How to Promenade with a Python (and Not Get Eaten): A Polite Predators Book by Rachel Poliquin & Kathryn Durst (Illustrations)

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. It will be released February 2, 2021, by Tundra Books.


If I was still working in a school library, I would purchase this in a heartbeat. It's got just the right amount of facts, farce and fear to engage readers of all ages. I only wish I could have found out more about Kathryn Durst's process for creating these vibrant illustrations. 

A Madagascar Hissing Cockroach named Celeste hosts this book. Cockroaches are expert survivors who have been on the planet for millions of years. Given this, they are very knowledgeable and can teach us humans many things. 

In this case Celeste is teaching readers how to take a promenade with a python named Frank. Please note that she makes it very very clear that in real life this is an extremely bad idea. 

I am in awe of how much I learned about pythons in this book. 

Did you know that there are more than forty different kinds of pythons? Did you know that reticulated pythons like Frank can grow to be 8 metres long and weigh 150 Kilograms? (That's as long as a bus and as heavy as four baby hippos.) Did you know they have bad eyesight and are colour blind?

I especially appreciated the labeled diagram with a cutout section showing Frank's bones. 

Are you interested in learning how pythons like Frank capture, kill and swallow their prey? This entertaining nonfiction picture book will teach you this, and much much more about this not so polite predator. 

I have learned not to go anywhere near them!

#IMWAYR January 25, 2021

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.

We've had glorious sunny weather so I've managed to continue with my daily walks. I now get antsy if I can't get out. Not only am I getting faster, I'm walking farther every day! We are supposed to get snow flurries this coming week, but the good thing about living in a semi desert is that it rarely adds up to more than a few centimetres a day and it doesn't last long. And if we get more snow than that I'll get to test out my new boots! 

I'm looking forward to the ALA awards today. Congratulations to all the winners, honors, and other contenders. Thanks to all the readers who had to make the hard choices. 

Titles with a ๐Ÿ indicate this is a Canadian Author and or Illustrator. 

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

RECENT BLOG POSTS

Bubbles by Ben Clanton

PICTURE BOOKS


Narwhal and Jelly make their debut into the board book format. Younger readers will be delighted by this incredi-bubble story of finding beauty and joy in life no matter what. You can read my full review here

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

5 stars

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor
 by Robert Burleigh & Raรบl Colรณn (Illustrator) 

This is a reread for me. After finishing up Ocean Speaks by Jess Keating last week, I wanted to revisit this picture book about Marie Tharp's life. 

This beautifully illustrated book tells how Tharp, a female scientist, struggled to be accepted in a man's world. It shows how she was able to use others' work to create a map of the Atlantic ocean floor that revealed its landforms, thus providing evidence of the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift. I was surprised to learn that acceptance of this theory happened in my life time!

In one section Robert Burleigh articulates the way scientists work:
"As I continued working, others wandered in and out of my room, arguing about continental drift. Was it true? Yes, no, yes, no. (Scientists are like that. They question everything. Nothing is for sure -- until it's really for sure)"
I appreciated the section at the end of the work that includes additional biographical information as well as a glossary.
I loved quote at the end of the endnotes. "Marie didn't just make maps. She understood how the earth works."
The first person narrative in this title creates an intimate experience so we feel connected to a real person. Paired with Ocean Speaks, readers come to a rich understanding of Marie Tharp and her life.

POETRY

4 stars

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds
by Jorge Argueta, Alfonso Ruano (Illustrator) & Elisa Amado (Translator)

This collection of poems reveal the reasons so many young people leave their homes and everything they know to migrate to the USA. Their precarious journeys are full of danger. Some are these poems are heartbreaking. Others are hopeful. 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

I'm not going to talk about any of these novels in depth until after the Cybil awards are announced. 


This is a coming of age story about a young, queer, black man discovering he has superpowers that give him power over water. 



This memoir by Tyler Feder tells about the loss of her mother from cancer when she was 19. 



A princess visits different lands and has different adventures that connect to different fairy tales and other classic stories.

NOVELS


I have loved everything Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has written so far. She didn't let me down this time. The audiobook was narrated by Bahni Turpin. Between the two of them I ended careening between laughing out loud, biting my nails, and weeping.

Della narrates the story of her older sister Suki, and herself. They have ended up in foster care after something really hard to talk about happened to her.

As usual Bradley writes authentic characters I feel I could meet in a classroom or on the street. I appreciated Francine, who, while reserved, ends up being the perfect caretaker of the two girls. I adored Della. I love her spunk and fearlessness. Because she isn't afraid to stand up to a bully at school, she ends up making a difference for other girls. Suki nearly broke my heart. After being strong and looking after Della for many years, when they are finally safe, she attempts suicide.

Reading this as an adult who spent time in my younger years working with sexually abused girls and teens, I knew where this one was going. It was still hard to read. Did I mention that I wept?

