November 29, 2012

Goodnight, Canada

by Andrea Beck 
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
978-1-4431-0782-2
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
2012

Goodnight, Canada follows a young boy's nightly ritual of adieus from coast to coast to coast, as he looks out his window at his country and wonders who else is going to bed.  Providing a double-page spread of provincial or territorial features for each Canadian region, Andrea Beck's whimsical illustrations show children in beds, in a boat, on a flower pot rock formation, in a sled, in a plane, and even embedded in an inuksuk.  And they're all comforted by playful bears, cats, dogs, birds, and even moose reminiscent of Andrea Beck's Elliot Moose series.

While many may see Goodnight, Canada as our own version of Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon,  I believe Andrea Beck's newest picture book is more of a compendium of all things CanadianFrom our different landscapes (like the farm patchwork quilt on the P.E.I. child's bed), provincial and territorial birds, flowers, flags, and landmarks (like the CN Tower in Ontario) to iconic celebrations (e.g., the Calgary Stampede) and wonders (e.g., aurora borealis), Goodnight, Canada allows every child to see him- or herself and enjoy wondering about other children around our country.

It's unusual to find a sweet, rhyming picture book that can also work as an information book, here about Canada, but you can consider Goodnight, Canada an exemplar of one.  And consider this book as a perfect gift for a Canadian child in your life with whom you can curl up beside at bedtime to travel across our grand country in only 32 pages. 

November 27, 2012

The Friday Society Gala: Book Launch

Readers of all ages are invited
by 
hosts Penguin Books, Small Print Toronto, and the Gladstone Hotel

to attend

a gala of modernity and lively entertainments 
(their words, not mine)
 
in honour of Adrienne Kress' new steampunk book,
THE FRIDAY SOCIETY
 
on Friday, December 7, 2012
Doors open at 7:00 p.m., with the reading at 7:30p.m.

at
The Gladstone Hotel 
1214 Queen St. West
Toronto, ON
The evening will include:
    • A reading by Adrienne Kress
    • A demonstration of Bartitsu, the latest technique is self defense, by the Riot A.C.T.
    • Displays of the latest in modern technologies by Messrs Smith and Bodine
    • A screening of the book trailer

    For an interesting touch, guests are invited to feel free to wear Steampunk! For ideas on how to put together a steampunk outfit from your own closet, visit Adrienne Kress' website here.
     

      November 26, 2012

      Yesterday

      by C. K. Kelly Martin
      Doubleday Canada
      978-0-385-66845-3
      355 pp.
      Ages 13+
      2012


      Sixteen-year-old Freya just wants "living to feel the way it should." (pg. 78) Not like her sister Olivia (10) isn't really her sister. Not like Freya has all the details about her life but can't recall what she likes or feels or can do well. Not like she can only remember the facts of the memories but not the memories themselves. What she does know is that it is 1985 and that she, her mom and Olivia have recently come to Canada after the death of Freya's father, a diplomat, in an explosion in New Zealand.  And she gets lots of headaches and can almost tell what's going to happen before it does.

      While at the museum with her class, Freya sees a handsome, green-eyed boy on the street and she is convinced that she knows him.  Following the young man, she learns where he lives, and returns another day to confront him.  Through questioning the boy, Freya learns that Garren's dad was also a diplomat who was killed in an accident in Switzerland but Garren does not recognize Freya at all.  In fact, he is infuriated with her insistence that he should know her.  It isn't until Freya returns with family photos and newspaper clippings that the two realize they share the same grandfather, Henry Newland, and both were seen by Dr. Byrne when they were stricken with the flu when they arrived in Canada.  But confronting their grandfather just sets them on the run when Freya "sees" him contacting men in dark suits with guns to come after her and Garren.

      To avoid putting their families at risk, Freya and Garren hide out while they try to find some answers.  In fact, Freya convinces Garren to let her visit a hypnotherapist to help clarify her memories.  What Freya learns is that her memories are actually 78 years into the future, in the year 2063, and that Garren was a part of her life then.  Unfortunately, Garren's trust in Freya's memories is waning, realizing that he is giving up everything to follow her and help her while he himself has no memories of a life in the future.

