August 25, 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

by E. K. Johnston
Dutton Books for Young Readers
978-1-101994580
256 pp.
Ages 12-18
March 2016

It's not unusual for me to add graphic elements to my image of a book cover to enhance it and perhaps provide the reader with a little hint about the book. I could not do that disservice to Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston as the book's emotional story deserves to have its superb cover unadorned by my trivial efforts.  Exit, Pursued by a Bear needs to be left with a starkness that attests to the nature of the story within because
Everything about this is unfair. (pg. 131)
Teen Hermione Winters is off to cheerleading Camp Manitouwabing with best friend and co-captain Polly, boyfriend Leo and the rest of the Fighting Golden Bears, Palermo Heights high school’s squad, along with their coach, Alexandra Caledon.  As she will be entering her senior year after camp, Hermione whose positive attitude is as bright as her future intends to make this, her last cheer camp, the best for all involved. At the first bonfire, when squad captains share what their teams need to overcome, Hermione talks of two curses the school has: that each graduating class, since the death of Clara Abbey in 2006, will lose one person to a drunk driver, and that every year one girl at school gets pregnant.
“…I do think it’s life’s way of reminding us that nothing should be taken for granted, that things might take a turn in ways that aren’t fair or don’t make sense.” (pg. 23)
It’s an amazing camp of hard work, meeting new people and fun, though Leo is in a perpetual cranky mood for the lack of time he gets with Hermione.  Then, at a dance, Hermione is drugged and raped and left in the lake.  Awakening in the hospital, she has to be told what has happened to her because she has no memory of the attack.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is Hermione’s journey of emotions and waiting and introspection and compassion.  Hermione may be a flyer on the cheerleading team but she is fully grounded in herself and her caring of others and what she believes.  As much as she is convinced that she is a changed person when she returns from camp, she truly isn’t.  The rape, and subsequent pregnancy and abortion, and search for the rapist do not change the force that makes Hermione a leader and a flyer.  Even through her sessions with the indomitable Dr. Hutt, Hermione does not come across as traumatized or broken.
That’s the first time I’ve thought of myself as broken.  Polly won’t let me, I don’t think, but everyone else seems to expect it.  And maybe I am.  Maybe this would be easier if I acted like I am broken.  Then they’ll be able to fix me.  You can’t fix something that doesn’t know it’s broken. (pg. 81)
She is hardly self-absorbed–though she should be allowed to be–often worrying about how her trauma is affecting her best friend, her teammates, her parents, her psychiatrist, even the OPP officer that is handling the criminal investigation.

Take a deep breath before you read E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear.  It’s strenuously moving, both dispiriting and uplifting, as Hermione and her team of family, friends and strangers as well as the reader are taken from the trauma of a rape through the healing process, including an unlikely return to the scene of the crime, before tumbling to a finish that is fair and astonishing.

August 23, 2016

Sammy and the Headless Horseman: Book signing (Toronto)

Join award-winning youngCanLit author 
of numerous fiction and non-fiction 
including

The Last Train


On a Canadian Day

and

Courage and Compassion: Ten Canadians Who Made a Difference


Rona Arato


for the release and signing of her newest book


Sammy and the Headless Horseman
by Rona Arato
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
9781554552696
156 pp.
Ages 9-11
May/September 2016

on


Sunday, August 28th, 2016

 2 p m.

 Indigo Yorkdale
Toronto, ON

This middle-grade mystery of historical fiction is described on the publisher's website at http://www.fitzhenry.ca/Detail/1554552699 as follows:

Thanks to his Aunt Pearl, eleven-year-old Sammy is stuck in the Catskill Mountains for the summer with his awful cousin Joshua. While he doesn't relish the idea of getting to know his new stepmom, at least he'd have his gang to hang out with in New York if he got to stay there instead. But when Sammy realizes he was brought on to be hired help at the hotel, he makes the most of it and enjoys bunking with his teenage co-worker, Adam.