I really appreciated Brubaker Bradley's note at the end of the story. This is an #OwnVoices novel. The authenticity and honesty of the novel come out of her own experience.
Nicole Chung was a very immature newborn to Korean parents. Her pediatrician wasn't hopeful for her future so they gave her up for adoption. Chung was then adopted into a white family who loved her to the best of their ability. She was told that her birth parents loved her but were unable to pay the medical bills or care for her so they gave her up. As much as she was loved, growing up as the only Asian child in a white community was a difficult experience for Chung. 
When she was pregnant with her first child she decided to find out more about her birth family. It would end up challenging her idea of her birth parents and changing her life. 
I wonder if Chung's experience as an Asian adoptee into a White family would have been different if her parents had lived in a multicultural community? I think that parents are much more cognizant of the challenges now than people were when she was a child. At least, I hope so.

DISCWORLD NOVELS

"Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind; it doesn't take you anywhere, but it tones up muscles that might." Terry Pratchett


This is a parody of detective novels. I couldn't stop listening. Commander Vimes and the City Watch have to deal with a series of murders, unexplained deaths, and the poisoning of the Patrician. Golems are mixed up in it. At the same time as Pratchett is making fun of the genre, I was captivated by the mystery. 
Like all of his novels, the small side plots and characters add special nuance and hilarity to the novel. In this one, the new hire, forensics expert Cheery Littlebottom, a female dwarf, is befriended by Corporal Agua. Everyone else in the Watch knows Agua is a werewolf. Cheery, unaware of this, confides to Agua that she can't stand werewolves. In the Discworld it's almost impossible to tell the difference between male and female dwarfs. Cheery decides to celebrate her gender and takes to wearing jewelry, makeup, skirts and even welds high heels to her steel boots. I'm looking forward to learning more about her. 


This is another City Watch novel. I read on a fan sight that "the title can be related to the word jingoism, meaning an attitude of belligerent nationalism." It pretty much describes this novel where Pratchett takes a poke at racism, war, and political intrigue. He especially denigrates military leaders. 
When an assassination attempt is made on a Klatch prince, Ank-Morpuk ends up at war with the Klatch empire. Disaster is averted by Commander Vimes, the Watch and the Klatch equivalent. 

CURRENTLY 

I'm reading 
Go with the Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann and just started Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson. I hope to get it finished before it has to go back to the library. The book I'm listening to now is the Last Continent by Terry Pratchett. I've taken a break from listening to Patron Saints of Nothing by by Randy Ribay. It got a bit too intense to listen to so I'm waiting for a text version. 

UP NEXT 

I've almost finished all the new to me Cybil graphic novel finalists that I can get my hands on. I'm waiting for some kind of copy of the remaining three. Then I'll peruse the ones I read previously and be ready to meet with the other judges. Otherwise I'll read from the pile of picture books I brought home from the library. My next audiobook will be Vi by Kim Thรบy.

PROGRESS ON MY READING GOALS 

#MustReadIn2021 4/25 

#MustReadNFIn2021 2/12 

#MustReadPBIn2021 4/100

Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors: 3/25 one in progress

Books by Canadian Authors: 6/100

Canada Reads 2021 1/5

Discworld Series 22/41 

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 32/333 

Bubbles: A Narwhal and Jelly Board Book by Ben Clanton


Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. It will be released February 2, 2021, by Penguin Random House Canada.

Being a fan of Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Super Narwhal and Jelly and the rest of the series, I'm super delighted to discover that the incredi-bubble Narwhal and Jelly are now available in a format for younger readers!

Like the previous stories, this board book is full of puns and equal amounts of joy and and hilarity.

Through Narwhal and Jelly's adventure, we are reminded that while we might end up with a burst bubble, it's no trouble, the sea is full of bubbles! They come in unbelieva-bubble colours, sizes, shapes and smells.

While the book isn't a rhyming text, there is one section that is pure delight.





My oldest grandkids have started 'reading' the graphic versions of Narwhal and Jelly, but I'm pretty sure they will enjoy reading this with their younger siblings.

#IMWAYR January 18, 2021

 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.

Good luck to all our American friends this coming week. We wish you a peaceful transition of power on Inauguration Day.

We had glorious sunny weather last week so I am trying to get back into taking daily walks. I used to wait for the afternoon when it would be a bit warmer, but discovered that if I get out first thing I am more likely to actually do it! How do you maintain an exercise regime?  

I am excited that the Canada Reads shortlist has been announced. This year's theme is One Book to Transport Us. The debate over what book best meets the criteria to achieve this will be held in March. As soon as I saw the list I made sure to put holds on copies at my local library. I was already in the middle of one of them, Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehouse. 

There is only one month until #IReadCanadianDay on February 17th. I'm hoping to I will get a post written sharing some of my favourite Canadian titles a week in advance. I should probably start organizing books soon!

Titles with a ๐Ÿ indicate this is a Canadian Author and or Illustrator. 

