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Book Review: Branded by the Pink Triangle

Branded by the Pink Triangle

Ken Setterington; $15.95 paper 978-1-926920-96-2, 155 pp., Second Story Press, 2013 (ages 13+)

17076450 Branded by the Pink Triangle is an important historical account for YA readers that tells the little-known story of the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi regime. Within a strong overarching narrative, Ken Setterington weaves in a series of meticulously researched vignettes from the lives of real people. Some are heartbreakingly poignant, while others focus on the injustice and torture endured by men who were singled out as gay. Forced to wear a pink triangle on their prisoner uniforms, these men were stripped of their human rights and dignity under Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code. Setterington paints an accurate picture of life in Berlin, the homosexual capital of Europe, before the rise of the Nazis. There, gay men and women met freely in gay nightclubs. They felt at ease to express their fondness for members of the same sex, to cross-dress, and to kiss. Setterington shows how this easy, open atmosphere of tolerance was obliterated by the Nazis. In no time, homosexuals began to fear for their lives, and even an innocent, kind gesture could result in persecution or death. Historic photos, newspaper cartoons, data tables, personal letters, and journal entries all serve to illustrate this horrific period in history accurately, but with a touching, human element. Readers witness the tender humanity of the men who were persecuted for their sexual preference and the myriad examples of rife injustice proclaim loudly that this is wrong.

Found in the teen section of public libraries, this book targets mature teens who are familiar with terms such as incarceration, propaganda, castration, masturbation, eradication, and extermination. At a time when LGBT communities are finally gaining a stronger voice and asserting their rights, when high schools host gay-straight alliance groups and encourage an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, this historical account offers a significant and important contribution to our knowledge of a terrible time in world history — allowing discussion and understanding to replace dangerous ignorance. Certainly, this book is a must-have purchase for all libraries.

~ Jill Bryant

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Book Review: Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust

 

Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust

Leanne Lieberman; $12.95 paper, 978-1-4598-0109-7, 227 pp., Orca Publishers, 2013 (ages 13+)

Lauren Yonofsky Hates the HolocaustKingston-based YA author, Leanne Lieberman offers an edgy, issue-oriented story, set in present-day Vancouver. Sixteen-year-old Lauren, whose father is a Holocaust historian, struggles with the usual teenage angst over boys, cliques, parental expectations, religion, little brothers, and frizzy hair. Basketball is a way to play one-on-one with her crush Jesse Summers, a popular boy at school, who has—as Lauren’s friend Brooke puts it— “radiant facial structure.” But just as romance begins to blossom, racism stops Lauren cold when she sees Jesse wearing a Nazi armband. Lauren knows its a game, but she feels sick to her stomach by what she’s seen. Should she tell an adult? Is it right to rat on her crush? Why is this game so wrong?

Lieberman captures the emotionally charged world of teens in this story that—like many teen dramas—features cliques. Text messages and shortforms (e.g., WTF, OMG) are integrated into the narrative. The demands of school, homework, and family obligations all dominate in Lauren’s life. While she works through tough issues and is a good student, Lauren’s not always a model of good behaviour. For instance, by page 7, she’s uttered the f-word. Later, she and her friends share some Vodka, stolen from her parents’ liquor cabinet. Some of her friends smoke at parties to look cool. Social dynamics and relationships with friends are central to Lauren’s life, but there’s a lot going on; she’s working through some profound questions.

True to the genre, the events that unravel result in personal growth and revelation. By the story’s end, Lauren has matured. She makes peace with Jesse and with her Jewish roots. The elements of Judaism will be familiar to some readers and will introduce others to new terms, including rabbi, synagogue, Rosh Hashana, Yiddish, the Book of Life, the Torah, Hebrew school, bar mitzvah, and anti-Semitism. This is an energetic and thought-provoking novel that will garner deep respect and compassion among readers for the Jews who endured terrible wrongs in the past. Most importantly, the book shows why this reverence holds fast today.

~ Jill Bryant

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A Million Thank Yous

It’s official. The Bank Street College Centre for Children’s Literature has released its “Best Books” list for 2014 and Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs (published Sept. 2013) is on the list! I know I mentioned this in an earlier post, but now there is a link to the pdf for all the age categories. Click “Nine to Twelve” and scroll through to page 14 to find my book. I encourage you to poke around and explore the lists for the various age ranges. It is indeed a great honour to have Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs on this list. Thank you to the reviewers and all the committee members.

Speaking of feeling honoured and grateful, I’m still reeling from the whirlwind Canadian Children’s Book Week tour, though it wrapped up a month ago. I loved the opportunity to be a part of the national celebrations and to meet children in a sampling of schools throughout Alberta.