      So Freya's Yesterday is actually taking place in the future, or has taken place in the future, or will take place in the future.  I'm not really sure what verb tense is appropriate here.  But, while I may be confused with the timeline of Freya's life, those shortcomings are my own; C. K. Kelly Martin has no difficulty conveying those details to the reader.  Freya's anxiety about feeling out of place, actually out of time, is expertly handled by C.K. Kelly Martin whose book My Beating Teenage Heart (Random House, 2011), reviewed here, similarly takes the reader back and forth between times and experiences.  As a teacher-librarian, I know that this play between the past (future?) and the present can be a difficult concept for younger readers to follow and appreciate for its complexity and the richness it lends to storytelling; young adult readers of Yesterday should have no difficulties grasping and relishing this approach. 


      I've just learned that C.K. Kelly Martin has her own YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/ckwriter where you can see a book trailer and teaser for Yesterday, as well as trailers for several of her other books.  For those readers who enjoy video overtures for books, I'd recommend checking the author's channel out. I will include her book trailer for Yesterday here, though.

      Yesterday Book Trailer

      Published on June 24, 2012 by ckwriter to YouTube.



      November 24, 2012

      Rebel Heart (Dust Lands: 2)

      by Moira Young
      Doubleday Canada
      978-0-385-67186-6
      424 pp.
      Ages 14+
      2012

      When I reviewed Moira Young's debut novel, Blood Red Road, last December (Blood Red Road review), I had no idea the accolades and attention it would garner.  It won the U.K.'s 2011 Costa Children's Book Award, the 2012 Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize, Honour Book for the 2012 White Pine Fiction Award, the Simply the Book Coventry Inspiration Book Award and the Rib Valley Book Award, as well as being shortlisted for the 2012 Independent Booksellers' Week Book Award, the 2012 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award and the 2013 MYRCA.  Seems a dystopian world ruled by a despot and his security force where pockets of civilization attempt to survive amidst anarchy is a popular theme nowadays.

      After parting ways with Saba at the end of Blood Red Road, Jack has headed to the Lost Cause, the hooch and whores joint run by Molly Pratt.  Jack finds the Lost Cause a shell of itself, courtesy of the vicious Tontons and their new leader who have been actively involved in land grabs and resettlement.  Meanwhile Saba, travelling with her twin brother Lugh, little sister Emmi and the deaf Tommo, seems to be haunted by the dead, particularly Epona, who would've fallen into the Tontons' hands if not for Saba, and all the girls Saba fought and killed in the cage at Hopetown.  Though he openly criticizes Saba and Jack, not wanting to be grateful to them for saving his life, Lugh vacillates between fear of Saba and contempt for her every action, emotion, decision.  And then when Maev, a former ally, tells them that Jack has joined the Tonton, Lugh is convinced that he's been right about Jack all along.  But Saba still believes otherwise, assured that Jack had encrypted a message in his words to Maev for Saba to meet up with him at the Lost Cause. 

      After setting off on her own to find Jack, Saba realizes how stifling it has been with Lugh.
      He smothers me.  Chokes me.  Pens me in.  Tethers me to him with his worry an sorrow an anger an fear. (pg. 166)
      Unfortunately, Lugh, Maev, Emmi and Tommo follow, creating more hardship and opportunities for misunderstanding and criticism.  Entering into New Eden, Tonton territory, in which the new leader, the Pathfinder, has his lair Resurrection, the group meets up with Slim, Travellatin Physician an Surgeon in his Cosmic Compendalorium, a cart pulled by his camel, Moses. Though their intention had been to hijack Slim for his animal and cart, Saba and the others soon realize that Slim has more to offer them, including guidance in navigating discretely through New Eden and ultimately the protection and assistance of those in the Resistance to the new order.  

