December 07, 2017

Coyote Tales

Written by Thomas King
Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-833-4
60 pp.
Ages 6-9
October 2017

If anyone ever believes that the storytelling tradition of First Nations has disappeared, they need only read aloud the Coyote stories of Thomas King.  Undoubtedly told better in his own booming voice, these Coyote Tales are told with the mischief and wisdom to impart awe and lessons aplenty.

Coyote Tales is actually two previously published Coyote stories by Thomas King.  The first, Coyote Sings to the Moon (originally published in 1999), has that trickster Coyote interrupting the nightly song by Old Woman and the animals praising the Moon.  When Coyote offers to join them, they deny him a voice, knowing how poorly he sings.  Chastized, Coyote leaves in a huff, criticizing the Moon for its disturbing brightness.  Moon, not to take criticism, plunges itself into a pond to enjoy a game of chess with Sunfish.  While Old Woman and the animals search for Moon, Coyote struggles in the darkness, using a skunk as a pillow and falling off a cliff.  But clever Old Woman uses Coyote's horrible singing to force Moon to flee the pond and fating Coyote to a nightly song to keeps Moon from returning to the pond and a life of leisure.

The second story is Coyote's New Suit (originally published in 2004), a charming tale of vanity and envy.  Coyote is perfectly content with his suit of gold, toasty brown until Raven's comments convince Coyote to steal Bear's suit left on a pond's shore. When Bear returns to find his suit missing, Raven tells him that the humans hang clothes they no longer need on ropes and encourages him to help himself.  Coyote continues to steal the suits of Porcupine, Raccoon, Beaver and more animals who, in turn, help themselves to the human clothes hanging on the clothes line.  All orchestrated by Raven, the shenanigans come to a head when Coyote holds a yard sale to clean out his closet and humans and animals alike come in search of new suits.
From Coyote Tales 
by Thomas King 
illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
Thomas King's Coyote Tales recognizes the traditional Coyote stories of First Nations, taking readers to "a long time ago, before animals stopped talking to human beings" (pg. 11) when lessons were learned at the antics of a mischievous and oft humiliated Coyote and the clever playfulness of Raven and the natural world was honoured and celebrated. The legends are told here as comical allegory but are rich in lessons and advice.

Groundwood Books is doing something very clever in opening up previously published picture books to new audiences.  By re-releasing them as very short anthologies, perhaps only two or three stories, with new and fewer illustrations (here by Calgarian Byron Eggenschwiler), they are capturing the early reader and middle grade reader who might not want to be seen reading "babyish" picture books.  Margaret Atwood's A Trio of Tolerable Tales (Groundwood, 2017) was such a collection and I'm hoping that there are more in the offering from Groundwood, especially for Thomas King who still has more Coyote tales to share.

December 06, 2017

The Hanging Girl

Written by Eileen Cook
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
978-0-544-82982-4
308 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2017

Skye Thorn is a tarot card reader, helping her peers with their questions about love, school and more.  But, though she cultivates an image of having psychic powers, Skye is just an astute observer of human nature and a sneak at private files and conversations.  Her mother might purport to have the gift but Skye knows she herself does not.

Still Skye is a teen who has always wanted a certain life and had a willingness to make it happen. 
Destiny is like a boulder.  Bulky and hard to move.  It's easier to leave it alone than to try to change it.  But that never kept anyone from trying.  Trust me: I'm a professional. (pg. 1)
She hates her name, Candi, the one she was given by her 15-year-old mother, and has managed to get her friends and school to use her middle name, Skye.  She had woven a story about her father, whom she has never known, being a military hero.  That story ended badly, though, and had her labelled a liar and headed for counselling.  Now, she’s telling her best friend Drew that she’s saving her money so that they’ll be able to get an apartment in New York City when Drew heads to art school next year.  But she hasn’t. 

