Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spreading the Love (of Books and Reading)

I dearly wanted to do a post for Family Literacy Day, which was January 27, but I have a very full plate at the moment. I am pleased to report though, that, inspired by a comment by a fellow writer, I instigated a free bookshelf at our local elementary school. I know that many of our local kids have few, or even no, books of their own. So we got a lovely bookshelf built at the entrance to the school and it is now laden with gently-used, donated children's books that kids can take for their own. They can keep them if they want or share them or return them. No questions. I'll have a wander over later to see it in action.

In this spirit of sharing books and all things wordy, here are a few of my favourite book sharing ideas. You've probably heard of Book Crossing -- it's been around for awhile now, but I love the idea of "unleashing" books into the world to an unsuspecting public. Who can resist a "Catch and Release" map for books? Oh, and they have all sorts of goodies, including some of the most beautiful bookplates.

And then there's this brilliant collaborative experiment, 1000 Journals Project, where 1000 blank journals were unleashed on the world by "Some Guy." You can see some of the pages here and, of course, there is a book with some of the best entries of the past six years.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Clickety clack

Last year my eldest daughter became quite fascinated by typewriters. (Sigh...this reminds me of a friend telling me her daughter went out for Halloween as an aerobics instructor, leg warmers, headband, and all. Weren't we bouncing around to the Bay City Rollers just a few years ago?) Anyhow, we've kept our eyes open for a cheapee and, lucky us, found a little portable for $2 at an event we fondly call the Catholic Church Ladies' Bizarre Bazaar last December.

Then last evening I'm drooling as I troll through Barbara Hodgson's Trading in Memories: Travels Through a Scavenger's Favorite Places (man, I'd like to have a look in her house) when I came across the section of her trying to find a portable Arabic typewriter. (She had set herself a goal of learning to read Arabic and thought a typewriter might help. Kind of puts the "lose 10 pounds" goal to shame doesn't it?) Who knew? Of course I confess to never thinking about typewriters in other scripts, but, of course, it makes perfect sense. Tres, tres, cool.

If you're in Toronto and you're looking for something to do, check out the exhibit on Early Typewriters they're showing. It's been held-over until June 29th.

And, while we're on the subject of these beautiful machines, here's a bracelet I covet, from Keys and Memories.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Loving Stories and 100 (more) Books to Read

Here's an interesting article from UK's Telegraph on learning to love stories as being part of the path to becoming a reader. Sounds like sage (and also logical) advice. Included is a list of 100 books that children should read. A fine list, full of worthy books. I guess it's no surprise, considering the source, that there's only one Canadian author on the list. Sigh. Guess who?

Here's the list to save you a click:

Early Years

The Twits, by Roald Dahl
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Burglar Bill, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
The Tiger Who Came To Tea, by Judith Kerr
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, by Beatrix Potter
Yertle the Turtle, by Dr Seuss
Fungus the Bogeyman, by Raymond Briggs
The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business, by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch
Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
The Cat in the Hat, by Dr Seuss
Charlotte's Web, by EB White
The Story of Babar, by Jean de Brunhoff
Winnie-the-Pooh, by AA Milne, illustrated by EH Shepard

Middle Years

Stig of the Dump, by Clive King
Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling
The Borrowers, by Mary Norton
Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffman
The Magic Faraway Tree, by Enid Blyton
Danny, the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl
George's Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl
Underwater Adventure, by Willard Price
Tintin in Tibet, by Hergé
The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales
Erik the Viking, by Terry Jones, illustrated by Michael Foreman
When the Wind Blows, by Raymond Briggs
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by TS Eliot
The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes
The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
The Worst Witch Collection, by Jill Murphy
Peter Pan, by JM Barrie
Mr Majeika, by Humphrey Carpenter
The Water Babies, by Charles Kinglsey
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I'm The King of the Castle, by Susan Hill
The Wave, by Morton Rhue
Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
Bambert's Book of Missing Stories, by Reinhardt Jung
The Firework-maker's Daughter, by Philip Pullman
Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The Silver Sword, by Ian Serrallier
Cue for Treason, by Geoffrey Trease
The Sword in the Stone, by TH White
A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K LeGuin
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling
The Chronicles of Narnia Box Set, by CS Lewis
His Dark Materials Box Set, by Philip Pullman
The BFG, by Roald Dahl
Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome
Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now, by Lauren Child
The Railway Children, by E Nesbit
The Selfish Giant, by Oscar Wilde
Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell
Just William, by Richmal Crompton
Jennings Goes to School, by Anthony Buckeridge
Comet in Moominland, by Tove Jansson
The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket

Early Teens

Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
The Outsiders, by SE Hinton
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
The Owl Service, by Alan Garner
The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, by Mildred D Taylor
A Kestrel for a Knave, by Barry Hines
The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien
War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo
Beowulf, by Michael Morpurgo
King Solomon's Mines, by H Rider Haggard
Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
The Road of Bones, by Anne Fine
Frenchman's Creek, by Daphne Du Maurier
Treasure Island, by RL Stevenson
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables, by L M Montgomery
Junk, by Melvin Burgess
Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee
The Go-Between by LP Hartley
The Rattle Bag, ed by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes
The Song of Hiawatha, by H W Longfellow
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
True Grit, by Charles Portis
Holes, by Louis Sachar
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Carrie's War, by Nina Bawden
The Story of Tracy Beaker, by Jacqueline Wilson
The Lantern Bearers, by Rosemary Sutcliffe

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Braid (in all its permutations)

I wrote one of my local history pieces not too long ago about a family forced off their land in Scotland who eventually made their was to the west coast. With that era of history on my mind, plus my love of Cape Breton and interest in verse novels, I was primed, ready and eager to read The Braid by Helen Frost.

It's 1850 and The Highland Clearances are forcing people off the land. The landlords have decided it's more profitable to raise sheep than to collect rents from tenants. Sisters Jeannie and Sarah, along with their family, are being forced off their land on the Isle of Barra. They are due to sail to Canada (destined for Cape Breton) in a few days. The night before they are to leave, the sisters weave their hair together in a braid and then curl up to sleep. When Jeannie awakes, she sees that Sarah has cut off the braid and left half for her sister. As we will learn, Sarah has gone to stay with her grandmother on a nearby island, rather than take the voyage to Canada. With this scene, we have the first braid.

But there are more. In The Braid, Frost alternates narrative poems by Sarah and Jeannie. In between each narrative poem, is a praise poem, which praises something in the narrative. We see the girls' lives unfold, the tragedies and sadness, but also moments of hope and joy. All of the family except Jeannie, brother William, and their mother, die on the journey to Canada and they arrive with nothing. Back in Scotland, Sarah goes to live with her grandmother, on the nearby island of Mingulay, where life is also hardscrabble but, for now at least, they can stay on the land.

For those intrigued, a bit of Googling will find more of the plot laid out for you, but I think it's better to let it unfold as you read. There was also a huge surprise for me at the end, which made it all the better. SPOILER -- if you plan to read this book, don't read on.

Frost has taken the metaphor of a braid, and Celtic knots, to make literal braids through the story with her poetry techniques. First, the praise poems are braided horizontally. so, the last line of one praise poem is braided into the first line of the next praise poem.

So, for example, the last line of Mussels is: white inside, shining like the sun. The first line of the next praise poem, Hair, is: white, shining in the sun, Grandma's/hair winds round her head, a braid,....

Then, the longer narrative poems are braided vertically. The last words of each line in one narrative poem are the first words of each line in the following narrative poem (sometimes slightly varied). Here's one line of The Braid: Willie fussed, and wouldn't go to sleep. It was late, we were/ and the corresponding line of After Three Days: Were they angry? Could they understand how this place holds me, so/.... the end of the story, when Jeannie is weaving a braid, images and words from the first two narrative poems, as well as the subjects of all of the praise poems, are woven into the lines of the last two narrative poems.

But wait, there's even more! Each line of the narrative poems has the same number of syllables as the narrator's age. When Jeannie is fourteen, each line has fourteen syllables and so on. Finally, each praise poem is composed of eight lines, each with eight syllables.

So, having read all this you may be wondering, Is this a gimmic? I doubt it, and if so, what a HUGE amount of work to go to in order to pull it off. The story is a solid one -- it is solidly grounded in historical fact with enough tension and passion created for the characters to pull you along. I enjoy historical fiction and poetry, so it was a shoe-in for me. When I finished it and clued in (duh) to the intricate style I just wanted to read it over again.