One of the highlights of my trip to Alberta was meeting Nicole Robertson in person. I featured Nicole as one of ten female entrepreneurs in my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. Although I’d interviewed her over the phone, I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her face to face. As owner of Muskwa Productions, Nicole sends good news stories about Aboriginal people to mainstream media outlets. She’s an optimist through and through and is very much in touch with Indigenous issues. She’s also highly skilled at photography, videography, presenting, and consulting. Like all the entrepreneurs in my book, Nicole is overbrimming with passion for her work. She’s a lovely, warm person and it was such a pleasure to chat with her. You can read more about Nicole in this past post here — and also in my book, of course!

Jill and Nicole Robertson in Calgary

Me with Nicole Roberson (profiled in Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs) at the Delta hotel in Calgary

 

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Looking Back at Canadian Children’s Book Week

Looking Back at Canadian Children’s Book Week

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2014 took place from May 4 to May 10. Here are some reflections from my whirlwind tour in Alberta.

Inside state-of-the-art classrooms and spacious libraries, students listened attentively and volunteered eagerly. “If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?” they asked. Young children peered up at me with delightful grins when I kicked my legs high to the beat of my lollypop drum. Students grasped concepts readily and impressed me with their insightful comments.

Airdrie city hall          Jill performing_dig_talk

My five-day, 17-talk tour began in Airdrie, a fast-growing suburb of Calgary. Next, I flew to Edmonton and drove southwest, where I visited schools in Thorsby and Calmar. Then, after a day of talks in Hinton, I was treated to a spectacular, snow-capped mountain tour—complete with sightings of deer—before venturing back to Edmonton. The University of Alberta hosted an interview and two talks. I finished my tour that afternoon at a nearby school. It was exhausting, but thrilling, and immensely satisfying. I’m very grateful.

At a rural school, I’m told whispers of “the author’s here!” filled the hallway. Teachers dashed out of classrooms to grab cameras to capture students putting on costumes and thinking fast on their feet. During my research-focused talk, when I admitted to having a soft spot for handwritten letters, one girl said, “Ohh, I really love letters, too!” Afterwards, young children hugged me and older kids lined up to chat and ask more questions. Teachers and librarians bought lots of books.

Jill_Hinton talk

Now back in Ontario, I have many fond, heartwarming memories, and I’m missing that majestic Alberta sky . . . .

Jill in mountains

Thank you

I’m grateful to The Children’s Book Centre, TD, Canada Council, my tour coordinator Richard Chase, and all the enthusiastic readers and writers I met along the way.

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CCBC: Author, Illustrator & Storyteller Directory

Hi, friends:

It’s getting very close to Book Week and I’m getting really excited. I just have one quick link to share today:

Canadian Children’s Book Centre: Author, Illustrator & Storyteller Directory
http://directory.bookcentre.ca/members/jillbryant

I like the portfolio of pics option that their webpages have at the bottom.

All the best,

Jill

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Bank Street Books

Hi, all:

I just found out that Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs has earned a spot on the Bank Street Books “Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2014″ list. I’m so pleased! The Bank Street College of Education, based in New York, New York, has a Children’s Book Committee, which was founded in 1909. This committee “fostered a growing awareness of the emotional needs of children, and of how books might affect children’s feelings of themselves and the world around them.” They began by publishing a pamphlet, but as time went by, they developed lists, reviews, a magazine, and now a booklet. The 2014 list is not yet available on the Web, but I’ll be sure to provide a link as soon as it is. In the meantime, you can read more about the work of Bank Street Books at these links:

Bankstreet College of Education: About the Children’s Book Committee

The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2013

Other good news: shoots are finally started to sprout in my garden and one clump of snowdrops is in full bloom. After a long, cold winter, it looks like spring is finally making a sunny appearance. Happy spring!

~ Jill

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Happy International Women’s Day!

 

I have lots to share this week. First of all, there is a great review of Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs in Children’s Materials (CM), which is published by the Manitoba Library Association at the University of Manitoba. Their reviews are lengthy and comprehensive — great for authors who want valuable feedback — and great for busy teachers and parents who want all the details. I must admit I had to chuckle once while reading the review, that is, once I calmed down. (Note: Reading a review of your work is a nail-biting, teeth-gnashing, heart-pit-a-patting, emotionally fraught event, where you jump to the end to read the concluding statement and determine if overall it’s a thumbs-up, down, or sideways critique. And through it all, you’ve got to remain somewhat detached and “be tough,” and “strong,” and “resilient.” They aren’t critiquing you, they are critiquing your work. Oh yes, but your work is what you are passionate about, so it might as well be you. But don’t take it personally, yadda yadda.)

