April 27, 2017

Short for Chameleon

Written by Vicki Grant
HarperTrophy Canada
242 pp.
Ages 12+
April 2017

Hold onto that funny bone because it will be sprained from overuse if you read Vicki Grant's newest young adult novel Short for Chameleon in one sitting.  Take your time to savour the delicious humour that saturates her writing because, like a great meal, it's over far too quickly.

Cam is short for Cameron and he works with his dad, former sitcom actor William Redden, playing the roles of family members for anyone who'll pay the Almost Family Surrogate Agency.  Apparently the renting of family is not uncommon in some countries like Japan where Dad had tried to revive his failing career.  Now he and Cam and others in their employ shape and dress themselves into whatever the client needs: grieving son and grandson at a funeral; family visitors to prison; eye-candy for a high school reunion; whatever.  But getting recognized would not be good for business.  After all, you can't be remembered as a repeat grieving father and son at multiple grandmothers' funerals.

So when the wheelchair-bound Albertina Legge approaches them at one funeral, identifying them at scammers, Dad is pretty nervous, "sweating like a high-wire walker in a typhoon." (pg. 4) Unbeknownst to Dad, Albertina engages Cam to assist her in some scam-busting, all the while threatening him with revealing their lack of certification for a variety of government health regulations.  At fifteen and a half, Cam is none the wiser to her shenanigans, and goes along with her demands to assist her in investigations of scams upon seniors.  But things become more enticing for Cam when teen Raylene shows up hoping to hire a brother and gets involved as another sidekick of Albertina's.

Albertina's marks include the pharmacist she cons into refilling prescriptions, and the healer and medium Dr. Blaine T. Morley (to whom countless elderly streamed "like a scene from some zombie apocalypse movie, except with fewer missing body parts and more elastic-waist pants"; pg. 51) whose scamming she reveals to a crowd of devotees.  But she's got her sights set on two big scores: one against  a restaurateur named Lorenzo Martinelli whom she recognizes as the former investment cheat Wade Schmidt, and also looking into a young woman named Janie Aikens running the Time of Our Lives Adult Daycare. All the while, Cam is trying to get closer to Raylene, learn about her family and maybe get her interested in him like he is in her.

But like a British farce in which you can't tell who's telling the truth, Short for Chameleon is rife with scammers.  From Cam whose full name seems better suited to Chameleon rather than Cameron, and Raylene who keeps ditching him whenever he gets too close to learning the truth about her, to Albertina who has more than one agenda and doesn't care how she achieves what she wants, because going gently into the night is not an option for her.
"... she seemed a tad too alive–fuchsia lips, hair like Marge Simpson's only in a tasteful shade of tangerine, not to mention a good fifteen inches of wrinkly cleavage that made me think of the mighty Amazon snaking its way down the relief map I made in Mr. Jackman's geography class." (pg. 2)
Like life which is truly bittersweet for most of us, Short for Chameleon highlights the humour and the sadness of reality.  Doesn't matter whether you're a kid, a teen, an adult or an elderly person on the cusp of the end, life is not easy, there always being moments of grief and brightness.  All you can do is hope that sometimes there's someone there with you to share life's load.  (And if there isn't, there's always a rent-a-family agency around the corner to fill the need.  At least there is in Vicki Grant's Short for Chameleon.)

April 26, 2017

Grandfather and the Moon

Written by Stéphanie Lapointe
Illustrated by Rogé
Translated by ShelleyTanaka
Groundwood Books
100 pp.
Ages 10-13
May 2017

Grand-père et la Lune won the 2016 Governor General's Award for French-language children's illustration and Groundwood Books has astutely engaged Shelley Tanaka to bring this jewel as Grandfather and the Moon to English-language readers. It's sensitive and nostalgic and emotive in a finely understated approach, blending a grandfather-granddaughter relationship with an exceptional journey into space.

