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!