Swift Fox is nervous. Her father is taking her on a long drive to meet her aunties, uncles and cousins. She will learn more about being Mi’kmaq. Her father assures her on the drive that she has all she needs already inside her; she is already Mi’kmaq. It’s how she walks, talks and thinks. Swift Fox just gets even more nervous. Swift Fox is greeted warmly by her family. They unwrap a red bundle, preparing to smudge, but she doesn’t know how to. They assure her that she does know, since it’s part of who she is. But it’s all overwhelming for Swift Fox, who bursts into tears and runs outside to hide. She keeps hidden until she starts to smell the familiar smell of the bread her father makes. Then another cousin arrives, he is just as scared as Swift Fox is. Suddenly Swift Fox can help someone else, and it gets her to go back inside with her cousin and show him things as she learns too.
Thomas has written a very personal book that reflects her own upbringing off of the reservation. In her Author’s Note, she explains the impact of the residential schools on Native cultures and languages. Still, their identity survived. Just like Swift Fox, Thomas continues to learn about her Mi’kmaq identity. Readers of all backgrounds will be inspired by Swift Fox and her transformation of her fear into an energy to help someone else.
McKibbin’s illustrations center on the warmth of Swift Fox’s two families, both her mother and sister and then her large extended family through her father. She captures the characters’ complex emotions on the page, allowing readers to really feel Swift Fox’s butterflies, her fear, and then her inspiration to move ahead.
A powerful book about identity and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
In a graphic novel format, this book tells the story of 150 years of indigenous history in Canada. The book begins with the story of Annie Bannatyne, the daughter of a wealthy store owner and a Metis-Saulteaux woman. Angered by racist comments published by Charles Mair, Annie literally horsewhips him in public, inspiring a young Louis Riel. There are stories of First Nation chiefs continuing their tribes’ traditional ways, despite them being forbidden by Canadian law. Other stories tell of the damage of residential schools. There is the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, the best sniper in North American history, and how his heroism in World War I was not enough to get the Canadian government to treat him as a human being. There are stories of children taken away, of families broken, of great heroism and deep connection to traditions and to the land itself. The book ends with a science fiction look at native people in space and a message of hope for change.
Told by various First Nation authors and illustrators, this book is simply incredible. At the beginning of each story, the author speaks about their inspiration and then a timeline is given that shows how little progress was made in Canada. Information is shared in the timeline that allows the stories to be more focused but for readers to learn about more historical points. As the history grows shockingly modern, the events remain just as searingly racist as those before the turn of the century. Still, the message here is one of strength, resilience and resistance. It is about standing up, insisting on being seen, and demanding to be heard. There is hope here in each of these heroes.
One of the top graphic novels of the year, this may be Canadian focused, but it speaks to everyone in all nations. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
When Miriam meets Weldon at her bookstore job, she doesn’t realize at first who he is. The grandson of the creator of the TomorrowMen comic book empire, he is wealthy and lives is California. Miriam on the other hand comes from a family without a lot of money and is trying to figure out how to leave her small town to go to college. The two of them have a connection though since it was Miriam’s grandfather who drew the first TomorrowMen comics. As the two of them navigate the perils of two families who have battled one another in court, Miriam becomes more sure of what she wants from her life. Weldon, stuck in rural Canada to get his life back on track, tries his best to be more stable and less impulsive. The two teenagers drift in and out of connection with one another but can’t seem to quite leave one another entirely. It’s Romeo and Juliet reworked to focus on modern comic geeks.
This is Hicks’ first novel, having created several comic books for children and teens. Readers who themselves identify as being “geeks” and in particular comic book geeks, will thoroughly enjoy the banter about comics, the obsessive nature of geek love, and the beauty of two geeks finding one another despite the world trying to keep them apart. The book is filled with humor and yet still offers deep emotions and a look at how one generation’s decisions echo forward to their offspring.
The book takes a look at growing up in rural Canada and has quite a few nods to Canadian life throughout the text. The desire to get out of a rural setting and move to a new place where you don’t know everyone is also an emotion that a lot of rural teens will relate to easily. Add in the appeal of comic books and a visit to Comic-Con and this is a book with a large audience who will root for the two teens.
