Today I Read…Up and Down

Up and DownToday I read Up and Down by Terry Fallis. In 2013 this book was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and won the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen Award and the CBC Bookie Award for Most Hilarious Canadian Book.

David Stewart has quite a challenge ahead of him. He’s just taken a job at the Turner King PR agency, and they’re going after a new out of this world client–NASA. They recently surveyed people and found that more people would rather go out for lunch than watch a space shuttle launch. They want to return to the good old days, when the Space Race was exciting and the entire country would shut down to watch astronauts leave the earth, not to mention when their funding was plentiful to match the intense public interest.

Trying to impress his new boss, David throws out an idea during a brainstorming session–the Citizen Astronaut contest. Every astronaut from the start of the space program has been a highly trained, brilliant, athletic, highly skilled specialist of some sort–they are extraordinary people. So how are ordinary people supposed to relate to and be interested in their work? The Citizen Astronaut would be an Average Joe or Jane, a regular person who would go into space and contribute to the mission, someone to rekindle popular interest by being the embodiment of the dream that anyone can go into space. It’s bold, it’s innovative, it’s attention-getting.

Well, his boss hates it. Unfortunately, it’s all they have to run with after NASA shoots down their more conventional ideas. David’s boss orders him to make sure that the randomly selected Canadian winner of the contest is young, photogenic, and your basic flannel-clad hockey-loving lumberjack stereotype. Unfortunately, the real winner is a 71-year-old lesbian bush doctor pilot with a father who disappeared 40 years ago and who is so obsessed with space that she built her own centrifuge outside her remote cabin to train herself to handle extreme G-forces. David is so compelled by her story that he pushes (and prods, and shoves, and maybe does a few other things he can’t admit to) for Dr. Landon Percival to be announced as Canada’s Citizen Astronaut. But can a senior citizen really go into space? Can David spin her story so that not only TK and NASA, but the Canadian public will embrace her as their representative on the space shuttle? And can he do this without getting fired really, really hard?

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This is the book that I got at the inaugural Wines and Lines event last year. I did attend this year as well, but it was basically a repeat of the first year with different authors so I didn’t see the need to write a review of the event.

I picked this one of the three choices because it was supposed to be funny, and it is, but it’s not really a comedy book, even though it is. It’s very funny is a realistic way–as though the events could happen (except NASA’s lawyers would probably have a collective apoplexy if someone proposed something like the Citizen Astronaut contest in real life). The title is very apt in several ways. David and the rest of the characters go through many ups and downs in their lives over the course of the book, as well as the characters who literally go up and down from Earth to the Space Station and back again.

This was something of a departure for me, since I tend to read a lot of genre fiction or children’s and YA books since I just spent a year as a school librarian. Still, I enjoyed this book very much. Like any science fiction fan, I feel a little bit ripped off that we don’t have moon colony yet, and Star Trek assures me that first contact with an alien species is due to happen in less than 50 years. The Citizen Astronaut contest, if it was real, is definitely something that would grab my attention.

David is a great character. He’s very well-rounded and realistic, and he careens from one challenge to another feeling like he’s barely treading water but rising to every problem. He’s still very young–only in his mid-twenties, and this is his second job after university. He’s inexperienced, and young enough to be little crazy, and he’s a great contrast to Landon Percival who is old enough to be comfortable being polite to everyone while getting her own way.

This is more of a quiet chuckle book than a laugh out loud one, but it’s very well-written and entertaining, while being a quintessentially Canadian humour (which is definitely spelled with a ‘u’).

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Today I Read…The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

Fangirl's Guide to the GalaxyToday I read The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs.

Are you a newcomer to the wide world of fandom? Are you not quite sure what an OTP is, even though you know that Dean and Cas belong together? Do you plan your Halloween costume months in advance and hand make each piece? Do you know why the cake is a lie, and the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything? And are you looking for someone just as passionately nerdy as you to talk to about your favourite nerdy things? Then, young fangirl padawan, you might need The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Chock full of interviews with prominent professional fangirls, invaluable tips for attending your first convention, a field guide to the more common geek groups, and much much more, this is a fantastic resource for those new to fandom, and a terrific refresher for the old hands.