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

RECENT BLOG POSTS


PICTURE BOOKS

4 stars

The Barnabus Project
by Eric Fan, Terry Fan,  & Devin Fan ๐Ÿ

Devin Fan, an artist, poet and youth worker, joins his brothers for the first time in this book. The artwork is as fabulous as everything else the brothers create. Barnabus, half mouse and half elephant, is a genetically modified creature built for the pet market. Unfortunately, he lives under a bell jar on a shelf with other animals like himself. Deemed failures, they are scheduled to be recycled. In spite of being told it's impossible, Eric breaks his jar and frees the rest of the beasts. They manage to escape and find a new, safe place to live.
Underscoring this charming picture book are some significant messages. One is the importance of liking yourself for who you are. Another highlights the power of working together. It's how the band of misfits is able to escape, survive and thrive.

This tells the story of the Aajibaichi Shala, a school for grandmothers in a village in India. The grandmothers are all over 60 and the oldest is 90. They watched their brothers and their children go to school, but until now, never had the chance to go themselves. The first part of the book tells of one grandmother and her granddaughter. Through their story we see the grandmother's passion to become literate.
What I loved most about this book is the gorgeous pink saris the grandmothers wear. Perhaps in India pink is not as gendered as it is here. For me the colour symbolizes liberation and taking back of women's power. That's exactly what is happening here.


Everything about this book makes my heart sing. It's the story of Jella Lepman and her International Children's library. At the end of the second world war she returned to Germany and created a travelling collection of books from 20 different countries. She believed that the books would build bridges between children from different parts of the world and reduce the possibility of another war. She is the founder of the International Youth Library.
The first part of the book is a fictionalized account of two German children who find solace in the collection. The second part provides additional information about this amazing woman.
The graphite and mixed media illustrations by Marie Lafrance provide details about the time. Post war Germany is a hard place. At the same time, there are flowers growing and people are getting on with their lives. She ensures it's a story of hope.


This is a Netgalley title I read last week. It's a title previously published in Britain that is being released here in February. It's an interactive book that didn't work in my digital version. It would be a delightful ebook if they ever program it to work in that format. I did find a video showing me the entire book with all it's flaps. It looks like it will be a lot of fun. The artwork is gorgeous. You can find out more about this book and the rest of the series on my longer post here.

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

4 stars

Ocean Speaks: Marie Tharp and the Map That Moved the Earth
by Jess Keating & Katie Hickey (Illustrations)

This tells us the story of Marie Tharp. She had to deal with the challenges of not being appreciated or respected for her work because she was a woman. Taking data collected by male scientists, she collated it and created the first map of the ocean showing an underwater mountain range. This provided proof of tectonics and continental drift.
Katie Hickey's artwork is a lovely compliment to this story.
This reminded me of Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor a previous nonfiction picture book about this amazing woman. I think I need to reread it and decide which I like best.

4 stars

Being Frog
by April Pulley Sayre

I adore Frogs and since I have appreciated everything else April Pulley Sayre has created, I was predisposed to love this.
I do. 
I adore the photographs of frogs sitting, watching and waiting. I am in awe of the images of frogs leaping, diving and swimming.
Rhyming poetry is hard in picture books. Mostly this one pulls it off although there is a line or two that didn’t work for me. On the other hand, when it does, it’s marvellous.

I really appreciate the author’s note at the end when she writes in more detail about watching, naming, and recognizing the different frogs she knows I her neighbourhood. I also appreciate she articulates the difference between her observations and those of a scientist's.

GRAPHIC NOVELS


Displacement
by Kiki Hughes

This is a Cybils title so I'm not going to say much about it except this: I've been reading about Japanese incarceration in Canada and the USA for decades. When I started reading I had this idea in my mind that it was just another story about it. I wasn't really enthusiastic to begin, but when I was about 1/4 in, I realized that it doesn't matter how many times I read about this, individual stories always matter. 

NOVELS

5 stars

The best literature slips you inside a character’s soul and forces you into knowing what it means to be the other. Jonny Appleseed is one of the finest examples of this happening. The experience is profound.
Jonny Appleseed, a two spirited Cree person, makes their living selling cybersex. Jonny is so authentic I believed in them and was dismayed to discover this is fiction. The book made me uncomfortable as hell at times, but the raw honesty of Jonny kept me coming back for more. I want a sequel to find out how they are doing.

NONFICTION


I enjoyed this book. It's a collection of photographs of girls. Each image is captioned with a quote from each person. The book is organized into nine chapters that highlight different traits that make girls strong: confident, wild, resilient, creative, determined, kind, fearless, joyful, and independent. Each section begins with one page of text describing the trait.
I appreciate that there is diversity in the girls in this book. My complaint is that I wish there was more. My half Korean granddaughters will have to look hard to find themselves represented, so will all those healthy bigger girls I worked with across my career. 

