December 02, 2016

Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol

by Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Werner Zimmerman
North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-4836-8
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
October, 2016

Deck the Halls is Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmerman’s third picture book in their A Canadian Christmas Carol collection in which classic Christmas carols become quintessential Canadian Christmas stories.  The award-winning A Porcupine in a Pine Tree (Scholastic, 2010) was a reworked version of the carol “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and Dashing Through the Snow  (Scholastic, 2014) was based on “Jingle Bells.”  By adding “Deck the Halls” to that repertoire, Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmerman are firmly establishing themselves as the duo that’s making Christmas music Canadian and relevant to Canadian children today.
From Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Werner Zimmerman
Some of the animals characteristic of Canada who first made their appearance in A Porcupine in a Pine Tree have gathered to decorate the house for the holidays and celebrate.  There’s the famous porcupine leading the endeavour with a wreath, the beavers appropriately getting the tree set up, and loons, muskoxen, caribou, bears, raccoons, sled dogs, otters, moose, puffins, squirrels and hockey-playing grey wolves getting up to all kinds of Christmas shenanigans.  There’s the bounty of food, and the warmth of Christmas sweaters, the burning of yule logs, the wrapping of presents and the singing of carols, along with some high-spirited young ones racing around.  With each page and verse, the scene becomes more chaotic and lively and animated.  It’s a Canadian Christmas through and through, with the carol “Deck the Hall” now more Canadian than any version we’ve ever known!

So deck the halls
with boughs of holly,
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.

Make your True North
Christmas jolly!
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! 
From Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Werner Zimmerman
Helaine Becker has created another Canadian classic from a favourite Christmas carol and, with the music appended to her story, I can already hear little ones having Christmas singing fun.  The Australians have their “Six White Boomers” and now we have three of our own Canadian takes on classic carols.  Of course, Werner Zimmerman’s entertaining illustrations bring life to the carol, adding detail and joie de vivre to the fresh lyrics.  There is so much to discover in his illustrations that young readers will be rereading the text–more like singing it over and over again–just to pick out the Sasquatch cradling baby raccoons, or puffins with their Christmas crackers, or the hard-hatted beavers constructing the tree, or the curious otter peering at the napping polar bear. Every page is a delight and will charm small eyes who’ll want to pick out all the Christmas fun being had.  
From Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol 
by Helaine Becker 
illus. by Werner Zimmerman
Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol is the first new release of the season that has Christmas singing in my head and lightening my heart with joy.   Thank you, Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmerman.

November 30, 2016

The Secrets We Keep: Book launch (Toronto)


Deb Loughead

author of 

numerous young adult CanLit


will be launching her newest title


The Secrets We Keep
by Deb Loughead
Dundurn
978-1-459737297
184 pp.
Ages 12-15
December 2016

on

Wednesday December 14th, 2016

7:00 p.m.

at

Harbourfront Centre
Lakeside Terrace


The book is described as follows, on Dundurn's website:
First she blamed herself. Now she doesn’t know who to trust. 
When Kit disappeared at a party and was found drowned in the quarry the next day, Clem knew who to point the finger at: herself. She was the last person to see him alive, the last person who could have helped. If she had just kept a closer eye on him instead of her crush, Jake, maybe Kit would still be here. She knows she made a mistake, and wishes she could just forget about it — but Clem’s friend Ellie says she’ll expose Clem’s secret if she doesn’t play along with Ellie’s lies. 
Jake seems to have his own difficult secrets, and when he and Clem start to talk, they make a plan to help themselves move on. But when an unexpected discovery at the quarry makes everyone question what they thought they knew, Clem and Jake decide it’s up to them to uncover the truth.
Retrieved from https://www.dundurn.com/books/Secrets-We-Keep on November 29, 2016. 

November 29, 2016

Stories of the Aurora

by Joan Marie Galat
Illustrated by Lorna Bennett
Whitecap Books
978-1-77050-210-9
68 pp.
Ages 9-13
November 2016

The magic light show that is the aurora–aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere–has delighted, terrified and perplexed cultures through the world for centuries.  In Stories of the Aurora, her fifth book in the astronomical non-fiction series Dot to Dot in the Sky, Joan Marie Galat provides both the science behind the phenomena and the stories of ancient cultures told to explain them.

