May 22, 2018

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow

Written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
Groundwood Books
44 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2018

If Jan Thornhill's winning of the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award last fall for The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk (Groundwood, 2016) and Jess Keating's winning of the Blue Spruce award this week for Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017) tell us anything, it is that picture books are as beloved for telling non-fiction as they are for entertaining young readers. With her newest, The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow, Jan Thornhill again tells a compelling story of natural history which informs as well as entices us to learn more.

Jan Thornhill's story of the small brown bird which lacks flamboyance but teems with adaptability is a tale of survival, unlike that of the bird of her earlier book, The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk. She begins by telling of the House Sparrow's Middle Eastern ancestor beginning to rely on grain as a food source and losing the need for migration. With the spread of agriculture, the House Sparrow was soon designated a pest for raiding fields and orchards and breeding far too quickly, aiding in its spread. The small bird became such a nuisance that bounties and laws were enacted to speed its elimination.
From The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill
But migrating Europeans saw the House Sparrow as a resourceful reminder of home, and the bird was introduced to New York City in the 1800s and then across the country, multiplying far more than expected. Again the exploding population of House Sparrows coupled with its aggressive pursuit of grain pitted the House Sparrow lovers and haters against each other.
From The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill
However, it is the actions of humans which have had the most impact on the House Sparrow, though not always intentionally. With the onset of the automobile and the decline of horses, fed with grain, the House Sparrow's populations began to diminish again, and perhaps more so because of changes we've implemented in home construction, in farming, in keeping cats as pets and even in how we eat. Whether these impacts alone explain the decline of the House Sparrow is not known completely. But, it is certain that as much as the little bird may be an omen of our negative impact on the environment, it continues to find ways to adapt and survive.

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow may tell the bird's story of proliferation and decline as an piece of non-fiction, supplemented with  a map of the bird's global distribution, an illustrated life cycle and a glossary, but it's Jan Thornhill's telling of that story that is the most compelling. Told as a narrative and strengthened by Jan Thornhill's realistic illustrations, The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow gives us lessons in ecology and adaptation, in history and in the impact of humans on the environment, and will be a valuable addition to science classrooms and school libraries everywhere.
From The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill

May 14, 2018

Ben and the Scaredy-Dog

Written by Sarah Ellis
Illustrated by Kim La Fave
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
April 2018

It's so nice that Sarah Ellis and Kim La Fave's Ben who originated in Ben Over Night (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005) has found a new home at Pajama Press. With its predecessors, A+ for Big Ben (2015) and Ben Says Goodbye (2015), Ben and the Scaredy-Dog solidifies the boy's place in guiding those in preschool and kindergarten to understanding more about the big world of siblings, change, friendships and dogs.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave
When Ben's friend Peter moved away in Ben Says Goodbye, the little boy was devastated, not knowing how he could continue with his routines and play. But Ben found the way to deal with that loss, and now he's ready to welcome a new friend–or so he hopes–into the house across the street and into his life. But, as much as he enjoys playing with the new kid, Erv, he is very apprehensive of their very big dog. Thankfully when the neighbours drop by, Max is on a leash. But when Ben is invited to their house where he anticipates the dog will be unleashed, the little boy is surprised to see the dog sitting complacently on a mat in the playroom. Poor Max has his own fears: he's scared of the unfamiliar and very shiny floors. When Erv gets called away, Ben reminds himself of all the things he'd learned about dogs so as not to provoke Max. Fortunately, Ben's way of self-soothing works on Max as well and the two unlikely friends find a way to be brave together.

Sarah Ellis demonstrates that children have enormous potential to learn coping strategies for all manner of fears and anxieties. Ben's fear of dogs is valid, especially for very little children and very big dogs, but by comparing how Ben's siblings see dogs–Robin sees their playfulness, Joe sees them as loving creatures–with how the little boy sees them–"When Ben looks at a dog he sees jaws and teeth. That's a dog to Ben. Jaws and teeth."–Sarah Ellis legitimizes all perspectives. Even the baby-steps approach to dealing with Max lends credence to the ability for children to learn how to cope while trying a multitude of strategies, including self-talk and mindfulness.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave
I love Kim La Fave's illustrations of Ben and company. His emphasis on perspective–looking up from a child's point of view and at their eye-level–encourages empathy for Ben's distress and concerns. Even with the bright colours of the kids' clothing and Max's soft expressions, Ben's fear is validated. But, with that lightness of line and colour, Kim La Fave pulls together Ben's thoughtful personality, Erv's playful exuberance and Max's big puppy nature.