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This was the book I wanted most for myself from the OLA Super conference this year, and I was so happy I got a copy. Sam Maggs is a fellow member of the Toronto fandom community, a former associate editor for fabulous nerd news site The Mary Sue, one of the outgoing Cineplex pre-show hosts, and generally, pretty cool. Plus, that title–how could I possibly resist?

Way back in the dim mists of history before the internet was a thing (okay, it was the 80s), I started my fangirl life, and I entered the world of fandom just at the start of web 2.0 and when interactivity was becoming the watchword. I would have LOVED to have a guide like this way back when I was convinced that I was the only person in my city who liked Star Trek, let alone the only person at my elementary school. It wasn’t until university that I met my first real fangirl, who became my best friend. One of the best parts of fandom is sharing what you love.

In a way, I suppose I’m lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been personally challenged on my level of geek knowledge, just because I’m a girl. My experience of the Toronto fandom community has always had a strong mixture of boy, girl, and other nerds, with women making strong contributions to our community and with fan-run events. Girl geeks are pretty common, at least in the spaces I hang out in. But like all geek girls I’ve desperately searched for myself in the media I love–a heroine who doesn’t get fridged and isn’t there to be the token female, or worse, the one-dimensional love interest (or worst of all, all three). I’ve put up with the absurdly impractical and oversexualised superhero costumes, having to look in the boys’ rows of the toy store for action figures, and every bloody nerd girl shirt being pink. I ask you, when did Supergirl or Batgirl EVER wear a hot pink costume or a hot pink glittery shield? EVER? AND WHERE IS MY BLACK WIDOW MOVIE ALREADY??? Seriously, Marvel, *ten years* from the release of Iron Man it takes you to release a female-led movie, and it’s Captain Marvel instead of Black Widow, a character you’ve already used 4 times? /rant

Back on track, chapter 4 is about Geek Girl Feminism, looking for the best representations in media and pointing out that unlike the stereotyped antisocial teen nerd boy who lives in his parents’ basement and can’t talk to girls (and his awful, AWFUL counterpart the mythical Fake Geek Girl), women make up a large part of fandom and we have the right to love what we love and to know that we are the heroes every bit as much as the guys are. (See Sam’s awesome Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism below.)

It can be intimidating to insert yourself into a tightly-knit yet wildly diverse community like fandom can be, especially when you get nonsense like GamerGate giving nerdiness and gamers a bad name in the media. (Yes, it was nonsense, if you feel the need to dox and threaten to injure, rape or kill ANYONE in the name of your argument you are an asshole and you lose any modicum of respect for your argument and for you personally). That said, fandom can be an amazing place and you can meet amazing people who not only love what you love, but can share with you other amazing things that you will love. Fandom can enrich your life, give you friends and interests and sometimes even a career. Fandom is filled with smart, creative, hardworking people, and they can be very welcoming to newbies. If you want to jump into the deep end and sally forth to your first convention all on your own, go ahead– it’s how we used to do it (it’s what I did). If you want some great tips, this book is a great guide for how to venture in, both in person at cons and good online spaces to introduce yourself.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Sam made some great recommendations and I think I need to go hunt them down (and rewatch/reread any old favourites she listed). Hey Sam, any time you want to trade kickass-chick book lists, let me know. I have a feeling you would LOVE Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthology series. Two words: Amazon Comedy.

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The Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism
I am a geek girl and I am a feminist. I embrace the word “fangirl” with open arms. I don’t have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever. Whether I’m a comics noob, Or a fic writer typing up her next chapter, Or a hard-core gamer who sometimes forgets to sleep (Not that I ever do that), No one else gets to decide whether I do or do not belong. From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian I accept all fandom and ships As equally meaningful and important In our geek girl lives. Even if your OTP is my NOTP, I will still like you (Even if I have to unfollow your blog). I can wear makeup and R2D2 mini dresses, Or a Chewie T-shirt and ripped jeans, And the world has to deal with it; Because a geek feminist looks however she wants And doesn’t apologize. I will support empowering, lady-created media, And amazing female characters That make me feel like I could be Batgirl, If I just had some yellow Doc Martens And a vigilante complex. I’m the Doctor, not a companion; Buffy, not Bella; Nobody’s sidekick, love interest, or token female. I’m driving this ship. I’M A FANGIRL, A FEMINIST, AND A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH.

