories told and for providing the visuals that our own experiences might not be able to provide. With words and art together, The Gift of the Little People transports us to the northern Manitoba community of South Indian Lake to see how a legendary people gave the Rocky Cree the medicine they needed for healing.
From The Gift of the Little People by William Dumas, illus. by Rhian Brynjolson
The narrator recalls growing up in remote South Indian Lake and hearing the elders tell stories in the evening. These stories included those of the 3 kinds of little people who were no taller than our knees: those who were static-voiced (mīmīkwīsiwak); those who were troll-like; and those that looked like tiny human beings (apiscithinīwak).

One story he remembers his father telling was of a man named âhâsiw (the Crow) of the Rocky Cree who lived along the Misinippi river (now known as the Churchill River). When there were reports of new people coming into mistiwāsahak (Hudson's Bay) with many new tools and items for trade, a delegation was sent. Upon their return, after numerous favourable trades, a feast was held. But a few days later, several members of that delegation fell ill and then person after person within the band became sick and died. âhâsiw did all he could to heal them but he also prayed for help. And help comes one night in the form of a little man who tells him that the medicine was available but he could only reach it by going through a solid rock face across the lake.
From The Gift of the Little People by William Dumas, illus. by Rhian Brynjolson
Though the task that the little person had given âhâsiw and oskâpêwis (his helper) seemed impossible, it was the means by which the Rocky Cree are able to connect with the little people and help heal themselves.

From The Gift of the Little People by William Dumas, illus. by Rhian Brynjolson
The Gift of the Little People is a companion book to William Dumas's Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak series which explores the language, culture, knowledge, territory, and history of the Rocky Cree (Asiniskaw Īthiniwak) people. The first book in the series Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw (2020) will be joined by a second, Amō's Sapotawan, later this year. With The Gift of the Little People, author William Dumas shares much about the Rocky Cree from both a historical and spiritual perspective. From life in a remote location without electricity to the devastation of first contact with Europeans, The Gift of the Little People reveals life of the Rocky Cree and the traditions upon which they prevailed. But within that framework, William Dumas tells readers of the little people. Whether it is folklore based in legends or otherwise–there are countless claims of evidence that the little people exist–the folklore of how the little people came to the aid of the Rocky Cree people when illness resulted from first contact with Europeans is a story worth telling. It's about trusting unlikely allies and accepting challenges for good. And with the artwork of Manitoba visual artist and educator Rhian Brynjolson honouring the First Nations with both its realism and style, without misappropriation, The Gift of the Little People has more than one story to tell of the Rocky Cree and their history and culture.

Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak series

March 17, 2022

These Are Not the Words

Written by Amanda West Lewis
Groundwood Books
216 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2022 
It's all about rebound and control...(pg. 80)

Even if only a fraction of what author Amanda West Lewis shares in this semi-biographical novel is true, then life with a jazz drummer and an artist was eclectic and surreal. But it was also disordered and insecure and the kindling for her words.

Told in a series of vignettes and poetry, twelve-year-old Missy tells of living with her parents and two cats in 1960s New York City. While there is much life all around her, with an apartment regularly filled with jamming musicians and Pops taking her out to jazz clubs to hear and meet musical celebrities, there is also an unrest that pervades their family. Pops may work as an editor for Pepsi-Cola's magazine but his passion is jazz music. But with that passion comes an erratic personality that is equally oppressive and exciting. One moment he is leaving her bedside poems with a stone or a shell and the next he is railing at her for making too much noise. Thankfully, Missy takes comfort in her cats, in her bond with best friend Corky and in her own creative writing.

But after a Florida business trip he never wanted to go on, Pops goes from unpredictable to despondent and unbalanced. With that, Missy and her mom must find a way to respond that allows them to remain safe and move forward.

