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O Canada!

Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger and Carolyn Angus
 | Jul 09, 2018

We are crossing our country’s northern border in this week’s column and reviewing recently published books by Canadian authors and illustrators. Included are books in various genres that feature perspectives of diverse voices in children’s and young adult literature. As you share these books with readers, mention the cities and provinces where the authors and illustrators live and have students locate them on a map of Canada.

Ages 48

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Kyo Maclear. Ill. Julie Morstad. 2018. HarperCollins.

BloomWritten in first person and illustrated using watercolor, gouache, and pencil crayons, Toronto author Kyo Maclear and Vancouver illustrator Julie Morstad’s picture book biography tells the story of Elsa Schiaparelli’s (1890–1973) “bloom” to becoming a fashion designer. Growing up in Rome, Elsa feels “brutta” (ugly) and finds flowers to be the most beautiful things. Following a visit to a flower market, young Elsa plants seeds in her ears, mouth, and nose, hoping she becomes beautiful. This only makes her sick, but does not stop her imagination from growing. Elsa finds inspiration in flowers, the night sky, and books. As a fashion designer, she famously introduced the world to wildly creative women’s apparel and her signature colors: shocking pink and ice blue. Back matter includes a note from the author and the illustrator, endnotes, and a bibliography. Before reading the book, take time to admire the artistic details of the cover.

The Honeybee. Kirsten Hall. Ill. Isabelle Arsenault. 2018. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

The Honeybee“Shhh! / What’s that? / Do you hear it? / You’re near it. / It’s closer, / it’s coming, / it’s buzzing, / it’s humming…./ A BEE!” A lively, rhyming text and vibrant double-spread artwork invite young children to follow a bee as it makes its way to a field of flowers to collect nectar and pollen and then returns to the bustling hive. Quebec illustrator Isabelle Arsenault’s double-spread illustrations (rendered using ink, gouache, pencil, and colored pencil) include eye-catching touches of neon yellow gold and playfully present the activity of a colony of honeybees throughout a year. Arsenault also designed the font, named Honeybee, for the text that is incorporated into the illustrations. An appended letter to the reader addresses the importance of honeybees in the ecosystem, their threatened status, and ways to help the species survive.

Ocean Meets Sky. The Fan Brothers. 2018. Simon & Schuster.

Ocean Meets SkyOn a day that his grandfather would have described as “a good day for sailing,” young Finn builds a boat from odds and ends on the beach near his seaside home. It’s the perfect way to honor his grandfather on this day that would have been his 90th birthday. After falling asleep on the boat, Finn awakes and, guided by a gigantic golden fish, makes a wonder-filled journey to “the magical place where ocean meets sky” that his grandfather had told stories about. Exquisite double-page spreads, rendered in graphite and digitally colored, are filled with a mix of different species of whales and other marine animals, ships of all shapes and sizes, and hot air balloons as Finn travels to the moon—until he is awakened by his mother for dinner. The rich detailing of Toronto-based Terry and Eric Fan’s artwork invites readers of all ages to explore this magical picture-book story again and again.

Wallpaper. Thao Lam. 2018. Owlkids.

Toronto author/illustrator Thao Lam’s almost wordless picture book, created with paper collage, tells the story of a young girl whose family has just moved. As she sits in her new room, she hears voices and, peeking out the window, sees children outside but is too shy to join them. Sitting sadly on the floor, she notices a lifted corner of wallpaper and decides to investigate by peeling it back. To her surprise and fascination, a flock of yellow birds fly out from behind it. She continues to peel back the wallpaper to reveal the habitat in which these birds live, and feeling curious, she steps to explore. She hears footsteps and sees the frightening face of a monster. With the monster close behind, she peels back layer after layer of wallpaper and moves other hidden worlds. Overcoming her fears, she approaches the monster to say hello and discovers he is friendly. She has learned an important lesson about courage and friendship.


Ages 9–11

Ebb & Flow. Heather Smith. 2018. Kids Can.

Ebb & FlowThe narrator of this free-verse novel, Jett has been sent by his mother, who says he needs a change of scenery, to spend the summer with Grandma Jo. Jeff thinks she needed one too after the “rotten bad year” that was his fault. “I wondered if a summer spent / in a little wooden house / on a rocky eastern shore / would help us forget that.” Details of that rough year are revealed as Jett and his grandmother exchange stories while collecting sea glass on the beach: his father’s imprisonment for the drunk driving accident that killed four people, anger over his mother moving them to the mainland for a fresh start, and the despicable activity he got involved in after teaming up with the school bully and troublemaker, Junior. It’s a summer well spent as Grandma Jo helps Jett to deal with a lot of regrets, to forgive himself, and to be hopeful that he can make amends by taking responsibility for his actions.

