Showing posts with label Red Deer Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Red Deer Press. Show all posts

January 22, 2020

Last Words

Written by Leanne Baugh
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-576-9
320 pp.
Ages 13+
2019

"I'm sorry" are the last words that Will Szabo speaks to a stranger on the Lion's Gate Bridge before he jumps to his death, but they are the beginning of a new chapter in sixteen-year-old Claire Winters's life as she struggles to understand his suicide.

Just before he jumped, Will hands Claire his cell phone–complete with passcode taped to the back–and this becomes the focus for Claire's probe into his death. She discovers a suicide note, emails, voice mail, text messages and more that help her reconstruct his life. But learning about the young man just leads her to question the way of the world and what hope there is. In fact, Claire's own life begins to unravel as she delves deeper, causing riffs with her boyfriend Ty, friends Izzy and Declan, and straining her relationships with her parents and older sister Belle who is moving to a group home–Belle has Down Syndrome–while also impacting her passion for painting. She speaks to different people, trying to get advice as to how to proceed, including from Paul, the executive director of a hospice, who suggests that
"Sometimes the best way to get to the other side is to go right through the pain, yelling, kicking, and screaming like a crazed fool." (pg. 173)
Then Claire meets Kiki, a teen with cancer, who sees life as a gift and a challenge that she will not deny and Claire begins to wonder who got it right.

It's not unusual for young people to look at the world and see the good and the bad as extremes. Except for a person like Kiki who is on the cusp of losing her life, many become distressed by break-ups and environmental disasters and changes that compel them to take a different perspective from the one with which they've become comfortable. They're not wrong to be distressed but they might not always see the circumstances in the realm of a big picture that might suggest these situations are not worth ending a life.
"...if there's meaning in life, there also has to be meaning in suffering. They go hand in hand." (pg. 241)
Leanne Baugh does not take sides. She doesn't make Claire seem over-the-top in her pursuit of Will's story or a victim of wrong-place-wrong-time circumstances, though it was unfortunate that Claire had to witness something so shocking. Leanne Baugh could have made Kiki into a saint who fights her illness with valour and perseverance but she doesn't. And she certainly doesn't depict Will as a victim or a young man in control of his own life. The paths for these characters, as are our own, are never set in stone and suggesting otherwise would be unfair. Ultimately, Leanne Baugh twists her plot to enable Claire to see her life and those of Will and Kiki from a different perspective, for good or bad, and recognize that, as Emily Dickinson is quoted, "Hope is the thing with feathers."

November 06, 2019

Larkin on the Shore

Written by Jean Mills
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-577-6
310 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2019
"...her words have stayed with me, just like Jonah's. Words do that. Words spoken and words in books. Words you write. They start to breathe and live and just take over. And right now, I've been taken over by the words of other people–people talking–and I can't find myself or my own words." (pg. 221)
After she is traumatized by something that happened with a boy, Jonah, and ejected from a moving car, sixteen-year-old Larkin Day is sent from her home in Toronto to stay with her grandmother Granne in Tuttle Harbour, Nova Scotia for the summer.  Larkin had managed to finish her Grade 10 exams but the gossip and social media about what happened have left her feeling isolated and unsafe and contemplating the relief of suicide. Her dad decides his mother, a retired principal, would be the best bet for his daughter while he heads to Vancouver to deal with Larkin's mom, a woman addicted to painkillers and bouncing between the unsafe streets and rehab. 

But for Larkin, Granne and Tuttle Harbour are unfamiliar and she must learn to assess every person she meets for sincerity and safety. That includes neighbour Will Greenfield who is helping his dad Billy renovate an old house for Granne into the Tuttle Harbour Café and Reading Room. As Larkin helps Granne with the book donations for the reading room, she deals with her anxiety which tempers her interactions with others, even with nice-guy Will. But when Will takes her to a local campfire with his peers, Larkin meets the gregarious Casey Henwood, his girlfriend Beth and others, and overdoes the drink when "...it tastes so good and goes down easily." (pg. 70). Could she be putting herself in harm's way?

When a fire destroys the back of the café, Casey and Beth and others are quick to point fingers at Will's dad, a recovering alcoholic, who'd apparently once burned down a shed he was building at the Henwood's farm. Hearing the gossip about Billy as well as about Will from Beth, and reflecting on the talk that went on about her after she was injured, Larkin is perplexed about whom to believe or to trust. What's worse is the news coming from her dad about her mother's health situation.  Walking out into the water until the darkness envelopes her or trying to swim out to Prince Edward Island, knowing she'd never make it, continue to overshadow her regular visits to the shore until she starts to live beyond others' words.

Jean Mills, who wrote the Red Maple-nominated Skating Over Thin Ice (Red Deer Press, 2018), knows how to tell a story about dealing with expectations from family, school and self. She gets what it's like to trust and not trust your own feelings and to be confused about how those you care about conduct themselves around you. From an addicted mother to an unfamiliar grandmother and peers that are both charming and deceptive, Larkin must look at every interaction as a potential disaster and possibly harmful. Sadly this is probably not unusual for teens who are trying to understand a world in which they are expected and allowed to take on greater responsibilities but may be unsure whether they have the strength or understanding to meet them. For Larkin, it may not always be evident which is the safe world or the dangerous one, not unlike a shore that borders land and water, but she is developing the courage to choose her heading and a solid intuition about good people that will guide her.

March 19, 2019

The Moon Watched It All: Book launch (Saskatoon, SK)

I may have missed an earlier launch for this book, one at which 
both author Shelley A. Leedahl and illustrator Aino Anto 
were in attendance,

but

here is a second opportunity 
and in a city that generally has fewer book launches than Toronto

so I'm pleased to post about it here.

