Monday, June 26, 2006

The CatLady by Dick King-Smith

A hot hot day in Victoria. Too hot, even for me, and so atypical of the west coast. Today I read The Catlady by Dick King-Smith of Babe: The Gallant Pig fame. I started out so excited because it's one of those short chapter books for late primary or early intermediate grades, and I'm always being asked by teachers about good ones. Sadly, I don't think this is one I can really recommend. I say sadly as I am a huge King-Smith fan. I usually enjoy his slow, charming style with asides. This story lacks his characteristic charm, and the characters are more boring than quirky. As well, the sentence structure is much to complex for the intended audience, not to mention the reincarnation theme is poorly carried out.

The story revolves around an eccentric old lady who shares her home with several dozen cats, some of whom she believes to be her reincarnated family members as well as at least one very famous member of the Royal Family. Taking care of the cats becomes a bit of chore for the elderly lady--enter a young orphan who helps out, only to find the growing cat population to be too much. Unfortunately, King-Smith has told Catlady from the old woman's point of view rather than from the young orphan's and thus misses an opportunity that writers of contemporary fiction would envy--that is, having a kid who doesn't have to account to adults while engaging in all sorts of adventures. Even the cat voices are quite pedestrian which is surprising for so experienced a writer. In fact, King-Smith does far too much telling and not enough showing. So, if you are on the look out for a good chapter book for young readers, or if you are a big King-Smith fan, give this one is a pass.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Catching up after a writing retreat. More reviews coming soon...

I've just come back from a writing retreat where 7 children's writers spent day and night workshoping new and old pieces. So stimulating and so exhausting. I've been back a few days but have been working day and night to get the edit on my new novel finished. They've actually already formatted the first 50 pages into book form. Ithas b een exhausting--hence no reviews for a while, as I haven't even been reading the newspaper much less new books, although I can say that you should definately watch for Ainsley Manson's upcoming book on Rick Hansen (the wheelchair athlete that wheeled around the world quite a few years back. So good...) I did want to post the cover for my new novel though, which I adore. Unfortuately, I can't figure how as it came to me in a PDF file, which blogger doesn't seem to upload. Once I figure out how to do it, I'll post it. In the meantime, I may have a little reading/reviewing time coming up, before another picture book edit starts next week, although I really should get back to work on that mystery novel which I spent the last week workshoping...but it is sunny outside, and my garden has been sadly neglected lately...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Greatest Briish Writer?

Just a quick bit of news between shopping for my writing retreat tomorow and finishing up a final edit. J.K. Rowling was recently voted the greatest living British Writer according to BBC News. Apparently this was via a poll in The Book Magazine. I wonder that they didn't differentiate between best known and greatest. Not to take anything away from Rowling, but other names come to mind. What about authors like Philip Pullman, and Michael Morpurg, or Melvin Burgess? And that's just kids book writers not to mention totally off of the top of my head without much thought. While I have read all six of Rowlings books, and even look forward to the seventh, they are all a continuation of the same story. I personally think of great writers as having more depth, skill and certainly greater breadth. These three guys are each superb and are head and shoulders above said Greatest British Writer.

More when I return from my writing retreat next week...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dear Fish by Chris Gall

My lovely daughter is a wonder. She has turned me on to yet another winning picture book. This one, by Chris Gall is called Dear Fish published by Time Warner Group. The story is simple yet so appealing. Peter goes to the beach, writes a note to the fish admiring where they live, and inviting them home for his mother’s pie. The next morning, while Peter is brushing his teeth, he discovers that fish have taken him up on his offer. Hilarious scenarios follow, with rather smelly puffer fish filling in for balloons, a sawfish and a hammerhead shark throwing construction into chaos, and a school of fish…well, at school of course. Peter finally restores sanity with another note to the fish ending with “…I think I hear your mothers calling you.” The fish respond but it takes some time for the town to return to normal and for Peter’s parents to allow even goldfish into the house. The story doesn’t end there though. It carries on to a late summer return to the beach where…well, you’ll just have to read it to find out.

