January 29, 2024

Kaiah's Garden

Written by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by Karlene Harvey
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
32 pp
Ages 5-8
January 2024
When a child moves with her family to a new home, she misses her old home at her Grandma's. The house isn't just far away in a new town, it lacks the colour that was part of her grandmother's home. That life came from many things, inside and outside, and, compared to that home, everything feels gray here.
From Kaiah's Garden, written by Melanie Florence, illus. by Karlene Harvey
From the quiet stairs to the backyard of dried-up weeds and flowers, Kaiah can't see anything beyond her feelings of missing her grandmother and her home. But when she hears a voice she senses as her grandmother saying, "Did you forget what's in your treasure box?" Kaiah is reminded of all she'd once enjoyed. In a special box worn smooth by generations of her people, she recalls the beading projects she'd completed with her Grandma. There's her very first, an apple, which brings back memories of an apple tree in the yard and of Grandma's warm hands touching hers to teach her how to bead. There's the sunshine yellow sun she'd beaded, as well as a flower, turtle, butterfly, and more. Her grandmother and her garden may not be there at their new house but Kaiah, with a little help from her mother and brother, knows how to bring her grandmother and more to this new home.
From Kaiah's Garden, written by Melanie Florence, illus. by Karlene Harvey
Melanie Florence, author of the award-winning Missing Nimâmâ and Stolen Words, again shares her heritage with us, teaching us about the importance of beadwork to Indigenous Peoples. (There is "A Note on Beadwork" at the conclusion of the book.) For Kaiah, the beadwork takes her back to her earlier life with her grandmother, learning the skill and embedding memories to help her reconnect with those who came before her. Now, she will use the beadwork for healing her spirit as well as for connecting her with her new home. Those tiny little beads can do so much when used to create and honour.
From Kaiah's Garden, written by Melanie Florence, illus. by Karlene Harvey
Karlene Harvey, a Tsilhqot-in and Syilx illustrator from BC, reminds us that the beadwork of Melanie Florence's story is what is most important. From the colourful and meaningful beadwork that adorns the endpapers of Kaiah's Garden to each of the pieces Kaiah draws from her treasure box, there is life and luminosity that is derived as much from the beads as from the association they endow.
Kaiah may believe that all there is a grayness at her new home–well, until she remembers her treasured beadwork–but Kaiah's Garden is nothing but colour. It's bold and beautiful and memorable, just like the treasures Kaiah pulls from her box.

January 26, 2024

Night of the Living Zed: Q & A with authors Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester

Recently, I reviewed Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester's newest middle grade novel, Night of the Living Zed, a sequel to their wildly successful The Fabulous Zed Watson!

Night of the Living Dead
Written by Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester
HarperCollins Canada
256 pp.
Ages 8-12
Released January 16, 2024
Today, it gives me great pleasure to post a Q & A I did with authors Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester about their new book. 

Authors Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester
• • • • • • •
HK:   Congratulations on Night of the Living Zed. It’s another great mystery embedded with the supernatural and notable characters. Did you experience any challenges in writing a sequel to The Fabulous Zed Watson!?
Kevin Sylvester:  We knew the characters well, so writing scenes with Zed and Gabe and the crew was fun. The toughest part, I think, was making it a different mystery with a different feel. I love escape rooms, so used those as inspiration for the types of codes our intrepid duo would have to crack. Then when Basil started writing the letters that lie at the (literal) heart of the story, the emotional side of the mystery began to just fall in place. After that, it felt like the challenge was paying due respect to the type of hidden relationship many people had to have (and still do) to be accepted.
Basil Sylvester:  Echoing what my co-author said. We wanted to have a story that doesn’t feel like we wrote it just to bring back characters we liked. There had to be something new. I really like the way the two books compliment (complement? Oh dear) each other. Fabulous Zed Watson had a lot of travel, so it was fun to write a sequel where they are mostly in one place. We also worked hard to make sure you could read it without having read the first one, sort of like a classic mystery series like Sherlock Holmes stories or similar. 

