Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eye Candy

The NYT decrees the best ten illustrated children's books of 2008. I'm happy to see one Canadian book, Skim, on the list. I'm heading out of town next week with list in hand. Me thinks my bags might be heavier on my return.

And speaking of Skim, Chester Brown and Seth have something to say about only the author being listed on the nomination list for the GG award. Of course in a graphic novel, without the illustrator there is no novel.

Thanks to Bookninja for both of these links. Go to this blog and read it. (Every day.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Books!

This is actually old news, but I'm very slow in posting this fall. (Bear with me, my friends. I'm hoping all this "blog silence" is translating into great writing elsewhere. One day, one day, you might see it!) I have two new books out this fall. The first, Robots: From Everyday to Out of This World comes with the byline The Editors of YES Mag. This is another in the great series of books created by the fab. folks at YES and KNOW mags and it was fun to have a part in this one.

The book has been well received thus far and both Quill and Quire and Canadian Materials have had favourable things to say.

Next up is another title in the Lu & Clancy series. This one, Secret Spies, is also a leveled reader. Here's the blurb:

When Lu and Clancy find a map labeled “Top Secret” and a note written in code in Aunt Izzy’s trunk, the mystery begins. Is Aunt Izzy a spy? The canine sleuths dress up in disguises to follow her. This case proves so full of surprises that the detectives need all their skills and nifty spy stuff to solve it.

This Level 2 first reader contains longer stories, varied sentences, increased vocabulary, more difficult visual clues and some repetition.

These titles were so much fun to write, especially trying out magic tricks, science experiments, spy disguises and the like. Thank goodness my kids and their friends were so game to play around.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Don't Miss Hycroft This Wednesday!

If you live in the lower mainland get yourself over to Hycroft on Wednesday evening for CWILL BC's annual event. Here's your chance to meet over 20 children's book writers and illustrators to hear about their new books. Each presenter gives a quick presentation on their new book, which are sure to be captivating and fun. There is also an address by Kathy Stinson and a chance to purchase books you're keen on.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Surfing Squash

In honour the big night tonight and the fact that Tough City is also a surfing kind of place, I give ye this photo of the creation by Nathan Colgate. And I refer you back to this older post. I am proud to say that I know own my very own copy of ABC Spook Show. So fabulous and with some of the best end papers I've seen in a long while.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Congratulations to all those nominated for the various "tree awards" of the Ontario Library Association.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Books for Hard Financial Times

A slide show from Slate. I think I'm in the same age demographic as the author of this article -- Little House and Ramona Quimby were high on my list of childhood favourites.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Inspired Typewriters

These are just too cool not to share. From the blog, Uppercase, typewriter-inspired art warm and fuzzy and android-cool.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Head On Over to I.N.K.

Two recent posts on I.N.K. (Interesting Non-fiction for Kids) caught my eye. First, this one on graphic novels. I am such a fan of these books. Both for their (usually) stunning art and also for their ability to capture the attention of the somewhat reluctant 11-year-old reader I live with. She is currently into the second book in The Fog Mound series, Faradawn, which Anna Lewis mentions in her post. Bring 'em on, I say. Sure there will be some dreck, but I think (hope?) publishers will take their time with this genre and only produce the best.

And, following on the heels of the idea of nature-deficit disorder our children may be suffering, Jennifer Armstrong muses on Nature (Book) Deficit. I totally agree with Armstrong's wonder at why those current darlings--the "dangerous" books for boys and girls -- are so popular.

Both of these present outdoor activities, skills and games that used to be the common currency of childhood as nostalgia. A chapter on snowballs? On skipping stones? Is outside now so outlandish that children need instructions for even its most casual use? Does this presentation imply that although outside may have been the playground of long ago, it is too quaint to be taken very seriously now?

When I looked at them, I went "What?" What's new about these books? These sorts of activitites have been trotted out in book after book for decades. Where have these people been that they find these books innovative?

Proving Any Dolt Can Write a Kids' Book -- Duh

Oh, puleese stick to what you do best and don't think that just anyone can write a good children's book. Next up on the celebrity author role? David Beckam and Jools Oliver (as in Jamie). Why do I even bother?

But children's fiction - why, Jools, why? Well, as Mrs Jamie explained, she was inspired when she "couldn't find enough books that offered simple, good stories for children". The woman speaks wisely: generations have reluctantly had to make do with the drivellings of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman and JK Rowling, impatiently waiting for Jools Oliver's contribution to the canon.

I probably shouldn't even give them blog space. I have better things to do.

Read Book, Lose Weight!

Can reading books fight obesity? One new study says it might help.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lucy Maud

Mental health issues touches us all. At least today we can talk about it more than in Lucy Maud's time. Still not enough; but better I suppose.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for these upcoming events:

The Word on the Street, Vancouver's version of the "National Book and Magazine Festival." It's on Sunday, September 28 from 11 to 5. You can find the relevant info. here. You can catch up with me from 1 - 1:30 in the Magazine Life Tent and at 3:30 in the Kids' Tent. I'll be talking about KNOW in the morning and my latest book, Robots, in the afternoon. (More on that book in the next few days.)

Also in Vancouver, is Fall Book Hatching, sponsored by CWILL-BC. Come meet local authors and illustrators for this fun afternoon event. Fall Book Hatching is Sunday, October 5 from 1 to 3 in the downtown library's Alice McKay Room. You can see some pictures from the spring equivalent of the event: Spring Book Hatching, here. Fun, fun. Wish I could be there!

Finally, if you happen to be in Tofino this coming weekend, there's Art in the Garden. This annual event is a chance to meet local writers and artists and enjoy the ambience of the Tofino Botanical Gardens. It's this coming weekend, both afternoons.

Where the Wild Things Are

The lament that I've too much to do before I blog, is as ongoing as the stack of books I want to mention is growing, but, for now, here's a profile of Maurice Sendak. A bit of a curmudgeon, that Wild Man, but, oh, what a genius. (Thanks to Book Ninja for the heads up.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jacob Two-Two - Book Four-Four

Yes, Mordecai Richler has left this Earth, but still a fourth Jacob Two-Two book is forthcoming. Tundra Books has contracted Cary Fagan to write a fourth book in the Jacob Two-Two series. You can read about it here.

I enjoyed Fagan's Kaspar Snit books a great deal, so I look forward to seeing what he does with Jacob and friends. (He sends him to sea, that much we know.) Fagan has the appropriate level of zaniness in his writing that's for sure (and, as I recall, satire, which is also Richler's schtick). So, I'm excited about how this will turn out. What I'm very excited about though, is that Dusan Petricic has been contracted to illustrate all four of the books. I adore his fabulous style. I know what's going on my 2009 Christmas Wish List!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Finalists for TD Book Prizes Announced

Okay, so I'm a little late with this, but the finalists for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards have been announced. Congratulations to all.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Check out I.N.K.