Fangirl's Litany

Today I Read…The Dark Lord & The Seamstress

tDL&tSToday I read The Dark Lord & The Seamstress written by J.M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. This is the product of the successful Kickstarter that I wrote about back in September.

Once upon a time there was a seamstress of unsurpassed talent, a woman of kindness and intelligence and beauty. The Dark Lord of Hell heard of her skill, and sent a messenger asking her to come and make him fine new suits of clothing, clothes worthy of his magnificence (and a little more modern in style). But when she arrived, something unexpected happened. The Dark Lord fell in love.

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With the recent rise in the popularity of adult colouring books (which is a great trend, because they’re super fun and besides my niece rarely lets me colour in hers–sharing is not a toddler’s strong suit), Frey has been marketing The Dark Lord and the Seamstress as an adult coloring book in verse. And her colouring contests have been fun, and artist Jennifer Vendrig’s illustrations are charming (though I still think my favourites are the chibi ones that she drew for the marketing and Kickstarter campaign–they’re just so cute! Especially the expression on the Seamstress’ face when she sees the Dark Lord’s dorky mismatched outfit!) Dark Lord

But it almost feels like the focus on the pictures is a bit of a disservice to the story, which is equally as charming. It’s a lovely fairy tale, very reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, except that the Dark Lord is not cursed to his appearance, more misunderstood. When the Seamstress learns to look beyond his red skin and frightful job and his terrible taste in clothing, she sees that his love is true. He is never forced to change, while she uses her talents to help dress the inhabitants of both Heaven and Hell. Both angels and devils are clothed in love and blood, in something that unites them all.

This is a picture book, but one I’d give to an older child. The rhyming verses sometimes use some advanced and old-fashioned words that might need to be explained. That said, this would be an excellent story to read aloud to an older child who can already read, say grade 4 and up.

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Once upon a time, oh yes,

So very long ago,

There was of course a lovely girl,

Who came to learn to sew.

And as it goes, fair listener,

She learned to sew so well

That even the Dark Lord Himself

Heard of her talent, down in Hell.

Today I Read…The H.M.S. Bad Idea

Today I read The H.M.S. Bad Idea: an Anti-Self-Help Comic Collection by Peter Chiykowski.

HMS Bad IdeaHave you ever had a bad idea? How about an entire book filled with bad ideas? It’s quite a challenge, but Rock, Paper, Cynic artist Peter Chiykowski is up to it, with a little help from some friends (ok, 40+ guest artists, I’ll assume they’re friends if they appeared in his book. That’s safe, right? I mean, if you’re making a book, do you ask your mortal enemies to draw in it? Is that a thing? That doesn’t seem like a thing. I mean, a self-help book would probably say rely on your friends to help you, so would an anti-self-help book say rely on your enemies? Or is it the self part that’s important, as in help yourself, so is an anti-self-help book about letting other people help you? Now I’m confused. I better go eat bacon, because bacon. Read the book to find out why eating bacon is a special occasion).

From #725 “reply to that poor Nigerian prince who’s down on his luck” to #1191 “open the eldritch book with the cover made of human skin” to #1355 “use non-genetically mutated turtles to battle your local crime syndicate,” this book is the perfect guide for anyone’s life–just don’t do anything on the list. Especially, one suspects, #2010–give alcohol to cartoonists.

Also featuring the best of five years of Rock, Paper, Cynic, this is a great book for anyone who likes geeky humour, sardonic philosophy, and turtles. Because turtles are awesome.

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RPC D&DI’ve known Peter casually for a few years now–he attends a lot of local sci-fi conventions selling his comics, and you get to know some of the regulars on the circuit. I usually try to stop by his table and see what’s new. I like his style–it’s brightly coloured and pithy and entertaining. I have a couple of his prints, but I like so much of his work that I was really happy when I saw that he had collected some of his favourites into a book. I dare anyone to read it and not smile.

teddy bears are better than most peopleRPC Fairy Tale

Actually, that’s the best praise I can give the book. It makes you smile.

RPC Happy

Also, I really want a secret bookcase-tunnel reading lair.

RPC Ebooks

Today I Read…Eye of the Crow

Eye of the CrowToday I read Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock, the first book in The Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Born of a Jewish father and a mother disinherited from the gentry, and with the gifts of intellect and observation, young Sherlock Holmes is not a boy who fits in anywhere. Tormented by his schoolfellows, he prefers to spend his days reading the exciting police newspapers in Trafalgar Square, until one day when he reads of the shocking murder of a lovely young actress, and the arrest of the wicked Arab what done ‘er in. Justice served…or is she?

