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Small Courage: Parenting Memoirs

Book Cover Small Courage

Jane Byers' book is Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family, a thoughtful and heart-warming examination of love, queerness and what it means to be a family.

Here, she shares other parenting memoirs that have inspired her.

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Home Ice, by Angie Abdou

This memoir by Fernie, BC–based novelist struck a chord with me. Both Angie Abdou and I are parents of sporty kids. Her romp through a year of her 10-year-old son playing minor hockey resonated with me, having played recreational hockey, but I hadn’t navigated the pitfalls of that mythical Canadian hockey-parent culture. I found myself bristling at the same things Abdou bristled at, and, as a former athlete, also being conflicted acknowledging the great things about sports and specifically team sports, but recognizing also the detrimental effects on our youth of a sport’s particular culture.

This memoir follows one hockey season, the divide-and-conquer parenting that often accompanies having a child in hockey, and the toll it takes on a relationship.

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Martina Scholtens: Know What You Don't Know

Book Cover Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist

Our editorial theme for January has been about coziness and notions of home, and Martina Scholtens memoir, Your Heart Is the Size of Your Fist, provides a unique twist on this idea. Scholtens' book is about her experiences as a doctor in a Vancouver refugee clinic, treating patients who are distinctly not at home, both literally but also in terms of their connections to the culture around them. And in her role as these patients' doctor, Scholtens, too, is often unsettled, navigating gaps in language and culture, her professional knowledge pitted against so much that she doesn't know and can only guess at.

In this excerpt pulled from the first part of the book, Sholtens writes about the importance of knowing what you don't know, and how a bit of humility and curiosity can go a long way in fostering connection. 

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As I drove the kids to school on my way to the clinic, winding along Dollarton Highway with the morning sun glinting off Burrard Inlet, my nine-year-old daughter told me about a mathematics contest she had written earlier in the week. 

“I left one question blank,” Saskia began. It was a confession: a perfect score was off the table. She didn’t add up test scores; she worked back from 100. “But I did that because of how the scoring system worked. Y …

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Shameless: Marilyn Churley on Finding her Son and Reforming Adoption Disclosure

In the late 1960s, at the age of 19 and living far from home amid the thriving counterculture of Ottawa, Marilyn Churley got pregnant. Like thousands of other women of the time she kept the event a secret. Faced with few options, she gave the baby up for adoption.

Over 20 years later, as the Ontario NDP government's minister responsible for all birth, death, and adoption records, including those of her own child, Churley found herself in a surprising and powerful position—fully engaged in the long and difficult battle to reform adoption disclosure laws and find her son.

Both a personal and political story, her memoir, Shameless, is a powerful book about a mother's struggle with loss, love, secrets, andlies—and an adoption system shrouded in shame.

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49th Shelf: Shameless makes clear that issues around adoption are feminist issues. What has changed since your experiences in the 1960s in terms of stigma around unplanned or unwanted pregnancies? What has stayed the same?

Marilyn Churley: Adoption is a feminist issue for many reasons. As I said in the introduction to Shameless, history shows that women have always been coerced into living their lives as society deems appropriate, and tormented, punished and shamed when they didn’t comply. The double standard aro …

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Beth Kaplan: On Coming-of-Age Memoirs

The Beatles

If there is one single problem with 49th Shelf's Canadian focus, it's that it really does restrict our opportunities to talk about the Beatles. Thankfully, Beth Kaplan's fun and absorbing memoir, All My Loving: Coming of Age With Paul McCartney in Paris, has come along to provide just such an occasion. In this special guest list for 49th Shelf, Kaplan tells us a little bit about her book, and recommends other great coming-of-age memoirs to sit alongside it. 

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As a memoir writer and long-time teacher of memoir writing, I tend to read, guess what, almost exclusively non-fiction: personal essays, biography, and, of course, memoir.

Recently, because of the publication of my own '60s memoir, All My Loving: Coming of Age with Paul McCartney in Paris, I’ve been particularly interested in coming-of-age stories, which focus on the adolescent years, that difficult stretch between childhood and adulthood. Of the many I’ve read, here are a few of my favourite Canadian coming-of-age sagas, including—if I may—my own.

Many of these were published some years ago. They are not what’s called “misery memoirs” about extreme situations or terrible abuse; even Ernest Hillen gets through his horrible ordeal intact. Though honest and clear-eyed, they’re written with go …

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Alison Pick's Memoir List

Between Gods

From the Man Booker-nominated author of the novel Far to Go comes an unflinching, moving, and unforgettable memoir about family secrets and the rediscovered past. 

Alison Pick was born in the 1970s and raised in a supportive, loving family. Then as a teenager, Alison made a discovery that instantly changed her understanding of her family, and her vision for her own life, forever. She learned that her Pick grandparents, who had escaped from the Czech Republic during WWII, were Jewish—and that most of this side of the family had died in concentration camps. She also discovered that her own father had not known of this history until his twenties and then he, too, had kept the secret from Alison and her sister.

In her early thirties, engaged to be married to her longtime boyfriend but struggling with a crippling depression, Alison slowly but doggedly began to research and uncover her Jewish heritage. Eventually she came to realize that her true path forward was to reclaim her history and identity as a Jew. But even then, one seemingly insurmountable problem remained: her mother wasn't Jewish, so technically Alison wasn't either.

In her memoir, Between Gods, published today, Alison recounts her struggle with the meaning of her faith, her journey to convert to Judaism, …

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Digitizing Mona: Guest Post by Maria Meindl

Book Cover Outside the Box

My desk is awash in receipts. Recently unfolded from the depths of my wallet, they keep sliding out of their designated piles. Four months since I updated my spreadsheet; I've really let things go! I circle the vital information, then enter it on my keyboard. The CD mechanism on the computer grinds, and from the tinny speakers comes a voice: Mona Gould, my grandmother, reading her poetry and telling stories from her life.

Mona is nowhere. She died in 1999 and was cremated, yet now a complex sequence of zeroes and ones brings her voice into my office this early September day. There are other sounds on the CD, the traffic on the highway outside her apartment in Barrie where the tapes were made, the clunk and whir of the original cassette machine, the banter with her friend John Ide, who had the foresight to capture her voice on tape.

A former broadcaster and poet, Mona was eighty-one years old when John undertook that recording session. Later, he transcribed the results for an art installation which allowed her to be heard again after many years of obscurity. Recently, he transferred them to CD, with plans to develop the work further.

This afternoon's combination of activities is no accident: doing my finances and listening to Mona' s voice. Only a spreadsheet could p …

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