Some interesting posts over at I.N.K. (Interesting Non-fiction for Kids): Dark Subjects and First Class Travel on Other People's $$. Had a dream about Fuse #8 last night. Obviously, I need a holiday, but both of these kids' lit blogs are worth checking out.

MOM, I'm bored!

If you're a parent, you might have heard that phrase a few times this summer. (Bored is a swear word in our house, but it still comes up from time-to-time.) The next time the b-word is uttered, toss a copy of Helaine Becker's Boredom Blasters their way and scream "Bored people are boring people." Okay, perhaps I'm the one who needs a holiday, but your kids still can't go wrong with this book, which has the subtitle: Brain Bogglers, Awesome Activities, Cool Comics, Tasty Treats, and More....

This is one of Becker's older books. It won the Silver Birch Award in 2006 and obviously delighted kids with ideas such as "Silly Kid Tricks," tips on fortune telling and palm reading, ideas for story and joke telling, quizzes (e.g., How Funny Are You?), recipes and a whole lot more. My favourite are the ideas for Wacky Machines You Can Really Use, which give instructions for Rube-Goldberg-style machines such as the Automatic Toaster, Automatic Face Washer and Automatic Dressing Machine. Lots of fun here, and if this book doesn't grab your little darlings Becker has a whole whack more: Funny Business, Secret Agent Y. O. U., Are You Psychic, to name a few. Boredom Blasters was illustrated by the lovely and talented Claudia Davila, who also illustrated some of my books.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Font Conference

Oh my goodness, this is too funny not to share. Thanks to BookNinja for the link.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Inclusive Literature vs. Propoganda in Sweden

It is a gimmic to sell books, or not? Do the books tell good stories? That's what we should be asking, I think. Would love to see some of the books. Anyone out there who has?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On the Road with Wow Canada!

Okay, it's not too PC considering the price of gas and global warming and all, but we're going on a road trip in a few weeks. To our credit, we'll be driving our spanking new hybrid, which we can ill afford (Anyone want to by a great Toyota 4-Runner? I'll throw in a box of great books to sweeten the pot!) and we'll be hiking once we arrive at our destination. In the car I'll definitely be packing Vivien Bowers' Wow Canada! Exploring This Land from Coast to Coast to Coast.

In this fact-and-fun-packed book, we join 10-year-old Rachel, her older brother Guy, a stuffed beaver (Bucko), Mom and Dad as they cram in their van and head out to explore our vast country from coast to coast to coast. (As Guy tells us in the introduction, "Our whole family is going on a trip across Canada. When my parents told us, they said we had to do it now because in two years I'll be fourteen and 'cool,' and I won't want to go anywhere with my family.")

The scrapbook style of the book provides something for everyone: a map introducing each province or territory, fabulous photographs with short captions, longer chatty entries of the trip as seen through Guy's eyes, lots of great, and very funny sidebars such as Exceedingly Weird (according to Guy), Food I Was Introduced to for My Own Good (such as oysters), According to Mom (who loves to fill in the details), According to Dad (more details and historical bits), Guy's Family Car Trip Survival Tips (new and crazy ways to drive your parents crazy), Things We'll Do and Places We'll Go Next Time, and more.

This book is packed full of info. I can't imagine how long it took Bowers to research and write. It is a keeper for sure and was deservedly so an award winner when it was released. (It won the Red Cedar award one year when I had a book on the short-list, too. It also won the BC Book Prize (Sheila Egoff award), the Hackamatack, and the Information Book Award from the Children's Literature Roundtables. ) Here's a review from Canadian Materials. Happy road tripping, whether you're on a bike, on foot, or (gulp) in a car.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To YA or Not to YA

The blur between what is an adult book and what is a "young adult" (YA) book is a fuzzy one as this article attests. Frankly, this sort of nonsense makes my blood boil,

Mark Haddon, who wrote numerous novels for children before “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” said in an e-mail message that he recalled “a number of people looking down their noses at me when I explained what I did for a living, as if I painted watercolors of cats or performed as a clown at parties.”

Many adults don’t realize how much the Y.A. genre has changed since their days of reading teenage romances and formulaic novels. “A lot of people have no idea that right now Y.A. is the Garden of Eden of literature,” said Sherman Alexie, whose first Y.A. novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” won the National Book Award for young people’s literature last year. Even the prestige of that award didn’t make him impervious to the stigma. “Some acquaintances felt I was dumbing down,” Alexie said in a phone interview. “One person asked me, ‘Wouldn’t you have rather won the National Book Award for an adult, serious work?’ I thought I’d been condescended to as an Indian — that was nothing compared to the condescension for writing Y.A.”

and I think the author is bang on when she said that many adults have no idea what YA really means. Get thee to a book store and check it out. Really, anything goes, and some of the best literature going is written for young people who will gladly toss a book aside if it doesn't grab them from the beginning.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kids' Books from Across the Pond

Things have been crazy busy without much time to post. For now, here's a list of recommended books from UK's Telegraph newspaper.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Pack Some Mags in Those Bags

Getting ready for a day at the beach or perhaps a road trip? Why not slip some kids' mags in with the Frisbee, sunscreen and lemonade? The summer issues of KNOW and YES Mag are hot off the press.

The theme for this issue of KNOW is night life -- what goes on in your neighborhood at night (ahem, just the stuff fit for the consumption of 6-to-9 year olds)? The kids can read about night-blooming plants and animals that are out and about at night. There's also a Where's Waldo-type spread that highlights the people who are hard at work while most of us are asleep. Elsewhere in the pages are columns on skin (and how sunscreen works), the steps that go into the making of a comic, garter snakes, shark skin, Mercury and how palaeontologists remove fossils from the rock. And, of course, activities, puzzle pages, and ideas of how to participate in future issues. Thirty-two pages of fun, fun, in my unbiased opinion!

For the older kids (and their parents), YES Mag is heading Into the Danger Zone! In this issue they're looking at science in the extreme -- outer space, volcanoes, venomous animals, deep sea, microbiology labs and more. There are also features on vehicles that run on air, the Svalbard Seed Bank tucked up in the chilly Norwegian mountains, and also the physics and chemistry of how those beach essentials -- sunglasses and sunscreen -- work.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy (Belated) Canada Day!

We had a happy Canada Day around Tough City. So happy and full of action that I didn't find time to post despite my best intentions. Before I get to a couple of books celebrating our big mass of a country, I'll pass this link on (since I seem to be hepped on alphabet books at the moment): Beyond the Letters: A Retrospective of Canadian Alphabet Books. It's five years out of date, but there's lots of interesting information, and, of course, links to great Canadian books, here. Definitely worth a look.

