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No Shortcuts: Reflections on Writing the Text of Two at the Top: A Shared Dream of Everest

When I first started thinking about a picture book about Mount Everest, I thought it was going to be a poetry collection. I read a lot about Everest and the Himalaya region—all kinds of books. Stephen Alter’s Wild Himalaya made me think this might be a sort of natural history of Mount Everest—in poems!  

Everest Books as selected by Uma Krishnaswami

Oh, I was in love with that idea! Poems about the geology of the mountain’s formation, the people who live in the Khumbu region of Everest, the climbers, the man for whom the mountain was named, the arduous process that led to its naming, the antics of a little spider that lives above the tree-line where there’s nothing for it to eat. I was in love with all of this research. I was as lightheaded as if I were reaching the heights of Everest myself. 

In fact, during that time, my husband and I did go hiking in Nepal: and in between being dizzy from the altitude and exhausted by 16-22 km of hiking daily, I was also intoxicated by the possibilities of these poems.

Everest Photos by Everest Books as selected by  Uma Krishnaswami

 

When we got back from that trip, I wrote 22 poems.

Here’s one of them:

Highest of …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: The Mooncake Festival

Book Cover The Shadow in the Moon

In mid-autumn, while the moon is at its biggest and brightest, East and Southeast Asian families come together and celebrate the Moon or Mooncake Festival to give thanks for the harvest. Lanterns are hung to symbolize the path to good fortune and mooncakes—round crusted pastries usually filled with red bean or lotus seed paste—are eaten.

This book list includes different versions of Chang’e, who is the lady and spirit of the moon, and also a fable about lanterns.

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In The Shadow in the Moon, by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law, Ah-ma tells her granddaughter the tale of how the shadow of the lady came to be trapped in the moon. Long ago, the earth was being scorched from the ten suns dancing in the sky, and so Hou-Yi, an archer, shot down nine of them. The immortals rewarded him with a potion for eternal life in the sky, but—understanding its power—Hou-Yui and his wise wife, Cheng’e, hide the potion. Later while Cheng’e is home alone, however, a thief breaks in and demands the potion, and Cheng’e drinks it to prevent him from stealing it. Hou-Yi comes home to find his wife trapped in the moon and forever pays tribute to her by staring up at her and serving her favourite round cakes.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Physics with Chris Ferrie

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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At first glance, The Everyday Science Academy series, by Chris Ferrie, appears to be for very young children. But the series brilliantly simplifies complicated scientific principles for kids up to Grade 6. Each book features a cartoon-like version of the scientist himself, Dr. Ferrie, talking to a red kangaroo, with a few short paragraphs per page. Bolded vocabulary appears throughout and each book ends the same way, with a glossary, a 5 question summative quiz, a few “Test it Out” experiments using everyday objects, and a section: “What To Expect When You Test It Out.”

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Statistical physics is the subject of Let’s Clean Up. A messy room is the springboard for questions, such as, “If two things on your shelf are out of place, then can you count all the ways two things can be out of place?” It introduces the young reader to the concept of entropy. A clean room has low entropy because there is only one way for it to be clean. Red Kangaroo says, “So my messy room has high entropy because there are 15 ways for me to make a mess!” Experiments at the back use marbles in a pizza box or food colouring in water to demonstrate these concepts.

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Most Anticipated: Our Fall 2021 Books for Young Readers Preview

It's September, and that means BACK TO THE BOOKS! Here are the books for young readers that will be delighting readers of all ages this fall.

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Picture Books

When the world gets too loud and chaotic, a young boy’s grandfather helps him listen with wonder instead in Thunder and the Noise Storms (October), by Jeffrey Ansloos & Shezza Ansloos, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. Young train enthusiasts will delight in Listen Up! Train Song (August), by Victoria Allenby, exploring sound and language. Chaiwala! (October), by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illustrated by Ashley Barron, is a sensory celebration of family, food, and culture. A boy befriends a baby gargoyle in Anthony and the Gargoyl (October), a graphic-novel style wordless book from award-winning creators Jo Ellen Bogart and Maja Kastelic. Neighbours try to figure out why a child is walking a banana on a leash, while the child tries to make them understand that the banana is really a dog (named Banana!) in A Dog Named Banana (September), by Roxane Brouillard, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola. And the second in the Charlie's Rules series, following Pasture Bedtime, from bestselling author Sigmund Brouwer, Ruff Day (September) is sure to delight young animal lovers.

