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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

My Canadian Week

23 Oct

I had a sad moment last week. I was sitting in a conference room with seven other 6th grade teachers and I realized I was the only one who knew, and cared, that Gord Downie, lead singer of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, had died.

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I don’t feel foreign very often, but I did that day. I felt a little alone in that room.

Later in the week, while reading That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, I felt like I had insider information.

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Much of the story is set in Muskoka, where my sister has lived for almost 30 years. I laughed out loud at parts that American readers will not see as funny. I felt smugly superior, even though I was home alone. You don’t need a Canadian background to find the book witty and engaging. You simply get to enjoy it at an even deeper level, if you are.

Publisher’s Summary: Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history. The imperial tradition of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage. But before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer of freedom and privacy in a far corner of empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process.

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved not by the cost of blood and theft but by the effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

 

Big Mothers

21 Aug

No, not the eclipse. I will write about that tomorrow.

Today is a tale of two books, each with a character named Big Mother, each written by a Canadian woman.

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The Big Mother of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a singer in pre-revolutionary China is truly named Big Mother Knife. Not a main character, she is the mother and grandmother of two of the main characters, Sparrow and Ai Ming, Sparrow’s daughter.

Publisher’s Summary: Madeleine Thien’s new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations–those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow’s ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai’s daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.

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The Big Mother of Claire Cameron’s The Last Neanderthal is the matriarch of a failing Neanderthal clan, and the mother of the main character, Girl.

Publisher’s Summary: Forty thousand years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate.

But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself.

In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women’s lives.

Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, THE LAST NEANDERTHAL asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

These were probably the two best adult books I read this summer.

 

Thinking about home

3 Jul

Because July 1st fell on Saturday, today is a statutory holiday for Canadians, giving most a long weekend, the first of summer.

Since today is an extension of Canada Day, I want to talk about my favorite Canadian picture book of 2017.

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Publisher’s Summary: A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather’s grave after lunch and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea. Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig.

With curriculum connections to communities and the history of mining, this beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of Canadian history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a Cape Breton mining town will enthrall children and move adult readers.

Why do I love this book?

*Sydney Smith’s beautiful illustrations.

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Good illustrations add a depth to the text and Smith’s do just that. The simplicity and openness of the young narrator’s life is contrasted beautifully with that of his father, a coal miner.

*Joanne Schwartz’s text is spare but evocative. The repetition of  “it goes like this—” invites the reader along for the journey in the life of this boy, this family, this town.

Although young readers’ lives might be very different from the narrator’s, Town Is By The Sea invites its readers to reflect on the pace, rhythm and events of their daily lives.

Happy Canada Day 2017!

1 Jul

Today, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday.

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) recently published a list of the top 150 bestselling Canadian books of the last decade. Many children’s and teens books made the list and I thought I would share them with you.

The #1 & #3 books were by Robert Munsch. Love You Forever was #1 and my favorite Munsch book, The Paperbag Princess,  was #3.

 

Munsch books appear 27 more times on the list – and most of them are illustrated by the same person, Michael Martchenko!

The first non-Munsch book to appear is A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Werner Zimmermann. It came in at #33.

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Number 37 was Sing A Song of Mother Goose  by Barbara Reid.

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Number 45 was ABC of Canada  by Kim Bellefontaine, illustrated by Per-Henrik Gürth.

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One of my favorites came in at number 56: Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt.

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You might not know what a zamboni is, but Canadian kids do. It is no surprise that written by Matt Napier and illustrated by Melanie Rose.

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The most classic story is Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater,  illustrated by Sheldon Cohen. It was # 84.

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A new one to me was #85,  Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard.

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Anne of Green Gables  made the list at #89, the only one of L. M. Montgomery’s many books to make the list.

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The team of Kim Bellefontaine and Per-Henrik Gürth make a second appearance at #101 for Canada 123.

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Did you know Gordon Korman was Canadian? He made the list at #110 for One False Note,  part of the 39 Clues series.

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Astronaut Chris Hadfield made the list 3 times. His picture book, The Darkest Dark  is lucky #113.

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Number 121 is Eric Walters’  action-packed novel The Rule of Three.

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Phoebe Gilman’s Something From Nothing makes the list at # 124.

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The classic Red is Best  by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Robin Baird Lewis is # 144 and the final children’s book on the list.

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The Great Antonio

5 Jan

I haven’t written about picture books much, mostly because, as a middle school teacher now, they don’t really fall into my purview. Many titles come across my book feeds and a few have captured my interest, either because of the subject or because someone thinks they seem Caldecott worthy. The end of a year brings out many “best”  book lists and there are only 18 days until ALA’s Youth Media Awards.

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A picture book that can’t win the Caldecott (because the author/illustrator is Canadian) is Elise Gravel’s The Great Antonio.

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Publisher’s Summary: What made the Great Antonio so great? He weighed as much as a horse; he once wrestled a bear; he could devour twenty-five roast chickens at one sitting. In this whimsical book, beloved author and illustrator Elise Gravel tells the story of Antonio Barichievich, the larger-than-life strongman who had muscles as big as his heart.

The Great Antonio was a real person, who lived in Montreal. Gravel’s biography reads like a tall tale and celebrates Antonio’s quirkiness. The type style and illustrations bear witness to real feats he accomplished.

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The Great Antonio is published by Toon books, who specialize in beginning readers. Their website for the book offers a teacher’s guide that teaches young readers about biographies and autobiographies and shows students how to examine the boundaries between fact and fantasy and create an autobiographical world of their own!

A great addition to beginning biography unit.

The Tragically Hip

20 Aug

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Many Canadians will tune away from the Olympics today to watch The Tragically Hip’ last concert live. I’ve already bookmarked the CBC’s live stream site on YouTube.

