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Our Stories: A “Valued Part of the Mosaic”

I’m grateful that my own kids, both teenagers, are avid readers. My mom says, “you can go wrong, if you’re a reader.” It’s true that books can help you soldier through some of the challenges life throws your way, giving you a wonderful escape and a reprieve from the hum-drum and the ordinary. My kids have become accustomed to my taking an interest in what they are reading. I ask, good naturedly, I’m sure, “is that Canadian?” They roll their eyes in response and groan, “Mom!” Somewhat exasperated by my relentless advocating for Canadian literary talent, they, like their avid-reader peers, often gravitate to the blockbuster books: Divergent, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, the Lunar Chronicles, and His Dark Materials. I’m always delighted when a Canadian title makes it into their stack of books and receives their rapt attention. The Bone books, the Breadwinner series, Seraphina, the Silverwing Saga, the Agency series and various titles by Janet McNaughton, Sharon McKay, Budge Wilson, Janet Wilson. My eldest daughter shelves her books according to “awesome girls” and “pretty covers” on Goodreads. It great to know that strong female characters are high on her list.

Here are her stats on where the stories she’s read in the past year took place:

  • USA: 19 (one had a scene that took place in Canada)
  • England: 11
  • Continental Europe: 12
  • Africa: 1
  • Asia: 2
  • Fictional land: 4

america-centered-world-map

The Opinion piece in the Fall 2014 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News, entitled “Who will write our stories?,” really got me thinking more about the value of home-grown books for kids. It’s important that kids have books to read that speak to the places they live and the sort of everyday reality they face. And it’s great for kids to have access to local writers through book talks in schools and public libraries. The author of this article, Nadia L. Hohn, is an educator in Toronto, and also an author with three forthcoming children’s books (with Rubicon Publishing and Groundwood Books). Her heritage is Caribbean Canadian. Hohn refers to a blog post by author Dr. Zetta Elliott, entitled “Black Canadian children’s literature ~ the stats.” This post contains an excellent list of Canadian books about black children; it includes books written by Caucasian authors, a trend that keeps Hohn awake at night. In the same way that it’s important to nurture new Canadian talent in the sphere of children’s and young adult literature, so too is it vital to make sure all our voices are heard. Diversity in and among our authors and illustrators is sure to extend the reach of our literature across racial, cultural, economic, religious, and social boundaries.

In writing three books in The Women’s Hall of Fame Series (Second Story Press), I had the good fortune to to research, write, and publish biographical profiles that feature women from different parts of the world and from different times in history. I sought out talented and exceptional women to highlight and revere as excellent role models. In Amazing Women Athletes, I wrote about tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Recently in Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, I featured Susan Mashibe, a Tanzanian aviation entrepreneur and pilot. My own background and experiences often differed greatly from those I featured, which meant I had to research thoroughly and not only about the individual’s life, but also about the culture in which they were raised. I find this kind of research fascinating and it’s no surprise that I also love to travel and learn about other cultures. I’m sure my own experiences backpacking in India and other parts of Asia have had a huge influence on the way I write and perceive the world. But, having said all that, there is certainly a special place that must be nurtured in fiction, especially, for the voices that have lived and breathed the experiences of various cultural backgrounds. When marginalized groups, such as blacks, indigenous peoples, and the physically challenged, tell their own stories in their words and when these stories are published and released into the world, more children will smile and read with a “hunger” — as Nadia Hohn recalls she did as a child when she discovered books by African American authors.

Hohn wrote, “I didn’t want to become the ‘black’ representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.”

Beautifully said.

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Interview: The Deakin Review of Children’s Literature

I’m excited to share with you the recent posting of a video interview, recorded back in May, but released on July 22, 2014. This was during Canadian Children’s Book Week and the location was the beautiful H.T. Coutts Library, University of Alberta. It was a great thrill to be asked by the talented team at the Coutts Library. My apologies for the tardy posting. I was away for a bit on holidays and then it was the back-to-school blitz.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Book Review: Shaping Up Summer

Shaping Up Summer

Lizann Flatt; illustrated by Ashley Barron; $14.95 cloth 978-1-926973-87-6, 32 pp., Owl Kids, 2014 (ages 5 to 7)

Fourth in the successful Math in Nature series, Shaping Up Summer follows Counting on Fall, Sizing Up Winter, and Sorting through SpringLike the other season-based titles, this information book celebrates the wonders of nature through its engaging, poetic text, thought-provoking questions, and richly textured, brilliantly coloured artwork. The book begins with the question, “Do you think that math matters to the animals and plants? What if nature knew numbers like you?” From there, young readers journey through page spreads centred on different animals. Each spread contains a question (“Would spiders weave webs to spin silken scenes?”) and encourages children to search and identify shapes and lines (“Can you see cone shapes?”).

Shaping Up SummerMuskoka Ontario author, Lizann Flatt is the former editor of Chickadee magazine. Her other book credits include The Nature Treasury and Let’s Go! The Story of Getting from There to Here,which was chosen as the TD Grade One Giveaway Book for 2009. In Shaping Up Summer Flatt demonstrates again how skillfully she combines playful prose with nature and mathematical learning. Parents and educators may wish to share this picture book with pre-schoolers, emphasizing the hunt for shapes, and using the artwork to spark conversations and learning opportunities. Five- and six-year-olds will enjoy having the story read aloud and will delight in the interaction that ensues. The inclusion of “Nature Notes” at the back of the book offers another layer of more sophisticated learning, ensuring that this book will continue to enrich children as they progress toward higher level math concepts.

Ashley Barron is a Toronto-based illustrator whose  shape-savvy style is ideal for this inviting series. Her eye-catching, textured work has been featured in children’s books, packaging, set designs, and more. The cut-paper collage illustrations are warm and inviting, and the art-inspired math concepts are much more than circles, squares, and triangles.

Indeed, the author-illustrator duo build upon ever-challenging math activities from the simple spotting of basic shapes to finding lines of symmetry, describing rotation (e.g., turn, flip, slide), and giving increasingly complex directions (e.g., left/right; under/over). This is a book that truly celebrates math in a non-intimidating, interactive way. It’s a surefire winner for classrooms and home libraries alike.

 ~ Jill

 

 

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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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