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12 Books for International Women's Day

Can you hear them now? If you can't, you're not listening. Recent memoirs and biographies about remarkable women would make great picks for International Women's Day.

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Can You Hear Me Now?: How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose, by Celina Caesar-Chavannes

About the book: Celina Caesar-Chavannes, already a breaker of boundaries as a Black woman in business, got into politics because she wanted to make a bigger difference in the world. But when she became the first Black person elected to represent the federal riding of Whitby, Ontario, she hadn't really thought about the fact that Ottawa wasn't designed for someone like her. Celina soon found herself both making waves and breaking down, confronting at night, alone in her Ottawa apartment, all the painful beauty of her childhood and her troubled early adult life. She paid the price for speaking out about micro-aggressions and speaking up for her community and her riding, but she also felt exhilaration and empowerment. As she writes, "This is not your typical leadership book where the person is placed in a situation and miraculously comes up with the right response for the wicked problem. This is the story of me falling in love, at last, with who I am, and finding my voice in the unlikeliest of places."

Both memoir and leadership book, Can You Hear Me Now? is a funny, self-aware, poignant, confessional and fierce look at how failing badly and screwing things up completely are truly more powerful lessons in how to conduct a life than extraordinary success. They build an utter honesty with yourself and others that allows you to say things nobody else dares to say--the necessary things about navigating the places that weren't built for you and holding firm to your principles. And, if you do that, you will help build a world where inclusion is real. Just as Celina is now trying to do, in all her brilliance and boldness.

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Her Name Was Margaret, by Denise Davy

About the book: Margaret Jacobson was a sweet-natured young girl who played the accordion and had dreams of becoming a teacher until she had a psychotic break in her teens, which sent her down a much darker path. Her Name Was Margaret traces Margaret's life from her childhood to her death as a homeless woman on the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. With meticulous research and deep compassion author Denise Davy analyzed over eight hundred pages of medical records and conducted interviews with Margaret's friends and family, as well as those who worked in psychiatric care, to create this compelling portrait of a woman abandoned by society.

Through the revolving door of psychiatric admissions to discharges to rundown boarding homes, Davy shows us the grim impact of deinstutionalization: patients spiralled inexorably toward homelessness and death as psychiatric beds were closed and patients were left to fend for themselves on the streets of cities across North America. Today there are more 235,000 people in Canada who are counted among the homeless annually and 35,000 who are homeless on any given night. Most of them are struggling with mental health issues. Margaret's story is a heartbreaking illustration of what happens in our society to our most vulnerable and should serve as a wake-up call to politicians and leaders in cities across Canada.

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My Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of Struggle and Triumph, by Perdita Felicien

About the book: Decades before Perdita Felicien became a World Champion hurdler running the biggest race of her life at the 2004 Olympics, she carried more than a nation's hopes—she carried her mother Catherine's dreams.
 
In 1974, Catherine is determined and tenacious, but she's also pregnant with her second child and just scraping by in St. Lucia. When she meets a wealthy white Canadian family vacationing on the island, she knows it's her chance. They ask her to come to Canada to be their nanny—and she accepts.
 
This was the beginning of Catherine's new life: a life of opportunity, but also suffering. Within a few years, she would find herself pregnant a third time—this time in her new country with no family to support her, and this time, with Perdita. Together, in the years to come, mother and daughter would experience racism, domestic abuse, and even homelessness, but Catherine's will would always pull them through.
 
As Perdita grew and began to discover her preternatural athletic gifts, she was edged onward by her mother's love, grit, and faith. Facing literal and figurative hurdles, she learned to leap and pick herself back up when she stumbled. This book is a daughter's memoir—a book about the power of a parent's love to transform their child's life.