🌑🌖🌑🌔🌑

Join

author 
Shelley A. Leedahl

for

the Saskatoon launch of

her new picture book

 Written by Shelley A. Leedahl
Illustrated by Aino Anto
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-537-0
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
February 2019


on

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

7 p.m.

at

McNally Robinson Booksellers
Travel Alcove 
3130 8 St. E.
Saskatoon, SK 


🌑🌖🌑🌔🌑

March 18, 2019

The Moon Watched It All

Written by Shelley A. Leedahl
Illustrated by Aino Anto
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-537-0
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
February 2019

The moon may watch over all of us, sometimes only shining light or hiding in the dark, but, like a watchful deity, it is omnipresent, guiding with a subtle beacon for those seeking direction.

An orphaned boy with only vague memories of a woman's voice and a gentle hand survives alone seeking food and clothing wherever and living in the forest. Elsewhere a woman known as Miranda lives in her home near the woods, rocking and talking to the moon.
She praised it, like she once prized her children, in a time before a time that was then.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
After a man brutally chases the boy away–"Get you, Boy"–he runs far away, finding shelter in a chicken coop and food in an adjacent garden. The moon whispers to Miranda of the boy in the garden but it is not until she is ready to invite him inside for better food and shelter that the two become true companions, finding a way to be themselves with each other.

The Moon Watched It All may be marketed for ages five to nine but I think it is an allegory of such depth that it can and should be read beyond those ages. At its foundation, it is a story of an orphan boy, scorned and rejected, who finds a home with a woman alone who talks to the moon. But, in each, they find the family that they have lost.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
Shelley A. Leedahl's intense story may be in prose form but its intensity parallels that of poetry, steeped in the melancholy of Miranda ...
Her face in the moon's unwavering spotlight. She was a lake unruffled, the coal fire's glow. 
... and the isolation and trepidation of the boy.
Night came calling, and he thought of boots, of heels, and the finger-quick hands. He thought of the children with sticks, and villagers who possessed the power to look right through him. The boy held out his own hand, and could not keep it steady.
From The Moon Watched It All by Shelley A. Leedahl, illus. by Aino Anto
There is a stillness of person and place that seeps into the story which is far more extensive in text and lyricism than in books typically for the very young. As such it has a strength of message that is both serene and profound. It bears being read over and over to capture the importance of the text and its voice of solemnity and grace.  I don't know if that comes from Shelley A. Leedahl's skill as a poet but her words lull and inspire and tug and reassure.

The same goes for Aino Anto's illustrations that take the readers through the forest and beneath the moon, watching and waiting as the boy and the woman do. This is Aino Anto's first picture book and her paintings evoke such emotion without indignation at what are sad circumstances for both the boy, whose identity is only that of Boy, and for Miranda, who endures the passage of time rather than biding it for hope. Or that was the situation until they make a family of their own.

I wept for a mother alone and forgotten and a boy ignored and abused. Each alone in their own ways, one speaking to the moon and one living outside in its light. And the moon watched it all as the two come together, as a waxing moon, growing into something important.

December 21, 2018

Kate's Ring

Written by Donna Grassby
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-567-7
276 pp.
Ages 11-15
October 2018

Thirteen-year-old Kate might wish for a ring just as her best friend has–Grace has an heirloom opal ring from her grandmother–but Kate's Ring is bigger than a child's dream to possess something special. That's because Kate's ring is not one of gold or silver but rather one of people and place.

It's the 1920s and Kate lives with her five younger siblings–Michael, David, Lily, Colin and Sarah–and her parents in Whitney Pier on Cape Breton. Though her story begins on a happy note with Poppa taking her out of school on her birthday to join him on his bread deliveries, Kate's story is not one filled with childhood joys. Mamma has consumption and is weak and often resting, while Poppa has started drinking and rarely at home. Sadly, the responsibilities for children and house fall to Kate, who begins to fall behind in school.  While there is family around, including Mamma's mother and siblings, there is much strife especially from Aunt Flora who constantly berates Poppa about his drinking and Mamma who always forgives him his ways and despises her sister's interference.  With Poppa unable to keep a job, he decides to get one logging on the mountain in Margaree, where his parents, Aigneis and Hector, live on a farm without electricity or indoor plumbing. Mamma is thrilled to go, though Aunt Flora convinces her to allow Kate to stay with her and Uncle Will to finish her school year, as on the mountain only Lily and David would be going to school.

For about three months, Kate experiences what it is like to have guardians who take care of her. They feed her, clothe her, love her and worry about her safety. Though her family is never far from her thoughts, she enjoys a real Christmas of family warmth. Then Aigneis insists that Kate join the rest of her family on the mountain as they need her help and her mother misses her.

While her mother promises her that Kate will return to school and not end up in service, Kate wonders how her mother can make such a promise, especially with Mamma feeling worse and praying to never leave the mountain. Though Kate appreciates some aspects of her new life, like learning skills like carding and spinning fleece as well as participating in a céilidh, she is more than ready to return to Whitney Pier when Mamma starts coughing up blood and collapses.

Though Aunt Flora continues to pass along money and food to the family via Kate, things are not much better with Mamma in the hospital. Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse and the family Kate has always known fractures with one tragedy after another. How the family will survive and in what configuration is only resolved through Donna Grassby's poignant storytelling, both heartbreaking and hopeful.