Though it is evident from the subtle words and illustrations at the onset that the young girl's grandfather has passed, this is her story of how she remembers him.  He affectionately called her Mémère and, though he spoke few words, he said much to her.  He told his granddaughter of his past work, and always insisted she go to university and get her degree.  He drove around in a tank of a Chrysler and loved spaghetti that came out of a can.
From Grandfather and the Moon 
by Stéphanie Lapointe
illus. by Rogé

Life passed through Grandfather
like one long breath.
and slow.

He adored his wife Lucille and was devastated by her death, slipping into a depression of fewer words, "Like his heart ran out of gas." When the Who Will Go to the Moon Contest is announced (though Grandfather hadn't heard of it, since he rarely watched TV, declaring that "Television is something that ends up doing our thinking for us"), the young girl is selected from hundreds of thousands of people for the space journey.

From Grandfather and the Moon 
by Stéphanie Lapointe
illus. by Rogé
After a booming launch, the girl ponders the beauty and silence of space, infusing her deliberations with her perspective on the history of space travel.  Just like the overwhelming emptiness her grandfather endured upon the death of his wife, the girl is staggered by the desolation.  Her response is stunning, to herself and others, but her grandfather in his box of a car is still there for her.

From Grandfather and the Moon
by Stéphanie Lapointe
illus. by Rogé
The relationship between granddaughter and grandfather is everything in Grandfather and the Moon.  There may be an extraordinary trip into space by an ordinary girl but even that does not surpass the profound connection between the two as the most important feature of the book.  Hardly effusive, the two still nurture their relationship as you would a fragile glass sphere, taking care with it but not engulfing it.  And even though I never knew either of my grandfathers, I know this young girl and this man who says so much in his actions and impacts her choices.  This must be a relationship very familiar to author Stéphanie Lapointe as her perspective is so intimate and touched with affection.

Award-winning artist Rogé who has illustrated countless French- and English-language books, his own and those of other authors,  uses pencil to evoke both the delicacy and the transparency of the relationship between the two generations in Grandfather and the Moon.  Moreover, the contemplative nature of the story comes out in Rogé's illustrations, from scenes of Grandfather at Lucille's bedside or the young girl's sojourn into space.  The colours are ever muted, with only glints of red, green or blue like stars in an oppressively darkened sky.  Together Stéphanie Lapointe and Rogé ensure that Grandfather and the Moon is loaded in gravitas in both words and art but with twinkles of humour and sweetness.  Because that's what life is generally like.  

April 25, 2017

2017 Canadian Authors for Indies Day: April 29

Celebrate independent bookstores in Canada
on Saturday, April 29, 2017
with your favourite children's and YA authors 
who will be there volunteering!

Across Canada on Saturday, April 29th, many authors will be volunteering their time to promote independent bookstores.   I know I’m going to miss some of your favourites but here’s a generous smattering of independent bookstores who will be hosting an assortment of authors (children’s, YA and adult) and even providing treats and prizes, if you’re lucky!

As I'm only including the names of authors of children's and young adult books here, PLEASE check with the Authors for Indies website for the complete listing of authors and individual bookstores participating.  Also check the timing of events and schedule for author appearances. As you’ll note, authors may be at several venues during the day and I would hate for you to miss them because of a lack of clarity or detail in my listings.

British Columbia

Armchair Books, Whistler
Susan Juby

Black Bond Books (Central City), Surrey
kc dyer

Black Bond Books, Maple Ridge
Rachelle Delaney
Darren Groth

Black Bond Books (White Rock), Surrey
Cristy Watson (11am -12:30 pm)

Black Bonds Books (Ladner), Delta
Ashley Spires
Darren Groth

Black Bond Books (Surrey), Surrey
Gina McMurchy-Barber (10:00 am - 12:00 pm)
Cristy Watson (1:30 - 2:30 pm)

Book Warehouse Main Street, Vancouver
Kallie George (11 am - 1 pm)
Anita Miettunen (11 am - 1 pm)

Book Warehouse Broadway, Vancouver
Melanie Jackson (11 am -12:30 pm)