The young Egyptian, poor and dark of skin though he be, professes his innocence, and only Sherlock, condemned by society for being a half-mongrel Jew, believes him. But when he goes snooping around the scene of the crime, the detectives of Scotland Yard think he’s in on it!

Chased by the police, and with the true murderer lurking around every corner, young Sherlock must make new friends, treat with his enemies,and stretch his mind to its very limits to solve the crime and save himself, the innocent stranger, and someone else dearest to him.

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This series has been on my reading list for a while (I actually picked up a copy of the 6th book, Becoming Holmes, at the 2013 OLA Super Conference), but my to-read list keeps growing and my free time keeps shrinking. But now with my new job in a school library (yay! so exciting!) I can call it ‘familiarizing myself with the collection’ and delve more into the middle grades fiction and leave off the adult books for a while. So I grabbed the first book and devoured it today after school.

It’s definitely written as a modern mystery, even though it’s set in the Victorian era. It doesn’t have the distinct tone of the Conan Doyle stories, even though it does well with the historical details. That said, it works well for this story, being written for children–the more modern, familiar tone makes it a fast and easy read.

Fans of the original Sherlock Holmes will see elements of the great detective scattered through the book, in somewhat changed circumstances. Miss Irene Doyle, for example, is a most daring young woman, and the intelligent and dangerous Malefactor is almost a dark version of Holmes. There is no loyal Watson, which seems odd–a Sherlock should never be without his Boswell–but it is only the first book in the series, so I’m hoping an equivalent shows up in a further adventure.

Sherlock himself is not the same cold, calculating man of pure practical science that some readers may recall. He is a child–gifted, different, but still hurt by others’ disdain. He is angry at the world, for condemning him as a half-breed and dooming him to a life of poverty and struggle for the conditions of his birth–it’s not FAIR! His anger costs him dearly–he is forced to shut away his emotions to solve the case and save himself, showing the roots of the once and future great detective.

I like the book–I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I enjoy rewrites of famous stories and characters, seeing all the different ways they can go in the hands of different authors. Peacock does a great job of going back to the beginning of such a famous and beloved character, and introducing him to a new generation. The book evokes the past Sherlock and his London while still being accessible to a young reader. Now, for the upcoming weekend, I think I need to borrow the rest of the series at school tomorrow…

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As the sun climbs, its rays spread light through the lifting yellow fog, filtering down upon a brown, flowing mass of people: on top hats and bonnets, heavy clothes and boots swarming on bridges and along cobblestone streets. Hooves strike the pavement, clip-clopping over the rumbling iron wheels, the drone of the crowds, and hawkers’ cries. The smell of horses, of refuse, of coal and gas, hangs in the air. Nearly everyone has somewhere to go on this late spring morning in the year of Our Lord, 1867.

Among those moving over the dirty river from the south, is a tall, thin youth with skin the pallor of the pale margins in The Times of London. He is thirteen years old and should be in school. From a distance he appears elegant in his black frock coat and necktie with waistcoat and polished boots. Up close, he looks frayed. He seems sad, but his gray eyes are alert.

His name is Sherlock Holmes.

Last night’s crime in Whitechapel, one of many in London, though perhaps its most vicious, will change his life. In moments it will introduce itself to him. Within days it will envelop him.

He comes to these loud, bustling streets to get away from his problems, to look for excitement, and to see the rich and famous, to wonder what makes them successful and appreciated. He has a nose for the scent of thrilling and desperate things, and all around these teeming arteries, he finds them.

He gets here by the same route every day. At first he heads south from the family’s first-floor flat over the old hatter’s shop in grimy Southwark, and walks in the direction of his school. But when he is out of sight he always veers west, and then sneaks north and crosses the river with the crowds at Blackfriars Bridge, for the glorious center of the city.

Londoners move past him in waves, each with a story. They all fascinate him.

Sherlock Holmes is an observing machine; has been that way almost since birth. He can size up a man or a woman in an instant. He can tell where someone is from, what another does to make his living. In fact, he is known for it on his little street. If something is missing – a boot or an apron or a crusty doorstep of bread – he can look into faces, examine trousers, find telltale clues, and track the culprit, large or small.