      Just as Auriel, the shaman from the small community on the Snake River, had divined, Lugh dreams of settling land and raising a family whereas Saba wants to be free to soar, destined to have the "courage to act in the service of somethin greater" (pg. 110). With both Saba and Lugh dealing with their own versions of post-traumatic stress disorder, embedded in anger and self-recrimination, their bond is unravelling.  And Moira Young seems loathe to let Saba or Lugh see things straight.  Everything they do is painted with the pain of their experiences and inability to express themselves or ask for help.  Although I became frustrated with Lugh's self-righteousness and Saba's constant second-guessing, I know it was because I was looking for a glimmer of happiness in a wasteland of humanity.  I so wanted Saba to reunite with her brother and accept his appreciation for all she'd endured to save him.  I wanted Saba to reunite with Jack and re-establish their relationship on a foundation of respect and love, not desperation and chance.

      Fortunately, Moira Young did not disappoint, even if she didn't take the path of least resistance.  Rebel Heart has storylines converging and diverging, leaving the reader anticipating the best or the worst at different times but never able to guess appropriately.  Over three hundred pages in and I was convinced it was all over.  Within fifty pages of the end, I thought I couldn't bear to go on.  Only thirty pages left and I despaired for the ending I was sure was coming.  My heart lurched with every obstacle and unkindness and poor choice and bad luck, still looking for that resolution that would ease my recurring anguish.  If I thought the grammar and spelling in Blood Red Road was a hardship, I was mistaken.  The torment of Rebel Heart is far more disconcerting.  Even the relief of a long-awaited moment, tender and promising, is fleeting with the realization that a threat is simmering.  How perfectly apropos.

      November 22, 2012

      2012 TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards: Winners Announced!

      Last night, the Canadian Children's Book Centre and TD Bank Group presented the 2012 TD CANADIAN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE AWARDS at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. A spectacular reception preceded the awards ceremony at which six awards were presented. (Le Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse was presented earlier in Montreal.)
       
      Hosted by CBC's Garvia Bailey, the program began with addresses by Tim Hockey, President and CEO of TD Canada Trust and Todd Kylie, President, Board of Directors of the Canadian Children's Book Centre.
      The selection for this year's TD Grade One Book Giveaway, a free book for all Canadian Grade 1 students, was announced to be I've Lost My Cat by author and illustrator Philippe Beha who delighted the audience with his anecdotes about his book.

      Congratulations to the following winners of these auspicious children's book awards. 

       TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award 

      • $30,000 Award
      • Sponsored by TD Bank Group
      • Presented by Tim Hockey, President and CEO of TD Canada Trust





         Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse 
      • $25,000 Award
      • Sponsored by TD Bank Group




           Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award    

      • $20,000 Award
      • Sponsored by A. Charles Baillie
      • Presented by Marilyn Baillie




       
      Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction
      • $10,000 Award
      • Sponsored by the Fleck Family Foundation
      • Presented by Quinn Fleck and David Fleck

       






      Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
      • $5,000 Award
      • Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund
      • Presented by  Todd Kylie


      John Spray Mystery Award
      • $5,000 Award 
      • Sponsored by John Spray, President, Mantis Investigation Agency
      • Presented by John Spray



      Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy
      • $5,000 Award  
      • Sponsored by HarperCollins Canada
      • Presented by Adrienne Hughes


      Everything from the hors-d'oeuvres, drink, dinner, company, presentations, champagne, desserts, company, chatting, awards, company, was phenomenal.  Some of the authors and/or illustrators in attendance included: Janet Wilson, Kenneth Oppel, Marina Cohen, Sylvia McNicoll, Gillian Chan, Rebecca Bender, Richard Scrimger, Kevin Sylvester, Natalie Hyde, Hélène Boudreau, Shane Peacock, Susan Hughes, Catherine Rondina, Mahtab Narsimhan, Hugh Brewster, Nancy Hartry, Lesley Livingston, Adrienne Kress, Cheryl Rainfield, Rona Arato, Nancy Runstedler, Deborah Ellis, Dave Whamond, P.J. Sarah Collins, Vikki VanSickle, Cary Fagan, Geneviève Côté, Philippe Beha, Trilby Kent, Deborah Kerbel, Rob Mills, Karen Reczuch, Susan Vande Griek, Frieda Wishinsky, Barbara Reid, Kate Cayley, Andrea Beck, Jo Ellen Bogart, Jean Little - and that small fraction includes only those with whom I spoke, recognized, or remembered.  With 400 persons in attendance, including publishers, publicists, editors, book sellers, literacy specialists and children's lit advocates, the TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards Celebration is an event rich in literati, appreciation, words, camaraderie, and encouragement.  