HK:   How does your collaboration work? Do you each write one chapter or section of the story, or do you write together?
Kevin Sylvester:  In the first book we split up a lot of the work by theme – so related chapters on a specific part of the mystery, or location for that clue, might fall to me. Basil would write the scenes, such as the border scene, where Zed has to face some real fear and discomfort.  But we’d always read the whole thing out loud to make sure there was a consistency of tone and voice. So by the end the whole book was truly a co-written work. We even collaborate on the illustrations.
     This time, I think, was more “both of us at the same time” writing with essentially the same result. But Basil wrote and researched the letters the kids discover… and those are beautiful.

Basil Sylvester:  the first book was much more methodical—we made the best outline I’ve ever made in my life, by far, haha. Then we split up and came back together to write everything out. Night of the Living Zed was a stranger creature. We did a lot more writing side by side but also writing alone—I wrote the letters completely without input, for instance, but as Kevin said, the best part is reading out loud. You instantly get a sense of what works and what doesn’t, especially in the jokes and banter.
HK:   Plotting any story can be challenging but I wonder if plotting a mystery is especially so. Did you plot out the whole mystery from the outset or did you develop it one step at a time, perhaps with each new room that Zed and Gabe encounter in Glyndebourne Manor?
Kevin Sylvester:  We had a general idea a good year before we started writing… so the idea was always cooking in our heads.  Then we tried to decide how the reveal would happen from the presumed mystery (spending three days in a spooky house) to the true mystery (who was Charlotte and why did she build this bizarre house?). So there are two layers happening all the time. I would say that was more fun than tough to figure out. 
     The frustrating part is always when you think you have a good bit and then look at it later, or have someone else look at it, and say the code didn’t make sense, or wasn’t revealed to the reader in a way that they could also solve the mystery. So we tried to make sure that all the clues are there, so that the reader can either go “I saw that coming” or “oh! Now I see what the code was!”. Both offer a fun payoff.

Basil Sylvester:  Oh my gosh I found this really hard to do! I’m not a big mystery reader—I love middle grade mysteries, but I don’t read like Janet Evanovich kind of things—so I really struggled with making stuff plausible and consistent. Kevin is old hat at mysteries so he really helped but making escape room puzzles that made sense and that I hoped the readers would be able to pick up clues on was the hardest part of this book. Also plotting with a co-writer can be hard, especially getting on the same page about the hard and fast rules of the contest. We were working in Scrivener, which allows for research and planning docs, so we made sure to write out the rules early on and referred to them often!

HK:   Though many might not see it, Night of the Living Zed
is a celebration of romantic love. Although the two romances had very different outcomes being from different times, they were both triumphant in their own ways. Why did you choose to include these romances in the story?

Kevin Sylvester:  Basil is the best one to answer this, but I will say that I am always intrigued by stories where someone builds something as a living memory of someone, or to honour them.  
     Think Citizen Kane, the Taj Mahal… my Apartment 713.

Basil Sylvester:  Honestly, Sam and Jo were some of my favourite characters in the first book, so I wanted to bring them back. And their wedding sort of works as a plot device for Zed and Gabe to specifically need money, encouraging them to go for the Gylndebourne contest. In terms of the other romance, I loved the idea of a multi-layered mystery. We sort of have that with the first book, where Zed is looking for the manuscript, and along the way they discover a whole supportive community in some unexpected places, showing us that the world is ready emotionally for Taylor’s book.
     In Night of the Living Zed, I wanted to pay homage to historical romantic relationships that weren’t read as such for a long time. I also love the idea that a spooky scary haunted house is actually not scary at all, but beautiful. That it’s just misunderstood, like the romance itself. So I wanted to have layers of meaning, as any good ghost story should.

HK:   Music, particularly opera, is a significant element of the story, directing Zed and Gabe’s solving of the mystery of Glyndebourne Manor, but the broad knowledge of opera needed is certainly not derived from Wikipedia. Moreover, your acknowledgements suggest that you both have some appreciation for opera. Are you both opera buffs or did one inspire the other or did someone else boost your awareness of this theatre form?

Kevin Sylvester:  We both love opera, but don’t expect us on the Saturday Afternoon at the Opera quiz anytime soon. I’m partial to Italian operas. Rigoletto and the Barber of Seville get a lot of play in my house. But I also love the Magic Flute… and one of my fave experiences was seeing Maurice Sendak’s sets for the Hansel and Gretel a few years back.