Hager Books (Vancouver)
Julie Burtinshaw (11 am - 12 pm)
Anita Miettunen (2 - 3 pm)

KidsBooks, Vancouver
Susin Nielsen (2 - 4 pm)
Ashley Spires (2 - 4 pm)
Charise Mericle Harper (2 - 4 pm)

Munro's Books, Victoria
Julie Lawson
Jordan Stratford

Otter Books, Nelson
Cyndi Sand Eveland (9:30 - 11:30 am)

UBC Bookstore, Vancouver
kc dyer

Audrey’s Books, Edmonton
Lorna Nicholson (11 am - 12 pm)
Kate Boorman (1 - 2 pm)
Marty Chan (2 - 3 pm)

The Bookworm, Sherwood Park
Judith Graves (10 am - 12 pm)
Marty Chan (12 - 1 pm)
Mandy Eve-Barnett (1 - 2 pm)

Shelf Life Books, Calgary
Susan Ouriou (1:30 - 3:30 pm)

SK Books & Collectibles Inc., Regina
Participating but no authors listed at time of posting

Another Story Bookshop, Toronto
Danielle Younge-Ullman 

Backbeat Books & Music, Perth
Roy MacGregor

Bakka Phoenix Books, Toronto
Kate Blair (11:30 am - 1:30 pm)
Leah Bobet (11:30 am - 3 pm)
Megan Crewe (11:30 am - 1:30 pm)
Kristyn Dunnion (12:30 - 2:30 pm)
Kevin Sylvester (3 - 5 pm)

Ben McNally Books, Toronto
Melanie Fishbane (11:30 am - 12:30 pm)
Trilby Kent (2 - 3 pm)

Blue Heron Books, Uxbridge
Heather O'Connor
Ruth Ohi
Susie Berg
Bill Swan 
Linwood Barclay (10 - 11 am)
Bill Freeman (11:30 am - 1:30 pm)
Ann Y.K. Choi (2:30 - 4 pm)

Book City (Bloor West Village), Toronto
Melanie Florence 
Jennifer Maruno 
Linda Granfield 
Sharon Jennings 
Patricia Storms 
Jennifer Lanthier
Deb Loughead 

Book City (Danforth), Toronto
Karen Krossing 
Melanie Fishbane 
Carey Sookocheff 

Book City (Beaches), Toronto
Kevin Sylvester

Book City (Yonge at St. Clair), Toronto
Joyce Grant 
Angela Misri 
Leah Bobet 
Sydney Smith 

BookLore, Orangeville
Shelley Peterson (10 - 11 am)

The Bookshelf, Guelph
Kira Vermond (12 - 1 pm)

Curiosity House, Creemore
Kerry Clare (10 - 11:30 am)

A Different Drummer Bookstore, Burlington
Participating but no authors listed at time of posting but event set for 4:30 - 6 pm

Epic Books, Hamilton
E. Graziani 
Joanne Levy 
Nicola Winstanley 

Forster's Book Garden, Bolton
Kerry Clare 
Peter G. Reynolds 
Mary Scattergood 

Hunter Books, Peterborough
Michael Redhill (3 - 5 pm)

Kent Bookstore, Lindsay
Meaghan McIsaac 

Let's Talk Books, Cobourg
Linwood Barclay

Lighthouse Books, Brighton
Peggy Dymond Leavey (11 am - 1 pm)
Linwood Barclay (2:30 - 3 pm)

Mill Street Books, Almonte
Rick Revelle (2 - 4 pm)

Perfect Books, Ottawa
Amanda West Lewis (3 - 4 pm)

Queen Books, Toronto
Carey Sookocheff (10 - 11 am)
Kevin Sylvester (1 - 2 pm)

Type Books, Toronto
Vikki VanSickle (11 am- 12 pm)
Sydney Smith (1 - 2 pm)
Kenneth Oppel (2 - 3 pm)
Ruth Ohi (3 - 4 pm)