      Thanks to the TD Bank Group and the Canadian Children's Book Centre for hosting such a wonderful Canadian event.

      November 20, 2012

      My Book of Life by Angel

      by Martine Leavitt
      Groundwood Books
      978-1-55498-117-5
      246 pp.
      Ages 14+
      2012

      A great fan of novels in verse  (see my post on Exceptional Novels in Verse for Young Readers), I was astounded to realize that Martine Leavitt's newest book, My Book of Life by Angel, could be added to this book list.  And while the protagonist is a sixteen-year-old girl and the context is definitely young adult, I would recommend this book to adult readers as well.  The context of the missing women of Vancouver's downtown eastside and the plight of sex trade workers trapped in unspeakable circumstances brings My Book of Life by Angel from YA fiction to social commentary, all in flowing, powerful, Milton-esque verse.

      Angel knows how she got on the streets of Vancouver: her mother's death and Angel's predilection for shoplifting shoes (sadly, only one of a pair).  She thinks about her dad and little brother Jeremy, even sending a letter home, hoping for a response.  But as long as her pimp, Call, threatens to hurt Jeremy if she ever leaves, Angel just keeps her head off what she's doing and does it.  Almost like an automaton, she lists her johns:  little old Fred who can't really afford her, John the university professor who talks of Milton, the Preacher, and an endless track of pathetic, nasty, oblivious, arrogant men. And now everyone is wondering if there is a Mr. P who is taking the missing girls.

      Her friend Serena had always told Angel about angels being around and, after Serena goes missing, Angel begins to wonder about the possibility of angels watching over them. Angel vows to clean up her act, starting a new story for herself in her journal My Book of Life by Angel, ever hopeful that there really is an angel to help her.
      My angel would be a fresh-dead one,
      still longing for chocolate cake, 
      still wishing she could come back
      and find out who won American Idol.

      That's the one I want--
      just a junior one
      who might not mind saving
      a girl like me.
      (pg.13)
      But when Call brings home an eleven-year-old girl, Melli, Angel is determined to work double just to keep Melli from the life of a sex trade worker.  It's her devotion to Melli and Angel's repulsion of the manner in which another sex worker's assault is handled that ultimately mobilize Angel to make things right, at least as right as she can.

      Martine Leavitt's My Book of Life by Angel is a hard story.  It has coarse edges that scrape at your heart and at your sense of decency.  But Martine Leavitt never allows the reader to judge Angel or the other sex trade workers, only those who deem to manipulate their victims.  Sadly, there are always those that seek to force their will on others, through power, abuse, drugs and fear, even through academic knowledge. The fact that Call and his cohorts are attempting to legalize the trade, perceiving themselves to be entrepreneurs rather than abusers, speaks to their arrogance.

      Regardless of the hard edges of her story, Angel is an ethereal creature whose fluidity of thought and feeling and grace, courtesy of Martine Leavitt's lyrical and just as ethereal verse, transports the reader from the gritty sex trade of Vancouver's downtown eastside and into the hopeful realm where there is mercy, and goodness prevails over evil.

      November 18, 2012

      Waiting for reviews? Here's why

      Here's where I'm at:

      My Book of Angel by Martine Leavitt from Groundwood Books.
      Amazing novel in verse.  Edgy, sad, based on true event.






       
      Yesterday by C. K. Kelly Martin from Doubleday Canada.
      Twisted manipulation of memories. Romance.

      Rebel Heart by Moira Young from Doubleday Canada.  
      Sequel to award-winning Blood Red Road. I was afraid to finish it, apprehensive where it might go but thoroughly satisfied with its ending.

      Good Night, Canada by Andrea Beck from Scholastic Canada.   
      Picture book travels across our country.





      Those books have all been read.  The reviews just have to be written. We won't even mention the glorious books sitting in my ToBeRead pile.

