#IMWAYR March 30, 2020

Hello out there. It's #IMWAYR time again, when readers share what they have been reading and find out what others have been up to in the past week. Kathryn hosts the adult version of this meme at Book Date. Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host the kidlit rendition. Whatever you are looking forward to in your next great read, these are fabulous places to start your search.

Hello everyone. I hope you are all doing well and keeping safe. Today I'm sharing two weeks of reading. Somehow I lost track of time last week. I wish I could say it was because I was reading great literature, but really, it was just worry and reading news articles after news article about this pandemic. I am relieved that here in BC where I live there is hope that we might be finally flattening the curve, but I'm worried about all my American friends and acquaintances.

My stress level is heightened by having to move at the end of April and wondering how to make that happen. The universe might be unfolding as it should, but I wish it was a little kinder.

Titles with a 🍁 indicate this is a Canadian Author and or Illustrator.

Clicking on the title will take you to the Goodreads page of the book.


5 stars
A Little House in a Big Place by Alison Acheson & Valeriane Leblond (Illustrator) 🍁

I haven't lived on the prairies, but have visited often enough to appreciate how much this book captures a sense of place. A young girl's main interaction with the world outside her home is watching trains cross the landscape. The bit about watching the train arrive as a dot on the horizon and following it until it disappears again, is gorgeous. Her relationship with the engineer feels authentic. I especially appreciated that when she grows up and leaves home, she heads off on a train.

3 stars
The Moon Watched It All by Shelley Leedahl & Aino Anto (Illustrations) 🍁

This is beautifully written and beautifully illustrated. It's a poignant story of two misfits finding each other. My problem with it is that there is too much text on the pages.


5 stars
Anne Chapter Book Series

These illustrated readers pay homage to the famous Anne of Green Gables. Kallie George's love of the original books is obvious in this series. I am impressed by how rich these are and how authentically they capture the essence of Anne Shirley and her escapades. Abigail Halpin's art is gorgeous. I adore these adaptations and can hardly wait for the next one.

Anne Arrives: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables by Kallie George & Abigail Halpin (Illustrator)  🍁

Thanks to Kallie George, I have fallen in love with Anne and the rest of the characters all over again.

Anne's Kindred Spirits: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables ( #2) by Kallie George & Abigail Halpin (Illustrations)  🍁

This instalment deals with Anne befriending Diana and Marilla's missing broach.

4 stars
Scallywag on the Salish Sea by Sara Cassidy & Mike Deas (Illustrations) 🍁

This charming chapter book is full of rollicking fun. A young lad ends up as kitchen boy on a pirate ship. While cleaning fish he discovers all kinds of jewels and deduces that where this pollock was caught, there must be a treasure. Not only does this book have a multitude of fascinating characters, it's got plenty of action and hilarity before our lad discovers a bit about his past and manages to purchase his freedom. A sequel in the works will entertain us with his further adventures.

5 stars
Just a Kid by Rie Charles 🍁

I really like this. Meerin Hoy is just an ordinary kid who discovers that the city is planning to turn the vacant farmland across from her home into a housing development. She is determined to stop it. Among other things, she starts a petition and writes a letter to the editor to get the the city council and the mayor, who hardly acknowledges her, to change their minds.
This satisfying story about a strong little girl is sure to inspire readers with courage and determination to make necessary changes in their own communities.
It's not easy to get beginning chapter books this appealing, but Rie Charles manages it!


4 stars
Shadow Island by Nancy Deas, Mike Deas 🍁

This book is targeted for readers from grade two to grade four. They are going to love it. It's got four kids breaking rules and discovering that strange monster like creatures exist. The children are sure that their PE teacher has nefarious designs on these animals so they rescue them and escape to a nearby island where they hope the creatures will be safe. They are wrong on so many levels.
The west coast rain forest setting is wonderfully illustrated. I liked the way the children are portrayed as a diverse collection of friends. We only get hints at all of their characters, but I'm sure they will become richer as the series progresses. The book is full of action and excitement. My only complaint is in how Ms Grundle, the PE teacher is drawn. Her features were just too wicked witch for me and distracted from the rest of the story.