When she is approached to use her psychic flair in a scheme to kidnap popular and wealthy Paige Bonnet, Skye convinces herself that it would be alright.  Paige would not be hurt and Skye would get some of the ransom money.  Her role would be negligible: all she had to do was convince the police that she was having visions of Paige’s disappearance and to help direct their investigation.  Ah, the best laid plans…

Like the tarot card called the Hanged Man, which suggests someone at the crossroads, Skye is balancing who she really is with what she wants people to see and what they actually do see in her.  From her mother to Drew and classmates and then the police and others, Skye's self is hanging, perhaps precariously as she makes choices.  She truly is The Hanging Girl. But the mystery that is Skye extends beyond her, embedding readers in a young adult thriller with a myriad of twists and reversals and red herrings.  Never, never can the reader tell what will happen next or whom to believe.  The tagline "Trust no one. Deceive everyone" is especially apt.  The plot is intricate and multilayered and, even when Skye figures things out in a climactic graduation ceremony setting, I was never convinced I knew the truth. That just tells you how convincing Eileen Cook's writing is.  It is tight but complex, and she never lets the plot lag or the storyline get caught on ineffectual plot twists.

Eileen Cook, whose books Unraveling Isobel (Simon Pulse, 2012), The Almost Truth (Simon Pulse, 2012), Remember (Simon Pulse, 2015), and With Malice (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) have been reviewed on CanLit for LittleCanadians, always has some mystery amidst the teen drama but she is particularly adroit at relationship dramas.  Her characterizations and dialogue between characters and inside Skye's head are especially compelling in The Hanging Girl.  Except for several chapters conveyed as Paige's written account of her ordeal, most of Eileen Cook’s text is in the first-person narrative of the young tarot card reader trying to assess her situation prior to Paige's disappearance and then while the teen's family and police investigate.  She's gotten herself involved in something desperate and is in far too deep to get out cleanly.  Still, though she lies and manipulates, it's surprising how sympathetic Skye is as a character.  She always believed that she was destined for a nothing life, so the readers will cheer for the girl who tries to see herself beyond a life at Burger Barn.  As such, the ending will floor you.

See beyond the mess that is Skye and the situation in which she finds herself and discover a thrilling plot of truths and lies and shadows in The Hanging Girl. It's a little dark but more angsty than criminal and definitely an accurate take on the desperate measures people will take to achieve the lives they feel are warranted.

December 05, 2017

Woodrow at Sea

Written and illustrated by Wallace Edwards
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-029-1
24 pp.
Ages 3-5
November 2017

Not since an owl and a pussycat set off to sea have two wholly unlikely friends shared a boat on the open water.  But the story of Woodrow at Sea is less love story than story of friendship and a far more poignant one than Edward Lear's nonsense poem.
From Woodrow at Sea 
by Wallace Edwards
When Woodrow, the elephant, waves goodbye to his family, setting off on his adventure with only a boat, a paddle and a spyglass, he could never imagine finding a small white mouse marooned on a purplish mound in the open water.  The mouse tells of his own tale of saying goodbye to his own family who gift him with a compass and heading out in a teacup vessel until upturned by a purple, gold and orange creature. 
From Woodrow at Sea 
by Wallace Edwards
Together the travellers set out to seek adventure, with the mouse teaching Woodrow to sing. When a foul cloud blows in nasty weather and the calm sea is awoken into turmoil, the little mouse uses the spyglass to rescue Woodrow. Together they battle their way to calmer waters and, though they both return to their different island homes, they're both richer for their encounter and adventures.
From Woodrow at Sea
by Wallace Edwards
Because Woodrow at Sea is a wordless book, author-illustrator Wallace Edwards allows his illustrations to carry the story.  But it really isn't just one story.  Everyone will read something different into his touching and considerate artwork.  Though less elaborate than his art in earlier books such as Once Upon a Line (Pajama Press, 2015) and Unnatural Selections (Orca, 2014), Wallace Edwards provides more than enough depth of detail for our youngest readers to interpret the illustrations in a myriad of ways.  They will easily recognize the value of friendship and teamwork but there will be questions.  Why did Wallace Edwards choose and elephant and a mouse? Are the elephant and mouse singing or whistling?  Does Woodrow know how to sing or did the mouse have to teach him?  Were the two animals planning on an extended adventure that was interrupted by calamity or were these just day trips? When recounting their adventures to family, why did they focus on different events though both emphasize the goodwill of the other?  For a story told with no words, Woodrow at Sea has much to tell.  And a lesson in creative thinking and visual literacy would not go amiss here.

