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How Frieda Wishinsky Found Avis Dolphin

Book Cover Avis Dolphin

It is because truth is stranger than fiction that it turns out Avis Dolphin was the name of an actual person before she was the subject of Frieda Wishinksy's latest book. Avis Dolphin is her story, about a young girl's journey from Canada to England on the ill-fated Lusitania during WW1. Avis is lonely and afraid until she meets a kindly professor whose stories of a magical island help her face an uncertain future. And when the Lusitania is attacked, Avis must draw on all her newfound strength to cope with the confusion, terror, and despair.

How can she survive the sudden devastation of the ship? Will the people she cares about, especially the professor, live through the horror and danger? Wishinsky's story is complemented by the art of Willow Dawson, graphic novel illustrations depicting the stories the Professor tells to Avis. 

In this guest post, Frieda Wishinsky explains how she learned about making stories from history come to life. 

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I "found" Avis Dolphin while researching shipwrecks for a non-fiction book. As soon as I read about this 12-year-old who survived the torpedoing of the ocean liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, I was intrigued. Her story was even more engaging than her name but I had many questions that the facts and official accounts didn’t an …

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Clifford Jackman on Historical Fiction

Book Cover The Winter Family

"Tracing a gang of ruthless outlaws from its birth during the American Civil War to a final bloody showdown in the Territory of Oklahoma, The Winter Family is a hyperkinetic Western noir and a full-on assault to the senses." Intrigued yet? Craig Davidson reports that this novel "lit my synapses up like a pinball machine." 

We're pleased that today we've got Clifford Jackman with a list of Canadian works of historical fiction. It's a good one. 

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Some years back, I was writing a novel set in Victorian London and I wanted to do a little research—this was before Wikipedia. So, deciding to read some stories set in that time period, I picked up my copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. You can imagine my surprise when I found no descriptions of hansom cabs or gaslights or anything like that. Then it struck me: Doyle had no need to describe any of that stuff, because his audience had already known all about it. He would no more provide a detailed description of a hansom cab than a modern writer would describe a Honda Civic.

There are many great challenges in writing a historical novel. You'll never get it all right, anachronisms will always creep in, but you're writing for a modern audience anyway, and what you're searching for is not authenticity but to create a part …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on War

Book Cover Hana's Suitcase

With Remembrance Day falling next week, our resident children's librarian, Julie Booker, shares some titles that reveal the realities of war to younger readers. 

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Whilst browsing through the stacks for this piece, I found a novel read aloud to me in grade five about a boy who escapes from a concentration camp. The whole plot came rushing back, along with the terror that something so horrifying could happen to a kid, a kid like me. I found myself asking: when should a child learn about war, real war? I've watched the expressions of eleven-year-olds listening to Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine. It felt as if I were witnessing a loss of innocence.

I spent the weekend reading nine books about war, which I will rate on a scale of tears, beginning with those that didn't make me cry.

The Sky is Falling by Kit Pearson is the first in a trilogy set during WWII. When a German war plane crashes in their English village Norah and her brother, Gavin, are sent to Toronto to live far from danger. As "War Guests," Gavin is the favoured one, leaving Norah to struggl …

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Diana Davidson: Re-Writing Women in Canadian History

Cover Pilgrimage

Diana Davidson’s debut novel, Pilgrimage, opens with Mahkesîs Cardinal trying to conceal her pregnancy on the Lac St. Anne Métis settlement during the winter of 1891. Pilgrimage, just released by Brindle & Glass, was inspired by a real-life account of a century-old woman’s corpse found in an abandoned well on the prairies.

Here, Davidson lists her ten favourite recent books about women and Canada’s history. Most are novels but three are incredible non-fiction reads that she couldn’t leave out.

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Cover The Birth House

The Birth House by Ami McKay: McKay’s gorgeous novel was inspired by the real-life stories of Mrs. Rebecca Steele, an elderly midwife McKay befriended shortly after moving to a farmhouse in the Bay of Fundy. The Birth House tells the story of Dora Rare, a a skilled and gifted midwife in rural Nova Scotia who takes on the male medical establishment and their attempts to undermine women's community by institutionalizing the birth process. Interesting that McKay’s book was published right on the cusp of a pendulum swing in North American attitu …

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Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk on The Vatican—Season 266

Book Cover The Wolves of St. Peters

The authors of The Wolves of St. Peter's on the Vatican's dramatic appeal.

As the recent papal conclave showed, the Vatican knows how to put on a good show. The suspense was nail-biting, and not just for Catholics. It seemed like everyone was glued to their TV sets and computer screens. The secrecy: Turn off those twitter feeds! The ancient rituals: White smoke or black? The speculation: Canadian, African, or Italian? But as much as we wanted to know who the next Pope would be, we didn’t want the show to end. It was Survivor Vatican and we were hooked.

