Sep 29, 2012

(you) set me on fire

(you) set me on fire (CAN, US, INT)

Written by: Mariko Tamaki

Published by:  Penguin Canada

Published on: September 4. 20120

Ages: Young Adult +

Allison Lee is a smart, funny, generous, and loyal and teenager. She just doesn't know it yet. We learn all those things about her as she goes through her first year away at college in a dorm.

Her time in high school wasn't great. Her only friend turned love interest had public second thoughts after leading Allison on. She's been burned in not one, but two fires. Allison has a lot of things go wrong when her emotions are heightened.

She decides to make a fresh start in college and makes some different choices than her high school persona would have. But like the scars on her neck, the person Allison has always been and her experiences are still with her. When her new friendship becomes increasingly toxic Allison is too afraid of both being alone and having history repeat itself to stand up for herself. Until she decides to fight fire with fire.

My previous experience with Canadian writer Tamaki was in Emiko Superstar, which changed my opinion on graphic novels. Tamaki is excellent at capturing the awkwardness of teens who are choosing their paths. Both Emiko and Allison are trying to find their place in the world, and unsure of how much to give of themselves and how much to learn from and mould to the world around them. The best thing is that although they both make mistakes, there is hope at the end that their new choices will lead to happiness (and not toxicity!).

I'm glad that Tamaki is stretching out from gaphic novels to print novels, just because more words and details from her is always good!

This is the fifteenth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.

Sep 26, 2012

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

What's open on your nightstand this week?

I am on the latest book Louse Penny's Inspector Gamache series, The Beautiful Mystery. So addictive. Other mystery series I have read have been great at the beginning and then a little formulaic. But this series keeps getting better and better. The last two books have been amazing, and I hope this one lives up to it. It kind of reminds me of Ken Follett's World Without End, since it is about the intricacies of monastic life.

Spinky has got out Shark Vs. Train. Such a favourite!

Tell me what words are moving you this week!

Sep 24, 2012

It's Our Nature

It's Our Nature (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Rebeca Orozco

Illustrated by: Menena Cottin

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on: September 25, 2012

Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Animals exhibit social behaviours similar to humans in this beautiful modern picture book.

Children who are just learning themselves about such values as altruism, generosity, and solidarity will enjoy learning about how certain animals put these values into action. Orozco has chosen facts about animals that are fascinating for kids and adults, and a variety of animals in many types of habitats.

If you were going to choose an animal to show the concept of trust, which one would you choose? Orozco chose the crocodile! This was definitely the showstopper for my son and his friends, who love the idea of a big scary crocodile's mouth being a warm retreat for baby crocodiles. My daughter really enjoyed the story of the elephant and how the other young elephants babysit the littlest ones. I was interested in the flamingo daycare and how wildebeests accept zebra integration to protect them from predators on the savanna.

The art is a true highlight. Any one of these minimalist illustrations would be a fantastic choice for nursery art, with the chevron-like ocean and dolphin mother-and-baby illustration standing out as the best of a great collection.

This is an amazing resource for those wanting to understand what feelings people have in common with others in the animal kingdom. Children are left with the idea that people too are part of the same animal kingdom and can live in harmony with those animals.

This review is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by A Teaching Life.

Sep 22, 2012

Without You

Without You (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Geneviève Côté

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published: February 2012

Ages: 3+

This is the next picture book nominee for the 2012 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards. See the others here.

The adorable Rabbit and Pig from 2009's Me and You are back in a brand-new adventure. In the first book these two forged a lasting friendship.

Now, however, Rabbit and Pig are on the outs. They have found that they like to do some things on their own. Does this spell the end of a beautiful friendship?

Fortunately, no! Rabbit and Pig are able to bond over an activity that they love to do together, reading books.

Côté’s ability to capture the true nature of children's friendships is what stood out in Me and You and this has carried over to this book as well. It works equally well for siblings too! Her illustrations are adorable and very appealing to kids.

The best thing is the easy vocabulary and rhythm makes this a great book for a new reader to puzzle out. How could anyone resist these two friends?

This is the fourteenth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.

Sep 19, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

What's open on your nightstand this week?

I am still reading Louse Penny's Inspector Gamache series. I started last week and am now starting the fifth in the series, The Brutal Telling. I am really enjoying them. But I keep having to take breaks to look up poetry, some by real people and some not. My John Donne knowledge is getting a workout too. I would love to be a parent like Inspector Gamache who takes his kids for walks and spouts famous poetry. I have to memorize some first!

Spinky is trying hard to read Froggy Plays Soccer. It's a little above his level and has made-up words which is hard. But he likes to chant "Head it, knee it, but don't use your hands!" Domba chants along with him.

What are you reading in your neck of the woods?