I have one small quibble. In Sarah's narrative poem Such Immense Love, Sarah and Murdo are out on the cliffs of Mingulay where they are wont to wander. After I read this: Waves crashed onto the cliffs below us, and we -- kissed./In love, they say, as if love is a place you enter-- as if we/ slice open time and find a whole new island inside one moment./I'm shaken by the strength of this. Does what we did together mean/I'm going to have a child? Why did no one warn me?... Okay, so I read that and figured that Sarah, like so many other girls through history who have no knowledge of sex, assumed that kissing meant you could get pregnant. But, no, as we learn, "what we did together" was actually having sex. When I later learned she's pregnant, I went, Hey, wait a minute, and had to go back and re-read this passage. Did I miss something? Obviously. This "loss of virginity passage" was just a little too vague and cagey for moi. Overall, a small quibble, however, in a very enjoyable, and ambitious, verse novel.

You can read some more reviews here, from Fuse #8 and here's an interview with Frost from School Library Journal. The author also has some great links about the location, the history, the book (including review excerpts) on her website.

Calling All Vancouver Island Writers

The Victoria Public Library and Vancouver Island Regional Libraries will be having a writer-in-residence program, commencing September 2008. Check their website for details.

The Coolest Kind of Bookworm

Check out the 8-panel series "Bookworm" by artist UK Holly Ormrod, who, among other wonderful things, has an MA in Book Arts. Who knew there was such a thing? Check out her site to see some of the other lovely things she does with books. All images used with permission.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stamp, stamp for Children's Illustrators!

I suspect this is old news for American readers, but I just received a package with some of these fabulous stamps on it. Hmmm, which characters would we put on Canadian equivalents? Franklin the Turtle, The Paperbag Princess, Zoom, Stella, Kurelek's "Prairie Boy"...? Who gets your vote?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Serendipity and Authorfest - Upcoming Events

If you're in Vancouver (or even anywhere within a few hundred kilometres) and you're free on February 8th or 23rd, you might want to check out two great events put on by the Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable. Sadly, I won't be able to make either this year, but they're well worth attending if you're interested in writing, illustration, children's books, children's literature, the lives of writers and illustrators. Oh heck, if you once were a child, go!

Authorfest is February 6 from 4 - 6 pm at UBC's Wesbrook Building. The panel includes author Sarah Ellis, winner of the 2007 TD Canadian Children's Literature award; poet, Robert Heidbreder; writer and science educator, the Science Lady, Shar Levine; and writer, poet and dramatist, Kari-Lynn Winters.

Serendipity is on February 28 from 8 am - 4 pm. It will be held at the beautiful First Nations' Longhouse at UBC. This year's theme is "a celebration of First Nations writers and illustrators of children's books." Speakers include illustrator George Littlechild; author Richard van Camp; author and illustrator Leo Yerxa; illustrator Julie Flett; author Earl Einarson; and author Diane Silvey. Wish I could be there. Boo hoo for me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hey, Rocket Man!

I've got a new little friend, and his name is Martin Bridge. This spunky protagonist is the creation of author, Jessica Scott Kerrin. He's the hero of six books, including Martin Bridge: Sound the Alarm!, Martin Bridge: Ready for Takeoff! and, the most recent, Martin Bridge: In High Gear! The series is illustrated by Joseph Kelly.

Each book contains two or three stories, which are perfect for kids ready to move up a notch in their chapter book reading. Martin is an aspiring rocket scientist and fan of his super-hero, Zip Rideout star of the cartoon, Zip Rideout: Space Cadet. Martin's stories deal with the everyday stuff of life that kids just might have to grapple with -- the grumpy school bus driver, the dead pets (that you happen to be pet sitting), jealousy (who has the fancier rocket), being lost, peer pressure, and the like. Things don't always go Martin's way and we're with him as he tries to sort out his actions and reactions to what life throws him.

Here are a smattering of reviews (SLJ and BookList and Canadian Materials) for Ready for Takeoff!, the first book in the six book series. This title was on the Fanfare List from The Horn Book and was listed as one of the best books of 2005. A few reviews bemoan that Martin is just a bit too good-to-be-true and the stories tend toward being moralistic. Yes, of course, impish children who are up to no good are fun in stories, but, you know, it's also nice to read about good-at-heart kids making their way through the dilemmas they'll find in life.

