Dr. Larry Recommends

Dr. Larry Recommends

What books have I recently enjoyed reading? What plays have I recently enjoyed seeing? This section offers recommendations of some of my current favourite literary and arts experiences.  I look forward to frequently posting children’s literature book lists here.

INTO 2024: Middle Years Titles + 2YA

Unless designated otherwise, the following lists some 2023 titles that started off my reading for the new year. 

 

THE BLUNDERS by David Walliams; illus. Adam Stower

With 20+ record-breaking fiction titles  (55 million – copies) which have been translated into fifty-five languages, David Walliams remains to be reliable, preposterous, adventurous, silly, clever, rude (sometimes) and very funny! funny! funny!. I seem to be buying a new Walliams title each year and the wild adventures of the Blunders family (and their pet ostrich) who will do anything to maintain their crumbling house (Blunder Hall). The graphic formatting with varied fonts, , the comical illustrations by Adam Stower and the wickedly wild imagination of Mr. W. does not disappoint. The Blunders will likely raise sales of this author’s books by another million or so. 

 

THE BOOK OF WHYS by Gianni Rodarti; translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar; illus. JooHee Yoon (illustrated. nonfiction)

From 1955 to 1958, Italian journalist Gianni Rodari worked wrote two columns  “The Book of Whys” and “The Mailbox of Whys” for L’Unita one of Italy’s daily newspapers in which he answered questions raised by kids. The Book of Whys is a selction of Rodari’s answers to the range of questions he received. He sometimes answered with succinct fact, but always with wit and absurdity and philosophical wisdom.  There are 138 questions, none taking more than one page (e.g., Why doesn’t the moon fall down? Why don’t people get along? Why do we eat? Why can cats see in the dark? Why do we have to study? Why are we born? Why are grown-ups always right?). Most entries are accompanied by rhyming ditties (cleverly translated by Anthony Shugaar).  Proverbs, rhymes, parables are spread throughout). JooHee Yoon’s marvelous, often amusing, full page and border illustrations match the whimsical nature of Rodari’s text.  Joon writes:”My hope is for this book to inspire readers young and old to continue exploring this curious world we inhabit, to question the things we take for granted, and to never stop asking, “Why?”. This is a fun, thoughtful,  book for the curious-minded. 

A sampling

Wishes are like stirrups that poke us in teh ribs and make us run faster; as long as we’re wishing for things, we’re still alive…”

Dreams are imagesx constructed by your sleeping mind: a sort of slightly demented movie theatre taht opens for business in our brains onc we shout our eyes.

Why do you grow? Because you eat food, and you’re alive. The same is true for plants and trees, which eat through their roots and leaves; each and every leaf is a little workshop that pulls carbon dioxide out of the air, cooking up carbon for the plant and oxygen for us. 

I’m of the opinion –

Please attend to my song – 

That ‘grownups’ are always right

Except for when they’re wrong….

 

THE BOOK THAT NO ONE WANTED TO READ by Richard Ayoade; illus. Tor Freeman (2022)

This is a book written by a book. Richard Ayoade offers readers a rather short (108 pages) philosophical treatise on what it means to open a book and continue to read a book and to let readers in on the secrets feelings and attitudes of a book. This extended personification is often amusing (matched by hilarious comical illustrations by Tor Freeeman but what’s funny for some people may not be consider funny by others. For me, the ‘joke’ eventually wears thin even though the latter part of the book is a “telepathic conversation with a book in a library powered purely by your own imagination.”

Excerpt (p. 70)

How people treat books. They have no respect. They act like they own them.

Isn’t that because people do own them?

I don’t know how you sleep. Books aren’t just property. They’re not just things. They are alive!

But aren’t they also things?

So are you?

 

THE COLLECTORS: short stories edited by A.S. King / YA

Author, A.S. King invited ten YA writers to create a story about being a collector. King writes “‘toss out conventions, as if there were no rules, there was no ‘normal’ and they could be as weird as they wanted. Much of these stories are indeed surreal, odd and weird. Most short story collections, hetter by a single author or a collection of authors will have hit and misses, some better than others and this was definitely the case with this anthology. Some stories were rather long and sluggish (boring)  (e.g., “La Concha”by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo)  some were too obscure for me (I didn’t get them) (‘Sweet Everlasting” by M.T Anderson). The stories do vary in stylee (conventions were tossed out) but if readers are expecting straightforward narratives, these pieces didn’t always work. “Take It From Me” the tory of a non-binary adolescent collecting pieces of other people’s collections by David Levthan and “A Recording for Carole Before it All Goes” by Jason Reynolds is presented as a transcript recording made to a grandmother with Alzheimer’s was bittersweet were my favourites.  The Collectorss may appeal to teenagers who like to delve into teh uncoventional, the weird. The Collectors is the recipient of the 2024 Printz award award for excellence in Young Adult literature., a brave choice, I’d say. 

 

CROSS MY HEART AND NEVER LIE by Nora Dasnes; translated from the Norwegian by Matt Baguely (2020/2023) (graphic novel)

Tuva is a twelvey-year old Norwegian girl who is entering grade 7. She has a good relationship with her single-parent father. She has friends (Bao (loyal) and Linnea (whose loyalty changes when she finds a boyfriend. She is infatuated with a new girl who arrives at the school.  Cross My Heartg and Never Lie is a story of tumultuous  friendships and the temptation of keeping secrets and sometimes telling lies.  It is a story of ihaving a les bian crush.  It is a story of growing into our true identity and growing into an comfortable image that remains true to self. This graphic novel, presented as a diary will certainly resonate with many girl tweenagers who want to belong, to be cool and the journey of being a little kid to being a teen.’Dasne’s book is certainly an authetic picture of girlhood. It’s enterataing! It’s engaging.!  It’s terrific! Winner of the 2024 Stonewall Children’s Literature Award for LGBTQIA+ books. 

 

IMPOSSIBLE CREATURES by Katherine Rundell

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of fantasy stories but once in a while I  give them a chance. Even though I think I have a vivid imagination, i can’t seem to wrap by mead around “IMPOSSIBLE” (i.e., a magical land called the Archipelago where al the creatures of myth still live side by side with humans) situations and CREATURES (e,g,, Hippocamp, Chimaera, Laavellan, Nereid, Ratatoska and yes, dragons). The story centres on the wild adventures of a boy named Christopher who rescues a baby griffin who meets up with Mal, a girl on the run from a Murder and has the power to transform the destiny of the world. I decided to pursue British author Katherine Rundell’s book since I have enjoyed previous adventurous stories (e.g.,The Good Thieves, The Rooftoppers) by her and also because Impossible Creatures was named WATERSTONE’S “Book of the Year, 2023.”   There has been noteworthy testimonies from other authors. Michael Morpugo writes “There was Tokien, there is Pullman and now there is Katherine Rundell.’ Philip Pullman claims that readers will ‘seize this with delight’ and Neil Gaiman writes that “Katherine Rundell is a phenomenon.’ There is no doubt millions of young and old readers of fantasy stories will be in Nirvana heaven reading heaven with this book, first in a series. (one is enough for Dr. Larry)

Excerpts to give you a ‘taste’

“I have in my stores the bones of the chimaera and the blood of the cetus, and the sap  of the red urchin. But the blood needs six hours of steaming. And the forest has a bush of long-stemmed dew-wort, but it only flowers in the two hours before dawn. So you will wait.”  (p. 247)

“The arrows were taken from the quills of a manticore’s tail, fletched with feathers froma hippogriff, and tipped with karkadann poison. You wouldn’t survive being grazed by one. Then they reached the turning.” (p. 286) 

 

ONLY THIS BEAUTIFUL MOMENT  by Abdi Nazemian  / YA

This title was recently awarded the 2024 Stonewall Award for YA literature. It is one of the best novels in recent years that deals with  gay identity for ages 12+. The book is told through three voices in three different time periods. Mood is an out gay teen living in Los Angeles, 2019; Saeed is an engineering student in Los Angeles, 1978 and Bobby is the son of a calculating stage mother who has dreams of her son finding fame in Hollywood. The three stories interconnect in this intergenerational story of an Iranian family where secrets have kept grandfather, son and grandson apart. Nazemian does an exquisite job of depicting the Iranian queer experience and universal gay experiences of accepting one’s self . It is a captivating story of self-discovery, politics and  love. Though multi-voiced, the author offers large chunks of narrative to tell engaging stories of passionate friendships, gay culture and making choices. Only This Beautiful Moment is a beautiful beautiful – important – book, deserved of the Stonewall book prize for LGBTQIA+ literature.  I know it will be on my list of 2024 favourites. 

 

SHOUT OUT

MY HEART WAS A TREE: Poems and Stories to Celebrate Trees by Michael Morpurgo; illus Yuval Zommer

When I first ordered this book, I thought I was going to receive an anthology of tree poems and tales collected by Michael Morpurgo. No, each of thes selections ( 18 stories and 4 stories was written by the brilliant beloved British author. In the introduction to the book, Morpurgo writes that he was inspired to write this celebration of trees because of the daily walks he takes in the bluebell woods behind his house as well as being inspired by the spirit of poet Ted Hughes whose poem “My Own True Family” opens the door to this collection (“My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree. (Hughes).  Morpurgo writes: “I know ever one of the trees I pass. They hear me coming, they listen to me. I listen to them, to the whisper of them, the roaring of them, the creaking of them.”

Morpurgo’s writing offers more than a celebration to the 73 000 species of tress that exist in our world. It is both a reverence and worship of the impact trees have on humanity. Some poems are told by trees themselves (‘The Singing Tree’. Several selections tell stories animals that live inside and outside trees (“Down by the Riverside’; ”The King of the Forest. ‘The Murmuring Elephants and the the Giant Mango Tree’). Some selections describe the people who use trees (‘Oh Don’t Fall Down Over, Don’t Fall Down’; ‘All My Days’). Some poems are presented in rhyming pattern, several not. Each piece is presented with clarity, accessible vocabulary and imagery and appealing narrative. Whether a poem or a story, selections provide information and stir up emotions. Most of all, Morpurgo’s tribute reminds us to appreciate and cherish nature’s wonder that fills our planet. The visual images are as much a WOW! as Morpurgo’s words. The artist Yuval Zommer beautifully dresses each page with lush illustrations often decorated with glorious borders of leaves and branch details. This publication is a marvel. I am pleased to own it and look forward to re-reading it from from time to time. 

from “All My Days”

Outside my window still she stadns,

My dear old chestnut tree,

Always there,

 

All my days,

All my life. 

 

from “Here is Home”

Here I am still, and this is my tree

Giraffe comes by, elephant and rhino.

We leave them be, they leave us be.

Man comes too, knows to keep away, knows that

Here is my home,

Here is coolm

Here is safe. 

 

 

 SHOUT OUT

A WHALE OF A TIME  Edited by Lou Peacock; illus. Matt Hunt (Poetry anthology)

A Funny poem for Every Day of the Year

This I think.  

This I know,

A Poem a Day

Helps the reading muscles grow.

L.S.

In the middle of my career as a classroom teacher, I realized that in my literature-based Language Arts program I really didn’t do justice to the world of poetry. I decided to implement a Poem of the Day program where each day I shared a poem with the students. In fact, after launching this initiative, it was the students who chose the poems to share with their classmates.  180 days. 180 poems. More poems than i got in my school career. More poems than most classrooms experience in any given year. 

A collection such as A Whale of a Time offers a poem-a-day experience, whether read aloud to a group of students gathered together on a classroom rug, whether shared side by side with parent and child or whether read independently. 365 days. 365 poems. the poems could be read chronologically or read randomly. The book is organized into monthly chapters so in fact, a collection of 30 or 32 poems could be read at one sitting.  No guarantee that all poems will be enjoyed equally but by offering a banquet of poem forms and poem words, readers can come to find some favourites, puzzle over some pieces, re-read poems, or maybe learn one or two by heart (some are very short).

Imagine ‘a poem a day’ to help build confidence and comfort with literary form.. A ‘poem a day program’ has the potential  to stretch vocabulary skills, to foster narrative power, to enrich comprehension, and perhaps massage different emotions. The funny poems in this collectionare intended to make readers to smile, to laugh out loud and perhaps to share them with others because “reading and feeling and laughing and sharing are what the funny, sad, surprising, beautiful world of words is all about.” (introduction, Lou Peacock). Of course what makes one person laugh may not tickle the funny bone of another. Humour is an individual thing.  This is a joyful read, and with a year full of poems, a ‘whale of a thing’  indeed. (matched by fantastic, comical, joyful, energetic, colourful artwork by Matt Hunt.)

