June 27, 2017

Julia Defiant: The Witch's Child Book 2

Written by Catherine Egan
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
464 pp.
Ages 14+
June, 2017

Julia Defiant, the sequel to Catherine Egan's Julia Vanishes (2016), the first book in her Witch's Child series, is as epic a fantasy as all her books.  There are battles of good vs. evil for power but amidst so much deception that it is hard to tell whom to trust, and Julia, who is still blaming herself for her role in the kidnapping of young Theo, doesn't even know if she can trust herself to do the right thing.

The core cast of characters from Julia Vanishes are still aiding and abetting Julia, the Fraynish girl who can vanish as well as  transport herself between locations and into a dark and burning other world called Kahge. Mrs. Och, one of the three immortal Xianren who’d been tasked with guarding and keeping separate the fragments of The Book of Disruption to prevent the overflow of magic, is leading the group in search of a monk named Ko Dan.  It is hoped that they can enlist Ko Dan to undo the magic he used to transfer the fragment of Gennady, another Xianren, into his baby son.   Theo, not yet two, does not know that he is at the centre of it all, with the third Xianren, Casimir, determined to reassemble the book and reestablish their immortality.

Mrs. Och’s plan is for the group to separate in Tianshi, the capital of Yongguo, and learn what they can. Julia resides with Mrs. Och, Theo and the boy’s mother, the witch Bianka, and Frederick the scholar in the modest Nanmu Triangle, while Julia’s brother Dek and her former lover Wyn live in the seedier Dongshui Triangle.  The others, Julia’s thieving compatriots–Esme, Gregor, Csilla–as well as the learned Professor Baranyi, pose as members of an aristocratic household in the Xihuo Triangle.

While their task is simple enough–find Ko Dan and save Theo from the fragment within him–there is much to learn, primarily about and by Julia.  When permission is granted by the grand librarian, Si Tan, for them to visit the Imperial Library, the search is on for clues to Ko Dan’s whereabouts but also, Julie learns when vanished, into Kahge and Julia’s powers.  At the Imperial Library, she is accosted by a witch who works magic on her, flooding her with visions, possibly memories, including one in which her mother worked with a two-spouted pot, similar to one she’d observed in a painting of the witch Marike.  This pot which she later learns is called the Ankh-nu may be a key to Julia’s heritage.

But Julia’s wanderings as she vanishes about Yongguo and into the horrific world of Kahge bring her more questions, though rarely answers.  Who is Lidari and why do the creatures of Kahge call out to Julia with this name?  Who is the Fraynish girl obviously under protection in the monastery?  And the biggest question is: Who can she trust? Mrs. Ochs who seems to want to help Bianka and Theo but shamelessly pulls life forces from Bianka and Frederick to strengthen herself?  The young man Jun to whom she is attracted and who has come to her rescue?  Her brother Dek who is acting less like himself because of the freedoms he now has in Yongguo?  Or Pia, the assassin who sees herself in Julia, knowing how they’ve been treated and the life Julia could have under Casimir’s contract?  Can Julia even trust herself to be there to save Theo when she’s already let him down at least once?

The constraints of a single post for a review of Julia Defiant suggest the story is much less than it is.  This space is far too meagre for me to acquaint the reader with its plot and still find room to applaud it sufficiently.  The plot and myriad of subplots, as well as rich contingent of characters, both of Frayne and Yongguo and Kahge, are too much for these few words.  I desperately want to tell you of Ragg Rock and her bunny; Silver Moya, Count Fournier and Princess Zara; the telling of stories to Theo; Dek’s new life with Ling; adorable Theo as he learns to walk, talk and do magic; and so much more.  This is especially so as it is all told in the opulent prose of Catherine Egan who can make everything sound, read bigger and better and more.
Stars, this boy.  Handsome, mysterious, quick on his feet, and now sweet.  I struggle not to give him a melty look. (pg. 81)
Even crushing on a boy reads powerfully.  This is how Catherine Egan writes. Every word is authoritative and woven with magic to create worlds that may have familiar elements–there is definitely an Asian feel to the world of Yongguo with its names, dress and customs–but are so distinct and extraordinary that nothing compares.  All I can say is that, having introduced Julia in Julia Vanishes, Catherine Egan's second book brings Julia into worlds where she can define herself and her power, so that she is never inconsequential again.  She will only vanish when she so chooses, making Julia Defiant fantastic in more ways than one. 

