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 »
Leanne Lieberman; $12.95 paper, 978-1-4598-0109-7, 227 pp., Orca Publishers, 2013 (ages 13+)
Kingston-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 BryantRead More »
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:
“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!Read More »
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:
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/Read More »
Hello, friends. I have a date! The publishing date for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs is September 16, 2013. After that date, you can find, or ask for, this title at your favourite local bookshop. It is possible to pre-order the book now. It is still early days in the production process, so I don’t yet have a cover to share. Keep checking in, though, because I expect to have a cover design in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I’ll be planning some publicity events. Young Kingston has a upcoming event in Picton, Ontario at Books & Company. This gorgeous and spacious bookstore, in the heart of Prince Edward County, is a favourite spot for locals, book lovers, and tourists. There, on June 15 at 2:00, I’ll be talking about Dazzling Women Designers, also in The Women’s Hall of Fame Series. Young Kingston members will be there from 1:00 until 3:30 p.m. talking about one or two of their books. The full line-up includes Mary Alice Downie, Ann-Maureen Owens, Y.S. Lee, and Christine Fader. The diversity of our group means we can target children and youths from ages 5 to 15+.
If you are a teacher and your school is within driving distance, please contact me about book talks. I have space available this spring for book talks and also in the fall. Please enquire if you would like a customized book talk, or if you have any questions about presentations. Some information is available here on my website, and also on my webpage of The Writers’ Union of Canada at this link.
F.Y.I.: My website was acting up this month and was becoming rather sluggish. This seems to be due to the large number of images. I may have to scale back on the number of images I use in future blogs, which is unfortunate. I will keep experimenting, however, and will try to find a way to retain the photo format. As a quick fix, I’ve de-activated the blog scroller at the bottom of the home page. If you experience any problems viewing my website, please let me know. I am hopeful now that this problem is behind me!
Until next time!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.
Read More »