Samples

My puppies in the garden                                              When dinosaurs roamed the earth,

He loves to smell the flowers                                         So huge, it was easy to spot ’em,

To help them grow my puppy always                           You’d frequently  see a triceratops,

Sprinkles them with flowers.                                         But never a tricerabottom.

~ Bruce Lansky                                                                 ~ Celia Warren

 

Two fantastic “Poem of the Day” Anthologies

I AM THE SEED THAT GREW THE TREE: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year  /Selected by: Fiona Walters, illus. Fran Preston-Gannon (2018)

TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT; An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year / Selected by Fiona Walters, illus. Britta Teckentrup (2020)

 

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FYI: The Newbery Awards, 2024

The John Newbery award is a literary award given by the Association for Library Services for Children (division of the American Library Association) to author of ‘the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for Children. The 2024 Newbery winners were announced on January 22.

The John Newbery Medal: THE EYES & THE IMPOSSIBLE by Dave Eggers; illus. Shawn Harris

Newbery Honor Titles:

Eagle Drums written and illustrated by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson

Elf Dog and Owl Head by M.T. Anderson; illus. Junyi Wu

Mexikid written and illustrated by Pedro Martin

Simon Sort of Says be Erin Bow

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri; illus. Daniel Miyares

 

NEW PICTURE BOOKS TO BEGIN THE NEW YEAR

This posting lists some recent acquisitions. It’s great to have some great 2024 releases to promote. 

 

HAPPY by Mies Van Hout / 2022; 2024

I’m very fond of Mies Van Hout’s vibfrant, kinetic illustrations (Surpirse, Friends).  Pajama Press has published a terrific board book edition of Happy, which is. a great introduction for young readers to everyday emotions. Words naming emotions are presented on one side of the spread and are accompanied by pictures of fish on the facing pages, each depicting an emotion through strong facial expressions (e.g. ‘confident’, ‘furious’, ‘content’). This book makes me HAPPY.

 

AN INTERESTING WORD FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR by Dr. Meridth L. Rowe; illus. Monika Forsberg / 2021

In my teacher resource, Word by Word, I promote the idea of presenting ‘a word of the day’ into the program. Not a revolutionary idea, but the strategy provides students can stretch students vocabulary and spelling skills and motivate them to pay attention to the power of words in their own reading and writing. This book is a wonderful resource to build readers vocabulary, label their emotions and fire their imaginations. At one-a-day that’s 365 words (more than the 180 word a day possibilities in classroom settings).  The book is organized into spreads for each of the 52 weeks of the year. Each double-page spread provides clear, colourful illustrations in a particular setting to accompany a labelled words, some which may be familiar to readers (ages 8+), other words may be new.   At the bottom of each page, succinct defintions of the words are provided.  An Interesting Word for Every Day of the Year is a  gift of a book. 

Example: Week 28 (seashore setting)/ fractious, briny, turbulent, gallop, alert, tentative, sweltering.

 

THE BICYCLE MAN by Allen Say / 1982

In the Author’s Note to Kozo the Sparrow (2023) Allen Say shares his memory of being in Morita Sensei’s class in grammar school, a teacher who first appeared in one of his splendid picture book memories. The story of the bicycle man is based on a sports day event where a group of Japanese children encounter two American soldiers a year after the war. The black soldier delights the youngsters by performing tricks on a bicycle which the school principal shared with him. 

 

IN EVERY LIFE by Marla Frazee / 2023

 The text of this picture book is rather sparese, with a repeated poetic pattern (e..g. ‘In every birth, blessed is the wonder.’; ‘In every smile, blessed is the light.‘. Each statement is accompanied by ‘spot’ illustrations that help bring narrative to illuminate the text. Gloriaus double-page landscape images  pages are presented to further illuminate significant moments ‘in every life’. Marla Frazee’s picture book was named a  2024 Caldecott Honor book winner. 

 

MISS IRWIN by Allen Say / 2023

This is a tender story about a close relationship between a grandmother and her grandson, Andy.  Old age has challenged Grandma’s memory and she  thinking that he is Willie a boy she taught in second grade. Grandma (Miss Irwin) recalls special times with Willie, his love of birds and the gift hummingbird nest he once gave her as gift..  This is a fine addition to Allen Say’s memory stories and his vivid pastel illustrations executed ina n impressionistic style exquisitely the capture the mood of the story and remembrances to treasure from Miss Irwin’s yesterdays as a teacher, and today as a grandma. 

 

THE ONLY LONELY FAIRY by  Lana Button; illus. Peggy Collins / 2024

Leah enjoys playing “Fairies” but nobody seems to want to play withe her. Is she doomed to be alone forever? This is a rather amusing story with heartfelt insights into the trials and tribulations of finding friendships.   Many young readers will identify with Leah and her plight to find friends to play with.  This is a wonderful title to add to collections of picture books addressing social-emotional growth. 


TEN WORD TINY TALES to inspire and unsettle by Joseph Coelho (+21 illustrators) / 2024

Joseph Coelho is the UK Children’s Laureate (2022-2024). Each spread features a sentence that is exactly 10 words long and readers are left to question, to switch on their imaginations and conjur up a story that could grow from these statements.  The words and the wild colourful illustrations by 21 different artist friends, are designed to ignite and inspire  stories to be told, stories to be written, humorous, bizarre and or otherwise.  In fact, a suggestion of “How to Lengthen A Ten-word Tiny Tale” or an invitation to ‘Take Your Pen on A Journey”are provided as an afterward to the pictures. This picture book stands on the shoulders of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, where a title and a lead sentence and black and white surreal illustrations have led to thousands and thousands of written work in thousands and thousands of classrooms.  Write on!

Sample Tales

I hear the patter of tiny feet underneath my bed.

We watched the teacher lead the children through the portal.

She spent days trying to climb out of the sky. 

 

SHOUT OUT!

TWO PIECES OF CHOCOLATE by Kathy Kacer, illus. Gabrielle Grimard / 2024

This is a   story set in a Nazi prison camp in Bergen-Belsen in Northern Germany. It is 1945, and Francine Christophe and her mother become Jewish captives caught in horrific conditions. To lift her daughter’s spirits, Maman shows her daughter two pieces of chocolate secretly hidden inside a bag. Though Francine is tempted to eat them, her mother tells her to wait for a day when she really needs the sweets. Francine befriends a fellow prisoner who is pregnant and when she gives birth to her daughter, Francine realizes that the time has come to share the chocolates. This is an extraordinary Holocaust story about hope and survival. Ultimately, the picture book is a story of ripples of kindness paid forward in the decades ahead.   It is a remarkable true story retold by the remarkable Kathy Kacer whose many books focus on the Second World War and the Holocaust. It is a book that helps build understanding and compassion and inquiry into the history of the Holocaust. I received an advanced reading copy of this picture book which is to be released in the spring of 2024.  Buy it, share it, discuss it. There is much to be learned – and felt – from Two Pieces of Chocolate.

 

SHOUT OUT

GROUNDWOOD BOOKS / 2024 PUBLICATIONS

5 new publications from Groundwood Books are to be celebrated for their representation of diverse cultures by diverse authors. 

 

LOOK! LOOK! by Uma Krishnaswami; illus. Uma Krishnaswamy

In India, a young girl discovers a slab of stone on a weedy patch of land. “Look! Look!” she calls out to her friends who clear away the weeds, the garbage and find more stones.  Soon many villagers come to the site and work to uncover an old well buried and forgotten for a number of years. Stories are told of the tine when old wells caught the rainwater and turned the fields green. As Earth’s climate changes fast, the discovery of these ancient wells may be one way to conquer dry spells and sorter rainbursts and ultimately handle the floods and save the water for people who need it. Look! Look! is a beautiful story, beautifully illustrated that pays tribute to community and traditional knowledge.This book is a companion to Out of the Way! Out of the Way

 

THE SCOOTER TWINS by Dorothy Ellen Palmer; illus. Maria Sweeney

Melvin and Melanie are disabled twins, each needing a mobility scooter to ride to school. Brother and sister take a different approach to their new acquisition. Melanie wants something shiny and speedy and is excited about racing. Melvin wants something safe and slow because he is worried he’ll fall. Both children are concerned about how their family will be able to afford new scooters. The Scooter Twins is an inspirational story that can help young readers understand the world of those who are physically challenged as well as the coming together of families to support their needs.

“Mom always said, ‘When people stare, tell them what you want them to see.’

Melvin sat with that for a moment … “Okay, my scooter is a safe little friend that helps me be me.”

 

SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE AN OAK by Danielle Daniel; illus. Jackie Traverse

I am very fond of Danielle Daniel’s previous publications, Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox and Sometimes I Feel Like a River written through simple syntactic poetic pattern that provide reflection and celebration of the animal world and nature. In this new release,  the author presents twelve lyrical poems that portray twelve different trees in different seasons. Each poem identifies a feature of the tree (e..g.  I share my flowing sap (maple); I am the tallest of trees (redwood); I bloom dainty pink flowers (cherry blossom)).  Daniel Danielle, like her Algonquin ancestors believes that “trees are sentient beings with much to give and teach us”.  Jackie Traverse’s paintings provide rich backdrops to Daniel’s words. 

Sometimes I feel like a pine, 

calm, still and gentle.

My branches cradle fresh-fallen snow,

filling me with peace. 

 

WE LISTEN by Caitlin Dale Nicholson with Leona Morin-Neilson

A child, her family and her friend arrive at a picnic spot by the lake. Before they eat lunch, Nohkom suggest they pick leaves for Labrador tea and once amongst the trees, she invites all to pause and listen and pray. Fulll page illustrations tell a story of the outing. The text that appears at the bottom of each page succinctly encapsulates the story of a memorable outing (e.g., Nokhom gets ready. We get ready / Nokhom walks.We walk. We Listen is a bilingual book, in Cree and English. A recipe for Labrador tea is included. Other titles in the Nohkom by the picture book creators include I Help and I Wait.

 

WHEN I VISITED GRANDMA by Saumiya Balasubramaniam; illus. Kavita Ramchandran

Maya is excited about her holiday in India where she will spend time with her Grandma. Maya would prefer to have quiet time wih her Grandma but a visit to a loud and hot market and visits from Grandma’s  nosy neighbours interrupt her plans. When Maya awakes one morning to find the house unusually quiet, the story takes a turn when Maya learns that her Grandma had a heart attack and is now being taken care of in ICU. When I Visited Grandma is a heartfelt story of cross-cultural and intergenerational relationships. 

 

FYI: CALDECOTT WINNERS 2024

The Caldecott is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book published by an American publlisher in the US> during the preceding year. The winners of the Caldecott Award were announced on January 22,2023

Caldecott Medal:  BIG by Vashti Harrison

Caldecott Honor Books:

> In Every Life by Marla Frazee

> Jovita Wore Pants by Aida Salazar; illus. Molly Mendoza

> There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds; illus. Jerome Pumphrey and Jarret Pumphrey

> The Truth About Dragons by Julie Leung; illus. Hanna Cha

 

INTO 2024: Grown-up Titles

I’m off to a good reading start for 2024. Although I enjoyed some titles more than others (and was disappointed with some), I enjoyed digging into these diverse novels. Unless otherwise designated, publication dates were 2023.  I’m eager to get to some 2024 releases!

 

COLD COMFORT FARM by Stella Gibbons (1932)

This novel was written about 90 years ago. It was recently given to me as a gift from a friend and I found it to be quite the entertaining, funny read that includes a cast of characters and a story that might have been written 180 years ago (i.e.,Hardy, Bronte). Flora Poste is orphaned at age 19 and chooses to live with relatives in a farm in Sussex. She finds herself wanting to bring order to the somewhat idiosyncratic routines and dysfunctional family relationships. Cold Comfort Farm claims to be a send-up of romantic cliches (madwoman in the attic,  The eccentric characters: Aunt Adam Doom who constantly calls up an awful incident from the past, Amos Starkadder, a hellfire preacher, Seth, handsome and over-sexed, Meriam Beetle, a hired girl, Mr Myberurg (aka as Mr. Mybug, a writer determined to win over Flora)  and not to mention four cows named Feckless, Aimless, Pointless and Graceless make for a wild romp in the countryside. And Stella Gibbons witty language sharp dialogue and vivid descriptions (“The sharp blue air of spring thundered silently on window-panes by her slow batrachian breath. Powerless waves of fury coursed over her inert body.” (p. 181) make Cold Comfort Farm, a wondrous engaging satire. . 

A Google search of  almost quotes from Cold Comfort farm provide a good taste of Stella Gibbons writing:

“I saw something nasty in the woodshed.”