This man walking toward him has been in the army, you can tell by his bearing. He’s pulled the trigger of his rifle with the calloused index finger of his right hand. He’s served in India – notice the Hindu symbol on his left cuff link, like one the boy has seen in a book.

He walks on. A woman with a bonnet pulled down on her head and a shawl gripped around her shoulders brushes against him as she passes.

“Watch your step, you,” she grumbles, glaring at him.

An easy one, thinks the boy. She has recently lost in love, notice the stains around her eyes, the tight anger in her mouth, and the chocolate hidden in her hand. She is within a year of thirty, gaining a little weight, a resident of the Sussex countryside where its unique brown clay has marked the insteps of both her black boots.

The boy feels like he needs to know everything. He needs advantages in a life that has given him few. A teacher at his school once told him he was brilliant. He’d scoffed at that. “Brilliant at what?” he had muttered to himself. “At being in the wrong life at the wrong time?”

On Fleet Street, he reaches into a cast-iron dustbin and pulls out a handful of newspapers. The Times … toss it back. The Daily Telegraph … toss it back. The Illustrated Police News … ah, yes. Now there is a newspaper! Every sensation that London can create brought to life in big black-and-white pictures. He reads such scandal sheets every day, but this one, with a riveting tale of bloody violence and injustice, will reveal to him his destiny.

Dark Lord and the Seamstress Kickstarter

So my friend J.M. Frey, the author ofTriptych and Hero is a Four Letter Word, has written a picture book, called The Dark Lord and the Seamstress, with art by Jennifer Vendrig. It’s a staff pick on Kickstarter, and there’s only a few days left to donate. It’s over halfway there–it would be amazing if in the last few days it could get fully funded and out in time for All Hallows’ Read as planned. You can read the first few verses on the Kickstarter page, as well as see some of the preliminary art. Though personally I love the art for the announcement, as seen below–doesn’t he just look like a Really Big Dork, and she’s just So Not Impressed?

Dark LordIt’s an adorable book written by a very talented author, and I can’t wait to get my copy and review it here for all of you lovely readers–and if you donate to the Kickstarter, you can get your own signed copy, with your name on the backers’ list printed in every copy! Your name in a published book! You know, not on the cover, but it’s a start to every reader’s authorial dream, right? And everyone needs an adorable picture book. Plus, Christmas is coming up–it’d be a great gift! (hint hint)

So please donate, and see this whimsical little story come to life via the magic of Kickstarter.

Today I read…burning from the inside

Burning from the insideToday I read burning from the inside by Christine Walde.

Anything is better than going home. Even working with the cops to get out of his latest graffiti charges. But then Thom finds out what they want him to do–go undercover and help them catch the G7, a group of socially conscious graffiti writers who have so far managed to elude the police. Not only will he be forced to narc on fellow artists, but for his day job he will be forced to buff–to remove graffiti, to cover it with grey paint until the walls are as dull as the people who live in between them. He can’t–but the only other option is to go to jail, or back home.

So Thom becomes TNT, the newest tagger in town. Creating art by night, by day he erases his own work. And then he meets her. Aura. Beautiful, talented, free-spirited Aura, so much like him. Aura, of the G7. She brings him into her world, and introduces him to the others: The DC. Kane. MC Lee. DJ O’d. Queen Mab. And their leader, Chef BS.

Together, Thom and Aura dream of finding the legendary Kalpa path on Tiger Mountain, the art left behind by Story, the greatest tagger the city has ever seen, who disappeared without a trace many years ago. But standing in their way is the police officer who secretly wants Thom to find more than just the G7–he wants Story, and he doesn’t care what happens to Thom as long as he gets her…

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This is another of the books I got at the OLA Super Conference,and it was written by a classmate of mine from library school, Christine Walde. I knew she was a poet, but I didn’t know that she was also a prose author. At times the language she uses is so beautifully put together, you can tell where the poetry whispered in her ear saying don’t you miss me?

The point of view alternates between Aura and Thom, and in some ways they’re very alike. They’re both just so *frustrated*–Thom wants to make art, art that is seen and changes the world a little bit, and Aura wants to send a message to the world with the rest of the G7 that it needs to WAKE UP. Young frustrated idealism in the face of a cynical world that doesn’t want to listen–a timeless story. Thom and Aura would never work as older characters, because they would be more jaded–they need the impatience of youth to change the world.

