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Reading my way home

16 Jul

I went to Canada with a list of new Canadian  books I thought might be hard to find at home, and that I could add to my classroom library. One of the beauties of flying is the time to sit and read without interruption. I read two of my new books as I waited at the gate, then flew home.

I started A World Below by Wesley King while I waited at the Gate.

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Publisher’s Summary: A class field trips turns into an underground quest for survival in the latest middle grade novel from the author of Edgar Award winner OCDaniel.

Mr. Baker’s eighth grade class thought they were in for a normal field trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. But when an earthquake hits, their field trip takes a terrifying turn. The students are plunged into an underground lake…and their teacher goes missing.

They have no choice but to try and make their way back above ground, even though no one can agree on the best course of action. The darkness brings out everyone’s true self. Supplies dwindle and tensions mount. Pretty and popular Silvia does everything she can to hide her panic attacks, even as she tries to step up and be a leader. But the longer she’s underground, the more frequent and debilitating they become. Meanwhile, Eric has always been a social no one, preferring to sit at the back of the class and spend evenings alone. Now, he finds himself separated from his class, totally by himself underground. That is, until he meets an unexpected stranger.

Told from three different points of view, this fast-paced adventure novel explores how group dynamics change under dire circumstances. Do the students of Mr. Baker’s class really know each other at all? Or do they just think they do? It turns out, it’s hard to hide in the dark.

This was an interesting book to read mere days after the rescue of the soccer team in Thailand. Each chapter ends with a bit of a cliff hanger and that certainly kept me reading. I had arrived at the airport early so I finished the book early in the flight and had time to read a second. The second book was My Deal With the Universe  by Deborah Kerbel.

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Publisher’s Summary: Daisy Fisher just wants to be normal, but growing up in a house known as the “Jungle” makes that impossible. It doesn’t help when the neighbours declare your family public enemy number one. Or when your best friend leaves for camp and forgets you exist. Or when your twin brother may be getting sick again….

Just when it feels like Daisy’s deal with the universe is unravelling, she finds out that love and strength can come from surprising places… and that maybe “normal” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Most people have made a deal of some sort with the universe, promising to do something if only the Universe will make something turn out the way we want it to. Daisy’s deal has to do with her brother’s illness. Many kids have been embarrassed by their parents and Daisy is trying to walk the line between her love and embarrassment for hers. There is a lot for middle grade readers to connect with here.

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Flight Plan

6 Jul

As You read this, I am on my way to Canada for my mother’s memorial service.

One of the most important things to think about when packing for any trip  is “What books should I bring?” I have a nonstop flight from Portland to Toronto. It takes just a bit over 4 hours, so I can easily finish a book.

I am checking a bag, in which I have packed my knitting because my current project uses double-pointed needles which, unlike circular needles, are considered a threat. Really TSA, don’t you have more serious things to worry about!  I am also too short to comfortable put a bag in the overhead compartment.  I only packed one book in my carry-on, an ARC I picked up in New Orleans that I am excited to read.

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Publisher’s Summary: In a United States in which half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

Sounds terrifyingly possible, doesn’t it!
This book was written for adults, so I plan to leave it behind for my sister when I leave.

Happy Canada Day 2018!

1 Jul

My mother’s passing has left me reeling. I suppose that is because it was so unexpected. Grief is such a strange emotion and there is no one way to mourn. Two Canadian picture books do an amazing job helping young readers navigate grief and emotions.

The first is The Funeral by Matt James.

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Publisher’s Summary: Norma and her parents are going to her great-uncle Frank’s funeral, and Norma is more excited than sad. She is looking forward to playing with her favorite cousin, Ray, but when she arrives at the church, she is confronted with rituals and ideas that have never occurred to her before. While not all questions can be answered, when the day is over Norma is certain of one thing — Uncle Frank would have enjoyed his funeral.

This sensitive and life-affirming story will lead young readers to ask their own questions about life, death and how we remember those who have gone before us.

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki is more stream of consciousness.

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Publisher’s Summary: In captivating paintings full of movement and transformation, Tamaki follows a young girl through a year or a day as she examines the colors in the world around her. Egg yolks are sunny orange as expected, yet water cupped in her hands isn’t blue like they say. But maybe a blue whale is blue. She doesn’t know, she hasn’t seen one. Playful and philosophical, They Say Blue is a book about color as well as perspective, about the things we can see and the things we can only wonder at.

The Never-Ending Present

5 Apr

One of the best things I didn’t get in Denver was a copy of this book, The Never-Ending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip by Michael Barclay.

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I was pleased to see that the publisher, ECW Press, a small publishing company out of Toronto, had a booth in the exhibit hall. I made my way over and had a nice conversation with Amy, who told me that she had no ARCs, but could send me one. Yeah!

I received the ARC a few weeks later. I came back with a pile of ARCs, finally finished made it to this one. It was worth the wait!