Sep 16, 2012

Picture a Tree

Picture a Tree (CAN, JP, US)

Written and Illustrated by: Barbara Reid

Published by: North Winds Press

Published on: September 1, 2011

Ages:  3+

The next picture book nominee for the 2012 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards that I am reviewing is from Canadian picture book legend Barbara Reid.

Barbara Reid has a long history of Canadian picture book successes. Every Canadian picture book bestsellers list I have seen at Quill & Quire has included at least one of her books. Read Me a Book is a personal favourite.

The reason Barbara Reid is so loved is because her Plasticine illustrations are so unique and inviting. The textures her plasticine scenes provide add extra dimensions to every single one of her books and this one is no different.

 A tree seems like a simple thing, and it's one of the first things kids learn to draw. But the trees Reid portrays are more than just a green and brown thing off by itself. She gives us so many different perspectives on trees. These trees are habitats, community members, shades, and mimics of humans. 

This is the kind of book that is perfect for the new core curriculum standards. It introduces nature, seasons, a child's place in the world and their neighbourhoods, and new ideas about art. We all really enjoyed all the details.

Check out this great trailer for the book.

This is the thirteenth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.

Sep 12, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

What are you reading this fine autumn Wednesday?


I am finally getting around to reading Louse Penny's Inspector Gamache series. I just read the first one, Still Life. I loved it. It's set in a typical English southern Quebec. ;) I love the townspeople, Three Pines reminds me of Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls), places I would love to live if they existed!

I've just started the second, A Fatal Grace, and I'm still enjoying it just as much. I heard the latest book has turned up at #2 on the NYT fiction book list! How amazing, not many Canadians have done that! 

My son got an autumn nature guide from school and we are having fun going through it. I don't know half the flower and bug words in English so it's an education for me too!

What are you and your family reading this week?

Sep 11, 2012

I'm Bored

I'm Bored (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Michael Ian Black

Illustrated by: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Published by: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Published on: September 4, 2012

Ages: 4+

When I reviewed the 3/11 tribute book Tomo in March, the short story that immediately stood out to me for uniqueness and quality was Debbie Ridpath Ohi's Kodama. Written like a teen's sketchbook entry, it had a fascinating and twisty-turny storyline, and the accompanying illustrations added so much to the experience of reading. I wanted more from this Canadian sensation! So I was thrilled when I learned that she would have a children's book coming out!

I'm Bored is the story of a young girl who is bored. Super bored. But she discovers what is awesome about being a kid through a little reverse psychology from a cheeky spud. Her imagination really takes flight but it is the twist at the end that takes this to a higher level!

Michael Ian Black is a comedian and this is his fourth picture book. His dry wit and timing really work for kids. This book elicited a number of belly laughs from my daughter, and anything that can move that bowl full of jelly is okay by me. I love that he infused a little old potato with a lot of personality.

Ohi's illustrations totally lived up to my high expectations. With a minimal colour palette (think My Name is Elizabeth) and pencil sketching she creates a feisty little girl in an inviting modern world. The sense of movement is amazing. She does the same thing she did in the Tomo, creating more depth in the story. I can't wait to see her next project.

This is the twelfth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.

Sep 9, 2012

As You Were: The Tragedy at Valcartier

As You Were: The Tragedy at Valcartier (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Gerry Fostaty

Published by: Goose Lane Editions

Published on: April 1, 2011

For a Canadian cadet, whether army, air force, or navy, the single most important day on the calendar every year is November 11. Remembrance Day. Whether cadets are standing in parade or saluting veterans, they are part of that day everywhere in the country. The point of this day is to remember the sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces and their families have made and are making for Canada. It is to remember our successes and our failures. Lest we forget...

It seems that the military brass has forgotten the importance of remembering.

Gerry Fostaty, who was a non-commissioned officer (NCO) at Valcartier at the time of the tragic blast, is still doing his job 38 years later. Even if the army has washed over this event, he still remembers and has written this book so that others can learn about this event.

In the summer of 1974, Fostaty was an NCO at the Valcartier cadet camp in Quebec, when on July 31, during a training session a real grenade was mixed in with the dummies. When the pin was pulled out, it exploded, leaving 6 boys dead and 54 wounded.

 He sets the scene of what it's like to be an army cadet, from the toothbrushes used to clean boots to the meals in the mess. The contents of the documents he received from the Department of National Defense under the Access to Information Act he explains clearly, setting the scene. The events of July 31, 1974 are described clearly and succinctly and it was so easy for me to see the mayhem through Fostaty's eyes. He includes the aftermath, up to the 35th anniversary where the survivors met for the first time since the incident. It's all extremely well-written, and so compelling I was unable to put the book down after thinking I would just read the first chapter before bed. That doesn't happen very often with nonfiction books!