Basil Sylvester:  I mean, growing up with the parents I had, it was inevitable. My dad loved opera and played it ever since I was a kid. So that made me … tolerate it. Then I went to university and took a class on Russian opera and fell in love with Eugene Onegin, Boris Godunov, The Nose…I even let Kevin put some Wagner in this one.

HK:   I’m a big fan of humour and Night of the Living Zed is filled with it, from puns and wordplay to silliness and blunders. Do you each have your own specialty when it comes to embedding humour in the story, whether through voice or actions?

Kevin Sylvester:  We are a family of joke-tellers and punsters. This includes our immediate family and friends. So the scenes with back-and-forth dialogue and jokes is a glimpse into the dining room of our houses on any gathering. Noisy. Boisterous. Snarky. Then Basil and I test-drive the jokes on eachother to make sure they work.

Basil Sylvester: I’m not as good at jokes, but growing up, especially at my grandparents’ houses, it was jokes zinging across the dinner table at breakneck speed, so I was always trying to keep up. I’m better at comebacks, so Kevin will often start riffing and then I join in. We are also tough critics, so we would cut jokes if only one of us was laughing. I would say I lean more towards silly gestures, and Zed is fun to write because they are very boisterous and always moving.

HK:   I know the book was released in January but it’s going to be a popular story come October with its Halloween theme. Zed obviously goes big for Halloween, ensuring the best neighbourhood Halloween with a pre-Halloween inspection at all homes. Is Halloween as big a deal in the Sylvester house as it is for Zed?

Kevin Sylvester:  All I can say is that you can go back and look on my Facebook page where we do a themed Halloween porch each year. This year was a haunted construction site. Last year was Scar-bucks coffee shop. The year before that was a haunted greenhouse… you get the idea. Christmas is great, and man do I need bright lights by late December, but dressing up and playing make-believe? Halloween can’t be beat.

Basil Sylvester: We never did Halloween-O-Ween, but it is 100% inspired by our love of Halloween and our dedication to creative and fun porch displays every year. It’s also a holiday that really resonates with me, since you can dress up and be someone else and get creative, which was a great outlet for me figuring out my identity in a low-stakes and fun way.

HK:   The illustrations add much to the story, just as they did in Kevin’s Neil Flambé series. I recognize Kevin’s style but wonder if Basil is also an artist and contributed to the art in Night of the Living Zed.

Kevin Sylvester:  Yes. Certainly in the sense that we work on the illustrations together. I’m often drawing as we write and read passages out loud. Basil is my immediate art director and continuity officer (need to make sure Zed is wearing the same sweater in connected timelines). Also, Basil is in charge of the lettering on the spine and covers.
Basil Sylvester:  I’m not an illustrator but I do consider myself a creative person. I like crafts and DIY. As Kevin says, I’m the first art editor and can be pretty critical. He shows me all his illustrations before submitting them and I often have notes. I also came up with the ideas for both covers, and did the silly hand lettering on the covers and spine.

From Night of the Living Zed, written by Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester, illustrated by Kevin Sylvester
HK:   My favourite illustration of Zed is the one on page 68 when they are in their pumpkin onesie. Do you each have a favourite illustration of Zed from Night of the Living Zed?

Kevin Sylvester:  SPOILERS…. My fave is the one of Hyacinth as she’s about to turn the faucet on the final challenge. She looks both anticipatory and a little fearful. After all they’ve been through, and learned, will this prove to be the right decision? Or will everything come crashing down?
     It’s quiet and active at the same time.

Basil Sylvester:  I love this question! I really like the one where they’re excited to say hi to the ghost. But the pumpkin onesie is great too. Also any illustration where they have their coffin backpack. I have a friend who has one and I messaged them the second they posted a picture of it, asking if I could include it for Zed in the book because it was just so perfect!

HK:   Now that we know that The Fabulous Zed Watson! will not be a stand-alone and that Zed and Gabe are becoming known for solving mysteries, are there plans for additional books beyond Night of the Living Zed?

Kevin Sylvester:  Hmmmmm. We are always ready to cook up new missions for Zed and the gang. But that is, of course, a team decision involving a lot of people. If enough kids read the books and want more… I’m willing and able!

Basil Sylvester:  Who can say? It’s not off the table. We have a lot of fun writing these, so I hope you have as much fun reading as we do writing!

