Wake the Stone Man; Carol McDougall; $20.95 paper, 9781552667217, 256 pp., 5 x 8; Roseway Publishing (Fernwood), spring 2015
Beginning with a description of a girl climbing a fence—using simple language, and with a sense of in-the-moment immediacy and raw intensity—readers may wonder at first if this could pass as a young adult novel. When a nun yells, “Get off that fence,” and it’s apparent that the fence is an enclosure around a residential school and this unknown girl—an Ojibwe—is trying to escape, the harrowing aspects of this coming of age story begin to take hold. Mature teens may well enjoy reading this timely story, which focuses on the devastating effects of residential schooling and racism, but this is a book for an adult audience. The story begins in 1964 when Molly Bell—the “skinny as a rail” protagonist and narrator—is eleven, and it extends into her adulthood.
Wake the Stone Man is told in a simple, bare-bones style. It’s the perfect medium for conveying the Northern Ontario gruffness and matter-of-fact (gonna-skin-a-moose-now) events that punctuate Molly’s remote, sawmill town surroundings. The jarring, comical, and strange northern custom of greeting a friend with “I hate your face pretty much” is a common thread through the story, alongside Molly and Nakina’s standard conversation opener: “Hey white girl.” / “Hey Anishinaabe.” There is a beautiful calmness in this exchange as it’s repeated in the same way and, I’m convinced, the same tone, despite the train-wreck of life-changing events and tragedies that unfold. The soft greeting weaves through the curving narrative of the story like a refrain or a verse of gentle poetry. It soothes. It connects.
Molly is an avid reader with a “four-book-a-week habit” by high school. When she’s under stress, she increases her habit to a book a day. Molly is an observer who watches the ways her friend Nakina is mistreated, abused, and marginalized. But when the two teens are together, their deep connection transcends horrible events and the passing of time. Though they speak in clipped sentences full of sarcasm, mocking, and a good dose of “shut ups” and “leave me alones,” it’s clear the two share a profound understanding of one another.
Author Carol McDougall grew up in Northern Ontario and now lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She is author of Nova Scotia Guide to Frugal Living (Nimbus, 2009) and co-author, with Shanda LaRamee-Jones, of Baby Look, Baby Play, Baby Talk, Look at Me Now! (Nimbus). McDougall is the long-time director of Nova Scotia’s Read to Me! program and a strong advocate for baby and toddler literacy. Wake the Stone Man won the Beacon Award for Social Justice Literature, a prize for an unpublished novel.
The author captures 1970s northern Ontario with great authenticity through expressions used in dialogue, references to pop music, draft dodgers and brief, but chilling, mentions of the Vietnam War, including napalm bombs and a Buddhist monk setting himself aflame. McDougall’s descriptions of chopping wood, star-filled skies, bitter, bitter cold, and over-wintering in a remote, poorly insulated home with no electricity show a deep connection to the land and underline Molly’s fierce sense of determination to survive and make it, despite all odds.
Certainly, this issues-focused novel is well-timed with the growing awareness and concern for survivors of the residential schools—a terrible occurrence in Canada’s past, recently called “cultural genocide” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s interim report.
This is a story that will stimulate important discussion. The book club notes included at the back present in-depth questions to facilitate further exploration of the story’s themes.
Reviewed by Jill Bryant.Read More »
I know, I know. I’m interminably late in the game, but I’ve finally joined Twitter and am looking for people to follow and, in turn, followers. My Twitter handle is @JillBryantBooks. I’ve tweeted successfully 78 times to date–whoo hoo! That’s one hundred and forty characters or fewer about female entrepreneurs, feminist topics, writing nonfiction, the writing process, author events, science news, and books. It’s definitely a learn-as-you-go experience for me, so I hope I don’t make — or haven’t already made — any terrible foibles.
Twitter began in 2006 so I’m nearly a decade behind on this social networking bandwagon, but who’s counting?! I recall being similarly skeptical of email many years ago and, ehem, it revolutionized the way I work. I was pretty happy not to have to set up my old fax machine upon my return to Canada from abroad, at which point it was abundantly clear fax machines had pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur and I could reclaim that portion of my desk for books and papers.
Speaking of dinosaurs, I heard on CBC Radio (not through social networking) that the brontosaurus is a real species after all. “But nobody gave up on the brontosaurus, did they?” says Carol Off. “I mean, children love the brontosaurus; they love this giant vegetarian …” What a great quote. And then, through the beauty of the Internet, I Googled “CBC Radio brontosaurus” and found a link to the podcast to have a re-listen.