First up, Eh? to Zed: A Canadian ABeCedarium. Written by Kevin Major and illustrated by Alan Daniel, this is largely an illustrated book with pictures to pore over. Each page (and thus each letter) is allotted a page where Daniels has constructed a collage of images related to the letter. So, for example, the text for L is: Loon, lacrosse, Lillooet, lumberjack. And the accompanying image illustrates just that (with a twist in that the loon is a rubbing of the dollar coin, the "loonie.") But, like most picture books, there's more to it. If you read the text on both pages of a spread, you'll see you have rhyming stanzas such as this:

Gould, Gretzky, Greene, Grizzly bear
Habitant, Horseshore, humpback, hare

Daniel's illustrates the text in an interesting and varied way. For instance, for G we see Glenn Gould on the jewel case of a CD, a skating Wayne Gretzky, and a museum mounted grizzly bear (on a platform). Nancy Greene is shown on one half of one of those flip books where you can change the head, torso and legs of creatures (in this case people) to make funny images. We see Nancy's toqued-head and her legs with skis, but for a torso she has the back of Gretzky's (#99) jersey. Hmm, a little odd, but okay. The strange thing though is that a native person on the other side of the flip book (with a befeathered headress and leather-clothed legs and feet) has what appears to be a cowboy's torso. There is no mention of this native person here or in the text at the back of the book. An oversight or deliberately done to promote discussion? I'd love to know. (Actually, now I DO know! See below.)

At the back of the book there is a densely packed (VERY small font!) four-page spread of text and this is not to be missed: it is full of gems. The pages are titled The Choice of Words, The Choice of Images and is followed by: "Kevin Major's caravan of words cheers our history and celebrates our heroes. It couple the well known with the obscure, the curious with the symbols of our nation. For every province and territory there is a place name, for many junctions of our country something to be discovered. Here are some morsels of information the author came up with for the 104 words."

Even more enlightening and interesting are the notes to Daniel's art: "Alan Daniel's response to these 26 quartets of words reflects the cultural artefacts that have emerged throughout our history. The tableaus he has created are filled with both folk and fine art, the sacred as well as the commercial. They are objects to display in museums and toys to fill a child's idle hours. Several of them call for special mention." So, for example, the Mountie is a whirligig, the Humpback is a soapstone carving, and a cornhusk doll holds a Lacrosse stick. Here's what he has to say about the flip book for G: "A flip book can put Nancy GREENE on skates or make her namesakes Graham and Lorne do a switch-about in television land." Oh, you mean that's Graham Greene? Yikes, I never would have known unless I mined the back for this detail. It's unlikely Graham Greene or Lorne Greene will mean much to kids, but hopefully it won't be lost on the adult reader and it certainly made me want to pore over every other page to see what else would come to light.

Here's the Q, X and Z test:

Quahog, quarter horse, quints, Qu'Appelle
Xenon, xylograph, x-country, x-ing
Zamboni, zipper, zinc, zed

Okay, a bit of a stretch for some because xenon, Zamboni's, and zippers aren't really Canadian (zippers are marginally), but Major skillfully makes them fit in his explanatory notes, so I'll give him that!

In honour of Canada Day, or any day for that matter, this book is one for the bookshelves of all Canadian kids. Just don't forget to spend time with the four pages of notes at the end. They bring so much more to the book and truly make it interactive, not to mention giving an excellent grounding in the diversity of our countries history, geography, citizens, culture, and art.

Here's a review from Canadian Materials.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

One More Alphabet Book

Okay, a week or so ago I said I was going to review some alphabet books and then stopped at two. Not much of a list, so here’s another one: M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet. Another one from Sleeping Bear Press in Chelsea, Michigan. Apparently they have plans for one from each province (and territory perhaps?). If, like me, you’re wondering why an American publisher is so keen on Canadian content here’s some insight from the June 2008 issue of Quill and Quire: “…publisher Heather Hughes grew up in PEI and also lived in Edmonton before settling in Ann Arbor, Michigan.”

First, the Q, X and Z test:

Q is for Quebec
X marks the spot (where the Last Spike was driven)
Z is for zipper

I like how the author has handled the Z, which was actually not designed by a Canadian:

Z stands for Zipper, which everyone knows
is very important in tents and in clothes
A U.S. inventor had a zipperish notion
but it took a Canadian to get the zipper in motion.

In the notes that accompany this page, he adds more information. (The zipper was invented by an American, but it was perfected and patented by Canadian Gideon Sundback.)

The Canadiana covered in this title is broad indeed: Anne of Green Gables, Kim Campbell, the Dionne quints, Eh, northern lights, Ojibwa, Stampede, Underground Railway, etc. It’s a cursory look at the country, of course, but what can one do with only 52 entries. (Each entry has a main entry – the rhyming text – and then another entry for that letter. For example, U covers both Underground Railway and Ukranians.)

This title is written by Mike Ulmer and beautifully illustrated by Melanie Rose. Ulmer, who is the sport’s columnist at the Toronto Star, has also written a few other alphabet books, including J is for Jumpshot: A Basketball Alphabet and H is for Horse: An Equestrian Alphabet. Rose has been the illustrator for a number of Sleeping Bear titles and it's clear why -- her illustrations support the text well and, in particular, she captures the essence of people well. A particular favourite is the joy on the gold seeker's (K is for Klondike) face as well as the two children playing in a pile of ruby red maple leaves (M is for maple.) This last image is used on the cover.

Here’s a review from Canadian Materials and here's a teacher's guide.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On Tasha Tudor

Wow, I had no idea. I played Little House on the Prairie in my playhouse, but she took it all the way.

Reading on Paper vs. Reading On-Line

This is a great article from Slate, by Michael Agger, illustrating beautifully how we read on-line. Well worth a look.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Lists of Summer

And so the summer book reading lists begin. Here's one from The Tyee. I'm not sure what's more fun, reading the book blurbs or the blurbs that introduce them? (e.g., Perfect book to read during the commercial breaks of Dancing with the Stars reruns; perfect book to hold open with mouth whilst spooning tofulatti into your mouth; perfect book to read on the beach, especially under small arms fire or threat of hurricanes...).

Tips For Success

The sun is shining, the house is quiet, I've got the best coffee in the world (or at least my world) and Fuse #8. As usual, her site is full of great reviews and links-o-rama. Here's one from today, which will be invaluable for anyone trying to get into the baffling industry of children's books. Take heed, take heart. Thanks to Pixie Stix Kids Pix for all of the work that went into this. Looks like another site for my ever growing list of RSS feeds.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Quest for Independence

I live in a remarkable place. Remarkable for its beauty and charming citizenry of course (ahem), but also for the fact that is has four, YES FOUR, independent bookstores. That, in a place with approximately 5000 people in the greater region (say, if I drew a 100 km diameter circle from where I live). Granted, there are a gazillion visitors to the area each year and they certainly do help, but we like our books here and I personally love our bookstores. Now, whether they all survive in the end is another thing, but they're hanging in there. (All have to sell other stuff -- coffee, kites, more coffee, kayak trips, expensive outdoor clothes, etc. -- but the primary purpose in three of the stores is to sell books.)