The outgoing Pope Benedict XVI insisted he timed his departure so we’d have a new Pope for Easter—but we have to wonder if the Vatican made a deal with Showtime to fit the conclave in before the start of the third season of their hit series The Borgias. It would have been a terrible dilemma to have to choose between these two shows: “Tonight should we watch The Borgias—Season 3 or The Vatican—Season 266?” Maybe we would confuse the two as the sets and costumes (and some of the attitudes) haven’t changed much in 500 years.

Is this what continues to fascinate us and so many others about the Vatican? This sense of it as not-quite real, a theatre piece or historical drama up there with the best cable has t …

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Beyond Borders: Linda Holeman on Travel and Writing

St Petersburg

I grew up in Winnipeg, in a Russian-Irish family deeply rooted in the Manitoba prairies. But for me it was a struggle to stay put; I was never content. It seemed I was born with an ache to know what lay beyond the borders of my life in both the physical and emotional sense. The opening line of Josephine Hart’s novel, Damage, speaks loudly to me: “There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”

As a young adult, when I first left Winnipeg to explore the world my father looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Why do you want to leave home when you have everything you need right here? What are you looking for?” And my answer, the only one I could come up with was: “I don’t know—and that’s why I have to go.” All that wide, open space and the big sky of my home proved claustrophobic for me. I always wanted out, away from the safety of what was a sure thing. And, as often as I could, I plunged myself, many times on my own, into the busy loneliness of foreign cities and incomprehensible languages and unidentifiable food.

It is this search which defines me as a person, and as an author defines what I write. I fully embrace that my need to understand the world – and my own internal landscape—has le …

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"A triumph of imagination..."

Cover Plain Kate

The winners of the 2011 Canadian Children's Book Awards were announced on Tuesday October 4 at a gala event in Toronto. Erin Bow took the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for Plain Kate, a novel about a girl whose wood-carving skills mark her as a witch, and which the judges proclaimed "a triumph of imagination."

Book Cover I Know Here

The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award went to I Know Here by Laurel Crozer and Matt James, (and which was one of the books that Andrew Larsen read on his summer vacation). Of I Know Here, the judges noted: "The centre of this child’s universe is a trailer camp in the northern wilderness, rendered in all its details with brilliant harmony between Croza’s affecting, naturalistic words and James's evocative, childlike paintings."

Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science was winner of the Norma Fleck Award …

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Malcolm Mills on the youth appeal of his YA novel Beyond the Shickshock Mountains

Thank you to Asteroid Publishing for submitting this interview with Malcolm Mills, author of the young adult novel Beyond the Shickshock Mountains: A Canadian Talon Saga.

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Asteroid Publishing: Told in three parts, your historical novel occurs in the late 18th century, during the Seven Years War between France and Britain and focuses mainly on the lands that would become Canada. Why do you think this period will be of interest to young adults?

Malcolm Mills: War years produce change and young adults have traditionally been interested in change. Conflict and the resolution of conflict pique natural curiosity. Young and old are also interested in their great, great grandfather having been a hero or a mountain man. Curiosity is inherent especially about family. Just ask Ancestor.com.

The politics of Canada is unique and multilingual. The melding of four major social structures—for let’s not forget the aboriginal population and the American Loyalists—gave birth to what our youth are today, a harmonious blend of democratic buds blossoming from the roots of a well grounded, multi-grafted rootstock. Young Canadians who have had little to date to inspire them into examining their vivid and vibrant past may be inspired to do so now and where better to begin then the era …

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In Conversation With: Suzanne Desrochers (Bride of New France, @penguincanada)

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I met Suzanne Desrochers (Bride of New France, Penguin Group Canada) in a carpool en route to an event in Uxbridge hosted by Blue Heron Books. Suzanne sat in the front. I sat in the back. Over the sweet music remix provided by publicist Barbara Bower, we shouted back and forth about a variety of topics: England. Agents. Babies. On the return trip, we sat together in back, talk turning to, well, England. Agents. Babies. Back in our usual corners, I asked Suzanne if she'd like to expand a bit on some of the comments from the evening's panel: traversing the divide between academic writing and fiction, unveiling previously hidden historical figures, and a day in the life of one writer with kid and another on the way. Hurrah for us, she agreed, and I think you'll enjoy the chat.

Julie Wilson: I recall reading somewhere something to the fact that the longer a scientist works in the field the more likely he or she is to ascribe to one faith or another because there comes a time when one simply cannot reason away every discovery. I recently had the pleasure of seeing you speak on a panel about memoir and family history and this sprang to mind again. All three authors on the panel—you, Camilla Gibb and Susanna Kearsley—come either out of an academic background, in whi …

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