      But in the meanwhile, there have been book award winners and nominees about which to blog:

      Then, there have been book trailers that I think look amazing, whether I've read the book or not:
      • Crush. Candy. Corpse. from Sylvia McNicoll HERE
      • Infiltration by Sean Rodman (Orca) HERE
      • Dead Run by Sean Rodman (Orca) HERE

      The book reviewer's lament: Why are there only 24 hours in a day?

      November 16, 2012

      Virginia


      by Susan Hughes
      Kids Can Press
      978-1-55453-306-0
      287 pp.
      Ages 14+
      2010

      Having just reviewed Susan Hughes' most recent book, Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World (Owlkids, 2012), one of the few non-fiction books I've reviewed, I thought I'd include a review of a young adult novel by this same author from a few years back. If you think Susan Hughes is limited to only non-fiction, you'll have to read her novel, Virginia (Kids Can Press, 2010) which I feel is an overlooked gem.

      While Ivy deals with her alcoholic mother and ineffective father, the fourteen-year-old girl tries to help her childhood friend Virginia who is convinced she has been visited by an angel and that she has been selected to carry God's child. Though Ivy and Virginia have not been close for awhile, Ivy feels she must help Virginia, especially as she seems to be kept secluded by her sisters and charismatic brother, Paul. After their father's death, Paul has started his own church, one that emphasizes the inevitable end of the world. When Ivy overhears Paul suggesting the need to hasten that end with violence, Ivy gets help from another brother of Virginia's, Joe, to keep the innocent safe.

      Once Susan Hughes takes the time to introduce Ivy and Virginia and their former relationship, Virginia becomes a highly suspenseful, plot-driven story that kept me engrossed until the end. Paul's zealous sect, Virginia's angel visit and Ivy's detective work, within the context of family interrelationships, were uniquely juxtaposed against each other. Reality and fantasy seemed to meander into the other's realm. With Ivy 's attraction to Joe and her worries about Virginia getting pregnant, as well as Paul's violent agenda, this novel is more appropriate for an older audience than for the recently reviewed Off to Class but it is equally effective in telling its story. Susan Hughes' writing handles both, the fiction and the non-fiction, beautifully and appropriately, putting her in the company of the few authors who can do this well.

      November 15, 2012

      Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World

      by Susan Hughes
      Owlkids Books
      978-1-926-8-18863
      64 pp.
      Ages 8-13
      2011

      I don't often review non-fiction. It's not that I don't enjoy it but I find that it's very hard to find non-fiction that is fresh in its topic, presentation, organization and writing. Sometimes I wonder if a publisher (none of the ones I list on this blog) just dashes something off on a topic they know is on the curriculum and could get a few school sales. Having been on non-fiction selection committees in the past, I know the dearth of exceptional children's non-fiction that is published annually. That said, several Canadian publishers, Owlkids, Kids Can Press and Annick most notably, have an extensive line of exemplary non-fiction for younger readers. And one of the authors who is making a name for herself via her non-fiction is Susan Hughes.

      Two of her most highly lauded books are Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked By Modern Science (Kids Can Press, 2010) which won the 2011 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-fiction and No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure (Kids Can Press, 2008). Currently nominated for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction, the Diamond Willow Award, the Red Cedar Information Book Award and the Hackmatack English Non-fiction Book Award, Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World also seems destined to garner worthwhile attention and prizes.

      The empowering message of Off to Class is that, though every child has a right to an education, not everyone has access or opportunity to go to school, and there are people working doggedly to ensure that all children, no matter their circumstances, are given that chance. So, no matter how remote or harsh the environment, or how poor the family or how small the community, or what prejudices and circumstances exclude some from an education, there is someone willing to help provide a school. It may not be a traditional North American school, but it is a place of learning and it works for these children.