“Like all really strong-minded women, on whom everybody flops, she adored being bossed about. It was so restful.”

“She liked Victorian novels. They wre the only kind of novel you could read while eating an apple.”

“Happiness can never hope to command so much interest as distress.”

“Women are all alike – aye fussin’ over their fal-tals and bedazin’ a man’s eyes, when all they really want is man’s blood and bis heart out of his body and his soul and his pride.”

 

FIRST TO LEAVE THE PARTY by Salah. Bachir

Salah Bachir is a Canadian philanthropist extraordinaire. He has organized a ‘wealth’ of fundraising galas (Gala Salah), lifetime achievement tributes and has dedicated himself as an enthusiastic gay activist. Salah Bachir has worked in the film world for more than four decades and has the luxury of being an avid art collector and style guru who confidently wears wild hats, scarves, brooches, pearls and diamonds that add to his uniqueness. His  life and work experiences  have afforded him the rich opportunity to become friend and companion to a banquet of celebrities. First to Leave the Party is a record of Bachir’s ‘life with ordinary people.. who happen to be famous.”  One can marvel at the Table of Contents list of playwrights, movie stars, singers, comedians and like-minded philothranpic  persons who  he has hosted, dined with, corresponded with and befriended: Marlon Brando, Ella Fitzgerald, Norman Jewison, Stephen Sondheim, Edward Albee, Margaret Atwood, Andy Warhol (to name a few of the 60 who happen to be famous.) This was a very entertaining read with sparkling,  stories from the kindest of men who  lives and loves to the fullest. Wow! Wow! Wow!

 

HANMNET by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

Hamnet was the name of William Shakespeare’s and Agnes/Anne Hatheway’s son who died at the age of eleven in 1596. The facts of his death have not officially been recorded, but the author speculates that his death was caused by the bubonic plague. Hamnet had an older sister named Susanna and a twin sister named Judith. His father (the name Shakespeare is not mentioned once in the novel) removes himself from the family and sets off to London to work on his plays. The novel is told in alternate narratives: 1)the meeting and marriage of Hamnet’s parents 2. the lead up and aftermath of the young boy’s death.

Because I’m going to see the play in London, I decided tore-read this wonderful novel that I so enjoyed when I first read it during the pandemic and, upon second reading, continue to sing its praises. I have several friends who consider this to be one of their very favourite novels in recent years. The writing is sublime. The story is fascinating. The setting (Stratford, England) and family and community characters of the 16th century are portrayed in vivid detail. The book packs an emotional wallop describing parents grieving over a lost child. I have a hard copy of this book, entitled Hamnet. I have a paperback version, entitled Hamnet and Judith. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel who wants to read an outstanding piece of historical fiction, a great story. + I am looking forward to the movie version, directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley. (P.S. I did not enjoy the rather pedestrian theatre production of Hamnet which I recently say in London. Boring!)

 

HOW TO BUILD A BOAT by Elaine Feeney

A story about a troubled boy. A story about a troubled teacher who helps the troubled boy. An Irish writer.  For me, these were intriguing ingredients to spend time with a novel. Thirteen year-old Jamie O’Neill, is on the autism spectrum obsessed with mathematics,he colour red and the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. Even though his mother died when he was born, Jamie is grieving over her and has a dream of building a Perpetual Motion Machine which he feels will establish a connection to his mother, a dedicated swimmer. When Jamie arrives at his new school he is bullied and finds himself somewhat challenged by school expectations and curriculum. Two teachers are eager to work alongside Jamie to help him through his journey of adolescents and his dedication to  assembling gthe boat (i.e. a currach). Both teachers have troubles of thair own. Tess Mahon, who has has experienced trouble getting married has a troubled marriage and Tadhag, the woodworking teacher, is a rather lonely individual who years to experience love. If truth be told, I was hoping to enjoy this book more than I did I found my interest floundering from time to time (e.g. the detailed putting together of  the boat takes up space mid-novel) but I stuck with it, however, and was rather engaged when Elaine Feeney dug into the feelings of the characters.  This book was on the longlist for The Booker Prize, 2023. 

 

THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE by James McBride

James McBride (The Color of Water; Deacon King Kong, The Good Lord Bird (National Book Award), is a mighty fine writer. When I read that his newest novel was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s book of the year, I was intrigued. The book takes place in the 1920’s and 30’s in Pottstown Pennsylvania, a dilapidated neighbourhood of Chicken Hill where immigrant Jews and African Americans live side by side comfortably, since all those citizens have ambitions, sorrows and hopes.  The Heaven and Earth Grocery store, owned by Moshe and Chona Ludlow, is at the centre of the community happily serving all Chona is the kindest priority admired by all. Moshe, a Romanian immigrant runs the town’s integrated dance hall, hiring popular musicians to entertain customers. The novel starts off with the discovery  in 1972 of a human skeleton, but (spoiler) we don’t really know the secret of the body until the final pages of the book. Those expecting a murder mystery thriller will be disappointed. In fact, readers who expect linear narratives to keep them going may be disappointed. McBride paints remarkable detailed portraits of characters who encounter bigotry and deceit. The novel becomes centred on the story of a deaf black child, named Dodo,  who the state claims needs to be institutionalized. Chona and her neighbours bond together to keep the boy safe. The novel is presented in 29 chapters + Epilogue, each with a title that serves to unpack descriptions of characters and events (e.g., ”The Stranger’; ‘Monkey Pants’; ‘Bernice’s Bible’. Each of these chapters could be considered a short story, which together form a mosaic of a time, a place and a people. Throughout the book, there are passages that are written with vivid description and yes, humour. Winner of the Kirkus Prize for fiction, 2023.  The book (deservedly) has received raves (“Heart-healing” “Wondrous” “Vibrant” “Stunning” and is considered one of Barack Obama’s favourite books of 2023. Just sayin’. I liked this book a lot and would be pleased to hear about any awards that come its way. . 

 

THE LITTLE BIG THINGS by Henry Fraser / Memoir (2017)

At 17 years of age, Henry Fraser had a tragic accident diving into the sea which severely crushed his spinal cord. This memoir chronicles Fraser’s journey of recuperation and conquering unimaginable difficulties to embrace a new life and new way of living being paralysed from the shoulders down. Readers are taken inside Henry’s head as he struggles with medical procedures and physiotherapy. Most of all, it is a story of perseverance and hope and staying positive. One chapter, entitled “Accept and Adapt” serves as a mantra for making progress through dark times. There is no doubt that it was the devotion of family and friends that guided Henry Fraser to acceptance and believing that the little things are big things.  Henry Fraser has become a motivational speaker and mouth artist d by author J.K. Rowling who has championed Henry as “living proof that acceptance and aspiration are not mutually exclusive” (p. 3). I read this book in preparation to see the musical in London which was an inspirational, mvoing, production of an inspirational life. 

 

PACIFIC OVERTURES by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman (script) /1976/1986

Set in 19th century Japan, Pacific Overtures tells the story of the country’s westernization starting in 1853, when American ships forcibly opened it to the rest of the world. The story is told from the point of view of the Japanese.  The genius behind this musical is Stephen Sondheim. The songs ‘Please Hello’, ‘Bowler Ha’t are oh so brilliant. ‘Someone in a Tree’ capturing an elderly man’s memory of his younger self cleverly depicts how historical moments are perceived and interpreted over time. Sondheim’s work is always sophisticated so it was worth reading the script to dig into the intricacies and intellect of his songs. I first saw this musical in 1976 and was lucky enough to see another production at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. I loved it. (I wept three times).

from Someone in a Tree

It’s the pebble, not the stream.

It’s the ripple, not the sea,

That is happening. 

Not the building but the beam,

Not the garden but the stone

Only cups of tea

And history

And Someone in a tree. 

 

SMALL PLEASURES (edited by The School of Life publishers) (2016)

This is a collection of 52 small pleasures of every day life,  Each mini essay is accompanied by a photograph that invite readers to pay attention to the things that give joy and wonder and “to move the small pleasures from the margins closer to the centre of our collective consciousness and our lives.”  Some examples include: “Sunbathing’; ‘A Night Alone in a Hotel’; ‘Staring out of the Window’; ‘A Hot Bath’; ‘Cypress Trees’ (yes!); and A Book That Understands You’. The book reminds me of the special picture book by award-winning author illustrator, Sophie Blackall entitled Things to Look Forward To: 52 small Joys for Today and Everyday, a book I gifted to a dozen friends last year. 

 

STRANGERS by Taichi Yamada (1987/ English Translation by Wayne P. Lammers / (2003)

If I read a book, I often like to see a movie version whenever it is released. Though I’m not too fond of it, I occasionally read a book on which a movie is based after  seeing the film. The movie All of Us Strangers was one of the first films I’ve seen in 2024 and it knocked me out. The performances were dynamo (Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell) and the meeting with the parents’ ghosts and the gay themed-love story was quite moving. The movie, written and directed by Andrew Haigh was based on the Japanese book, Strangers. The novel is centred on a divorced, rather lonely TV scriptwriter named Horada who works in a building that is mostly empty at nights. A visit to a theatre in an area of Tokyo where Harada grew up leads him to follow a man who looks exactly like his father. Horada is thrust into a reality where he has meetings at his childhood home with his mother and father who appear at the exact age they had been when they died. Horada (and readers) are caught in the strange reality of talking to ghosts. Yamada evokes sympathy for this character, who has amorous adventures with a woman whom he meets in his building. The physical deterioration and mental health of Horada makes for an haunting story which ultimately (like the film) is about grief and isolation and a longing for things we have lost and are unable to have again. At 201 pages Strangers  was a rather eerie, but intriguing,  story. I think I will go see the brilliant, poignant movie again. 

 

WATER by John Boyne

A new John Boyne title always makes me happy. This Irish author, whose work is the most translated author of all time is a very favourite of mine. His novels have given me much reading pleasure in recent years=. A great storyteller indeed  (e.g.,The Absolutist, The Hearts Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky; All the Broken Places). Water is John Boyne’s newest publication and what is especially exciting is that this title is the first release in the four-part series, “The Elements” (Water, Earth, Fire, Air). This book tells the story of Vanessa Carvin who escapes Dublin to live on a small island. Hoping to escape from her past she changes her name to Willow Hale. We learn that her ex-husband had been involved in a scandal and Vanessa questions whether she was complicit in his crimes (pedophilia). Willow Hale is grieving soul and now living a rather hermetic life on the island, hoping to come to terms with guilt, truth and hopefully peace. Once again, John Boyne stirs up the heart. I eagerly await the three other novellas to be released over the next year. 

 

SHOUT OUT

THE LITTLE LIAR by Mitch Albom

Eleven-year-old Nico Krispis becomes ‘the little liar’ when a German officer offers him a chance to persuade Jewish residents living in Salonika Greece to board the train heading north where jobs and safety await. This is a cruel ruse, of course, but Nico’s innocence leads him to reassure passengers on the railroad platforms who, we know will be lead to a horrific doom in Auschwitz. The novel unfolds by interweaving stories of Nico, who becomes a pathological liar in order to survive; Sebastian, an older brother who seeks revenge for what he believes was Nico’s fault for herding his family to the boxcar, Fannie a girl who is forced to choose between Nico and Sebastian and Udo Graf, the demonic Nazi officer who was responsible for destroying the lives of thousands.  The narrative takes us from the round-up of Greek Jews, to the concentration camps and the years beyond where Nico, Sebastian, Fannie and Udo are haunted by horrors of the Holocaust. The book held my attention from the very beginning to the gripping climax and conclusion. Brilliantly, Mitch Albom narrates the story by the voice of Truth itself. Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven) is a great storyteller. For me, The Little Liar is the best of his popular titles. 

There are many fine examples of historical fiction set in the Holocaust. The recent release of The Postcard by Anne Berest is an important contribution to the genre, not to mention some fine examples of children’s literature that help to bring insights into the Holocaust (Note: Books by Kathy Kacer + see Dr. Larry Recommends posting, ‘The Holocaust: True Stories 2023/04/05)  The Little Liar is one of the first novels I read in 2024 and I know it will be at the top of my list of favourites by year’s end. It’s a fantastic book! Do yourself a favour and read it.

Excerpt (p. 7)

“You can trust the story you are about to hear. You can trust it because I’m telling it to you, and I am the only thing in this world you can trust… But I am the shadow you cannot outrun, the mirror that holds your reflecgion. You may duck my gaze for all your days on eararth, but let me assure you, I get the last look.

I am Truth.

And this is the story of a boy who tried to break me.”