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Notes from a Children’s Librarian: Satisfying Endings

How do you create a sense of satisfaction in a story’s finale? The following books pull it off by covering the gamut of techniques—concluding with an important action or image, repeated text, dialogue, or one final word. Some come full circle with whole story reminders. 

Reading aloud just the beginning and final sentences of each book allows students to feel the full impact of each type of ending.

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An Important Action

Salma and the Syrian Chef, by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron, begins with Salma, in Vancouver, missing the rain in Syria. She longs to hear her mom’s laugh again, likening it to the sound of bicycle bells in the streets back home. She tries making a Syrian dish but her attempts to buy ingredients are thwarted by her lack of English. Salma “feels like an umbrella in a country with no rain,” so she draws her list of vegetables for the grocer instead. Then she draws a picture of her home, making it purple because “it’s okay to add new colours to my memories.” The final image in the book is that of a bike ride with her new friends (other refugees from the Welcome Centre), ringing their bells beneath a purple sky.

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An important image

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Writing with Four Hands

Travels in Cuba, like the other books in the Travels series, was written with four hands. Readers are always curious about how we do this. There is piano music for four hands, so why not books? But do the writers sit side by side as if on a piano bench and write with the same rhythm? What happens if they disagree? We know that creative people are solitary creatures with large egos and a need to control their creative process. So what happens when two very independent authors with very different ways of seeing the world begin working together?

Actually, we were surprised at how smoothly it went. Marie-Louise has worked in children’s theatre, writing plays and designing sets, including large puppets. She knew what it was like to work with a team. The two key ingredients are a dash of compromise and criticism of the constructive kind. And David has worked writing and directing documentary films, and filmmaking is the collaborative form par excellence.

Also, the idea behind the very first book we did, Travels with my Family, came out of our shared experience. These were the family journeys we made together with our two boys. And, of course, we don’t sit side by side looking over each other’s shoulders. As the story is coming together, many, many versions of the m …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Jewish Heritage

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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These stories showcasing Jewish heritage will be enjoyed by all ages, from Kindergarten to Grade 6.

In Ten Old Men and a Mouse, by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Gary Clement, a party of elderly characters keep the synagogue alive by shuffling there daily, even with their aches and pains. When a mouse appears, the party sets out to catch it, but they fall in love instead. They create a mouse home, complete with dollhouse table and cut-up magazine pictures on the wall. The “boy” mouse becomes round and reclusive—and has babies! They drive the burgeoning family out to the country to a perfect new home in a hollow tree. After some time, the lonely empty-nest mother returns in a hilarious ending. “Don’t worry…” the men tell her, “You’ll hear from your kids again…when they need something.”

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Oy! Feh! So?, also by Cary Fagan and Gary Clement, is a playful little book that needs to be read aloud. Aunt Essy, Aunt Chanah, and Uncle Sam visit eve …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Stories for Asian Heritage Month

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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These are books highlighting Asian heritage for the month of May.

Awakening the Dragon: The Dragon Boat Festival, by Arlene Chan, illustrated by Song Nan Zhang, is nonfiction in picture book form. It describes the history and rituals surrounding the race which happens on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar in order to protect against misfortune. It also explains race preparation, rules, team makeup—the pacers in the front, the engine in the middle and the rockets in the rear. It captures the process: “Paddles Up! Race Ready!”—boaters' hearts racing, knowing the first powerful strokes count. (Grades 1 to 6)

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Book Cover Hana Hashitmoto Sixth Violin

In Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng, Hana visits her Ojiichan’s (grandfather) home in Japan, complete with shoji screens and tatami mats. Having played in the Kyoto orchestra, he performs for Hana and her brothers on the porch, making his violin sound like crickets or rain on pap …

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What the Kite Saw: Stories of Children and Crisis

Book Cover What the Kite Saw

My new picture book, What The Kite Saw, illustrated by Akin Duzakin, shares what a young boy feels and does after soldiers seize control of his town and take his father and brother away. War has a brutal impact on children whenever adults (nations) resolve a conflict through military force. I gave this story a universal setting because, sadly, it could happen anywhere.