Woodrow at Sea is truly a story about the importance of friendship and the good fortune of having a friend who has your back when seas get a little rough. It may not always be an angry ocean or a purple monster, but there's always something that is eased with the support of a friend.
From Woodrow at Sea 
by Wallace Edwards
🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊

Wallace Edwards will launch his newest picture book this weekend in Toronto. Details for this event were posted here.

December 04, 2017

Woodrow at Sea: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

The wonderfully talented author and illustrator

Wallace Edwards
is set to launch his newest picture book of youngCanLit


Woodrow at Sea
Written and illustrated by Wallace Edwards
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-029-1
24 pp.
Ages 3-5
November 2017
Review here

on

  Saturday, December 9, 2017

11 a.m. -12:30 p.m.

at

Queen Books
914 Queen St. East
Toronto, ON


In addition to book sales and signing by Wallace Edwards,
there will be:
• story time
• a drawing lesson
• crafts
• light refreshments


Look for my review of this special wordless picture book tomorrow!

November 30, 2017

Louis Undercover

Written by Fanny Britt
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-859-4
160 pp.
Ages 9-14
October 2017

From the acclaimed partnership of Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault that brought us the award-winning Jane, the Fox and Me (Groundwood, 2013), which was also translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou, comes a second graphic novel of emotional sensitivity, this time in a complex familial context.

The title may suggest a children's game of spying but Louis is more discrete observer and listener.  He watches important people in his life and sees what they do and hears what they say.  These observations form the fabric of his interactions with them, bringing out his sensitivities, fears and compassion. And he has much to observe, as he and his little brother Truffle bounce between their city apartment where they live with their mother and their country house where their alcoholic father still lives.
From Louis Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
Louis sees the ups and downs of his father's alcoholism: the manic periods of song and big plans and the depressive times of tears and melancholy, especially when the boys leave.  At home, he sees the joy in his mother when they return but also her sarcasm and loneliness.  Louis has his own secret burdens which he only shares with his good friend Boris.  Louis is in love with Billie.
She’s a spectacled siren, a rainstorm,
A chocolate fountain, a silent queen.
 (pg. 50)
From Louis Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
He is overwhelmed by his affection for Billie but he is immobilized into inaction.  
I had no idea that love is like a rock shattering your heart, as painful as it is life-giving, and that even as it makes you want to bolt, it keeps you glued to the spot. (pg. 58)
Though he makes plans to speak with her, just to say a few words to the gutsy girl who stands up to injustice and reads voraciously, he can't do it, even with the summer holidays imminent and a gift of dice for her in his pocket.  

From Louise Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
But two weeks of the summer at their father's becomes a turning point for the family.  Their father has stopped drinking and seems to be his old positive self, as reflected in the splashes of yellow, hitherto reserved for Billie.  Though their mom is seen as mired in the sadness of the turquoise and the browns of regular life, when Truffle is injured and sent to hospital, she rushes to his side and stays with them at their old house.  She makes breakfast and laughs with their father and sleeps in his bedroom.  They're back to their "normal" family and a trip to New York City holds the promise of a complete reunion.  But, sadly and realistically, the yellows give way to the family's blues of the past.  Returning to school in the fall, Louis can take this experience as a life lesson that love can end badly or he can see the hope that it can conquer the worst.