Kate's Ring is not a story of lightness and familial comfort. There are moments of joy, like when Kate's Aunt Flo and Uncle Will gift her with a pair of snowshoes or when she learns how to spin yarn, but Kate's life is more about responsibilities and chores and getting by. Sadly this probably has been the lot of many children whose families have had to deal with illness and financial woes, especially with parents who could not be there for their children because of their own troubles. Still Kate accepts her responsibilities for her siblings and her family without much fuss; instead she just does what is expected and necessary while holding onto a sliver of faith that things will right themselves. Even the  book's cover upholds the idea that sometimes, even when you feel like you're a long way out from the safety of shore, there's more rain to come.

Setting Kate's Ring in 1920s Cape Breton, Donna Grassby makes sure young readers see that childhood was not always about play and school. Sometimes it was whatever was needed to help the family out. And by contrasting life in towns and in rural areas, where you might or might not have electricity and plumbing, where travel happened by horse, car and train, and not all children were fortunate enough to go to school, Donna Grassby embeds that story of loss and hardship in families of different shapes. It's family created, sustained and reconfigured that makes Kate's Ring real for the time and for now.

December 14, 2018

The Birdman

Written by Troon Harrison
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-506-6
48 pp.
Ages 8+
October 2018

While The Birdman is an illustrated biography, more picture book than non-fiction text, similar to several I've reviewed in the last few weeks, the illustrations of François Thisdale, an artist of inimitable skill, blends the realistic with the ethereal and elevates Troon Harrison's story of abolitionist and birder Alexander Milton Ross (1832-1897) from storybook to art book.

From his birth in the town of Belleville, Upper Canada and through his childhood, Alexander Milton Ross was brought up to appreciate and love the outdoors. He probably would have been a naturalist if not for an incident in which his parents gave food and shelter to a group of escaping slaves and the young boy was shocked to learn of the tragedies of their lives while admiring their courage and determination to seek freedom.
Alexander never forgot the suffering he saw in the eyes of those former slaves. He though about how a bird could fly free but a person could be bought and sold, beaten and whipped.
From The Birdman by Troon Harrison, illus. by François Thisdale
Following his mother's belief that "The most worthy ambition is to alleviate people's suffering", Alexander studied to become a doctor, while meeting abolitionists and reading Uncle Tom's Cabin which turned him onto helping slaves reach freedom.  When he finished his medical studies, he travelled to Virginia and Tennessee where he met with slaves secretly to help them on their journeys, including providing them with items needed and teaching them a bird call as a signal to find help. When he became a wanted man for his work, he escaped to Canada, still helping a woman whose slave owner intended to marry her off, and learning firsthand the true terror of escape.
From The Birdman by Troon Harrison, illus. by François Thisdale
But Alexander Milton Ross would not diverted from his mission to help slaves escape to Canada. Now undercover as an ornithologist interested in the collection and classification of birds, Alexander got permission from wealthy plantation owners in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky to roam their lands, giving him the opportunity to secretly talk to the field slaves about the Underground Railroad and provide them with the information needed to flee to safety. He soon became known to all as the Birdman.

Troon Harrison tells multiple anecdotes of Alexander's helping slaves escape as well as the tale of his own imprisonment–he was released when an escaping slave returned claiming that he hadn't escaped but was only late in returning because of a sprained ankle–all supporting Alexander Milton Ross's mother belief that it was important "to leave the world some better than you found it."

Alexander Milton Ross's story is a tense read because of the circumstances of those he intended to help and the danger in which he placed himself. I suspect there are more and more stories from which Troon Harrison could have drawn but, by focusing on the man's beginnings and his love of the natural world to help him achieve much in aid of escaping slaves, his story is well told. And for those who want to learn more about the man, Troon Harrison provides an extensive historical note, timeline and bibliography to help. (I also recommend Caroline Pignat's Governor General award-winning novel in verse The Gospel Truth (Red Deer Press, 2015) in which Alexander Milton Ross plays an integral role.)

Troon Harrison weaves these events about Alexander Milton Ross's life into a compelling narrative of a compassionate man of action while François Thisdale's artwork gives the story depth. Look for the birds on almost every double-spread illustration of an outdoor scene. There's the oriole and the brown thrasher, the bluebird and the killdeer, and many more. They are all flying free or untethered, offering hope of a heaven in a new land where freedom might be found. In a fusion of drawing and painting and digital imagery, François Thisdale melds the natural world with historical realism and enhances the text of Troon Harrison by acknowledging the efforts of abolitionist Alexander Milton Ross while reminding young readers that sometimes courage is needed for worthwhile change to happen.
From The Birdman by Troon Harrison, illus. by François Thisdale

November 26, 2018

The Garden

Written by Meghan Ferrari
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-568-4
109 pp.
Ages 12+
October 2018
Often, he imagines his heart as a stereo, and his pain a volume knob that his memories control. The volume varies, depending on the day, the time, and the trigger. When the trigger is swift and unexpected, it feels as though the bass has been cranked, and a pain that almost blinds him reverberates throughout his entire body. (pg. 26)
While we might assume, incorrectly, that the path from war-torn Syria through refugee camp and immigration to Canada would be in a positive direction, that journey is rife with trauma, loss and changes that may shadow any positives and create stresses in the new experiences. Such is fifteen-year-old Elias's story, told in alternating chapters of pre- and post-immigration to Canada.

Elias lives with his little brother Moussa and his parents, one a doctor and the other a translator, in Syria. He goes to school, plays football and enjoys spending time with his little brother who loves to draw with his crayons. Then the civil war begins and schools are closed because of missile attacks, food is in short supply and humanitarian donations are being targeted. But Elias is most vigilant about keeping little Moussa and himself safe from rebels seeking to capture children for training and arming for war. In a hole dug in their mother's garden, beneath a piece of plywood, the two boys hide, with Elias making up games, like hide and seek or a role play of a jasmine seed planted in hope of growing, to avoid sharing the circumstances of their situation with his very young brother. The garden becomes a refuge for the boys as it has always been for their mother.

