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A Smorgasbord of Influence

Hey there lovely 49th Shelf readers!

Author. Illustrator. And all around nice guy, Rob Justus here. I’ve been asked to put together a humble but mighty list of Canadian creators who influenced my work, but more specifically influenced me when I was writing (and drawing!), what I can only assume is your new favourite graphic novel, Death and Sparkles.

I draw inspiration from all over the place. From television and movies, to toys and video games, but these books and graphic novels just left such an imprint on me that their awesome story powers will seep into my work for the foreseeable future.

This list is pretty all over the place, but I’d argue that Death and Sparkles is a little all over the place too. It’s a little bit of something for everyone!

So without further adieu, here’s my list.

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Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton

What can I say that hasn’t been said about the comics in Hark! A Vagrant? Probably not much, I’m not that clever. Regardless, this book is absurd and hilarious. I don’t even know half of the historical people she refere …

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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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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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The Keepers on My Bookshelf

LS Stone's debut novel is the middle grade novel What's in It for Me?, which is up for giveaway on our site this week.

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I have several  favourite Canadian middle-grade/YA novels that have inspired my own writing—these four are superbly written novels with interesting/likeable characters and believable dialogue, and contain a common thread of humour:

We Are All Made of Molecules, and No Fixed Address, by Susin Nielsen

Getting the Girl, by Susan Juby

Saying Goodbye to London, by Julie Burtinshaw

No one writes humour for kids/teens quite like Susan Juby and Susin Nielsen, while at the same time tackling tough topics like bullying in high school (Getting the Girl), homelessness (No Fixed Address), a parent coming out and the relatable tribulations of blended families (We Are All Made of Molecules).

Book Cover Saying Good-bye to London

Along with Juby and Nielsen, Julie Burtins …

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Apocalypses, Quests, and Survival

Angela Misri does it all, with her Portia Adams series about Sherlock Holmes' granddaughter and a fantastic middle grade series about cats and a raccoon surviving the zombie apocalypse (why not!). The latest book in the latter is Trip of the Dead, and it's out now.

Here, she shares some compelling companion reads that you can share with your favourite young avid reader.

**Enter here for a chance to win Trip of the Dead and three other middle grade novels as part of the DCB Middle Grade Bundle!**

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Surviving the City, by Tasha Spillett, illustrated by Natasha Donovan

I’m a nerd in every aspect of my life, including my bookshelf, so this graphic novel had me at the cover. This is a story of two friends and their abiding love for each other throughout their lives. It will resonate with anyone who has lost someone who gave them their sense of belonging.

I challenge you to decide which captures you more—Spillet’s finely chosen words or Donovan’s perfect visualizations of a city that doesn’t feel like home.

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Most Anticipated: Our Books for Young Readers Preview

Looking forward to some of the books for young readers (and readers of all ages) that we're going to be falling in love with in the first half of 2021.

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Picture Books

Seeing Stars (April), by Denise Adams, is a quirky, fun book exploring the secret underwater life of starfish, in the style of The Secret Life of Squirrels. Told half in French and half in English, Pierre and Paul: Dragon (April), by Caroline Adderson and Alice Carter, the second book in the Pierre & Paul series, uses simple phrases and clues in the illustrations to make the story accessible to readers in both languages. The Covid-19 pandemic, which seems to be taking some time to go away, has meant big changes for one little girl’s family in When Mom’s Away, (April), by Layla Ahmad and Farida Zaman. Outside, You Notice (April), by Erin Alladin, illustrated by Andrea Blinick, is a lyrical celebration of the outdoors pairing childlike observation with facts about the natural world. Maya’s imagination sets the stage for her friends to act out her feminist play. Can she make room in her queendom for the will of the people? Maya's Big Scene (February), by Isabelle Arsenault, is a funny picture book about leadership and fair play for fans of King Baby and Olivia. And a young boy discovers strang …

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The Kids: Are They Alright?