Trouble seems to follow Sammy as he becomes entangled in a series of mysterious occurrences, including a terrifying headless horseman who seems to be haunting the reclusive "Hermit" at the top of the neighbouring hill. Sammy and his new friends form a team called "The Ichabods" to crack the mystery.

Set in the early 1920s, after WWI. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

I'll be reviewing Sammy and the Headless Horseman later this week but I thought I give readers in the Toronto area an early heads up (!) about this author event.  I'm sure that it's a book that you won't want to miss.  

August 22, 2016

The Darkest Magic: A Book of Spirits and Thieves, Book 2

by Morgan Rhodes
Razorbill
978-1-59514-761-5
426 pp.
Ages 12+
June 2016


When Morgan Rhodes began this series as a spin-off of her Falling Kingdoms fantasy, I had no idea that it would be even more complicated that that award-winning series. (Read the first four books in that series – Falling Kingdoms, A Rebel Spring, Gathering Darkness, and  Frozen Tides  – and experience the fullness of the high fantasy of Mytica and beyond.) In the first book in this new series, A Book of Spirits and Thieves (Razorbill, 2015), Morgan Rhodes took readers beyond that Falling Kingdoms world and juxtaposed it with our modern one, by creating a complicated story that fused the very best elements of fantasy and parallel worlds.  Well, hold on to your hats (or your cloak's hood) because The Darkest Magic takes the reader into darker worlds in which secrets revealed just beget more secrets and everyone is chasing after something or someone.

In Mytica, Maddox has learned that he is the son of the mortal Barnabas and the immortal Eva, though he’d always been raised to believe Damaris, who is revealed to be Barnabas’s sister, was his mother. After Goran, the henchman of the goddess Valoria, murders Damaris, they are more determined to seek out Valoria’s scribe to learn of her weaknesses.  Unfortunately, Maddox and company arrive just as the scribe, Alsander Verus, is executed by Valoria for treason. Unthwarted, the trio rescue his head which Maddox brings back to life, getting the torso-less scribe to help them by agreeing to reunite his head with his body. Together, Maddox, Barnabas, the witch Liana and Al head (no pun intended) first to central Mytica to seek help from Princess Cassia who lost her inherited throne to the murderous Valoria and then to southern Mytica where Valoria’s sister and nemesis, the immortal goddess Cleiona, regins.

Meanwhile, in modern-day Toronto, Becca Hatcher, who still dreams of her time with Maddox in Mytica, and older sister Crys are hiding out with their mother Julia Hatcher, aunt Jackie Kendall and professor Dr. Uriah Vega at the Yorkville penthouse of Angus Balthazar, magic expert and friend of their aunt Jackie’s.  The group is working to try to decipher the Codex, the book that Valoria calls the Book of the Immortals, in an attempt to foil Markus King’s evil machinations to restore his full magic and ensure his immortality as a death god.  Wait, it gets more complicated.  They realize that Becca, who learns soon enough that she is actually the daughter of Jackie and Markus, is inexplicably linked to the book, painfully wounded when Jackie tries to destroy it. Worse yet, Markus, who ensures obedience from members of the secret Hawkspear Society, is once again exerting control over Crys’s mom as well as upping his influence over rich bad boy Farrell Grayson–weirdly romantically involved with Crys–and putting Crys in more danger.

I haven’t even mentioned the surprising arrival of Damen Winter whose evil intents surpass Markus’s and whose appearance has mortals and immortals clamouring to action in both Toronto and Mytica.

Keeping track of Morgan Rhodes’s characters in Mytica, in Crys’s and Farrell’s worlds, as well as their storylines, is a daunting feat but readers worthy of the challenge will be justly rewarded. As Farrell’s dead brother, Connor, suggests to him, "The higher the price, the better the reward." (pg. 278) So it is with keeping the multitude of plots, relationships and secrets clearly separated whilst they start converging.  The Darkest Magic is a skein of magical plots that occasionally get knotted together but will ultimately be unravelled in true Morgan Rhodes’s fashion.  There is insight and humour,
     Farrell’s not a killer, she reminded herself over and over, like some sort of twisted mantra.  “He’s an asshole, a misogynist, and a spoiled brat,” she allowed out loud, “but he’s not a killer.”
     “Aw, come on.”  The front door clicked shut behind her.  “You shouldn’t give me so many compliments,” Farrell said. “They’re going to go to my head.”
(pg. 331)
and lessons to learn about family and trust and obedience.
You are the master of your destiny.  No one else. (pg. 61)
The Darkest Magic is a full package, a very full package, and one that Morgan Rhodes delivers with poise and skillfulness and imagination. And there’s still Book 3 to come. Perfect.