It's hard to catch your breath as you read Missy's story. It's a roller coaster of emotions. From joyous highs and special connections between characters to anguished lows from conflict, rage, and tenuous mental health, These Are Not the Words takes on us on that rough ride. Hold on tight because Missy's story is not an easy one and probably not unlike the lives of many children who are challenged with flawed parents who can't or won't be there consistently for their children. The fact that Missy's story is at least in part author Amanda West Lewis's story makes it all the more poignant, especially as Missy is a star. She is irrepressible and brave and insightful. She is true to herself while trying to be hopeful in a situation that is less than encouraging. So, as a character study, These Are Not the Words are all the right words.

I'm not sure that These Are Not the Words ends happily but it is still one of resolution and perhaps even expectation for a future that goes beyond the pain and leads with forgiveness for a flawed father and acceptance of the different.
Mono no aware means a gentle sadness, a wistfulness about the fleeting nature of life.  Impermanence is the reality of life. (pg. 84)

March 14, 2022

Bear and the Whisper of the Wind

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Princeton Architectural Press
80 pp.
Ages 4-8
March 2022

There is something special about a Marianne Dubuc picture book. You know the artwork will be remarkable, blending softness and power through line and colour. But, scaffolded by the illustrations is always a story with a profound message of living life well. It could be about self-reliance (On Baba's Back, 2022), compassion (What Do You Want, Little Friend?, 2020), community (Your House, My House, 2020) or empathy (Little Cheetah's Shadow, 2020) but Marianne Dubuc's books always show young children how to be their best selves. Bear and the Whisper of the Wind does just this flawlessly too.

Bear has a comfortable life, living in a nice house, and enjoying the company of his friends and his favourite strawberry pie. 
But that was before. One day, the wind changes and Bear senses that it is time to go.
 What he hears is, "It's time for something new."
From Bear and the Whisper of the Wind by Marianne Dubuc
And Bear heads out on a journey, knowing it is something he must do, though not knowing where he will be going. Sometimes he feels free as the wind but sometimes he is lonely. When he meets Rabbit and is invited in from the dark, Bear accepts. Though he has not spoken to anyone for ages, he feels better than he has in days. Still, after he helps Rabbit repair his house, Bear continues on his journey. 
From Bear and the Whisper of the Wind by Marianne Dubuc
But now Bear is not sure if he hasn't made a mistake. He's not sure if he should have stayed with Rabbit, or even stayed at home. And then he realizes he is lost. Moreover, he is lost, wet and uncomfortable in a thunder storm with only the meagre shelter of a pine tree. When it's all over, a little mouse welcomes him to the valley he had not noticed in his fears. It's a valley with a stream, a blueberry patch and a new friend, where the wind is quiet again and his search ends.
From Bear and the Whisper of the Wind by Marianne Dubuc
Many of us have felt the trepidation of leaving the comfort of our homes. It could be after the pandemic or as young adults moving out on their own or young children who have moved onto new homes, schools and even families. It's undertaking something that makes us feel uncomfortable but, as Bear learns, there is value in trying something different. In fact, it could actually be finding something better, something that allows us to be more of ourselves than before.  There may be initial discomfort and worries about leaving the security of the known but sometimes, as Marianne Dubuc's Bear shows us, it's worth it.

Marianne Dubuc also takes us with Bear on his journey through the subtlety of her pencil and watercolour illustrations. Whether he is enjoying his strawberry pie and visiting friends or crossing streams and walking through a forest, readers are there with him. While his journey may be a challenge for him, we are not scared to accompany him as he follows the whisper of the wind–as seen by a floating leaf–to something new.

The allegory of a pilgrimage may not be picked up by the youngest of readers but others, including the adults in their lives, will recognize a lesson in the change that happens when you go beyond your comfort zone. Striking out on your own or trying something new can be challenging and scary–the unknown often is–but it can open up opportunities which could never have been foreseen and offer perspectives never imagined.