Fanny Britt has given us a story about a family dealing with an alcoholic parent and creates a story of understanding.  Louis sees what has happened to his family and is disheartened by it.  He recognizes the signs of his father's drinking and the impact on his mother and their family.  He is wary of love and how it can go horribly wrong.  (Note Louis' watching of his sober father playing with the happy Truffle in the illustration above.) Even his mother, ever immersed in the sadness of needing to be separated from her husband, holds out hope for recovery and reconciliation.  How Louis will adapt that understanding to his own crush on Billie, desperate to speak with her but reluctant and apprehensive about the outcome, is an ending that must be read and seen to be fully appreciated.  
From Louis Undercover 
by Fanny Britt 
illus. by Isabelle Arsenault
Isabelle Arsenault does emotional storytelling in illustration. She doesn't just draw pictures to go with the story; she builds the story with surreal elements that create depth and carry the nuance of Louis' family's circumstances.  The use of yellow and turquoise, with the browns and greys, subtly convey the emotion of each situation.  The yellow is positive and hopeful and cheery, as when Louis watches Billie or his family is happy and Dad is sober.  Turquoise permeates those illustrations of lives living with heartbreak.  Real life is brown and grey because it's sobering and no-nonsense.  

There is much sadness in Louis Undercover.  Turquoise and browns and greys are the overwhelming colours.  But be assured that there is yellow in Louis' life and Fanny Britt resolves his story with a subtle explosion of positivity matched by Isabelle Arsenault exquisite artwork.

November 28, 2017

Those Who Run in the Sky

Written by Aviaq Johnston
Illustrated by Toma Feizo Gas
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-121-8
200 pp.
Ages 10+
April 2017
The young hunter knew that the sky above danced in joy with northern lights.  Since it was rare at this time of year, it meant that this day was going to go well, and that the spirits were on the side of the living, allowing them to carry on with their lives. (pg. 1)

Piturniq, or Pitu as he is often called, is the young hunter, a boy of sixteen who is becoming known as the Great Hunter.  This is his coming-of-age story.

From Those Who Run in the Sky 
by Aviaq Johnston 
illus. by Toma Feizo Gas
As a young man, Piturniq is already acknowledged as a good hunter, helping to provide for his mother, brothers and sister as well as sharing with the family of Saima to whom he wishes to become betrothed. But he senses a disquiet in himself and others towards him, particularly from his mother.  He grapples with his pride, jealousy, annoyance and anger, and the meaning of his nightly dreams of a fox and an old man on an island.  Though he wishes he might be as great as his father, Piturniq is surprised when Tagaaq, the camp leader and son of a shaman mother, suggests Pitu might be the village's next leader.  In fact, Tagaaq tells Pitu that the spirits have whispered to him and told him that Pitu is to become a shaman, though there is much darkness in his future.

Tagaaq takes Pitu under his wing, teaching him through his stories, including those of his shaman mother and a great shaman who disappeared from the world after the deaths of his beautiful wife and children.  Though both Pitu and Saima are eager to wed, the boy is instructed to wait until he completes his lessons.  But all must wait after a winter hunting trip leaves Pitu alone in the harsh environment and entering the spirit world.  Here Pitu struggles to survive, seeking shelter and food, and then combating supernatural demons, wolves, qallupilluq and more.  But it is also here where Pitu meets the fox, Tiri, who is Pitu's tuurngaq (a shaman's spirit guide), and the old man, an angry and brittle shaman named Taktuq, who will help the boy grow into the shaman he is destined to become.
From Those Who Run in the Sky 
by Aviaq Johnston 
illus. by Toma Feizo Gas

Though Those Who Run in the Sky is Piturniq's journey of becoming a man with the courage and faith to serve his family and his community, as well as attend to the spirit world, it is also a story of an Inuit lifestyle of long ago.  The details provided by Aviaq Johnston, a young Nunavut writer, deal with hunting practices, family and adoption, summer and winter camps, relationships with other communities, and the creatures of the supernatural world, and they become the rich fabric of Piturniq's story.  The traditions of this Inuit culture wrap Pitu' story in a reality that needs to be shared with all youth, Indigenous and otherwise.  It's a glimpse into a time that might once have been shared through the storytelling tradition.  Thankfully Those Who Run in the Sky, which refers to the spirits chasing after a walrus head and thus producing the northern lights, can now share the stories in a text for all to read.