Alternating with Elias's reminiscences of life in Syria are his experiences as a new immigrant, wishful of returning to his homeland to help rebuild it while he is being bullied by boys who know nothing of his struggles. Though he is reluctant to make friends, soon two classmates, Sullivan, a small boy often victimized by bullies, and Liling, a girl whose own family sought asylum in Canada, come to support him without needing to know his back story.

But Elias is struggling with guilt, for choices he made and makes, and for circumstances he deems unfair after he and his family seek shelter in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Coupled with the trauma of things no young person should experience, Elias agonizes over how to look forward when it might mean forgetting those he left behind.

The Garden may be Meghan Ferrari's first book but she draws on her expertise in Social Justice Education to tell a convincing tale about one teen's experiences in the Syrian War, in a Lebanese refugee camp and as a new immigrant to Canada. Elias's disquieting realities, living in fear, with memories of the past and with his prospects for the future, are palpable, drenched in grief and trauma.
The people here might have fled the war, but they weren't free. They were imprisoned in this camp while they anxiously awaited verdicts on asylum claims, news of private sponsorships, or the end of the war. As with most prisons, there was solitary confinement. In this one, it existed in the mind–each inmate trapped in memories of loved ones: either dead, or left behind, or gone ahead on the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean Sea. (pg. 90)
Fortunately for Elias, a garden was and is his salvation, taking his story from one of war and loss, and culture shock and bullying, to the beginnings of healing, and Meghan Ferrari makes sure to let us observe Elias on his odyssey.

September 07, 2018

Poetree

Written by Caroline Pignat
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Red Deer Press
978-0-889954922
32 pp.
All ages
June 2018 

When Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale, powerhouses in word and art, come together, you know that the result will be powerful and extraordinary and Poetree is.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
From germinating seed to young shoot and sapling and then flowering and fruiting and more seeds, Caroline Pignat shares intimate glimpses of trees and their communities through the four seasons. For each season, a two-line verse introduces the life activity portrayed. Spring is introduced with...
A sleeping seed begins to grow
     shoots and roots in the ground below. (pg. 2)
Spring is thus announced and given life with acrostic poems about seeds germinating and the onset of roots and shoots, and leaves and flowers. Summer has us feeling the breeze and the rain, and witnessing the promise of a nest (beautifully described as "nature's nursery") and the activity of a variety of insects.  Fall takes us to the bounty of harvest, particularly apples, and the changing colours and falling of leaves. 
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
Though you might be forgiven for expecting the book to end with Winter, which is advanced with...
Beneath a blanket, frosty white,
     the old tree sleeps long winter's night. (pg. 22)
and poems about snow, bareness, exposed rings of fallen trees and snow, it is not the end of Poetree. Caroline Pignat, in her infinite wisdom and artist's eye, knows that ...
Somehow each ending is not the
End,
Even
Death
Scatters new beginnings.
(pg. 31)
I hope Caroline Pignat and François Thisdale will forgive my tardiness in reviewing their elegant book of verse and artistry but I think that Poetree shouldn't be lost in summer reviews when teachers are not necessarily purchasing books for classroom and school libraries. Poetree needs to be in all libraries for lessons on the seasons and acrostic poetry and life cycles in nature and for evoking the beauty of our enduring and fragile environment.

Caroline Pignat has the poet's sensibilities and command of words to convey content and feeling without the verbiage. I recommend any of her books, but particularly her Governor General award-winning YA novel in free verse and my favourite, The Gospel Truth (Red Deer Press, 2014), to relish further the finesse she demonstrates in Poetree. Pairing her verse with the art of award-winning François Thisdale is inspired.  François Thisdale, whose art illustrated picture books including The Stamp Collector (by Jennifer Lanthier, from Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2012) and Missing Nimâmâ (by Melanie Florence, from Clockwise Press, 2015), combines drawing and digital images to produce evocative scenes of fresh landscapes and micro views and underground perspectives. It's inspiriting to see how insignificant humans are–a lone man is occasionally seen in the background–to the unfolding of life in the natural world.
From Poetree by Caroline Pignat, illus. by François Thisdale
A masterful exploration of arboreal life from beginning to end and to new again through the four seasons, Poetree sustains the reader with verse and art as dramatically as the earth does our natural world.

November 13, 2017

The Christmas Wind

Written by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-534-9
32 pp.
All ages
November 2017

The Christmas Wind is special.  It is very, very special.  And I suspect that it will be the Christmas book for this year and many to follow because of its secular telling of the Christmas story without getting bogged down in the religion.
The wind shoved Jo sideways, stealing feeling from her fingers and toes.  It chased her with ghostly moans and creepy shrieks.  The day before Christmas and still no snow.  She should have been glad, but the skinny road seemed colder without it.
Jo and her mother Merry and baby brother Christopher have had to leave a bad situation.  There may not be snow but it is cold and windy and the bus station, their destination, is still a long way away.  The young girl has taken charge, carrying her baby brother and helping her mother who is obviously unwell and weak.  When she realizes they must find shelter immediately but she cannot shoulder the weight of both her mother and the baby, she takes Christopher and heads to the barn of Franklin Murdock, "an old man as unfriendly as the wind."  Cautiously, she approaches, wary of the man who'd turned crusty after the loss of his wife and child, but Jo is determined to be brave and help her family.
From The Christmas Wind 
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
Laying Christopher in a manger amidst the cows and sheep, Jo goes to retrieve her mother.  But when the two return to the barn, the manger is empty.  With a fury and a shovel, Jo heads to the house to confront Mr. Murdock.  But as she berates him and he questions her about why they are in his barn, he offers shelter in his home, first carrying her mother from the cold of his outbuilding.
From The Christmas Wind
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
 illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
As they stepped into the rising storm, the wind blew both ways at once and a path of light from a single star opened before them.  Jo and Murdock found themselves momentarily suspended between where they came from and where they were going, until an eager blast of air hurried them to the house.
Though he provides them shelter in his house, Murdock seems immobilized by grief, their presence a reminder of his own losses on a past Christmas Eve.  Jo will have none of it.  "You can't give up like that." She swept her arm around the room.  "Things won't get better on their own."