August 19, 2016

Photography in youngCanLit: A booklist for World Photography Day (August 19)


While numerous books, especially those of non-fiction, feature photographs,  there are many in which characters are engaged in photography or in which photographs move the plot forward.  Here, I've selected a list of picture books, fiction, young adult and non-fiction books in which photography or an image viewer (in the case of Super Duper Monster Viewer), and that includes still photography, digital and video, are key.  Each of these youngCanLit titles deserves to be recognized in this booklist in celebration of World Photography Day, August 19.

PICTURE BOOKS

Finders Keepers for Franklin
by Paulette Bourgeois
Illustrated by Brenda Clark
Kids Can Press
29 pp.
Ages 3-7
1997

Super-Duper Monster Viewer
by Kevin Sylvester
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
2016

Willow’s Smile
by Lana Button
Illustrated by Tania Howells
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
2016







FICTION and YOUNG ADULT

Barry, Boyhound
Andy Spearman
Knopf
230 pp.
Ages 9-12
2005

The Book of Spirits and Thieves
by Morgan Rhodes
Razorbill
358 pp.
Ages 12+
2015

The Darkest Magic (The Book of Spirits and Thieves, Book 2)
by Morgan Rhodes
Razorbill
448 pp.
Ages 12+
2016

Dying to Go Viral
by Sylvia McNicoll
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
251 pp.
Ages 12+
2013



Finding Grace
by Becky Citra
Second Story Press
195 pp.
Ages 9-12
2014

Ghosts of the Pacific
by Philip Roy
Ronsdale Press
251 pp.
Ages 11-14
2011

Grind
by Eric Walters
Orca Book Publishers
100 pp.
Ages 13-15
2004


The Journal
by Lois Donovan
Ronsdale Press
204 pp.
Ages 10+
2015

Jump Cut
by Ted Staunton
Orca Book Publishers
220 pp.
Ages 9-12
2012


Leftovers
by Heather Waldorf
Orca Book Publishers
198 pp.
Ages 12-16
2009

Lights, Camera, Disaster! (Macdonald Hall #6)
by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada
232 pp.
Ages 8-12
2004

Lucky Jonah
by Richard Scrimger
HarperCollinsCanada
223 pp.
Ages 12-14
2016

Mission Mumbai: A  Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets
by Mahtab Narsimhan
Scholastic Press
272 pp.
Ages 9-12
2016

My Life Before Me
by Norah McClintock
Orca Book Publishers
248 pp.
Ages 12+
2015

Nine Doors
by Vicki Grant
Orca Book Publishers
96 pp.
Ages 11-14
2009


Northern Exposures
by Eric Walters
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
208 pp.
Ages 8-12
2008

Picture This
by Norah McClintock
Orca Book Publishers
128 pp.
Ages 12+
2009

RanVan: Magic Nation
by Diana Wieler
Groundwood Books
229 pp.
Ages 13+
1997

The Rule of Thirds (A Pippa Greene Novel)
by Chantel Guertin
ECW Press
192 pp.
Ages 13+
2013

Depth of Field (A Pippa Green Novel)
by Chantel Guertin
ECW Press
208 pp.
Ages 13+
2014

Leading Lines (A Pippa Greene Novel)
by Chantel Guertin
ECW Press
216 pp.
Ages 13+
2015