This was a pretty amazing first book. Fostaty is very careful to not put words in anyone's mouth and to give his own truthful account in painstaking detail. His commitment to the truth shines through. I am sure that part of this is because it is a memoir and it is personal, I hope he applies his research skills and storytelling ability to other nonfiction tales in future, and not just limit his writing foray to this book.

What this book did was make me angry. Why haven't the Department of Defense and the army stood up to make sure that those who lost their lives or were injured are recognized for their sacrifice? Why aren't the men who still have grenade shrapnel in their bodies being taken in to see specialists who have better technology than they would have in the 1970s? Why aren't the men with PTSD from being involved in this incident seeing army psychologists on the DoD's ? Why is there still no answer as to what exactly happened to all of these boys? What procedures have been put in place to ensure this never happens again?  Why aren't people more upset about this, when if there were 6 fatalities by contaminated water there would be hell to pay? Why, when I was a cadet exactly 20 years later, was I memorizing the names of World War I fatalities and there was no mention whatsoever of the fellow cadets who had lost their lives?

Gerry Fostaty, with his excellent account of this tragic event, has ensured that the Canadian public knows that it at least happened. I for one will not forget the names of the boys who lost their lives that day:

Yves Langlois
Pierre Leroux
Eric Lloyd
Othon Mangos
Mario Provencher
Michel Voisard

I hope the army and Department of Defense remember too.

 This is the eleventh book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.

Sep 7, 2012


Frozen (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Mary Casanova

Published by: University Of Minnesota Press

Published on: September 7, 2012

Ages: 12+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

This is a coming-of-age story for a teenage girl, who is mute after childhood trauma, has mixed feelings toward her foster parents and especially her foster father's politics. She sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother, and gets involved with environmental activists and makes a friend who is dealing with what is probably bipolar disorder.

Sounds like a very modern YA book, right? Actually, it's a historical novel, taking place in the 1920s at the beginning of prohibition. 

 Sadie Rose is a likeable character who has a lot of gumption. The supporting characters, from her friend who gets involved with dangerous bootleggers to the Norwegian caretakers are also interesting and fleshed out well.

The environmental concerns brought up by the book have kept me thinking. We've been brought up to think that Hydro is a fantastic renewable resource and one of the best sources of energy that is good for the environment. Certainly it's safer than coal or nuclear. But it extracts its own price from the environment when a dam is built, and this book got me thinking about the human face of that issue.

This would be a great book for teens making their first venture into historical fiction.

Sep 5, 2012

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

It's a big week in Canadian fiction!  Books I have been waiting for from Mariko Tamaki and Debbie Ridpath Ohi were released yesterday. It was so nice to have Tamaki's (you) set me on fire delivered straight to my Kindle but so hard to not peek when I am at work.  #firstworldproblems

I have to say that the cover is not my cup of tea at all. It doesn't seem to suit the topic of the book or the author (who wrote my beloved Emiko Superstar). But that's the good thing about an ebook, you don't see the cover if you don't want.

In other big Canlit news, the Giller longlist was announced yesterday. The book I was rooting for wasn't nominated. Booo. The shortlist will be announced on Oct. 1 and the winner on Oct. 30. I would love to be able to read a few of these books before then to choose my own favourite. But so many of these books are not available outside Canada until next year, and others not at all. I did locate a copy of nominated short story collection Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky which pleased me.

My kids are totally enjoying I'm Bored from Ohi and comedian Michael Ian Black. Lots of belly laughs from their rooms.

What are you reading this week? Any early favourites for the Giller Prize?

Sep 3, 2012

Nature's Patchwork Quilt: Understanding Habitats

Nature's Patchwork Quilt: Understanding Habitats (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Mary Miche

Illustrated by: Consie Powell

Published by: Dawn Publishing

Published on: September 1, 2012

Ages: 5+

This is a great little book for introducing a variety of animals and their ecosystems. Every page has a variety of familiar and new animals for children to wonder over. There are many different areas and climates within, from oceans and deserts to forests and towns. 

The author introduces a great deal of new vocabulary, from niche to phytoplankton, in easy-to-understand terms. All of the animals on the page are related to the new vocabulary words.

The illustrations are very unique in that they are pieced together to look like different quilts, so in addition to scientific information there is a soft introduction to various shapes as well as crafts. The pages are, like many quilts, quite busy, so this is more suited to sitting down and reading rather than reading aloud to a number of children.

The back of the book has a supplemental section with illustrations of famous environmentalists like Wangari Maathai and David Suzuki. Teachers and parents will especially like the game suggestion for role-playing the animal food chain.

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at the Swimmer Writer.