The Box of Delights Bookshop, Wolfville
Jan L. Coates

Lahave River Books, Lahave
Laura Best (1- 2 pm)
Sylvia Gunnery (3 - 4 pm)

Lexicon Books, Lunenburg
Sylvia Gunnery (1 -2 pm)
Kate Inglis (4 - 5 pm)

Woozles, Halifax
Sarah Sawler (10 am - 12 pm)
Tom Ryan (10 - 12 pm)
Meghan Marentette (10 - 12 pm)
Jessica Kerrin (12 - 2 pm)
Melanie Mosher (12 - 2 pm)
L. E. Carmichael (2 - 4 pm)
Ishta Mercurio (2 - 4 pm)
James Leck (2 - 4 pm)

Check out the Authors for Indies website for a listing of all bookstores participating, including the plethora of adult authors I didn't even try to mention and authors and illustrators whose names I don't even know, yet!

Any errors or omissions are completely my own. Please leave a comment if I've made any horrific impossible-to-ignore mistakes that I can resolve promptly.  Thanks.

April 24, 2017


Written by Susan Ouriou
Red Deer Press
152 pp.
Ages 7-12
October 2016

Bullies come in all sizes and ages.  Some are in the past and some in the present but their impact is as damaging as any trauma that can make you feel like you don’t belong or that you are not safe.  In her first middle grade book, Susan Ouriou, best known for her translations (including Pieces of Me; Jane, the Fox and Me; This Side of the Sky), tackles the heavy issue of bullying from different perspectives: a  school bully tormenting young Nathan, the historical trauma of residential schools as experienced by Nathan’s grandfather’s mother, and even the assault of Altzheimer’s on the human spirit.  All are brutal and relentless but there is reconciliation.

It’s summer, and the family is starting to move Grampa from his own home to live with them, and it’s making everyone tense.  Mom acts annoyed and can be downright rude to her father.  Dad just thinks Grampa should go straight into a nursing home.  Grampa isn’t always sure what’s going on but seems resigned to accept it.  And Nathan would do anything to keep his Grampa  as the impressive giant of a man he always was.  Grampa is especially sympathetic when Nathan, who is being bullied by a boy named Adam, is repeatedly accosted by the boy while enjoying outdoors play with a new friend Max.
…no good could come of digging up the past.  All that counted was remembering we come from survivors.  We’re tough.” (pg. 25)
Grampa takes Nathan and Max (and Nathan’s Mom, who knows Grampa should not be driving) to  the museum at the Tsuut´ina Nation to meet Elder Estella who teaches about the impact of European settlement on First Nations.  Nathan learns his great-Gramma had been First Nations and had had to survive living at a residential school, where kids were bullied by adults and didn’t have their parents around to protect them.  

The school year begins and a vicious assault by Adam on Nathan and Max leaves Nathan psychologically impacted and unable to walk and Max moving to another school.  As constant companions, Grampa, whose Alzheimer’s is worsening, and Nathan become the supports they need to survive their personal ordeals and grow stronger because of them.

Though the title suggests a book all about Nathan, it goes far beyond the young boy’s story, being a middle-grade novel dense with emotion and conflict and drama, of family and trauma and First Nations and bullies and history. Susan Ouriou whose interpretation experiences include Edmonton’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as The Banff Centre’s Indigenous Writers Program weaves the past, in terms of the residential schools and the Holocaust of WWII, with the present, and family with community.  Through her characters and the story, she shows us that there were and are many who are “some kind of strong and some kind of brave” (pg. 83) and that includes Nathan whose compassion lets him see Adam beyond a tormentor and Grampa who must live through his own torment while still looking to help others.  Nathan is a story of resilience and courage that bridges generations and offers understanding and even some degree of assurance.

April 21, 2017

Stop Feedin' da Boids!