I've so enjoyed reviewing Night of the Living Zed and learning more of Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester's experiences with writing this sequel to The Fabulous Zed Watson!

Many thanks to Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester for answering my questions about Night of the Living Zed. And thanks also to Rebecca Silver, Senior Publicist at HarperCollins Canada, for facilitating this interview and sharing a review copy of Night of the Living Zed.

January 25, 2024

40 Days in Hicksville

Written by Christina Kilbourne
264 pp.
Ages 12+
October 2023
Moving to Clarendon with her mother to live in her grandparents' old home was supposed to give Kate Cooper a clean break from living in the city. Little did they know that she'd just find a new trouble with classmate Zach Whitchurch. Yeah, she's definitely safer in Clarendon a.k.a. Hicksville. Not. 

When Kate and her mom Sally move into the Cooper place next door, Zach is smitten. And Kate, determined to convince her mom Sally that she's making an effort, let's Zach show her around. When he points out Peter Goheen's property, warning her that he is known to be cruel and maybe even dangerous, Kate reveals that he is her grandfather, though she's never met him. When they venture onto his property to introduce Kate, Pater Goheen is less than welcoming and warns them against trespassing again. That doesn't deter Kate who, with Zach, discovers a cave-like crevasse which they investigate after midnight so that she can make a video. What they discover deep inside are the remains of two bodies. 
Zach's dad, a detective in Clarendon, reveals that a wallet in the jeans of one is that of Sally's fifteen-year-old brother James who disappeared in 1982 along with his friend Luke McLeod. For the first time, Kate learns about her uncle and his disappearance and about Sally's troubled family life because of her mean drunk of a father. Though Peter Goheen was questioned, Kate's dad Mitch provided an alibi for his father. And without bodies, it was impossible to know the truth. But that was then.

Are these the bodies of James and Luke? What happened to them? Who did it and why? 40 Days in Hicksville could be a true crime podcast, unravelling the story through Kate and Zach's eyes–chapters are alternating perspectives of the two teens–and with the twists and turns that often come with a thriller. Christina Kilbourne, author of The Limitless Sky, Safe Harbour and Dear Jo, takes us to a small Ontario town as if the setting for an episode of Dateline or 20/20, unravelling the mystery with each interview and piece of evidence and investigative step of the police.  And, as in those in-depth investigations of the newsmagazine shows, the trajectory from missing person to justice is not a straight line. There are those who keep secrets, those who hide truths, those who lie, and those who grieve. There are those who are determined to make things right and find justice. There is danger and revelations, standstills, and action. With a variety of characters, some who are aggravating, others naive, some scared, others aggressive, 40 Days in Hicksville remind us that small towns are not always boring communities in which nothing happens. Sometimes they are seething with secrets and dangers and history that are only revealed when someone from outside arrives. Kate may not have wanted to be in Clarendon but her first forty days in the town her father called Hicksville are as thrilling as the urbex videos that got her in trouble in the city. Fortunately, Christina Kilbourne's "Epilogue" reveals that this adventure has a far more constructive outcome for both Kate and her community.

January 22, 2024

People Are My Favorite Places

Written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
40 pp.
Ages 4-9
January 2024 

While we are still living with a pandemic, we are no longer subjected to lockdowns and the isolation that came with them. For many, the inability to go places had more to do with not seeing people: family, friends, and newly-met acquaintances. As she did in her earlier picture books Ping and Spark, Ani Castillo shares an important message about appreciating those who are part of our lives, whether we know them or not. 

From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
Although a young girl recognizes all the things which she can no longer do or see when "I was stuck in my room, all alone, forever and ever," she realizes that it's the people involved in those activities that she really misses. Visiting places like her grandparents' house or the movie theatre or travelling is not about the place but the people with whom she spends time.
From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
She recognizes that there are a lot of people she knows and missed, from her piano teacher to her friends and the locals she meets when travelling. It's all the "sweet, lovely people who were once there with me" with whom she laughed, ate noodles, chatted, held hands, and more. And she recognizes the people she missed came in all shapes, colours, ages, and textures, but she missed them all for their touch, their smell, their warmth and so much more.
From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
But most of all, she realizes that she had learned an important lesson during that time:
Because now
I see clearly
that the landscape, the place
most precious to me
is the world inside someone
I love
very dearly.
From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
The innocence of the child in expressing how she feels will be very familiar to children who missed out on a lot of things during lockdowns, from schooling, and family visits, to travel and socializing. They will all remember how isolated they felt and how much they craved being somewhere other than their rooms or their homes. But this child has the insight to realize it wasn't just being someplace, it was being with someone that made it all that it was: rich in experience, embracing in affection, uniting in companionship. That insightful innocence comes through in Ani Castillo's artwork. Using black coloured pencil, watercolour, and gouache, Ani Castillo makes us see every one of those people who are the landscape of this child's life.  There are her peers, her teachers, her family, and those people that she might meet when travelling. Known or unknown, these people are what make those places vibrant and significant.