DISCWORLD NOVELS

"Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind; it doesn't take you anywhere, but it tones up muscles that might." Terry Pratchett

Interesting times is essentially about oppressive governments, revolution and how revolutionaries often don't ask the people what it is they want.
This isn't one of my favourite Discworld novels, but it has huge sections that read like stand up comedy. Cohen the Barbarian and his horde of silver haired old warriors make for some hilarious moments. It is full of delightful references about the difference between and education and learning. I especially loved Ronald Saveloy, teacher turned barbarian, and some of the quotes connected to him - like this:
'I decided to give it up and make a living by the sword.’
‘After being a teacher all your life?’
‘It did mean a change of perspective, yes.’
‘But...well…surely…the privation, the terrible hazards, the daily risk of death…’
Mr Saveloy brightened up. ‘Oh, you’ve been a teacher, have you?'

I'm coming to realize that I prefer Pratchett's female protagonists over his male ones. Susan, Death's granddaughter is one of them. Hogfather is Pratchett's nod to the Santa Claus myth. It takes jabs at numerous Christmas stories - the Little Match Girl, 'Good' King Wenceslas, Dylan Thomas and Dickens.
The auditors (rulers of the universe) have visited the Assassins Guild and taken out a hit on the Hogfather. The contract is given to Teatime, a creative, albeit ruthless, insane assassin. Teatime realizes that destroying belief in the Hogfather will be the end of him. 
When the Hogfather is missing on the eve of Hogwatchnight, Death and his servant, Albert, take his place. Susan, whose motto is, "don't get afraid, get angry,” ends up searching for the Hogfather. It's imperative that he be found since one of his first jobs is to ensure that the sun rises.
Pratchett takes on belief regularly in his novels. So far, none have felt so profound as this one. Death makes the message clear, we need to believe in things so they can come true. We need to believe in small fantasies, like Hogfathers and Tooth Fairies, in order to believe in larger ones, like justice, hope and democracy. 

CURRENTLY 

I'm listening to Patron Saints of Nothing by by Randy Ribay. I've got All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung on the go. I'm reading You Brought Me The Ocean by Alex Sanchez.

UP NEXT 

Maybe next week I'll get to Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, but there is that pile of graphic novels that I have to read for the Cybils so we shall see. I expect to start Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay.

PROGRESS ON MY READING GOALS 

#MustReadIn2021 3/25 

#MustReadNFIn2021 1/12 one in progress

#MustReadPBIn2021 3/100

Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors: 3/25

Books by Canadian Authors: 6/100

Canada Reads 2021 1/5

Discworld Series 20/41 

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 22/333 

This is Frog by Harriet Evans & Jacqui Lee (Illustrations)

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. The books in this series will be released February 2, 2021, by Penguin Random House Canada.

When I set out to read This is Frog, I discovered that it isn't the kind of book to read on a device. Maybe someday it will be programmed to work digitally, but it isn't in this version. Upon finishing it I decided to see if I could find out anything more about the book on the internet. I was hoping to see what the inside looked like for real. 

What I found was a youtube video showing the same book published a couple of years earlier in Britain by Caterpillar Books.  

I appreciated seeing just how much fun this book could be. 

Frog (his full name is Tree Frog) is a charming little character. Of course, I might be just a tad biased on account of being predisposed towards Frogs and Toads in all their iterations. He's just one of the many animals in this series by Harriet Evans and Jacqui Lee. Evan's wrote about three different creatures: Frog, Owl and Crab. The texts are based on her interest in and research on the different little beings. Not only are the books entertaining, we learn stuff too!

Readers interact with the book in numerous ways. Shake the book to help Frog jump up and down. Follow him by running fingers up the page. Blow flies towards him and then stick out your tongue to help Frog remember how to eat them. There are flaps to turn and flip and lots more fun to be had.

Jacqui Lee's whimsical illustrations are sure to make you smile. She created them using gouache paint. Because it is an interactive book, the many elements were painted separately and put together in different layers in photoshop. 

The books in this series will make wonderful gifts for my two youngest grandbabies. The older siblings will probably like them too. 

You can find out more about this book here: 


Other books in this series include:

#IMWAYR January 11, 2021

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.


Last week, like the rest of the world, we spent a few days compulsively glued to our devices while we watched the events in the USA unfold. I waited anxiously to read Heather Cox Richardson's newsletter for her take on the events. Our hearts go out to all our American friends and family. We believe in you. It might not be right away, but we trust you can fix this. 

Our house has been dismantled of all it's decorations. The living room is still cluttered with boxes. We have to take a trip to the dump to empty our trailer of the detritus of house renovations and the tree before we can transfer them to our storage space. I've started knitting on more Christmas stockings for our two newest grandkids. I figure if I start now, they might be done by next winter! 

Other than that, I listen to audiobooks while I putter around the house tidying up and doing finishing work on the renovations while my partner does the primary work. 

Titles with a ๐Ÿ indicate this is a Canadian Author and or Illustrator. 