Children have their own unique ways of facing a crisis. Yes, they need protecting, but they are also resilient. They have inner resources, spunk and imagination. The young protagonists in the stories I’ve chosen face their crisis in ways I find inspiring with an idea they’ve imagined themselves. No adult guides the child. Regardless of the situation, these stories reflect a respect for the dignity of children.

Book Cover Fatty Legs

Fatty Legs, by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak is determined to learn to read and ignores her father’s warnings that residential schools are terrible places. After Margaret leaves the safety of …

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New Picture Books for Spring

A selection of gorgeous new picture books celebrating new life, hope, nature, and mindfulness.

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Outside, You Notice, by Erin Alladin, illustrated by Andrea Blinick

About the book: A lyrical nonfiction celebration of the outdoors pairing childlike observation with facts about the natural world

Outside,
 you notice things.

Time spent in the outdoors stirs a child’s imagination. Nature sparks wonder, wonder leads to curiosity, and curiosity brings about a greater knowledge of the world and one’s self. In Outside, You Notice, a meditative thread of child-like observations (How after the rain / Everything smells greener) is paired with facts about the habits and habitats of animals, insects, birds, and plants (A tree’s roots reach as wide as its branches).

Author Erin Alladin invites young scientists and daydreamers to look closely and think deeply in this lyrical nonfiction text, celebrating all the kinds of “outside” that are available to children, from backyards to city parks to cracks in the sidewalk. Illustrator Andrea Blinick portrays these spaces bursting with small wonders with a child’s-eye view, her naïve and nostalgic style capturing the joy of endless discovery.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Celebrating STEM

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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This list includes all kinds of STEM’ers—science enthusiasts, builders, inventors, real life engineers—in both fiction and non-fiction texts.

In Fairy Science, by Ashley Spires, Esther is the only fairy in Pixieville who believes in science. According to Esther, magical rainbows are actually the dispersion of light; water droplets on plants, viewed as a bad omen, are simply condensation; spirit faces in the rocks are a result of erosion. She teaches her fellow fairies the scientific method, the periodic table and demonstrates gravity. But it takes a wilting tree and Esther’s data-based life-saving research to convert a few fairies to her way of thinking. This tale includes a bean experiment at the back. (Grades 1-3)

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Come Back to Earth, Esther! written by Josée Bisaillon depicts Esther as a normal girl with an astronomy obsession. She recreates solar systems at mealtime (e.g. a pancake and a strip of bacon looks like Saturn; half-bitten coo …

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Seeds of a Story: 2020 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards

Last week, the winners of the 2020 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards were announced. And now we're excited to share short pieces by finalist authors on the inspirations for their celebrated works and how they came to be born.

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Love From A to Z, by S.K. Ali

Nominated for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award

Love from A to Z grew from many seeds—one of which was that I wasn’t seeing the kind of love story that was familiar to me and my family and friends. Muslim romantic storylines in popular culture tend to be focused on marriages arranged by parents (even if that’s not the romance in the story, the main character is often presented as grappling with the expectation of arranged marriages) and that wasn’t my experience, and isn’t an intrinsic part of Islam. Muslim cultures vary widely and so how relationships develop vary. I just wanted to tell a story familiar to me but that I wasn’t seeing on shelves: two Muslims meeting serendipitously and falling for each other.

The journey of two characters falling in love had to be dealt with justly (I felt) so I set out to tell two distinct stories. That meant mapping out two story-arcs, two character journeys, two worlds, and then I proceeded to envision these two tales as they would look fully realized, as tho …

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