Written by James Sage
Illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2017

I wish I could review more books illustrated by Pierre Pratt. Unfortunately for me, his illustrations often accompany French-language texts and I am reluctant to reveal my lack of skill reviewing French books.  So, although author James Sage is British, I am delighted to be able to review an English-language text that is fortunate to be illustrated by Montreal's Pierre Pratt, a man whose bio includes copious nominations and awards, including the Governor General Literary Award for Children's Book Illustration, Le Prix TD, Bratislava's Golden Apple Award, and the UNICEF-Bologna Book Fair Illustrator of the Year Award.
From Stop Feedin' da Boids!
by James Sage
illus. by Pierre Pratt
In Stop Feedin' da Boids!, Swanda and her dog Waldo and her family move from the country to Brooklyn.  Though she misses the wildlife, she soon finds herself enamoured with the birds that flock outside their apartment onto the iron fire-escape.
From Stop Feedin' da Boids!
by James Sage
illus. by Pierre Pratt
Providing the birds with a bird feeder, more and more pigeons come to visit, much to the dismay of her neighbours who are displeased with the mess.  Swanda seeks help from so-called experts–a pest control officer, a zookeeper and an exotic bird fancier– but it's not until Lexi from the deli tells Angelo who tells another neighbour who shares with another neighbour and so on and so on the titular advice that Swanda rids the building and neighbourhood of her countless feathered friends. But Swanda's story doesn't end there. A chance sighting and a lot of heart finds Swanda discovering some new wildlife to welcome into her home.
From Stop Feedin' da Boids!
by James Sage
illus. by Pierre Pratt
James Sage weaves a light-hearted story about a little girl who likes animals perhaps a little too much but whose intentions are always charitable.  But it's Pierre Pratt's artwork that provides the context for Swanda's love of animals and the neighbourhood that envelops her.  She is part of her community, whether it be the countryside or a diverse neighbourhood of people, animals and urban life. They are both detailed landscapes of colours and textures, solitude and activity.  Look for the dogs or cats looking out windows, or Mr. Kaminski's two-toned shoes, or the mega-armed bodybuilder.  There's a 1920s feel to the Brooklyn of Stop Feedin' da Boids!, and Pierre Pratt uses strong strokes and bold colours to create a cityscape of tall angled buildings and community of diverse people, all different in size, colour, shape, expression and dress.  It's wild and it's homey.  It's the same style that charmed readers in Gustave (by Rémy Simard, Groundwood, 2014) and No-Matter-What Friend (by Kari-Lynn Winters, Tradewind Books, 2014) by bringing an intensity to the storytelling and readers into the story's setting.

Go ahead and read this one aloud–get that Brooklyn accent right!–but be sure to share the illustrations to get the whole story behind why Swanda should "Stop Feedin' da Boids!"

April 20, 2017

Phoebe Sounds It Out

Written by Julie Zwillich
Illustrated by Denise Holmes
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2017

Too many children like Phoebe avoid that which seems difficult or problematic especially in school.  So it’s not surprising that the young girl would prefer to play with her rain boots and a pencil rather than practise writing her name as instructed by the teacher.  Even though she has her name written on her backpack to use as a guide, she knows the letters don’t match the sounds that she is able to distinguish in her name. (Her Mama must have made a mistake.)
From Phoebe Sounds It Out
by Julie Zwillich 
illus. by Denise Holmes
So, Phoebe carefully chooses the sounds and letters that would make sense in her name and, for a child in kindergarten, she is absolutely en pointe!  She’s not copying her name out; she’s sounding it out and spelling it as the sounds dictate.  Moreover, she’s led by her heart to use letters that fit but still she chooses those that might have special meaning or add a little something extra like companionship for lonely letters.
Maybe she could borrow the letter that was at the end of Nicky’s name.  It sounded right.  Nicky wouldn’t mind.”
And though her teacher could chastize Phoebe for incorrectly spelling her name, she instead celebrates all the children’s attempts with glitter glue and a clothespin display for all to enjoy.