It's nice to know, courtesy of Ben and the Scaredy-Dog, that anyone can be scaredy-dog about something and that it can be lightened with a little help from inside and out.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave

May 11, 2018

Nick the Sidekick

Written and illustrated by Dave Whamond
Kids Can Press
48 pp.
Ages 6-9
April 2018

Celebrated cartoonist of the syndicated Reality Check and author-illustrator of the three Oddrey books (Oddrey, Oddrey and the New Kid, and Oddrey Joins the Team; Owlkids, 2012, 2013 and 2014) and My Think-a-Ma-Jink (Owlkids, 2009), Dave Whamond brilliantly applies his cartooning skills to a new genre, the graphic novel, and superbly masters it with the flair of a superhero and the diligence of a loyal sidekick.

Nick is a superhero assistant with incredible hearing courtesy of his incredibly-large ears.  Though his classmates may ridicule him, his best friend Tess always has his back.  That comes in handy when you're the superhero assistant to the egotistic Super Fantastic Guy who wants to use Nick's super hearing without giving him the credit for his cleverness or contributions.  Super Fantastic Guy can't even remember Nick's name, always calling him Rick, and even getting all his details wrong on his membership to the National Superhero Society. And Nick does not appreciate the lack of respect and his designation as a (sigh!) sidekick, especially considering he does all the crime-solving! But it's Nick who learns that he is the true superhero when he uses his super talent to save Super Fantastic Guy and let Tess help bring the egomaniac down a bit from the superhero pedestal he's always taken advantage to enjoy.
From Nick the Sidekick by Dave Whamond
As much as Nick is a superhero (he does have the card to prove it), he's really the anti-hero in that he accomplishes much good without the public recognition and even his partner's appreciation.  Nick is probably the antithesis of the highly-acclaimed superhero in that he doesn't parade himself in front of the public and demand accolades, though he would appreciate a little respect and for everyone to stop calling him a sidekick. 
From Nick the Sidekick by Dave Whamond
Dave Whamond's artwork is made for graphic novels. Okay, I know it's also great for his cartoons and his picture books but, by applying it to storytelling in the graphic novel format, he can tell more story by creating action-packed plot lines that move with the force of his illustrations.  There's movement and energy and kapow!  Nick the Sidekick delivers a punch in character and story and has just launched Dave Whamond's career into a different layer of the stratosphere, though we knew it was inevitable. As much as Nick can't fly and hates all the clichés related to superheroics, from the Spandex onesies and to the criminals' responses when caught, he's going to be joining Dave Whamond on that trajectory. Happy travels to our newest superheroes!
From Nick the Sidekick by Dave Whamond

May 10, 2018

Family of Spies: Blog Tour

Today I'm reviewing Jodi Carmichael's newest middle grade novel Family of Spies as part of the book's blog tour.  Please check out the others stops on the tour as listed at Chapter by Chapter Blog Tours and Promotions and enter to win a free copy of Family of Spies here.

Written by Jodi Carmichael
Yellow Dog (an imprint of Great Plains Publications)
288 pp.
Ages 8-13
April 24, 2018

Most people who delve into their family histories are hoping for the unusual like connections to royalty, a hint of scandal or extraordinary accomplishment.  But for most, the exercise of discovering family history details is more likely to be a slog and end in disappointment, since  most people in the past lived lives of work and family with few opportunities for the exotic or the mysterious.  Not so for the great-grandfather of thirteen-year-old cousins Ford MacKenzie and Ellie Whitaker and Ford’s older brother Gavin.  Great-Granddad’s story would be the stuff of legends, if it didn’t have to be sealed.

The MacKenzie and Whitaker families, from Canada and the US respectively, are meeting in Paris for a European vacation. Soon after their arrival, Ford begins to experience moments of déjà vu that seem to time-slip him into Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II.  These episodes are especially emphatic when he touches any of the personal effects–letters, photos, postcards, bookmarks, etc.– in his great-grandfather’s briefcase. A visit to a psychic confirms Ford to be a clairvoyant who is able to connect to the past. 

