October 16, 2017

2018 Forest of Reading® nominees announced

It's here, it's here, it's finally here.  It's the day that the Ontario Library Association announces the nominees for the 2018 Forest of Reading® programs. Now extending beyond Ontario, even more readers are enjoying new Canadian literature as part of the Forest of Reading® programs which includes the following programs:

  • Blue Spruce™: K to Grade 2 reading level 
  • Silver Birch® Express: Grades 3-4 reading level
  • Silver Birch® Fiction: Grades 5-6 reading level
  • Silver Birch® Non-fiction: Grades 5-6 reading level
  • Red Maple™ Fiction: Grades 7-8 reading level
  • White Pine™ Fiction: Grades 9-12 reading level
  • Le Prix Tamarac: les titres en français
  • Le Prix Tamarac Express: les titres en français
  • Le Prix Peuplier: les albums français

  • These readers' choice award programs invite teachers and librarians (school and public), as well as parents of home-schoolers, to sign up for these programs through the Ontario Library Association. Once you've registered for the programs and purchase the books, young readers will be on their way to voting for their favourites in April.

    With ninety nominated titles, I have presented the nominees in multiple posts on my Awards blog.  See the lists below for nominees for the different programs.

    October 13, 2017

    That Inevitable Victorian Thing: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

    I know it's a little late notice but, if you can, you really must go!

    E. K. Johnston

    YA author 
    extraordinary fantasy, sci fi and more

    is launching her newest book

    That Inevitable Victorian Thing
    Written by E. K. Johnston
    Dutton Books for Young Readers
    336 pp.
    Ages 12+
    October, 2017

    October 13, 2017

    6:30-9:00 p.m.


     Bakka-Phoenix Books
    84 Harbord Street
    Toronto, ON

    Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history. The imperial tradition of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage. But before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer of freedom and privacy in a far corner of empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process.

    Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved not by the cost of blood and theft but by the effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.
    Retrieved from 
    on October 13, 2017.

    October 12, 2017


    Written by Deborah Ellis
    Groundwood Books
    144 pp.
    Ages 10-13
    October 2017

    The premise for Sit is simple.  There are eleven short stories based on chairs and other places upon which the young protagonists sit, rest, work, deliberate, speculate.  Each begins with a name, descriptor of the seat and usually the place.
    Jafar was sitting on a work bench in the furniture factory. (pg. 11) 
    Miyuki was sitting on a tatami in the evacuation centre. (pg. 72) 
    Mike is sitting on his heels on the floor of his cell. (pg. 91)
    Except for two scenarios to which the protagonists return in somewhat different settings, each story is unique.  Still all are touching and deeply personal and insightful about the human condition and humanity, all told based on where we sit and why.

    The first story, The Singing Chair, is the story of Jafar, a young boy who works in a furniture factory in Jakarta in order to pay off his family's debt.  But his life is more than this because after work he attends a school for working children and he is learning to read and write.  Jafar returns in the final story called The Hope Chair which focuses on the school and the overwhelming hope it gives him to write himself a bigger and better story.

    More stories of a contemporary setting but which transport young readers to global locations include an escape from Taliban rule in Afghanistan to an equally reprehensible "safety" (The Hiding Chair) and Miyuki's story of entering the danger zone after the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in order to rescue her mother's donkey (The Glowing Chair).  Still a little different is the story titled The Question Chair in which a Berliner named Gretchen is thrown into intense contemplation about the experiences of the Jewish people and the Germans during World War II after sitting on a toilet at a concentration camp museum outside of Krakow.

    Some stories read as more local but of worlds perhaps unknown to many readers and sadly familiar to others. There is the Mennonite community in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy (The Plain Chair) and a prison in which a young man in solitary confinement finds hope from an anonymous source (The Freedom Chair).  Even The Day-off Chair has a little girl on a street bench trying to find calm in her angry world, one in which harm is expected. The Time-Out Chair, represented by the pink chair with dinosaur on the cover, is the chair to which seven-year-old Macie is relegated for her multitude of "sins" but where she finds solace in her imagining of a forest house. The only other stories in which the protagonists are revisited are The Knowing Chair and The War Chair which focus on children in a family in transition.  From a food court table and chairs to a swing outside the neutral location for the family custody switch, Barry and his little sister Sue are pulled along in their parents' conflict. Regrettably this story may be all too familiar to some children.