From Phoebe Sounds It Out
by Julie Zwillich
illus. by Denise Holmes
Julie Zwillich’s picture book is based on a very familiar premise though not all teachers and parents would recognize it as so or be as accommodating as the children’s teacher Ms. Martha.  As daunting a task as writing your name for the first time, so is reading. Imagine needing to decipher letters before you can even put the sounds together to form words.  Still the story is very straightforward and told in an uncomplicated text so that young children just learning to read will want to attempt to decipher the words, especially since they’ll see themselves within Phoebe’s story.  Everyone is in this book, courtesy of illustrator Denise Holmes who creates a diverse class with students of different races, ethnicities, abilities and challenges, whether they be eyesight or mobility or spelling.  Judging by the names of students displayed (looks like there’s a Lakshmi, Maria, Finch, Ali, Aaron, Miguel, Hazel, Sam, Nicky, June and, of course, Phoebe), Ms. Martha’s classroom is wonderfully rich in diversity, inviting readers to empathize with her students and  respond to Phoebe’s circumstances with understanding.

There’s a wonderful Teachers’ Guide for download that encourages  activities with reading comprehension, writing, and the alphabet, but just reading Phoebe Sounds It Out will suffice to foster discussions about trying and making mistakes as a part of learning.

April 19, 2017

Water's Children: Celebrating the resource that unites us all

Written by Angèle Delaunois
Illustrated by Gérard Frischeteau
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2017

Of course water is important.  Everyone knows it is the basis for life.  But water is so, so much more than just the liquid that sustains life. It enriches, energizes, moves, alters and drenches and Water’s Children is truly a celebration of that life force in a global context.

From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
Quebec author, visual artist and publisher Angèle Delaunois takes the reader across the world to witness the importance of water to the children of different countries.  Each child describes their experiences with getting water, using water, and what water represents, with a final summation statement.  Canada is represented by two spreads, one from Quebec and one from Nunavut, both which speak in terms of what is most familiar to young  Canadian readers.

For me, water is everywhere:
the tap that I turn on without thinking,
the bathtub full of bubbles,
the sprinkler that greens the grass,
the lake that summons us for vacation fun.
For me, water is a burst of laughter. (pg. 7)

For me, water is winter:
the ocean and the river trapped beneath the ice,
the snowflakes that blur the horizon where earth becomes sky,
the frost that whitens my lashes,
the solitude and silence of the long polar night.
For me, water is a perfect crystal of snow. (pg. 8)

While other texts and illustrations will be familiar or at least obvious such as the Russian child of a fishing village and the rain experienced by an urban child in Germany, many spreads will rouse thoughtful discussions of unfamiliar depictions of water.  There’s the flooded lands after a dam is built, the Brazilian rainforest, the orange groves on lands that were once desert, and water trucks in Mauritania.  Imagine worlds in which water is  “an outstretched hand” or “a cup of mint tea.”  The ultimate word goes to an unborn child for whom “water is the song of my mother” and who speaks for the world declaring that “For me, for all of us, water is a matter of life.

From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
The artwork of Montreal animator, graphic artist and illustrator Gérard Frischeteau rings with authenticity, depicting each global child in both personal and expansive landscapes, often providing details about daily life and family.  From the scarlet macaw of the rainforest to the bowler hat of the South American girl with her alpaca, each spread provides a glimpse into another world in which water is life.
From Water's Children
by Angèle Delaunois
illus. by Gérard Frischeteau
trans. by Erin Woods
In fact, “Water is Life” is a special touch in Water’s Children. On watermarks adorning each spread, the term “water is life” is translated into a corresponding language, including French, Inuktitut, Catalan, German, Portuguese, Tamil, Arabic and Wolof with a final listing of all regions and languages represented in the book.

I know I’ve listed the reading audience as 4 to 8 years of age but don’t follow that.  Water’s Children’s audience should read “All ages” or “Everyone” because it is an extraordinarily inspirational examination of the importance of water throughout the world.  You can save it for World Water Day (March 22) but I recommend it for this weekend’s Earth Day (April 22) and anytime meaningful attention be paid to a global resource i.e., always.