In addition to her discussion of plasma, magnetic fields, solar winds and the ionosphere, Joan Marie Galat shares with readers where and when to look for auroras, and how to find them.  But, it’s Joan Marie Galat’s examination of the different links of the aurora stories to the spirit world, including as omens, dancing spirits or fires, and the six stories from various northern cultures that bring a new perspective to a well-explained sky phenomenon.

The Inuit believed that the aurora was associated with the spirits of the dead, perhaps playing a kicking game, and a representation of a level of heaven.  The Norse have a story, here titled Skirnir’s Journey, in which Frey marries the frost giant maiden Gerda and it is their union that brings the lights dancing above the earth. Another Norse legend has the lights produced by the armour and shields of the Valkyries as they race across the sky to do Odin’s bidding.  The Greeks believed that the glowing lights were as a result of the goddess of the dawn, Eos.  The Wabanaki/Algonquin legend The Rainbow Belt relates how a chief follows his often-absent son and enters the Land of the Northern Lights where his son and others don bands around the heads and their waists that shine and stream wild lights as they play a ball game.  Finally, in Land of Eternal Memory, the Mi’kmaq and French-Canadians tell of a young man touched by magic and his beloved fairy wife, saddened by a separation, who are taken to a place where no one forgets those for whom they care.  There they are transformed into the aurora, shaking when they look down upon the Land of Forgetfulness, dancing with the joy of their togetherness. 

Stories of the Aurora is an interesting take on a non-fiction topic, providing both the science and the fiction of the aurora.  While I might have modified the organization of the text and filtered the stories to emphasize the origin tales of the aurora, the book balances the two aspects equitably and provides plenty of information for discussion of the subject.  


If you're in Edmonton this weekend, do go to the book launch for Stories of the Aurora at Telus World of Science.  There's lots going on, including a rocket launch! Details here including where to register for this free event.

November 28, 2016

Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever

by Ruth Ohi
North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-5703-2
32 pp.
Ages 2-7
September 2016

Now that the train of Santa Claus parades has begun and Christmas decorations are splattering front yards and homes throughout the country (yes, I know stores have been on the Christmas bandwagon for months!), it feels right to start reviewing some Christmas-themed books.   With Ruth Ohi’s Fox and Squirrel (Fox and Squirrel, 2013; Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend, 2014) making their own plans for the holidays, this might just get everyone else in the mood too.
From Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever 
by Ruth Ohi
Once the snow comes, the two unlikely friends are definitely excited about Christmas. But while Fox is enjoying playing in the snow, Squirrel is enthusiastically planning colours, foods and starting a tower of evergreen twigs and red berries.  When Fox wants to help, Squirrel emphatically, almost rudely, fends him off, telling him, “Don’t touch! You’ll ruin it.” (pg. 11)

From Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever 
by Ruth Ohi
Squirrel continues to go deeper into the forest, looking for more touches for his Christmas creation, until he realizes he cannot find his way back.  Fortunately, though chastized, Fox continued to try to contribute and was there with his friend to help make their way home.  With an apology and forgiveness, and the partnering of true friends, Fox and Squirrel do make the best Christmas ever.
From Fox and Squirrel, The Best Christmas Ever 
by Ruth Ohi
It’s hard not to love Ruth Ohi’s Fox and Squirrel (actually all her characters). Their eyes beam with joy, their mouths laugh with happiness, and their camaraderie is infectious.  In Fox and Squirrel, the Best Christmas Ever, the two are able to work through the ever-common stress of the holidays and find it’s the gift  of their friendship that makes the season.  This is sweetly conveyed in Ruth Ohi’s words, primarily simple dialogue between Fox and Squirrel, but more so in her cartoon-like illustrations of the two companions.  Their large oval heads with half-faces and bellies of white may be distinct, but it’s the body language and facial expressions that Ruth Ohi communicates with limited strokes that make Fox and Squirrel the lovable creatures they are.  In their watercolour landscapes of snow-covered fields, falling flakes, evergreens, and majestic trunks of bare deciduous trees, Fox and Squirrel exude affection for each other and life, and young readers will feel welcomed to enjoy the snow and the season with the two friends.
 
****************************************

Downloadable activities plus cards and bookmarks are available at Ruth Ohi’s website at http://www.ruthohi.com/fox-and-squirrel-winter-fun

The French-language version, Rikii et Rouquin, Le plus beau Noël (texte français de Josée Leduc) is also available.