A funny and warm look at geek love, this is a charming teen novel. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Africville by Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Eva Campbell (9781773060439)
A girl visits the historical site of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She imagines what the community was once like, how the children would play together. She imagines lunch on the tables, picking blueberries over the hill. She imagines playing games, going rafting, and bonfires by the water. Her great-grandmother had lived in Africville before it was destroyed in the 1960s after surviving for over 150 years. But the black community of Africville never received the same services as the rest of Halifax despite paying taxes. The community was eventually relocated from the site and moved to public housing. Africville is now a park where former residents and their descendants return to remember the community that had once stood there.
Grant gives us a glimpse of what Africville once was. The picture book keeps descriptions short and the focus on children and their lives in the community. There is an author’s note at the end of the book that offers more context for what Africville was and what happened to its residents. The use of a modern child to dream about what might have been in Africville is a great lens through which to look at life there. The peacefulness and sense of community pervade the entire read.
Campbell’s illustrations are filled with deep colors. The bonfire pages glow with reds of fire and sunset. There is lush green everywhere and the houses pop with bright paint colors. She creates the warmth of a real community on the pages, illustrations that seem to have sunlight shining from them.
A gorgeous tribute to a piece of Canadian history. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
In this incredible poetic picture book, two children wake up in their tents on the shore of a Canadian lake. Quietly, after drinking some hot chocolate, they head out onto the water with their fishing tackle and rods in a red canoe. Paddling quietly through the water, they see a moose in the shallows, a beaver repairing its home, and hear a chattering squirrel. As the sun rises the light changes and they see an eagle flying and an eagle’s nest. The children start to fish, battling and landing a trout before heading back to the campsite. The morning continued with fish for breakfast for everyone.
Pendziwol is a gifted writer. Her verse bring the Canadian wilderness to life with all of the creatures going about their morning business, the silence of the lake and the wonder of it all. The fishing is a dynamic contrast to the quiet of the morning, the battle with the trout and the final win. It punctuates the book much like the appearance of the animals do, in little bits of delight. Her poetry flows much like the water on the lake, clean and clear, quiet but not ever dull. It invites readers into exploration of their own in canoes and on lakes.
The illustrations by Phil are rough and rustic. They are painted on wood with nail holes and cracks running straight through the pictures. These illustrations suit the entire book perfectly, creating a feeling of natural warmth and timelessness.
A winning picture book for those spending their summers on lakes or those who only dream of it. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, this picture book captures the experience of First Nations people in Canada being sent to boarding schools. Under threat of fines and jail time, First Nation parents were forced to give their children up to the government. When Irene is taken to her new home, she tries to never forget her real home, her parents and their way of life. Irene is called only by a number at the school and told to scrub the brown off of her skin. Her hair is cut off. She is punished when she speaks her native language by a nun burning her hands. Irene is eventually allowed to return home for the summer, where she continues to have nightmares of her time at school. Finally, her parents decide to hide the children rather than sending them back.
This is not a picture book for preschoolers, rather it is ideal for elementary-aged children closer in age to 8-year-old Irene in the story. The horrific treatment of First Nation children is shown with real clarity. The use of Irene’s own voice to tell the story makes it personal and much more painful. While there is a lot of text on the pages, the book reads well and the text is straightforward and necessary to explain the loss of culture and the darkness of the boarding schools.
The illustrations by Newland are almost like painted photographs. They show the family losing their children, the stern nuns, and the punishment scene is carefully captured afterwards in terms of pain and emotion rather than depicting the punishment itself. There is a feeling of constraint and loss in the images of the boarding school and then freedom when the children return home.
A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Hermione is headed into her senior year as the co-captain of her school’s cheerleading team. At her school, cheering is more important and more prestigious than the sports themselves. She’s dating one of the boys on the squad and they are all at summer cheerleading camp getting ready for the competitions coming up, knowing that they are probably heading for nationals again. The safety of Hermione’s world is shattered when she is drugged at the camp’s dance party and then raped near the lake. She is found unconscious on the lake shore, half in the water. Hermione must now face being the victim rather than the queen bee, a label that does not sit well for her. She must also wait for a pregnancy test and the decisions that that will bring with it. Hermione fights not to be defined by what has happened to her and to find her footing again so that she can still fly.
