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.
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.
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.
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.
It Happened in Canada, by Gordon Johnston
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.
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 …
In The Emperor's Orphans, poet and translator Sally Ito tells the story of her own family's history in Japan and Canada, and the wider story of Japanese-Canadians being "repatriated" to Japan during World War Two. In this list, she shares other stories of family history that inspired her on her writing journey.
October is Family History Month, which makes for a perfect month to be launching my new book of creative nonfiction, The Emperor’s Orphans, about my family’s history in Canada and Japan. When I sat down to write this book, I initially thought I was writing about my family but it turned out my family was writing about (or to) me—either through the story-telling voice of my Nisei great Aunty Kay or the fastidious pen-wielding scribe of my Japanese grandfather, Toshiro Saito. These “ancestors” from the past shaped the writer-me into existence, leading me to discover who I am as a Japanese Canadian woman.
There are some great creative nonfiction titles I read along the journey of writing this book that are listed below. Hope you find them and be inspired as I was by them.
This assortment of memoir, biography, and autobiography brings real life to the page, and into the minds of readers.
Homes: A Refugee Story, by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung
About the book: In 2010, the al Rabeeah family left their home in Iraq in hope of a safer life. They moved to Homs, in Syria—just before the Syrian civil war broke out.
Abu Bakr, one of eight children, was ten years old when the violence began on the streets around him: car bombings, attacks on his mosque and school, firebombs late at night. Homes tells of the strange juxtapositions of growing up in a war zone: horrific, unimaginable events punctuated by normalcy—soccer, cousins, video games, friends.
Homes is the remarkable true story of how a young boy emerged from a war zone—and found safety in Canada—with a passion for sharing his story and telling the world what is truly happening in Syria. As told to her by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah, writer Winnie Yeung has crafted a heartbreaking, hopeful, and urgently necessary book that provides a window into understanding Syria.
Black History Month is a perfect opportunity to highlight these excellent books which celebrate Black heroes and Black culture.
Up Home, by Shauntay Grant and Susan Tooke
About the book: A positive, heartwarming portrayal of North Preston past and present. This touching poem from spoken-word artist, poet and CBC Radio personality Shauntay Grant portrays the Nova Scotian community of Preston. Short, staccato lines, musicality and the use of real, spoken language, and Susan Tooke's breathtaking illustrations using real models from the community, combine in a sensory experience that is sure to wow readers of all ages. Grant's memories of growing up reflect a magical place where landscape, food, history and, most of all, people come together in a community filled with love and beauty. A powerful story with positive images of one of Nova Scotia's most important black communities.
All Aboard: Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine, by Monica Kulling and Bill Slavin
About the book: In the second of Tundra's Great Idea Series, biographies for children who are just s …
A poet and non-fiction writer, Alison Watt makes a splendid debut as a novelist with Dazzle Patterns, a beautiful and vivid novel set against the backdrop of the Halifax Explosion. In this list, Watt shares the books behind the book, the works she drew on to bring her historical period to life.
Dazzle Patterns begins in Halifax, on the day of its famous Explosion. The novel follows the stories of three people, whose lives are braided together: Clare, a flaw checker at a glass factory, Leo, her fiancé fighting in France, and Fred, a German immigrant and master glassmaker at the factory.
Both Clare and Fred begin studies at the Victoria School of Art, under the direction of Arthur Lismer, who would go on to be a member of the Group of Seven, and found a new school of Canadian painting. Leo is captured and held behind German lines.
The novel is as much about art as war and the following books speak these two themes, as well as the historic Halifax explosion. Their riches lie among the everyday details buried in text and photos, which I could draw on to try to bring that faraway time and place to life for the modern reader.
Hope Nicholson's newest project is The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen, an engaging and gorgeous catalogue of comic book heroines though the ages. Hope, author of The Secret Lives of Geek Girls and founder of Bedside Press, specializing in archival comics collections, is pretty spectacular herself, and we relished the opportunity to ask her a little more about this fascinating book.
49th Shelf: It seems like superwomen are having a moment, what with the success of Supergirl and the Jessica Jones series, the awesomeness of reboots like Ms. Marvel, and excitement about the forthcoming Wonder Woman film. But your book posits that there exists an incredible history of powerful female heroes that it lesser known. So what do you think is particular about what’s happening right now?
Hope Nicholson: I think there are a lot of great things happening right now for female characters! Definitely we've never had as intense a cross-platform saturation as exists today in this really overwhelming presence of comic-book-related TV shows and movies, and we are seeing more female characters pop up as leading characters in these programs. Another great thing that is happening is an awareness that we need a lot of female characters from many different walks of life, to con …
From keeping Vikings at bay to fending off paparazzi, Carolyn Harris—in her new book Raising Royalty—explores the history of royal parenting and how its changes have reflected wider societal trends, and vice versa. In this guest post for us, she delves into the Canadian history of royal parenting, which includes a famous embrace, a Dutch princess born in Ottawa, and the wife of a Governor General...who happened to be Queen Victoria's daughter!
In September 2016, William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Victoria, British Columbia with their two young children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. The royal children did not simply accompany their parents for a week in Canada but shaped the nature of the royal tour. With the exception of a single overnight in Whitehorse, Yukon, the royal couple’s itinerary allowed them to spend the evenings at the Lieutenant Governor’s residence in Victoria with their children. The royal children even undertook public engagements, appearing with their parents at the beginning and end of the tour and taking centre stage at a picnic for children of military families. The Canadian public admired the royal couple’s rapport with their children and images from the Canadian tour continue to appear in a …
We start our special coverage of this year’s English-language Governor General’s Award winners with a conversation with Bill Waiser, author of A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905.
Of the book, the Governor General’s Award jury says, “From its first page, Bill Waiser’s A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905 surprises the reader with its reconsideration of Canada. In a sweeping blend of narrative, historical detail, and compelling images, Waiser refocuses the country’s story by putting Indigenous peoples and environmental concerns in the foreground.”
Author and historian Bill Waiser specializes in western Canadian history. He has published over a dozen books—many of them recognized by various awards, including a shortlist nomination for the 1997 Governor General’s literary award for non-fiction. Bill is a frequent public speaker and contributor to radio, television, and print media. He has also served on a number of national, provincial, and local boards. Bill has been awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, named a distinguished university professor, and granted a D.Litt.
How did your Governor General Award-winning book come into being?
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.
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 …
My fiction series, The Marc Edwards Mysteries, tells the story of Upper Canada in the 1830s and settlers’ struggles to make their lives there. The books depict settlers’ threats from not only annexationists in the United States, but also from within Upper Canada’s own governing party, the Family Compact.
Upper Canada’s Family Compact was composed of a handful of would-be aristocrats who controlled the Upper Chamber of the Legislature and were in thick with the Governor of the day (appointed from Britain). The Upper Chamber (Legislative Council) was appointed by the Compact-friendly Governor and held veto power over bills passed by the freely elected Assembly. This power was routinely abused to stop the Assembly’s reform legislation that would benefit the farmers and ordinary citizens of the province. In this way the Compact kept all the best appointments and sinecures for themselves and controlled the banking system, to the detriment of debt-ridden farmers.
Meanwhile, below the border, many American politicians were calling for the annexation of Upper and Lower Canada, and some of those in the Assembly were a …