May 30, 2016

Born With: Erika and Gianni

by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Clockwise Press
231 pp.
Ages 13+
March 2016

Clockwise Press launched its young adult series One-2-One with Fragile Bones: Harrison and Anna (2015), also by Lorna Schultz Nicholson, focusing on the relationship between two teens in the Best Buddies program, a world-wide organization that aims to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities integrate successfully  into their communities. Born With features two other teens, both with a love of musical theatre: Erika, a fourteen-year-old born with Down Syndrome and Gianni, a teen who’s struggling with his sexuality.  This is their story, a powerful one for their trueness of thought, action and self-appreciation.

Erika and Gianni both audition for the school’s musical Grease. While Erika is thrilled to get selected to sing and dance in the chorus for three songs, Gianni is disappointed to get slotted for the comedic role of Eugene, losing the coveted lead role of Danny Zuko to the more athletic but less talented Richard.  Also cast are Erika and Gianni’s friend Sonya, as Sandy, and a boy named Bilal to whom Gianni is secretly attracted.

Gianni is determined to be stellar in the role of Eugene and to help Erika rehearse her lines and steps, ensuring that both will be successful.  But the two teens have more on their plates than singing and dancing. Erika’s father has ALS and his condition is worsening, and, though she takes her responsibilities for him very seriously, all she wants is for him to see her dance.  On the other hand, Gianni is coming to terms with his sexuality and what he wants out of life, convinced he already doesn’t fit his father’s dream for him, and that he can’t be himself until he is able to graduate from high school and leave his big Italian family.  But secrets have a way of becoming revealed, especially when Erika has been tutored in not keeping secrets, even if they are someone else’s personal business.

Born With takes on the monumental task of showcasing characters living with aspects of their lives over which they have no control: a genetic disorder, and sexual orientation.  Erika has a great understanding and acceptance of the strengths and limitations of her genetic disorder, and works to meet her needs, advocating for herself while celebrating in her own successes.
Sometimes people don’t think I can be serious or that I can learn things, but I can–I can do lots of things after I’m serious and listen. And focus. Focus. (pg. 9)
Likewise, Gianni has compassionate insight into Erika but he has yet to accept himself, confused over his sexuality, still processing what he is feeling and with whom to share that secret.
Tonight Erika’s honesty was creating chaos in my life.  But, seriously, what difference did it make who I was in the school musical?  That was a relatively little issue in comparison to the rest of my life. (pg. 190)
Both Erika and Gianni must navigate how others feel about them and make them feel, while dealing with family, friends, peers, ignorant bullies, and others.  The high school years are tenuous enough but Erika and Gianni have struggles that many of us could not imagine, and yet they dare to be themselves and are able to thrive.  By wrapping their stories in the joyful musical that is Grease, another story about being true to oneself, Lorna Schultz Nicholson has written an inspirational and triumphant story of acceptance in Born With: Erika and Gianni.

May 28, 2016

Good Pirate

by Kari-Lynn Winters
Illustrated by Dean Griffiths
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
May 2016

Kari-Lynn Winters and Dean GriffithsBad Pirate (Pajama Press, 2015), winner of the 2016 Rainforest of Reading Award, is back and Augusta Garrick is still trying to fit in with the pirates of her father’s crew.  In Bad Pirate, she had difficulties emulating the sauciness, boldness and selfishness of the sea dogs her father, Captain Barnacle Garrick, revered, and now it seems she’s just too fancy!
From Good Pirate by Kari-Lynn Winters, 
illus. by Dean Griffiths

As much as she appreciates tidiness, cleaniness and fancy baubles, she’s considered a liability when the pirates go off on a raid.  But when the crew is caught by Captain Fishmonger and his feline Tuna Lubbers, it’s the finely-scented Augusta who saves the day and proves that she’s as rotten, sneaky and brainy as necessary to be a Good Pirate.

