January 20, 2017

Julia Vanishes

by Catherine Egan
Alfred A. Knopf
375 pp.
Ages 12-17

I’ve always been on the Catherine Egan-bandwagon, an auspicious venue for readers of fabulous fantasy and struggles in other worlds. The Last Days of Tian Di, her trilogy  (Shade and Sorceress, 2012; The Unmaking, 2013: Bone, Fog, Ash & Star, 2014), took readers to imaginary lands of  Mancers, Faeries and Sorceresses and an exceptional evil vs. good conflict.  But now I’ve joined the ranks of fans of her Witch’s Child series, debuted with Julia Vanishes, who’ve recognized Catherine Egan’s latest high fantasy as something truly special, not unlike Julia herself.

Whilst miscellaneous persons are being murdered and their brains messed with after encountering a mysterious woman and her baby Theo, sixteen-year-old Julia works reconnaissance as the housemaid Ella at the home of the elderly and wealthy Mrs. Och.  After Julia’s mother Ammi was drowned as a witch in one of Prime Minister Agoston Horthy’s ritual Cleansings of those practising outlawed element worship and magic, Julia and her older brother Dek, a great mechanical tinkerer, were taken in by Esme who runs the criminal underworld. As part of Esme’s band of crooks, which includes Gregor and Csilla and Julia’s love interest, the artistic Wyn, Julia has been charged with staking out Mrs. Och’s household from within, watching the lady herself, as well as her guests Professor Baranyi, who had once been in prison for his heretical writings and continues to dabble in mysterious work with his assistant Frederick, and Mr. Darius whose bizarre behaviour and entrapment in the cellar draws her curiosity.  Thankfully Julia has an inane ability to vanish, to be unseen.

There is a space I can step into, a space between being myself in the world and I know not what, where people’s eyes simply pass over me.” (pg. 7)

Julia’s vanishings allow her to learn of Mrs. Och’s smuggling of witches, and of strange experiments on the kind Mr. Darius, and of concerns that the murders and other mysterious goings-on indicate a search for  someone or something.  When Julia reports to their client, Pia, a cagey woman in goggle spectacles, that Mrs. Och has two new house guests, Bianka Betine and her young child, Theo, Julia becomes enmeshed in a dangerous plot that pays phenomenally well but costs her much in self-respect and remorse and leads her to face evil, both inside and out.

It is so easy to get swept up in the world of Spira City (a map is included and necessary) and beyond, a world of magic and subterfuge, witches and immortals.  There is menace and kindness, compassion and cruelty, and the difference is not always clear. Catherine Egan, who knows a few things about writing of evil and villains (see her guest post here), riddles her evocative and atmospheric writing with characters, like Julia, who appear to bridge that continuum of good vs. evil–yes, even Julia has some things of which she is not proud–making them as real as you and me but in a world of fantasy where writings can become wishes and owls can become cats.  Her characters are exceptional for their diversity and natures, and her plotting has the highs of turrets and the depths of dungeons, the twists of secret staircases and darkness, so much darkness.  But it is Catherine Egan’s writing that draws me in so fully.  It’s rich in the textures of shadows and excitement, going far beyond words into realms of new worlds.
A hand jerks his head up by the hair.  A wetness at his forehead, a spreading blackness.  He thinks of struggle, but fleetingly, as if from a great distance–already this sudden, brutal ending has become part of somebody else’s story.” (pg. 28)
When Wyn draws the Twist, he makes all the ugliness, filth, and poverty beautiful somehow–this is his gift, his magic: to transform with love.  And he works his magic on me as well, so that when he touches me, my horrible dress and uncombed hair are nothing, nothing at all to the beauty he draws forth.  I am not the same Julia–motherless, broke, badly dressed, a crook.  In his arms, for a short while at least, I am perfect.” (pg. 87)
From the depths of cruelty to the sublime of love, Catherine Egan writes with a fluid pen and transports readers to worlds where magic is possible. Thankfully Julia Vanishes is but the beginning of that story. Julia Defiant, out in June 2017, will carry us further.

January 18, 2017

Write for a Better World 2017: Contest for Canadian students in Gr. 5-8

World Literacy Canada

presents its annual

for Canadian students in Grades 5-8

This year, the writing theme was created by  
Melanie Florence
(who will also be the final judge)

 author of the award-winning 
Missing Nimâmâ
by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Clockwise Press
32 pp.
Ages 8+

What to do?
Using this story starter, tell what happens next in 400 words or less:
"I remember how I felt when something was stolen from me.  I swore I'd do anything to get it back.  Then, Kateri and her grandmother had someone stolen from them.  Kateri is my best friend and I knew I had to step up and help.  Sometimes a friend just needs a superhero..."

April 1, 2017

Full Details

n.b. A French language version of the contest, Écris pour un monde meilleur, is also available.