The book also talks a lot about graffiti, what drives people to go out and do it even though it is illegal. Graffiti is a culture I have never experienced–probably because I have no artistic talent (alright, and I tend to be boringly law-abiding). I can’t even draw stick people well, and I admire people who do have that talent. There’s a sharp difference drawn here between those who scribble meaningless things with paint on public property and those who create art, who have a message and something to say in a public forum. The amateur and the professional graffiti writer, in a way. Both have their place, but buffing scribbles is a pinprick to Thom while buffing art is a wound. Christine gives a great interview here about graffiti and art.

burning from the inside reminds you what it was like to be young and need to express yourself so intently that you, well, burned with it–burn until you explode. Like TNT.

burning autograph

Today I Read…Until Today

Until TodayToday I read Until Today by Pam Fluttert.

Kat has a lot of problems. She has an older brother who’s the apple of her mother’s eye, and a little sister who’s daddy’s princess. Her best friend Steph has been getting awfully obsessed with a boy who’s nothing but bad news, and her other best friend Scott has been acting a little weird. And there’s a scared little girl at the hospital Kat volunteers at who won’t talk to any of the adults–but she’ll talk to Kat. It’s a good thing that Kat has her diary to work out her problems in, especially her biggest problem–her father’s best friend, Greg. He says she’s his special girl, that no one would understand their relationship if they knew, that everyone will hate her if she tells…Her diary is the only safe place Kat can share her feelings. Until today, when her diary goes missing…

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This is one of the books that I got at the OLA Super Conference this year. It’s a powerful look at the experience of child sexual abuse, especially coming from an author who freely admits that she also has had personal experience with mental and sexual abuse. Fluttert’s website talks about her work on the issue of childhood sexual abuse and with the group Yes YOUth Can which promotes inspirational youth.

Kat is basically a list of the warning signs of childhood abuse: loose, baggy, unappealing clothing, disinterest in dating, mood swings and moodiness, trying to protect another potential victim without anyone realizing what she’s doing, vague statements about her abuser, fanatically protecting the secret even though she hates him and what he does, depression and self-loathing, fear of stigma of being known as an abuse survivor, problems with family & friends…A lot of these are common to teenagers, but they can also be warning signs of something seriously wrong. Greg is also a warning sign himself: he is charming and smooth, someone who everyone likes and trusts, and manipulates Kat from a young age into believing that what they do together is a special secret, a game, something that they do because he loves her and wants her to prove how much she loves him, that no one else will understand and everyone will hate her and she will lose all her family and friends if she tells because they will pick him over her… The whole book is a little After School Special, but it works very well as an explanation of what Kat goes through and what she thinks about everything.

My only issue with the book is that she never once uses the words rape or sexual assault. Words are powerful, as we see when Kat recognizes that she has been a victim of child abuse. Throughout the book, Kat says that Greg “does things to her” and that he “touches her” but she never once says that he rapes her or that he sexually assaults her or that they have sex. I don’t think that Kat yet recognizes that that was what he did–a real survivor at that point might not think in those terms–but I think it would have been even more powerful for the book to use the words. It is a YA book– I wonder if that was a choice made to make the book more ‘appropriate’ to market to young teens? Regardless, Kat is a character who find the courage to help someone else, which helps her find the courage to help herself.

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Inside, no one is manning the counter so Mom and I wait. The entrance is pretty much what I expected. The walls are cold and white, and the floor is a dull grey with black scuff marks and smudges. A poster hanging to my right promotes Neighborhood Watch programs and another one advertises an upcoming charity auction to raise money for the homeless. I half expect to see WANTED posters, but aside from pictures of missing children, there are none.

Stacks of pamphlets sit on the counter for people to read. I bend over to pick up one that’s fallen to the floor. I reach to return it to the pile, when the bright red words across the top catch my attention. “What Should You Do If You Suspect Child Abuse?” A little girl holding a teddy bear and sucking her thumb is pictured on the front.

I freeze, staring at the words, as they register and repeat in my head. Child abuse…child abuse…child abuse. I’m an abused child. Putting a label to me–to something that happened to me–makes it seem so real. I’m a statistic. I’m one of them…one of those numbers mentioned in a pamphlet that someone dropped on the floor not caring enough to pick it up let alone take it home.