If you've ever wondered why writers and publishers whine about the dearth of independent bookstores, check out this blog post by Annick Press president Rick Wilks. As he says, independents mean diversity and that is a fine thing in many (actually, all) aspects of life: the more diversity, the more choice for you dear reader. The more diversity, the more knowledgeable staff who've actually read the books and care about giving you the best information (and book, of course) they can. So, just as when you shop for food (and, well, just about anything) cheap is most often not better. Cheap means someone is getting screwed. So, please, when it comes to books, put sticker price aside and support your independents.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


A seriously good time was had by moi as I prowled through a few of my favourite second-hand book shops in the last few days. Today I was thrilled to come across an copy (hard cover with a dust jacket) of an Ann Blade book I'd never heard of: The Cottage at Crescent Beach published in 1977 by Magook Publishers Ltd., a publisher I'd never heard of. Then, I troll further through the stack and came across a little soft cover with the title in big red caps.: MAGOOK, also published in 1977. And, inside is also the same story by Ann Blades followed by a four-page bio with pictures, a "new poem" by Dennis Lee (I Eat Kids Yum, Yum!), a craft (how to make paper), another story, The Halloween Switch by G. Joan Morris, and a fold out (the back cover) comic, Magook, by M. and W. Brown. Serious second-hand scores!

So, first MAGOOK. I'm a bit slow on the up-take, but it's a cross between magazine and book. The editors' note says: "MAGOOK! Sound funny? Well, we are a kind of cross between a magazine and a book because each and every issue will feature a complete book. We are something new, and we are pretty excited about it.") Apparently it was a venture of McClelland and Stewart although I can't find too much on-line about it. The one I picked up was the first issue and the publication notes say it will be published 16 times a year. (Working on a magazine that comes out six times a year I can't fathom 16!) More searching only came up with reference to 4 (possibly 5), so, sadly, it never lasted. No visuals available for either Crescent Beach or MAGOOK -- I must get that scanner hooked up so I can show you.

Another nice surprise in the hard copy was a newspaper clipping about Ann. No date, but I suspect it's from the same era (late 1970s) as the book. Ann's art is so recognizable -- I know most of her work: Mary of Mile 18 (which won the Children's Book of the Year in 1972 as voted by the Canadian Library Association); A Dog Came, Too; A Salmon for Simon and so on. I have to say that the art in The Cottage at Crescent Beach is the loveliest of the bunch IMHO. The soft watercolours are perfect for the nostalgic remembrance of a childhood at Crescent Beach before it was consumed by White Rock (my mom remembers going there as a child, too -- it was out in the "country" then of course) and the illustration of the children underwater is particularly beautiful and evocative.

The article I found in the book is a really interesting read, too, recounting Blade's career and early attempts and successes when there were very few children's books being published in Canada. In the article, Ricky Englander (who went on to start Kids Can Press) is interviewed in her capacity as librarian at the Children's Book Centre in Toronto. The article also talks about Blades' nervousness at being asked to illustrate books by Margaret Atwood (Anna's Pet) and Margaret Laurence (Six Darn Cows):

"Six Darn Cows came out in November 1979. Blades laughs as she recalls a meeting with Margaret Laurence. 'She liked my illustrations, but I said I thought the cows looked a bit like dogs. Then she hugged me and said, 'They're lovely cows.'" Imagine having the honour of illustrating the work of those two Margarets!

So, I wonder, have any of you ever heard of (or perhaps you remember?) MAGOOK? What were the other copies like?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Between the Covers

Crazy busy around here, but here's a little snippet of interest from AbeBooks (via BookNinja; thanks!) about the treasures found between the covers of used books. My best finds have been in cookbooks. I picked up a hardcover copy of The Joy of Cooking awhile back and found slips of paper with handwritten recipes for Mina's Oatmeal Cookies, banana bread, and a newspaper clipping for "New No-Bake Treats!: Chocolate Favorite Flavor for Cookies" (no date, but 12 oz. tins of "beef loaf" (!) were 2 for $1.00; and creamed corn was 6 tins for $1.00). On the end pages are hand-written recipes for Grace's Oat Cakes, Pink & White Squares, Never Fail Biscuits, Jam Jam Cookies, Bean Salad and more. Sound like the fare of bake sales and church potlucks to me.

The recipes bring to mind a favourite book around here: The Party by the very talented Barbara Reid (such a great website; don't skip the intro.).

I can just see these recipes this cook took the time to write out decorating the overflowing food tables in this keeper.

If you haven't read The Party, check it out. It's a gem and is guaranteed to bring a flood of memories to anyone over 40 (and probably younger). It's a perfect read for the inevitable summer gatherings of friends and family. Here's a link from Ms. Reid's website and here's a review. This gem was the recipient of a Governor General's Literary Award in 1997.

So what have you found between the covers of a used book? Do tell.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More ABCs

Today, C is for Chinook: An Alberta Alphabet, another installment in Sleeping Bear Press's series of ABC books. (I've got one of my own ABCs cooking -- sad to hear they aren't taking submissions at the moment.) C is for Chinook is written by Dawn Welykochy and illustrated by Lorna Bennett. As in the S is for Spirit Bear, the BC title, the author gives a great overview of the people (Anthony Henday; The Famous Five, Nellie McClung and friends; John Ware, Mary Percy Jackson, etc.), places (Red Deer Valley, Lake Louise, Writing on Stone, Bar U Ranch, etc.), animals (Bighorn sheep, Great horned owl, etc.), and other phenomena representative of the province (e.g., Chinook winds, hoodoos, dinosaurs, icefields, etc.). The four-line poems pique the reader's interest (and may be enough for some), while the longer text blocks expand upon the topic of the page or add more.

Politics aside, I adore Alberta. I lived there for a few years, met my husband there, and travelled through the province as much as I could. I don't think there is a province in our vast country with such a breadth of fabulous parks and interpretive centres. Our most memorable family vacation was to visit friends in the Rockies then head over to southern Alberta to stay at Dinosaur Provincial Park, visit the Tyrrell Museum, walk through a coulee filled with dinosaur nests at a place whose name escapes me, marvel at the walls of petroglyphs at Writing on Stone Provincial Park overlooking the Milk River, then over to Fort MacLeod, Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump and up to Frank Slide. Fabulous stuff. So, this was a nostalgic look back at the province I love.