The black and white illustrations by Ottawa animator and digital artist Toma Feizo Gas that dot the text of Those Who Run in the Sky deepen the surreal nature of Pitu's journey, adding to the story without taking over.  With text as lavish in historical and emotive detail as is provided by Aviaq Johnston, Those Who Run in the Sky did not need more.

With the publication of Those Who Run in the Sky, which was recently nominated for the 2017 Governor General's Award for Young People's Literature (Text), the northern lights must be dancing with joy.

November 24, 2017

The Gnawer of Rocks

Written by Louise Flaherty
Illustrated by Jim Nelson
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-165-2
60 pp.
Ages 9-14
October 2017

Author Louise Flaherty prefaces the telling of her story with its origins, the storytelling tradition of an Inuk storyteller Levi Iqalugjuaq who would visit their school in the 1970s.  This legend was one of many he told the students.
From The Gnawer of Rocks 
by Louise Flaherty 
illus. by Jim Nelson
As an Inuit camp prepares to pack up for the trek to its winter grounds, two girls, with babies in their care, go off for a walk, to soothe the children.  As they walk, they find beautiful smooth stones, and even lovelier ones as they continue, until they are lead to the mouth of a cave strewn with bones.  Drawn to the shinier stones within, the girls and their charges become trapped when the cave slams behind them.  Forced to enter further, they are horrified to discover a cache of human heads and bones which they suspect are those of missing children. One of the heads warns them that they are in the dwelling of Mangittatuarjuk and to escape by digging through the gravel walls but the warning comes too late as the hideous creature crawls out of the shadows.
From The Gnawer of Rocks 
by Louise Flaherty 
illus. by Jim Nelson
The old woman with extraordinarily long arms blocks their way but one of the girls taunts her to show them her strength, challenging her to bite down on a stone. Whilst Mangittatuarjuk attempts to gnaw at the rock, the other girl uses a bone to dig through the wall, ultimately allowing the girls to escape.  Returning to camp with their news, the hunters set out to kill the creature to ensure the safety of all their children.  Mangittatuarjuk is called forth from her cave, the men claiming they have come to honour her.  Tending to her feet, one of the hunters ties a rope around one so that their dogs could drag her from the cave entrance and across the sharp rocks to kill her.  Only after hours does the creature die of her injuries, at which time the hunters cut up her body so that her spirit could not return to life.

Louise Flaherty honours the storytelling tradition of her parents, grandparents and ancestors with this telling of Mangittatuarjuk, The Gnawer of Rocks.  This legend, like all, is rife with cautions to children who might stray too far, as well as honouring those who rise to the challenge of protecting children.  Inuit legends abound with scary creatures like Mangittatuarjuk and are told in such a way that one might never question their veracity.  Somewhere someone knows whose ancestor was one of the hunters or the girls, and it is just repeat tellings of the story that makes it sound more incredible.  American artist Jim Nelson's shadow-rich graphics convey the cold of that Arctic landscape and the gloom and blackness of the creature's cave and force.  Coupled with the graphic novel format, the illustrations support the grisly story's premise while advancing the story at a brisk pace.

True or not, The Gnawer of Rocks is splendid storytelling, horrific in its content but wise in its consul.
From The Gnawer of Rocks 
by Louise Flaherty 
illus. by Jim Nelson

November 23, 2017

2017 TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards: Winners announced


Tuesday night, the Canadian Children's Book Centre, our nationally-renowned authority on all things related to youngCanLit, announced the winners of the 2017 TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards. On November 8, 2017, the French language winners were announced.  I've posted the names of all winners here.

Congratulations to all!