March 11, 2022

This is the Boat that Ben Built

Written by Jen Lynn Bailey
Illustrated by Maggie Zeng
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
March 2022 

While many cumulative tales, those in which the story starts with one person or thing and continues to add new elements while repeating those already introduced, are often humourous and can lead to the absurd, This is the Boat that Ben Built actually has a sense of calm about it. OK, there is a little bit of the silly, but only enough to provide a giggle and a smile to the relaxing atmosphere of a child on a northern Canadian river amidst a plethora of land, water and sky creatures.

From This is the Boat that Ben Built by Jen Lynn Bailey, illus. by Maggie Zeng
Under the watchful eye of his life-vested mother and dog on shore, Ben heads out in his boat Explorer on a peaceful river. He's well prepared with his binoculars, fishing gear, and investigative tools like a journal, magnifying glass and jars.
From This is the Boat that Ben Built by Jen Lynn Bailey, illus. by Maggie Zeng
From This is the boat that Ben built, the reader progresses with the young boy to the river (This is the river that carries the boat that Ben built), to the fish that swim in the river, the beaver that builds there, the loon that floats, a goose that grins, a black bear, a moose, a heron and owl. And then there's mayhem!
From This is the Boat that Ben Built by Jen Lynn Bailey, illus. by Maggie Zeng
This is the Boat that Ben Built ends as calmly as it started, though Ben has added some travellers to his boat, and all young readers will be both entertained and educated as the repetitive text moves the story from tranquility to tumult and back to balance. By wrapping her lessons on the fauna of the northern river ecosystem in the humour of a goofy story of animals in a wild chain reaction, author Jen Lynn Bailey is providing valuable STEM lessons for young children and amusing them with the antics on the river. So, for teachers who need to introduce their students to the interrelationships of living things or those who want to blend some science into their reading programs–cumulative, repetitive stories are fabulous for growing readers–This is the Boat that Ben Built ticks all the boxes.
Of course, Maggie Zeng's artwork just adds to both the calmness and the sweetness of the story. Another illustrator might have leaned to the silly but Maggie Zeng keeps with the naturalness of a river ecosystem, giving the animals, the people and the landscape all identifiable attributes but with a softness that comes of awareness of audience and message. The river alone, whether of the turquoise green or yellow-green of sediment rich waters, is as easy moving as the story, carrying Ben and his boat as it does young readers.
From This is the Boat that Ben Built by Jen Lynn Bailey, illus. by Maggie Zeng
This is the Boat that Ben Built is a tale of discovery and appreciation for a natural ecosystem but Jen Lynn Bailey and Maggie Zeng do well to tie it to a bit of silliness that will have kids laughing as they learn.

To learn more about This is the Boat that Ben Built, check out its upcoming virtual book launch, free to all ages, with author Jen Lynn Bailey and illustrator Maggie Zeng on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 from 7- 8 PM EST.  Registration for this event can be accessed at

March 09, 2022

Giju's Gift (Adventures of the Pugulatmu'j)

Written by Brandon Mitchell
Illustrated by Veronika Barinova
HighWater Press
88 pp.
Ages 6-9
February 2022

In a new series of graphic novels inspired by traditional stories, author Brandon Mitchell draws on his Mi'kmaq heritage and introduces the pugulatmu'j, the Little People who are guardians of the land.
From Giju's Gift by Brandon Mitchell, illus. by Veronika Barinova
While out strawberry picking, young Mali trips and loses her precious beaded hair clip that once belong to her grandmother (Giju'). But, though it seems no one believes her, Mali knows it was stolen, seeing a little person grab it as well as a basket of strawberries. Her auntie tells her of the pugulatmu'j, the Little People who live high in the mountains and like to play tricks on people to keep them alert. 
When she goes outside to play, she catches a little person about to steal a cooling pie. Puug, as he is called, is surprised that she can see him but promises to return her hair clip if she helps him gather some much needed supplies. During their scavenging, they see a jenu, a giant who is consumed by anger and determined to destroy all. 
With a little help from Mali's grandfather (Nemijgami) and an important, though chilling, stop at an abandoned residential school, the two new friends are able to put the spirit of jenu at rest and allow Puug his intention to protect the memories of the past.