Welykochy has done a masterful job of exploring the breadth of Alberta and this book provides 26 (and more!) places to springboard off on discussions of the natural and cultural history of the province. Lorna Bennett's uncluttered art, beautifully rendered, helps to evoke the many moods of the province. My favourite is the hunkered down "Doc" Mary Percy Jackson, riding horseback through a snowstorm enroute to assist the women who needed her.

Q test: Q's for erratic quartzite [at Okotoks] (a clever way to bring Okotoks and Ice Age in!)
X test: X stands for railway crossing/By train immigrants came to our land/Settling out west to farm,/ it was what the government planned. (X is a tough one; I'll give her that!)
Z test: Z is for a safari at the Zoo [illustration of zebras] (Segue into a discussion of the world-renowned Calgary Zoo.)

Here's a review from Canadian Materials. And here's a teacher's guide. Finally, meet the author, hear (and see) her read, and learn about the book at this YouTube video.

Monday, June 02, 2008

ABCs of Canada

I'm always on the prowl for alphabet books and have been fiddling with one myself, which will probably never see the light of day (or a printing press). Sleeping Bear Press, from Chelsea, MI, seems to specialize in them, including titles for Canada. Each has its own flavour and a different writer-illustrator team. All are worth a look. Let's start close to home...

S is for Spirit Bear: A British Columbia Alphabet by G. Gregory Roberts and illustrated by Bob Doucet.

Each spread includes four lines of rhyming text and then a longer explanation of the ideas introduced in the stanza. Here's the entry for E:

E is for Emily Carr
with her artist soul and artist hand.
She inspired us with her written word,
and her paintings of her land.

As a lifelong resident of BC, I appreciate the breadth of the representations of BC the author included. Aboriginal people, dogwood (our provincial flower), Steller's Jay (our provincial bird), BC ferries, Steve Nash, Ogopogo, Zeballos, etc. Clearly, Roberts did his homework. He is cognizant, for instance, that after using Queen Charlotte Islands for Q, to mention the name preferred by the Haida residents, Haida Gwaii, and it's great to have so many current references, such as the discovery of "Kwaday Dan Sinchi, the "long ago person found." I have only a few quibbles, one being that I found a few of the rhymes a bit clunky and also that there was really not much representation of the northern part of the province (north of Haida Gwaii). Minor quibbles though and this book would make a great keepsake, introduction to the province, and useful resource in the classroom and library.

Any writing instructor will tell you that if you're interested in writing an ABC book, to do the Q, X and Z test first. If you don't have a good match for those letters, it's not going to fly. So, here's how Roberts approached the challenge:

Q test: "Q is for Queen Charlotte Islands,..." (BC has a few choices for Q, so this was a good choice.)
X test: "The name Terry Fox holds the X..." (Hmmm, a bit of a stretch, but Terry needs to be in this book, so I forgive!)
Z test: "Z is for Zeballos,..." (Nice exposure for this little island town.)

Here's a review from Canadian Materials and here's a teacher's guide.

More Huzzahs

Just back from a fabulous week of events in the Nanaimo area. The organizers of Book Fest, the Vancouver Island Children's Book Festival, put on an outstanding event. It was so well organized and you treated the presenters so wonderfully. Attentive and interested hosts and drivers, lovely meals in stunning settings, keen readers young and old. I had a fabulous time and I'll be back with my own children, and hopefully children from our town, in tow. If you haven't ever attended this event, mark it on the calendar for next May. It is so well worth it. Thanks also to the students and teachers of the schools I visited this week: North Oyster, Seaview, Ladysmith Elementary and Middle schools, and Pleasant Valley (as well as the libraries in Nanaimo and Gabriola). It was also such fun meeting other writers and illustrators. Had a blast. I'll be back!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mock Children's Books or Mocking Children's Books?

Apparently there's a new trend in PR, the promotional "fairy tale."

"Entrepreneurs have a habit of describing their companies in David-and-Goliath terms. Now, some are taking cues from Eloise and James and the Giant Peach. A mini trend in the world of public relations has companies replacing their run-of-the-mill press releases with promotional materials that look and feel like children's books."

Here's the link to the entire article.

Monday, May 26, 2008

School Visits 101

I've had many more requests for school visits this year than I have had any other years. It's been a very fun, but busy, year and it's not over yet! If you are a teacher or librarian interested in hiring me or any other BC writer or illustrator for a visit, you might want to check out this info. from the CWILL-BC website. Funding assistance is available in some circumstances.

Huzzahs to Kathleen McNeely Kids

A big thanks to the children and teachers of Kathleen McNeely Elementary school in Richmond. I had a wonderful visit with you on Friday and you had such wonderful stories and questions. It was a pleasure! I had so much fun; I hope you did too!

Mark Your Calendars!

A couple of upcoming events you may want to attend if you're interested in the creators of Canadians books for kids.

Spring Book Hatching is June 14th at the Vancouver Public Library. You' ll have a chance to meet the authors and illustrators from CWILL-BC (Children's Writers and Illustrators of BC) that have new books to trot out. You can meet the creators, hear a bit about their book, get a book or three signed, win a door prize, and more fun. Here's a press release about the event.

And, BookFest: Vancouver Island Children's Book Festival, this coming Saturday, May 31st at Malaspina University. Here's an earlier post on the event. Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Google Doodles

I'm not a hockey mother, but am a synchro mother, thus the very early mornings lately. Soon, soon, it will be over and the gloriously lazy mornings will be ours again. Into the pool for the team by 5:30, thus some early postings for me lately. I couldn't figure out today's Google banner, but my mouse tells me it's to celebrate the invention of the laser. Cool. If you ever wonder who makes those nifty logos and how they do it, check this out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just in case you think children's writers make the big bucks...

From time-to-time I peek in on Jane Yolen's journal, Telling the True, to see what she's up to. It's always an interesting read. She puts far more personal info. on-line than I'd ever be brave enough to do, but what I find most interesting is how damn hard this woman works. She is probably the most successful children's writer in North America; she's inevitably juggling several projects at a time, as well as speaking engagements, etc., (and she still gets turned down all the time BTW; that didn't surprise me, but it may surprise others), yet she still is watching her pennies. So...just in case you think writing a few children's books is going to make you rich, take a peruse through her journal for a reality check at just how hard one has to work. She recently posted a few tips on writing:

1. Eschew the exclamation point! If your prose is not exciting all on its own, a screamer (as it has been called in some circles, though not mine) is hardly going to help.

3. Don't let your characters float on the page. Unless, of course, they are birds, fairies, superheroes, or jet pilots. By that I mean anchor them with some action. Don't let them just talk and talk and talk. In theater, actors always have some bit of "business" that keeps their characters rooted in the real world. Even the birds, fairies, superheroes, or jet pilots.

8. Make your reader fall through the words into the story. As a wordophile, I love words like “furbelow” and “Taradiddles.” My favorite is the Scottish “Traghairm” which means to prophecy while wrapped in a bullock’s skin behind a waterfall.” But using a word that is unparsable at best and a bloody big STOP sign at worst is simply bad writing.