Scarlet Thunder
by Sigmund Brouwer
Orca Book Publishers
172 pp.
Ages 12-14
2008

Scenes from the Epic Life of a Total Genius
by Stacey Matson
llustrated by Simon Kwan
Scholastic Canada
255 pp.
Ages 10-13
2015

Shooter
by Caroline Pignat
Razorbill Canada
320 pp.
Ages 12+
2016

Thirty-six Exposures
by Kevin Major
Delacorte
154 pp.
Ages 15+
1984


Young Man With Camera
by Emil Sher
Pictures by David Wyman
Scholastic Canada
218 pp.
Ages 13+
2015






NON-FICTION

Beyond Bullets : A Photo Journal of Afghanistan
by Rafal Gerszak  with Dawn Hunter
Annick
128 pp.
Ages 12-15
2011

Canada from Above: A Photo Journey
by Heather Patterson
Scholastic
30 pp.
Ages 9-12
2010

Fantastic Female Filmmakers 
by Suzanne Simoni
Second Story Press
122 pp.
Ages 9-13
2008

It's a Snap!: George Eastman's First Photo
by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
2009

Learn to Speak Film: A Guide to Creating, Promoting & Screening Your Movies
by Michael Glassbourg
Illustrated by Jeff Kulak
Owlkids
96 pp.
Ages 10-13
2013

Photographing Greatness: The Story of Karsh
by Lian Godall
Napoleon
96 pp.
Ages 11-14
2008







Readers of CanLit for LittleCanadians, please let me know of any titles I should add to this list. Thanks.

Ready, set, say Canadian cheddar!


August 17, 2016

All the World a Poem

by Gilles Tibo
Illustrated by Manon Gauthier
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-009-3
32 pp.
Ages 5+
August 2016

The title All the World a Poem, taken from a poem "The Great Voice" by American professor of horticulture Liberty Hyde Bailey, launches an ardent tribute to both poetry and the natural world by award-winning author Gilles Tibo and rising star Manon Gauthier whose artwork recently  enriched the text of Elliot (Julie Pearson, Pajama Press, March 2016).

All the World a Poem is a lyrical odyssey examining the richness of poems in shape and content, place and time, purpose and destination. According to Gilles Tibo’s dreamy text, poetry can be anything and everything, filled with grace and love, both reverent and impassioning.
A poem has fallen from the sky,
slipping from a cloud.
A second has sprouted from the earth
like a rainbow flower.
A third floated in from the sea,
bobbing at the end of the big pier.
I gather up the three poems
and hold them to my heart.
Then I continue my journey
toward the endless country
of verses yet to come.
(pg. 14)
From All the World a Poem
by Gilles Tibo, illus. by Manon Gauthier
The translation from Gilles Tibo’s French Poésies pour la vie (Isatis, 2015) is beautifully rendered by Pajama Press’ own Erin Woods, who also capably gave English voice to Elliot (Pajama Press, 2016).  The text is sublime, a celebration of sounds and rhythms and expressive verse.  And Manon Gauthier again creates her distinctive illustrations of paper collage art that gives texture and whimsy a totally unique look.  The luxuriance of the words and the art is almost overwhelming in its intimate beauty.

All the World a Poem has the lightness and spiritual delicacy that suggests it could take flight. Fortunately, readers will discover that All the World a Poem has effortlessly become tethered by heart strings to our glorious world.
From All the World a Poem 
by Gilles Tibo, illus. by Manon Gauthier

August 16, 2016

Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Tundra Books
978-1-77049-522-7
32 pp.
Ages 6-10
August 2016

Sure everyone is talking about the Tesla car but this is the story of the great inventor who inspired that motor car’s name by devising a multitude of inventions, not the least of which was the alternating current useful for effective distribution of power across great distances.

The extraordinary Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia in 1856 and came to America in 1884 with a dream of finding a job with Thomas Edison, the “electrical wizard” who hired young men to help develop new ideas.  Though Niko Tesla showed astonishing prowess with motors and machinery, astounding even Edison, his idea of a motor that ran on alternating current electricity was discouraged by the famous man who was determined to continue to invest in his direct current systems.