January 17, 2017

The Caterpillar Woman

by Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Carolyn Gan
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 7-10

Piujuq was a beautiful woman who loved to dance with the butterflies by the lake. One day she meets a woman with glowing, green-tinged skin who introduces herself as Tarraq and admits she has become lost and separated from her camp.  Wearing only a thin jacket of strange material, Tarraq shivers with cold and asks Piujuq if they could trade coats, to which the kindly Piujuq agrees.  Soon after the stranger leaves, Piujuq realizes her hair has become spiny and her skin has transformed, becoming prickly and fuzzy and green. Not wanting to frighten her family, Piujuq wanders the land before secluding herself in an abandoned tent.

When three men, on a search for wives, come across her, she offers them tea and mends their ripped clothing.  Though she is saddened when they leave, knowing she was not beautiful enough to become one of their wives, one of the men, an older man named Amaruq, returns and declares that she is very kind and he would like to have her as his wife.  The two fall in love and make a good life together, each caring for the other.  When Piujuq asks him to make a drum so that she might once again dance with the butterflies, Amaruq finds an abandoned drumbeater that makes magical music, ultimately transforming both husband and wife.
From The Caterpillar Woman 
by Nadia Sammurtok
illus. by Carolyn Gan
Inuit writer Nadia Sammurtok has written The Caterpillar Woman as a traditional Inuit tale. The legend which has a moral or message about seeing beyond skin-deep beauty is steeped in Inuit traditions from parkas to drums but with the supernatural element of a caterpillar woman and a magical drumbeater. Though the transformation of Piujuq to a caterpillar woman may be somewhat frightening, and Australian artist Carolyn Gan does this creepiness very well, it is Piujuq’s kindness and the inner beauty both she and Amaraq see in each other that uplifts the story to one of magic.  It’s a story of redemption, though had Piujuq and Amaruq never been transfigured to beautiful and youthful, The Caterpillar Woman would still have had a happy ending and a lesson in seeing beyond superficial appearances.

From The Caterpillar Woman 
by Nadia Sammurtok 
illus. by Carolyn Gan

January 16, 2017

The Ferryland Visitor: A mysterious tale

by Charis Cotter
Artwork by Gerald L. Squires
Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides
36 pp.
Ages 7+

This is a mysterious tale but a true one of a visitor to the Ferryland Newfoundland lighthouse taken over by artist Gerald L. Squires, his potter wife and two young daughters, Esther and Meranda, in the early 1970s.  Believe it or not.

They could always see when somebody was coming to visit, because they could see most of the road from the kitchen window–curving through the downs, inching along the narrows, twisting up the hill and disappearing around the corner.” (pg. 6)
The Narrows on the Road to the Ferryland Lighthouse 
by Gerald L. Squires
From The Ferryland Visitor by Charis Cotter
So the family is surprised when a knock on the door heralds a large man in a long black coat and big boots. When he says “Your dog asked me to come in” (pg. 14) it seemed true, as Houndie was more pleased than alarmed by the stranger’s appearance on their doorstep.

A former policeman in Ferryland, the man regaled them with stories, including one about the death of a boy from pneumonia and his wake at the lighthouse.  But when he left, thanking them for their hospitality and acknowledging  “now I know you’ll be good for this lighthouse” (pg. 17), Esther couldn’t spot him on the road.

The next day when visiting  a neighbour on the other side of the hill, Esther and her father tell Arch about their visitor.  After asking a number of questions, Arch reveals that the man sounded like Dick Costello, a constable who had been good friends with the keeper.  But Dick Costello had died twenty years earlier.

The following year, Gerald L. Squires shared the story with the visiting daughter of Dick Costello who, though stunned, confirmed that her dad always said the same thing when he walked into someone’s house: “Your dog asked me to come in.”

The story of The Ferryland Visitor could well be considered a ghost tale, something Charis Cotter, whose own The Swallow: A Ghost Story (Tundra, 2014) won the 2015 IODE Canada Violet Downey Book Award, knows a thing or two about telling well.  But this is a true story, and one that publisher Marnie Parsons recounts hearing upon her own move to Newfoundland with her family.  Still, at its heart, it’s a story of family and community, and using Gerald L. Squires’ own artwork, as well as photographs, brings that sense of place and people to the story’s core.  There’s a feeling of desolation and isolation and expanse, along with surprise and magic, to the landscape and the story, told spookily but straight up.  The Ferryland Visitor is an amazing story for eerie October, the month in which the mysterious visitor came to call, or anytime young readers want to be transported to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and stay for a good yarn.