14. What about an editor? What do we want? What do we need? They are not necessarily the same thing. Well, this is what I want: truth, attention to detail AND the big picture, getting back to me on time, hard questions, and a love letter each bloody time we correspond. I want the editor to love the manuscript as it is, even though we both know it needs to be better. I want the editor to make the revision journey with me, sometimes leading me, sometimes a hand on my butt pushing me up the steep hill. I want the editor to be my voice in the publishing company, my cheerleading section, my advocate, and my sherpa. She (or he) does NOT have to be my best friend. In fact, sometimes having an editor as a best friend gets in the way of a good publishing relationship.

18. Dealing with the dreaded BLOCK. Here’s what I do if a project or piece of writing is being balky, threatening to stop up, or otherwise shut itself down. I stand up, walk about, eat a chocolate chip cookie (check this waistline if you want to know how I have been faring!). I have a cup of tea; watch a rerun of TOP CHEF or AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL; check email; read blogs like Fuse # 8 or BlueJo or Making Light; peruse magazines like Newsweek or Style 1900 or Smithsonian. (You now know more about me than is good for you!) What one is trying to do is to sucker in the hind brain, the lizard brain, getting it to work while it thinks no one is paying attention. If none of these distractions help, I turn to a different writing project. Since there are always plenty of them around, I never have to worry. Notice, I never settle into reading someone else’s finely-wrought novel during work on my own. If I do, it will be many hours or days before I resurface, my own projects forgot, and the beat of the novelist’s language in my head instead of my own novel’s voice.
by Jane Yolen

Good advice all. Ms Yolen's site is a wealth of information and I recommend checking it out. Her book, Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft is also a gem. (Here's a review.) Her classic picture book, Owl Moon, remains a favourite in our family and it's one book we'll never give away. It's a book very dear to her heart and family, too. One other thing I admire about Yolen is that she writes in almost all genres, from adult fiction to non-fiction to poetry. I find this encouraging and heartening, not being one who wants to be pegged...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All Hail the Query Shark!

Thanks for Fuse #8 for alerting me to this blog, Query Shark, on which "The Shark" evaluates query letters. As far as public service and what-to-read-before-you-submit, she's (I'm assuming said shark is a she, of course) is right up there with my other fav, Editorial Anonymous. If you think you're ready to submit, spend some time with these editors first.

The Museum Book

I like to think that I'm a pretty with-it gal, but I never made the connection that the origin of the word museum is the word muse. Duh. There, I've admitted it for all to see. This is just one of the little gems I learned in The Museum Book by Jan Mark, illustrated by Richard Holland. (Subtitle: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections.) If you've ever been in my house, you'll know that I'm a bit of a pack-rat myself and rather fond of strange and wonderful collections. My own "collections" (a word which might be a tad rich for my ephemera) have no particular purpose other than being things that please me for one reason or another (and, of course, don't cost too much), so this book--explaining the origin and purpose of museums--is right up my alley.

Before you move on, thinking this is all rather dull, take a moment to see how Mark writes this gem. This is from Chapter 4: "By Aldrovandi's time, every collector wanted the most curious cabinet of curiosities, the most wonderful chamber of wonders, the biggest collection. A century later, things were really getting out of hand. The collections grew too large for boxes, too large for rooms. It was all very well for kings and rich men, as they had plenty of space, but not all collectors were kings and rich men.

Perhaps one day the collector's wife looked at her house, overflowing with fossils and dried toads and corals and plants and books and dragons' teeth, the stuffed crocodile and the nasty shriveled thing under the stairs that gave her the creeps, and said, "Either all that goes or I do!" The collector would think about this for a while and then find someone to take the collection off his hands."

I love how she speaks directly to the reader, as if they are truly in the know, on her side. It's a kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink style that is very appealing and fun (to me at least!). I've never heard of Jan Mark before, but she was prolific in her day. (She died in 2006.) Here's a site maintained by her Flemish fans. I'll have to check out Thunder and Lightnings and Handles, which both won the Carnegie Medal.

The art by Richard Holland is a wonderful mixed-media collage style--perfectly eclectic for a book about museums, the most eclectic of things. Here's a peek at the first spread.

Here's what a reviewer at The Observer had to say:

There could not be a more marvellous memorial of Jan Mark, who died last year, than The Museum Book, illustrated with bright elegance by Richard Holland. This is an argument she must have wanted to make. There is nothing dustily didactic about it. It is a passionate, unpatronising, offbeat paean to museums and multiplicity.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Musing on Writing About Science for Kids

An interesting post from Steve Jenkins over at INK (Interesting Non-fiction for Kids) on the challenges of writing about science for children. Here's the crux of what he has to say:

I’m more interested in the problems that arise from the nature of contemporary scientific inquiry itself. These aren’t social or philosophical issues. Rather, they bring us up against the limits of human intellect and imagination. Much current science deals with the very large or the very small. The units of measurement used in astronomy and sub-atomic physics are so remote from our direct experience that they are nothing more than abstractions. The same is true of time. The impossibly short life spans of man-made elements or the billion-year intervals that describe the development of life are, once again, too extreme for most of us (perhaps any of us) to really grasp. I’m convinced that an inability to appreciate the time scale of the earth is at the root of many people’s refusal to accept evolution as an explanation of life’s diversity. It just doesn’t feel like it makes sense.

Beware the Moral

A tip from my favourite snarky, sarcastic New York children's book editor, Editorial Anonymous, just in case you're thinking along the lines of, "I have this great idea for a book that teaches kids [insert lesson here]." It won't fly and here's why.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hockey Books in Canada

It seems that the Stanley Cup with be awarded to a team south of the border this year. I'm not the biggest hockey fan, but I do feel nostalgic about the game, which I consider to be quintisentially Canadian. Somehow teams with names like the "Mighty Ducks" just doesn't cut it for me. It will always be a game of the Maple Leafs, Canucks, Canadiens, and such pour moi. Given that it's playoff season, here are a couple of great books about our favourite game.

The Hockey Sweater (originally published in French as Le chandail de hockey) by Roch Carrier. This classic begins: "The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places -- the school, the church and the skating-rink--but our real life was on the skating rink." Young Roch adores Maurice Richard and, when his own hockey sweater is ripped, his mother writes to "Mr. Eaton" and orders a Canadien's sweater. But, horror of horrors, when the sweater arrives it is a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. A classic for sure.

You can listen to Roch reading the story from this clip from the CBC Archives. You can also watch the animated short The Sweater from the National Film Board here. The Hockey Sweater is illustrated by Sheldon Cohen. Here's his blog.