Kids will love the active sense Gall brings to the story. Breezes ripple, clouds skip, and the main character, Peter spends the day at the beach “leaping over tide pools, peeking under rocks, and wondering what kinds of curious creatures might live beneath the swirling water.” Everyone will love the fish puns.

A few words about the art…. You will fall in love with the stylized retro feel. There is a sense of movement in every picture, and I loved the way things spill or fly or run out of the framed pictures. Vignettes often compliment the main illustrations, but in some cases they visually carry the story even further. Any who are passionate about endpapers, as I am, will adore this book as they are fabulous renditions of every sort of fish imaginable. Endpapers are the perfect way for any illustrator to set the tone for readers and get them in the mood, which is exactly what Gall does. In fact, even the cover flaps receive artistic treatment. My only complaint about this book, and it is a small one, is that I’d have liked to know a bit about the art medium. This is one of those books that I can see teachers using to extend some of Galls puns with students. Such fun…

Monday, June 12, 2006

Celebrity Writers

Do we really need another celebrity kid's book? Princess Fergie, Madonna, and now a senator. Edward Kennedy was in Washington recently, not for political chenanigans as one might expect, but to promote his new picture book, My Senator and Me: A Dog's Eye View of Washington. Isn't it enough that they stick with their high profile tell-alls? While no one is asking my opinion about the matter, apparently publishers think it's a great place to dump their spare cash. If that isn't enough, Queen Latifah is also launching a picture book called Queen of the Scene in September. With the money thrown at celebrity kid's books, will publishers have any left over for the real deal, you know, the kind you want to read to your little ones on your lap or before bed, or he kind of book you want your kid to bring home from the library? For that matter, will kids expect that books, like running shoes, aren't worth having unless some star has their name plastered all over them. Forgive my rant. Just feeling a little cynical while I slave away for a pitance in obscurity. Back to the grind.

Australian Kids Book Link

Just a quick post as I have a ton of work to do and shouldn't be indulging in blogging when I am so behind...Ron Jobe, a friend who teaches Children's Literature at UBC and has his finger in every kid's book pie imaginable passed on this super book link for Australian kid's books. Check it out. I even love the name. More later.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

On This Ice by Jamie Bastedo

Just regrouping after spending several days on Galliano Island helping a friend set up for an art show. I love going there because she is a gardener extraordinaire in addition to creating the most beautiful fused glass work. I keep nagging her to get a website up, but she is too busy creating in her tiny studio and gardening to sit at a computer. I have several of her bowls as well as a stunning white glass window with poppies that she built me for my birthday. I helped her weed massive beds where she has hundreds of species of irises, grasses, sedges, hostas, euphorbia, four different species of elderberries, a beautiful, golden half moon maple, and dozens of plants that I never knew existed until I came across them in her garden. The garden alone could be a full time job for most normal human beings.

We spent the evenings reading and talking books, because in addition to everything else she does, my friend is a voracious reader. Without distractions, aside from those mentioned above, I managed to get through all 348 pages of On Thin Ice by Jamie Bastedo, a book unlike most teen fiction currently on the market. Polar bear dreams, shaman and ice figure largely in this northern story that is part new age hip, part teenage cynical, part ecological cautionary tale, and part ancient wisdom. I loved it.

The main character, Ashley, is like a younger northern version of Carlos Castaneda without drugs. Unlike Castaneda though, she doesn’t actually set out to find her spiritual self, she is instead stalked by it. One half Inuit, Ashley has spent her life in the north, but when her parents move back to her father’s tiny village to look after her aging great uncle, Ashley’s inner and outer world seethe with fearsome blizzards, ice storms, and floods. Whatever the weather, polar bears are on the move. When one of Ashley’s classmates turns up dead and half chewed, her dream world and her everyday life seem to be melting into one. Do dreams or nightmares come true? Is the giant polar bear that stalks her dreams real?