The text is saucy and spicy and flavoured with pirate-speak, as befits a hearty swashbuckling yarn, but it’s all in good fun and brimming with joviality.  Still amidst all that merriment, so much like Kari-Lynn Winters herself, is an important message about being true to oneself and appreciating differences as strengths.  And, again, Dean Griffiths illustrates with richly detailed pirate ship sets and characters which are dogs and cats of all variety.  Kids will delight in identifying the different breeds and who’s wearing what and trying out the “pirate talk” and “nautical talk” which peppers the story and is defined in the endpapers.  Arr, Good Pirate is a good time with a hearty–both deep and enthusiastic–message packaged in the fanciest scurvyiest of art.
From Good Pirate by Kari-Lynn Winters, 
illus. by Dean Griffiths

May 27, 2016

The Stone Thrower

by Jael Ealey Richardson
Illustrated by Matt James
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
For release May 2016

Though The Stone Thrower only came out this month, this picture book that honours Jael Ealey Richardson's father, Chuck Ealey, a famous African American football player who was undefeated in his home country but made a name for himself in the CFL, will surely become earmarked for booklists of significant youngCanLit for February, Black History Month.

Thoughtfully illustrated by Governor General award-winning artist Matt James, The Stone Thrower is “a story about a kid who lived in hard times, a kid who had a big dream that seemed almost impossible.” (pg. 2) It’s the story of Chuck Ealey, beginning with his birth to a poor, hard-working mother in 1950 Portsmouth, Ohio where segregation and racism would seem to be the norm.  Though her own education was minimal, his mother ensured that her son understood that, like the trains that ran through their neighbourhood, he shouldn’t stop until he got where he was going, and that was out of the North End and completing his education.

These same trains became a source of victorious inspiration to him as he regularly tossed stones at the cars, aiming for the large letter N on the side, practising over and over again until he could always hit his target.  Applying this same determination, focus, and practice at school and at football, Chuck was able to see beyond the hardships he and other African-American youth faced at the time and was able to achieve great things, including winning every game as quarterback for his high school.

Jael Ealey Richardson may tell more about her father’s story in the note at the conclusion of the picture book, as she does in her adult book The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lessons, A Father’s Life (Thomas Allen, 2012), but The Stone Thrower focuses on but a snippet of Chuck Ealey’s successes in meeting the challenges of being a black youth.  By setting a goal and aiming for it repeatedly, even when faced with cruelty and disrespect, Chuck Ealey achieved much.

From The Stone Thrower by Jael Ealey Richardson, 
illus. by Matt James

Matt James, whose artwork has enhanced his own Northwest Passage (Groundwood, 2013) and I Know Here and From There to Here by Laurel Croza (Groundwood, 2010 and 2014, respectively), sets a gritty tone to The Stone Thrower, with his roughened outlines and coarse watercolours.  There’s nothing saccharine about this story or the art and that’s the way it should be.  Both emphasize the hardship and the courage, strength and perseverance, and the achievement.  The Stone Thrower is a story of grit, visual and inspirational, in its truest form.

May 26, 2016

Door into Faerie: Book launch (Regina, SK)

Author Edward Willett

concludes his YA fantasy series

The Shards of Excalibur  

with Book 5 

Door Into Faerie
Coteau Books
208 pp.
Ages 13+
May 2016

which launches


Wednesday, June 8, 2016


7 p.m. (CST)


Artful Dodger Cafe & Music Emporium
1631-11th Avenue
Regina, Saskatchewan 


In the climactic fifth book of The Shards of Excalibur series, Ariane, Wally, Flish and Rex Major are on a collision course, converging on the resting place of the final piece of the sword: the hilt, long ago removed from its original hiding place by the descendants of King Arthur. When Wally uncovers its surprising location, far closer to hand than they’d ever guessed, it seems all Ariane and Wally have to do is claim it and reforge the sword to defeat Merlin forever., exactly, do you reforge a magical sword? Especially, how do you do it when the richest man in the world is on your trail and pouring all of his enormous resources into stopping you?

When the pieces of the sword are at last reunited, the results aren’t at all what Ariane and Wally imagined. With Excalibur whole again, the long-closed door into Faerie swings open wide. Who — and what — emerges from it may destroy everything and everyone Wally and Ariane have fought so hard to save — and allow Rex Major to snatch victory from the very jaws of defeat.