5 stars
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

In case you haven't noticed, Angie Thomas sure can write. I was worried sick about what kind of messes Brianna “Bri” Jackson was getting into. There were numerous times when I wanted to shake her and shout, "Girl, what are you doing?" (Yes, I was invested in her.)  What she's doing is trying to help her family get out of poverty. I appreciated how much I learned about rap, and getting stuck in a hole that you can't get out of. 

5 stars
False Value (Rivers of London #8) by Ben Aaronovitch & Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)

I was a bit confused in the beginning of this and kept wondering if I was listening to the same part again. (I probably was) Soon I was all sorted out and loving it. I adored the references to Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage and his thinking machines, and how it all ended up being connected to the development of artificial intelligence. Peter Grant is right on his game in this one - dealing with upcoming fatherhood, a nefarious tech company, and all kinds of subterfuge in his new role.
There is a delightful and fascinating interview with both of these contributors at the end of this audiobook. I love this so much that I have taken to listening to it again late at night when I can't sleep. 

3.5 stars
Swing by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess

It was pure joy to listen to this as an audiobook. I loved the characters. The friendship between Noah, Swing and Sam is realistic. I adored all the jazz references!
I'm not the target audience so it's not a big deal that the love angst stuff just irritated me.
The ending, well that ending had me in tears.

4 stars
Nevers by Sara Cassidy 🍁

I wasn't sure about this book at first. I read the prologue and first bit to a group of grade 5/6's. Only one of the eight wanted me to continue. After I read a bit more by myself, I couldn't put it down.
The story is set in post revolutionary France. Fourteen year old Odette looks after her helpless mother, Annaline, who seems to be a curse for her husbands. All five or six of them have died in bizarre accidents. After fleeing from a recent disaster they end up in the town of Nevers where they settle in. Odette works hard to get them established and hopes they have found a place to stay. Soon she has a new friend in Nicoise. Together they try to solve a mystery from the past.
This has such a rich cast of characters - M. Gustave who wants to be a chicken, the aging Mme. Genevieve who wants to be an inventor, and even a donkey who talks latin at night. In spite of how hard Odette works to make a life for her and her mother, this book is full of whimsy and delight. Fans of Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant will love this. I'm sure if I had continued reading to that aforementioned group of students they would have become as mesmerized as I was.

5 stars
The Mostly True Story of Pudding Tat, Adventuring Cat by Caroline Adderson & Stacy Innerst (Illustrations) 🍁

Pudding Tat, an albino cat, was born on a farm in rural Ontario in 1901. Although he was almost blind, he ended up travelling around the world. He couldn't have done it without Flea in his ear. They have many adventures and meet all kinds of interesting people. Even when the characters are not real, they are composites of people who lived at the time.
Pudding Tat begins his adventuring by going over Niagra Falls with Annie Edson Taylor. He's at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York when President William McKinley is assassinated. Musical geniuses, Gus Edwards and Vincent P. Bryan befriend him.
These are just the beginnings of Pudding Tat and Flea's many experiences. As readers learn about some major historic events, they are entertained by the humour in the duo’s relationship. Flea provides much of the comic relief to Pudding Tat’s straight man.
After reading this, I wished I were still teaching grades 3/4. I would love to do this as a read aloud and then have the students do mini research projects based on the many fascinating events and characters in the book.
I enjoyed the illustrations for each new chapter. My only quibble is that I don’t think the cover does the book credit.


4 stars

The World Around Us Series is geared towards students aged five to eight. Each book has a similar layout. They begin with a page introducing the topic. After that they are formatted with a question or statement on one page and the response on the next. Each page has a sidebar that extends the answer. I especially appreciated the illustrations in them. Some are photographs and others are art. Diversity of all kinds is represented in them. The back matter contains a note from the author explaining her personal connections to the specific topic. There is also a page of additional resources.
While these are geared for younger readers, they can be used with older readers as well. I think they would make brilliant nonfiction mentor text! 
I would purchase the whole series if I was still in the library.