    As very different as the stories are in situation, each is a story with a young person struggling either with others or with themselves in order to survive emotionally and/or physically the trials of their lives.  What they learn of others and themselves in the process of sitting is extraordinary.  For Deborah Ellis's young people, sitting is but a starting point for new life stories.  Given the choice of remaining seated, condemned to a suspended existence, or getting up and moving forward, Deborah Ellis's young people choose life in whatever form is available.
    Maybe she would live.  Maybe she would ride a great train of suffering for a long, long time, but there might be one day when that train would stop, and she could have a belly full of food and a face full of sun. (pg. 117)

    October 11, 2017

    Canada 123

    Written and illustrated by Paul Covello
    HarperCollins Canada
    30 pp.
    Ages 2-5
    September 2017

    For little ones who are only discovering that they live in Canada, Canada 123 will take them on a fun romp through the cultural and physical landscapes that define us.  It's fun and comprehensive and bold in colour and message.

    From Canada 123 by Paul Covello
    From the icy landscape of 0 zero degrees, each double-spread shows the number in numerical value and word with an appropriate Canada attribute.  There’s 1 flag, 2 official languages, 3 polar bears, 4 seasons, 5 farms (including crop, dairy and wind), 6 hockey players (diverse in gender and race), 7 geese (yes, Canadian), 8 Mounties (similarly diverse in gender, skin tone and head gear), 9 whales, and 10 sled dogs.  Then Paul Covello jumps to 25 fishing boats, 50 train cars, and 100 snowflakes (there truly are 100).  Finally, the back endpapers sum up Canada in 10 provinces, 3 territories, 1 country.
    From Canada 123 by Paul Covello
    Canada 123 has a little bit of everything that is Canada including urban and rural scenes, Arctic, Pacific and Maritime displays, and sights from across the country.  Paul Covello's illustrations are vibrant and upbeat and dramatic and the lines and textures smooth, perfect for our youngest non-readers and readers.  It's a great introduction to counting and Canada and is a worthwhile addition to my booklist of Canada picture books (which I'll now amend to include this Canada 123).
    From Canada 123 by Paul Covello

    October 09, 2017

    The Theory of Hummingbirds

    Written by Michelle Kadarusman
    Pajama Press
    160 pp.
    Ages 8-12
    September 2017

    Middle-grader Alba has always been defined by Cleo.  Cleo is her left foot, the foot with talipes equinovarus, a deformity formerly known as club foot.  She has endured multiple treatments and restrictions on what she can and cannot do but, with her most recent surgery, Alba is convinced the normalcy she has always craved is almost upon her.  She is sure that, once her cast is removed, she will be able to shed her timekeeper role and run in the year-end cross-country race.
    The idea of being NORMAL hovered ahead of me like a glittering, shining new world–a place that I had never been allowed into.  Somehow I knew that if I could just run in the race like everyone else, it would prove that I deserved to be there–in magical Normal Land. (pg. 48)
    Alba is adamant that she will run and so, when best friend Levi isn't an enthusiastic supporter of her plans–he's wrapped up in proving there's a wormhole in the librarian's office–she lashes out, calling him weird and his ideas stupid.  Even Coach and her doctor caution her about making plans before they see how the foot has healed and how the physiotherapy works.  Sadly, in her efforts to get that normal life, she twists the truth, manipulates her mother and almost loses a friend. She may see herself as fierce but, like the hummingbird of the title, she can be vicious. Alba's story may not turn out as she plans, in a blaze of running glory with new friends, but it's closer than you think, resolving  itself appropriately and ultimately better for Alba, Cleo, Levi and others than expected.  

    Alba is like the hummingbirds of the title.  Most people would see them as delicate creatures, perhaps fragile and vulnerable. But Alba and Levi, hummingbird aficionados, know that the little birds are not always what they seen.  They can be intense, even ferocious, not unlike Alba herself.  While the birds' behaviour is driven by survival, Alba's may be the same, or as she feels it to be so, especially when she doesn't get the reactions she wants or the outcomes she desires.  Fortunately, she gets some valuable guidance from friends and family about appreciating herself and being the best person she can be, regardless of things which might hold her back.

    The Theory of Hummingbirds is Michelle Kadarusman's first middle-grade novel (Her first book, Out of It (Lorimer, 2014), was written for young adults.) and she's made it reader friendly in more than just vocabulary and content.  Her characters are both sensitive and gritty, as the need requires, and neither goody-goody nor reprehensible.  In other words, they are real children with strengths and challenges.  Because she underwent a series of surgical procedures to correct her own congenital talipes equinovarus, Michelle Kadarusman writes from experience.  Hence Alba's determination and drive for normalcy is written with authenticity and reads the same.  If  there's a lesson to learn, it's that seeing the hummingbirds and Alba and Levi and others only one way does a disservice to them and anyone.  We are all far more than our greatest challenge or weakness or even strength.  For that, on this day, we should all be ever thankful.

    October 06, 2017

    The Disappearance

    Written by Gillian Chan
    Annick Press
    197 pp.
    Ages 12+
    September 2017

    The who of the disappearance is Jacob but the why and where and how are answers that the police are  trying to extract from his group home roommate Mike McCallum, a teen who obviously has something to hide and is pleased to do so.  