June 21, 2017

Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons)

Written by Jodi Carmichael 
Illustrated by Sarah Ackerley
Little Pickle Press/Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
152 pp.
Ages 7-10

Though the number of books with characters with ASD is ever increasing (see my abbreviated book list from 2013 here, revised this week), few books are written from the perspective of protagonists on the spectrum, and very few from a preteen's point of view.  Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons) fits that niche and provides an enlightening approach to the thoughts and behaviour of a child with Asperger's Syndrome that will both teach and astound.

Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons) is a story told in 14 lessons (chapters) experienced in one school day by third grader Connor Campbell, a little boy on the spectrum.  Amidst his passion for routines and strict adherence to the rules–except when they go against other rules or his thinking leads him astray–Connor is a boy with much knowledge, insight and perspective, though some students may label him as "weird."  He loves counting and he prefers the blue vinyl chair, not the red one, in the office–sadly he is sent there regularly–and smooth things rather than those with rough or squiggly edges and he adores dogs and dinosaurs and seeing others happy.  Of course, as a child and one with Asperger's, his choices don't always make sense to others, and while he can be rather entertaining, he can be frustrating and frustrated when misunderstood.  Fortunately, Connor gets a chance to show off his knowledge and make things right when a dog gets loose in the school, demonstrating that he has valuable and hidden strengths (even if he does do some silly things like dump spaghetti on his head).
From Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons) 
by Jodi Carmichael 
illus. by Sarah Ackerley
Jodi Carmichael, whose YA book Forever Julia (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2015) took on the heavy issues of anxiety, grief and abusive relationships, switches flawlessly to the voice of a young child with Asperger's (though I guess the switch is actually the other way since Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons) was published in 2013).  Connor's voice is clearly defined, in his head at least, and after a few chapters or lessons, the reader will begin to understand his thought processes and choices.  What Connor's peers and teachers and principal and custodian cannot see or hear is what Jodi Carmichael imparts in his story and it all makes sense.  We might not agree with what he says or does but his lovely resource teacher Mrs. Rosetti helps him and the reader see his day from a different perspective and the path it took and how it could be different the next time.  Connor may be learning that spaghetti is not a finger food but we all learn why he might think it is under certain circumstances and appreciate his unique take on everything from geckos, to library stools and face wrinkles.  Like all of us, Connor is special in his own way and Jodi Carmichael has provided an accessible story about a child with Asperger's Syndrome that will ensure tolerance and compassion in ways that no classroom lesson ever could.

June 20, 2017

Heartwood Hotel: Book launch (Vancouver, BC)

Award-winning children's author

Kallie George

who delights young readers with
her series
Magical Animal Adoption Agency

will be launching her newest children's book series

Heartwood Hotel

with 2 books in one

Heartwood Hotel Book 1: A True Home
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
HarperCollins Canada
176 pp.
Ages 7-10
July 2017

Heartwood Hotel Book 2: The Greatest Gift
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
HarperCollins Canada
176 pp.
Ages 7-10
July 2017


Thursday, July 13, 2017

7 p.m.


2557 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC

The two books are described, on the HarperCollins Canada website, as follows

Downton Abbey meets The Tale of Peter Rabbit in this heartwarming chapter book about a mouse discovering where she belongs.

When Mona the mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes the staff will let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury and comfort. But it’s not all acorn soufflé and soft, moss-lined beds. Danger lurks nearby, and as it approaches, Mona has to use all her wits to protect the place she’s come to love. Because this hotel is more than a warm shelter for the night. It might also be a home.

Follow sweet Mona the mouse and the rest of the Heartwood Hotel staff as they settle in for a relaxing winter—or so they think!