Fighting side by side, Ariane and Wally must draw on all their strength, courage, magic and love to save the world…and there’s no guarantee it will be enough.

May 25, 2016

Cave Beneath the Sea: The Shards of Excalibur, Book 4

by Edward Willett
Coteau Books
213 pp.
Ages 13+
November 2015

Merlin incarnate, Rex Major, CEO of Excalibur Computer Systems, is ever hopeful of acquiring the four shards and the hilt of Excalibur so that he might open the door to Faerie and launch an attack. During the course of Song of the Sword (Coteau, 2014), Twist of the Blade (Coteau, 2014) and The Lake in the Clouds (Coteau, 2015), three shards have been located but Rex Major is only in possession of one.  Our fifteen-year-old modern-day Lady of the Lake, Ariane Forsythe, and her burgeoning boyfriend Wally Knight, heir of King Arthur, possess the other two shards and are determined to keep  Rex Major from getting his magical hands on any more.

But, just weeks before Christmas, Wally and Ariane’s search for the fourth shard has become more complicated because of Ariane’s missing mother and Wally’s sister Felicia a.k.a. Flish.  Travelling far and wide via magical water transport just to access the internet without tipping off Rex Major to their location (currently in Saskatchewan), Wally discovers photos of Emily Forsythe tagged at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in B.C.  While they pursue that lead, they are painfully aware that Flish, also an heir of Arthur, would be helping Rex Major to pull in the magic and locate the remaining shards.  Fortunately, that is also a blessing as it reveals to the two teens that Merlin and Flish are headed to Cacibajagua Island in the Caribbean, home of a saltwater cave fed by a freshwater waterfall, and undoubtedly the location of the fourth shard. And it’s a dangerous race to find the shard and liberate it from its watery hiding spot.

In Cave Beneath the Sea, Edward Willett has created as exciting a read as the earlier books in the series, continuing to develop his characters and their relationships while the action-filled plot carries the reader to intriguing national and international locales.  Both Ariane and Wally feel the power of the sword, drawing them to its shards but also compelling their anger in those who have hurt them: parents, siblings, bullies, enemies. And while they struggle with those yearnings, they are finding their way to a hitherto-unknown girlfriend-boyfriend relationship that provides them the family they both crave.  It’s hard for me to decide which is the stronger foundation for the story, the characters or the plot, as both are substantial and intricate.  Regardless, Cave Beneath the Sea takes The Shards of Excalibur a fast-moving step closer to the Door to Faerie, the magical entity and Book 5 in the series.

Check this blog tomorrow for details about Edward Willett’s book launch of Door to Faerie early next month to be held in, you guessed it, Regina, Saskatchewan.

May 23, 2016

Two picture books to launch from Owlkids: SKUNK ON A STRING and MAYA (Toronto)

It's twice the fun
because there are two books being launched!

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Join author-illustrator Thao Lam for the launch of

Skunk on a String
Owlkids Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2016

A wordless picture book about a skunk who sees the world from a new perspective
Reviewed here


debut author Mahak Jain

and award-winning illustrator Elly McKay

for the launch of their picture book

Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2016

The story of a young girl who uses her imagination and the legend of a banyan tree to assuage her fears and grief


Saturday, June 4, 2016

2-3:30 p.m.


Toronto Public Library
Lillian H. Smith branch

There will be:
  • swag bags for the first 30 kids (and treats for adults too)
  • storytime
  • crafts and activities
  • refreshments
  • book signing
  • books on sale courtesy of Another Story Bookshop

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May 22, 2016

Who Broke the Teapot?!: Book launch (Millbrook, ON)

  Bill Slavin 

author-illustrator of the Elephants Never Forget series


illustrator of Linda Bailey's Stanley books

and many more volumes of youngCanLit

for the launch of his newest picture book

Who Broke the Teapot?!

Tundra Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
April 26, 2016


Saturday, June 4, 2016

2 - 4 p.m.