November 25, 2016

Book Bloggers: Blessing or Bane?


When I started my blog, CanLit for LittleCanadians, in the fall of 2011, my intent was to promote books for children and young adults written and illustrated by Canadians.  Obviously I thought it was a noble endeavour, one I had supported as a selection committee member for book awards such as the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award and the multitude of readers’ choice awards of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading.  I knew there was a wealth of exceptional literature for Canadian children and young adult readers but I didn’t think enough people shared this knowledge.  As a teacher and teacher-librarian and awards committee member, as well as a volunteer at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, I could shout the praises of youngCanLit but my audience was a limited one of students and parents, other teachers and school and public librarians and anyone whose ear I could bend with my recommendations.  It didn’t seem to be enough.

Sure, there are publications such as Quill & Quire, Canada’s foremost literary magazine, and limited exposés and reviews in other print publications and intermittently on radio and TV  but, with the onset of the internet, it became possible to reach the masses with a few well-placed clicks and tags.  And so, blogging, the frequent sharing of everything and anything, became a tool for the common person and even a non-human or two.  If a message could reach out both spatially, to the far reaches of the world, and temporally, whenever convenient for the recipient rather than just the messenger, how could blogging be anything but positive and constructive?

Most book bloggers organize their blogs as platforms for reviews of books, for announcing book events such as book launches and cover reveals, and for participating in book tours which include interviews, contests, Q & As, and other measures that link readers with the authors and/or illustrators of selected genres or books of interest.   Of course, there are many book blogs that are associated with publishers including 49th Shelf, the outstanding blog of the Association of Canadian Publishers in collaboration with the Canadian Publishers’ Council.  Many authors and illustrators, practical about the need to have an online presence, also have blogs to showcase their works.  But the lowly book blogger is an entity of her own, good and bad.

To examine what book bloggers bring to the story, it’s best to start with the question of why most book bloggers blog.  I know why I blog (see my first paragraph) but I suspect there are many reasons people start book blogs.  Consequently, depending on their mandate and the quality of their reviews, a book blog will either be a blessing to an author or illustrator–hopefully this is the case– or a bane to them.

Here are some reasons I believe book bloggers blog, based on those I’ve read or those with whom I’ve connected:
1. To share their reading and love of great books
2. To connect with authors and illustrators they admire
3. To get free books
4. To get famous
5. To opine on everything and anything
6. To do harm
7. To make money

Reasons 1 and 2 are both valid reasons, supporting authors and illustrators by promoting their books and perhaps stroking their egos occasionally (let’s face it, working along in an office or studio with little feedback does little to boost one’s self-esteem).

Reasons 3 through 7 are concerns for me.  I see reviewers who post photos of themselves with piles and piles of books, calling them their "book hauls."  It’s great to show your appreciation for publishers and writers who share advance readers copies and review copies of their books but calling them a “haul” suggests quantity, not indebtedness.  Think about things that are normally hauled: junk to the dump, heavy boats behind vehicles, criminals before magistrates.  Not an auspicious list.  Calling a collection of books “a haul” does a disservice to the authors, the illustrators, the publishers, and ultimately the readers who really don’t want to hear how you’re amassing books.

Sure, some fashion bloggers and such segue their blogs into celebrity but blogging about books to get famous is akin to writing a book to become a best-selling author.  Nice if it happens but don’t hold your breath.  And definitely not a good enough reason to spend all that time and effort on something on the off-chance you’ll become famous.  Don’t believe me? Name me three celebrity book bloggers. Told you.

Author Paulo Coelho once wrote that “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”  He’s right. Maybe every review I write is my opinion but I like to think that I opine with my heart and pen, not spleen and knife.  I know authors who’ve had to bear scathing reviews that begin with a series of expletives.  Or had to read how their recently-nominated book is garbage.  When did these reviewers feel the need to go beyond sharing their thoughts on books and deem themselves to be the voices of authority in declaring a book to be something less than worthy of publication?