Ehem. So, yes, it’s an impressive report and I’m really pleased at what reviewer Julie Chychota pointed out. She did such a careful read of the book and picked up some very nuanced detailed. It’s an honour to have an expert engage so thoroughly in the work you’ve created. Books take a long time to write (obviously!) and it’s appropriate when the reviewer takes time to investigate the finer points of the text. What made me laugh was that she said

“not to mention the 56 sidebars, an amount that surpasses the record of 46 previously set by Bryant in Dazzling Women Designers.”

OMG, I had no idea I was a record setter and a record breaker! It’s kind of interesting to know this about the exact number and the comparison. I had no idea. I included sidebars whenever it seemed appropriate and fitting to do so. I’m glad the reviewer appreciated that these help contextualize the content. I do love sidebars for the way they offer some fresh asides to the running text and break up the design. Also I like that they add a deeper dimension to the content, which is the contextualization part.

Chychota went on to say:

“exemplary text”
“writes cleanly and neatly”
“Bryant’s clear, coherent, and conversational style will facilitate readers’ comprehension, just as it did in Amazing Women Athletes and Dazzling Women Designers.”

The review finishes with a lovely pitch for the series as a whole:

As a 2013 video by The Representation Project counsels, “Women and girls deserve better representation in the media and in our larger culture” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NswJ4kO9uHc). With its “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series,” Second Story Press seeks to cultivate in young readers a deeper awareness of and appreciation for women leaders. School and public libraries should acquire the affordable series as part of their collections as a way to perpetuate positive representations.”

That video is well worth watching, and shows we still have lots of important work to do, people.

Click here to read the full review in CM.

OK, my next share is from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s March 2014 Newsletter. To honour International Women’s Day, the staff at the CCBC have put together an extensive list to commemorate this theme. Then, in the “Author Corner,” Kate Abrams features an interview with me. What an honour it was to be asked for my opinion on must-reads for girls today. Admittedly, that was a doozy of a question, and one I pondered over for quite some time.

The link for this CCBC interview is here.

And now I bid you adieu. Happy International Women’s Day!

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OLA Superconference 2014

Recently I attended the Ontario Library Association’s “Superconference 2014″ at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto. I had a 10:00 a.m. book-signing gig at the Second Story Press booth. When I first walked into the lounge for authors and presenters, I saw fellow Second Story Press author/illustrator Janet Wilson and had a quick chat with her. Then I found the booth and met some very welcoming Second Story employees. There was a great turn-out for the signing. Hey, what teachers won’t line up for a free, signed copy of a book for their school library?! I enjoyed chatting with teachers and teacher-librarians. One funny moment was signing a book for a teacher from QECVI, one of the three fantastic downtown public high schools in Kingston, where I live. After about 20 minutes, the stack of give-away books were gone. I enjoyed checking out the books Second Story Press had on display. Wow! There were so many books that I wanted to read. Every Day Is Malala Day is the first book in a new series through Plan Canada. This looks like a great partnership for SSP.

DSC04724      DSC04728Later, walking through the aisles, and popping in and out of booths by various publishers and organizations, I bumped into author/illustrator Patricia Storms who I worked with at KNOW magazine, but had never met. I also had a chance to meet author Marsha Skrypuch and caught a glimpse of author Lizann Flatt while she was busy signing books. I don’t often travel into Toronto, but events like this are a lot of fun to attend, largely because of the enthusiastic, book-loving attendees and the who’s who of author, illustrators, and publishers moseying about. I bought a book called In Those Days: Collected Writings on Arctic History by Kenn Harper and picked up a catalogue for “Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned publishing company that aims to promote and preserve the stories, knowledge, and talent of northern Canada.” After interviewing Nicole Robertson for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, and then the heightened media attention around Aboriginal issues during last year’s Idle No More campaign, I’ve become increasingly interested in indigenous issues and stories.

DSC04725

Signing book at the OLA Superconference 2014 in Toronto

 

About a week ago, I made the happy discovery that my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs is on the Resource Links Year’s Best 2013 List. A reviewer who published a December critique says, “I was impressed with the conversational tone that still conveyed a lot of information.” She added that the “writing style makes the text easy to read and understand.”

That’s all for today, folks! It’s back to preparing for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week. I’m getting very excited about travelling to Alberta!

Ciao!

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Leaning in with Sheryl and Naina — and a Bonus Book Review

I’ve been working on my book talks for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2014. I know it’s not happening until May, but time is flying these days and I don’t want to be caught short. While researching, I came across this article called “How Indian Women Are “Leaning In.” The cool thing about it is that it brings together Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Naina Lal Kidwai (HSBC), both featured in my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. I thought it was pretty neat that another writer linked these two women who come from such different backgrounds and work in different industries. It turns out that the article was adapted from the Indian version of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and it was written by Naina Lal Kidwai, not a journalist. Now that is very cool, indeed. Naina, as you may know from my book, was the first Indian woman to graduate from Harvard Business School — in 1982.