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

RECENT BLOG POSTS

Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming by Antonio Michael Downing

NOVELS


In Bloom, the first in this series, a strange rain fell from the skies and deadly alien plants started taking over the planet.
By the end of it, scientists, with the help of three hybrid teenagers, seemed to have a pesticide to control them. The book ended with a new rainfall, this time dropping eggs of new kinds of monstrous insects.
Hatch begins with the three teens, Anya, Seth, and Petra, being taken from their parents into an underground bunker somewhere in America. They meet other children just like them. As they get physically stronger from the programs in place to learn more about them, they discover that they have telepathy. The person in control of the facility there, Dr Ritter, has nefarious plans for all of them. 
They manage to escape. Most are rescued and returned to Deadman's Island military base where they are kept hidden from Dr Ritter and other governmental agencies. 
While they were underground the insects continued multiplying and evolving to become larger and more dangerous. Seth and four other teens who were not rescued have to deal with them, evade capture by authorities, and figure out where to go to be safe. 
Anya was contacted by one of the aliens who claims to want to work with them to save the planet and in turn, save themselves.
While part of this novel is set in a bunker somewhere in Washington State, like Bloom, it is primarily set in and around Vancouver Canada. I love recognizing the named landscape. 
This is so intense that when I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. I don't know how I am going to be able to survive until May 4th, when Thrive, the third in this series, is published. My library has it on order, but there are already 3 holds on the three copies. I am number 4. 

4 stars

Skunk and Badger
(Skunk and Badger #1) by Amy Timberlake & Jon Klassen
 ๐Ÿ (Illustrations)

This is a delightful odd-couple kind of story for the younger set. Skunk and Badger are two creatures connected through Aunt Lula. Badger was happily living and doing his 'important rock work' in Aunt Lula's house for free. Then she gave Skunk permission to stay in the house as well. If Badger had only opened his letters from her he would have known. He is a bit of a curmudgeon while Skunk is a free spirit who loves chickens. Both are endearing characters. They go through a bit of a rough patch before they end up becoming true friends. I'm looking forward to reading more of this series. 
Jon Klassen's black and white and colour illustrations are the ideal complement to this charming tale. 

4 stars

Before the Ever After
by Jacqueline Woodson

My partner is a football fan. A game is on the TV as I write this review. Many years ago he shared with me the stats on injuries for players. I couldn't track them down, but the level of disability is horrific. I think it was %30 on average.
This book takes those stats, especially with regards to traumatic brain injury, and shows us the personal cost. It's set in set in 1999-2000 when understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy was just coming to light. 
Zachariah Johnson Jr.'s (ZJ) father is a football star and hero of the neighbourhood. At first his hands begin to shake and he can't play football. As his father deteriorates, ZJ struggles to understand what is happening. Jacqueline Woodson shows us a loving extended African American family doing their best to cope. Those of us who have been paying attention know all too well what their future will bring. 

MEMOIRS

Out of the ashes of the residential school system and a grade eight education, Donald Alexander Robertson ended up going to university to become a church minister. Eventually he became an important leader in Indigenous education here in Canada. He and his wife tried to raise their children without knowledge of their Cree ancestry, a decision he later came to regret. They tried to protect their children from the racism and consequences of colonialism. It didn't help. The younger Robertson writes about feeling different but not knowing why. He experienced racism anyway without the anchor of understanding his roots and who he was. Without this cultural grounding, racism became internalized.
At the same time as his son writes about, and tries to make sense of his father's life, he's writing about himself. David A. Robertson reveals how his father's actions reverberated into the lives of his family - and himself in particular. Visiting the places where his father and grandparents lived, he talks about blood memory, the feeling of having memories of the place himself.
His father, who worked for the province, was rarely home. His mother couldn't manage his coming and going and so while Robertson was a small boy, they separated. The separation lasted for about a decade. It was a difficult time for young David.
This book, against the backdrop of a journey together to Black Water where his father spent his early years, is ultimately a story about the reconnection of father and son.
I would call this a crossover YA/Adult novel. 


This book translates the global ramifications of colonialism into an intimate level. The writing is so beautiful I ache just thinking about it. 

At age 11, when his grandmother died, Downing was uprooted from a loving home in Trinidad and ended up in Northern Ontario. In the following eight years he lived in six different cities, went to six different schools, and had six different guardians. It's more than enough to crush the strongest White boy, never mind a Black youth who, on top of all that, was abused in Trinidad. 
I raged and wept for Downing throughout his experiences as a child, as a young man, and as a young adult. Music and art saved him. 
I would call this a crossover YA/Adult novel. 
The following video is from a new album he is working on to accompany this book. 