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A White Lie, by Madeeha Hafez Albatta, edited by Barbara Bill & Ghada Ageel, foreword by Salman Abu Sitta

About the book: Palestinian refugees in Gaza have lived in camps for five generations, experiencing hardship and uncertainty. In the absence of official histories, oral narratives handed down from generation to generation bear witness to life in Palestine before and after the 1948 Nakba—the catastrophe of dispossession. These narratives maintain traditions, keep alive names of destroyed villages, and record stories of the fight for dignity and freedom. The Women’s Voices from Gaza Series honours women’s unique and underrepresented perspectives on the social, material, and political realities of Palestinian life.

In A White Lie, the first volume in this series, Madeeha Hafez Albatta chronicles her life in Gaza and beyond. Among her remarkable achievements was establishing some of the first schools for refugee children in Gaza.

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Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe: Four Weeks that Shaped a Pandemic, by Dr. Bonnie Henry & Lynn Henry

About the book: Dr. Bonnie Henry has been called "one of the most effective public health figures in the world" by The New York Times. She has been called "a calming voice in a sea of coronavirus madness," and "our hero" in national newspapers. But in the waning days of 2019, when the first rumours of a strange respiratory ailment in Wuhan, China began to trickle into her office in British Columbia, these accolades lay in a barely imaginable future.

Only weeks later, the whole world would look back on the previous year with the kind of nostalgia usually reserved for the distant past. With a staggering suddenness, our livelihoods, our closest relationships, our habits and our homes had all been transformed.

In a moment when half-truths threatened to drown out the truth, when recklessness all too often exposed those around us to very real danger, and when it was difficult to tell paranoia from healthy respect for an invisible threat, Dr. Henry's transparency, humility, and humanity became a beacon for millions of Canadians.

And her trademark enjoinder to be kind, be calm, and be safe became words for us all to live by.

Coincidentally, Dr. Henry's sister, Lynn, arrived in BC for a long-planned visit on March 12, just as the virus revealed itself as a pandemic. For the four ensuing weeks, Lynn had rare insight into the whirlwind of Bonnie's daily life, with its moments of agony and gravity as well as its occasional episodes of levity and grace. Both a global story and a family story, Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe combines Lynn's observations and knowledge of Bonnie's personal and professional background with Bonnie's recollections of how and why decisions were made, to tell in a vivid way the dramatic tale of the four weeks that changed all our lives.

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe is about communication, leadership, and public trust; about the balance between politics and policy; and, at heart, about what and who we value, as individuals and a society.

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We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing, by Dr. Jillian Horton

About the book: Funny, fresh, and deeply affecting, We Are All Perfectly Fine is the story of a married mother of three on the brink of personal and professional collapse who attends rehab with a twist: a meditation retreat for burned-out doctors.

Jillian Horton, a general internist, has no idea what to expect during her five-day retreat at Chapin Mill, a Zen centre in upstate New York. She just knows she desperately needs a break. At first she is deeply uncomfortable with the spartan accommodations, silent meals and scheduled bonding sessions. But as the group struggles through awkward first encounters and guided meditations, something remarkable happens: world-class surgeons, psychiatrists, pediatricians and general practitioners open up and share stories about their secret guilt and grief, as well as their deep-seated fear of falling short of the expectations that define them. Jillian realizes that her struggle with burnout is not so much personal as it is the result of a larger system failure, and that compartmentalizing your most difficult emotions—a coping strategy that is drilled into doctors—is not useful unless you face these emotions too.

Jillian Horton throws open a window onto the flawed system that shapes medical professionals, revealing the rarely acknowledged stresses that lead doctors to depression and suicide, and emphasizing the crucial role of compassion not only in treating others, but also in taking care of ourselves.

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Take Back the Fight: Organizing Feminism for the Digital Age, by Nora Loreto

About the book: Two decades of neoliberalism have destroyed a structured, pan-regional feminist movement in Canada. As a result, new generations of feminists have come to age without ever seeing the force that an organized social movement can have in democratic society. They have never benefited from the knowledge, the debates, the actions, the mass mobilizations or the leadership that all accompany a social movement and instead organize in decentralized silos. As a result, government and corporate leaders have co-opted feminism to turn it into something that can be bought, sold, or used to attract voters. Campaigns like #BeenRapedNeverReported, #MeToo, the SlutWalks and the Canadian Women’s marches, while important, don’t yet have the organized power to bring the changes that activists seek to make in society.