It wasn’t until Tesla met the entrepreneur-engineer George Westinghouse (who founded Westinghouse Electric and Westinghouse Appliances) that he was able to put his ideas into practice.  And, though Thomas Edison waged a nasty smear campaign against Tesla’s efforts, the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago proved to the world that alternating current was the more efficient system of providing electricity.  But it was the realization of Tesla’s dream to build a generator at Niagara Falls that sparked one of his greatest achievements, witnessed by the world in 1895.
From Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge 
by Monica Kulling, illus. by Bill Slavin
Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge is a great story of a young man with dreams and skills that even the malicious machinations of the celebrated Thomas Edison could not encumber.  Monica Kulling focuses on Tesla’s perseverance through repeated complications to stick to his aspirations, demonstrating that good ideas will not die.   It’s a positive message and an inspiring story of determination and engineering brilliance.

I’m saddened that Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge is the final book in the Great Idea Series by Monica Kulling from Tundra Books.  Just as Zap! will undoubtedly do, these illustrated biographies have delighted young readers with the accomplishments of great inventors, from George Eastman to Elijah McCoy, covering cameras, paper bags, household management, the Zamboni, to steam engines, each story providing a glimpse into the lives of those who developed ideas that progressed our worlds in so many ways.  It’s especially gratifying that Bill Slavin, who was the original artist for the first book, It’s A Snap! (Tundra, 2009), has illustrated this final book.  His pen-and-ink artwork, coloured in PhotoShop (see images at http://www.billslavin.com/p/picture-book-illustration.html) enhance the story and bring the series full circle, electrifying Nikola Tesla’s story with a brightness and the authenticity so necessary in illustrated biographies. Congratulations to Monica Kulling and Bill Slavin on this culminating tome, a publishing achievement to rival those of the inventions in the Great Ideas Series.
From Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge
by Monica Kulling, illus. by Bill Slavin

**Please check out Monica Kulling's comment below.  Seems one last book, #10, will be forthcoming.  Yippee!

August 15, 2016

Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby

by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-716-0
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
August 2016

Our dynamic duo of Buddy, the dog, and Earl, the hedgehog, introduced in Buddy and Earl (Groundwood, 2015) and revisited in Buddy and Earl Go Exploring (Groundwood, 2016) have a new adventure afoot when it is announced that Mrs. Cunningham and her baby are coming for a visit.  Meredith, the young girl in the family, seems excited, and the two pets follow suit.  But what’s a baby? Earl questions, and makes all manner of speculation from a mode of transportation to an electrical appliance or something to eat, while Buddy adds his modest knowledge to the discussion.

The arrival of the child leaves them both chagrined as the baby pays no attention to anyone and leaves of swath of destruction as it ambles through the house, tasting, eating, breaking.  A consequent delivery to its cage i.e. playpen has the baby making friends with Earl who then appoints himself guardian when the great big baby escapes to new and wild adventures in bedrooms of snakes and lava and dinosaurs and, the deadliest of all, water.
From Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby 
by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
Buddy’s faithfulness is only surpassed by Earl’s joie de vivre making the two a duo of contrasts and congeniality.  In facing a new encounter, Buddy and Earl work together to understand, mitigate and even appreciate the complication that is the great big baby.  By giving voice to Buddy and Earl and even Meredith as they handle the baby, Maureen Fergus covers a variety of sentiments, recognizing that babies, like pets, aren’t always small and adorable but still “make the world a happier place” (pg. 31).

Again Carey Sookocheff illustrates Buddy and Earl’s adventure with the right feel of simplicity and wonder.  There is sparseness to the artwork that is brilliantly appropriate for a story told from the perspective of a dog and a hedgehog, undoubtedly less concerned with the material excessiveness of our world.  Imaginative play and exploration are emphasized, not things, and Carey Sookocheff makes sure that, with her minimal colour palette and attention to shape and line, Buddy and Earl remain the stars of this story, nothwithstanding a great big baby, that is.

Buddy and Earl 
from Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby 
by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Carey Sookocheff