DISCWORLD NOVEL


Rock and Roll and the music industry are the focus of Pratchett's satire here. Death's granddaughter, Susan, makes her debut when he disappears and she has to take over for him. While he is gone a new kind of music, called Music With Rocks emerges. People who listen to it end up dancing and screaming. The music is an instant sensation. It's alive. The novel focuses on a band called The Band with Rocks In. They don't really play their own music, the music plays them.
Among the many things I enjoyed in this novel are all the sly references to real musicians, music, and other aspects of popular culture. The lead singer in the band's name is Imp Y Celyn which translates into Bud of the holly. He changes his name to Buddy. The names of the rest of the band also reflect significant rock and roll heros of the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. Some of their tunes include: Don't Tread on My New Blue Boots, Good Gracious Miss Polly and Pathway to Paradise.

CURRENTLY 

I'm listening to Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehouse. I started reading All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, but set it aside to start Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker. I needed a bit of a break from another intense memoir. The Discworld novel I'm into is Interesting Times

UP NEXT 

I'm hoping to return to All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung and read Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, but I'll be picking up a pile of graphic novels from the library on Tuesday to start reading all the finalists for my role as round 2 Cybils judge. I also have Hogfather, a audio Discworld novel out from the library that I need to get to. 

PROGRESS ON MY READING GOALS 

 #MustReadIn2021 2/25 

#MustReadNFIn2021 0/12 one in progress

#MustReadPBIn2021 1/100

Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors: 2/25

Books by Canadian Authors: 3/100

Discworld Series 16/41 - one in progress

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 10/333 

Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming by Antonio Michael Downing

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. This crossover YA/Adult title will be released January 19, 2021, by Penguin Random House Canada.

"The Queen designed my brain." is the first sentence in this four part memoir. It is a critical statement hinting at the ramifications of colonialism and the implications of it at an intimate level.

The most important thing about this book is the exquisite writing. Every page is full of swoon worthy prose. I ended up highlighting line after line - way too many to begin to share all of them with you in this review.  

Please forgive me if I've gotten carried away with the quotes.

I will never be able to do justice to the beauty of Downing's words. 

You will have to read it yourself. 

The book is organized into four acts. Each act references a specific time in his life and the different person he was in each of them. 

Act one: Tony

Until he was eleven years old the author lived in Trinidad with his older brother, Junior, and Grandmother who they called Mama. The rest of the community called her Miss Excelly. Mama was a deeply religious woman who gave generously of her love, time and whatever she had, trusting that whatever she needed would come back to her. The gifts she gave Tony would enable him to survive what hell he would end up facing, including the abuse he endured from a neighbour there. Downing wasn't aware of the gifts then, but it's there in his writing when he writes about coming home from school. Mama was always singing. Tony was greeted by it every day. "Her voice perfumes the very air... All of creation became her voice calling me home."

Tony was a excellent student who loved to read. As he read from the white canon of literature, "what unfolded page by page, battle after battle, image after image, was the great river of things that explained the world." He came to understand "the golden rule: there was a place called white, and it was always better.

He was attending a prestigious school when Mama died. 

Act Two: Michael

At age eleven, Tony and Junior were taken from Trinidad to Waubigoon, an indigenous community in Northern Ontario. They lived with their Aunt Joan who was a social worker working with the people there.

Tony became Michael. His first teacher was a nightmare. Not only did she change his name, she tested him and recommended he be put ahead two grades. I gasped as I read this - already seeing the disaster this was likely to become. I remain angry thinking about how different things might have been for him had he been allowed to remain with his peers. 

He became increasingly isolated: not fitting in with his classmates or the white or the indigenous community. At the same time, even at his young age, he understood he was more connected to the latter group than either of the former. While attending a PowWow he acknowledged that the Indigenous people were as much victims of racism and colonialism as he was. He also came to understand that their power and strength had not been completely destroyed, "they were still here. They were still part of the land.

Aunt Joan, who knew much about the boy's background, tried to do her best by them. She understood that Michael was 'fragile and explosive.' Still, she allowed Junior to be sent away to go to a prestigious school in the United States where his Aunt Agnes would become his guardian. Agnes then abandoned him, just like she had abandoned the boys' father when he was in her care.  

Joan tried to stop it, but when Michael was twelve, the two boys ended up going to live with their father and stepmother, Al and Hailey. 

There is a pattern to Downing's writing that make me ache for him. It is full of the most endearing moments and memories. Then the next line lets us know they are only fleeting. Writing about a time with his father he shares:

"he would listen to what I had to say. He cared about what I thought. My father- the man I knew only from photos and tales- cared what I thought. I eased back in the seat and tried to lean like he did, sneaking peeks to make sure I got it right. I studied the hair on his face where he had shaved that morning, the brown tinted sunglasses the obscured his eyes but not his vision, and the confidence, as if nothing as square as worry had ever touched him. The way laughter would jerk and explode out of him in a spasm, as if he were four years old and hitting a bike rim with a stick as he dashed down Monkeytown Third Branch. It was the first time I had felt that close to him.
It was also one of the last."

Al and Hailey were addicts. "Living with addicts is like living with zombies: you never know whether they'll eat you or ignore you."  They only wanted the boys for the government money they brought in.