Under Our Clothes: Our First Talk about Our Bodies by Jillian Roberts & Jane Heinrichs (Illustrations) 🍁

This begins by addressing and confirming our rights to boundaries for our own bodies. It includes advice about what to do if someone ignores these. I like that it acknowledges that different people have different ideas about their own bodies and what they are comfortable with. The latter part addresses body image, body shaming and self esteem. This section emphasizes the differences in our bodies and the impact social mores have on how we feel about ourselves. A small bit introduces the idea of transgendered peoples' need to use gender neutral bathrooms.
I have a few quibbles with this - just because it tends to oversimplify some things, but I still think this is a good introduction for younger readers. It will be also be a good fit with existing abuse prevention programs.

On the Internet: Our First Talk about Online Safety by Jillian Roberts & Jane Heinrichs (Illustrations) 🍁

This book begins with a simple explanation of what the internet is and proceeds into a conversation about boundaries for its use. It discusses online bullying and the problems with retracting what you post. It addresses safety issues with respect to online friendships. Like the other books in the series, it focuses on the importance of telling a trusted adult if something makes you uncomfortable. It also acknowledges that the internet can be used as a learning tool and as a way to do good in the world. The back matter contains a note from the author and a page of additional resources.
The checklist for how to comport oneself while online is one that older students and adults should follow.

On the Playground: Our First Talk about Prejudice by Jillian Roberts & Jane Heinrichs (Illustrations) 🍁

This continues with the same layout and format as in the other books in the series. It acknowledges the different feelings felt by different people when teasing and bullying take place on the playground. It begins by naming this as harassment and connects it to prejudice. Motive for this behaviour is connected to fear of difference that can be passed down from generation to generation. It highlights that we are all equally important no matter how we are different. A Sidebar explains diversity. I appreciate the section that talks about individuals can do to help others. "The key to respect and acceptance is understanding. Take time to learn about the many diverse people in the world around us." To get us started, another sidebar introduces reader to Sophi Kamlish, a Paralympic athlete.


I'm listening to The Wicked King by Holly Black. With my eyes I'm reading Finding Cooper by Stacey Matson and Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood.


The Atomic Girls by Janet Beard is lined up to be my next audiobook. Other than that, I will continue pulling out books from the boxes and see what happens.


#MustReadIn2020: 4/25 1 in progress

#MustReadNFIn2020: 3/12

25 Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors: 9/25

100 books by Canadian Authors: 61/100

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 130/333

#IMWAYR March 16, 2020

Hello out there. It's #IMWAYR time again, when readers share what they have been reading and find out what others have been up to in the past week. Kathryn hosts the adult version of this meme at Book Date. Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host the kidlit rendition. Whatever you are looking forward to in your next great read, these are fabulous places to start your search.

This week I celebrated women's history month by reading some amazing books about amazing women. I needed all the feel good moments I got from them. 

I understand math well enough but still, grasping the idea of exponential growth of COVID-19 is overwhelming. It seems like we are readying ourselves for impending doom and trying to escape it. I guess that's because we are. On Sunday I went out to pick up a few library books I had on hold. I'm wondering how long the libraries will remain open. It's getting quieter and quieter out on the streets. There is still traffic - just not what it usually is. Lots of shelves in stores are empty. I'm now about ready to hunker down here at home to sew, knit, and read, but I worry about people who live pay check to paycheck, and those who don't have the kinds of options I do. I hope the rest of you are staying safe. Lets keep working to flatten the curve!

Titles with a 🍁 indicate this is a Canadian Author and or Illustrator.

Clicking on the title will take you to the Goodreads page of the book.


Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan & Anna Bron (Illustrator)

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner


5 stars
Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan & Anna Bron (Illustrator) 🍁

This is a story about being forced to leave a land you love. It's about what we miss when we are away from our roots, and reminds us to be thankful for the diverse, multicultural communities we now live in here in Vancouver, Canada - my home town. Go and read my blog post to read and see examples of the gorgeous writing and art.

3 stars
Cat Knit by Jacob Grant

This is a cute story about a cat who befriends a ball of yarn. Cat isn’t so happy when Girl transforms Yarn into a sweater. Eventually Cat comes to appreciate Yarn’s new form. As a knitter and cat lover I wanted to love this more than I do.

5 stars
If I Was the Sunshine by Julie Fogliano & Loren Long (Illustrator)

Oh just Wow! I love this book poem so much! I had fun anticipating the next rhyme and bet readers will too! Loren Long’s illustrations are just dazzling!

The grammar didn't bother me one iota. In fact, the whole thing made me want t write my own stanzas following Julie Fogliano's pattern. It is a brilliant mentor text that I would love to share with students before going on to write our own.

5 stars
Mr. Gauguin's Heart by Marie-Danielle Croteau, Isabelle Arsenault (Illustrator) & Susan Ouriou (Translator) 🍁

This introduction to Paul Gauguin informs us how he became an artist. It's full of whimsy, sadness, and beauty. Isabelle Arsenault's art is perfect with Marie-Danielle Croteau's somewhat lengthy text. Based on real life, this would make an ideal starting point for learning more about this famous painter. I want to know more about the old man who taught him to paint!


5 stars
Helen’s Birds by Sara Cassidy & Sophie Casson (Illustrations) 🍁

Anyone who thinks wordless books are simple, should be given a copy of this wordless graphic novel. I've now read it three times and am pretty sure I will get more out of it if I spend more time with it. It's an emotional roller coaster.

It's about the relationship between the oldest and youngest generations. I wondered who Helen was until I read the back cover where it explains that this is the story of a friendship between Saanvi and her elderly neighbour Helen. It's a glorious bonding. They laugh, play games, and read together. Helen introduces Saanvi to the world of birds. Together they build bird houses and bird feeders. They watch eggs hatch and chicks grow. And then, the inevitable happens, Helen dies. But just like in real life, the world goes on. Big changes are in store for Saanvi as she grieves for her friend, grows up, and takes on the mantle of bird minder herself.
I would love to know how Sara Cassidy and Sophie Casson worked on this together. Casson's art has a vintage feel to it that isn't captured on the cover. It's line drawings filled in with mostly yellow, blue, red and green. It is spectacular. The image of Saanvi looking out her windows at the ambulance in the night gives me shivers just thinking about it.
Don't miss this.


4 stars
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

Sweat Pea (Patricia DiMarco) is a loveable character that adult and kid readers are going to connect to. She’s going through a lot. Close friendships are dissolving and reforming. Her parents are getting divorced because her father has acknowledged he is gay. Even if they are still close friends, it’s not easy. When Miss Flora Mae, her neighbour and local advice columnist has to go away, she leaves Sweet Pea in charge of watering her plants and taking care of her mail. Sweet Pea can’t resist answering a few of the letters herself, ultimately making things worse for herself.

Sweet Pea is a large sized 13 year old. She is the ideal role model and mirror for readers like her, and the ideal window for everyone else. I hope this is the first in a series!

4 stars
It Wasn't Me by Dana Alison Levy & Robbie Daymond (Narrator)

When a group of students are forced into a Justice Circle for a week, their lives are changed dramatically for the better.

I couldn't stop listening to this. I stayed up late at night knitting because I wanted to know who had destroyed Theo's photographs.
This is one of those books that reminds us that we are so much more than what we see on the surface.