Book bloggers who believe that reviewing a book means “letting ‘er rip” are mistaken.  Some magazines and papers and websites may want reviewers of books, music, food, and stage to stir up controversy with nastiness and innuendo but that isn’t really reviewing.  It’s more like slash-and-burn with someone’s efforts.  Not cool.  Of course, those who are seeking fame are the ones apt to partake in this version of reviewing.  Don’t be fooled.

As for compensation, don’t believe all the hype about making money on your blog. Sure you can agree to a few ads here and there but it’s not going to earn you a regular salary.  If you’re book blogging for a living, I suspect you’ve set yourself up as a charity or are independently wealthy because it is not a money-making venture.  It’s a labour of love.

If a blog is effective, it will create traffic for the blog and for the authors, illustrators and publishers, and sales of the books.  Let’s face it: sales is the bottom line for books.  And if reviews or posts about award nominations and book events bring in more sales of great books, in my case youngCanLit, then I’ve accomplished something good.  Every reader who gets tipped off to a new title or hitherto-unknown author or illustrator benefits from an ever-increasing collection of reading material and source of enlightenment.  Can you say, “Blessing!”?

Though some believe reviews are to help readers with purchases, I've always believed that most people are smart enough to not take all reviews at face value.  Whether it be restaurant reviews or rating sites for teachers, doctors or local services, most people use reviews as guides, not as irrevocable truths.  For me reviewing has always been about sharing.  For that reason, I will continue to review youngCanLit on CanLit for LittleCanadians and I will continue to shout the praises of authors and illustrators whom I believe produce exceptional works.  Some readers will agree with my assessments (I’ve even had my ideas plagiarized) and others will not.  They can leave a comment here (although I do moderate comments to cull out spam and hateful remarks) or write their own blog reviews.  They can even write a review about this article.  Let’s just hope their intentions are good and produce discussion, as I hope most book blogs do.

Stories of the Aurora: Book launch (Edmonton, AB)

Here's a book launch like no other!

Author Joan Marie Galat 

will be launching her fifth and newest title 

in her Dot to Dot in the Sky series



Stories of the Aurora
by Joan Marie Galat
Illustrated by Lorna Bennett
Whitecap Books
978-1-77050-210-9
68 pp.
Ages 9-13
November 2016

on Saturday, December 3, 2016

1:30 p.m.

at Telus World of Science
11211-142 St. NW
Edmonton, AB

In addition to a readingbook signingentertainmentactivitiesrefreshments and door prizes, there will be a rocket launch!

The book, Stories of the Aurora, explains why the northern lights occur; features folklore from the Inuit, Norse, Romans, Mi’kmaq, Wabanaki, and other peoples; and includes back cover comments from a Canadian astronaut, NASA scientist, and CBC's Bob McDonald.


The event is free 
but register at

November 24, 2016

Mittens to Share

by Emil Sher
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-4296-0
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
October 2016

In this study of contrasts (up/down, here/there, cold/warmth), a child enjoying a winter wonderland with a parent loses her blue mitten while sledding, making snow angels, watching a chickadee and creating a snowman.
From Mittens to Share 
by Emil Sher, 
illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Returning to the warmth of their home, the girl searches through the myriad of mittens–doesn't everyone have a mitten box in Canada?–and, with new mittens upon her hands, delves back outdoors to locate that obviously-holed and unravelling mitten and ultimately share it with the world outside.
From Mittens to Share 
by Emil Sher, 
illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Emil Sher's story is a simple one for the winter season and one that even the youngest children will be able to read fluently quickly. (The word count is less than 70 words, many repeated.) Enjoying the wonders of winter and the outdoors is a pleasure for most Canadians, and one that Emil Sher relates through both the child’s and parent's actions.  But it's Irene Luxbacher's art, a blend of dry-rubbed acrylic paint with collage work, that elevates the story to something extraordinary.  The snow is cold and wet, the landscape is magical, the mittens diverse and outrageously clever, and the story comes to life.  As Canadians, we know the story of lost mittens far too well (even as adults) and the shared experience of a lost and found mitten in a setting so familiar creates an tale evocative of winter memories of long ago and today.  With our own wet snow upon the ground here in southern Ontario, I hope that everyone has Mittens to Share with those they love and those who need them.
From Mittens to Share 
by Emil Sher, 
illus. by Irene Luxbacher
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If a French-language edition is more to your liking, Une Mitaine Pour Deux has been released at the same time as Mittens to Share.