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From A to Zed: Sara O'Leary on Canadian Alphabet Books

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets is the latest release by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Jacob Grant, and it's going to find its way into many households this holiday season, because it's just purely delightful. A window onto the secret inner lives of our animal friends, secrets you always suspected, and which make perfect sense—of course dragons cry at happy endings, and meerkats love a parade. In this list, O'Leary shares some of her other favourite Canadian abecedaries in all their amazing varieties. 


I’ve always loved alphabet books and now I seem to have accidentally written one. My initial reason for writing Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets is contained in its title, which was a line cut from the final draft of my book This is Sadie. I was so determined to find a place for my secretive owls that I built a whole compendium of animals around the idea, from homebody iguanas to foxes who love the camera as much as it loves them. And as I thought of more and more animals, it made sense at a certain point for my little fanciful bestiary to also become an abecedary. 

When my firstborn was small, we were careful to teach him a Canadian alphabet. We stuck to the tried-and-true tune, but the song’s closing refrain was our own: “Now you know your A to Zed. Kee …

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Shelf Talkers: December 2015

It’s that time of year again, that most wonderful time, when the evenings are long, and the air is full of the sound of Year-End Best-Of lists. What, you were expecting carolling?

Sure, the holidays are swell and everything, but as a booklover, the turning of the year is a time to look back, to recall what books brought me joy and, more significantly, to look at other peoples’ lists and see what I missed.

My book budget goes out the window in December, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

The Year-End Best-Of list has become as much a tradition as turkey dinners and fighting with your family around the table. David Gutowski has, at the time of this writing, more than a thousand such lists aggregated over at Largehearted Boy (and yes, I’m spending altogether too much time there).

But the lists, at least in their more formal iterations, are also a recurring cause of frustration. Open a newspaper, flip through a magazine, click a link, and what do you find? Writers talking about the best books of the year. Reviewers boiling a year’s work down to a handful of favourites. Media figures weighing in with their choices.  It’s as if, in the wake of the major prizes, everybody gets to contribute their voices.

Well, almost everyone.

Who don’t you find, as a rule?


Sure, there’s the occasional broad-based piece: Quill & Quire usually consults with a few booksellers for an article, and Publisher’s Weekly did a great job with a survey of American booksellers last we …

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Shelf Talkers: August 2015

Normally in this space, I try to write something a little clever by way of an introduction to the current round of recommendations from our panel of independent booksellers. (I say “try”—cleverness isn’t something that one can rely on, as my fourth-grade teacher often told me, usually before sending me out into the hallway to think about what I had done.) This month, though, I’m going to go with something a little different: sincerity. Sincerity and gratitude.

I spent more than two decades—the greater part of my adult life—as a bookseller. I know their concerns, the pressures upon them, the constant flurry and flux they face as the industry shifts and heaves around them.

And as a writer, I want to say, simply, thank you.

What independent booksellers do isn’t easy. They face frequently overwhelming odds and strains, long days, and recurring doubts. It isn’t an easy life. And yet, every day, they find time to read. The booksellers I know read incessantly; the backrooms and sales floors of every independent bookstore I’ve ever been to are a hum of “Have you read this?” and “What did you think of that?” No matter the financial pressures and the ongoing stresses, booksellers find time to immerse themselves in books new and old, to read deeply and passionately.

They are also, it has to be said, some of the most critical readers you are ever liable to meet: if they feel strongly enough about a book to recommend it, you know it’s a good one. They won’t dis …

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Picture Books We Have Known and Loved (by Sara O'Leary)

Sara O'Leary

Right now I am the only one in my household who is the right age for picture books as both my boys have outgrown that stage, although the younger one does write them. But as first a mother, then a reviewer, and then a children’s writer I have spent an inordinate amount of time immersed in them.

After years and years of writing book reviews I have a personal library that is probably smaller than it was when I began. My attitude to books has shifted – the ones I don’t care about I get rid of and the ones that I particularly like I tend to pass on to someone else. But picture books are different.Our collection has been winnowed down over the years and several major moves, but the books we have loved are now part of the family and wherever we go, they go with us.

Here are a few of the picture books that stay with me (both literally and figuratively).

Yuck, a Love Story by Don Gillmor, Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay: I’m not putting this list in order but I am putting this one at the top, which may or may not be a coincidence. When I think about o …

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