Bear Essentials
12 King Street East
Millbrook, ON  L0A 1G0

On its website at, Tundra Books describes the book as follows:

Mom is very angry. Her very favorite teapot is broken, and no one is 'fessing up. Was it Dad, sitting in his underwear reading the paper? Was it Cat, who was all tangled up in a ball of yarn? Was it Baby perched in his highchair? Or is there a surprising twist to this mystery that teaches Mom a little lesson in anger management? Bill Slavin takes a sly poke at parents in their less-than-finer moments in this funny and energetic story.

I think this one is going to be great fun! So, if you can, take in the book launch for the book, or at least pick a copy up at your favourite book store.  I know I will!

May 21, 2016

Forest of Reading 2016 winners announced this week!

The Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading's book awards have been an important part of my school library program and my personal volunteer experiences for many years, so I am always proud to post the results of this wonderful reading program.

It's impossible to congratulate all those who made this reading program and the Festival of Trees such a success but here are some of the amazing people who play important roles in its success:

• the readers;
• the selection committees who read so many books to choose the best for the shortlists;
• the steering committees that organize and put on the fabulous Festival of Trees;
• the OLA staff, with Meredith Tutching at the helm;
• the authors and illustrators who create the wonderful youngCanLit;
• the publishers who publish youngCanLit and promote it; and
• the winners and honourees in each reading program.

Here are this year's readers' choice winners for each reading program:

Blue Spruce


If Kids Ruled the World
by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by David Huyck
Kids Can Press


Silver Birch EXPRESS

The End of the Line
by Sharon E. McKay
Annick Press

Silver Birch FICTION

by Gordon Korman

Silver Birch NON-FICTION 


Haunted Canada 5: Terrifying True Stories
by Joel A. Sutherland
Scholastic Canada

Le prix Peuplier


Ça commence ici! 
par Caroline Merola
Bayard Canada

Le Prix Tamarac 


Un clic de trop
par Rhéa Dufresne
Bayard Canada

Le Prix Tamarac EXPRESS


Les trois grands cauchon
par Sonia Sarfati 
Illustrations de Jared Karnas
Éditions Québec Amérique

Red Maple Fiction


The Dogs
by Allan Stratton
Scholastic Canada

White Pine FICTION

The Bodies We Wear
by Jeyn Roberts
Knopf/Penguin Random House Canada


Thrilling news for all authors, illustrators and publishers!

Enjoyed all the more for being selected 
by young Canadian readers!

Congratulations to everyone!

The full list of winners and honour books is posted at CanLit for LittleCanadians Awards here.

May 20, 2016

Super-Duper Monster Viewer

by Kevin Sylvester
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2016

If it’s from Neil Flambé creator and illustrator extraordinaire Kevin Sylvester, you know that Super-Duper Monster Viewer is going to be super-duper fun and funny. It is.  (All the cover accolades–including a New Scary Honor Book, The Scalding Hot Medal, a recommendation from the Monster Safety Council and a 4-scars rating from the Beast Best Bets–clearly attest to it too.)

Set up like a technological device with a screen and familiar buttons, the Super-Duper Monster Viewer allows the user to "see the monsters that are all around you! All the time! Anywhere!  In fact, there are TWO monsters standing in front of you RIGHT NOW!" Yes, readers, by following the simple rules for using the Super-Duper Monster Viewer, you will be able to see Kevin Sylvester's colourful creatures, one small and green and ornery and the other large and purple and hairy.  Eventually.  Getting accustomed to the viewer is an art in itself but the monsters humourously encourage the reader to manipulate the device, ever hopeful of getting the full picture.

From Super-Duper Monster Viewer by Kevin Sylvester

Seemingly interactive, Super-Duper Monster Viewer will have children feeling like they are the ones in control of the device when it's all courtesy of Kevin Sylvester's wacky imagination and quirky illustrations.  Enjoy whatever glimpses you can get of the two creatures before, as sadly happens with too many toys, the Super-Duper Monster Viewer becomes damaged.  How that happens is as dreadfully good fun as the rest of the story of Super-Duper Monster Viewer.

May 12, 2016

A Change of Heart

by Alice Walsh
Illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4-10
April 2016

A Change of Heart is a profound story of racism, resilience, and redemption and will be an important book to add to all booklists for social justice, Black History month and character education.