Mona has finally found a place to call home: the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps cozily snuggled up to her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher and the food supplies shrink lower, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help along the way in some of the most unexpected places.

Though Vancouver is impossible for me to visit for this book launch, I look forward to reviewing both books for HarperCollins Canada who sent the book(s) in the most adorable of promotion packages I have ever seen.  See if you don't agree:

It's a box that opens into a hotel room 
(grass bedding, pillows and comforter) 
for a small woodland creature. Too cute!

June 19, 2017

Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones

Written by Susan Hughes
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Owlkids Books
24 pp.
Ages 2-5
April 2017

Susan Hughes is a prolific and award-winning writer of all genres of children’s books, having written picture books (e.g., Earth to Audrey and Maggie McGillicuddy’s Eye for Trouble), early chapter books (e.g., Four Seasons of Patrick, and numerous books in The Puppy Collection), young adult fiction (Virginia) and non-fiction (e.g., Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World and Case Closed: Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science).  But where Susan Hughes excels is in those books which focus on global perspectives and social justice issues, bringing the world a little closer to Canadian children, as she does in Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones.  It’s a warm-hearted but candid look at the common practice of carrying babies in urban and rural settings around the world with cuddly images rendered by paper-collage artist Ashley Barron.

From the onset, Susan Hughes lists which countries will be visited in our global tour of baby transport:
From West Africa to Peru, from
Egypt to Canada’s Far North, from
Korea to India, from Poland to China
and Afghanistan and the place you call
home, all around the world, families
carry their babies in many different
ways.  Come join us and see…
And, with an “Upsy-daisy, baby” our tour begins, taking young readers to familiar and exotic locales, to see a diversity of babies–all adorable!–being bundled in arms, shawls, parkas, carriers, packs, slings, baskets, and carried on hips and shoulders, cradled as the precious cargo they are.  Their caregivers are as diverse as the children including parents, siblings, grandparents, and other relatives of all shapes, ages and colours.  It’s a wonderful collection of familial vignettes from around the world.
From Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones
by Susan Hughes 
illus. by Ashley Barron
The affection for the babies by the caregivers is obvious and Ashley Barron’s cut-paper collages give texture and shape to those expressions of care and adoration.  As in Kyle Goes Alone, the first book I reviewed illustrated by Ashley Barron, the artist is astoundingly adept at cutting the shape of a chubby leg or beard-clasping fingers and depicting angelic and joyous faces of babies who know they are safe and much-loved.  Her details, from the playground in Poland to the twisted turban of the Afghan grandfather and the Indian fruit and textile market, bring the settings of Susan Hughes' text to life, creating a travelogue and personalized context for each baby’s home.
From Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones 
by Susan Hughes 
illus. by Ashley Barron
Susan Hughes and Ashley Barron have created a global story of life and love in Up! and they’ll have you shamelessly oohing and ahhing over these little ones and the care they are given as they are raised Up! into loving arms and hearts.
From Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones 
by Susan Hughes 
illus. by Ashley Barron

June 15, 2017

An African Alphabet: Printmaking Workshop (Toronto, ON)

Artist Sue Todd

who illustrated

Written by Tomson Highway
Illustrated by Sue Todd
Fifth House Publishers
70 pp.
Ages 14-18

is celebrating her newest children's book

An African Alphabet
Written by Eric Walters
Illustrated by Sue Todd
Orca Book Publishers
28 pp.
All ages
March 2017

with a Printmaking Workshop

to be held on

Sunday, June 18, 2017

1-3 p.m.


Indigo Yonge & Eglinton
2300 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON

There will be:
• a demo of Sue Todd's lino-cut illustration technique;
• printmaking activities;
•stamping and colouring activities; and
• books for sale and signing by the illustrator.

 A fun activity for kids and dads on Father’s Day! 
(Mom’s are welcome too!)