The Fake-Chicken Kung Fu Fighting Blues (Lorimer Illustrated Humor). Aaron Lam. Ill. Kean Soo. 2018. James Lorimer.

The Fake-Chicken Kung Fu Fighting BluesWhen his grandmother, Po Po, informs him that his family will be moving from Chinatown in the heart of Toronto to the small town of Berksburg in northern Ontario, where there are no Asian families, 12-year-old Anthony Chung is bummed about the move, especially because he’s leaving his best friend, Jackson. When they arrive at their new home, Po Po, who also is struggling with the move, places a fake chicken above the door for good luck. Most of the residents of Berksburg are hockey fanatics. Anthony is not interested in hockey. How will he fit in? His desire to help Po Po feel more comfortable in the new town leads Anthony to create a video documentary of Berksburg, and he meets interesting community members as he records their stories. At the end of this humorous story, illustrated with black-and-white spot art and comic-strip panels, Anthony finds himself the star of his new hometown—and a new hockey fan.

Ages 12–14

Sadia. Colleen Nelson. 2018. Dundurn.

SadiaFifteen-year-old Sadia loves playing basketball and even makes the coed basketball team. She won’t be allowed to play in a tournament unless she removes her hijab, but is determined to stick to her vow of modesty. Her best friend, Mariam, has been de-jabbing, removing her hijab, at school, which causes Sadia to have conflicting feelings about wearing her own hijab and their friendship. When Amira, a Syrian refugee, arrives at school, Sadia serves as her translator and mentor. As they become friends, Mariam and Sadia’s friendship grows further apart. A class project called "If You Give a Kid a Camera" (in which students are given cameras to take pictures reflecting their perspective of the world) inspires Sadia and other students to take on projects that involve standing up for others and fighting for what is right.  

A World Below. Wesley King. 2018. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.

A World BelowA day trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park for Mr. Baker’s eighth-grade class becomes a disaster when an earthquake hits and the students are trapped deep underground. This action-packed adventure tale is told from the point of view of three characters: Eric, the class loner, who is separated from the other students as they are swept away by a swift-moving underground river; Silvia, a popular student with personal problems her classmates don’t know about (she’s prone to panic attacks), who takes the leadership role in organizing the group; and King Carlos, the insecure 13-year-old leader of the Midnight Realm, a group of humans who have lived secretly in a remote area of the caverns for four generations in fear of discovery by “surface demons.”  Survival in this bizarre world filled with oversize flora and fauna (including deadly spiders, bugs, and aquatic creatures) and hidden dangers—as they attempt to find a way through dark tunnels to the surface—depends on help from the Midnight Realm.

Ages 15+

Fire Song. Adam Garnet Jones. 2018. Annick.

Fire SongAnishinaabe Shane is grieving over the recent suicide of his younger sister, Destiny, while trying to deal with his mother’s overwhelming depression. What keeps him going are the stolen moments he has with his secret boyfriend, David, and his dream of attending university in Toronto.  Life gets complicated when he learns that he will not receive government funding for the upcoming school year and that David does not want to go with him to Toronto. What kind of future does he have without options or choices? This moving and insightful novel by Cree/Métis debut author Adam Garnet Jones (adapted from his 2015 award-winning feature film, Fire Song) ends on a hopeful note: “For the first time since he can remember, he isn’t terrified of what the future holds. He doesn’t have a plan and he doesn’t need one. For once, all paths are open and there is no pressure to choose.”

Here So Far Away. Hadley Dyer. 2018. HarperTeen/HarperCollins.

Here So Far AwayGeorge has always been a loyal friend, and her family is well respected in the community where her father is a police officer. She plans to party with her friends during her senior year and to leave town after graduation to attend university. However, her plans begin to fall apart. Her father is involved in a life-changing accident, she begins dating an older guy named Francis, and her friendships deteriorate. Her relationship with Francis must be kept a secret because Francis is on the police force and George is a minor. George nearly loses everything and must learn how to keep a gut-wrenching secret to herself. George’s father’s saying that “life is a bad writer” rings true at the end in this humorous and poignant realistic novel by award-winning Toronto author Hadley Dyer.

Chelsey M. Bahlmann Bollinger is an assistant professor in the Early, Elementary, and Reading Department at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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