END OF THE YEAR: MIDDLE YEAR TITLES

Most of the ten fiction titles listed below were written in 2023.  Most of them were ‘thoroughly enjoyable’ reads to end the year. 

 

ANIANA DEL MAR JUMPS IN by Jasmine Mendez (Physical Challenges)

Aniani, a young Domican American girl,  is a passionate swimmer who has won several competitions. Her mother, however, is haunted by the drowning of her brother and she wants to keep her daughter away from the dangers of water. Aniani’s father agrees to take his daughter to swim practices and both try to keep this a secret from the mother. When Aniani is stricken with JIA (Juvenile idiopathic arthritis), a disease that causes stiffness and swollen joints  she is forced to stay in bed and forsake her dedication to swimming. A doctor believes that swimming will help Aniani manage her disease, even though her mother forbids her from returning to the water. This is a compassionate story of being fighting for something you are dedicated even though it means fighting against a parent’s wishes and beliefs.  The author has drawn from her personal debilitating experiences, and tells a moving,story through a multiple free-verse forms. This is an inspiring story of courage, honesty and never giving up. 


THE BOY THE CLOUD, AND THE VERY TALL TALE by Heather Smith

This is the story of a boy who wishes to find his father who was swept away by a mysterious cloud and embarks on a tall-tale journey to find the truth about his father’s disappearance.  Ewan and Flora’s quest is filled with adventure as they accompany their new friend Mr. So-and-So. The Newfoundland rural setting is as important character in the story as the  quirky characters that brother and sister meet along the way to a land (spoiler alert) where people with sad stories have been summoned). What a great storyteller Heather Smith is!.What a great author Heather Smith is. This is an appealing read for lovers of whimsical and heartfelt  narratives. It’s quite funny too! 

 

GLOWRUSHES by Roberto Piumini /Translated from the Italian by Leah Janeczko  / (1987/2023)

This classic title was published in Italy in 1993 and the English translation by Leah Janezko, released in 2022, brings this enchanting story to a new generation of readers. Sakumat is a reputable artist living in Turkey. He is summoned by the lord the burban to paint the walls of his son, Madur’s rooms. The eleven-year old boy is confined by sickness to  never leave his home. The artist and the boy develop a strong friendship as Sakumat sets to work embellishing the walls with glorious, colourful landscapes filled with mountains and fields and shepherds  and armies conjured up by the boy.  As Madur’s health fades, the artist continues to pour his heart into the commission, hoping to show the boy the richness and beauty of the world.  This is an inspirational tale of companionship, of creativity and of life and death. Exquisite. 

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN LIVES NEXT DOOR by Cary Fagan

The plot is in the title. Andie Gladman’s family lives in a small Ontario town and when she sees her new neighbour put the initials H.C.A. on theis of mailbox she is convinced that the famous author is living next door to her. Andie becomes so enamored with the fairy tales, that she decides to write a series of poems based on such classic stories as The Little Match Girl and The Ugly Duckling. Readers will know that Hans Christian Anderson living in her neighbourhood must be a fantasy but we go along with her, especially since it helps her to deal with adjusting to a new school, finding new friends, and the challenges of being verbally taunted by Myrtle Klinghoffer. A delightful read!

 

THE LOST YEAR by Katherine Marsh

During the COVID pandemic, thirteen-year old Matthew and his mother live together in New Jersey with Matthew’s one-hundred-year old grandmother. Matthew’s father, a journalist, is committed to staying overseas to report on health conditions.  When Matthew discovers a tattered black and white photograph, it sparks an opportunity for him to unpack the stories of her past.  The novel is presented in alternating timelines, connecting the United States to the USSR, and the present day to the 1930’s. Chapters feature four alternating voices from the present and the past. At the heart of the novel, is the horrific time in Ukrainian history. – the HOLODOMOR (“death by hunger”)  – the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, a period that was covered up by the Soviet government for decades. The Lost Year is a timely story of survival and sacrifice, an engaging narrative of generation connections, and a stellar example of historical fiction. 

 

LUCY & LOLA by Monique Gray Smith / WHEN WE PLAY OUR DRUMS, THEY SING by Richard Van Camp / 2018 / (Indigenous History)

This is a wonderful publication (2018) from McKellar & Martin Publishing group that should be part of any junior classroom to bring understanding of Indigenous Culture, history  and Reconciliation. The book is presented as two novellas, (presented in a front to back, back to front format) by two award-winning Indigenous voices. In Lucy & Lola by Monique Gray Smith (75 pages), two twin girls spend a summer with their Kookum (grandmother) while their mother studies for the bar exam. The vacation provides the opportunity for the granddaughters to learn  about Kookum’s story (and their mother’s story) about being sent to residential school and in the process learn about being intergenerational survivors.  In When We Play Our Drums Sing by Richard Van Camp (63 pages), we meet 12 year old Dene Cho, a 12-year old who is angry and upset that his peple are losing their language, traditions and ways of being. A friendship with Elder Snowbird, helps Denee to learn about the  Indigenous past with hopes of changing the future. An exceptional two novellas in one  volume, each accompanied with a Language Guide and a Reader’s Guide. 

 

THE MONA LISA VANISHES by Nicholas Day (Narrative Nonfiction)

The subtitle of this book reads: A Legendary Painter, Shocking Heist, and the Birth of A Global Celebrity. True that!  What a remarkable, extensively researched, entertaining, fascinating, whodunnit, wild account centred on the theft of The Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci from the Louvre Museum. Nicolas Day has done deep Uber research on the missing painting by telling stories of the journalists,  detectives, suspects, artists (including Picasso) who are woven into the story. And of course,  Day provides a detailed account of Leonardo DaVinci,’s   Renaissance Man second to none. There are over ten pages of Sources listed at the end of the book.  What a fantastic piece of Narrative Nonfiction about the most famous painting in the world, all the more famous because it was once was stolen. 

 

THE SONG OF US by Kate Fussner (Queer Relationships)

It was love at first sight (in the school Poetry Club). Olivia falls head over heels in love with Eden. Olivia is an out and proud lesbian. Eden isn’t out.  The author takes readers through the girls’  journey from their growing adoration to the heartache, jealousy and disappointment that often becomes part of first love relationships. The novel is presented in free-verse style and Olivia and Eden’s participation in the school poetry club and their talents for writing bring authenticity to the poems that document their feelings and hearts.  Each of these two seventh graders has family problems (Olivia’s mother is depressed, Eden lives with her domineering father).  Parties, The School Dance, friendship loyalties,  making mistakes will resonate with many middle years readers as much as the quest to find words of devotion, words of forgiveness that are part of the growing up – and falling in love – experience. This debut novel is a notable contribution to queer love fiction.

Excerpt (p. 120)

All I wanted was a romance for the ages,

a love story for always,

a song of us

happily-ever

forever and ever

 

THE STORYTELLER by Brandon Hobson  (Indigenous History)

Ziggy, a Cherokee young adolescent is leading a troubled life. When he was a young boy is mother was one of the many Native women who mysteriously disappeared and he now struggles  with Anxiety.  Ziggy is determined to find out the truth about his mother and believes that he will find answers in a nearby cave in the desert. Along with his sister, Moon, his new friend, Alice, and his best friend, Corso, Ziggy embarks on an an adventure, where, like Alice in Wonderland, he meets a number of strange characters that help to explaian the  past stories of the Cherokees. I wanted to enjoy this novel more than I did. I wasn’t prepared for the encounters with talking animals (e..g, An Armadillo as Andrew Jackson, a Coyote who gives advice, a sneaky Snake. Raven tricksters, an Opera-Singing Frog). I was expecting a tighter unfolding of a boy dealing with Mental Health issues, insights into the disappearing Native women and the  tragic history of the Cherokee who were forced to. The author does weave these important issues into the plot but encounters with spiritual animals seemed to be digressive paths as the four young people wander through the night.  I liked reading the narratives of the Storytellers, but these didn’t seem to appear until the last third of the novel. The Storyteller is a worthy addition to books with Indigenous characters.  It is a worthy narrative that offers inquiry into the the Nunnehi (supernatural spirits of the Cherokee Tribe), the plight of Missing Native Women,  and the history of ethnic cleansing under Andrew Jackson’s Presidency  of The Trail of Tears  (1830-1850). Moreover, an essential theme of the novel is about accepting ghe things you cannot change from the past and moving forward. Note: The Misewa Saga series by David A. Robertson would be good companions reads to this novel. 

from Author’s note

Wilma Mankiller, the first woman Chief of the Cherokee Nation, once said, “The most fulfilled people are those who get up every morning and stand for something larger than themselves.” My hope is that The Storyteller inspires readers to think about and stand for something that is larger than themselves.

SHOUT OUT

THE PROBABILITY OF EVERYTHING by Sarah Everett 

Winner of the 2023 Governor General’s Literacy Award for Young People’s Literature 

Eleven-year-old Kemi Carter is obsessed with scientific facts and statistics especially the realm of probability. When Kemi sees an asteroid hovering in the sky she is convinced that AMPLUS-68 has an 84.7% chance of colliding with Earth in four days. The purple haze that is being cast in the sky means that the world is coming to an end for her and everything she knows. Paranoia over AMPLUS-68 is smothering her life and she embarks on a mission to assemble a time capsule that will capture the truth of each of her family members, especially her father to whom she is devoted. Any reviews of this book hesitate to write about the plot twist that packs a wow!  Readers will go along with the sci-fi premise of the imminent world disaster.  I think, however, that it’s ok to say that readers will be ‘surprised’ and involvement and compassion and wonder about what is going on in Kemi’s life will.  The Probability of Everything is a captivating read, beauifully-written and yes, heart-wrenching. I’m confident that there is a 94.7% chance that readers will LOVE this book as much as I did.  Five out of five stars for me!

 

 

LARRY’S LISTS OF 2023 FAVOURITES

This posting provides a list of books, movies, theatre and music that have brought me pleasure in 2023. Though not all book titles have been published in the past year, I’m glad they came my way. I tried to keep each list to a clear 5 titles but I needed to push a little further at times. Yes, each of these suggestions is a favourite, but alas there were some favourites amongst favourites which I’ve designated with an asterisk (*).

 

PICTURE BOOKS

An American Story by Kwame Alexander; illus. Dare Coulter                                                                                                                                                         

Big by Vashti Harrison *

Kozo The Sparrow by Allen Say *

There Was A Party For Langston by Jason Reynolds; illus. Jerome Pumphrey & Jarette Punmphrey

A Walk in the Woods by Nikki Grimes: illus,. Jerry Pinkney & Brian Pinkney

PICTURE BOOKS: CANADIAN

Dear Street by Lindsay Zier-Vogel; illus. Caroline Bonne Miller

Everyone is Welcome by Phuong Truong; illus. Christine Wei

The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylivie Daigneault

Do You Remember? by Sydney Smith

Imagine a Garden: Stories of Courage Changing the World by Rina Singh; illus. Hoda Hadad *

We Belong Here by Frieda Wishinsky; illus. Ruth Ohi

When You Can Swim by Jack Wong 

FICTION: Middle Years (ages 9-12)

The Eyes & The Impossible by Dave Eggers; illus. Shawn Harris 

One More Mountain by Deborah Ellis

The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

Top Story / Finally Seen by Kelly Yang

You Are Here: Connecting Flights (ed. Ellen Oh) (Short stories)

 

FICTION (Illustrated) /Middle Years (ages 9-12)

Big Tree by Brian Selznick

The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo; illus. Julie Morstad  *                                                                                                                                    

The Skull by Jon Klassen

The Wild Robot Protects by Peter Brown

A Work In Progress by Jarrett Lerner

 

NARRATIVE NONFICTION: Middle Years

But I Live: 3 stories of child survivors of the Holocaust by Miriam Libicki (ed.) (Graphic Text)

Chinese Menu by Grace Lin (information/ folktales)

The Mona Lisa Vanishes by Nicholas Day; illus. Brett Helquist

We The Sea Turtles by Michelle Kadarusman (Short Stories)

The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story by Lois Lowry *

 

ADULT: FICTION

In Memoriam by Alice Winnnb*

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict  & Victoria Christopher Murray

The Postcard by Anne Berest

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan (3 short stories)

Yellowface by R. F. Kuang


ADULT NONFICTION: Biography/ Autobiography

Friends, Lovers and Terrible Things by Matthew Perry

I Am Full: Stories for Jacob by Dan Yashinsky ***

I Remember by Joe Brainard *

IM by Isaac Mizrahi

Getting Better / Many Different Kinds of Love by Michael Rosen

Run Towards the Danger by Sarah Polley **

Why Fathers Cry at Night by Kwame Alexander *



MOVIES

Anatomy of a Fall *

Close

Maestro *

Past Lives **

The Zone of Interest

 

THEATRE (Toronto)

Bad Roads

The Chinese Lady

English

The Lehman Trilogy

Sizwe Banzi is Dead



THEATRE (New York)

Good Night, Oscar  *

Here We Are; Merrily We Roll Along 

A Doll’s House

Topdog / Underdog 

Purlie Victorious *


CD’s (yes, CD’s)

The Maestro: Very Best of Leonard Bernstein

Brent Carver: Walk Me to the Corner

Rickie Lee Jones: Pieces of Treasure 

Oscar Levant: The Complete Piano Recordings

Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time

Rufus Wainwright: Folkocracy *


ETC.