And then there's The Moccasin Goalie, which is also told in the first person. ("A long time ago when I was a boy, my family lived on the prairies in a small town called Willow. The winters there were very cold, with the wind blowing the deep snow into huge drifts. My friends and I didn't mind. This was our favourite time of year. Cold temperatures meant ice, and ice meant hockey!") In this tale, four friends--Anita, Marcel, Petou and Danny (the narrator) live for hockey. Danny is always the goalie. Since he has a crippled leg and foot he can't wear skates so plays in his moccasins, thus "the moccasin goalie." There's much excitement in town when a "real" hockey team is formed, with uniforms and all. But...Anita, Petou and Danny are not picked for the new team. ("Girls don't play hockey, Petou is too small and Danny can't skate.") I'll leave the rest for you to discover. This classic is written and illustrated by William Roy Brownridge. Here's a review.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Two of My Favourite Things

Now this is very cool. And it's not really that much of a stretch -- scientists, after all, are some of the most creative thinkers going. And if they can explain their work creatively and without the bafflegab and jargon, well, we're all the better for it.

While we're on the topic of science and literacy, the Canadian Science Writers' Association has announced the winners of their annual Science in Society book awards.

Winner in the 2007 children's book category: Baby Sea Turtle by Aubrey Lang and Wayne Lynch (Fitzhenry and Whiteside)

Winner in the 2007 youth book category: Polaris by Julie Czerneda (Fitzhenry and Whiteside)

Friday, April 25, 2008

More BC Book Prizes finalists

A follow-up to yesterday's post, here are the finalists for The Christie Harris Illustrated Literature Award. (Blurbs from the BC Book Prizes site.)

The Day It All Blew Away, by Lisa Cinar

Huge-headed Mr. Tadaa and the little person are mighty lonely. Surrounded by characters who are always tipping their hats and shunning those who don’t return the favour, poor Mr. Tadaa has a head too big for his hat. Even worse, the little person’s hat is so big it wears him. One blustery day, Mr. Tadaa’s hat and the little person are blown away by the wind ... and right into each other! A surprise twist at the end shows that even in a world of hat-tippers, nonconformists can find happiness and friendship. Vancouver-based writer and illustrator Lisa Cinar graduated from Emily Carr Institute with a BFA in Fine Arts. This is her first book. Here's a review.

Elf the Eagle, written by Ron Smith, illustrated by Ruth Campbell

Elf is a baby eagle who worries about many things, including the distance from his nest, high up in a tree, to the ground, way, way down below. He also worries about his sister, Edwina, who is older and more adventurous than he is. Eventually, when his baby down grows into strong, black feathers, his parents stop bringing him food and tempt him with tasty morsels that they keep just out of reach. Elf gets very hungry and one day he accidentally tumbles out of his nest; before he knows it, he is flying. Founder and publisher of Oolichan Books, Ron Smith is the author of three collections of poetry and a book of short stories. He lives in Lantzville on Vancouver Island. This is his first book for children. An Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design graduate, Ruth Campbell is a painter who was born and raised in Montreal. She now lives in Vancouver.

Jeffrey and Sloth, written by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Ben Hodson

Jeffrey can’t think of a thing to write, so he doodles instead, only to have his doodle begin to order him about. Jeffrey struggles with the situation until he discovers that the most strong-willed doodle is powerless against a well-told tale. Jeffrey and Sloth is bound to have children rushing for their coloured pencils and their pens to see who and what they can create. Kari-Lynn Winters is an author and playwright. A graduate of Canada’s National Theatre School, she also performs with a children’s theatre group, The Tickle Trunk Players. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in the Language and Literacy Department at UBC. Ben Hodson is an award-winning artist based in Ottawa. Here's a review.

Pink, written by Nan Gregory, illustrated by Luc Melanson

Vivi is dizzy with wanting pink. Perfect pink. The kind the rich girls have, beyond the budget of her beloved truck-driver dad. One day in the window of a fancy toy store she sees something that embodies everything she longs for—a bride doll in a dress of perfect glistening pink. She saves and saves to buy the doll, walking the next-door dog and running errands. But when she takes her parents to show them the precious doll, she experiences a crushing disappointment. Pink is a touching story about longing for something beyond reach and finding something better close to home. Nan Gregory is a Vancouver-based award-winning author and professional storyteller. She won the CLA Book of the Year Award for Wild Girl and Gran and the Sheila A. Egoff Prize and the Mr. Christie’s Award for How Smudge Came. Luc Melanson is a commercial artist who has illustrated many picture books. He lives in Montreal. Here's a review.

A Sea-Wishing Day, written by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

On a hot summer day, a wish transforms an urban backyard into a place of breezy high-seas adventure. As our bold Captain and Skipper ride the salty waves, they encounter a beastly sea monster, buried treasure, a scurvy pirate crew, lovely mermaids and more. The creative pair who brought you the acclaimed I Wished for a Unicorn offer up another celebration of the boundless distances a childhood wish can travel. A retired elementary school teacher, Robert Heidbreder has been enchanting children with his joyful poems and rhymes for more than two decades. His 2005 book, Drumheller Dinosaur Dance, won the BC Chocolate Lily Young Readers’ Choice Award. Kady MacDonald Denton is an author and illustrator of books for children and lives in Peterborough, Ontario. Here's a review.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Celebrating BC Books and Magazines

I'm a bit late with this, but we're smack in the middle of BC Book and Magazine Week. If you go to their website you'll find a listing of events. Perhaps you'll find one near you? Or, why not check out a BC magazine you haven't cracked open before -- there sure are enough of them. According to BCAMP (the BC Association of Magazine Publishers) there are over 75 to choose from, including (ahem) KNOW and YES Mag of course, but also such diversity as Room of One's Own, The Block, Small Farm Canada, and Lusitania. Browse the full list at the BCAMP site.

Now, though, I'd like to mention the finalists for the BC Book Prizes in the two children's lit. categories:

Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize
(All blurbs from the BC Book Prize site.)

The Alchemist's Dream, by John Wilson

In the fall of 1669, the vessel Nonsuch returns to London with a load of furs from Hudson Bay. It brings something else, too—the lost journal from Henry Hudson’s tragic search for a passage to Cathay in 1611. In the hands of a greedy sailor, the journal is merely an object to sell. But for Robert Bylot—a once-great maritime explorer—the book is a painful reminder of a past he’d rather forget. As Bylot relives his memories of a plague-ridden city, of the mysterious alchemist John Dee and of mutiny in the frozen wastes of Hudson Bay, an age-old mystery is both revealed and solved. The Alchemist’s Dream was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award. John Wilson is a prolific writer specializing in historical fiction for young adults, and this is the fourth time he has been shortlisted for the Sheila A. Egoff Prize. He lives in Lantzville on Vancouver Island.