From The Christmas Wind
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
How the story ends is secreted away in the glorious final pages of The Christmas Wind.  Suffice it to say that the Christmas wind brings snow and so much more.

Though Stephanie Simpson McLellan touches on the Christmas story with the homeless Josephine, Merry and Christopher, a barn and a manger and a man's name that encompasses the gifts of the magi, The Christmas Wind is not the story of the birth of Christ.  It is a story of compassion and grief and determination and acceptance. Though Brooke Kerrigan's outstanding illustrations suggest another time, perhaps the 1940s, The Christmas Wind is a story for our time.  There is too much misunderstanding and jumping to conclusions and fears about others when we feel vulnerable but it is compassion for others that bridges all that separates us.  Like the wind that carries the family to Mr. Murdock's farm and heralds a new world blanketed in snow, The Christmas Wind portends the need for a deeper meaning to the holidays that should supersede all else.  
From The Christmas Wind 
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
The excerpts I've included above speak to the gift of Stephanie Simpson McLellan's words. They are rich and atmospheric, and deep in spirit.   Partnering her text with Brooke Kerrigan's impressive artwork is inspired.  The softness of the watercolour and pencil of Brooke Kerrigan's images conveys much about the characters' strengths and pains, the briskness of that wind, and the inner shelter of barn and house.  The Christmas Wind is a complete package of words and art about that which is right or should be for the holiday season and always.

I'd like to leave the last words to author Stephanie Simpson McLellan who writes about her book and the meaning of The Christmas Wind to her.
“Some of the classic Christmas stories such as Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express, Susan Wojciechowski’s Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Jean Little’s Room for a Little One and Peter Collington’s A Small Miracle were as integral to our holiday traditions as stockings hung by the fire. I wanted to contribute to that tradition. If you read closely, you’ll see that many elements of the original Christmas story are in The Christmas Wind, but jumbled and thinly disguised, suggesting that we all have the capacity for new beginnings. My young heroine, Jo, is my favourite kind of protagonist – someone who becomes fearless through necessity, squaring off against adversity to create something bigger than herself. She and Murdock are, unexpectedly, exactly what each other needed, enabling each to access the true spirit of the season.”
•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The Christmas Wind Project
Teachers, Stephanie Simpson McLellan has been promoting the Christmas Wind project for several years though the book only launches this fall. You can read all about it on her website at http://stephaniemclellan.com/teachers-corner-3/christmas-wind-story-project/. Stephanie Simpson McLellan describes it as a "unique literacy experiment" with "students from JK-Grade 6 listening to a story in a format akin to an old, serialized radio show."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Book launch
The Christmas Wind launches on Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 1 p.m. at Ella Minnow Children's Bookstore in Toronto.  I will post details soon.

October 23, 2017

How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary

Written by Dawn Green
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-549-3
312 pp.
Ages 13-17
September 2017

The title How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary may sound tongue-in-cheek, but there's nothing whimsical about Dawn Green's newest young adult novel.  It's a serious look at how easily a world can go wrong because of the vision of its leaders and how a relative moderate can become a poster child for a resistance movement.

Told in alternating chapters of "Then" and "Now", How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary follows the story of teen Sam Smart who begins university, determined not to be distracted from her studies or soccer, and meets a guy named Brady Smith–that's the "Then"– and who is apprehended as a rebel leader of the Wright Resistance–that's the "Now."  "Then" was a time of political fervour as the election for the country's president pitted charismatic John King against more socially responsive Richard Wright.  Though light on platforms, King wins on a smear campaign and begins rampant changes to address significant issues of food, water and energy shortages, pandemics and terrorist attacks.  Sadly he also institutes a new King's Guard ostensibly to serve the community but which, under the leadership of King's key advisor, General Marcus O'Brien, joins with the police and the military and becomes a force to be feared.  Sam may want to keep out of these matters, especially as Brady's family is so pro-King and Brady is determined to appease his father, but Kayla, Sam's roommate and best friend, is an ardent support of Wright and encourages Sam to join her at protests and rallies.  
Sam, I want you to remember this––you can let the moments define you, or you can define the moments. (pg. 115)
The world is changing around Sam and she doesn't like what she sees in King's treatment of immigrants, restrictions, and favouritism for the Guard and allies.  Though it is starting to impact her life–a scholarship lost, Brady joining the Guard, TA friend Aaron heading west to work with Wright's Equality Organization–it's not until she and Kayla, who is being sought out after an incident at a peaceful protest turned ugly because of the Guard, attend a football game where shots are fired and bombs go off that Sam is seen as the face of the Resistance and a rebel by King and his Guard.
See, that's what's wrong with this society.  Giving hero status to a girl they don't even know, based on an inflated image with some catchy hashtag underneath. (pg. 158)
Although Sam has come from a difficult background and is fairly opinionated, courtesy of her grandpa, she does not throw herself into the Resistance like Kayla or speak out against Brady's indoctrination into the King politico machine.  Even a photo taken of her at the O2 attack at the stadium is not indicative of her leanings, only her concern for her friend and compassion for others.  That's when it all changes because it's what others see in her that determines her fate.  And yet, she's still the girl in love with Brady Smith.  How Sam, and ultimately Brady, resolve their relationship with their beliefs and their actions, is not straightforward.