TD Canadian Children's Literature Award
($30,000) Sponsored by TD Bank Group
Winner

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk
Written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
Groundwood Books






Fan Choice Award/Choix du public littérature jeunesse

Winner

The Skeleton Tree
Written by Iain Lawrence
Tundra Books







Le Prix TD de littérature pour l'enfance et la jeunesse canadienne
($30,000) Sponsored by TD Bank Group
Winner

Même pas vrai
Écrit par Larry Tremblay
Illustré par Guillaume Perreault
Éditionas de la Bagnole







Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award 
($20,000) Sponsored by A. Charles Baillie
Winner

The Snow Knows
Written by Jennifer McGrath
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Nimbus Publishing









Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction
($10,000) Sponsored by the Fleck Family Foundation
Winner

Canada Year by Year
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Kids Can Press







Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People 
($5,000) Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund
Winner

Mark of the Plague (Blackthorn Key, Book 2)
Written by Kevin Sands
Aladdin







John Spray Mystery Award
($5,000) Sponsored by John Spray of Mantis Investigation Agency
Winner

Shooter
Written by Caroline Pignat
Razorbill Canada







Amy Mathers Teen Book Award
($5,000) Sponsored by Amy Mathers' Marathon of Books
Winner

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Written by E. K. Johnston
Dutton Books







Prix Harry Black de l'album jeunesse
($5,000) Sponsored by Mary Macchiusi
Winner

Au-delà de la forêt
Écrit par Nadine Robert
Illustré par Gérard DuBois
Comme des géants


November 22, 2017

The Christmas Wind: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Last week I reviewed this very special picture book 
which I believe will be heralded as a Christmas favourite
like The Polar Express and The Night Before Christmas 

Now I'm pleased to announce its book launch.

🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

Join 

author Stephanie Simpson McLellan

for the launch of

The Christmas Wind
Written by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-534-9
32 pp.
All ages
November 2017

on

Sunday, December 3, 2017

at

1 p.m.

at

Ella Minnow Children's Bookstore
991 Kingston Road
Toronto, ON

🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

This event will include:
• an interactive reading
• crafts for kids
• treats
• book signing
and
Christmas Wind loot bags.

I can't think of a better way to start the holiday season 
than by attending this launch with your children or without.


Just be sure to RSVP at



November 21, 2017

When the Moon Comes

Written by Paul Harbridge
Illustrated by Matt James
Tundra Books
978-1-101-91777-0
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
September 2017
In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive. – Stephen Leacock
With Stephen Leacock's words prefacing the book, readers can anticipate a book of cold and ice which only hockey can warm to life.  This is our Canada.
Separate illustrations from When the Moon Comes 
by Paul Harbridge
 illus. by Matt James
The children in When the Moon Comes anticipate the coming winter, but it's all about the hockey.  November may still find ducks on the beaver flood in the woods but December finally brings the cold snap that causes it to freeze.  They're already envisioning being on the ice but Arthur suggests they must wait for the moon. When the snow finally comes, dumping it on town and country alike, and the lunar cycle progresses until the full moon, the children make their way after school to the place of dreams and action.
From When the Moon Comes 
by Paul Harbridge
 illus. by Matt James
Their long trek is rewarded with a fire that warms their skates and their anticipation as they take turns clearing the "magic ice."
It is dark, dark now, and the face of the sky is freckled with stars.  But on the far side of the flood, the sky is brighter behind the trees. The moon is rising.
     When the moon comes, we glide out onto the ice we have claimed.  It is marvelous ice, as good as any we have known.
From When the Moon Comes 
by Paul Harbridge
 illus. by Matt James
In several wordless pages of Matt James' extraordinary art, the children skate and play and are stars in their own arena.  It is only when the puck disappears into the snow that Arthur, the voice of reason, suggests it is time to end the game.  The game may be set aside but the magic at the fire, drinking tea and toasty sandwiches, is just a new play before heading home.
Our wet pants freeze solid in the cold, and we walk clanking like knights in armor, lances over our shoulders, hoods like helmets around our faces. 
The story ends with the children warm and slumbering at home while the moon with its promise of more hockey accompanies their sleep.