“Can I help you?”

I come to attention with a start. Across the counter from me is a pair of impatient brown eyes, set in the face of a young officer who seems busy and about to rush off again. Fiddling with the pamphlet in my hand, I’m unable to make my brain connect to my mouth. Say something, Kat. Don’t just stare at him. Do you want to be a victim all your life?

“You okay?” the officer asks, narrowing his eyes and probably wondering what kind of drugs I’m on.

“I…I need to…” I stammer.

“We need to talk to someone.” My mom steps in just as another officer walks into the room. I immediately recognize him as the man who pulled Dad and Greg apart at our house.

“It’s all right, Chambers, I’ve got this,” he says, and the brown-eyed officer rushes away, a pile of papers under his arm and a look of relief on his face.

“Your name’s Kat, isn’t it?” The officer waits for me to find my tongue.

I nod stupidly.

“Are you here to add something to your statement?” He glances at Mom.

Mom grips my shoulders with reassuring hands. “Yes, we need to talk to you.” She glances around. “If we could go somewhere private–”

“Maria! Don’t say a word. I’ll handle this.” My father comes out through a door to the side. He doesn’t look much better than he did when he was taken away, except that the blood had stopped flowing from his nose. His right eye is swollen, he has a fat lip, and a rainbow of blues, purples and blacks colors his face.

“Where’s Sarah?”

Mom answers quietly. “She’s at home with Steph and Scott. Kat thought maybe she’d like to come and talk to somebody.” Mom squeezes my hand, trying to send me a message. I hesitate, uncertain if she is encouraging me to proceed or to listen to Dad. I’m so used to her being a buffer between us that I’m not sure what she is trying to tell me.

“Kat doesn’t need to talk to anybody, I’ll handle everything.”

They’re talking about me as if I’m not even here, just like Dad has always done. Talking about me and making all my decisions for me, without even stopping to wonder what I want and think. Years of hearing Dad saying “Kat needs this…” or “Kat doesn’t want that…” or “Kat is going to do this…” or, worst of all, “Kat will try better next time…”

No more.

 

Festival of Trees 2014 review

Wednesday May 14th and Thursday May 15th were the days of the 2014 Toronto Festival of Trees, the two day awards ceremony for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program, in which children vote for their favourite Canadian books. I attended the 2013 Festival of Trees as a volunteer, and I had such an amazing time and I was so impressed by the program that when the call for volunteer committee members went out last fall, I answered (possibly too loudly, since I ended up on three different committees!). For the 2013-2014 year I was on the Silver Birch Express Steering Committee, which means that I contacted some of the nominated authors and illustrators to inform of them of their nomination (which was great because they were all so pleased and excited to be nominated), and then acted as a liaison, asking about which of the festivals they would like to attend, if they would like to attend the OLA Super Conference last January and the Forest of Reading breakfast, and communicated the details about attending the Toronto Festival.

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The festival events were fairly similar to last year–there were several games where you could win books or candy, Jenga blocks, a juggler on stilts, Isabella Hoops with her hula hoops, the graffiti trees where you could write notes about your favourite book or author, the story wall where you could write the next sentence in the story, the tattoo station, the book trade tent, author and illustrators doing signings and workshops, the White Hots tent where you could buy any of the nominated books, and of course the award ceremonies themselves. Lots to do!

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Wednesday was the day for the Blue Spruce, Red Maple, and White Pine awards, so I was a general volunteer. I spent the day mainly bouncing around the games and the graffiti trees, wherever I was needed. The game where you throw a frisbee around a piece of candy on a table? Not that easy. Though there was a frisbee team at the end of the day who really, really tried to do it.

After the Festival was a reception for the authors, illustrators, committee members, volunteers, and various publishers and representatives of local book festivals. I talked to some very interesting and friendly people, and I was able to get Susin Neilsen to sign my copy of The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen.

Thursday was the day for the Silver Birch Express award, as well as Silver Birch Fiction, Silver Birch Non Fiction, Le Prix Tamarac, Le Prix Tamarac Express, and Le Prix Peuplier awards. In the morning I assisted Philippa Dowding and Jennifer Lanthier with their workshop. Philippa spoke about her book The Gargoyle at the Gates, and Jennifer spoke about hers, The Stamp Collector. Philippa talked about the origins of gargoyles, and what inspired her to write about them, and then performed her song the Gargoyle Shuffle. Jennifer read The Stamp Collector, and then together they did a Q&A. There was a big turnout and the kids seemed really interested.

