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Books that Inspire Students to Overcome Adversity

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Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we will dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.

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Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller

School has always been a challenging experience but for the last two years school has been an ordeal! While adjusting to the new realities of masks, online learning, and cancelled activities, our students are still passing through the difficulties of growing up, forming relationships, and discovering themselves. 

I can see that my students are struggling, but I don’t always know how to help. I’ve found that some of the best comfort, advice, and encouragement can be found in the books we read.

One of the most helpful things we can do when facing a challenge is talk about it. When we talk about the struggles we’re going through, we learn we’re not alone. Books can help start the conversation. Read …

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On Our Radar: Style, Represention, and In Praise of Retreat

On Our Radar features books with buzz worth sharing. We bring you links to features and reviews about great new books in a multitude of genres from all around the Internet.

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Heaven No Hell, by Michael DeForge 

Reviewed in Comics Bookcase by Zack Quaintance

"I don’t keep a ranking or anything, but Heaven No Hell by Michael DeForge may be the comic or graphic novel that has made me laugh aloud the most this year. And that’s not an easy thing to do, especially not when also operating with Heaven No Hell’s high level of wit, poignancy, and depiction of how it feels to just live right now on this planet as a human today.

This isn’t a book trafficking in cheap fourth-wall breaks of instantly-dated pop culture references. No, this is a smart and moving work. It’s all in here—an excess of heart and thoughtfulness—between a rare sense of humor that made me laugh as much (if not more) than any work I’ve encountered of late in comics or any other medium."

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[Michael DeForge] is a comic creator who is lighting the way for a new generation.

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Ontario Pi …

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The Chat with Shanice Nicole

Dear Black Girls (Metonymy) is a gorgeous picture book offering love and reassurance to Black girls the world over. Writer Shanice Nicole has collaborated with artist Kezna Dalz to create a work that’s empowering and timely. This week, Shanice is our guest on The Chat.

Shanice Nicole is a Black feminist educator, facilitator, writer, and (out)spoken word artist. She believes that everyone has the power to make change and dreams of a freer world for us all. Learn more about her work at shanicenicole.com.

Kezna Dalz is a multidisciplinary Black artist from Montreal. She cares about representation, and portrays the beauty of womanhood, teen/adult angst, and the worst of pop culture using vibrant colours. You can find more of her work at www.teenadultt.com.

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Trevor Corkum: Dear Black Girls, a picture book, is a love letter to Black girls around the world. Why was this project important to you?

Shanice Nicole: Dear Black Girls is a book that I would have wanted to read as a young Black girl and it's a book that I still want to read as an adult. There's something so important about seeing and feeling yourself not only represented but understood. That experience is something I wanted to offer through the poem and Kezna has beautifully translated that same experience th …

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The Chat with Kelly S. Thompson

Kelly S. Thompson served as a captain in the Canadian Armed Forces and writes about her experiences as a female soldier in her compelling debut memoir, Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces (McClelland & Stewart).

Lauren McKeon, author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, writes, “In Girls Need Not Apply, Kelly S. Thompson presents us with a masterclass in resilience. With equal parts strength and vulnerability, Thompson navigates what it means to find belonging—and success—in a hyper-masculinized culture that was never built for women. A must-read for those of us who make it our daily habit to smash through age-old, sexist barriers.”

After several years of service, Kelly S. Thompson retired from the Canadian Armed Forces after an injury. She has an honours BA in Professional Writing from York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and is a PhD. candidate in Literary and Critical Studies at the University of Gloucestershire. Her work has appeared in MacleansChatelaine, and Maisonneuve, as well as in various anthologies.

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Leading Students on a Path of Self-Discovery: Sadia by Colleen Nelson

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Reviewing Sadia

As a fifteen-year-old adjusting to life in high school, Sadia begins to realize that growing up in Winnipeg brings many challenges. Balancing school work, extra-curriculars, and relationships, all while trying to discover yourself is a daunting task. Sadia faces pressure from her family, peers, and herself, while trying to figure out where she fits in.

When the new school year begins, Sadia’s best friend has started de-jabbing. This poses a real dilemma for Sadia as she has difficulty understanding why her friend would all of a sudden start lying to her parents.

This novel can serve as inspiration for many of our students. Living in a multicultural society means accepting everyone for who they are. Traditional rules need to be adjusted, and Sadia’s story serves as a prime example. She loves to play basketball and is a vital member of her school team. At an annual tournament, some of the opposing teams take issue with a piece of Sadia’s clothing — her hijab. Just when she thinks there is no hope, Sadia receives inspiration from an unlikely source.

Curriculum Connections

During the sto …

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The Chat with Canisia Lubrin

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Today on The Chat, a conversation with Canisia Lubrin, author of the superb debut collection of poems, Voodoo Hypothesis. It’s a collection that Lubrin's publisher, Wolsak and Wynn, says “pulls from pop culture, science, pseudo-science and contemporary news stories about race .... Lubrin has created a book that holds up a torch to the narratives of the ruling class, and shows us the restorative possibilities that exist in language itself.”

The Toronto Star says “Lubrin’s poems are dense with ideas and striking turns of phrase, as she attempts to chart the “maps of speechless centuries” and “the Morse events of smallest things.” This density makes her work ... immensely rewarding.” 