      Brimming with colourful photographs of children, classrooms, schools and the environs, Off to Class provides a comprehensive look at learning places in three chapters: Working with the Environment, No School? No Way! and One Size Doesn't Fit All. Classrooms from Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and Nepal, to Brazil, Haiti, and Uganda, Burkina Faso and Kenya are featured, and those integral in making these schools come into being are featured. For me, the most compelling of stories relate to schools that grew from only a vision and a lot of heart. By working with the communities and their needs and circumstances, rather than imposing their own attitudes and ideas, people have performed miracles, creating schools where only rubble or emptiness may have been.

      Susan Hughes' writing is inviting and forthcoming, the information never lost in cumbersome text. With features of non-fiction text like indices, fact boxes (e.g., More than 20 million children worldwide have lost their parents to AIDS. Almost a million of these kids live in Uganda. pg. 35), captioned photographs, bios and photos of key people, and a map with schools' locations, Off to Class is a fascinating look at the different configurations schools have taken, offering hope to children, communities and the environment that might never have been imagined.


      I've posted a very sweet book trailer of Off to Class as told by young people on CanLit for LittleCanadians Book Trailers page here.

      November 14, 2012

      Governor General Literary Awards 2012 Winners announced


      Yesterday, the Canada Council for the Arts announced the winners of the prestigious Governor General Literary Awards for 2012  including those in the two (English) Children's categories.

      Congratulations to all the award winners and nominees for being recognized for their contributions to enriching our collection of phenomenal youngCanLit.

      This year's winners in the two (English) Children's categories are: 

      For Children’s Text:


      Susin Nielsen
      for  
      The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
       




       





      Tundra Books
      978-1-77049-372-8
      243 pp.
      Ages 11-14
      2012 

      Reviewed here on CanLit for LittleCanadians just days ago!


      For Children’s Illustration:



      Isabelle Arsenault
      for
      Virginia Wolf











       Text by Kyo Maclear
      Kids Can Press
      978-1-55453-649-8
      32 pp.
      Ages 5-10
      2012

      Reviewed here on CanLit for LittleCanadians on March 13, 2012. 

      November 12, 2012

      I'm Bored

      by Michael Ian Black
      Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
      978-1-4424-1403-7
      40 pp.
      Ages 3-8
      2012

      Without Canadian illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi to bring American comic Michael Black's text to life, I'm Bored would be so lifeless.  Really.  The illustrations take the simple text, of a little girl complaining about being bored and then trying to prove to a potato that kids aren't boring, from the stark to the sublime.

      Debbie Ridpath Ohi's drawings may be created from few pen strokes but what expression in those strokes!  With a mere six details (two eyes, two brows, one nose, and one mouth), the illustrator can take the young child in I'm Bored from despondency to frustration, surprise, delight, determination, exaltation and indignation, all in the cause of convincing the equally-expressionistic spud that kids are amazing.  The little brown tuber may have few lines, "Boring" being repeated 19 times, but he does pay attention, almost hopeful that the girl may prove worthy of his company.

      And her imaginative play of being a famous ballerina, or a lion tamer, princess, pirate and monster, just to name a few roles, takes her bold and colourful self into imagined settings of rock concerts, rolling oceans, science labs, outer space, and mountain tops.  If that brown (and isn't that a boring colour?) potato can't see the wonder of a kid who can marvel at the antics she can put her body through in creative play, then he deserves to be bored.

      Luckily, just as the 2011 Blue Spruce Award winner, My Think-A-Ma-Jink by Dave Whamond (Owlkids, 2009), reminds us that a child's imagination can take him or her anywhere, anytime, to do anything, with anyone, I'm Bored lets a little girl recollect that the cure for boredom is all within.  What does a spud know anyways?


      If this book isn't enough, Debbie Ohi offers activities and print-ready templates of cards, posters, book plates, etc. based on the "I'm Bored" theme at http://debbieohi.com/  There are even a few snarky ones courtesy of the little potato.

      November 08, 2012

      The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen

      by Susin Nielsen
      Tundra Books
      978-1-77049-372-8
      243 pp.
      Ages 11-14
      2012

      If you're looking for another book of irreverent humour similar to Susin Nielsen's Word Nerd (Tundra, 2008) or Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom (Tundra, 2010), the reader may be somewhat disappointed with The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen.  While Susin Nielsen's characteristic humour is still there, especially in her characterizations of Henry's Reach for the Top team mates and details about the Global Wrestling Federation's fighters, it takes a backseat to overwhelming despair.