Audra McDonald (519 Gala) *

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy by Nathan Thrall (nonfiction)

A Little Life (theatre, London)

Fellow Travellers (TV series) *

Houston Person (saxaphonist), CD’s

Cecile McLorin Salvant (concert, Koerner Hall)

Dead Man Walking (Met Live Opera) *

The Hours (Met Live Opera)

The Red Court by Matthew Hastie (YA)

 

END OF THE YEAR GROWN-UP READS: December 2023

This posting lists some recent fiction, nonfiction and poetry titles, some of which I enjoyed, some I didn’t. Still, amongst these 12 titles I encountered some very special books that appear on my list of 2023 favourites (*)

 

DAY: A Novel by Michael Cunningham

This novel is presented in three parts, a single day (April 5th) in 2019, 2020, 2021. Though never explicitly articulated it is a time before, during and in the aftermath of COVID-19. The story centres on husband and wife, Dan and wife and Isabell’s brother Robbie, a gay man who  has been living as a cherished family member in the loft of the Brooklyn brownstone. Circumstances that force Robbie  move out and find a place of his own threatens to break the family apart. During lockdown, Robbie is stranded in Iceland, alone with his thoughts and living with the secrets of an Instagram life that give him hope and possibilities, even though the relationship he experiences is fictional. In the third part, the family must deal with loss and work towards moving on. The children in the story, Violet and Nathan are moving towards independence. Dan’s brother, Garth,   also struggles to find a place to be a good father to an independent woman who as a sperm donor. I’m not sure I loved this story of unhappy characters. I wanted  Loretta Castorini (Cher’s character from Moonlighting) to come along with a slap “Snap out of it” to the characters. The quest to be satisfied with our lot and choices in life seems to be one of the essential themes of Day and it takes a much introspection for these folks to ‘snap out of it.’  The cover of the book is quite striking in its simplicity in an image of a clear-blue sky, with a wisp of floating cloud interrupting the brightness of the day. Perhaps the cloud is a metaphor (things aren’t always perfect!), but a darker grey cloud might have better captured the intent of the novel. I’ve enjoyed books by this prize-winning author (A Home at the End of the World: Flesh and Blood, The Hours) who does indeed write beautiful sentences but wasn’t as enthralled as many critics were with Michael Cunningham’s new release. 

 

FRIENDS, LOVERS and THE BIG TERRIBLE THING by Matthew Perry (memoir) *

Matthew’s story of his struggles with addiction, is undoubtedly, the most harrowing read of the year.  The actor candidly documents the actor’s childhood ambition to fame and his devastating journey with addiction, health scares, hospital and rehab visits.  This is a laid-bare, no holds barred account of struggles with excessive booze  and drug binge and the peace found in sobriety . It is also the story of dealing with fame, family and friends.  The opening lines of the book read “Hi, my name is Matthew, although you know me by another name. My friends call me Matthy. And I should be dead.”  When reading about Perry’s addictions, his loneliness  and his workaholic lifestyle, one wonders how he didn’t in fact succumb to ‘the big terrible thing’.  But Matthew Perry’s life was one of Courage, with a capital C. He will forever be know as the very funny guy on Friends, but writes that he hopes his legacy will be that of a person who gave hope and resilience to others who have lived the way he did.  The book was published  in 2022. and knowing that 54 year-old Matthew Perry died ion October 18, 2023, makes this an especially riveting reading experience. 

 

I REMEMBER by Joe Brainard *

First published in 1975, I Remember is an extended list poem in which author, artist Joe Brainard records declarative sentences (mostly single statements) of 1000+ things he remembers. I hadn’t heard of this book before (it was referenced in The Vulnerables by Sigrid Nunez) but I sought out a copy. What an entertaining read. The book demands text to self connections (particularly those who group up in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s). There will be a load of  “Yes, I remember that too moments.”  when reading about fashions, fads, friendships and daydream fantasies (often sexual in nature). The premise absolutely ignites readers to conjure up their own memories of artifacts and life experiences that shape our cognitive, emotional and cultural souls. Perhaps, it will inspire readers to write their own ‘I Remember’ poems. I loved this book a lot and bought a batch of copies as gifts for friends. I’m sure they will be as delighted – and pensive – as I was. Absolutely one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I had this year. (Sequels: More I Remember (1972); More I Remember More (1973), I Remember Chrsitmas (1973)

Samples

I remember candles in wine bottles.

I remember bright orange canned peaches.

I remember ‘a white sports coat and a pink carnation.”

I remember sweaters thrown over our shoulders and sunglasses propped up on our heads.

I remember “this is the last time I’m going to tell you.”

 

THE LOVE OF SINGULAR MEN by Victor Heringer, Translated from the Portuguese by James Young

The setting of this novel is the suburbs of Rio De Janeiro. Camillo is a crippled middle-aged man looks back at the days of his  youth, especially the love he had for Cosme, an orphan who was taken in by his family. When he returns to his hometown   as an adult, Camillo is haunted by the memories of being happy  with Cosme until an act of violence shatters their world. The past is over and nothing can be done about it. The back and forth perspectives frame the narrative but alas, I found myself wandering and wondering (and confused) about story events, the relationships and Brazilian politics and wasn’t as enamoured with this book as some critics were. 

 

MINOR DETAIL Adania Shibli; translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. (first published in 2017/ translation 2020)

At 111 pages this novella , translated from the that is powerful narrative of Israeli / Arab conflict. The  book is divided into two parts, each of equal length. The first part,  written in the third person, tells the story of a 1949 gang rape and murder of a young Arab Bedouin-Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers. The protagonist is an Israeli officer who oversees the clearing of the Negev desert and the establishment of the borders with Egypt. The book then shifts into a first person telling of a modern day account of a Palestinian woman (unnamed) who tries to investigate this 25 year old incident. The woman decides to travel to the area where the crime occorued and to pay visits to local archives and museums in the hope of finding some evidence of what happened. Minor Detail  is a piercing account of borders erected to define who belongs and who doesn’t. It is also an unsettling account of  as every day life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. NOTE  An awards ceremony at the Frankfort Book Fair, due to honour the novel by a Palestinian author was called off due to the war in Israel. Controversy arose when an open letter from over 350 international authors stated that the world’s largest book fair of its kind has a “responsibility to be creating spaces for Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings, reflections on literature through these terrible, cruel times, not shutting them down.”

 

SO LATE IN THE DAY by Claire Keegan (short stories) *

This is a slim volume of three short stories by Irish Writer, Claire Keegan who whose writing, breathtaking in its clarity and poignancy, wakes up the heart. So Late in the Day is the story of a lenoy Irish civil servant who almost married a woman that he might have been happy with – but it’s a good thing he didn’t. A writer arrives in the retreat for a two-week writing residency, but the appearance – and disturbance – of a German academic interrupts – and yet, inspires – her writing in a story entitled A Long and Painful Death. In Antarctica, a woman experiences lust (and danger) when she leaves her family for a weekend to seek out the adventure of sleeping with another man.  This book is subtitled “Stories of men and women” and each tale does indeed depict the dynamics and longing and betrayal of relationships between a man and woman.

 

STUDY FOR OBEDIENCE by Sarah Bernstein

In the novel,  Yellowface by R.F. Kuang there is a sentence that struck me” Reading should be an enjoyable experience, not a chore. Yellowface was the book I chose to read after finishing the Giller Prize and Booker nominee Study for Obedience and it was a reading chore that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Awards do not a great book make. I’m fine with Sarah Bernstein getting praise for this work. The story is centred on a young woman who leaves her birthplace to a remote northern country (unidentified) to be hosekeeper to her brother who’s wife recently left him. I didn’t have much sympathy for this sister who chose to serve her demanding brother. When a series of inexplicable events (i.e. bovine hysteria, the death of an ewe, a local dog’s phantom pregnancy)  the community becomes suspicious of the sister, a newcomer to the village. Ostracizing the outsider seems to be the central issue of the book (antisemitism) but I had to dig deep to stay (and ‘get’) the story. Though rather short (189 pages) I wanted to abandon Study for Obedience but kept going because of the praise (and awards) the book has received. I did not  agree with back cover testimonies ‘beautiful’ (Angel-Ajani), ‘fully absorbing’ (D. Hayden) with ‘perfectly weight prose’ (F. Mozley)  and that’s ok.

 

THE VULNERABLES by Sigred Nunez

I’m sure there are – and will be – many books written about living through the Pandemic experience. In this novel, a female author considers her past as she comments on current realities. It is the time of the pandemic and when the narrator is a ‘vulnerable’ in the face of Covid.finds herself to be responsible for taking care of a parrot named Eureka. When she encounters a Gen Z stranger< Vetch,together the two characters help each to confront their distresses and learn about the meaning of being a caring person. Nunez (National  Book Award  The Friend (2018) is one fine writer.  I love the way she recounts somewhat quirky events and makes them seem ordinary.  She is a wise, perceptive and funny writer. I love the way she weaves in precepts from a range literary works.

Excerpt

I like taht Virginia Woolf said, Everything I read these days, including my own work, seems to me too long. That Borges said, Unlike the novel a short story may be, for all purposes, essential. But  thtat Jeanette Winterson siad, I think long books are rude. Not that Celine said Novels are something like lace, an art that went out of the convent.” (page 141)

 

YELLOWFACE by R. F. Kuang

When she witnesses the death of  noteworthy Asian author, Athena Liu, the struggling white author, June Hayward steals Liu’s  unfinished manuscript about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I. How  does Hayword (now known as Juniper Song) think she will get away with this plagiarism and what makes this a fascinating story, is that readers will wonder how she this white woman will  get away with the deceit. R. F. Kuang takes us into the world of publishing that includes editing, marketing, publicity a social media. Moreover, the author raises deep questions about diversity, authenticity, racism and cultural appropriation. Knowing that Juniper Song is a  liar certainly smothers any sympathy we have for the deceitful author and yet Yellowface provides a reading experience that is quite addictive as it digs deep into the psychology of a twisted creative mind.  A great novel of our now times of diversity and authenticity and power 

 

>>>>>><<<<<<<<<

SHOUT OUT: POETRY

Happiness and heartbreak, expressed in a stanza that takes as long to read as sipping a cup of tea or drinking a glass of water.” ~ Marilyn Lightstone, Introduction to Nocturne

“Poetry has always been there for us in times of need and in times of love… poetry has the power to comfort and speak truth to what yearns to be awakened inside.”  ~ Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Introduction to A Field Guide to the Heart.)

Read any good poetry lately? KUDOS to Plumleaf Press for publishing two exquisite poetry collections. In truth, it doesn’t take much time to read a one or two page poem. Some poems we linger over. A poem can surprise us, puzzle us, connect us, awaken us, comfort us, remind us, confound us    A poem can stretch the mind, massage the heart or just be.

When embarking on a poetry anthology, I tend to read the poems chronologically in the order they are presented.  If truth be told, I don’t always ‘get’ the poem, but I’m not stressed out like I was when being tested by a high school teacher who had us work to unlock ‘the meaning’. I  wonder and wander through the sea of words page by page. I might pause, linger, reread, or scratch my head. Whether “Huh?” or “Wow!” I know that I have had a good experience with this  special art form. 

 

A FIELD GUIDE TO THE HEART: Poems of love, comfort & hope by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich (2021)

It is the time of the Pandemic and two poet friends recognized the need to write poetry to put hearts to paper for wisdom and peace.  Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich felt a strong need to reach out to each other (and who didn’t we all have the urge to reach out and connect with others when COVID-19 struck?- to need and be needed. And so this book came to be “not a field guide to identify and name things of this universe – birds, stars, flowers – but a field guide to explore and name what we’ve lost, what we’ve found, and what fills us with love, comfort and hope.” (Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Introduction, p. 7). The poems are organized into three sections: How Fragile the Heart Is; The Morning of My Choosing, A Quivering of Wings, each section serving as a map for the time lived during and through 2020/ 2021)

Bonus: Throughout the publication, blank, faintly-lined pages appear – an invetiation for words -hoping that the poems inspire response, reflection, and creativity. I shall re-read the poems someday and take pencil in hand to write words to help find the ‘solace and joy’ that the two poets felt in creating these poems of love, comfort and hope. 