Dawn Green, author of When Kacey Left (Red Deer Press, 2015), packs a lot of story into How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary and she tells it with daring. There is a love story, a message about absolute power, about action and inaction in the face of injustice, and how everything can change in a moment and put your life on an unexpected path.  It's also a statement about media and how the powerful may attempt to manipulate it but how others may find ways for the truth to be revealed. In our troubled times, How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary is a very telling tale of how things can go horribly wrong with those seeking absolute power.  Though Dawn Green doesn't give us a happy ending, she gives us hope that the story will continue. Sometimes that's even better.

September 10, 2017

Clutch: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Join

debut author

Heather Camlot

for the release of her middle-grade book

Clutch
Written by Heather Camlot
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-548-6
208 pp.
Ages 8-12
September 2017

on

Thursday, September 14, 2017

at

6:30 p.m.

at

Mabel's Fables
662 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON


From publisher Red Deer Press's website:

It's 1946. A poor Jewish neighbourhood in Montreal where a few dollars equal a fortune, and no matter where you go, you'll find the best home cooking anywhere on earth. It's also a million miles away from the posh mansions on the other side of town. But a 12—year—old boy can hope. 

Just across town something incredible is happening. Jackie Robinson is playing for the Montreal Royals. And he's going to change the world. If Jackie can do it, then so too can a poor Jewish kid from The Plateau. 

Retrieved from https://www.reddeerpress.com/Detail/0889955484 on September 8, 2017.



July 10, 2017

Fatima and the Clementine Thieves

Written by Mireille Messier
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-529-5
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
July 2017

In 2012, Fatima et les voleurs de clémentines was published by Éditions de la Bagnole and it promptly won the 2012 Prix jeunesse de l’Alliance française and was nominated for the 2013 Forest of Reading Tamarac Express award.  Now, five years later, English readers can share in this heartwarming story based on an African proverb that says “When spider webs unite, they can stop elephants.”  It’s a story of a defeat by the small and insignificant of the large and strong and ominous.  It’s a Moroccan spider vs elephant tale and the winners are Fatima and her grandfather and their clementine orchard.
From Fatima and the Clementine Thieves 
by Mireille Messier 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Fatima helps her grandfather in their clementine orchard.  They are looking forward to having enough to take to market so that they can buy fish and pistachios and olives and perhaps a treat of almond paste.  And with her friends, the spiders, keeping the bugs from the trees–she treats them to clementines peeled into flower shapes as a thank-you– Fatima's anticipation is great.

From Fatima and the Clementine Thieves 
by Mireille Messier 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard 
But the young girl and her grandfather awake to broken branches, trampled fruit and even uprooted trees. A nighttime vigil reveals a mother and two baby elephants are the culprits, surprising Fatima's grandfather who declares elephants have not been seen in the area for centuries.  Though they try to scare the animals off with noise and water and even throwing pistachios at them, the elephants continue to do their damage.

Grandfather in his traditional djellaba and turban and belgha slippers seeks out the advice of others in the market, finally relenting to the purchase of a rifle.  But Fatima is sure there has to be a better way to save their clementines.

Fatima enlists the help of her seemingly insignificant spiders–she actually asks them and they agree–to spin a thick wall of spider webs, thwarting the elephants whose way is blocked.
"You have saved the orchard!"
"AND we saved the elephants," adds Fatima, proudly.
"You may be small, but what you have done is very big."
(pg. 29)
The message in Mireille Messier's text is very clear: even the smallest, most insignificant creature can achieve astounding success when united in purpose and working with determination.  By setting the story in a land of clementines and elephants, she has honoured a very African saying and acknowledged the moral without leaving the continent from which it arises.  Fatima and the Clementine Thieves celebrates a culture of which many Canadian children will be unfamiliar but about which they will appreciate learning, especially since they are undoubtedly familiar with daunting tasks.  Learning a new math skill or studying for a test or dealing with family dramas may not be the same as an elephant destroying your clementine orchard but they are all predicaments or stresses one must handle.  As such, children will be able to empathize with the plight of Gabrielle Grimard's Fatima and Grandfather who appear kindly and sympathetic because of her soft artwork that always emotes beyond the page. (Previous reviews of her artwork include When I Was EightNot My Girl, and The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred.)

Fatima and the Clementine Thieves is a feel-good story about problem-solving and triumph and purposeful work. Thank you to Mireille Messier and Gabrielle Grimard for giving all readers a wonderful back story for every clementine we might enjoy in future and for a new illustrated lesson on achieving success with little but determination and a united front.
From Fatima and the Clementine Thieves 
by Mireille Messier 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
🍊🍊🍊🍊🍊🍊🍊🍊

Author Mireille Messier launches Fatima and the Clementine Thieves this Saturday in Toronto.  This free event will take place at the Indigo at Yonge and Eglinton. Details are listed here.

July 08, 2017

Fatima and the Clementine Thieves: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Join author Mireille Messier

for the launch of her newest English-language picture book

the English translation of
Fatima et les voleurs de clémentines
Texte de Mireille Messier
Illustrations de Gabrielle Grimard
Éditions de la Bagnole
2012

Fatima and the Clementine Thieves
Written by Mireille Messier
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-529-5
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
Release July 2017

on

July 15, 2017

11 am - 2 pm

at

Indigo Yonge Eglinton
2300 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON

From Red Deer Press website:
One morning, Fatima and her grandfather wake up to find their clementine orchard savagely ransacked. 
Who could be doing this? 
How can the culprits be stopped?