The beginnings of who he could become is hinted at when he writes a 'choon' that is sung by Junior's band. Over time Junior spent increasing amounts of time away from home. Eventually he moved out and became "a space I no longer recognized." Michael escaped the lonely craziness of his homelife by retreating into words and songs. He didn't understand that these were the same things Miss Excelly had needed to survive: "how to read and how to sing.

Eventually Michael moved in with Ami, his father's second wife. While there he connected with his two younger half brothers and joined the basketball team. Ami, a white woman, worked hard and did her best, but could barely make ends meet, never mind feed an athletic, growing, always starving teen. 

On a basketball trip he responded to the racist bullying of his white teammates and ended up being the one who got suspended. He writes, "I had always understood the pecking order of our basketball team. Certain boys were always given the benefit of the doubt. There was a place called "white:" and it could get away with murder."

Thankfully Coach Barry Lillie and his wife, Elaine, invited him to live with them. Eventually he became part of their family and ended up getting into the University of Waterloo. 

During this time he reconnected to his mother, Gloria and more of his half siblings. He ended up responsible for the reunification of his parents. In the end, it ended up in disaster. 

When he was cut from the university basketball team, he was left with an unfillable void. Downing writes, "basketball had fathered me. I had soaked up second hand daddying from my teammates. Between the sweaty practices, the nail-biting games, and the breathless sprints, I had absorbed the lessons their fathers had taught them."

A new friend, Chachi, introduced him to art and helped him fill the emptiness. Spending time together, Downing wrote while Chachi painted. 

Act Three: Mic Dainjah

Transformed into a new person again, Downing hid from his damaged self through running, women and music. On the surface he was successful. He worked for  Blackberry and became a Canadian citizen. 

As Mic Dainjah, he was the lead singer of a band called Jen Militia. When he was performing he "vanished to a place with no father, no mother, no corporate bosses, no good kids to keep up with - just the certainty of being alive and somewhere I belonged."

Anger simmered beneath the surface. After hitting his girlfriend, he ended up in an anger management program. He writes about this time with brutal honesty. It's loaded with sympathy and empathy for his peers in the program. The men had to take responsibility for their actions, learn to recognize their triggers and de escalate situations. He writes powerfully about acknowledging guilt and shame. This treatment program helped him, but it wasn't enough. It would take much more therapy before he would be able to heal himself. 

He continued to spend time with Elaine and Coach, his unofficially adopted father. But acknowledges that, "Even after fifteen years, it was still disorienting to be loved by them" 

Act Four: John

In this section Downing writes about his ongoing therapy and coming to the realization that 'while I was busy hiding from myself, words and music had saved me. I was still living off an old lady's prayers." He begins to deal with, "the monster lurking at my core." He begins to tend to the little boy who doesn't feel good enough. 

Of course, recovery isn't instant. 

Many friends helped Downing survive. Gada Jane's introduction to the art collective was an important part. Working with her on the John Orpheus project was another. Everyone needs someone who will tell them, "you are enough on your own."  

His friendship with Howard was instrumental in leading him back to Trinidad and a feeling of belonging. The little boy inside him started to become whole again with Howard's help. 

This book translates the global ramifications of colonialism into an intimate level. It's a story about abandoned fathers abandoning their sons who in turn abandon their own children. It's about the power of women who are the"mules of the empire, forced to carry the burden of the Crown's dreadful legacy, of black bodies chained to the spines of ships, of broken families, of men disempowered, stripped of their status in the home, sent to roam the earth with only their sex to prove their manhood, slaves by blood and by circumstance, saga boys."  It's about trying to fit into a mould not made for you. It's about searching for love, family, and home. It's about learning to love and learning to forgive. It's about becoming who you are. 

Over the space of eight years Antonio Michael Downing lived in six cities, went to six schools and had six different guardians. It could have decimated anyone, never mind a Black youth who, on top of all that, had to deal with a history of abuse.

The miracle of Antonio Michael Downing is not that he became a successful professional and artist after all he experienced, but rather that he survived at all. 

I raged and wept many times while reading this book. I am left thankful for the gift of learning a bit about what it means to be a Black Canadian from Trinidad. I hope to be a better ally after finishing it. 

While reading this memoir I spent some time watching John Orpheus music videos. I hope you enjoy this one, from a new album he is working on, as much as I did. 

#IMWAYR January 4, 2021

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.


We have enjoyed a wonderful winter break and hope you did too. New years eve was quiet. I didn't get so much reading in because I have been watching TV with my partner, writing book reviews, completing my #MustReadIn2020 update, working on my #MustReadIn2021 goals weeding my GoodReads account, and enjoying the cold snowy weather. We went hiking by the river, and built snow people in our front yard. We went sledding twice and, despite numerous upsets, I emerged unscathed. We had fun! 

This crazy carpet was a wild ride although I didn't end up flying off til near the end. At least I didn't hit any trees. 



After the second snowfall we headed up into the other side of the valley. It was a classic winter wonderland. The plastic sled I was on kept flying off the track and tipping over. Then I tried going down the hill on an inner tube. It stayed on the path but was slow and boring. 