Though I worry that too many people have forgotten what it was like to be without the people in their lives, I hope that People Are My Favorite Places will remind them so that we don't have to go through further isolation such as lockdowns to appreciate the magnitude of their contributions to the fabric of our lives. They take our landscapes from barren to lush and vibrant, and even if we don't want to partake in that vibrancy every moment, knowing that we can reach out to it any time is important.

January 19, 2024

Zander Stays

Written by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Scot Ritchie
Pajama Press
36 pp.
Ages 4-7
October 2023
Zander is a goose, a lovely white goose with bright orange legs and an orange bill. He's like the other geese except for this autumn when Zander decides to stay. While the other geese pack up to fly south for the winter, Zander decides he's going to try something different this year.
From Zander Stays, written by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Scot Ritchie
After his compadres have left, Zander enjoys new endeavours like jumping in leaf piles, and racing the wind. He may be alone, but he never feels lonely. But then winter arrives. He's advised by a squirrel that he should prepare for winter by collecting and storing nuts. Too bad he doesn't eat nuts. The other animals have their own advice for surviving the winter, but none seem to quite work for Zander. And though he enjoys his first encounter with snow, he soon realizes that he is at a disadvantage, and there is no one to help him.
From Zander Stays, written by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Scot Ritchie
Miraculously, when Zander is about to give up, a little girl named Grace finds him and shows him what she does to survive the winter. Finally, Zander finds some adaptive techniques that work for him. And won't he have some wonderful stories to tell his friends when they return!
From Zander Stays, written by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Scot Ritchie
While it might not be recommended that wild geese like the snow goose not migrate as they normally would, Maureen Fergus has actually created a STEM story about migration and adaptation by having Zander stay. (Her "Author's Note" provides worthwhile information for young readers about how different animals adapt and what hibernation and migration mean.) It might be exciting to try something new but not migrating became a dangerous undertaking for Zander and one that he only survived with human help. With warm shelter and food, Zander learned from Grace that winter could be enjoyed but only with respite from the challenging conditions. Moreover, her compassion for Zander saves him, reminding children to be mindful of the needs of animals and their welfare.
From Zander Stays, written by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Scot Ritchie
Scot Ritchie has illustrated both picture books and non-fiction texts (e.g., Federica; Dinos Driving; Follow That Map!; If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It; On the Line) and as such has demonstrated a deftness of touch for creating sweet and yet realistic artwork. In Zander Stays, Scot Ritchie gives us identifiable red squirrels, bats, a bear, a rabbit, and geese, but placed them in landscapes of lake shores, sunsets, and even a cozy home garnished with a fireplace, scattered winter clothing, artwork, and food. Any child reading this book will know the cool autumns of fallen leaves, the snowy cold winter days, and the warmth of being inside from Scot Ritchie's artwork. By using ink and digital watercolour art to give substance to Maureen Fergus's story, Scot Ritchie keeps it gentle–a story of a goose that might not survive the cold of winter definitely needs a light touch–and engaging, while still reminding us that survival is still an issue for animals in winter.
As different parts of Canada experience their own cold spells this winter,  help young children understand the basics of adaptation, about migration, and about animal welfare, while cheering for a silly goose who was fortunate to survive the winter with a little help from a friend.