    It's pretty hard for Mike to stay under everyone's radar.  He's a big guy and his face is massively disfigured after his mother's boyfriend Danny brought a cleaver down on it.  Still Mike's internal scarring, from the death of his little brother Jon by Danny's drunken hand, is far worse.  Taken from his mother, a woman who regrets Danny being in prison, Mike has been in foster care for three years before he ends up at Medlar House.  There amongst the foster kids he meets the enigmatic Jacob, a boy who'd been found beaten up and unconscious in Dundas Valley Conservation Area and rarely speaks and shuts down in body and spirit when overwhelmed.  But when Jacob finally speaks to Mike it is to tell him that Jon has been there and has told Jacob about his death and more.

    As Mike learns the routines of Medlar House and the personalities of the other kids, especially keeping an eye on the vicious Paddy and his lackey Matt, the fearful Adam and the victimized Jacob, he finds his role changing from thug to protector.  In his own way, Mike is trying to right his own wrong i.e., not saving Jon. But before he can really help, Jacob is exposed to far greater danger and horrific bullying that compels Mike to try to find a happy ending for this boy.  What he learns, with the help of Adam, is as mysterious as Jacob himself.

    Without spoiling Gillian Chan's extraordinary plot twist, I can say that The Disappearance includes a supernatural element that has never been handled as eloquently as it has here. It is unexpected and unique and wholly convincing. (I want to share.  Really I do.  But I can't.) Still, even beyond her fantastic plot, Gillian Chan creates rich characters–Mike, Jacob, Adam, Chaz, Paddy, and others–that carry this story of hurts.  What has happened to Mike and Jacob is tragic.  Their lives have been destroyed by vicious and uncaring people whose choices superseded benevolence.  Even the charity granted the boys is tempered by the personalities of those involved: some do-gooders, some lazy, others greedy and some, like Chaz, compassionate and effective.  All they can do is endure and hopefully survive.  Without giving the reader a fairy tale ending of rainbows and sunshine, Gillian Chan resolves the story with realism and justness and the anticipation that sometimes you can save another.


    The launch for The Disappearance is tomorrow in Hamilton.  Do go if you're in the area.  Details are provided here.

    October 05, 2017

    On the Spectrum

    Written by Jennifer Gold
    Second Story Press
    336 pp. 
    Ages 13-18
    September 2017

    The push for books that reflect diversity has been extending more recently to include those with characters on the spectrum or with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as does On the Spectrum.  But, unlike the recently reviewed Slug Days by Sara Leach (Pajama Press, 2017), On the Spectrum takes a different approach, placing the character on the spectrum in a secondary role, as a step-brother to the teen protagonist, thereby providing a different perspective to life on the spectrum. 

    In On the Spectrum, the protagonist Clara is a sixteen-year-old whose issue is orthorexia i.e., an unhealthy preoccupation with how much and what she eats.  After a social media faux pas and the intervention of social workers disturbed by her ballerina mother’s own extreme healthy lifestyle fixation, Clara heads to Paris to spend the summer with her Dad, his new wife Mag and her half-brother Alastair, a six-year-old child on the spectrum.  While visiting Parisian tourist attractions and adhering to Alastair’s routines, Clara begins to learn about her little brother’s behaviours and needs, like his weighted vest and use of noise-cancelling headphones to help him calm, and starts to really care about him.  Conversely, Alastair is learning about his sister, putting together the pieces of what he overhears from his parents’ discussions and interpreting her words and actions, convinced that, though Clara denies it, she must be on a spectrum herself, on an eating disorder spectrum.  Complicating matters for Clara is Alastair’s friendship with Michel, the son of a local baker, who whips up amazing pastries and meals with Alastair and is convinced he can help Clara enjoy food once again.  

    Young adult author Jennifer Gold, whose previous books Soldier Doll (Second Story Press, 2014) and Undiscovered Country (Second Story Press, 2017) have been reviewed on CanLit for LittleCanadians, gives Alastair voice through Clara’s narration; only through his sister’s interpretations do we hear what Alastair says and does.  It’s still a valid voice but it reads very differently from the first-person narrative of Slug Days or Spaghetti is Not a Finger Food (Jodi Carmichael, Little Pickle Press, 2013), both of which are written for younger audiences.  But then again, On the Spectrum is Clara’s story and Alastair is akin to her sidekick who is there to help steer and illuminate her thinking, which he does so effortlessly both about his autism and her issues.  He may be on the titular spectrum but apparently Clara is on one as well.  The spectrum, whatever it may be based upon, is broad, indicating that there is no one way of being autistic or having eating issues.  Even being different is different for everyone, and Jennifer Gold's Clara and Alastair and all those in-between make that abundantly clear.


    (A version of this review was originally written for and paid for by Quill & Quire but space limitations prevented its inclusion in the recent October issue.)