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 »
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 »
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 »
Spring and fall are the choice times to schedule school book talks. The weather is more predictable for longer commutes, which means fewer snow days and cancellations. By this time of the school year — June — students are longing for summer. Classes take on a more celebratory tone with outdoor poetry lessons, strolls around the neighbourhood, and large-scale art projects, such as painting murals for graduation ceremonies. Fall marks the start of the school year and is a-buzz with enthusiasm, planning, and bountiful ideas for an exciting year ahead. Whatever the season, you can bet an author in your region will be happy to accept a booking to speak to students about the writing process, the challenges and successes of the writing life, and how they got into this rewarding but tumultuous biz in the first place. Subsidies are available under various schemes, as are customized talks tailored to your needs, so don’t hesitate to inquire.
I had the great pleasure of presenting book talks to two eastern Ontario schools last week. Focusing on my book Dazzling Women Designers I showed kids how strong role models can help shake up stereotypes and open up a wide range of career choices for everyone, regardless of whether they are female or male. We have so much to learn from successful, kind-hearted, hard-working people who give back to their communities in admirable ways.
Some highlights of the talk included playing the “pink hat game” with the kids — a game that gave students a chance to examine designed objects and consider their qualities. We talked about what makes a winning design and the importance of function in design. Objects can’t just look good; they have to work well, too, to get the thumbs up. We focused on three designers: Jane Jacobs, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, and Ritu Kumar. Environment-friendly design characterized the first two, while the third is instrumental in helping rural communities achieve sustainability by restoring their livelihoods. (Oh, and yes, there are links to the Science & Technology curriculum.) Students in grades 3 to 8, or 4 to 7, were keen to participate, handle real designed objects, answer questions, and offer their own ideas. By the end of the presentation, students had a deeper understanding of how design impacts our world. The talks wrapped up with questions posed by the students and teachers, mainly dealing with the publishing process.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to the principals and teachers for inviting me to speak to their students. It was a wonderful opportunity. Children — with their positive attitude, joy, and exuberance — are a great inspiration to us adults in so many beautiful ways. I take my (pink) hat off to children, and say: Kids rule!!!!
Keep reading, keep writing, and keep celebrating the rich community of readers and writers all around.
Until next time,
PS: As noted in my last blog post, Second Story Press has set the pub date for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs ($10.95) at September 16th. I expect to have a cover image to share with you soon. Also, the amazing Nicole Robertson, media specialist, will be issuing a press release detailing her involvement in this project as one of the ten entrepreneurs featured. The “2013 Kids’ Preview” article by Dory Cerny, Laura Godfrey, and Stuart Woods in the June issue of Quill & Quire includes a mention of Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs in the Non-Fiction section, which was lovely to see. You can see it on the Quill blog by clicking here. (Note: Yikes! There is a cover image shown there, but it is not final!)
PPSS: Young Kingston’s June 15th event in Picton, Ontario at Books & Company has been cancelled; other plans are in the works.Read More »
I’m not a playwright.
I finished writing a play this week. A play? Yeah, I know. I’m not a playwright, or didn’t used to be.
I’m not sure if completing a draft of a play makes me a playwright or not. Of course, it took me years to accept that I was a real author, too. It’s that old insecurity complex that plagues authors, young and old, experienced and inexperienced alike.
I took a playwriting/screenwriting course last spring. On my first day, I told the group:
Writing fiction terrifies me.
I’ve always loved reading it, admiring it, and promoting it, but do I view myself as a fiction writer? No. But in this hands-on workshop we had to write a play. Well, at least the beginnings of a play. After meeting once a week, for six weeks, we either read a portion of our play aloud or, better, had friends come and act out a ten-minute segment. I opted for the latter. I invited some actor friends and their son to come and act out a couple scenes. The play I was working on was suitable for families. It featured three siblings, a mother, a father, and an uncle. It was amazing to see the story come to life on stage. I know that sounds clichéed, but it really was a worthwhile part of the process. It helped me see and hear which parts worked and which parts didn’t. After I knew which lines to rewrite, shorten, or expand upon. It made me think more about the logistics. Does it makes sense to have a set change after just one scene? Which props will have to be mimed? The stones. And which ones can be real? The doll.
Then, a year later, I had some time. I opened up the file and read it over. I looked at my notes, scribbled down some more and did some more research. Then, I pushed myself to devise a plot — something very new to me. The hardest part — which I see more clearly now — was getting started and making a commitment to focus on it and try to finish it. Once I’d done that, however, the process wasn’t as terribly scary as I thought it would be. It was a challenge to work out the plot, but I decided I should get more lines down on paper, and see where that took the story. And so, I wrote another page or so. Then I looked at what I’d written and asked, “Now how can I get from A to B?” It was never obvious. Sometimes I took a break and mulled over the conundrum while doing other things. Then, I wrote some more. I knew it still wasn’t quite right; I had more loose ends to tie up. I continued writing and thinking, and writing some more. In the end, I finished it. Setting a personal goal and exercising determination helped me create characters, build a setting, and unravel the plot. Much of the process was a lot of fun. I felt productive while writing and pleased with the way it was developing. I proved to myself that I could do it. And I discovered that I enjoy writing dialogue; I like making up scenes.
It was fun.
This week is Canadian Children’s Book Week. Last year, during this special week, I had a lot going on in the community. You can read about it in a previous blog posting here. It’s lovely to have a week that honours the wonderful home-grown talent we have. I hope you’ll read some wonderful Canadian children’s books, stop by your library and see the book displays. Check out the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s website: here.