January 17, 2024

Night of the Living Zed

Written by Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester
HarperCollins Canada
256 pp.
Ages 8-12
January 16 2024
Sure, everyone gets ready for Christmas. There's the tree decorating, the shopping, the baking. But what about the "super-duper-stupendousest of all holidays" (pg. 3): Halloween! Zed Watson, star of Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester's highly-acclaimed first collaboration The Fabulous Zed Watson! (2021) is all about Halloween, so it's going to be a shame if they miss it because they're heading out of town with best friend Gabe to solve the mystery of Glyndebourne Manor, the house once owned by the rich and famous opera costume and set designer, Charlotte Scherrer. But it's all in support of a good cause: getting a reward that could help elevate the upcoming nuptials of Gabe's sister Sam and partner Jo.

So, determined to spend the required 3 days and 2 nights in the supposedly-haunted house and search for Charlotte's treasure, Zed and Gabe set off on October 29, hopeful of solving the mystery before Halloween. Well, Zed is convinced of it. Gabe is less sure about it, but the operatic flavour of decorations in Charlotte's century-old, 4-storey house gets him interested. Things become more complicated when the rules state that they must move from room to room but never exiting through the door they entered. Only by solving complicated clues related to Charlotte's life and memorabilia do Zed and Gabe have any chance of making it through this challenge. Of course, there's also the ghosts and copious booby traps to trick them, so solving the mystery is a lot less obvious than finding a pile of gold.
With humour and compassion, the two friends, face each challenge head on. They carefully scrutinize curious rooms filled with opera collectibles, they construct maquettes, they read personal journal entries, and they piece together Charlotte's life to help them uncover hidden means of egress. But, as long as the ghosts don't impede their progress and they don't runaway, they've got a good chance to find...something?

Night of the Living Zed has all the colour of Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester's first book, The Fabulous Zed Watson!, but it's a fresh new mystery with a different set of characters. Readers will be pleased to visit again with the quirky Zed and Gabe, a pair of young friends with strong but different personalities.  There's non-binary Zed who approaches life at break-neck speed, enthusiastic about vampires and ghosts, eager to interact with the supernatural, and lover of all things Halloween. Gabe is less forward, but still fascinated by and knowledgeable about opera and plants, and loves playing the piano and wearing multi-pocketed clothes. And he's a little ghost-shy. In addition to a host of regulars, like Ph. D. candidates Sam and Jo, and a plethora of named inanimate objects–there's Sam's vehicle Carssandra, Zed's stuffed jackalope Aloysius, and their pumpkin nightlight Willoughby–readers meet Bertie and Hyacinth who are Charlotte's relatives, and a pair of treasure seekers called Soraya and Dean (often called Dan by Bertie).

The characters are wacky and the dialogue between them is priceless. It's this humour, including their gaffes that take Night of the Living Zed from mystery to a romping good time. From doing their Halloween-O-ween inspection–and learning Mrs. Gianelli is upgrading from licorice sticks to candy bars–or Gabe explaining to Zed that "i.e." is Latin for "Id est" and they answer, "You dest? What's a 'dest'?"(pg. 80), there's a rich but underlying humour that will make readers smile and laugh out loud. And then there's the mystery. It is not easily solved, neither by Zed and Gabe nor the readers, so we have to hang in through all the ups and downs, and twists and turns, to get our "Aha!" moment.

I know it's a long way off until Halloween–maybe we can look at January as pre-pre-pre-Halloween-O-ween–but a mystery is a great read anytime, and Night of the Living Zed is a great one. With their open heart and enthusiasm for life and for exploring the unknown, Zed can take us and Gabe along on any new adventure they want, ghosts or no ghosts.
The Fabulous Zed Watson (2021)
Night of the Living Zed (2024)

January 15, 2024

Night of the Living Zed: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Join authors

  Basil Sylvester & Kevin Sylvester 
for the launch 
of their newest middle-grade collaboration
sequel to their Governor General Literary Award-nominated book The Fabulous Zed Watson!
HarperCollins Canada, 2021
Night of the Living Zed

Written by Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester
HarperCollins Canada
256 pp.
Ages 8-12
January 2024
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
7:00 -9:00 PM
Another Story Bookshop
315 Roncesvalles Ave. (at Grenadier)
Toronto, ON

If you thought The Fabulous Zed Watson! was a fabulous mystery with lots of twists and turns, then you're going to love Night of the Living Dead as young sleuths Zed and best friend Gabe set out at Halloween to solve the mystery of Glyndebourne Manor. It's a weirdly wonderfully romp through a house filled with opera costumes and magician's props, trap doors and secrets, and ghosts and plenty of laughs.