For a newcomer, Bastedo handles the bones of the novel like a pro. The voice in Ashley’s dream journal is pure inner world. The logical and bizarre intertwine without ever colliding while the shaman bear voice is carried through separate chapters. Ashley’s waking voice is jarringly teen contemporary, and yet straddles new and ancient Inuit worlds perfectly.

This is a stunning book which has as much to say to teens as it does to those of us who are over 50—not to mention any names... A companion Teacher’s Guide can be found on-line at

such a good book-review coming...

I read the most incredible book on the weekend., On Thin Ice by Jamie Bastedo, published by Red Deer Press. I will write about it as soon as I compose my thoughts.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable 25th Anniversary

Thought I would post something from the Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable's 25th Anniversary Tea Party; a wonderful celebration complete with 25 guest authors--many of them dressed in period costumes and fabulous goodies baked by our own Judith Sales. The gardens of the historic house where the tea was held were lovely, and although it threatened, the rain held until after our event. More pictures to come later, but I'm just running out the door to help a friend set up her art show.

Pictured above are: The infamous Ron Jobe, the founder of the original Roundtable in Edmonton, Alberta, UBC professor of Children's Literature, and wonderful speaker, Sarah Ellis, who writes incredible books, gives the most engaging talks I've had the pleasure of hearing, Kit Pearson, whose Awake and Dreaming remains one of my favourite juvenile books, John Wilson, whose historical fiction is as engaging as he is, Sarah Harvey, who is an editor with our own Orca Book Publishers and author of Puppies on Board, a picture book set on the coast, Dan Bar, an Orca author whose costume was worthy of "best dressed male," and yes we did have more than one guy so there, and last but not least, Julie Lawson, whose writing range covers the gamit, from picture books to historical fiction to realistic fiction.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Roundtables, Tea, and Victoria

So, up at 5am this morning to get interviewed along with several other authors for our upcoming celebration of The Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable's 25th anniversary. For those of you who don't know about Roundtables, it's a Canadian thing, but need not be. It began with Ron Jobe, back in Edmonton, Alberta when he was still working in elementary schools. It has since spread to a dozen or so Roundtables across the country. I think it really picked up when he started teaching in the Education Department of UBC in Vancouver. The purpose of the Roundtable is to promote, support, and educate both professionals and parents about children's books in Canada. We lauch kids books, host author/illustrator talks, give out an annual information book prize, support programs like Freedom to Read and Family Literacy, hold conferences designed to introduce teachers and librarians to the best in kids books, etc. etc. For a couple of years, we even held Children's Book Festivals where kids could come to hear a dozen authors/illustrators talk about their work. A Roundtable is pretty much whatever you want or need it to be. We usually meet in schools once a month or so, and often work with the library to get grants to help pay expenses.

Anyways, back to 5am...We met at Point Ellis House, an historic house by the waterfront with fabulous gardens, and where our Tea will be held on Sunday. We have invited 25 authors/illustrators in keeping with our 25 year old group. The interviews were short, snappy, and varied, and we hope they raise our profile in the community . Unfortunately, the weather was not as cooperative as it could have been, but at least there wasn't a down pour. Most of the authors had dressed up in Victorian costumes to go with the setting, but I just fancied up my garden hat with floweres and ribbon and wore a long skirt. Can't wait until Sunday, when I have my fingers crossed for sunshine and a wonderful turn out of kids book lovers.

Here are a few of the famous authors coming: Kit Pearson, Julie Lawson, Polly Horvath, John Wilson, Nikki Tate and Susan Musgrave. We were even fortunate enough to snaggle Ron Jobe, who is I understand, showing up in a top hat and tuxedo. The authors are being ferried in on these little eight person ferries in three groups, so it will be quite fun.

I will try and post a few pictures after the event, but not until late because I have the pleasure of taking Ron Jobe out for dinner after and hearing all about his trip to Australia, which as always, involved kids books.

ta ta for now.