A little girl faces an ENORMOUS problem. Luckily, Fatima has powerful friends: the spiders!

Retrieved from https://www.reddeerpress.com/Detail/0889955298 on July 7, 2017.

🍊🍊🍊🍊🍊🍊

I will post  my review of this lovely picture book before the launch next week.  Look for it here on CanLit for LittleCanadians.

April 24, 2017

Nathan

Written by Susan Ouriou
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-547-9
152 pp.
Ages 7-12
October 2016

Bullies come in all sizes and ages.  Some are in the past and some in the present but their impact is as damaging as any trauma that can make you feel like you don’t belong or that you are not safe.  In her first middle grade book, Susan Ouriou, best known for her translations (including Pieces of Me; Jane, the Fox and Me; This Side of the Sky), tackles the heavy issue of bullying from different perspectives: a  school bully tormenting young Nathan, the historical trauma of residential schools as experienced by Nathan’s grandfather’s mother, and even the assault of Altzheimer’s on the human spirit.  All are brutal and relentless but there is reconciliation.

It’s summer, and the family is starting to move Grampa from his own home to live with them, and it’s making everyone tense.  Mom acts annoyed and can be downright rude to her father.  Dad just thinks Grampa should go straight into a nursing home.  Grampa isn’t always sure what’s going on but seems resigned to accept it.  And Nathan would do anything to keep his Grampa  as the impressive giant of a man he always was.  Grampa is especially sympathetic when Nathan, who is being bullied by a boy named Adam, is repeatedly accosted by the boy while enjoying outdoors play with a new friend Max.
…no good could come of digging up the past.  All that counted was remembering we come from survivors.  We’re tough.” (pg. 25)
Grampa takes Nathan and Max (and Nathan’s Mom, who knows Grampa should not be driving) to  the museum at the Tsuut´ina Nation to meet Elder Estella who teaches about the impact of European settlement on First Nations.  Nathan learns his great-Gramma had been First Nations and had had to survive living at a residential school, where kids were bullied by adults and didn’t have their parents around to protect them.  

The school year begins and a vicious assault by Adam on Nathan and Max leaves Nathan psychologically impacted and unable to walk and Max moving to another school.  As constant companions, Grampa, whose Alzheimer’s is worsening, and Nathan become the supports they need to survive their personal ordeals and grow stronger because of them.

Though the title suggests a book all about Nathan, it goes far beyond the young boy’s story, being a middle-grade novel dense with emotion and conflict and drama, of family and trauma and First Nations and bullies and history. Susan Ouriou whose interpretation experiences include Edmonton’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as The Banff Centre’s Indigenous Writers Program weaves the past, in terms of the residential schools and the Holocaust of WWII, with the present, and family with community.  Through her characters and the story, she shows us that there were and are many who are “some kind of strong and some kind of brave” (pg. 83) and that includes Nathan whose compassion lets him see Adam beyond a tormentor and Grampa who must live through his own torment while still looking to help others.  Nathan is a story of resilience and courage that bridges generations and offers understanding and even some degree of assurance.

March 14, 2017

Big Blue Forever: The Story of Canada's Largest Blue Whale Skeleton

Written by Anita Miettunen
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-542-4
64 pp.
Ages 8-12
February 2017

When you have a book with "largest" and "skeleton" in its subtitle, children are sure to gravitate to it.  Moreover, for every young reader who loves non-fiction–and sadly there are many who are repeatedly given the impression that only fiction reading counts–and bones and science and real mystery, Big Blue Forever will impress with the breadth of its story and depth of its details.  There's more to this story than just a blue whale washing up on PEI's shore and being reincarnated in a new form over twenty years later.  Big Blue Forever is a story of people's efforts to ensure Big Blue lived on.
From Big Blue Forever 
by Anita Miettunen 
Photo credit  Kim Woolcock
The blue whale is the world's largest mammal and when one washed up on the northwestern coast of PEI in 1987, it must have been an dramatic sight.  Officials made the wise decision to bury her body in the red clay in the hopes that one day it could be excavated for science or education.  In 2007, Big Blue, as she was affectionately named, was rediscovered by a team from UBC, the home of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and the slow and stinky process of recovery, cleaning and reconstruction of the skeleton began.  This is the story that Anita Miettunen tells in story and informational text with photographs documenting all steps in the process.  In addition, she expands on key team members involved in Big Blue's recovery to skeletal display and provides background information about blue whales and threats to their safety, including collisions with ships which probably led to Big Blue's own demise.

By following her own curiosity to enquire about Big Blue's life in the wild, the great whale's death and arrival at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Anita Miettunen brings Big Blue full circle, while educating and connecting young readers with a remarkable animal and those who sought to keep her alive, figuratively. It's an amazing read of tireless efforts and mysteries solved (including a missing fin) with a full cast of characters, including Big Blue herself, and a cautionary tale of impacts on blue whales and other creatures of the sea.  Foremost, Anita Miettunen has proven that it is possible to amalgamate the attributes of story-telling with those of informational text to create a book as substantial as Big Blue herself.
From Big Blue Forever 
by Anita Miettunen 
Photo Credit DFO

December 07, 2016

Saving Stevie

by Eve Richardson
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-540-0
228 pp.
Ages 14-17
November 2016

When her obnoxious older sister Tiff gives birth to Stevie, it's thirteen-year-old Minto who delivers him, so it’s not surprising that the girl feels bonded to the baby.  But when her sister disappears and her mother has an accident that sends her to hospital and rehab, the decision is made to put Stevie in foster care, and Minto refuses to let it happen.  In a planned escape, she packs up two and a half-month-old Stevie in a sling beneath her mother’s winter coat and, with a laundry bag laden with formula, diapers, food and her sketchbook, heads out across a ravine to Shacktown, a menagerie of shelters constructed from dumped garbage.

