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Notes from a Children's Librarian: The "I Am Canadian" Series

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

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The “I am Canada” series is addictive. Aimed primarily at boys in Grade 7 and up, these books about war are dark, action-filled and sometimes gruesome. They could work for mature Grade 5 or 6 readers, or also as read-alouds with follow-up discussion close to Remembrance Day. These first-person narratives are so compelling that a reader doesn’t even notice that they’re actually learning history. At the back of each book, there’s a note on the historical accuracy, with photos of original documents and images of the real life characters the books are based on.

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Book Cover Sniper Fire

Sniper Fire: The Fight for Ortona (Paul Baldassara, Italy, 1943), by Jonathan Webb

The dramatic opening puts the reader right in the thick of war. Paul is an Italian from Alberta who enlists in the Canadian army and finds himself in Italy during a month-long battle to capture (and eventually win) the town of Ortona. The descriptions of vicious street fighting that cost more than 2,300 Canadian casualties elicits all the senses. Paul and his buddies take Ortona street by street, house by house, enduring sniper fire, booby-trapped doors, chairs, and toilets. The effect on the civilians becomes eviden …

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Let's Get Out of This Town: Literary Travel

Journey through place and time with this collection of new and forthcoming travel books, spotlighting some of the best travel writing and a few of the most amazing places on earth.

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Our Trip Around the World, by Renate Belczyk (Coming in September)

About the book: A spirited 1950s travelogue that takes the reader around the world during a time when two independent young women travelling alone was considered almost revolutionary.

Renate Belczyk was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1932. When she was three years old her family moved to Berlin, where they settled into a small apartment building on the outskirts of the city. It was in this building that she met another adventurous girl, Sigrid, with whom she would travel around the world as young women after the Second World War.

Having spent most of their childhood and teenage years climbing trees, swimming, cycling, hiking, and adventuring around Germany the two young women attended a talk by the German writer Heinrich Böll.

During his presentation the renowned author suggested to the crowd that they all travel to different countries and make friends with the locals whenever they could, as this would help prevent another war. Renate and Sigrid took this advice to heart, and from that point their adventures together to …

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Launchpad: On Nostalgia, by David Berry

Book Cover On Nostalgia

Today we're launching David Berry's book On Nostalgia, a history of nostalgia—which is no small thing! Tobias Carroll writes at Literary Hub, "[Berry] pulls off the impressive feat of covering plenty of ground in a concise and compelling manner."

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The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

It’s a cultural history of nostalgia, an examination of why and how we’re so ceaselessly drawn back.

Describe your ideal reader.

Someone who has never met a Wikipedia hole they couldn’t fall in.

What authors/books is your work in conversation with?

Among others, I’d hope it’s in conversation with writers like FT Marinetti, Jaron Lanier, Eric Hobsbawm, Barbara Tuchman, Steven Pinker, Bill Bryson and every tech CEO who has written a thinkpiece or memoir, although I would certainly not claim that all those conversations are polite or respectful.

What is something interesting you learned about your book/ yourself/ your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?

I learned that when left to my own devices, my nostalgic thoughts tend to turn towards chocolate chip cookies. Also, I went from someone who was pretty deeply suspicious of nostalgia in general to someone who is deeply suspicious of the ways it’s used against us and profoundly …

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The Abortion Caravan: A Ragtag Army of the Willing

The Abortion Caravan, intent on bearding prime minister Pierre Trudeau in his den and removing abortion from the Criminal Code, set off for Vancouver on April 27, 1970. There were 17 women crammed into three vehicles—a great big Pontiac Parisienne convertible, a pickup truck and a Volkswagen van. On top of the van was a big black home made coffin.

Learn more in this excerpt from Karin Wells' celebrated new book The Abortion Caravan: When Women Shut Down Government in the Battle for the Right to Choose, out now.