Baboon: A Novel, by David Jones

Fourteen-year-old Gerry Copeland has mixed feelings about flying back to his parents’ research camp in the African savannah. While his biologist mom and dad study baboon behaviour, he’ll be thinking about the video arcade and restaurants back in the city. When their small plane goes down, Gerry wakes up thinking a baboon has broken his fall but is shocked to realize the furry arm is his own. Gerry’s only chance is to stay with the baboon troop but will his parents ever recognize him? Baboon has been shortlisted for several prizes, including Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children and has been listed in the Children’s Fiction Top 10 List by the Ontario Library Association and the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age. David Jones lives in Vancouver.

The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane, by Polly Horvath

Like her National Book Award-winning The Canning Season, The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane is filled with plot twists and extraordinarily strange characters. It is also a moving meditation on loss and finding family in the most unlikely places. Following the death of their parents, two cousins are sent to live with their distant, scholarly uncle and his eccentric house staff. Told in four characters’ voices, the novel is a layered account of one bad year from multiple points of view linking humour and pain. Polly Horvath has written many award-winning books for children and young adults, including The Trolls and Everything on a Waffle, which won the Sheila Egoff Prize in 2002. She lives in Victoria.

For Now, by Gayle Friesen

In Friesen’s previous book, Losing Forever, Jes learned to accept the inevitability of change. But change is moving at a heartbreaking pace and her world shifts by the day. There’s lots of uncertainty in Jes’s life, but the biggest uncertainty of all is love. Everyone has a different opinion on it. Dell says love should be so intense that it makes you puke—this from a girl who’s swept off her feet as easily as a dust bunny. Jes’s teacher says that love is about reuniting what was once divided—this from a guy who’s going through a divorce. If anything’s for sure, it’s that love is never predictable, but, as Jes begins to see, no one ever gives up on it. Born and raised in Chilliwack, Gayle Friesen studied English literature at UBC before becoming a writer. Her first novel, Janey’s Girl, won the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Delta.

Porcupine, by Meg Tilly

When her father is killed in Afghanistan, twelve-year-old tomboy Jack Cooper (or Jacqueline, as her mother insists on calling her) watches helplessly as her mother crumbles. Before long, Jack moves with her younger siblings from her Newfoundland home to a rundown farm on the Prairies with a great-grandmother they didn’t know existed. In the process, she learns that families come in many different forms and that love, trust and faith can build a home anywhere. A moving and inspiring tale, Meg Tilly’s Porcupine is a novel about adaptation and new understandings. Formerly a film actress, Meg Tilly is the author of two adult novels, Singing Songs and Gemma, and is currently at work on her second novel for young adults. She lives in Vancouver.

Congratulations, all.

This is getting long, so I'll post the finalists for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize in another post.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day, a good time to redeem myself after yesterday's on-line hissy fit. Thank goodness there are far more fabulous books out there than aforementioned self-published dreck (I know, I know, there is some very well done self-published non-dreck) and Peter Sis's books are great examples of innovative non-fiction for kids.

In honour of the fact many of Charles Darwin's works are now on-line, I thought I'd take another peek at Sis's The Tree of Life (which has a subtitle reminiscent of the fabulously long titles of Darwin's time: A Book Depicting the life of Charles Darwin: Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker.) (Thanks to BookNinja, by the way, for alerting me to the Darwin archive and this article re. the release.) Using wonderfully detailed illustrations -- a Sis version of Where's Waldo and I Spy books, but much more beautifully rendered of course -- he introduces young readers to Darwin's life, his work, and some of his discoveries and ideas.

Here's Sis's Author's Note from the beginning of the book:

Charles Darwin regretted that he hadn't learned to draw. Instead, he kept detailed descriptions of everything he saw. It is these dense and vivid written passages in his diaries, letters and journals that have inspired me to use my own drawings, based on contemporary sources, to tell this story of his life. The text in my visualization of Darwin's diary entries has been freely condensed from his various writings about the voyage of the Beagle. Other sources for quotations and information include Darwin's autobiography, his letters, and the first edition of On the Origin of Species.

Sis takes us through Darwin's life story with the use of sketches, captioned illustrations, lists, diary entries, etc. We see Darwin as a child right through to his death. One of the most interesting spreads explained Darwin's serendipitous assignment as naturalist on the Beagle. We learn of his father's displeasure and how (with help from his maternal uncle Josiah Wedgewood), his father finally relented. On this spread Sis has used list to explain Father's Objections (e.g., That it would be a useless undertaking.) and then Practical Arrangements (e.g., case of strong good pistols; book on taxidermy; bible). Then we launch into his journey for several spreads followed by his life back in England, trying to piece it all together. (After the voyage, Sis clevery describes Darwin's activities into three parts: Public, Private, and Secret ("his developing a theory about the evolution and adaptation of species.)

Although I found the detailed drawings and explanations of his journey captivating -- and I'm sure younger readers will as well -- I'm not convinced that children will make the necessary leaps as to how he used these observations in his development of the ideas of natural selection. As I've written before, I think explaining natural selection and evolution is tricky and, in that vein, it can be such a challenge to distill it down. (Will young readers understand words such as adaptation and selection for instance?) So, while learning about Darwin's observations and discoveries on the Voyage of the Beagle are interesting in their own right, I'm not sure kids will make the connections between some of the things he'd seen on the voyage and his eventual development of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Of course Darwin took years to do this and he also incorporated other observations into this mix and I'm glad Sis included his (many) years after the Voyage as well. (As a side note, I was happy to see that Sis mention how Darwin spent eight years studying barnacles after his return. I always thought that was kind of quirky!)

Having said all this, I found this partial review by Roger Sutton at The Horn Book in the article The Ones That Got Away: Great Books That Didn't Get Their Due by Rick Margolis, in which Sutton makes a good point:

"Published to great reviews but no awards, Peter Sís’s The Tree of Life (Farrar/Frances Foster Bks., 2003) confounded those who wanted a straightforward explanation of evolution. Instead, the book is a remarkable joining of two imaginations, Sís’s and Darwin’s, hard at work to show us that scientific investigation is anything but straightforward. It instead requires the intense scrutiny of apparently disparate phenomena—just like this book.—Roger Sutton, The Horn Book"

(Yes, I agree, but I think this further points to how this book is definitely not a picture book for really young readers -- I think it's best suited for kids in the upper grades of elementary school and even beyond.) Quibbles aside, I think the book is a wonderful introduction to the life of one of our world's most important scientists and thinkers. His ideas (and of course those of Alfred Russel Wallace, who eventually came up with the same ideas, but was never as widely recognized) were indeed revolutionary and as the years go on are strengthened. The Teacher's Guide for this title is an added bonus, and will help strengthen many of the ideas introduced in the book. (Another reason why we need engaged and interested teachers and librarians in schools -- this book can bring you to a whole other level with wonderful instruction and discussion.)