In Take Back The Fight, Nora Loreto examines the state of modern feminism in Canada and argues that feminists must organize to take back feminism from politicians, business leaders and journalists who distort and obscure its power. Furthermore, Loreto urges today’s activists to overcome the challenges that sank the movement decades ago, to stop centering whiteness as the quintessential woman’s experience, and to find ways to rebuild the communities that have been obliterated by neoliberal economic policies.

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A Better Justice? Community Programs for Criminalized Women, by Amanda Nelund

About the book: Women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated people in Canada. A Better Justice? offers a carefully reasoned analysis of alternative, community-based justice programs. Using Winnipeg as a test case, Amanda Nelund reveals the complexity that underlies the governance of criminalized women. She finds that alternative programs neither reproduce dominant justice system norms nor provide complete alternatives, reflecting a tension between neoliberal and social justice approaches. By identifying potential ways to resist existing norms within these programs, A Better Justice? points to improved justice strategies – and ultimately to greater social justice for criminalized women in Canada.

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Okay, Universe:  Chronicles of a Woman in Politics, by Valérie Plante, illustrated by Delphie Côté-Lacroix, translated by Helge Dascher

About the book: A story about political organizing and the power of community

Valérie Plante stood up to the patriarchal power system of her city, took down an incumbent, and became the first woman elected Mayor of Montreal. Her origin story comes alive in Okay, Universe. This captivating graphic novel--created in a true collaboration with Governor-General Award-winner Delphie Côté-Lacroix--follows her journey from community organizer and volunteer to municipal candidate, and the phone call from the local social justice political party that changed her life forever.

Okay, Universe is the first time Plante has told her story, and she has chosen an art form that is not just emblematic of the city of Montreal and its love of the arts and bande dessinée, it's an art form that is accessible to all readers and perfectly suited to her message. With patience, determination, and the strength of will to remain true to her core beliefs, Okay, Universe details the inspiring political campaign where slowly but surely she gained the trust of a neighbourhood fighting for affordable housing, environmental protections, and equal opportunities. Okay, Universe demystifies the path to success, simultaneously showing the Mayor's inextinguishable commitment to creating positive change in the world and educating about the vitality of political engagement.

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Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of (In)fertility, by Myriam Steinberg, illustrated by Christache

About the book: A deeply moving tragicomic graphic memoir about a single woman's efforts to conceive in her forties.

A few months after Myriam Steinberg turned forty, she decided she couldn't wait any longer to become a mother. She made the difficult decision to begin the process of conceiving a child without a partner. With her family and friends to support her, she picked a sperm donor and was on her way.

But Myriam's journey was far from straightforward. She experienced the soaring highs and devastating lows of becoming pregnant and then losing her babies. She grappled with the best decision to make when choosing donors or opting for a medical procedure. She experienced first-hand the silences, loneliness, and taboos that come with experiences of fetal loss. Unafraid to publicize her experiences, though, she found that, in return, friends and strangers alike started sharing their own fertility stories with her. Although the lack of understanding and language around fetal loss and grief often made it very hard to navigate everyday life, she nonetheless found solace in the community around her who rallied to support her through her journey.

Through it all, Myriam remained hopeful and here she unflinchingly shares her story with wry humour, honesty, and courage. Beautifully illustrated by Christache Ross, Catalogue Baby is one woman's story of tragedy and beating the odds, and is a resource for all women and couples who are trying to conceive. Catalogue Baby is a compassionate portrait of fertility and infertility that hasn't been seen before.