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That coffin was featured in every newspaper story as they went across the country. It became the symbol of the Caravan and epitomized their primary argument: as long as clean, safe, medically supervised, legal abortions were unavailable—or after the 1969 reforms, barely available—women had to resort to backstreet abortionists. That meant unsanitary conditions and abortionists who hardly knew what they were doing and were not going to stick around to make sure that things turned out well. It meant risk and too many deaths.

Women who could not find or could not afford any sort of abortion provider were aborting themselves. They were flushing themselves out with Lysol or Drano, inserting knitting needles or wire coat hangers into their bodies, drinki …

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Launchpad: Makhno and Memory, by Sean Patterson

Launchpad Logo

This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launching Makhno and Memory: Anarchist and Mennonite Narratives of Ukraine's Civil War, 1917–1921, by Sean Patterson, the story of "the Ukrainian Robin Hood."

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Book Cover Makhno and Memory

The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

Makhno and Memory examines the conflict between the insurgent peasant-anarchist forces of Nestor Makhno and the Mennonite communities of southern Ukraine during the Russian Civil War period (1918-1921). 

Describe your ideal reader.
 
My book was written with a wide range of re …

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In for the Duration: Books About the Long Haul

I worked on The Work for … long enough to forget how long. And I know I’m not alone. Almost every writer I talk to has a long-simmering novel somewhere that they can’t seem to complete, but can’t give up, either. Maybe it’s loyalty, maybe it’s stubbornness; maybe we just don’t know how to stop. It’s not unlike the thwarted love-affair in my novel. The trouble is that as the years go by, the original concept no longer seems so inspiring, or so relevant. At a time like that, it helps to see the project through a new lens.

I remember when that shift happened for me with The Work. I was lying in bed reading Eva Stachniak’s The Chosen Maiden. My eyes were closing, but I just could not put it down. I turned the page, eager to know what would happen to the young Bronia Nijinska at the Imperial Ballet School, but first I came one of the interludes interspersed through the book. They take place in 1939 and show Bronia on a ship bound for the United States at the start of the Second World War, a perilous voyage toward an uncertain future. I was on the ship with Bronia, feeling the cold sea air, along with the grief she cannot leave behind. In these interludes Stachniak says, Sure, an exciting story is unfolding, but I’m going to show you something more: …

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The Power of One Story: Using Picture Books to Teach the Lessons of the Holocaust

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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Six million is a number most adults cannot comprehend. Yet, when we reduce that number to one, to one single story, we may find ourselves beginning to understand the impact of such a number and what it represents. When teaching students about significant world events with difficult subject matter, such as the Holocaust, numbers and statistics lose meaning. When we approach difficult subject matter through the lens of just one story, it is more likely that students will empathize with what they are seeing and hearing, and from there, begin to understand.

Holocaust Education Week falls during the week of November 3-10, 2019, which may be an appropriate time to incorporate some of these books into your classroom. When confronted with teaching significant world events, such as the Holocaust, the magnitude of it can be daunting and formidable. Where do I begin? How do I get students to understand that which is incomprehensible? Such questions should not deter us from educating students, even though the subject matter is difficult.

The following books offer great opportunities for reading aloud to older elementary age students, and because they are picture books, which are shorter in length, allow for rich discussion and meaningful questions to be asked and shared. The classroom connection included with each text descript …

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History of the Everyday

I’ve always been particularly interested in the history of the everyday, the mundane, the intimate. After all, these are the most important places in our own experience, places where most of us live the greater part of our lives. Exploring them in past time offers us unique insights into our ancestors’ private moments as well as into the broader social forces that shaped their life routines. 

My recent book, The Clean Body: A Modern History, is a case in point. It explores a transformation in body care habits that took root in bourgeois western society toward the end of the 18th century and slowly extended its reach until, some two centuries later, virtually everyone everywhere in all social ranks had absorbed them. The whens, the wheres, the hows, and the whys of this process tell us much about the experience of individuals in industrializing societies, as well as about wider patterns of social change.