      The story begins seven and a half months after "it" happened.  "It" revolves around our protagonist's older brother, Jesse, 15, and the bullying he tragically endured.  The family has moved from Vancouver Island after Dad lost his business, Mom lost her job, and they could not remain.  Mom has been staying with her parents in Ontario, seeing a psychiatrist, while Henry and his father have moved into an apartment in Vancouver. Henry, thirteen, is gaining weight, uses a robot voice when stressed, and reluctantly visits Cecil, his psychologist.  Dad just tries to make ends meet by working.  Luckily, the family's shared interest in the Global Wrestling Federation's Saturday Night Smash-Up provides some connection for the distressed family.

      At his new school, the only kid who befriends Henry is geeky Farley Wong, who drags trivia-knowledgeable Henry to join the school Reach for the Top team.  Except for Alberta, the funky but rude girl with whom Henry is smitten, the team consists of geeky kids who probably are all victims of some bullying.  In fact, Henry is sadly reminded of his brother's experiences and continues to suffer guilt and shame when he sees Farley being victimized regularly at school by Troy Vasic. 

      While feeling like his family is falling apart,
      "I'm the only one who's trying to fight for this family.  And I'm beginning to think we may not be worth the fight" (pg. 181)
      Henry is also trying to resolve the nature of his friendship with Alberta, his dad's relationship with their neighbour Karen, the blame he feels from his mother, and his reluctance to reflect on his possible role in his brother's tragedy.  Ultimately it is through his interactions with the new people in his life that Henry finds the means and strength to deal with the issues of his past.

      Susin Nielsen always addresses important issues in her books, though they are often flavoured with much comedy.  In Word Nerd, Ambrose deals with his mother's overprotectiveness, isolation and bullying.  In Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom, Violet endures the repercussions of her parents' divorce: her mother's repeated disasters with loser boyfriends and her dad's excessive attention for his new family. But there is little humour in The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen.  And maybe it's best that, while the story is infused with the quirkiness of Henry and the other teens, the emphasis should be on the overwhelming anguish experienced by those left behind after unnatural death.  Nothing could or should remedy that agony except time, acceptance, and maybe forgiveness of oneself and others. Susin Nielsen shares the complicated nature of grief and grieving while helping the reader see the far-reaching and unpredictable consequences of bullying.

      November 06, 2012

      Vicki Grant's "Being 18" video

      Motivated by the experience of saying good-bye to her 17-year-old son when he went to university several years back, author Vicki Grant created the accompanying video as a personal project.   

      Vicki Grant, author of youngCanLit including  The Puppet Wrangler (Orca, 2004), Quid Pro Quo (Orca, 2005), Not Suitable for Family Viewing (HarperCollins, 2009), Betsy Wickwire's Dirty Secret (HarperTrophy Canada, 2011) and Hold the Pickles (Orca, 2012), is well-known for her quirky storylines and wonderful sense of humour.  So I was surprised and delighted by the video but curious about the provenance of its concept.  It seems that when her son went off to university, Vicki Grant could not stop crying when leaving him.  She was astonished to realize that her grandmother would have been saying good-bye to her seventeen-year-old son, Vicki's father, at that same age but he would have been heading off to war.

      Vicki Grant shared that she met the female veteran who appears at the conclusion of the video while doing research for an upcoming mystery set in World War II Halifax, and that her daughter and nephew participated in the making of the video.  Even without these personal connections, the video Being 18 is poignant, sharing the message of differences between teens of different eras and most important that we should always "Remember Them". Enjoy the video and remember.