5 stars
Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito & Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

Georgia Gilmore was an amazing woman!  Working with a secret group of women who cooked to raise money, she was an important actor ensuring that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a success. Following that, her home became a gathering place for civil rights readers. I am delighted to read about her and can't help but wonder how many other women participate in the background doing work that keeps social justice movements functioning. Are they still there while men work in the limelight?

The back matter contains additional information about Georgia Gilmore and on the last endpaper is a recipe for pound cake!

5 stars
A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice by Nadia L. Hohn & Eugenie Fernandes (Illustrator) 🍁

This vibrant picture book tells the story of young Louise Bennet and how she came to write poetry full of the vernacular of her country. I connected to this one as I am old enough to remember when if it wasn’t the Queen’s English, it didn’t count. I’m thankful for Louse Bennett and others who pushed through this barrier.

5 stars
Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy & Whitney Gardner (Illustrator ) 🍁

In this story of RBG, girls and boys will find an ideal role model for how to achieve their own goals and become the person they want to be. At the same time as they learn about the life of this important American Woman, they are exposed to the history of the women's movement from the 1960's on. It's also a really entertaining read! 

The main part of the book is in a graphic novel format. The clean lines and straightforward text make it easy to read. Legal vocabulary is explained in notes at the bottom of the page. It begins with RBG's birth and ends with her appointment to the supreme court. The following words only pages tell of her life after that. The back matter includes a timeline, a bibliography, and numerous pages of quotation sources.
This is ideal for students from 10 years to adult.


I'm listening to Swing by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess. I'm still reading Nevers by Sara Cassidy because I put it in a safe place and couldn't remember where. I eventually found it in a different compartment in my work backpack... 


On the Come Up by Angie Thomas is lined up to be my next audiobook. Other than that, I will continue pulling out books from the boxes and see what happens. I suspect my upcoming book club will be cancelled, but I'll still try to get to John Lewis' March trilogy.


#MustReadIn2020: 4/25

#MustReadNFIn2020: 3/12

25 Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors: 9/25

100 books by Canadian Authors: 49/100

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 114/333

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan & Anna Bron (Illustrator)

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. It was released March 10, 2020, by Annick Press Ltd.

We first meet Salma staring out her window at the rain as she tries to pronounce ‘Vancouver.’ Her entertaining struggles to get the word correct reflect the authentic challenges faced by new immigrants, refugees, and all of us trying to learn a new language. (You don't want to hear me butcher Korean.)

Salma and her mother live in an apartment in a Welcome Center in Vancouver, Canada. Life is hard, especially for Mama. Not only does she have to look after Salma, she is trying to find work and learn English. Both of them miss Papa back in Syria. Mama hardly laughs anymore, so Salma tries to cheer her up, but no matter what she does, ‘all she gets is Mama’s sad smile, full of love but empty of joy.”

At the Welcome Center daycare, Salma “draws her home back in Damascus: a yellow house with a garden surrounding it like a necklace.” While drawing she comes up with an idea for how to cheer her mother up.

If you have ever been out of the country for a while, you will know what it is to miss the flavours of home. Everyone at the center, adults and children alike, miss special food from their own cultures. For Salma, it is ‘foul shami.’ With the help of adults, she gets a recipe from the internet, goes shopping for ingredients, and proceeds to prepare her mother’s favourite dish. When it is nearly done she realizes she is missing sumac, the final ingredient. Thankfully another adult, Granny Donya, comes to the rescue. Unfortunately, there are more near disasters before it all comes together.

When presented with the final dish, Salma’s mother reminds her, and us, that home is much more than food or place, it’s about being with people you love.

Salma the Syrian Chef is a story about being forced to leave a land you love. It's about what we miss when we are away from our roots, and reminds us to be thankful for the diverse, multicultural communities we live in now.

Both the author and illustrator live here in Vancouver. A sense of place is integral to the book. It is a delight to see this city I call home presented, yet at the same time, I am conscious of Salma and others, aching for their far away places they call home. Anna Bron's vibrant art pulls all of this together. Just as Salma's Syrian culture frames her experiences in her new country, Anna Bron's Syrian style borders frame the illustrations and words in this book. They are stunning. In some places the text and illustrations are separated by additional borders. While admiring them, my fingers itched to get hold of some fabric and start making a quilt.