From A Change of Heart 
by Alice Walsh, illus. by Erin Bennett Banks
Based on the life of Lanier Phillips, A Change of Heart depicts the young African American’s early life in Georgia, enduring the terror of the Klan and the racism of its laws and his growing resentment of this injustice.  Joining the navy in 1941, hopeful of escaping that racism, Lanier was chagrined to learn the same attitudes and bigotry prevailed on board the USS Truxton.

But a new series of terrors arise when a storm hits off the coast of Newfoundland and the crew must escape the sinking Truxton.  While Calvin, a fellow African-American sailor chooses to stay on the ship rather than risk the potential horrors of prejudice on shore, Lanier took a chance.
The raft bounced and twirled, the wild sea tossing the men about.  Facing the fierce winds and driving sleet, Lanier knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make it to land.  But that wasn’t his biggest fear.  He recalled Calvin’s words.  Would the people ashore accept him?  In many ports, a Black man was not welcome.  That thought frightened Lanier as much as the treacherous waters that swirled beneath him. (pg. 19)
From A Change of Heart 
by Alice Walsh, illus. by Erin Bennett Banks
Rescued by a Newfoundlander named Abe and taken to his house in St. Lawrence to be tended to by women who’d never seen a Black man before, Lanier experiences the compassion and respect needed to help “all his fear, bitterness, and anger melt away.” (pg. 28)

The note “About Lanier Phillips” at the conclusion of A Change of Heart details the seaman’s achievements, including becoming the first African American to graduate from the US Navy’s sonar school and recipient of the prestigious Lone Sailor Award, and he gives credit to the people of St. Lawrence, Newfoundlad for providing him with a “lesson in humanity.” (pg. 32)  Alice Walsh gets to the heart of Lanier Phillips’ story by recognizing the seeds of resentment that grew out of a threatening society of discrimination that were squashed with the compassion of good people who saw beyond the colour of Lanier Phillips’ skin and offered assistance regardless.  The story is a gripping one and well illustrated by the distinctive angularity of Erin Bennett Banks’ evocative art.  From childhood scenes of the Klan on horseback to the ship in the storm and Lanier Phillips’ rescue, the simple scenes share the physical nature of a hard reality against a backdrop of a potential buoyancy nestled in an atmosphere of goodness.  It’s this contrasting balance of harsh and calm that tells Lanier Phillips’ story so gracefully in A Change of Heart.

May 11, 2016

Small Displays of Chaos

by Breanna Fischer
Coteau Books
102 pp.
Ages 13+
May 2016
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Everything in her life was supposed to be better when she was thinner. (pg. 50)
For Saskatoon teen Rayanne Timko, her eating disorder began with a Phys Ed class fitness goal of healthy eating and improved exercise regime to get a good grade to match those of her academic subjects.  But the recording of all foods and monitoring her physical appearance became a ritual she couldn’t let go, ever hopeful of finding “the person who she wanted to be…hiding somewhere underneath.” (pg.  9).

Now a high school senior, Ray’s life is a complex existence of school counselling sessions, community service at a dog shelter, crushing on Josh Reid who’d witnessed her purging at a party, and convoluted family dynamics with a twin sister, an angry father, a conflicted mother and an impending family wedding that requires her dreading her participation as a bridesmaid.  And I haven’t even mentioned the voice of her judgemental thinner self Edie for whom Rayanne never seems to be good enough.

But even with a referral to an eating disorder specialist, Ray doesn’t know what she needs and finds it hard to ask for help.  It’s not until the family wedding that the desperate teen realizes that she’s been in the “final stage of a grand Disappearing Act” (pg. 74) from which she wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone and could finally just give up.

With all the positive affirmations about body image and awareness campaigns about eating disorders and mental illness, Small Displays of Chaos is still a timely and relevant story that needs to be told and heeded.  Breanna Fischer has based Small Displays of Chaos on her own experience being diagnosed with anorexia with bulimic behaviours and convincingly shares her skewed thinking and dangerous pursuits with candor and insight.  Luckily both Rayanne and Breanna Fischer are able to survive their crises and find the words to astutely convey the depth of those crises to provide valuable lessons.