Paul Harbridge's story of late night hockey on a frozen beaver flood is as magical as the ice.  His words of anticipation and emotion are subtle but reverent, packed with feeling.  Like the world hidden beneath the snow and ice, there is a story of expectation from the past and of the future that underlies what is at its core a tale of shinny.  Artist Matt James, whose work I've admired in Northwest Passage (Groundwood, 2013), The Stone Thrower (Groundwood, 2016) and From There to Here (Groundwood, 2014), enriches Paul Harbridge's text with acrylic and India ink illustrations that convey the awe and appreciation of the children for their landscape and their activity.  There may be darkness and frigid temperatures but there is warmth and camaderie and action.  With many strokes of pen and paint, Paul Harbridge and Matt James take all readers to a place of inhospitable iciness and hospitable hockey that can only be witnessed and fully appreciated When the Moon Comes.

November 20, 2017

Spirited Away: Fairy Stories of Old Newfoundland

Written by Tom Dawe
Illustrated by Veselina Tomova
Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides Inc.
978-1-927917-13-8
60 pp.
Ages 9+
October 2017

If the cover of Spirited Away leaves you with a feeling of dark and foreboding forces at play, then artist Veselina Tomova has done her job admirably because the stories that Tom Dawe recounts from family members and others about the nefarious fairies of old Newfoundland are truly spooky and frightening, if they are to be believed.  Tom Dawe and those who tell and listen believe, and so do I.
From Spirited Away 
by Tom Dawe
 illus. by Veselina Tomova
Nine stories, addended with a glossary and notes about each story's derivation, recall stories of children, a war bride, a visiting nurse, grandmothers and more as they were touched by fairies or were witness to such encounters.  In the first story In a Place Like This, a girl recalls an abandoned house near a pool where her grandfather gathered eels.  She'd heard the warnings of it being a place of spirits and evil fairies and the tales of a man in green dancing upon the house's door ledge.  But her story relates to evil done to the baby sister she watched over as her family cut hay in the adjacent fields.  Only the baby and a green butterfly know how her arm was broken as she lay on a blanket.

Paddy the Hermit, called the Music Man, often told scary stories but they became reality when walking home he is encircled by a group of little fairies who put a spell on him to play his harmonica until he collapses.
From Spirited Away 
by Tom Dawe
 illus. by Veselina Tomova
In several stories, people seek shelter inside at night when fairies seek to harm them outside.  In The Marsh, floating lights, said to portend death, follow two young men on their return from a dance.  Only shelter in a church all night with the light hoovering outside kept the men safe. Where Water Ran the Other Way tells of trapper Solomon finds refuge in a small cabin when caught at dusk.  Though feeling compelled to open the door to those calling him, he wills himself not to listen or look out the windows at the strange goings-on.

There's the story of The Fairy Funeral, Bones and Fallen Angels (from which the cover illustration is derived)  but the other two most compelling stories for me were Spirited Away and The Changeling.  In Spirited Away, a grandmother disappears from a family outing of blueberry-picking.  She recalls being lured deep into the forest by drumming and hours later being found but without memory of her extraordinary walk including the crossing of major rivers. The Changeling is perhaps the most disturbing.  It is the story of a visiting nurse called in the night to the home where less than two months earlier little Gracie was born.  Fearing the only child of John and Sally was ill, she discovers a mother declaring that there was something in the crib but not her child.
Finally, I found the courage to approach the crib. I pulled back the sheet.  And then, God protect us all! I'll never forget the sight. (pg. 46)
It's a chilling story of fairies taking babies and leaving something in its place but it's the certainty of what that nurse saw that was the most compelling.
I know what I saw.  And I know what happened.  John and Sally lost their only child. And that night in an outport years ago, I witnessed an evil transformation.  Something ugly and strange was left in the cot where Gracie was supposed to be. (pg. 49)
Tom Dawe tells some disturbing stories in Spirited Away, enhancing the atmosphere with the flavour of Newfoundland and coastal Labrador.  From the music to blueberry picking and the vocabulary much unknown to me (you may not need to look up duckish, emper, fetch, livyers and herts but I did), these are the stories of the people of Newfoundland.  Veselina Tomova's woodcut illustrations, in dark tones and snatches of light, reflect the very settings in which the fairies appear.  These are not your Disney fairies.  These are frightening, and Tom Dawe ensures that we know that they are real.
From Spirited Away 
by Tom Dawe 
illus. by Veselina Tomova