Johnston, author of The Story of Owen, once again sets a teen novel firmly in Canada, though this time not in a fictional Canada at all. Instead this book is richly real, a book for teens about a rape where it does not consume the victim or define her life. It’s a book where Hermione’s family and friends come forward to support her, never to question her own role in the attack, never to push her feelings and emotions aside, but to support her completely. A mention must be made of Polly, Hermione’s best friend who is a zingy mix of support and healthy attitude, exactly the friend you want at your side. This novel is a guidebook to how we should be treating assault survivors, not as victims but as survivors who should have our support not our pity.
Johnston takes it one step further and also has Hermione get an abortion. It was at this point in the novel that I found myself entirely overcome. Johnston writes about a Canadian abortion system, one that Americans will have problems relating to due to its ease. Still, there are emotions here, ones that are not questioning Hermione’s decision or situation at all. The emotions are large because here is another sisterhood that Hermione is a part of. It’s not dramatic for any effect or statement, it’s dramatic simply because it is. Because it’s necessary. Because it’s a choice being made. And that is so beautiful and moving.
Immensely powerful and empowering, this novel has so much to say to teens in our world. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Told by the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, this is the true story of the real bear who inspired Winnie-the Pooh. The book takes the format of a mother telling a bedtime story to her young son. It is the story of his great-great-grandfather, after whom he was named. Harry was a veterinarian sent from his home in Winnipeg to care for the soldier’s horses in World War I. On the train in Canada, he saw a little bear cub at a station and purchased the bear, even though he was headed into war. Winnie soon charmed all of the soldiers and got her own post to climb in the tent city. Winnie stayed with Harry when they were posted in England, but he had to make a difficult decision and put her in The London Zoo when he was headed to the war zone. It was at The London Zoo that a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne met Winnie and inspired his father to write the beloved stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Lindsay Mattick has shared the story of her great-grandfather in different formats through the years, including a radio documentary and an exhibition. In this very personal story, she shows real pride in the great heart that her grandfather showed by seeing something special in a small bear cub. It is clear that it is his dedication and care for Winnie that helped her become the loving and approachable bear that could inspire a series of stories. Mattick’s writing contains just the right amount of detail to keep children fascinated.
Blackall is an incredible illustrator and here she shows a beautiful touch for recreating historical scenes. From the expanse of Canada to the big city of London, she offers just enough visual detail to anchor the scenes in those distinct places. She also shows again and again the bond between Harry and Winnie, from sleeping together to sharing food. The historical photos at the end of the book add to the story, letting readers see the real Winnie.
A wonderful read, this book is an inspiring look at what small choices in our lives can lead to if we only follow our hearts. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Inspired by a true story, this picture book tells of the author’s grandfather’s life in Ontario, Canada in 1914. Antonio lived with his family in a hotel run by his mother. He spent his time with the hotel workers since there were no children around. He helped the cooks, the maids, and watched as others hauled wood and repaired buildings. The hotel had three stories with a space to feed crowds of people, individual rooms for travelers and then a large open dormitory space for others. He loved spending time in the forest around the hotel too. Then one year when Antonio was almost five, it was dry as could be. When smoke was spotted in the distance, everyone knew they were in real trouble. All of the people fled the building and stood in the lake watching the fire come closer. Then something amazing happened and the animals too left the forest and entered the water, standing near the humans and close to one another, predator and prey alike. When the fire ended, the hotel was still standing and the animals returned to the burned forest, but Antonio never forgot what he witnessed that day.
Bond captures the time period, allowing readers to really explore the hotel that Antonio lived in, showing us all of the floors and the hard-working men that the hotel served. The text offers details such as describing Antonio’s room as a place that was off the kitchen and had once been a pantry. Even small things are noted like the travel bags men carried and the fact that they sometimes had guns along too. Through these details, the entire hotel comes alive on the page.
The illustrations in the book also add to the details from the long distance view of the hotel on the lake to the finely drawn images showing the interior. Small details are captured in sepia tones and fine ink lines, allowing us to get a glimpse into the past and a way of life. The same details continue even as the fire rages and the animals come into the water. Realistic and lovely, the animals’ body language shows how wary they are and yet how desperate too.
A true story brought to life through details and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.