 

All of Canada mourned when the band announced in May that lead-singer Gordon Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. They released their last album in June and the CBC decided to live cast the final concert from their hometown in Kingston, so the nation could say goodbye.

It is not surprising to me how Canada is rallying around the band, and doing it in a way that, I think could never happen un the USA. Because it is not about whether you like The Hip or not. It’s about rallying around an idea of what it is to be Canadian. When the CBC asked fans to answer the question“What does the Tragically Hip mean to you?” in 3 or 4 words, they got answers like “Canada’s heart and soul” and “Great poets of our time”.

I was never a rabid Hip fan, but I concur with the two sentiments above. They appeared just after I’d finished university and had started teaching, but I had cassettes of  “Up to Here” and “Road Apples”  that I played frequently. And they were two  of the cassettes I took with me when I went to teach in Colombia.

I called my 85-year-old mother this morning and, half-jokingly asked if she’d be watching. She said she would. So, this afternoon, I will join millions of people, in Canada and across the world to watch this

If you don’t know The Tragically Hip, you can get the check out Rolling Stone’s  article about what they consider their 10 essential songs.

 

Shipped off

10 Jul

I’ve encountered them in at least three novels this summer: kids shipped off to distant relatives for the summer. I mean the word distant in two ways. The relatives  live far away and they are relatives essentially unknown to the protagonist. There is usually a time of awkwardness, then a crisis that further distances our protagonist that is followed by a reconciliation and a feeling of connection with the family.

The one I want to talk about today is Sea Change by Frank Viva.

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This short novel tells the story of Eliot, whose parents ship him off to a tiny town in Nova Scotia for the summer.

Publisher’s Summary:One summer can change your whole life. As soon as school lets out, Eliot’s parents send him to the very edge of the world: a fishing village in a remote part of Nova Scotia. And what does the small town of Point Aconi have to offer? Maggots, bullies, and grumpy old men. But along the way, Eliot discovers much more – a hidden library, starry nights, and a mysterious girl named Mary Beth. Critically acclaimed author and artist Frank Viva (Along a Long Road) brings us this warm, funny, and innovatively designed coming-of-age story. See Point Aconi through Eliot’s eyes, as he finds that this place he never wanted to visit is becoming a home he doesn’t want to leave.

This is a short novel that would be suitable for kids ready for a more challenging chapter book, but aren’t quite ready for Harry Potter. The book is published by Toon Books, producers of high quality comics for kids, and is part of their Toon Graphics series. Viva’s art is woven into the fabric of the story, making this more like an illustrated novel than a traditional graphic novel.

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Although fiction, the story is based on Viva’s own experiences being shipped off to Nova Scotia for the summer, making the story rig true. I am thinking that I could use a chapter or two when we do our narrative writing unit in September.

 

 

Crawling to the Airport

6 Jul

Rather than driving directly to the airport for my 6pm return flight home, my sister and I took a leisurely drive to the airport yesterday in order to participate in the Lakeside Yarn Crawl.

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Unlike Portland’s 4-day Rose City Yarn Crawl, the Lakeside Yarn Crawl begins in mid-June and runs through Labour Day. That gives you two months to visit the twelve participating LYS (local yarn shops) that rim the Southern end of Georgian Bay in Ontario.

Our first stop was True North Yarn Co. in Barrie.This was the only shop of the 12 in the yarn crawl my sister had been to before. The first shop on a yarn crawl is always tricky. You don’t want to get carried away and spend too much, but you don’t want to walk out without supporting a local yarn shop. I bought a colorful self-striping yarn.

Our next stop was also in Barrie. Eliza’s Buttons and Yarn is a treasure, tucked away in a strip mall just off the 400. That’s a major highway for those of you not from Ontario. Deb, who was manning the store that day, was a gregarious knitter.She and her sister, Lyn, design patterns under the name Cabin Fever.  I was anxious to get to this shop because I knew from the passport that they stocked the signature yarn of the crawl and I wanted to ask about it. Deb told us about Dragon Strings,  the local dyer who produced the yarn, a cashmere blend called Lakeside, dyed to match the colors of Georgian Bay.

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I didn’t purchase a skein here, but chose another skein by the dyer in Fall colors. Me & my earth tones! My sister did get one, however, and we left feeling as though we had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

After a bite to eat at Panera, we went off the 400 and onto what William Least Heat Moon calls a blue highway. our destination was Alliston, and two more shops.

The first, Alliston Yarns, is what we like to call a grandma shop. It caters to an older, more traditional knitter. This is not the place to look for hand-dyed Blue-faced Leicester, but you can find a great gran for knitting aster or baby blanket. I got a skein of gradient sock yarn here.

A little further down highway 89 was our last stop, The Knitting Basket, in Rosemont, a tiny town about 10 miles west of Alliston. Angie, the owner of this shop, was my favorite shop person of the day. She runs her small business out of her house in this rural area. My sister and I fantasized about how we could do this when we retire. For a small shop in rural Ontario, she has excellent yarn. She has a lovely mix of everyday yarns and a range of independent dyers. I finally got my skein of Lakeside here! My sister and I each got a gift bag, too. We had a lovely chat with Angie about how her business operates. If you are in the area, you should definitely stop in to see her.

So, here’s my stash.

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My sister’s GPS indicated we could get to the airport on more blue highways, so, rather than return to the 400, we meandered through the Central Ontarian landscape and small towns towards Toronto, stopping for a Tim Horton’s in Bolton.

I got to the airport in a timely manner and had a bit of Canadian money left, so, I did what any self-respecting ex-pat should so: I bought the candy I can’t get in the USA!

Here’s my other stash.

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