Publisher’s Summary: In the summer of 2016, more than a third of Canadians tuned in to watch what was likely the Tragically Hip’s final performance, broadcast from their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Why? Because these five men were always more than just a band. They sold millions of records and defined a generation of Canadian rock music. But they were also a tabula rasa onto which fans could project their own ideas: of performance, of poetry, of history, of Canada itself.

In the first print biography of the Tragically Hip, Michael Barclay talks to dozens of the band’s peers and friends about not just the Hip’s music but about the opening bands, the American albatross, the band’s role in Canadian culture, and Gord Downie’s role in reconciliation with Indigenous people. When Downie announced he had terminal cancer and decided to take the Hip on the road one more time, the tour became another Terry Fox moment; this time, Canadians got to witness an embattled hero reach the finish line.

This is a book not just for fans of the band: it’s for anyone interested in how culture can spark national conversations.

When I first heard about the book, I expected it to be a straightforward band bio. On the page before the Prologue, however,  the author tells readers that the book is a documentary combining a chronological history of the band, thematic reflections on the band’s work and influence, a description of Gord Downie’s work that lead to The Secret Path, and a collection of impressions by friends and fans from The Hip’s early days through the final concert in Kingston. Barclay also tells readers that you can read chapters in isolation or out of order. Although I read the book sequentially, I can see that this is completely possible. It would be a great way to reread the book.

I have to admit that I read much of the book with my computer parked on YouTube, searching up bands and songs from the 80s and 90s. Many names were part of my youth and young adulthood, but I needed reminders of who they were or what songs were on that album. The first half of the book was a wonderful stroll down memory lane.  I am the same age as most of the band members so many of the bands they listened to were ones I heard. And many Canadian artists who began in the music industry at the same time as The Tragically Hip  were on the radio when I was in college and starting my career. For the most part, I loved this. Occasionally, it seemed like there was a lot of name dropping and info about the music business that only real music aficionados would appreciate, but it never lasted long. I could have skipped those chapters ( per the author’s forward) but found something new and interesting, even where I felt the book bogged down for me.

I don’t claim to be a huge fan of The Tragically Hip. I had two cassettes in the 90s (Up to Here and Road Apples) and brought both of them with me when I went to Colombia. Living on the west coast if the US for the last 20 years, I hadn’t paid them much more attention until the news of Downie’s terminal diagnosis became public along with the final tour dates. I watched the concert in Kingston and felt really connected to Canada and Canadian culture.

I found a couple of aspects of the book fascinating. First, although many people connect to the “Canada’s Band” mythos, Barclay brings in many voices that counter that narrative. I actually appreciate that. I grew up in small town Ontario and I know that this is not the experience of many, if not most, Canadians.

Secondly, this wasn’t just an uncritical homage to the band. Barclay, and the people he interviewed for the book (or for articles he’d published previously) are not mere band sycophants. Chapter 15 “A Heart-Warming Moment for Literature”  talks about Gord Downie as a poet. There are voices that argue that Downie is Canada’s greatest poet. There are voices that argue that Downie is no poet at all. It is this sort of discourse, which occurs throughout the book, that gets me so jazzed about the book.

If you are in the GTA, there is a book release party at the Horseshoe Tavern tonight (April 5th) and another in Lindsay on Saturday. Details can be found here.

 

 

Last book of 2017

31 Dec

You’d think I would end the year with a happy book. I didn’t, but The Marrow Thieves,  by Cherie Dimaline was really good.

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Publisher’s Summary: Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden – but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

That description doesn’t really indicate the power of the writing. Main characters’ back stories are told in “coming to” chapters. Storytelling is woven in. And Dimaline creates a Canadian wilderness impacted by global warming that seems terrifyingly probable.

The book is full of loss and sacrifice, but the beautifully lyrical language of the book makes it worth reading.

The magic of moonlight

17 Dec

I love this time of year – so dark, but lights everywhere and glittering trees in many windows. It all seemed so magical as a kid. As an adult, it warms my heart and makes me nostalgic.

Here is a lovely book that evoked the same feeling.

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Publisher’s Summary:  In this atmospheric story, a group of kids play hockey on a frozen lake by moonlight. At once nostalgic and timely, this is a gorgeous book that will speak to readers young and old.

100 Years Ago Today

6 Dec

One hundred years ago today, Halifax was rocked by a terrible explosion of a munitions ship that was bound for the war in Europe.  You can read this article from the CBC for more details.

Here is a list of some of my favourite Canadian books on the event.

Juvenile Fiction

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No Safe Harbour: The Halifax Explosion Diary of Charlotte Blackburn by Julie Lawson

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Penelope: Terror in the Harbour by Sharon E. MacKay
Juvenile/Teen Nonfiction
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Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker
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Barometer Rising  by Hugh MacLennan
Adult Nonfiction
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The Halifax Explosion: Canada’s Worst Disaster by Ken Cuthbertson
Jone Rush MacCulloch

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