January 10, 2024

Get Out of Bed! (Revised edition)

Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Dave Whamond
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
January 2024
It's been 25 years since the publication of the original Get Out of Bed!, illustrated by Alan and Lea Daniel. Now Robert Munsch's classic tale of a little girl who won't get out of bed has been revised with new illustrations by author-illustrator and cartoonist of Reality Check, Dave Whamond. Amy still won't get out of bed, but she's got a new landscape and characters to accompany her through dreamland.
From Get Out of Bed!, written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Dave Whamond
After sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch television, Amy will not wake up. Her little brother tries, her father tries, and her mother tries, but all to no avail. What can they do when they must all head to work and school? Well, they transport her and her bed, and the ginger cat, the spotted dog, and a mended stuffed bunny, to the back of her classroom. She might not get out of bed but she's certainly not going to miss school!
From Get Out of Bed!, written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Dave Whamond
Regardless of the principal's efforts to wake her up, Amy continues to sleep, and her class continues to learn. As they do art and play in the gym, eat lunch, and go out for recess, Amy is right there, in her bed and sleeping away. When does she finally wake up? You'll need to read Get Out of Bed! to learn that tidbit.

Robert Munsch's story will be recognizable to anyone who has ever had to try to rouse a child or even an adult whose body is determined to sleep. (After a night of very late, late, late shows and even an early, early, early, early show, Amy's body was ravenous for sleep.) His tale of a child sleeping through the chaos of a family trying to awaken her and of a class proceeding with lessons around and even on her has all the hallmarks of a Robert Munsch story: a smidgen of reality surrounded by over-the-top silliness. And into that silliness feeds Dave Whamond's artwork of craziness. 
From Get Out of Bed!, written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Dave Whamond
Dave Whamond knows how to take silly and elevate it with complexity of person (and animals!) and place. (Just check out his comic strip to see how a mundane interaction between two people becomes something hysterical, especially with commentary, silent and not, from Ralph the Squirrel.) Every detail adds something to the story, whether it's the hamster in the running ball, the cat annoyed with being woken, the stuffed bunny painting a self-portrait in art class–it looks far healthier in the painting!–or the dog sneaking breakfast sausages.  From Amy drooling in her sleep and her mom making breakfast in her PJs, and hockey jerseys, sticks and posters everywhere, Dave Whamond reminds kids and parents that this scene could be played out in just about any Canadian home. Because of that, young readers will look for the details and laugh at the ridiculousness of Amy's situation while knowing exactly how it could happen and maybe even to them. (Imagine worrying that your family would dispose of you and your bed in your classroom for your teacher and classmates to witness. That would be enough to get me out of bed!) The ink and watercolour art gives Get Out of Bed! that comic strip vibe but Dave Whamond knows how to keep it real while giving us the laughs.

Robert Munsch is a Canadian icon for his countless books, often illustrated by different artists. By partnering with Dave Whamond again–previously for Braids!, School Rules!, and Think Big!Robert Munsch's stories are taking on a different flavour. They're still silly and fun but also playful and imaginative. I can't think of a better reason to get out of bed than to be able to read this one.

January 08, 2024

Family Literacy Day 2024: January 27

it will be 25 years since 
the first Family Literacy Day was celebrated.

This day was established to
"raise awareness about the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.

The importance of connecting reading with family 
has been known for a long time, 
and the research proves that encouraging children in reading 
by sharing in their learning
 can make a big difference to their achievement in school.
Help your children be their best by reading with them and encouraging them in reading activities by participating in  
Family Literacy Day 
on January 27th 
and every day of the year.

This year's Honorary Chair is
Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid will be presenting a virtual presentation (via Zoom)
that gets kids involved in making their own art. 
The event is free but you need to register through ABC Life Literacy.

Also, a collection of free resources 
which includes everything 
from posters to an activity book, bookmarks and stories, 
can be found at the 
ABC Life Literacy website

January 05, 2024

Meet Clara Hughes (Scholastic Canada Biography)

Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Mike Deas
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
January 2023
Just out this week is Meet Clara Hughes, the newest addition to Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas's fabulous illustrated book series, Scholastic Canada Biography. They've covered important historical and contemporary figures in Canada, including athletes like Tom Longboat and Willie O'Ree–see the listing below for those titles–who dealt with issues of racism and discrimination. But, by showcasing a contemporary athlete who has dealt with mental health and turned that into advocacy for others, Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas have championed Clara Hughes as much for her athleticism as her good work.