     I could, this moment, change my mind, go back inside, make it unreal.  And lose Stevie. 
     Or cut, and keep him. (pg. 15)

There Minto asks for shelter from Dawn, an Aboriginal young artist, who lives with her large dog Niijii in the make-shift neighbourhood.  Amidst the odd assortment of characters are the older Ginger and her nineteen-year-old son Matthew; the hyper Palma who speaks of her own baby, Janine, whom she’d given up to care; Palma’s “sister” Cass;  the handsome Damian to whom Minto is attracted; an older, one-armed dump diver Scrap; and a couple of jerks, Lex and Cody.  Everyone has their own way of surviving life on the edge, including prostitution, but Dawn sells her art and encourages Minto in her drawing, helping to sell some of her doodle designs as cards.

When Dawn has to leave to help her suicidal brother, leaving behind Niijii who has appointed himself Stevie’s canine guardian, Minto must ensure she can keep Stevie safe, fed, and clean, a tall order in such precarious circumstances.  When survival is the priority for all, it’s hard to know whom to trust, especially when desperation dictates much.  Too soon Minto learns she’ll have to save Stevie from far more than foster care.

Saving Stevie is a raw initiation into life in the tenuous urban neighbourhoods hidden in plain sight and those who make them their homes.  Minto may be distressed by her situation i.e., the possibility of losing Stevie and feel the need to react by running away with the baby, but she learns soon enough that there are worse places to be.  Eve Richardson pens a story of desperation and action that reveals that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the ravine.  In fact, it’s pretty darn scary, even if there are a few friends around to mitigate the apparent hopelessness. Eve Richardson is especially good at giving Minto voice, a voice that is both young and mature, vulnerable and strong, with her heart and head working together to save Stevie.  As a debut, Saving Stevie is an accomplished story, hopefully a portent of more YA from Eve Richardson whose own voice takes us into places we need to see but rarely do.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

The book launch for Saving Stevie takes places tomorrow in Toronto. Details are posted here.

December 06, 2016

Saving Stevie: Book Launch (Toronto, ON)

Debut YA author

Eve Richardson

will be launching 

her young adult novel

Saving Stevie
by Eve Richardson
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-540-0
228 pp.
Ages 14-17
November 2016

on 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

7 p.m.

at

Mabel's Fables
662 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, ON


Thirteen-year-old Minto's family is in crisis. Minto's older sister has had a baby and immediately abandoned the family and her son. Her father and mother are overwhelmed with the new baby and not coping. When Minton hears discussions about the possibility of turning weeks-old Stevie over to adoption services, Minto must take action and responsibility. She steals away in the night with the baby, some basic supplies and a little bit of money to hide in a shacktown. There are so many problems to deal with — Minto isn't sure she can make this work. But she has to keep trying because the alternative is not acceptable.
Description retrieved December 5, 2016 from Fitzhenry & Whiteside website at http://www.fitzhenry.ca/Detail/0889955409


November 23, 2016

Closing Down Heaven

by Lesley Choyce
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-543-1
176 pp.
Ages 12-17
November 2016

I don't think I ever really felt fully alive
until that moment
I died.

                                                   (pg. 5)
When he wakes up, sixteen-year-old Hunter Callaghan doesn’t actually remember who he is or how he got there. “There” is a soft lawn amidst sunshine and quiet.  A man who says he can be called Archie helps Hunter remember a cycling accident off the beaten path in the woods where the teen had slammed into a rock face and died. Amidst the confusion of what is real and where he is and what he’s supposed to do now,

           More like a beginning
           because what I thought was the end
           (last breath, last heartbeat, famous last thought)
           was just a phase shift
           with                                 as Archie would say
           plenty of options. 
                                                                        (pg. 28)

Hunter is approached by a confused girl he recognizes as Trinity, a former classmate, who’d had problems at home and at school, with guys and with drugs.   Instructed by Archie to be Trinity’s guide, Hunter takes her for dates: bowling, for coffee, and for lunch at their school cafeteria. Learning of her unintentional suicide, Hunter declares that “Let’s be good to each other.” (pg. 59)  But this relationship is short-lived when Archie declares that, because of overcrowding and changes in people’s beliefs, they’re closing down heaven and sending people back.  As such, Hunter awakens badly injured but alive back at the rock face, and rescued, though

          I felt I was missing something.
         Something was not quite right.
         There was something I should be remembering. 
                                                                        (pg. 76)

A nerdy kid at school, Davis Cooper, approaches Hunter, knowing he’d been on the other side by the coppery aura he gives off. But when Hunter takes Davis to meet Trinity, they see an odd blue aura around her, which Hunter suspects is because she hasn’t died yet, and that it's his job to make sure she doesn’t.

The proverb may be that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it seems that there’s a bypass to heaven that uses the same paving material.  Hunter knows his actions have consequences and that free will may trump destiny but situations are not always predictable and Closing Down Heaven is proof of that.

The beauty of a novel in verse that is written well is the compendious use of text rolled into a mellifluous form.  It packs a lot into a little.  It’s a trunk full of novel vacuum-packed into a pannier.  Very few people do it really, really well.  Lesley Choyce has demonstrated in Closing Down Heaven, as he did in Jeremy Stone (Red Deer Press, 2013), that he’s one of them.  Closing Down Heaven takes the reader on a graceful journey between heaven and earth, a road fraught with potholes but some lovely scenery.  Though not exactly a road trip story, Closing Down Heaven is still more about the journey than the destination, the life lived than the one extinguished.  Heaven help those who think otherwise.