My interest in the commonplace has more personal roots too. I like the challenge of examining the past’s more dimly-lit corners, those little noticed by contemporaries and usually neglected by generations ever since. Historical customs and habits often lie in these forgotten niches, condemned to obscurity by their very normality. Because historical inquiry is …

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Celebrating & Exploring Indigenous Languages Through Literature

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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Indigenous languages are an important aspect of daily life in Canada. Many provinces, town and city names, landmarks, and bodies of water are identified by words in Indigenous languages. Cities such as Toronto (Tkaronto) or Ottawa (Odawa) are named using Indigenous languages. Meaning behind these words needs to be celebrated and explored in a respectful manner. Through literature and connecting with Indigenous communities, Indigenous languages can be supported and honoured in the classroom.

The year 2019 was designated the “International Year of indigenous languages (#IYIL2019)” by the United Nations in an effort to acknowledge and raise awareness of Indigenous languages worldwide. Indigenous languages “foster and promote unique local cultures, customs, and values which have endured for thousands of years.” In addition, “Indigenous languages add to the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity. Without them, the world would be a poorer place.”

According to the United Nations statement “Celebrating IYIL2019 will help promote and protect indigenous languages and improve the lives of those who speak them.“ It will also support the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Canada adopted the declaration in 2016.

In Canada, there are over 60 different Indige …

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Jo Walton: 5 Stories Bound Up with History

 You've never read a historical treatment quite like a Jo Walton novel, which tend to leapfrog across and between genres in the most exciting way. Her latest is Lent, set in 15th-century Florence, and in this reading list, she recommends other books in which story and history are interwoven, a list whose eclecticism demonstrates the way fascinating way in which Walton's mind works to connect disparate things. 

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Book Cover One Way Street

Marian Engel's Monodromos or One Way Street (1973) is about a Canadian woman in Greece in the 1950s, dealing with her own past, with the historical past, with the uneasy cultural relationship between Europe and Canada, with the question of love, and with a quest to find the icon of the saint with the head of a dog. I first read it when I was working in Greece between school and university, and I have loved it ever since. It's feminist but set before second wave feminism, and it's a book that's revelatory of many layers of history, including the time it was written.

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Farley Mowat, Comics, SciFi and Manitoba

Book Cover the Case of Windy Lake

Michael Hutchinson launches his middle grade Mighty Muskrats Mystery series with The Case of Windy Lake, the story of four inseparable cousins growing up on the Windy Lake First Nation. When a visiting archeologist goes missing, the cousins decide to solve the mystery of his disappearance... In this recommended reading list, Hutchinson shares other titles that have inspired him as a writer—and as a reader too. 

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Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat

My Dad may have read a little too much Farley Mowat and was always someone who wanted to get off the grid. We didn’t get to watch TV much and it was always just fuzzy CBC when we did. We read a lot! Farley Mowat’s books were a family favorite and books such as Lost in the Barrens and Curse of the Viking Grave were some of the first books I read. They also introduced me to the idea of books being the foundation for television or movies. I really enjoyed the book Never Cry Wolf and the movie that followed.

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It Happened in Canada, by Gordon Johnston

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Remembering World War One

A century after the end of World War One, we're still not done telling stories about this historical event, and readers' thirst to learn more only grows as we see the connections between this history and our contemporary moment. This selection of recent books about World War One include titles about war poetry, food on the front, cyclists in battle, hockey hall-of-famers, and more. 

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Battle Lines: Canadian Poetry in English and the First World War, by Joel Baetz

About the book: For Canadians, the First World War was a dynamic period of literary activity. Almost every poet wrote about the war, critics made bold predictions about the legacy of the period’s poetry, and booksellers were told it was their duty to stock shelves with war poetry. Readers bought thousands of volumes of poetry. Twenty years later, by the time Canada went to war again, no one remembered any of it.

Battle Lines traces the rise and disappearance of Canadian First World War poetry, and offers a striking and comprehensive account of its varied and vexing poetic gestures. As eagerly as Canadians took to the streets to express their support for the war, poets turned to their notebooks, and shared their interpretations of the global conflict, repeating and reshaping popular notions of, among ot …

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