Authors for Indies
Mark your calendar on May 2nd for Author for Indies. I’ll be at Novel Idea Bookstore in historic Kingston, Ontario, along with other authors from the area. It’s sure to be a fun event. Show your support for local independent bookstores by stopping by your local indie and saying thank you to the booksellers that nourish readers, host literary events and book launches — and serve as friendly liaisons between the public and the Canadian book industry. Indie booksellers are passionate about literature and work tirelessly to promote good books.
Thank you independent bookstores. We love all that you do!
I grow weary of waiting, ever so impatiently, for warmer weather to arrive. At last, on Thursday, April 2nd, my snowdrops were in bud. Now, April 9th, they are in their full glory — little jewels of spring. Come on, Mother Nature, bring on the new season! Let’s have some crocuses, daffodils, tulips. It’s time.
Read More »
There’s a whole lot of buzz around International Women’s Day today. It’s exciting and I feel like there’s a new feminist wave in the making with all the discussion around empowering girls and also raising boys differently. Think “It’s All Right to Cry” from the Free to Be … You and Me album of the ’70s — an important influence on my youth.
To pay tribute to International Women’s day, I’m flagging a few noteworthy webpages and also a STEM-related video. I know it’s a bit of a “cheat” blog post, but there is so much rich content and there are many interesting perspectives to ponder. This quote on CBC’s Writers and Company webpage that features an interview with Gloria Steinem says a lot:
“We were so occupied with trying to raise our daughters more like our sons that we probably are only now seeing how much we need to raise our sons more like our daughters – so that both of them can be whole people.” – Gloria Steinem
Great facts and stats are laid out on the Because I Am a Girl‘s website. The article “Attention women: Ignore the glass ceiling (we have other problems at work)” refers to women falling into a “helper” role and often being “bogged down by menial tasks.”
Last week, in conjunction with my Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs book, I was invited to attend the launch of the Lassonde School of Engineering’s 50:50 Challenge.
View the video about this very exciting initiative at York University in Toronto: The Lassonde 50:50 Challenge.
It’s also great to see all the lists emerging with books featuring strong female characters:
- 12 Canadian women writers you need to read
- Top 10 feminist icons in children’s and teen books
- Book Riot: The Best Feminist Books for Younger Readers
- Amelia Bloomer Project 2015
- Orca Books: International Women’s Day Reads
All and all, conversations are happening and ideas are swirling; great things are happening for girls, boys, and the planet. Let’s celebrate the achievements. Happy International Women’s Day!Read More »
Hello from cold and blustery Kingston, Ontario. I’m accepting bookings from schools for author talks in March, April, May, and June. Interested teachers can email me directly to set a date. The Writers’ Union of Canada has funding available to offset costs and make these visits very affordable. Investigate further at Ontario Writers-in-the-Schools Program Overview and on my member page. Please note this important statement on The Writers’ Union of Canada’s website: “We are now accepting applications for the 2015-16 funding year for visits taking place between April 1, 2015 – August 31, 2015. Applications will be processed in late February.” Funding is allocated on a first-come first-served basis, so don’t delay. You can find out more about my presentations on my website under Book Talks. A detailed description of book talk topics follows:
My presentations draw upon my three books in The Women’s Hall of Fame series, Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, Dazzling Women Designers, and Amazing Women Athletes, plus my activity book Backyard Circus. All presentations encourage active student participation. Each session includes a short Q&A segment. With advanced notice, I can alter specific presentations to suit a broader range of grades.
Kindergarten to Grade 3: Backyard Circus [30 – 45 min]
Imagine the fun of creating your very own backyard circus! Let’s bring on the silly hats and the big shoes and try out some circus stunts to captivate the classroom crowd. I read aloud and act out sections from Backyard Circus, encouraging children to take part. Classroom performers walk the “tightrope,” juggle, dress up, and tell jokes. I stress that practice makes perfect when it comes to polishing skills at the circus — and as a writer. A real crowd-pleaser!
Grades 4 – 6: Dig, Dig, Dig! [50 min]
Using my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, I take students behind the scenes to explore one of the first stages in the writing process: research. Together they compare secondary sources to primary sources and learn the value of conducting interviews to collect factual information about real people. Through a series of interactive exercises, students devise questions and practise interviewing. Looking at advice and tips gathered from successful entrepreneurs, I show how students can use a similar approach in their own goal setting. Persistence and determination pay off.
