Monday, May 21, 2012

Festival of Trees

Last week, Kate and I attended the Festival of Trees at Harbourfront for the third year in a row. This event, run by the Ontario Library Association, is a huge celebration of reading. All the authors nominated for the Forest of Reading awards are invited to the award ceremonies and they also hold workshops and willingly sign books throughout the day.

Since Kate was reading from the Red Maple list this year, we attended on the first of the two days, when that awards ceremony was being held. As always, there was a real party atmosphere, with a live band playing and thousands of enthusiastic readers. At the ceremony itself, kids showed their appreciation in a very vocal way as each author was introduced by student volunteers. Here, authors are treated like rock stars, as they should be! The photo above shows the stage during the Red Maple awards with Kenneth Oppel, the winner with his book Half-Brother, addressing the audience.

Todd also had to go into Toronto that day so we decided to forego the usual bag lunch and join him at Watermark Irish Pub at nearby Queen's Quay Terminal. We made sure we got back in time to attend a joint talk given by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten to promote their new book The Taming, published by Random House. We both enjoyed the presentation, which was very well received by the audience, and decided to pick up a copy of the new book. Eric and Teresa were gracious enough to let me take their photograph after they signed Kate's book. Kate couldn't wait and started reading The Taming in the car as we drove home and finished it the next day. She plans to post a review (after all her end-of-year assignments are done) and liked the book so much that she proposed to our parent-child book club that it be one of our future selections.

Walking past the tents, we noticed a long line in front of Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome, which went on to win the White Pine non-fiction award. Kate told me that her teacher had read excerpts from the book to her class and so we at once knew the perfect book to bring back to her classroom. We picked up a copy at the book tent and asked Neil to sign it, which he did in a way that could only be described as "awesome"!

We also managed to find Kelley Armstrong and asked her to sign our copy of The Gathering, which was the winner of the White Pine fiction award. Regular readers of this blog will know that we are both fans of her Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising series. Kate would have loved to attend her workshop but unfortunately, it was scheduled at the same time as the Red Maple awards.

All in all, it was a terrific day, and the weather could not have been any better. We congratulate the Ontario Library Assocation for hosting another exciting and well-organized Festival of Trees event!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shelter by Frances Greenslade

Shelter is the fourth book I've read from the Ontario Library Association’s 2012 Evergreen list.  The novel is narrated by teenager Maggie, who lives in a remote part of British Columbia with her mother and older sister Jenny. Soon after the death of Maggie’s father, her mother leaves the sisters in the care of a foster family to pursue work. When communication from her mother ceases and her sister is faced with a personal crisis, Maggie embarks on a search for her mother and in the process, learns much about her family and herself.

Initially, I had some doubts about this book, which seemed to me the stereotypical Canadian novel, with its treatment of the wilderness, survival and isolation. However, I soon became immersed in this very readable story told simply and beautifully. Shelter is a very strong first novel from Frances Greenslade, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

I've always loved reading from the Evergreen list, as it has encouraged me to discover new Canadian writers that I might not hear about otherwise, and this year's list is again successful in that respect. However, it looks like we will hear more of Frances Greenslade in the near future, as Shelter has been gaining recognition in other parts of the world (e.g. being included on Waterstone's Best Debut Novels of 2012).

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

Liesel Meminger never expected her brother to die and that Nazis would discover her parents were communists, but her life really turns around after she steals her first book, The Grave Digger's Handbook. Sent to a foster home to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, she quickly builds a new life on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, finding a new friend in a certain Rudy Steiner. As she is being taught to read by her Papa, she begins to discover the power of words.
After several adventures and a couple more book thefts, Liesel begins to settle in. But just as her life seems to become normal, the Hubermanns decide to hide a Jew, Max Vandenburg, in their basement. Liesel quickly befriends Max and discovers he shares the same passion for words. Through their friendship, Liesel learns not only that words can not only be used for good, but also for bad. However, after an anti-racism action from Hans, Max has to leave Molching for his own safety. Nevertheless, the tough times aren't over for Liesel and her family. As bombs begin to drop on Molching, people start to fear for their lives and safety.

This thrilling yet charming award-winning book is sure to capture you from the start to the startling conclusion. With memorable characters and a captivating plot that will enthrall children as well as adults, this book is a definite must-read. Right from the start, with the unique introduction of Death as the narrator, Zusak demonstrates his beautiful and poetic writing style. Examining important themes such as racism, sacrifice, loyalty, and perseverance in a remarkable way that only Zusak can achieve, this book is a good example of how life isn't always fair. In summary, The Book Thief will leave readers of any age thinking about and seeing the Holocaust in a new light as well as learning the power of words.

*We chose this book for our mother-daughter book club