Look at this two page spread to see what I mean!

I wish I could tell you how Anna Bron creates her art but my ARC doesn't provide any details and I couldn't find anything in my internet search. However,  I encourage you to go check out her website to see more of her work. I hope you can carve out time to watch her animated short films. Just Wow!

Danny Ramadan's gorgeous writing is full of swoonworthy lines. Salma is a character you won't forget for a long time. If you are looking for mentor text that highlights metaphor, look no further than this: "Salma's heart aches like a tiny fire in her chest when she thinks of Papa. She wonders if Mama's heart is burning too."  After reading this, I plan to track down a copy of Danny Ramadan's first novel, The Clothesline Swing. It won all kinds of awards. I can hardly wait to get started.

I have two minor quibbles with this book. First, the text is smallish for a picture book, but that might be just because I am basing this on a digital ARC. Second, there is no recipe for foul shami in it and I can't find one online! If you are like me, you will want to make it as soon as you finish reading.

(Danny Ramadan sent me this recipe on twitter https://zenandzaatar.com/ful-medames-syrian-style-arabic-bean-salad-vegan-gf/)

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. It will be published April 7, 2020, by St. Martin's Press.

Characters are what make a book: authentic characters you believe in, characters you care for, characters you worry and cry over. If, like me, you are an older reader, characters you want to take home and look after.

JL Markham is one of these.

Here is the Goodreads' blurb about this book: 

Fifteen-year-old JL Markham's life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren't the friends they once were.

With JL's father gone on long term business, and her mother suffering from dissociative disorder, JL takes solace in the in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he's going to hit the road - with or without JL.

JL can't bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

This beautifully written novel addresses numerous issues: friendship found and lost, first love, teen sex, abandonment, and mental illness. There’s betrayal and poisonous gossip.

JL’s mother and father have always been free spirited. When her father sells his business, he signs an agreement to support the company during the transition. They are suddenly wealthy, but while he is away for longer and longer periods of time, JL’s mother spirals into mental illness. There is no one to help out. Even her grandmother asserts that everything is fine. It’s not.

Aside from her absent father, two young men play significant roles in her life. Neither of them come across as winners since they both take advantage of her. The only difference between them is that one of them was raised in a prestigious family and the other by an abusive, alcoholic father. I wouldn’t want a daughter of mine involved with either of them and would be ashamed to have raised young men of their ilk.

Told from JL’s perspective, the story alternates between present tense and scenes from the past. It’s written as a letter to her former best friend, Aubrey. It takes a while to figure out how their relationship unravelled, and like most things in life, it’s complicated, but stems from an incident with Ethan, Aubrey’s older brother, who JL had a crush on. 

JL’s first real love is Max Gordon. He is a stereotypical bad boy with a lousy reputation, but JL loves the romantic, kind soul she sees inside him. I liked that this book dealt with sexuality, but to be honest, was uncomfortable by the fact that Max is nineteen to JL’s fifteen. While he might assert that he is prepared to wait for her to be ready for sex, Max pushes the boundaries regularly. I might have forgiven him for this except for the final incident. I can’t help but wonder, If everything else in her life had been more stable, would JL have been so susceptible?

I’ve been pondering the Jack Kerouac connection here and am not sure I get it. Is Jack Kerouac to JL’s grandmother and mother what Max Gordon is to JL? The problem is that whereas Grandma had supportive parents to keep her grounded and safe, JL is foundering with no one except Max to catch her. And he can’t even catch himself.

I was fascinated by JL raising butterflies. I especially appreciated the connection between her and their seeming fragility. In the end, just as she manages to save one of them, she realizes her own strength and manages to rescue herself. Whether or not her friendship with Aubrey can be salvaged, is another thing.