I'm still working on my #MustReadIn2021 goals. Leigh Anne Eck at A Day In the Life and I are working collaboratively to host #MustReadin2021 this year. When you are ready, sign up at Leigh Anne's Round-Up post here. I will be the bossy one who reminds you about the voluntary updates. Note that it takes two people to handle what Carrie Gelson at There's A Book For That managed all on her own. 

Titles with a ๐Ÿ indicate this is a Canadian Author and or Illustrator. 

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

RECENT BLOG POSTS

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes


Animals look inside a window and watch an Artist at work. All of them respond to the question, what is art? Each one understands it through their own perspective of their world. I am a huge fan of Kloepper's illustrations. You can read my full post about this book here

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

3 stars

RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul
by Carole Boston Weatherford & Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

The book provides highlights of Aretha Franklin's life in rhyming verse. Frank Morrison's artwork is spectacular. The back matter contains additional information about her life.
I wanted to love this more than I do. Unfortunately the rhyming verse just didn't work for me. I went back to read it a second time to just focus on it, but it didn't help. 


Wow! Jason Chin takes us from comparing the size of an eight year old to this book, and then into the vastness of the universe. It's just brilliant. The back matter contains additional illustrated information.

This reminded me of a NFB short film, Cosmic Zoom by Eva Szasz. Created in 1968, this wordless film begins with a boy and a dog canoeing on a river. The camera freezes and then animation takes out from this place into the far reaches of the universe. It then zooms back to the canoe and inside the young boys blood stream. If I was still teaching I would begin with Chin's book, and then show this.


NOVELS


I'm a fan of mysteries so I was hoping to love this. It was ok. Perhaps I was swayed by the reviews that connected it to the Flavia de Luce series of which I am a hard core fan.
Myrtle is a very smart oddball of a Victorian girl. She's fascinated by criminal science and jurisprudence. Her father is a prosecuting attorney. Her governess, Miss Ada Hudson, does her best to rein in Myrtle's more outrageous suppositions, but otherwise is fairly open.
When their cantankerous elderly neighbour is murdered, the two of them try to find out who was responsible.
I appreciated all the plot twists and turns in this. My concern is that it's a bit long and I'm not sure it will appeal to younger readers.

NONFICTION
I listened to this book read by the author. I did it in smaller chunks over a longer time, but this is a book that needs to be experienced in print format. I have ordered my own copy.
You will want to spend time reading and rereading sections both for the beauty of the prose as well as for the profoundness of the subject matter.
Billy-Ray Belcourt writes with powerful clarity. His words mine reality for essential truths. In the process, white readers like myself come to understand more clearly how colonialism pervades all aspects of NDN life.
I wish I could write about this book with as much clarity as Sheniz Janmohamed does here in this review in Quill and Quire.
I now plan to read everything Billy-Ray Belcourt has written.

5 stars

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes et al. 

Just wow! This compendium of poems and artwork just about knocked my socks off.  "This swoon-worthy anthology is a celebration of Black womanhood. It is pure pleasure to be introduced to women poets of the Harlem Renaissance and modern Black woman painters through it." You can read the rest of my blog post here


DISCWORLD NOVEL


This murder mystery might be intense, but it is still as hilarious as the other titles in the series. I love all the references to literature and popular culture. 
A serial killer is on the loose on the eve of Captain Vines' upcoming wedding to Sybil Ramkin, the richest woman in Ankh-Morpork. The murderer's weapon is a gonne, Discworlds first and only firearm. It was thought to have been destroyed by the Assassins' Guild but has a mind of its own and is able to manipulate whoever holds it. 
Referencing the King Arthur myths, rumours emerge that Lance Constable Carrot Ironfoundersson might be the rightful heir to the throne. The murderer's plan is to kill all the guild leaders and sink Ankh- Morpork into chaos so that Carrot can be named King. 
Diversity recruiting has come to the watch. Trolls, Dwarfs and other kinds of 'humans' are hired. Carrot takes a fancy to Angua, one of the new recruits. He realizes that she is a werewolf only after losing his virginity to her. He doesn't handle waking up to a wolf in his bed well. 

CURRENTLY 

I'm reading Hatch by Kenneth Oppel with my eyes. The Discworld novel I'm into is Soul Music. I've just started listening to Black Water by David A. Robertson. 

UP NEXT 

I'm hoping to start All You Can Ever Know, A Memoir by Nicole Chung and Monkey Beach by Robinson, Eden next. As a round 2 Cybils judge I'm looking forward to reading all the finalists in the graphic novel category. 

PROGRESS ON MY READING GOALS 

 #MustReadIn2021 0/25 one in progress

#MustReadNFIn2021 0/12

#MustReadPBIn2021 1/100

Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors: 1/25

Books by Canadian Authors: 

Discworld Series 15/41 - one in progress

Goodreads Reading Challenge: /333