Grades 7 – 8: Get Real [50 – 60 min]
Can nonfiction writers borrow techniques from fiction to draw readers into a story with panache? You, bet! I demonstrate how to fill in the gaps that can arise in nonfiction narratives, despite meticulous research. The goal is a believable, true-to-life portrait of an individual that may just walk off the page. Then, by drawing examples from my Women’s Hall of Fame books, I encourage students to combine sleuth-like observational skills with memories from personal experiences to create catchy openers. This presentation also explores the importance of honesty and integrity in writing about real people’s lives.
High School: Girl Power [50 – 60 min]
Images from the media, messages from peers, parents, and others may make you feel like you have to act in certain ways. This presentation, which is geared for female students, shatters stereotypes and encourages young women to explore their interests, find their passion, and go for it. With an open, inclusive outlook, girls can aspire to holding top executive positions, breaking records in sports, and pursuing diverse fields in math, science, and design. Citing real-life examples from my Women’s Hall of Fame books, I share inspiring quotes and advice from successful women.
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Coming up this spring, I’m thrilled to have been asked to be one of three local judges evaluating entries for Teenswrite! hosted by the Kingston WritersFest. Entries will arrive in April and I’ll have to submit my choices by mid-May. What a wonderful opportunity to provide support for a local arts and culture initiative. I am looking forward to reading the entries and seeing the creativity of Kingston youths.Read More »
Hi, all! I’m happy to report that I’m back at my writing desk. I decided to leave my in-house publishing position at the end of December to free up time for writing. So far, I’m loving it.
I have a huge grin on my face.
I’m sitting here in the sunshine with a view of the park across the street, my dog is snoozing beside me, and I have a list of projects to work on. My first assignments are writing some literacy program books for an overseas publisher. Bliss.
Well, I have a few ideas. In the meantime, I have to consider if I should write another nonfiction biography book or if I should knuckle down and attempt fiction. I’ve been dabbling, but I keep telling myself to get serious. I have some good support, too. My editor for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs says I should go for it. But, but, but … plot, character, suspense, point of view. It’s still scary.
I wish you a very happy 2015. May you follow your passions and meet your challenges head on,
with a big smile.Read More »
Busy, busy, busy! It’s that time of year. Ninety percent of my holiday shopping takes place in bookstores. For children, adults, avid readers, reluctant readers, and people with myriad interests there is always something that resonates with every name on my list. I also like to promote and support Canadian authors, illustrators, and publishers. By reading Quill & Quire, listening to The Next Chapter on CBC Radio, and noodling around online, I can do some pre-shopping research that makes the actual trip to the bookstore much quicker. I often call my local bookstore and order the titles I know I want. I also love poking around bookstores, browsing the shelves and seeing what catches my eye.
Here are some book lists that can help you out:
Quill & Quire: Kidlit Books of the Year
If your local bookstore doesn’t have the book you are looking for, you can always place an order. Most books will arrive in 7 to 10 days, depending on the distributor, but your bookselling will advise you. If you have any children ages 9 to 13 on your list, check out The Women’s Hall of Fame Series. Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs and Dazzling Women Designers are my two most recent titles. A special thank you to my local independent bookstore, Novel Idea, in Kingston for stocking several copies of these book on the nonfiction shelf. Each book features ten profiles of ordinary women who do the extraordinary through their determination, passion, courage, and vision. I’d love to hear if any kids are your list are inspired by these stories of real people from today and yesterday, from Canada, the U.S., and beyond.
And lastly, I promise it won’t be so long until my next blog posting! It’s been an eventful fall and too many things are pulling me away from my writing desk. Happily, 2015 promises to bring me more time for writing. I’m excited about this and really looking forward to what lies ahead.
All the best for a very happy holiday. Celebrate great books!
P.S.: When you’re stumped on which book to buy for a child, ask a librarian–they are the best resources ever!Read More »
I’m grateful that my own kids, both teenagers, are avid readers. My mom says, “you can’t 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
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.Read More »
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!Read More »
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 Spring. Like 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?”).
Muskoka 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.
Read More »
Branded by the Pink Triangle
Ken Setterington; $15.95 paper 978-1-926920-96-2, 155 pp., Second Story Press, 2013 (ages 13+)
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 BryantRead More »