Fragment: “There Will Always Be” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (p 70)

There will always be the waves

rushing in and tumbling out; 

The promise of the moon, the bronze

of the morning sun.

Sadness is forever.

But let hope be.

Poem: “An Invitation for Words by Georgia  Heard (p. 84)

Treat them like a guest in your own house.

Tell them to make themselves at home.

Light a candle.

Leave the door unlocked,

the porch light on. 

 

NOCTURNE: Poems to Linger Over selected by Marilyn Lightstonen (2023)

Marilyn Lightstone is a celebrated Canadian artist who has appeared in movies, televisions shows and on stage. She’s the signature voice of ZoomerMedia’s Vision TV and the New Classical FM, as well as Marilyn Lightstone Reads, a popular audiobook podcast. Thousands of listeners have tuned connected with Marilyn on The New Classical FM where to listen to her read poetry and listen to  music  This publication is inspired by  favourte poems she has shared with her fans. And oh yes, Marilyn Lightstone is also a painter and each of the six sections of this anthology features one of her  paintings in vibrant colour plates. Readers might recognize the names of celebrated poets (Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Robert Browling, A.E. Housman,  Dylan Thomas, W. B. Yeats)  but they’ll also be introduced to pieces international poets  that invite readers “to reflect, and to savour these stirring words that couse us to ponder the meaning of life in so many ways,” (Charles Pachter, Foreward, p. 8). These 60+ poems (mostly one or two pages) are one’s that  might recall or perhaps meetg for the first time. They are poems to linger over as you sip a cup of tea, or latte or other beverage of choice. 

Fragment from “Alone” by Maya Angelou (pages 64-65)

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody 

Can make it out here alone.

>>>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<<<<<

SHOUT OUT! SHOUT OUT! SHOUT OUT! ***

I AM FULL: Stories for Jacob by Dan Yashinsky

Jacob Evan Yashinsky-Zavitz lived a life of courage  and resilience in dealing with a genetic condition known as Prader-Willi Syndrom (PWS) which forces those with the disease to deal ewith  intense hunger known as hyperphagia.  But what a rich life and full life Jacob created for himself especially as a fisherman, a photographer, a jewellery maker, a poet, and a crossing-guard.  A tragic death, at the age of 26,  as a result of a car accident put his father, family and friends on a journey to deal with grief. 

In the Prologue to the book, Dan Yashinsky writes: “I started writing this chronicle about six month’s after Jacob’s death trying to find a way to remember, to grieve, perhaps to find a shred of meaning in this unspeakable loss.” Dan Yashinsky, master professional storyteller, began gathered  texts that make up this requiem.  The ongoing journal that Dan kept recording his son’s adventures and misadventures, the unforgettable expressions Jacob uttered at all stages of his life, the trials and triumphs he experienced provided the a rich source for the author to pay tribute to his son by presenting narratives in Jacob’s imagined voice as his guide. The anecdotes and reflections are written in the first person.  A collection of poems, speeches, letters, notes and photographs are compiled to paint a mighty portrait of this heroic hat-loving, fishing-loving, food-loving, joke-loving, family-loving human who learned to embrace his disability rather than ignore it. 

At his funeral, Jacob’s brother said: “love continues to exist in the world, even though (my) little brother has gone to be with his ancestors. Somehow, love remains”.

This is a life lived with love. This is a  book of LOVE.  This is a book of remembrance. 

It is a book written in the shadow of grief. It is funny. It is  heartbreaking.It is filled with heart. And hands on heart, it is the best book that I’ve read this year. 

2023 PICTURE BOOKS.. .end of the year titles

A list of picture books, some of which, I predict will to be future award winners. Hope so. 

 

ALONE: The Journey of Three Young Refugees by Paul Tom; illus. Melanie Baillairge; Arielle Aaronson (translator) (Non-Fiction)

Each year more than 400 minors arrive alone in Canada eeking refugee status. This documentary-style graphic novel is based on a true story of young asylum seekers who arrived in Canada without their parents. The storyies of 13 year old Afshin from Tehran Iran, 13 year old Alian from Bujumbura, Burundi and 16 year old Patricia from Kampala, Uganda are testimonies of sacrifice, hardships, obstacles and courage.  The book is divided into 5 chapters, each featuring the journey of the three adolescents. (Chapter 1: ‘Leaving Everything Behind’; Chapter 2 ‘Saying Goodbye’; Chapter 3: ‘It Isn’t Over Yet; Chapter 4; ‘Mama, Where Are You?’: Chapter 5: ‘Hope for Tomorrow’. The artwork presented in limited palette of black, burgandy, green and beige is somewhat stylized, somewhat sketch-like and sometimes poetic well-serving the mood of these biographies.

NOTE: The French version of this book (SEULS) is the recipient of the $50 000 TD Prix De Literature Jeunesse Canadienne. ALone is a fully illusgtrated adaptation of the critically acclaimed documentary Seuls, inspired by the true stories of 3 refugees (directed by Paul Tom).

“I am relieved to write these words. I feel that here, I have room to breathe. I feel protected. I feel free and safe. It was the right decision to come here.

To come home.”

(Patricia, page 135)

 

ARY’S TREES by Deborah Kerbel; illus Sophia Choi

The future of our world depends on trees. Ary enjoys the tree-covered paradise of her new home. When the island is under threat, Ari and her friends try and safe the trees before it’s too late. A special – important – story about environmental preservation and taking action.

“I’m sorry.” Ary whispered to the fallen palm at her feet. “I’m trying to  help.”

BIG by Vashti Harrison

A splendid splendid book about body-image and self-love. A young black girl grows up hearing the words “Don’t you think you’re too big for that!” and though the words sung make her feel small and judged.. In her heart, she ‘was just a girl. And she was good.” Vashti’s spare text pack an emotional punch and he illustrations present strong character poses that often fill the pages (literally).  This is a picture book treasure that needs to be shared. (recommended title for New York Times best picture books of the year). Big is sure to get Caldecott recognition. Crossing fingers. 

 

GRANDPA’S STARS by Carolyn Huizinga Mills; illus. Samantah Lucy Haslam

A young child pays a visit to Grandpa who shows grandchild the wonders of the night sky and the shapes the stars make in the glittering night. When grandpa gets sick, the stars bring imagination, memory and comfort.

“Pinpricks of light glitter overhead, as if someone has sprinkled by ceiling with magic. It is a masterpiece. We stand in my room and stare at the stars. Grandpa’s stars.”

 

THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST by Holly Carr (2020)

Thia is a staggering picture book creation with simple text introducing animals of the forest. (The deer is watching; The hare is leaping;). Cleverly each of the verbs is featured in varied large fonts, drawing attention to the  full page close up images of the animals of the forest (presented in monochromatic grey tones). The refrain, “I am not afraid.’ But wait… what is that?  that appears on alternate pages, not only encourage prediction, but provide comfort as readers contemplate lush colourful illustrations depicting the peaceful family. lives of the raven, the wolf, the deer, the hare the owl, the fox, the bear.  This is a read book to be read aloud more than once. The syntactic pattern and limited text invites successful  independent reading. This is a book that finds comfort and solace in the light in the forest. It is a careful reminder to children who may be afraid of something, that they are not alone.  Bonus: A full-age spread concludes the book that features over 25 animals indigenous to North America. This book is wonderful picture book. 

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM by Neil Gaiman; 13 illustrators (a poem of welcome)

In a time when there are so many citizens who seek shelter and warmth during the coldest seasons, this poem by Neil Gaiman, presented as a picture book, illustrated by 13 artists,  answers the question, “What do you need to be warm?’. This moving poem is based on a film Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR ( The United Nations Refugee Agency) Goodwill Ambassador made about refugees and displaced persons seeking safety and shelter. The poet gathers images and memories that signify warmth and inspire thought about about those who have lost their homes, and even lost thier their countries and are hopeful about finding the warmth of family and friends and safety. Black and white and orange are the only colours used throughout.  This poem was inspired by tens of thousands of people on Social Media, each shring a specific memory of being warm. Renowned author, Neil Gaiman, along with varied artists, has created a stellar literature artifact. This is a warm,omforting poem about hope and kindness that must  be shared with young people. . 

“A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around/ or burn your mouth. A blanket kntted b your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s. 

 

WHEN YOU CAN SWIM by Jack Wong 

A series of vignettes about what it truly means to swim – even though the mysterious ways of the water bring caution to  a diverse cast of young people fearful about learning to swim.  This is a mighty tribute to the joys and surprises of water. The glorious lively paintings, presented from different ‘above and below’ swim off the pages. When You Can Swim is the 2023 winner of the Boston-Globe Horn Picture Book Award as well as the Governor General’s literacy award for young people’s literature (illustrated books).  A stunning picture book creation drawn from Jack Wong’s early life experiences. Stellar!

When you can swim

you’ll conquer any fear

of tannin-soaked lakes

pitch-dark from tree bark

like oversteeped tea. 

 

THE WORDS WE SHARE by Jack Wong

Angie has moved Canada with her family and alhough the young girl has learned lots at school, a lot of things are harder for Dad in the new country. Angie is often required to translate between English and Cantonese for her Dad. When her father gets a job as a janitor, Angie  makes  English signs which her father needs to post. This inspires her to start her own business: “Hey, I bet thre are plenty of other people wno need things written in English for thenm. Like signs for their store.” I  tell Dad. “I could start a business.” A wonderful  story about, communication, community and fitting in. 

 

SHOUT OUT!

KOZO THE SPARROW by Allen Say

When a young boy witnesses a quivering bird in the hands of a bully, he is determined to rescue the orphan sparrow and lead it back to health. He trades all his treasures  (a magnet, marbles, a spinning top and a beloved American baseball) for the bird, whom he names Kozo, The Little Boy. This story is drawn from the personal life of the author’s experiences growing up in Japan remembering the best friend he made in his childhood. An exquisite memoir sure to ignite a strong emotional response – and that’s a good thing. (recommended title for New York Times best picture books of the year). I recently enjoyed reading this special book to both a primary class and a junior class. When I finished one eight year old put up his hand and said “I will remember this book for the rest of my whole life.” A great testimony for a great book. 

 

SHOUT OUT!

THE IMAGINARY ALPHABET by Sylvie Daigneault

This title was mentioned in an earlier  posting of new 2023 picture books. I am eager to give another  shout out to this picture book which has now been released by Pajama Press. I recently attended a classy launch of Sylvie’s book and had a close-up look at the spectacular art work. The book was recognized in the Sunday New York Times (December 3, 2003) as a great holiday gift (“the 26 letters of the alphabet are a launching pad for elaborate flights of fancy.”) The Imaginary Alphabet is a great gift of picture book creations. It is indeed a GREAT GIFT to offer readers young and old.  As I outlined in my previous posting… “This is a WOW! of a book!”

 I love alphabet books. I love books that celebrate words. I love books with illustrations that enrich curiosity, wonder and imagination. This book is a triple crown winner for me.  On one side of the page we see an alphabet letter adorned with visual images (‘C’  features cactus, ‘L’ features lemons) and each letter is accompanied with playful alliterative sentences. On the right-hand page, Daigneault ‘illustrates’ the whimsical sentence in addition to a number of pictures that start with the same letter as the one featured in the large illustrations.  At the conclusion of this book there is a list of about 300 words that have been ‘hidden’ throughout. 26 letters. 26 whimsical alliterative descriptions to accompany the letters. 300 words and one glorious trip to an art gallery with Sylvia Daigneault’s exquisite, fantastical illustrations. This is a WOW! of a book

G = Grumpy Gorillas Guarding the Garden Gate. Can you spot the gargoyles, gerbils, giraffe, gravel ground and gold hidden in the picture?

 

 

SHOUT OUT!