Using a letter his mother received denying them access to Edward Crawford’s service records,  Ford connects to that military office and sees his great-grandfather’s file identifying him as part of  Special Operations Executive, a top-secret spy agency in operation during the war. But the three teens’ search at the military library alerts other forces to their interest in E. H. Crawford and soon Ford’s “visions” are not the only worries they have.

Assessing the various materials in his great-grandfather’s briefcase, Ford determines that he can connect with Great-Granddad and would be able to envision what he was doing during the war by (re)visiting a café/restaurant, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and several more stops.  With each visit, Ford reveals more about his great-grandfather’s covert activities, as well as his fears and guilt for a mission gone awry.

The story is very loosely based on Jodi Carmichael’s own grandfather whose military records remain sealed.  By weaving family history with Ford’s supernatural ability to divine the past, Jodi Carmichael has created a multi-layered mystery that honours her family and entertains readers with intrigue, adventure, a bit of the fantastic and a history lesson like no other. Family of Spies also reveals much about family dynamics and reminds us that, like Great-Granddad’s records of spy activity, nothing is ever final, even in relationships modified by guilt or jealousy because forgiveness can unravel much.

For young readers who enjoy an action-adventure story with a bit of history and the supernatural, Family of Spies will completely captivate and satisfy, and leave them anticipating Ford, Gavin and Ellie’s next adventures (fingers crossed) as the family continues their travels to London and Cairo.


Jodi Carmichael’s dreams of becoming an author began to come true when she attended her first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in 2007 and was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. A champion for the underdog and kids who think differently, she wrote Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and Other Life Lessons) (2013) which won numerous awards including a Gold Mom’s Choice and a Silver Moonbeam in 2013. In 2016 her novel about relationship abuse, Forever Julia (2016), won the Manitoba Book Award, the McNally Robinson Books for Young People Award - Older Category and received a Bronze Moonbeam Award for Young Adult Fiction - Mature Issues.

When not channeling characters from her books, she can be found strolling Manitoba beaches with her husband, two daughters, and exceedingly scruffy Border Terrier named Zoe. 

May 04, 2018

Missing Mike: Book launch (Toronto, ON)

Shari Green

is launching her newest middle grade novel

Missing Mike
Written by Shari Green
Pajama Press
244 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2018


 Wednesday, May 16, 2018

4:00 - 5:30 pm


Queen Books
914 Queen St. E.
Toronto, ON 

From Pajama Press's website at

From the acclaimed author of Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, a timely middle-grade story about the devastation of wildfires and the resilience of the human spirit.

He’s a rescue, a mutt. Maybe there’s a little golden retriever in him, although he’s not exactly pretty. He’s had a run-in with coyotes and he’s missing an eye. But Mike is eleven-year-old Caera Donovan’s dog, and they love each other absolutely. Usually her pet follows Caera everywhere, but on the day the family first smells smoke in the air, Mike becomes anxious. Pine Grove is in the path of a wildfire, and the family is ordered to evacuate. In the ensuing chaos, Mike runs off. And then the unthinkable happens; there is no time to search for Mike. They are forced to leave him behind.

Shocked and devastated, Caera watches helplessly as the family drives through a nightmare, with burning debris falling from the sky and wild animals fleeing for their lives. Once in the city far from the burn zone, the Donovans are housed with a volunteer host family. Jewel, the hosts’ daughter, is nice, but Caera can only think about what she may have lost. What will happen if nothing is left? But as she reflects on what “home” means to her, Caera knows only one thing. She is not going to lose Mike. She will do what it takes to find him, even if it means going back to Pine Grove on her own.

With her signature style combining simplicity and lyricism, Shari Green, the author of Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles and Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess tells an uplifting story of love and loss. And she shows how one girl’s stressful journey eventually leads her to an unexpected place, and a new definition of home.
Retrieved on May 2, 2018 from

May 03, 2018

Ten Cents a Pound

Written by Nhung N. Tran-Davies
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Second Story Press
24 pp.
Ages 5-9
April 2018

I defy anyone to read Nhung N. Tran-Davies' text in Ten Cents a Pound and not be moved to tears by a mother's willingness to work at gathering coffee beans so that her child could have a better life. All the more poignant is the response from the child who recognizes her mother's struggles and does not want to leave her in order to pursue an education elsewhere. Their dialogue, told with love and admiration and respect, is the story of Ten Cents a Pound
From Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Mama, I see your hands,
Coarsened and scratched,
By the twigs and bark of the trees, row on row,
By the leaves and berries, picked one by one.
I will stay with you.