Born in 1972 in Winnipeg, Clara Hughes loved to read, do crafts, cook, ride her bike, and do sports like hockey and ringette. But when things got tough at home, with her parents arguing, Clara acted out, by shoplifting, partying, and staying out all night. Things changed after seeing Gaétan Boucher speed skate at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Taking up speed skating changed everything for Clara, focusing her energy on positive things, working hard, and having fun. As part of her training, she also cycled, and when the province of Manitoba encouraged more women to try that sport, Clara switched, eventually making Canada's cycling team for the 1996 Olympics, and then medalling.
From Meet Clara Hughes, written by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
Still, Clara experienced depression. After she was able to ask for help and find ways to help her cope with her depression, she challenged herself to return to speed skating. By focusing on doing her best and the joy of her pursuits rather than winning, she achieved great success in her sports, becoming the only Canadian who has ever won medals at both the Winter and Summer Olympics.

But Clara Hughes's successes have reached beyond the Olympics and the podia. Her work with Right to Play, an organization that helps kids in conflict zones and poverty learn important life skills through sports, and her mental health awareness advocacy work that includes Bell Canada's Let's Talk campaign have extended her impact beyond her athleticism and into the realm of public service, touching many in ways we might not even understand.
From Meet Clara Hughes, written by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
I'm so delighted that Elizabeth MacLeod chose to showcase Clara Hughes in this latest book of Scholastic Canada Biography. Elizabeth MacLeod has always told the stories of exemplary persons (see the list below) who've achieved much, though sometimes inconspicuously during their lifetimes. They come from a variety of backgrounds, whether in the fields of science, business, the arts, or sports, but their achievements have led them to greater societal impacts than may have been recognized at the time. For many, Clara Hughes is a successful speed skater and cyclist, achieving gold, silver, and bronze medals at multiple Olympics. (In fact, she's the only Olympian to win multiple medals in both winter and summer sports.) But her advocacy work, particularly with regards to raising awareness about mental health, must be recognized as significant, taking discussions about mental illness from inner thoughts and doctors' offices to public forums and educational campaigns. By telling Clara Hughes's story of becoming a successful athlete alongside her challenges with depression and efforts to cope with it, Elizabeth MacLeod has made Clara Hughes more real.
From Meet Clara Hughes, written by Elizabeth MacLeod, illus. by Mike Deas
Because of the complexity of Mike Deas's art, using digital tools with watercolour and gouache paints as well as ink, the illustrations of the Scholastic Canada Biography series always set the right tone. While emphasizing the biographical, showing the Clara Hughes that we all recognize from her Olympic events like carrying the flag at the 2010 Winter Olympics or raising the Canadian flag after a winning race, Mike Deas gives us more than just that which could have been seen in photographs. We also see her hanging out with other troubled teens in a parking lot, overwhelmed by a black cloud of depression as she speaks to her doctor, and finding solace in nature with her partner Peter Guzman. Mike Deas helps us see the child, the athlete, and the advocate, through all her triumphs and her challenges. 
For many, Meet Clara Hughes will give them a new perspective on an athlete whose prowess in cycling and speed skating are just a fraction of her achievements. By going beyond the Olympic medals and showing us how Clara got to be the outstanding athlete and how her personal and sports challenges led her to further accomplishments in mental health education and awareness, Elizabeth MacLeod and Mike Deas have given us the true and complete Clara Hughes.
 • • • • • • •

Scholastic Canada Biography (to date)

Meet Viola Desmond (2018)
Meet Chris Hadfield (2018)
Meet Tom Longboat (2019)
Meet Elsie MacGill (2019)
Meet Willie O'Ree (2020)
Meet Terry Fox (2020)
Meet Thérèse Casgrain (2021)
Meet David Suzuki (2021)
Meet Mary Ann Shadd (2022)
Meet J. Armand Bombardier (2022)
Meet Buffy Sainte-Marie (2023)
Meet Clara Hughes (2024)