On another note, I just finished reading a novel called One Year in Coal Harbour by Polly Horvath. It’s the long-awaited sequel to the Newbery Honor Book Everything on a Waffle. What a fabulous, fabulous book! I devoured it in a day. I loved the protagonist, Primrose Squarp, and the interesting adult characters, including Miss Honeycut and Miss Bowzer. The author has a great feel for her target audience. There are some serious and heavy themes: foster kids, the death of two dogs, poverty issues, problems with “friends.” But there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to off-set the sober moments. Horvath’s images are utterly unique. She writes about a “bedrock of multiplication” (p. 2) and  waves that are “bunched up and wrinkled” (p. 3). At one point Primrose’s mom recalls a “lady who lives on the outside of town” and writes poems about cats saying that “being a writer was like being a cross between a ditchdigger and a pit pony” (p. 20). Wow.

One Year in Coal Harbour by Polly Horvath, Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2012. Books/House of Anansi

One Year in Coal Harbour by Polly Horvath, Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2012. Books / House of Anansi

I was continuously amazed at the range of vocabulary Horvath used. Page 7 offers up “complicit,” page 8 features the word “staccato,” and by page 25 the word “ersatz” stands out as an anomaly in books. This is a book for middle schoolers. Then — I kid you not — on “heretofore” makes a bold appearance (p. 33) and later “ululation” (p. 128). Yes, I starting collecting these lovely words, jotting them down as I read.

A foster parent named Evie, who is wonderfully nurturing and down-to-earth, has a thing for putting mini marshmallows in everything she serves kids and teens. By the book’s end, I figured I’d never look at mini marshmallows in the same way. Interspersed through the book are recipes that hail from the 1970s: “Penuche with Mini Marshmallows,” “Gussied-Up Cinnamon Toast,” and “Polynesian Jell-O Salad,” to single out a few.

In short, One Year in Coal Harbour is a stylistic masterpiece, highly deserving of the 2013 TD Children’s Literature Award and many more. I strongly recommend this book.

 

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Informal Book Reviews

Book reviews are a vital part of a book’s footprint. Critical reviews can offer a stamp of approval, a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down verdict on the final, published result of a writer’s hard work. More importantly, reviews help spread the word. They can say, “Hey, look at this book! It’s really good!” Nowadays it’s easy for anyone to log into any number of online bookseller sites to give their two cents worth and their own emotive summary of what a book means to them. Certainly, the reviews can go either way — favourable or unfavourable, lukewarm or cool. The most constructive are a tempered blend of both, but, in the end, it seems that publishers agree these informal book clubs take what used to be livingroom chit chat and transform it into public, shared, and widely accessible feedback. Listen to the buzz!

Writers love to write. What outsiders to the craft may not know is that few if any writers believe writing is simple. Rather, writing, which quickly evolves to rewriting and more rewriting, is enormously challenging. The process of bringing an idea to full fruition, in book form, normally takes at least a year. The journey is fraught with seemingly insurmountable hurdles, annoying glitches, and road blocks that send you back to the drawing board. As drafts are completed, as editors step in with their professional wordsmith skills, and as all the components (e.g., design, photographs, illustrations) fall into place, hope rises that the book will make a difference, have an impact, and be noticed. Certainly, seeing the book in print and holding it your hands is one of the greatest feelings. As word spreads, the rewards can be very affirming.

As author of three of The Women’s Hall of Fame Series books — most recently Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs — my greatest wish for these books (above and beyond stellar sales fantasies) is that they have an impact on the lives of some girls’ lives, helping girls be more confident, more bold, and eager to pursue their goals, unimpeded by societal constraints. Seeing reader feedback is enormously rewarding and helpful in informing me whether I’ve succeeded in my goal. Consequently, I welcome your feedback about my books. Thoughtful comments help me grow as a writer and let me know which aspects were most effective, and which needed more finessing. Just knowing that someone has taken time out of the crazy, fast-paced life we lead to read a book and fully and critically engage with it in a well-informed, carefully considered way, is truly the greatest gift of all. It is an honour to be reviewed, formally or informally. It’s all good.

If you’ve read Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, here are some quick links to pages where you can rate or review it:

Goodreads

Amazon.ca

Chapters.Indigo.ca

Thank you also to Leanne Lieberman, a YA author and elementary school teacher, who reviewed Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs on her blog: http://leannelieberman.blogspot.ca/

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