Firefly is up for giveaway right now along with three other fab books in the DCB Middle Grade Bundle—Trip of the Dead, by Angela Misri; Birdspell, by Valerie Sherrard; Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer, by Leslie Gentile. Enter for your chance to win!

What is it like for a child who lives with a parent or who knows an adult struggling with a crisis of mental health, addiction, or homelessness?

Canadian children’s authors have written many moving, thoughtful books about kids coping with parents or adults in crisis. While writing my latest book Firefly, I read a lot of them (mostly pretty choked up).  

I couldn’t include them all, but here is a list of some of my favourite titles from recent years.

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Aunt Pearl, by Monica Kulling, Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher

Dan, Marta and their mother try to help their Aunt Pearl, who is homeless, by giving her a home. But Aunt Pearl is different. She collects garbage and lives in a messy, jumbled way, and yet she shows the children that recycled items can have a purpose, that we can help each other in way …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: The "I Am Canada" 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 elicit 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 evident …

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Launchpad: THE BARREN GROUNDS, by David A. Robertson

Launchpad Logo

Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.

LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.

Today we're launching David A. Robertson's The Barren Grounds, the first instalment in an an epic middle grade fantasy series  where Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations.

The book is being championed by Susin Nielsen, who tells us, "David A. Robertson has written such a fine, beautiful novel. He manages to combine hard truths about our history with a Narnia-like fantasy, sweeping us into the world of the story while opening our hearts as well."

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49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?

David A. Robertson: It was a difficult task to draw inspiration from a classic bo …

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Books for Orange Shirt Day

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

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Residential Schools are often talked about beginning with the study of Indigenous Peoples in the Grade 3 social studies curriculum, but awareness can begin even earlier. These texts, from preschool to teens, address some of the harsh issues—and are especially meaningful in connection with Orange Shirt Day on September 30.

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The Orange Shirt Story, by Phyllis Webstad, illustrated by Brock Nicol, is a true story. Six-year-old Phyllis was looking forward to going to the same school as her cousins. She even had a new orange shirt for the occasion, but the nuns promptly removed it, and then cut off her hair. The nuns showed no empathy—a poignant illustration shows Phyllis crying, alone, in her bed at night. One nice teacher was her only solace. Luckily, Phyllis only had to endure one year away at school and never went back. There’s a section at the back of the book explaining the meaning of Orange Shirt Day. (Grade 3+)

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Fatty Legs, by Christy Jordan …

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Most Anticipated: Our Fall 2020 Books for Young Readers Preview

New books for young readers...and readers of all ages!

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Picture Books

Told in rhyming verse, The Old Man and the Penguin (October), by Julie Abery and illustrated by Pierre Pratt, is the touching true story of an oil-soaked penguin, the man who rescues him and an unlikely friendship. Cakes, cookies or pie? A rivalry among local bakers is the basis for the deliciously sweet, off-the-wall picture book It Happened On Sweet Street (July), by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Bed has something to say. Bed knows you do not like bedtime. Bed gets it. But look ... YOU are not so great, either: Monica Arnaldo provides the other side of the story in Time for Bed's Story (September). And a young girl discovers nature’s surprising beauty in The Most Amazing Bird (November), from renowned Inuit storyteller Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, illustrated by Andrew Qappik.

Book Cover Princesses Vs Dinosaurs

Two popular storybook titans, princesses and dinosaurs, battle to determine who should star in Linda Bailey's new laugh-out-loud picture book, Princesses Versus Dinosaurs (September), …

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Launchpad: Tales from the Fringes of Fear, by Jeff Szpirglas

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 launches Tales from the Fringes of Fear, by Jeff Szpirglas, which Kirkus Reviews calls “A spine-tingling collection that's dead on for young horror buffs.”

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

Tales from Beyond the Brain (2019) and Tales from the Fringes of Fear (2020) are two anthologies of pure pulse-pounding, side-splitting tales of terror, aimed at (and starring) junior-aged school children. Within its pages lurk stories about malevolent art supplies, deadly fie …

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