June 14, 2017

Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing

Written by Nadia Mike
Illustrated by Amanda Sandland
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2017 

Ukaliq is an Arctic hare and Kalla is a lemming and they are friends, though they are very different.  Ukaliq is energetic and loud and acts before thinking.  On the other hand, Kalla is careful, thinking before he acts and preparing for all circumstances.   When the impetuous Ukaliq disrupts Kalla’s quiet to insist they go fishing, their trip becomes a study in contrasts.
From Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing
by Nadia Mike 
illus. by Amanda Sandland
While Ukaliq is already heading out on his snowmobile, noisily disturbing the char beneath the ice surface, Kalla is thoughtfully preparing snacks and ensuring he has sufficient fuel.  Ukaliq has already been fishing, impatiently yanking on his line by the time Kalla arrives but it is Kalla who quickly catches the first of many fish.  Kalla tries to advise Ukaliq about patience, but the Arctic hare pays him no heed.  Eventually Ukaliq realizes the wisdom of Kalla’s approach, benefiting from the lemming's preparedness and attention to detail in more than a few ways.
From Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing 
by Nadia Mike 
illus. by Amanda Sandland
The lesson in Nadia Mike’s Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing is easily recognizable, making it essentially an Arctic fable about self-control and foresight.  The silly Arctic hare may appear to be the go-getter, but he’s loud, too quick off the mark and exasperating.  It’s the lemming who is shrewd and considerate.  With Amanda Sandland’s cartoon illustrations, the humour in Ukaliq’s brash and inconsiderate behaviour is unmistakable.  I suspect it’s better to laugh at his silliness rather than focus on how futile or dangerous his efforts are.  Kalla, on the other hand, is Yoda-esque, small in stature but big in heart and insight.
From Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing 
by Nadia Mike 
illus. by Amanda Sandland
With Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing, Nadia Mike and Amanda Sandland have created a children’s book that contrasts different personalities and teaches an obvious lesson about being self-possessed and cautious in the unique setting of the Arctic.  Moreover, this lesson is sure to be extended beyond just this book as it is also available in an Inuktitut edition and like another Inhabit Media picture book, The Owl and the Lemming, Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing has become a short (5 min.) film by Taqqut Productions.  
Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing Inuktitut edition

June 13, 2017

2017 Summer Reading List of the Forest Kid Committee

Last week, fifteen children who had been selected from well over 100 applicants of the Forest of Reading attended a full-day session of talking books at the offices of the Ontario Library Association.  Their mission was to compile a summer reading list for readers of Silver Birch and Red Maple reading ages.  These voracious young readers brought recommendations and talked books with their peers and also with guest authors Kevin Sylvester and Vikki VanSickle who attended in person and Gordon Korman and Wesley King who joined the proceedings via Skype.  It was a full day of youngCanLit and the efforts of these amazing young people helped produce this very first list of the Forest Kid Committee.  Enjoy!

Suggested SummeReading List for 
Silver Birch Readers (Ages 9-11)

The Boundless
Written by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
Review here

A Day of Signs and Wonders
Written by Kit Pearson

Dragons vs. Drones
Written by Wesley King

The Girl Who Could Fly
Written by Victoria Forester
Feiwel & Friends

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts
Written by Esta Spalding
Tundra Books
Review here

Written by Melanie Fishbane
Penguin Teen

Written by Kevin Sylvester
Margaret K. McElderry Books

The Road to Ever After
Written by Moira Young
Doubleday Canada

Written by Gordon Korman

We Are All Made of Molecules
Written by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books
Review here

Suggested Summer Reading List
for Red Maple Readers (Ages 12-13)

Bent Not Broken: Madeline & Justin 
Written by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Clockwise Press

Every Hidden Thing
Written by Kenneth Oppel

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley 
Written by Adrienne Kress
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

In Real Life
Written by Cory Doctorow
Illustrated by Jen Wang
First Second

Laura Monster Crusher
Written by Wesley King
Puffin Canada

Written by Kevin Sylvester
Margaret K. McElderry Books

A Month of Mondays
Written by Joëlle Anthony
Second Story Press

Optimists Die First
Written by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books

Written by Gordon Korman

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
Written by Jonathan Auxier
Puffin Canada

Full details, including a listing of the incredible participants in the first ever Forest Kid Committee, can be viewed at the Ontario Library Association website media release here.