The Martin Bridge books are published by Kids Can Press.

(A bit of an aside: I think it's important for reviewers to try to imagine themselves in the shoes of the readers these books are intended for. Yes, of course, an adult reader may find books for young readers a bit simplistic at times, but, surprise, surprise, they're not meant for you! Imagine a 7-year-old trying to read these books on their own. Frustration is a sure fire way for a kid to put a book down. (Can you tell I'm writing for young kids right now?) Rant over.)

Art of the Bookmark

I have many, many books I'm ready to blog on, but, I'm a tad busy with work, and school, and sorting out life after the holidays. So, for now, check out this on-line art exhibit, Art of the Bookmark. I was especially delighted to see the first bookmark that came up under the category of Bookstores, was from Munro Books in Victoria, BC, one of the country's best independent bookstores. (Fabulous attention to their bookmarks -- yet another reason to support an independent bookstore near you!) I think I may just have some of the older bookmarks from Munro's kicking around. It was fun to learn that Martin Springett illustrated this bookmark in the 1970s. (Remember Martin's poster here?) Thanks to the Dewey Divas and the Dudes for the bookmark link.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pillows Only a Word Nerd Would Love

I want some. Go to the original Neatorama site for more info. Neatorama indeed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

More on Raincoast

The Internet is abuzz with the sad news from Raincoast. Artist and writer Cynthia Nugent, illustrator of one of my favourites, Mister Got To Go, and part of the Raincoast stable, was interviewed by CBC. And writer, John Burns, author of Runnerland among others, comments on this demise of his publisher on his blog. (Scroll down to Raincoast RIP.)

And here's an ironic story, from May 2007. Note the last line, from CEO Allan MacDougall: “We want to be one of the survivors.”

Finally, here's a prediction of how this will affect the Canadian publishing industry as a whole.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Cybils List Announced

Short-lists for the Cybils are being revealed this week and last. I'm on the panel that will be judging the finalists in the non-fiction picture book category. Here's a list of the final contenders. So, you know what I'll be reading in the near future. And here are the finalists for all of the other book categories.

Raincoast Pulls the Plug

Publishing news from the wet, west coast: Raincoast will cease to publish Canadian-written titles. Here's the scoop. I believe this is the second sweep they've had in the past few years. And didn't they just hire children's book editor, Tonya Martin, from the US not that long ago? She must be choked. What a shame. Harry Potter is "safe", not that he needs saving really, but I'm sorry for one less publisher creating books for Canadians by Canadians.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

We Need a National Children's Lit Laureate, Too!

So the UK has one, and now the US has one -- I think it's high time Canada had a national laureate for children's literature, too. Jon Scieszka has just been named the national ambassador for children's literature in the US. Here's a letter from Michael Rosen, the UK's laureate, to Jon. And here's an interview with Jon from Bookslut.

So, if Canada had a laureate for children's literature, who might it be?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Decorating for the Book Nerd

Cicero was purported to have said, "A room without books is like a body without a soul." I don't know about you, but I feel slightly unnerved when I go into a home with nary a book in sight. I mean, what do they do with their time -- when they're eating breakfast?, or taking a bath?, or lying on the couch?, or lying in bed? No doubt, their house is cleaner and their bank book up-to-date, but I think I'm having more fun.

My guilty pleasure is flipping through home decorating mags. (There, it's out, but it's just because I'm always on the prowl for ways to turn crap into something respectable.) So, it's not suprising that this baby, Decorating with Books, caught my eye at the library. Lots of eye candy for the book lover.

I figure read those design mags. in my own special way though, and can justify it as research, not a frivilous time-waster, since whenever I see bookshelves in one of those stark, overly-styled, and impossibly pristine layouts, I always turn the mag sideways to see just what's on those shelves. Based on their selection, I make wildly opionated decisions on the lives of their owners and wonder whether any of those books ever get read...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

More Factory Boys and Girls

After my post about Factory Girl, I had a nice email from author and historian, Joe Manning. Mr. Manning is heading up a research project in which he is trying to track down and interview descendants of the child labourers photographed by Lewis Hine. Check out his project website here. Thus far, he's tracked down 80 descendants. Make sure you check out some of the stories. Fascinating stuff and a site worth watching for sure.