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After that we had to get ready for the Silver Birch Express award, since it was the last one of the Festival. Each of the nominated authors had a pair of students acting as their sign carriers and presenters on stage, and the kids wrote their own speeches to introduce each author, which they had to say in front of a couple thousand of their fellow students. All of the kids who volunteered to do this did an amazing job, and it was obvious how much effort they each put into introducing their favourite authors.

Toronto-20140515-00744The audience was screaming like it was rock stars on stage, they were so excited, but only one book could win, and it was The Secret of the Village Fool, written by Rebecca Upjohn and illustrated by Renne Benoit. I was actually Rebecca and Renne’s liaison for the Silver Birch Express, and I was thrilled when they won–they’re both lovely and talented people, although all of the nominated authors are. (For the record, that’s Renne on the left and Rebecca on the right in both pictures.)

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It was a terrific if exhausting two days (8,000 kids attended the Toronto Festival over the two days), and it’s so wonderful to see how excited the kids were to meet their favourite authors and ask them questions and tell them what they thought about their books. I wish my school had participated back when I was in elementary school, but it would have just been getting started, since this year was the 20th anniversary of the program. I’m so pleased to have been a part of it this year, and I’m looking forward to next year since I’m on two of the selection committees for 2014-15 (though I’m not saying which ones!). Let’s see who wins next year’s award!

For the record, the 2014 Forest of Reading winners are:

Blue Spruce: Oddrey by Dave Whamond

Silver Birch Express: The Secret of the Village Fool by Rebecca Upjohn and illustrated by Renne Benoit

Silver Birch Fiction: Record Breaker by Robin Stevenson

Silver Birch Non FictionOne Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marcha Forchuk Skrypuch

Red Maple Fiction: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Neilsen

White Pine Fiction: Live to Tell by Lisa Harrington

White Pine Non Fiction: The Secret of the Blue Trunk by Lise Dion and translated by Liedewij Hawke

Le Prix Tamarac: Une Fille a l’ecole des gars by Maryse Peyskens

Le Prix Tamarac Express: Attention, j’arrive! (BiBop) by Raymond Parent

Le Prix Peuplier: Une mouche, un chat et une patate by Celine Malepart

 

Wines and Lines

The Beauty of Humanity MovementSo last Thursday I attended Wines and Lines, the inaugural literary event put on by the Rotary Club of Oakville. The event featured a roundtable discussion by three Canadian authors: Terry Fallis, author of Up and Down, Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The The Painted GirlsPainted Girls, and Camilla Gibb, the author of The Beauty of Humanity Movement,as well as a light dinner, wine tasting, and a silent art auction. The proceeds were to benefit White Oaks Secondary School. As a part of the ticket, each attendee got to select one of the three aforementioned books to take home.

I really enjoyed this event, and I hope they do as planned and run it again next year. The buffet-style dinner was fairly plain (cut-up sandwiches and cheese and fruit platters), but it was plentiful and it worked with the crowd, especially since there was nothing to get cold. Dessert included these little cream puff swans which were lovely and delicious. The silent art auction was small but interesting, but since it was on the other side of the wine tasting table I think the line-up blocked the view of the art for anyone who wasn’t there promptly at 6.

The roundtable discussion, led by Oakville Town Councillor Pam Damoff, was interesting, and all of the authors were lively speakers. The only problem was that there badly needed to be a tea and coffee service during the roundtable, which didn’t end until 9:30–the caffeine would have been very welcome while I was trying to listen.

IMG-20140424-00694(From left, Cathy Buchanan, Terry Fallis, Camilla Gibb, and Pam Damoff. Sorry about the photo quality, Blackberry makes a terrible camera.)

I selected Up and Down for my book, and I got Terry Fallis to sign it afterwards. I look Up and Downforward to reading and reviewing it here— I read the first chapter that he has up on his website, and it’s very funny.

Wines and Lines was a wonderful event, fun, interesting, and well-run, and I hope to attend it for many years in the future–just with more tea, because I wasn’t kidding about the caffeine after a long day at work.