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Chiru Sakura—Falling Cherry Blossoms: A Mother & Daughter's Journey through Racism, Internment and Oppression, by Grace Eiko Thomson

About the book: At eight years old, Grace Eiko Nishikihama was forcibly removed from her Vancouver home and interned with her parents and siblings in the BC Interior. Chiru Sakura—Falling Cherry Blossoms is a moving and politically outspoken memoir written by Grace, now a grandmother, with passages from a journal kept by her late mother, Sawae Nishikihama. An educated woman, Sawae married a naturalized Canadian man and immigrated to Canada in 1930. They came with great hopes and dreams of what Canada could offer them. However, within just a little more than a decade after settling happily in Paueru Gai (Powell Street) area, her dreams, and those of her husband's, were completely shattered.

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Mrs Dalgairns's Kitchen: Rediscovering "The Practice of Cookery," edited by Mary F. Williamson, contributions by Elizabeth Baird

About the book: When The Practice of Cookery first appeared in Edinburgh and London editions in 1829, reviewers hailed it as one of the best cookbooks available. The book was unique not only in being wholly original, but also for its broad culinary influences, incorporating recipes from British North America, the United States, England, Scotland, France, and India.

Catherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns was born in 1788. Though her contemporaries understood her to be a Scottish author, she lived her first twenty-two years in Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown was home for much longer than the twelve years she spent in London or her mere six years' residency in Dundee, Scotland, by the time of the cookbook’s first appearance. In Mrs Dalgairns's Kitchen, Mary Williamson reclaims Dalgairns and her book's Canadian roots. During her youth, the popular cookbook author would have had experience of Acadian, Mi'kmaq, and Scottish Highlands foods and ways of cooking. Her mother had come from Boston, inspiring the cookbook's several American recipes; Dalgairns's brothers-in-law lived in India, reflected in the chapter devoted to curry recipes. Williamson consults the publisher's surviving archives to offer insights into the world of early nineteenth-century publishing, while Elizabeth Baird updates Dalgairns's recipes for the modern kitchen.

Both an enticing history of the seminal cookbook and a practical guide for readers and cooks today, Mrs Dalgairns's Kitchen offers an intimate look at the tastes and smells of an early nineteenth-century kitchen.

March 8, 2021

Books mentioned in this post

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Can You Hear Me Now?

How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose

by Celina Caesar-Chavannes
edition: Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged: women, self-esteem, women in politics

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2021 SHAUGHNESSY COHEN PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING
 
In Can You Hear Me Now?, Celina Caesar-Chavannes digs deep into her childhood and her life as a young Black woman entrepreneur and politician, and shows us that effective and humane leaders grow as much from their mistakes and vulnerabilities as from their strengths.

Celina Cae …

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Her Name Was Margaret

Life and Death on the Streets

by Denise Davy
edition: Paperback
tagged: medical, people with disabilities, women

At age eighteen, Margaret Jacobson was admitted to the Ontario Hospital, later renamed the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital. Years later, she died homeless and alone in the city. With meticulous research and deep compassion Denise Davy has pieced together Margaret’s story – from promising student to patient, to homeless woman, to an unmarked grave …

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My Mother's Daughter

A Memoir of Struggle and Triumph

by Perdita Felicien
edition: Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged: personal memoirs, sports, motherhood

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
"A phenomenal, human story. . . . I could not put this book down." —CLARA HUGHES
An instant national bestseller, this raw and affecting memoir is the story of a mother and daughter who beat the odds together.
 
Decades before Perdita Felicien became a World Champion hurdler running the biggest race of her life at the 2004 Oly …

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A White Lie

by Madeeha Hafez Albatta, edited by Barbara Bill & Ghada Ageel, foreword by Salman Abu Sitta
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged: women, personal memoirs, middle eastern

Palestinian refugees in Gaza have lived in camps for five generations, experiencing hardship and uncertainty. In the absence of official histories, oral narratives handed down from generation to generation bear witness to life in Palestine before and after the 1948 Nakba—the catastrophe of dispossession. These narratives maintain traditions, keep …

rated!
rated!

Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe

Four Weeks that Shaped a Pandemic

by Bonnie Henry & Lynn Henry
edition: Hardcover
tagged: medical, disease & health issues, public health

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
From the BC doctor who has become a household name for leading the response to the pandemic, a personal account of the first weeks of COVID, for readers of Sam Nutt's Damned Nations and James Maskalyk's Life on the Ground Floor.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has been called "one of the most effective public health figures in the world" by The …

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We Are All Perfectly Fine

A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing

by Dr. Jillian Horton
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover Paperback Paperback
tagged: personal memoirs, medical

When we need help, we count on doctors to put us back together. But what happens when doctors fall apart?

Funny, fresh, and deeply affecting, We Are All Perfectly Fine is the story of a married mother of three on the brink of personal and professional collapse who attends rehab with a twist: a meditation retreat for burned-out doctors.

Jillian Horton …

rated!
rated!

Take Back The Fight

Organizing Feminism for the Digital Age

by Nora Loreto
edition: Paperback
tagged: feminism & feminist theory, women's studies

 

Two decades of neoliberalism have destroyed a structured, pan-regional feminist movement in Canada. As a result, new generations of feminists have come to age without ever seeing the force that an organized social movement can have in democratic society. They have never benefited from the knowledge, the debates, the actions, the mass mobilizations …

rated!
rated!

A Better Justice?

Community Programs for Criminalized Women

by Amanda Nelund
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
tagged: criminology, women's studies, gender & the law

Women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated people in Canada. A Better Justice? offers a carefully reasoned analysis of alternative, community-based justice programs. Using Winnipeg as a test case, Amanda Nelund reveals the complexity that underlies the governance of criminalized women. She finds that alternative programs neither reproduce …

rated!
rated!

Okay, Universe

Chronicles of a Woman in Politics

by Valerie Plante & Delphie Côté-Lacroix, translated by Helge Dascher
edition: Paperback
  • age: 14 to 18
  • Grade: 9 to 12
tagged: literary

A story about political organizing and the power of community
Valérie Plante stood up to the patriarchal power system of her city, took down an incumbent, and became the first woman elected Mayor of Montreal. Her origin story comes alive in Okay, Universe. This captivating graphic novel—created in a true collaboration with Governor-General Awar …

rated!
rated!

Catalogue Baby

A Memoir of (In)fertility

by Myriam Steinberg, illustrated by Christache
edition: Paperback
tagged: biography & memoir

A deeply moving tragicomic graphic memoir about a single woman's efforts to conceive in her forties.
A few months after Myriam Steinberg turned forty, she decided she couldn't wait any longer to become a mother. She made the difficult decision to begin the process of conceiving a child without a partner. With her family and friends to support her, …

rated!
rated!

Chiru Sakura--Falling Cherry Blossoms

A Mother & Daughter's Journey through Racism, Internment and Oppression

by Grace Eiko Thomson
edition: Paperback
tagged: personal memoirs, post-confederation (1867-), women

At eight years old, Grace Eiko Nishikihama was forcibly removed from her Vancouver home and interned with her parents and siblings in the BC Interior. Chiru Sakura--Falling Cherry Blossoms is a moving and politically outspoken memoir written by Grace, now a grandmother, with passages from a journal kept by her late mother, Sawae Nishikihama. An edu …

rated!
rated!

Mrs Dalgairns's Kitchen

Rediscovering "The Practice of Cookery"

edited by Mary F. Williamson, contributions by Elizabeth Baird
edition: Hardcover
also available: eBook
tagged: history, canadian, books & reading

When The Practice of Cookery first appeared in Edinburgh and London editions in 1829, reviewers hailed it as one of the best cookbooks available. The book was unique not only in being wholly original, but also for its broad culinary influences, incorporating recipes from British North America, the United States, England, Scotland, France, and India …

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