The Sunday New York Times (November 12, 2023) presented a list of the 10 winners of the New York Time/ New York Public Library Bet Illustrated Children’s Books. Judges made selections from nearly 800 titles received by authors and illustrators around the world. The winners are:

 

As Night Falls: Creatures that Go Wild After Dark by Donna Jo Napli; illus. Felicita Sala

At The Drop of a Cat by Elise Fontenaille; illus Violete Lopizp; illus. Jeska Verstegen

Bear is Never Alone by Marc Veerkam

Before Now by Daniel Salmieri

Bunny & Tree by Balint Zsako

How to Write a Poem by Kwame Alexander and Deanne Nikaido; illus Melissa Sweet

Mary’s Idea by Chris Raschka

Rock, Rosetta, Rock! Roll, Rosetta, Roll!: Presenting Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Godmother of Rock and Roll by Tonya Bolden; illus R. Gregory Christie

We Are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of Murmuration by Robert Furrow and Donna Jo Napoli; illus. Marc Martin

The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent by Irene Vasco; illus. Juan Palomino

 

>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<<

Oops!  I think the committee overlooked some WOW illustrated picture books (Larry’s choices)

 

An American Story by Kwame Alexander; illus. Dare Coulter

Big by Vashti Harrison

The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylive Daigneault

Kozo the Sparrow by Allen Say

Mina by Matthew Forsythe

There Was a Party for Langston: King of Letters by Jason Reynolds; illus. Jerome Pumphrey & Jarrett Pumphrey

A Walk in the Woods by Nikki Grimes; illus. Jerry Pinkney; Brian Pinkney

When You Can Swim by Jack Wong

 

 

DIVERSITY: MIDDLE YEARS BOOKS: November 2023

This posting offers 10 diverse books presenting diverse characters experiencing a challenging world of change, hope and resilience.

 

ALONE: The Journey of Three Young Refugees by Paul Tom; illus. Melanie Baillairge; Arielle Aaronson (translator) (Non-Fiction)

Each year more tahn 400 minors arrive alone in Canada eeking refugee status. This documentary-style graphic novel is based on a true story of young asylum seekers who arrived in Canada without their parents. The storyies of 13 year old Afshin from Tehran Iran, 13 year old Alian from Bujumbura, Burundi and 16 year old Patricia from Kampala, Uganda are testimonies of sacrifice, hardships, obstacles and courage.  The book is divided into 5 chapters, each featuring the journey of the three adolescents. (Chapter 1: ‘Leaving Everything Behind’; Chapter 2 ‘Saying Goodbye’; Chapter 3: ‘It Isn’t Over Yet; Chapter 4; ‘Mama, Where Are You?’: Chapter 5: ‘Hope for Tomorrow’. The artwork presented in limited palette of black, burgendy, green and beige is somewhat stylized, somewhat sketch-like and sometimes poetic well-servinge the mood of these biographies.

NOTE: The French version of this book (SEULS) is the recipient of the $50 000 TD Prix De Literature Jeunesse Canadienne. ALone is a fully illusgtrated adaptation of the critically aclaimed documentary Seuls, inpsired by the true stories of 3 refugees (directed by Paul Tom).

 

EB & FLOW by Kelly J. Baptist

Eb & Flow are  in trouble. When Ebony ruined De’Kari (aka Flow), Flow struck back (literally) and the two 7th graders where suspended for 10 days where they provides them with time to think about their behaviours, their emotions and their family lives. Both  tweens come from single-parent homes, money is scarce, and both have the responsibility of caring for siblings. It is the troubles in their lives that bind the two but neither is aware of the parallel circumstances. Both Eb and Flow angrily think about their responsibility inthe escapade that brought them to being suspended. The ten day suspension leads them to think not only their present circumstances but future possibilities and dreams.  The free verse novel is presented in two alternating voices.

 

GREEN by Alex Gino

Opening: “Green’s life was pretty great, especially for a kid in a middle school. They were queer and nonbinary and had lots of queer and trans friends.” Green has a good relationship with their father and thier teachers and has good friends who belong to the Rainbow Spectrum club in this school. When the school is putting on the musical The Wizard of Oz Green and their friends take the opportunity to create a welcoming space for everyone by considering changing up the traditional roles of the characters.  Even though Green doesn’t get the part that they wanted (the Tinperson), they become part of the crew, which appeals to Green because they have a crush on Ronnie who  will also working as a crew member. Alex Gino presents some important issues confronting nonbinary students:  infatuation, sexual preferences, conciuring traditional stereotypes getting the first period, decisions about taking hormone blockers. When Alex Gino wrote their first novel Melissa, there wasn’t a single middle grade book with a transgender main character released by a major character. Since that time, the author has written other titles about young people exploring gender identity (Rick, Alice Austen Lived Here, You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P!) and with Green we have another enlightening and engaging and important title to offer middle years readers. Hooray for Alex Gino. 

 

MASCOT by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell

The school mascot is the image of an Indian head.  When an eighth-grade teacher in Virginia assisgns a debate project to determine whether the mascot should stay or change, six students in the class choose sides and are determined to have their points of view heard. The two authors present a diverse cast of characters: Callie, A Black Cherokee citizen, Franklin, A Black football hero; Priay a budding journalist whos family is from India; Sean. a sixth-generation Irish stduent, Tessa, who is white and Luis who immigrated from El Savador. Diverse views and arguments are present in this free-verse novel helping readers to think about heritage, stereotypes, racism and taking a moral and ethical stance for what they believe is right.

 

SUNSHINE b y Jarrett J. Krosoczka 

Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the author of many popular books ( e.g.,Lunch Lady sereis). His memoir Hey, Kiddo was a National Book Finalist. In this title, the author recounts his teenage experiences as a counsellor at Camp Sunshine to be part of a volunteer program to work with seriously ill kids and theirr families. Even though it was a one week experience, the opportunity was life-changing for Krosocska who learned about the captivity of illness but also the hope and determination that gets people through tough times. The author was assigned to work one on one with wheelchair-bound Diego who, although reluctant to participate in activities . developed a warm relationship with his buddy counsellor. The book recounts camp experiences (boating, crafts, a talent show, boating, fishing, and team-building activities.  Each of the individuals that Jarrett J. Krosoczka and his 5 volunteer companions, offer sunshine even though most lived in the shadow of death. The subtitle of this memoir is ‘How Camp Taught me About LIfe, Death and Hope.’  It is an heartfelt story that will help teach readers about Life, Death and Hope. Inspiring with a capital “I”. 

 

TREASURE ISLAND: Runaway Gold by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Zane is grieving the death of his father and worrying about the survival his family’s boarding house in Rocakaway Queens. One of the boarders, Captain Maddie is indeed quite mad. Zane enjoys listening to her stories  and strange blathering of sailing the seven seas but upon her death, she implores Zane to “Honor th bones peole, whether buried in water or earth. Dead don’t stay dead. Homor the bones.” So Zane and his two best friends  set off on a mission to Manhattan with their skateboards and  a map in hand hoping to discover a treasure that would solve his family’s problems. Much adventure and danger ensues as Jack, Kiko, Zane and his ever-faithful dog, Hip-Hop set of on a wild search, hoping to find gold. A skateboard gang is ever-threatening. A meeting with John, another sailor hosts the trio into the environs of Manhattan and leads them to discover the buried history of Black New Yorkers of centuries past. Treasure Island is an exciting modern day adventure story of finding and solving clues that lead the protagonists through a church, a burial ground and tunnels. Updating Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel provided an intriguing tale of  skateboarding pirates.  Most of all the premise of the novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ghost Boys) serves to present a rather unknown history of New York slavery in the 1700’s. and 1800’s. Enslaved Africans (which grew to well over a million) contributed to the development and economic engine of the city. Almost half of white households owned servants and laborers. The author also provides an important history of New York being an important stop for the Underground Railroad. “Historical fiction is a combination of accuracy and fictional lie. But always, the intent of fiction is to tell the emotional truth of characters journey through life.” (Afterward, page 317)

 

WATER WATER by Cary Fagan

Rafe wakes up to discover that he, and he dog, Buddy are floating in water? How did this happen? Where is Rafe’s family? How will the dog and boy survive? Is there land somewhere in the distance? Rafe is off quite an adventure a la James and the Giant Peach as he floats along and eventually encounters some surprises (a cello-playhing woman,  a case of rubber ducks, plenty of canned goods, a storm, a parachute made out of a sail, a mean group of ‘pirates’ who want to steal his food). Fagan expertly shares Rafe’s resourcefulness to live calmly from day to day and to seek rescue. One day he meets up with a young girl sailing along on a small air mattress and the two develop a special friendship, even though they don’t speak the same language.  Cary Fagan tells a wonderful story, ideal for reading aloud or enjoyed as an independent read.  An adventure story that perhaps serves as a metaphor for  climate change that causes flooding and the hope and survival of refugees seeking asylum. Jon McNaught’s black and white sky blue illustrations that appear throughout aptly depict story events. 

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM by Neil Gaiman; 13 illustrators (a poem of welcome)

In a time when there are so many citizens who seek shelter and warmth during the coldest seasons, this poem by Neil Gaiman, presented as a picture book, illustrated by 13 artists,  answers the question, “What do you need to be warm?’. This moving poem is based on a film Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR ( The United Nations Refugee Agency) Goodwill Ambassador made about refugees and displaced persons seeking safety and shelter. The poet gathers images and memories that signify warmth and inspire thought about about those who have lost their homes, and even lost thier their countries and are hopeful about finding the warmth of family and friends and safety. Black and white and orange are the only colours used throughout.  This poem was inspired by tens of thousands of people on Social Media, each shring a specific memory of being warm. Renowned author, Neil Gaiman, along with varied artists, has created a stellar literature artifact. This is a warm,omforting poem about hope and kindness that must  be shared with young people. . 

Excerpt

“A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around/ or burn your mouth. A blanket kntted b your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s. 

SHOUT OUT

REMEMBER US by Jacqueline Woodson

“Delving deeplly into life’s challenging questions about time and memory, Jacqueline Woodson’s evocative story speaks to the power of both letting go and holding on! “(book jacket)

Though fiction, this  novel is based on a real time (1970’s, 1980’s) and place, Bushwick Brooklyn, which came to be known as “The Matchbox” because there so many fires were destroying people’s homes. Although the  12 year-old Sage’s home was not burned down, she lost her father in a tragic fire incident. Her mother is determined to move out from Bushwick, but the community was so an important place for  Sage, especially for  the opportunity to play  basketball.  It was a time when Sage tried to find her place in a circle of girls who seemed to abandon her becuase she preferred to spend time shooting hoops with the guys. Meeting Freddy gave Sage strength as the two friends tried to deal with the pain of the past, the good parts of the present and the uncertainty of the future.  The novel is told from the point of view of the adult Sage looking back on her life. Jacqueline Woodson’s writing, as always,  is exquisite. Short chapters and short paragraphing present an efficient style to engage readers. Woodson absolutely captures time and place, but moreover, readers come to care about this Black fictional character, understand her and sympathize with her as she deals with grief and loss and feelings of being an outsider. (“What kind of girl are you?”) Many young adolescent readers will identify and connect with Sage’s life as she questions her gender and sexual identity, her friendship circles and her family loyalties. 

Remember Us is amongst the best of the best books of 2023 by the wonderful, wonderful Jacqueline Woodson. I wholeheartedly recommend this fantastic novel. 

Excerpt

I AM WONDERING NOW: WHO else remembers that year of fires?

Who else remembers the Bushwick we once lived in?

Who else remembers us?

SHOUT OUT

A WORK IN PROGRESS by Jarrett Lerner (free verse novel) 

When he was in fourth grade a mean kid tormented Nick Fisher by spitting out the words “Your FAT and Everyone knows it”. The words stuck inside his head for years and now that he’s in middle school, Nick is deeply angry and fully aware of his body and how others think about how he looks. His friends have abandoned him. He eats lunch alone outside the cafeteria. He overhears mean mean comments said by mean girls. Spoiler: Ast he title suggests: Progress is made (thanks to a new friendship, therapy and gradual self-acceptance).  The novel is written in free verse style and is accompanied by graphic images illustrations that put Nick’s tormented feelings into art. Jarret Lerner dedicates this book “For anyone who has ever felt less than.” The author tells the story with full-out honesty and self-reaization and as a wit progressesit is a story of foregiveness, resileince and hope. This is a remarkable book, vital reading for middle age readers  who feel ‘less than’ and  essential reading for middle age students  think about the progress needed to move forward by o accepting their identities as they move through the complexities of adolescenthood  (and what middle age student doesn’t ask themselves about who they are and who they are becoming)?  This is essential reading to think  about body image and  mental health issues. 

Excerpt (pages 86-87)

I eat/ and eat/ and eat./ More/ and more/ and more.  And chewing/ and swallowing/ and chewing/ some more more/ there are moments –

brief/ beautiful/ blissful moments/ – when I forget who I am/ what I am/ that I am / at all. 

TEN GROWN-UP TITLES: Fall 2023

Ten novels, varied in mood and style with LOVE lost and LOVE found at the heart of each narratives. 