Writing is hard. Writing a book, poem, graphic novel, or play, which is accepted, published, reviewed, shared, and read, is deeply rewarding. I think what this quiet, writing-focused week has shown me as a children’s author is that it is important to continue to challenge oneself artistically in order to develop as a writer. Who knows where this path will lead?
The notion of continually challenging oneself reminds me of The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can. I think I can.”
If you are passionate about being a writer and are willing to work hard, you can succeed.
Read More »
With Family Literacy Day falling on January 27th this year, families across Canada have been celebrating with much hoopla. Elementary schools make a weekly event of this special day, promoting reading and books, and often hosting in-school contests, including dressing up like a favourite book character — fun! Curl up with a book for 15 or 20 minutes a day. You know you won’t regret it. I’d like to remind readers to check out the 49th Shelf’s Read Local: The 100 Mile Book Diet. By supporting authors in your own community, you will make writers smile, and smile, and smile.
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is a great place to visit (virtually or in person) to learn more about books for children and young adults. I also love promoting the Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading Program every year. Some schools and libraries have Forest of Reading groups and purchase sets of books. The books listed are always of very high calabre, so it’s also handy for making a shopping list. The Toronto Public Library has created its own list of the One Hundred Best Canadian Books for Children. Which books do you recognize? Which other titles would you add? I think I’ve read 25 of the 100, so I have some catching up to do.
And now — drum roll — the inspiration for today’s blog is a composition written by an eloquent elementary student. Her piece, below, expresses beautifully the joys that reading brings to our lives. Thank you to Isobel for inspiring us all to turn to delicious, delectable books much more often.
Why I Love to Read
This is why I love to read. I love to read because if you feel sad, mad, or annoyed, when you start to read a good book, you forget all your feelings. It’s like looking through a window. In books like Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings, you fall through that window, and you can see orcs, wizards, hobbits and dwarves, and elves yelling in battle all around you. It is a feeling you do not get from watching a movie.
Books in shop windows are like ice cream beckoning to you to take a taste. Some people are reluctant to start new books and others jump right in. Books are like chocolate — some with cherries inside, and some with toads inside. Reading is a time to relax.
by Isobel, grade 4Read More »
In the lead up to the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival this coming weekend, I’ve been sorting through old files and unearthed some interesting bits of nostalgia. The featured image on the left shows an old clip from The Toronto Star. Pictured in the bottom right, listening to novelist Eric McCormack read from, I think, The Paradise Motel, are university students Sylvia Petrik (now Mollison), Ian Mollison, and me. This is 23 years ago at the very first Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. Yes, I can proudly say, “I was there!” And, yes, way back when, I was a huge fan of Canadian literature (still am) and loved going to readings (still do). Eric McCormack was also my favourite English professor at the University of Waterloo, too. I never tired of hearing his Scottish “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen” refrain at 8:30 a.m. classes where he taught us about Beowulf and Milton.
The picture below right is from another Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, sometime in the 1990s. I was goofing around with high-school friends after the afternoon’s festivities had wrapped up. We’d just seen Margaret Atwood up on that rustic and beautiful handmade stage about an hour before. My friends and I took turns playing the author at the podium. So, yeah, that’s me, in role, and being so much the author-wanna-be…long after the events had wrapped up.
So, it’s very sweet, poignant, and just darn amazing, that after all these years here I am on the list of children’s author presenters. I feel so honoured and so excited. This is really going to be a treat!
And, of course, Eden Mills was my home for several years. Lots of memories!Read More »
Eat locally. Read locally. I like it.
I have to say, I think this is the coolest thing. We’ve all been hearing about the importance of shopping locally and supporting local farmers for several years now. Then, the 100-Mile Diet evolves with families, chefs, and restauranteurs seeking fresh, local ingredients for their dinner tables. And now this new twist: the 100-Mile BOOK Diet. (If anyone knows why it is “miles” not “kilometres,” please let me know.) It’s curious because the 100-mile diet was started by two Canadians, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon.
At a past Young Kingston meeting (that’s my local children and young adult authors’ group) we were talking about the importance of the communities being supportive of local writers. As writers, we all agreed it is enriching to feel that your community is reading books by local authors, attending book launches, inviting authors (and paying them) to speak at public venues, and so on. Interacting with readers is so inspiring for writers. Seeing the joy on the face of a young reader warms my heart. Finding out from your local bookstore that your books are selling is even better. It shows that consumers are “voting with their wallets” and really, truly showing that they value what you do.
Unfortunately, things don’t always play out in this way. My kids bring home American and British bestsellers frequently. Those are the books they hear the most about from their friends, in the media, etc. Those are the books with the biggest buzz.
Let’s go back to the Young Kingston meeting, I mentioned. At one point I said something like, “It’s too bad people don’t see supporting local writers in the same way they do supporting local farmers.” I figured it was a similar issue. Different, yeah, but, when you think about it, not so different. Still, I felt a bit sheepish saying it. Perhaps I was feeling guilty about wanting to ride on the shirt-tails of another group’s band wagon. If you think about it, though, everyone likes to feel that they are valued by their local community. And writers, like farmers, aren’t always valued in a monetary sense, so being valued in the community is all the more important to writers’, and farmers’ well being.
Check out the Read Local: The 100-Mile Book Diet. There is a “Browse by Author” tab that makes searching for specific books and authors easy. There are reviews and quotes and lots of info. I placed four of my books where there is a geographic significance of some sort. Click the titles to go to the 100-Mile Book Map: Dazzling Women Designers, Amazing Women Athletes, Making Shadow Puppets, and The Wilderness Cookbook. Have fun browsing the books in your area.
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