Canisia Lubrin is a writer who has published poetry, fiction, non-fiction and criticism in Arc Poetry Magazine, Room Magazine, The Puritan, the Globe and Mail, and others. She serves on the editorial board of the Humber Literary Review and as an advisor to Open Book Ontario. Lubrin holds an MFA from the University of Guelph-Humber and teaches English at H …

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A Chat Roundtable With the Editors of Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer

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As this summer’s Pride festivals and festivities are set to get underway, we’re in conversation this week with three of the editors of the seminal (and fabulous) volume on Toronto queer history—Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer. It’s a pleasure to be in conversation with John Lorinc, Rahim Thawer, and Jane Farrow.*

Published by Coach House, the anthology draws on a range of voices to explore how the residents of queer Toronto have shaped and reshaped one of the world’s most diverse cities. Any Other Way includes chapters on Oscar Wilde’s trip to Toronto; early cruising areas and gay/lesbian bars; queer shared houses; a pioneering collective counter-archive project; bath house raids; LBGT-police conflicts; the Queen Street art/music/activist scene; and a profile of Jackie Shane, the trans R&B singer who performed in drag in both Toronto and Los Angeles, and gained international fame with her 1962 chart-topping single, "Any Other Way."

Rahim Thawer

Rahim Thawer is a registered social worker, consultant, post-secondary instructor, and mental health cou …

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The Chat With Jen Sookfong Lee

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What happens when an adult daughter finds the corpses of two teenaged girls at the bottom of her dead mother’s freezer? That’s at the heart of Jen Sookfong Lee’s latest novel, The Conjoined. It’s a pleasure to be in conversation with Jen on this week’s Chat.

Writing in The Globe and Mail about the book’s many twists and turns, Stacey May Fowles says, “In the universe Lee has created, coming to the truth is more about nuance, empathy and openhearted understanding than it is about any strict, simplistic set of rules about good and evil, right or wrong.”

Jen Sookfong Lee was born and raised in Vancouver’s East Side, where she now lives with her son. Her books include The Conjoined, The Better Mother (a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award), The End of East, and Shelter, a novel for young adults. Her poetry, fiction, and articles have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Elle Canada, Hazlitt, Room, and Event. A popular radio personality, Jen was the voice behind CBC Radio One’s weekly writing column, W …

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The Chat: Trevor Corkum Interviews Jael Ealey Richardson

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It's back to school this month, so on this week’s Chat, we’re talking children’s literature. I’m pleased to be in conversation with Jael Ealey Richardson, who co-wrote The Stone Thrower with illustrator Matt James. The book recounts the story of her father, renowned CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey, and the meteoric rise of his football career against a backdrop of racism and inequity.

CanLit for Little Canadians called The Stone Thrower “a story of grit, visual and inspirational, in its truest form while Quill & Quire said the book is " ... an inspirational true-life tale that will resonate with dreamers big and small."

Author photo credit: Trayc Dudgeon

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THE CHAT WITH JAEL EALEY RICHARDSON

Trevor Corkum: The Stone Thrower is an adaptation of a memoir you wrote about your father called The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Fat …

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The Chat: Trevor Corkum Interviews Carmen Aguirre

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This week on The Chat, I’m in conversation with Vancouver writer and theatre artist Carmen Aguirre. Her powerful second memoir, Mexican Hooker #1, explores the many links between personal trauma, healing, and her life as an artist and activist. A follow-up to her Canada Reads winning bestseller, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, her new work mines the psychological, physical, and creative fallout of a brutal sexual assault committed against Aguirre when she was just 13 years old.  

The Globe and Mail called the memoir “a powerful victory for survivors of abuse" while writer Alison Wearing says the book “roars with a kind of courage one rarely witnesses in this world. It is a harrowing read, horrific yet unexpectedly—almost impossibly—tender.”

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THE CHAT WITH CARMEN AGUIRRE

Trevor Corkum: How was Mexican Hooker #1 born? When did you realize that it would become a book?

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The Chat: Trevor Corkum Interviews Vivek Shraya

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Vivek Shraya’s first collection of poems, even this page is white, is a bold, powerful work of art, addressing questions of racism, whiteness, and marginalization in social, creative, political, and intimate spaces.

Praising the collection, Shani Mootoo says, “this brave and very contemporary lyrical collection dares to ask the unspoken yet screaming questions, to finish the sentence that hurts, that reveals, that provokes, that celebrates. Like a Durga goddess, Shraya juggles with deft hands the multiple aspects of desire, race, gender, queerness, and contemporary pop culture.”

The Toronto Arts Council says, “Shraya’s voice is valuable to the future of poetry in Canada because of her undeniable strength, honesty, perception, and innovation."

Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. She is also one half of the music duo Too Attached and the Associate Editor of Heartbeats, a website that features racialized artists and stories. Her first novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of …

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Quick Hits: Historical Fiction for Tweens and Teens

In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.

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The Hangman in the Mirror, by Kate Cayley

Genre: Young Adult (age 12+), Historical Fiction

Publisher: Annick Press

What It's About

Françoise Laurent has never had an easy life. The only surviving child of a destitute washerwoman and wayward soldier, she must rely only on herself to get by. When her parents die suddenly from the smallpox ravishing New France (modern-day Montreal), Françoise sees it as a chance to escape the life she thought she was trapped in.

Seizing her newfound opportunity, Françoise takes a job as an aide to the wife of a wealthy fur trader. The poverty-ridden world she knew transforms into a strange new world full of privilege and fine things—and of never having to beg for food. But Françoise’s relationships with the other servants in Madame Pommereau’s house are tenuous, and Madame Pommereau isn’t an easy woman to work for. When Françoise is caught stealing a pair of her mistress’s beautiful gloves, she faces a …

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