 

THE ADVERSARY by Michael Crummey

In a nutshell: This is a dark story about brother and sister who were rivals in a small outpost in Newfoundland in the late 18th century. It is a novel of hate and poverty and violence and religion and revenge and abuse of power.  Once again Crummey masterfully creates a vivid setting and striking characters but it is his style and language that astounds. This wasn’t always an easy read – I often re-read sentences and paragraphs and rewound to pages previously read to settle the narrative in my mind.  But I persevered and was often gripped by startling events (murder, prostitution,  weather, and a plague) that took place in the small fishing  community.  There’s many a page that readers encounter an unfamiliar or strange  piece of vocabulary (e.g. loped in Bogland (p. 95); cheving the fores (p. 96); purblind shankers (p. 97);  fundament (p. 98). This is what you expect from this fine author. 

 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ABED SALAMA: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy by Nathan Thrall (nonfiction)

A catastrophic bus accident that left a school bus with Palestinian children on fire for over thirty minutes before emergency workers arrived serves as the foundation for a story of Palestinians striving to live under Israeli rule. The author of the book, Nathan Thrall is a Jerusalem-based journalist follows the journey of Abed Salama whose young son, Milad was burned in the crash.  The chaos of the crash and the search for missing children (including Abed Salama’s nightmare quest) provide Thrall with the opportunity to investigate  and report on the struggle of Israel/Palestine. The author cites over 20 pages of resources that have helped him to tell the story of bureaucratic  obstacles, separation walls, ID passes, checkpoints that Abed Salama encountered and Palestinians struggle with day by day.  It is also a story of husbands and wives, family members young and old, neighbours who depend on each other to survive in a complex brutal world. For sure, A Day in the Life is brilliant anatomy of a’s Jerusalem tragedy (In truth, the narrative and historical events and introduction of characters, often meander from the central narrative I was expecting from the title of the book.) Abed Salama’s story is nothing but heartwrenching  and Nathan Thrall’s mammoth reporting goes inside and outside of the Jerusalem tragedy to help readers make sense of the politics and history of Palestine lives which is hard to make sense of. (Note: Interviews with the author and the father can be found on YouTube)

 

DIFFERENT FOR BOYS by Patrick Ness; illus. Tea Bendix (YA)

Patrick Ness is the author of a knockout novel entitled A Monster Calls and seeing his name on a book jacket appeals to me.  The title of this book for Young Adolescents invited me to pick up this book about friendship, masculinity and sex, different for boys like Anthony Stevenson who has lots of questions about his sexual identity and the boys he keeps company with. This is an honest powerful story of loneliness and intimacy.7 pages)  Two features that make this short novel (97 pages) is 1. redacted, black-0ut prose (avoiding swear words) and 2) captivating black and white drawings by Tea Blendix that enhance the mood and emotions of the characters.  I highly recommend this title to support boys – and girls, and others – questioning their sexual identities and longings, loyalties and betrayals and the quest to find a place of comfort and satisfied heart when feeling ‘different’. 

 

FARRELL COVINGTON AND THE LIMITS OF STYLE by Paul Rudnick

Paul Rudnick is very funny. As a playwright (Jeffrey; I Hate Hamlet) and screenwriter (Addam’s Family Values, In & Out; Sister Act) his snarky way with words and his witty dialogue are quite hilarious.  In this gay novel, he introduces two main characters over the span of about 50 years.  Farrell Convington is outrageously rich and deliciously handsome and  we (and Nate Reminger)) first meet him at Yale university delving into the world of gay identity and gay lifestyles.. There is no doubt that Farrell and Nate quickly bond together and their devotion remains constant as their lives move from university in the 1970’s, to New York, To Hollywood and the Amalfi coast. Narratives take us into the world of theatre, movie making, sex clubs and into the late 20th century when the AIDS epidemic is destroying so many lives. For Farrell, money holds no bounds and we are immersed into the world of the superrich, even when he needs to combat a ferocious conservative and homophobic father. The story is a blend of Succession, Will & Grace, and The Normal Heart.  Some narratives are certainly drawn from Rudnick’s own experiences in getting his work produced on Broadway and Hollywood.  I’m certain the friendship circles created in this story are based on real-life characters. Even though there were times that I thought I’d put the book down because  I found that the world of the rich wasn’t particularly accessible but I ended up being intrigued, entertained and engaged with this sprawling story. And I laughed. 

 

THE IMPOSTERS by Tom Rachman

I picked up a copy of this book after listening to a radio interview with the author Also, I remember liking Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists. I was intrigued by the multi-character approach to the book and the premise that this book is about a writer writing about writing.  Dora Frenhofer is a once-successful author, who is willing to embark on one more project before he mind goes.  Each of the narrataives that comprise The Imposters is centred on a person from Dora’s life (Chapter 2: The novelist’s missing brother; Chapter 3: The novelist’s estranged daughter; Chapter 4: The man who took the books away.) Each chapter reads like a short story and it was often an effort to find an explicit thread to Dora Frenhofer’s life and decide whether these were ‘real’ incidents or made-up ‘imposter’ characterizations. I hung in there and enjoyed the chapters as much as I would a short story collection (some better than others). Passages from Dora’s ‘diary’ introduce each chapter, giving this a sense of first-person authenticity of a fictional writer’s life. This was a hit and miss venture for me but intriguing to piece together the puzzles of stories that take place in New Delhi, New York, Australia, Syria and London. 

 

THE LOVER’S DICTIONARY by David Levithan (2011)

I’m fond of David Levithan’s writing. His books are mostly for the YA age group (Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, Every Day).  I came across this title written n 2011 and was intrigued with the premise. Each page lists a dictionary word (definition not provided) and these words  (e,g,,dispel, dissonance, doldrums, serve as titles for inside-the-head thoughts about falling in love and maintaining that relationship. Each word gets a separate page, some accompanied by only one or two sentences as the nameless narrator thinks about possibilities, arguments, compromises, confidences, passions, uncertainties,  hugs and tears that are part of the territory of being a couple working their way through love. An intriguing premise, an honest confession.

Excerpt: ineffable, , adj. “Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to hae a dictionary represent life. No matter now many words there are, there will never be enough.”

 

THE NEW YORK STORIES by John O’Hara (Short Stories)

Though he was a novelist (Appointment at Samarra, Butterfield 8). John O’Hara is credited for being the most prolific of short story writers who is credited for creating the short story style of the New Yorker magazine. I was scheduled to see a revival of the musical Pal Joey in NY and so I decided to read this 30+ story anthology which helped shape the musical and the movie.  Interesting enough, the stories are presented in alphabetical order, rather than their date of publication from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s. I read the stories chronologically and as with most short story collections, enjoyed some pieces more than others (e.g., Pleasure’; ‘Late Late Show’:  ‘The Portly Gentleman’). I enjoyed being in the world of the Big Apple and join in stories of class, theatre, bars, booze, sex, and partake in exploits of  interesting, but flawed scoundrels  that were/ are  unique, I’d say, to New Yorkers.  In most cases, the endings of these narratives, didn’t pack a punch for me but the details of clothing, food, drink and show-biz and snappy dialogue captivated me. (Note: I didn’t get to the production of Pal Joey)

 

THE POSTCARD by Anne Berest (translated from the French by Tina Kover) (fictionalized autobiography)

A postcard is delivered to the Berest family Parisian home in January 2003. . On the front, a photo of the Opera Garnier. On the back, the names of Anne Berests materanal great-grandparents Ephraim and Emma and their children, Noemie and Jacques – all killed in Auschwitz. .  Learning about the mysterious postcard in 2018, Ann is determined to discover the mystery of the postcard. Who sent it? Why in 2003? What clues does it provide about the Rabinovitch family’s heritage in Russia, Latvia, Palestine and Paris. This is powerful story about a family devastated by the Holocaust and digging into the truths of what happened to the family members. Berest does a yeoman’s detective job of uncovering these truths through conversations with her mother, a private detective, a graphologist and people of the villages that her grandmother Myriam inhabited.  The family stories and the Jewish History of citizens in Occupied France  (both autobiographical and fictionalized) are moving and unsettling. As the author digs into mammoth research to help her reconnect with her past and her own Jewishness, The Postcard is ‘un roman vrai’ (a true novel) that is revelatory for both the author and the reader. Rich and details of names and places (maybe too many details?), this book is a indeed an engrossing reading experience. 


THE SECRET SCRIPTURE by Sebastian Barry (2008)

Sebastian Barry is a playwright and novelist whose books have won many prizes. (He is the winner of the 2023 “Pleasure of Reading Prize’.) I was telling a colleague how much I fascinated I was reading Sebastian Barry’s 2023 release, Old God’s Time , and she recommended that I get The Secret Scripture by this renowned Irish writer. What a writer! Oh, those Irish.  The wordsmithing is astonishing. The narrative events astound. The Irish setting and Irish characters are so very intriguing. In this novel we meet Roseanne McNulty, a patient in a Mental hospital who at 100 years of age has decided to record her life events. The manuscript of these stories are kept beneath the floorboards of her bedroom. The hospital that she is living in will be demolished in a few months and her caregiver, Dr. Grene has been asked to evaluate tha patient to determine if she can return to society. Meanwhile, Grene discovers a document by a local priest that tells a story different from the one that Roseanne recalls. Buried secrets, tragic family events, killings, lost loves, madness are woven throughout this unforgettable novel. 

Excerpts

“I knew I had to leave school immediately on my father’s death, because my mother’s wits were now in an attic of her head which had neithe door nor stair, or at least none that I could find .”(p., 92)

“Unfathomable. Fathoms. I wonder is that the difficulty, that my memroies and my imaginings are lying deeply in the same place? Or on top of of the other like layers of shels and sad in a piece of limestone, sto that they have both become the same element, and I cannot distinguish one from the other wih any easy, unless it is from close, close looking?” (p. 219)

 

TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett

When Lara’s three daughters return to the familys cherry orchard in northern Michigan, they beg their mother to recount stories about being an actress, about falling in love with a famous actor, about meeting their father, Joe.  The narrative moves from past to present as Lara tells her daughters about her acting in the play Our Town at a theatre company called Tom Lake. The revealed stories help Lara (and her daughters) think about happiness, regret, dreams and fate. The novel is a story of family dynamics and examination of relationships past and present. It is a novel of the stories we have to tell and choose to tell to help others understand who we are and how we became who we are.  The novel intrigued me because of the summer stock theatre world (I’m quite fond of Our Town). 

O CANADA! Picture books about Canada

To help celebrate Canadian history week (November 20-27), the following 10 picture titles can be shared to have students learn about the people, places and events of Canadia. 


1. A IS FOR ABORIGINAL by Joseph MacLean; illus. Brendan Heard

Each letter in this book represents a person, place or event part of Aboriginal history or culture. Information about the communities who first lived in Canada are highlighted in this book.

2. CANADA YEAR BY YEAR by Elizabeth MacLeod; illus. Sydney Smith

A sweeping history of our country from the founding in 1867 to the election of Justin Trudeau.

3. THE DAY I BECAME A CANADIAN: A Citizenship Scrapbook by Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet; illus. Song Nan Zhang

Young Xiao Ling Li decides to make a scrapbook for her future sibling, so they too can experience the day the family participated in a ceremony that made them Canadian citizens.

4. GOOD MORNING, CANADA by Andrea Lynn Beck (also, Goodnight Canada, Thank You, Canada)

The sights and sounds of a morning scenes as the seasons change across Canada. NOTE: this was the 2017 TD Grade One Book Giveaway distributed to every Grade One providing young readers a view of what makes Canada special.

5. I AM CANADA: A celebration (various artists)

13 Canadian illustrators contributed to this collection that shine a light on the special people places and things of our country.

6. M IS FOR MAPLE: A Canadian Alphabet by Michael Ulmer; illus. Melanie Rose

Information and inspiration of our nation’s symbols, history, people, and culture are presented in appealing rhymes.

7. MY CANADA: An illustrated atlas by Katherine Dearlove; illus. Lori Joy Smith

Provinces, capital cities, bodies of water and memorable landmarks are featured in this informative book of Canada’s geography.

8. O CANADA illustrated by Ted Harrison

Canadian painter Ted Harrison accompanies the text of our national anthem with beautiful coast to coast images of our home and native land.

9. OUR CANADIAN FLAG by Maxine Trottier; illus. Brian Deines

A heartfelt, prideful look at what the Canadian flag means to those who live in this country (and those who don’t)

10. WOW CANADA!: Exploring this land from coast to coast by Vivian Bowers; iilus. Dan Hobbs and Dianne Eastman

Guy and his family travel across Canada in this text that provides amazing facts, historical wonders, photos and illustrations of famous sights and hidden gems.