It's our goal to collect as many moments as we can. (pg. 52)

From Giju's Gift by Brandon Mitchell, illus. by Veronika Barinova
Writing for early readers or early middle graders is a tough job in trying to tell a complete story while being sensitive and cognizant of the readers. Brandon Mitchell is able to create a story that shares elements of Mi'kmaq culture, including its folklore and history, as well as touching on the tragedy of residential schools. But, more than anything, Brandon Mitchell emphasizes the importance of holding onto the memories, whether it's by gathering items as the pugulatmu'j did or cherishing those inherited from our ancestors. To that end, Brandon Mitchell even includes instructions for young readers to create their own memories boxes to commemorate important times. 

Because Brandon Mitchell's story is told as a graphic novel, the visuals are important in conveying more of the story that cannot be told in the limited text of Giju's Gift. This is especially valuable for young readers as they transition from picture books to chapter books. Artist Veronika Barinova makes sure that her illustrations are relatively plain and uncomplicated, with the emphasis on the characters and their actions and vocalizations. She gives the right balance of creepy (jenu) and innocent (Mali) with settings of house and outdoors that are general enough to be familiar. 

With this easy blend of text and art, Brandon Mitchell and Veronika Barinova ensure that young readers will be coaxed to read more about the Adventures of the Pugulatmu'j (this is only the first book in the series) and perhaps learn about the Mi'kmaq, as well as appreciate the importance of memories and traditional stories.

March 07, 2022

2022 Forest of Reading Forest Kid and Teen Committees: Applications due by April 1


Just before children and teens head out for March break, get them thinking about applying to the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading's Forest Kid and Teen Committees. Young readers from Grades 3 to 12 are invited to apply to be on one of three committees who will meet via Zoom in early May to talk books and recommend Canadian titles for their peers. These summer reading lists will then be shared to inform young people's reading of recent books by Canadian authors.
Here's what you need to know:
There are 3 committees:
    Silver Birch Kid Committee (for students in Gr. 3-6)
    Red Maple Kid Committee (for students in Gr. 7-8)
    Teen Committee (for students in Gr. 9-12)

Applicants will be asked to fill out an application here and share favourite Canadian authors and their books, both recently published and of all time. (It is a must that readers are familiar with Canadian authors.)
April 1, 2022
Zoom Meetings:
Selected applicants will meet via virtual Zoom meetings from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM EST on the following dates:
    Silver Birch Kid Committee:    Monday, May 2, 2022
    Red Maple Kid Committee:      Tuesday, May 3, 2022
    Teen Committee:                       Thursday, May 5, 2022
Complete details are available from the Forest of Reading Kid and Teen Committees here.

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For past reading lists (always helpful for teachers and parents to suggest books to young readers), check out the Forest of Reading site at Here are images of last year's recommended titles from the Silver Birch, Red Maple and Teen Committees.

Good luck to all students who apply. 

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March 04, 2022

The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher (A Gumboot Kids Nature Mystery)

by Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford
Firefly Books
32  pp.
Ages 3-6
November 2021
If your children are familiar with Scout and the Gumboot Kids, a CBC Kids' TV series, then you're already aware of the show's exploration of nature for young children. To date, creators Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford have transferred those stories into 8 picture books, all based on investigations into the natural world. The latest, The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher, has young readers joining mice Scout and Daisy in the field as they amass clues to solve their newest mystery.
From The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher by Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford
As Scout checks out his fall pumpkins, Daisy declares that she nearly walked into a hanging food catcher. Together they note the clues that might help them understand. The clues include the gate, silky thread, and a fly, leading them to a beautiful spider web as it catches a fly. In keeping with the education aspect of the series, Scout and Daisy do their own research on spider webs and ties it into their own appreciation of the natural world and some delicious food of their own.
From The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher by Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford
I don't know who creates the felted mice or their woollen sweaters, hats and scarves, but that labour-intensive work has paid off in charming characters and scenes. (Not surprising that there are plush toys of Scout and Daisy available.) By wrapping very simple nature stories for young children in these characters and scenes, Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford are speaking to children at their level without talking down to them. They take a basic scientific method approach to exploring nature, embed it in an uncomplicated plot, and enhance that learning and entertainment with some science–notes on the spider's morphology and behaviour are included–and a nature craft of weaving. The Gumboot Kids Nature Mysteries may not be intricate and highly detailed but they shouldn't be for this age level. They provide meaningful introductions to a variety of topics based in the natural world by captivating youngsters with delightful characters and inspiring creativity and an interest in that outside world. With The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher, children will probably never look at a spider or its web in the same way again, and instead be inspired to organize their own explorations of the natural world.
• • • • • • •
Gumboot Kids Nature Mystery series
The Case of the Vanishing Caterpillar (2019)
The Case of the Story Rock (2019)
The Case of the Wooden Timekeeper (2019)
The Case of the Growing Bird Feeder (2019)
The Case of the Singing Ocean (2020)
The Case of the Buzzing Honey Makers (2020)
The Case of the Shrinking Friend (2021)
The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher (2021)

March 02, 2022


Written by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books
150 pp.
Ages 8-12
March 2022

For many of us, our days are spent stepping out and stepping in and stepping around. These are our everyday lives of going to school or work, dealing with peers and family, and returning home. But there are milestone days. For many children, those days include their birthdays. And, for the children of Deborah Ellis's ten stories in Step, the milestone day of an 11th birthday brings with it a new opportunity to step. 
Each of the ten stories within Step is titled with a single and powerful word.  They are Smash, Alone, Rock, Rubber, Shoes, Ride, Laundry, Free, Nails, and Supper. Some take place in familiar North American settings, like Smash in which Connor takes his sister's rejected and fearful dog for a walk and both see and become something different. Or Ride, in which Aislyn is taken to the county fair by her older sister and deserted to spend time with her boyfriend. But there are other stories that take us to the unfamiliar. In Rubber, Oma and her family are escaping on a rubber raft for Europe, and in Free, a child and her mother and sister leave the gangs and deaths of their homeland to walk days into the land of the free. Perhaps the most disparate in setting is Laundry in which Masud shares a cell with twenty-one men at a prison-like Libyan detention facility. Their cell is a community of unrelated persons who have come together to work as family for everyone. Most unusual is the story of Rock. While its setting will be familiar to young readers, Rock is wholly different in that it includes a supernatural element that links our world with another to highlight a social injustice halfway around the world.
From the pen of Deborah Ellis always comes brilliant writing but also profound attention to social justice and the courage of children to step up. This is the same in Step. From neo-Nazis, an inhumane detention center, gang violence, poverty, bullying and those seeking refuge, Deborah Ellis lets young readers see from the perspective of eleven-year-olds who are leaving their childhoods behind and looking at people and places with fresh eyes. For many, that one day of transition from 10 to 11 has given them clarity for flawed family members, for right and wrong, and for their own place.

I love that there has been a resurgence of short story collections, especially themed ones such as Deborah Ellis's latest collection, a companion book to her earlier Sit (2017). In Step, eleven-year-olds are stepping into, stepping up and stepping away. And sometimes doing what is actually another, like Lazlo in Shoes who by stepping away is actually stepping up. These children from around the world are dealing with big issues in their own homes, in their communities and in foreign lands. They must deal with their families, with their peers, with strangers, and with authorities. And each time they must decide what they will do in their steps. They could step back or around. They could do what they might have done at age ten and taken the familiar course. Ah, but they have all just turned eleven. That milestone moves them forward to step differently. These children have come of age, some in common circumstances and some in horrific struggles. Each has stepped into their new maturity in their own way, thinking beyond themselves and instead of others and the greater good. They have attained the wisdom that many of their elders have not.