So begins Ten Cents a Pound, with a daughter seeing the toil of hard work on her mother's hands and her declaration that she will stay with her.  Ah, but her mother will have none of that.  Calling her "silly child" or "faithful child" or similar, the mother asserts that she is working so that she might put books in her daughter's hands and set her on a life beyond their mountain and villages. Still the girl cannot see past her mother's pain and hardship and repeats that she cannot leave her.  Always with great affection and fortitude, her mother vows that the girl will be set free with an education and must go beyond the confines of their village. Finally, the girl accepts the wisdom of her mother's wish for her future but contends that she will return.
From Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Though I cry readily, not all books move me to tears. Ten Cents a Pound did so. Many parents sacrifice much for their children, though those trials are not always acknowledged, but here a child recognizes that suffering and doesn't feel like she can accept the cost of her mother's unselfishness. I don't know if physician and author Nhung N. Tran-Davies, who came to Canada from Vietnam, ever witnessed this self-sacrificing love but Ten Cents a Pound is a testament to the determination a parent can have for wanting a better future for their child.  This mother is willing to suffer the back pains, the harm to feet and hands, and declining eyesight and more just to ensure her child has an education and a better life.

Award-winning illustrator Josée Bisaillon blends the realism of the mother-daughter relationship with a lightness that belies the gravity of their circumstances. The outdoor scenes of fields and trees are grounded in the earth but give rise to the green of dreams and expectation. Even the fluttering butterflies and the child in flight suggest a journey of hope and ascendancy.
From Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Ten Cents a Pound may be a tome that supports the idea of education as the means for freedom and advancement or a social justice story embedded in the coffee fields of Vietnam.  But, at its heart, it is a dedication to mothers and daughters who are willing to offer anything to ensure a good life for the other.

May 02, 2018

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book: Blog Tour Guest Post by author Alice Kuipers

This month sees the release of Alice Kuipers' newest children's book

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
 Written by Alice Kuipers
Illustrated by Diana Toledano
Chronicle Books
120 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2018


CanLit for LittleCanadians 
is pleased to be participating in the Blog Tour for the book's release

Today's guest post blog is from
author Alice Kuipers 
who shares with readers
about a free online course
she has created for children to get them writing.

Welcome Alice Kuipers!
Thank you for having me here today! I love all your book suggestions and you always give me great ideas for books to share with my kids.

In my new book, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, my main character loves to write. This got me thinking about making a course for young writers, one that they could do with their parents or on their own online. I filled the course with PDFs and downloadable movies, and hopefully lots of inspiration for up-and-coming writers to get their words on the page. Here’s a peek at one of the steps on Character, that I thought I could share with you today.

Your CHARACTERS are the people in your stories and poems. Here’s Polly Diamond!

Other characters in the book are her mom, her dad, and her sister Anna, who Polly turns into a BANANA!

As a super-star writer, you’re going to need to get to know your characters really well. And I’m going to show you how to do that!

I loved making the course—turns out I could talk and think about writing books all day long. I have a black piece of fabric from Fabricland here in my house which I hung up behind me (very high tech at this end!), so that the video content would be easy to watch, and tried to make the course as energetic and fun as possible. I thought of as many writing prompts as I could. Getting my four children to help out, I tested some of the ideas on them (mainly on the older two, who are eight and six, although my five year old surprised me with his storytelling!), and then, I sent everything over to Children’s Book Insider. I’ve been working with them for a number of years, and I’m the teacher for two of their courses: Chapter Book Blueprint, and Middle Grade and YA Blueprint. They put everything together and the FREE course for Super Star Writers is ready to go.

Sometimes, it’s easy to underestimate how brilliant kids are at telling stories—we have an innate ability, I think, to connect to stories, and I know from my work in classrooms and from hanging out with my own children that when I give just a few tips and hints, kids just love to make stories come alive (kind of how Polly makes stories ACTUALLY come alive in her magic book!)