      Being 18
      Published on Nov 2, 2012 by Vicki Grant to YouTube

      November 05, 2012

      What Happened to Serenity?

      by PJ Sarah Collins
      Red Deer Press
      978-0-889954-53-3
      222 pp.
      Ages 12-15
      2011

      Nominated for the 2012 Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, the first year this book prize is being presented, What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins could have been nominated for the Mystery Award as its title suggests.  But that brilliant title alludes to more than the disappearance of Serenity, the younger sister of our protagonist's best friend.  Serenity also seems to be missing from the Community in which fifteen-year-old Katherine and her family live, under the administration of Father.  And one of the key reasons for the distress in Katherine's life is the strict rule, according to the Manifesto, that only Father is allowed to ask questions.  For all other Brothers and Sisters in the Community, it is considered rude to question - anything.  But Katherine, who has great difficulty rephrasing her questions into statements, wants to know, "What Happened to Serenity?"

      After the Ecological Revolution of 1979, Father had brought one hundred abandoned babies and fifty Aunts and Uncles to the safety of Community.  Beyond the borders, the environment is poor and unstable, the water irradiated, the air poison. Now in 2021, the Community adheres to the strict dictates for attaining a perfect society.  Since colour is reflective of selfish individualism, Community is Brown, everywhere.  Life Roles are distributed based on compliance and performance.  And no questioning is allowed.  A sense of peacefulness and calm is only a click away on the Remote.

      But Katherine cannot reconcile what she is told and what she observes, especially after discovering a note with "the words that changed my life." (pg. 70)
      Everything is not as it seems. 
      I've seen the outside come  
      Through the sky.      (pg. 7)
      When her snooping reveals documents with her family's "Retinal Scan Weekly Diagnostic Informational Scores", notes about a recent medical visit, and a shipments and inventory schedule, Katherine is determined to break the rules to ensure the safety of her family and to see beyond the Community.

      The reader will not be prepared for the about-face that What Happened to Serenity? takesAnd though I thought that the ease with which Katherine gets support from Paul seemed somewhat contrived, PJ Sarah Collins ensures that Katherine's interactions with the outsiders are not all promising; in fact, too soon Katherine will be questioning her actions.
      "I have let the bear into their home and it will destroy everything in its wide-angle view." (pg. 211)
      What Happened to Serenity? is a title I will add promptly to my #CanLitChoices alternatives for The Giver.  It is a perfect youngCanLit example of a dystopian story in which the themes of courage, responsibility, oppression and intolerance, authority and power, and community are interwoven into a powerful plot embedded with real characters who all believe that what they are doing is right.  It's unfortunate that those with the power over others do not realize that they alone have doomed their utopia to become what it is - dysfunctional.  What Happened to Serenity? is a cautionary tale worthy of reading as well as heeding.

      November 02, 2012

      Binky Takes Charge

      by Ashley Spires
      Kids Can Press
      978-1-55453-703-7
      64 pp.
      Ages 7-10
      2012

      When last we heard about Binky the Space Cat (Kids Can Press, 2009), he was Binky Under Pressure (Kids Can Press, 2011), dealing with a new feline. But Binky seems to be under even more pressure in Ashley Spires' latest Binky Adventure, Binky Takes Charge, as he has risen in rank to lieutenant and in charge of training a new recruit to F.U.R.S.T.  Actually F.U.R.S.T (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) has now become P.U.R.S.T., for all pets, and Binky's new cadet is a dog!

      Gordon, a.k.a. that Puddle of Fuzz, Carpet-Wetter and that Stinky Furball according to Binky, seems almost untrainable, though Binky tries. But when Binky is convinced that Gordon is a spy and a traitor, Gracie (from Binky Under Pressure) and Binky put the puppy under surveillance to learn his methodology and ultimately his motives and technological skills.

      Courtesy of award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires, the cherubic and determined Binky continues to entertain young readers with his clever but random misinterpretations.  His first impressions of situations and characters may be skewed but Binky is ready to defer to the evidence and admit when he is wrong, always making the best of a seemingly difficult situation.  Personally, I would love a human-Binky as a colleague in the workplace.  His heart is always in the right place and, even with his mistakes (which we all make), he is an asset to the team, here P.U.R.S.T.  When Binky Takes Charge, as an instructor and evaluator of new cadets, Binky is sure to build a great team of cadets while continuing to capture and amass a throng of young fans.

      Read about Ashley Spires at Kids Can Press here or check out the cover story by Cheri Hanson in Quill & Quire's March 2012 magazine.