Dark Cave Under the Light by Gerald L. Squires
From The Ferryland Visitor by Charis Cotter

January 12, 2017

The Best Mistake Mystery: Book launches (Burlington, ON)

Attention young readers who are lovers of dogs and mysteries: 


Sylvia McNicoll
author of over 30 books for children and young adults

for the launch of her new middle grade series

The Great Mistake Mysteries

with Book 1

The Best Mistake Mystery
by Sylvia McNicoll
120 pp.
Ages 9-13
January 2017


Family Literacy Day
Friday, January 27, 2017

1:30 p.m.

Brant Hills Branch, Burlington Public Library
2255 Brant St.
Burlington, ON


Sunday, January 29, 2017

2 p.m.

along with author Deb Loughead
launching her recent young adult book
The Secrets We Keep
 Reviewed here

A Different Drummer Books
513 Locust St.
Burlington, ON

Look for my review of The Best Mistake Mystery next week here on CanLit for LittleCanadians, along with my interview with author Sylvia McNicoll.  But, just to see how much you'll want to read this book and attend one or both of these launches, here is the blurb from publisher Dundurn's website:

Some people count their blessings, but dogwalker Stephen Nobel counts mistakes. 

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building. 
To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name. 
Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? To find out, Stephen will have to count on all of his new friends.

January 11, 2017

Fishing with Grandma

by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 5-7

The beginning of the year is a wonderful time to catch up on hidden gems that I missed last year, especially ones that were released at extraordinarily busy times or at incongruous times, like a winter book in the spring.  To that end, I am so pleased to review Fishing with Grandma, a marvelous picture book that provides a glimpse into Inuit traditions of fishing and food and the important role of female elders in the family and community.

A young boy and his sister go to visit their grandmother, Anaanatsiaq, in search of an adventure.  With the house smelling of bannock, the children playing string games, and their grandmother sewing a sealskin, with her ulu on the ground beside her, the setting will be familiar to many Inuit but eye-opening for many others.  The children ask their anaanatsiaq to take them jigging for fish, a type of fishing the uses a jig or a lure. Their grandmother instructs them how to dress appropriately for the outdoor activity and then loads up the ATV with the appropriate equipment and they're off. While teaching her grandchildren how to test the ice for walking, how to make holes in it, and the movements of the wrist necessary to entice the fish, Anaanatsiaq introduces them to tools such as a tuuq, an ice skimmer, a jigging stick and an ice probe.  But it's the excitement of the sounds of the ravens and other fisher people jigging from their mats and of the sights of fish swimming by, as well as the thrill of the catch that elevates the outing to an adventure.
From Fishing with Grandma 
by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula 
illus. by Charlene Chua

The story of Fishing with Grandma balances the blending of old and contemporary cultures with a special intergenerational relationship, making it a wonderful story for teaching acceptance and cultural competence. I love the children's grandmother, wise in tradition and facility, knowing the right thing to do and with the right tool.  I suspect that Nunavut author Susan Avingaq learned from her own grandmother just as she now would take her own grandchildren fishing and camping to teach them important land skills.  Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula's text of Fishing with Grandma is like Grandma herself, forthcoming without preaching, modelling acceptance and wonder and a joie de vivre.  Illustrator Charlene Chua, whose artwork in Akilak's Adventure (Inhabit Media, 2016) drew much attention, keeps the children's admiration and fascination for their grandmother and the adventure elevated as she does for young readers of the story.  Most importantly, the essence of being Inuit, from going jigging and sharing their catch with the community, is always uppermost in the story's text and illustrations, both teaching and entertaining readers of all cultures.

From Fishing with Grandma 
by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula 
illus. by Charlene Chua

January 10, 2017

Crushing It: Book launch (Hamilton, ON)

The very funny author
 Joanne Levy

who delighted readers with her 
Forest of Reading-nominated 
Small Medium at Large
by Joanne Levy
Bloomsbury Children's Books
193 pp.
Ages 9-13

is back with another funny middle grade read

Crushing It
by Joanne Levy
240 pp.
Ages 9-13
January 2017

which she will launch 


Saturday, January 28, 2017

2-4 p.m.


Hamilton Public Library, Westdale Branch
955 King St. W.
Hamilton, ON

Joanne Levy promises a reading, a Q & A, swag, light refreshments and, of course, books for purchase and signing.

Although I can't share my review of Crushing It yet–read it, loved it, giggled repeatedly–I can reveal that it's a middle grade story of first crushes gone sideways, when twelve-year-old Kat ends up helping her cousin Olivia snare the boy next door, Tyler, who is so not into popularity-craving Olivia and more into Zombie-slashing gamer Kat.  If things can go wrong, they do, but with much hilarity, courtesy of Joanne Levy's funny (ha!ha!, not strange) writing.

The book is out today, though, so you can always purchase it now, read it and then bring it to the launch for an author's signature and some swag. Whatever way you do it, get the book, enjoy the story.