Hopefully you and your children (or your class) enjoy the course—please let me know what I need to change or add to make it even more fun for the young writers in your life. And for those of you who enjoyed getting to know your characters, here are the first ten questions from the character worksheet for you to enjoy with the kids in your life.

You can try this with one character or with ALL of the characters in your stories!
Draw a picture of your character—like the picture of Polly Diamond!

Imagine you can sit down with your character and ask him or her questions.
Write the answers YOUR CHARACTER would say. For example, if I was interviewing Polly Diamond, I'd ask: “What is your name?” And she would answer, “My name is Polly Diamond.”
Question 1: What is your name?
Question 2: How old are you?
Question 3: What is your favorite thing to do?
Question 4: What do you do when you first wake up?
Question 5: What do you love to eat?
Question 6: Do you go to school? If yes, what grade are you in?
Question 7: Do you have any brothers or sisters? Can you describe them if you do?
Question 8: Tell me about your best friend.
Question 9: Do you have a secret?
Question 10: Have you ever been in trouble?

Here’s the link to the rest of the course:

Thank you so much for letting me share my ideas about writing with you.

Alice Kuipers

Many thanks 

to Alice Kuipers for introducing young readers
and their teachers and families
 to her new online writing course for children


to her publicist Susan Busse for arranging for this stop on the blog tour.

CanLit for LittleCanadians is always pleased to host Alice Kuipers 
whose books continue to inspire young Canadian readers 
and now get them writing too!


Be sure to check out the other stops on Alice Kuipers' blog tour for Polly Diamond and the Magic Book:

May 3: Book Time
May 7: Yoyomama
May 11: Savvy Mom

May 01, 2018

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book

Written by Alice Kuipers
Illustrated by Diana Toledano
Chronicle Books
120 pp.
Ages 6-9
May 2018

Readers have always known that there is magic in the pages of books and the written word.  But little Polly Diamond, a positive and optimistic child with more joie de vivre than anyone since Pollyanna, finds a magic there like no other.

With the family anticipating a new baby, Polly will be moving into her little sister Sarah's bedroom.   To help ease the transition, Polly is gifted a turquoise book inscribed with "A Writing and Spelling Book for Polly Diamond" on the inside. To say that Polly is excited about this gift would be an understatement.
From Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers, illus. by Diana Toledano
But even more special is the magic with which the book is infused.  When Polly begins writing in it, the book writes back, speaking to her about its name, her baby brother and ultimately directing her in the process of writing a story.  And as Polly writes, the book makes it happen, like helping her paint the walls of the bedroom or making her invisible.  Polly is delighted to learn that anything she imagines can become real if she writes it down.  But, as the classic adage goes about being careful what you wish for, Polly learns that her imagination and her word choice must be harnessed especially as her book reads everything literally and not as Polly always intends.
From Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers, illus. by Diana Toledano
Suffice it to say that, after a number of whimsical calamities, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book still resolves with many happy endings including the arrival of Polly's new baby brother and Polly's naming of her book with a multifaceted title that demonstrates word power in yet another form.

Saskatchewan writer Alice Kuipers continues to impress with the breadth of her writing which spans from picture books and early readers to her forte, young adult novels. (See my reviews of Me (and) Me, The Death of Us, and 40 Things I Want to Tell You.)  All books inspire readers to be imaginative and answer the classic "What if?" directive of writing.  In Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, the question of "What if that which you wrote in a book could magically become real?" is asked and answered with playfulness, joy and affable mishap. Young readers will snicker as Anna is transformed into a tutu-wearing banana, the Aquarium Blue paint converts the walls to a living fishbowl, and the staircase is made of musical note steps.  The story is rich with imagery (and darling images courtesy of Spain's Diana Toledano) and the fantastic and, though things do awry, because sometimes your imagination can run a little wild (!), Polly Diamond and the Magic Book is an uplifting early reader that encourages creative writing and the spiritedness of words.  It's Super-Polly-tastic!


Check out Alice Kuipers' Guest Post tomorrow
 here at CanLit for LittleCanadians

as part of the

Blog Tour
for Polly Diamond and the Magic Book