Sunday, December 30, 2007

Backyard Birds

As you may have gathered, birds are a big draw in our house. We're not fanatical "pishers and tweeters" (birders will understand those terms), but a bird in the yard or the neighbourhood gets us out for a look and we're always hauling our binocs around. (And, I'm proud to say, my eldest's first word was "Caw.") Just yesterday there was a Cooper's Hawk on the telephone pole out front of our house and last week my youngest spotted a Barred Owl just up the hill. We have a nice tangle of bush out front of our house -- great for birdwatching while we enjoy a morning coffee/cocoa.

So, given our enjoyment of all things avian, it isn't a surprise that Santa left P a new book under the tree: Backyard Birds: An Introduction by Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman with Ian Coutts. There are a few "first field guides" out there for kids -- the Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists are particular favourites -- but Backyard Birds is a wonderful book to give a young child who is just beginning to have an interest in birds. (And, really, I think all kids naturally have this. It's a question of whether this interest is nurtured or not.)

Bateman focusses on birds that you might logically have in your yard or neighborhood. (That's a tall order for Canada and US mind you, but he's done a good job.) He's included chickadees, mallards, great blue herons, American crows, rufous hummingbirds, barn swallows, etc. Many of these will be the first birds people learn to identify.

With each spread, Bateman focuses on one or two birds, gives a description in the running text and also field notes (i.e., size, range, voice, food, etc.) on a little "notebook page." Of course his paintings accompany the text, putting them in situ in beautifully rendered scenes. Interspersed with pages devoted to particular species are spreads that focus on general topics, such as bird senses, migration, life cycles, etc. To notch things up a bit, he includes a spread on how to tell the difference between 6 species of sparrows, infamously dubbed LBBs -- "little brown birds" -- (or worse, but unprintable) by beginning birders. This comes at the perfect time in the book and explains well how field marks are used to tell species apart.

Young readers will also enjoy an account of how Bateman became interested in birds at the age of 8. He also includes a small illustration showing some birds drawn when he was 14. There's no doubt he was talented and accomplished at a very young age. Birds are a great way to get children to focus in on things in their environment. They draw them in and, hopefully, are a way to encourage them to get outside and, ultimately, protect what is dear.

Here are reviews from Canadian Materials and BookList.

While we're on the topic of birds, Introducing Our Western Birds by Matthew F. Vessel and Herbert H. Wong, is a second-hand score I picked up. (The late Professors Vessel and Wong also wrote The Natural History of Vacant Lots -- obviously men after my own heart.) I was drawn in by the wonderful graphic art by Ron King -- very 1960s -- and so beautifully done. (I wish I had this darn scanner hooked up so I could show you.) This book, long out of print, is actually one of the better birds for young birders I've seen. Very colourful, with very good info. on identifying features, types of feathers, how to determine habitat and food from bills and feet, and more. Ron King gathers several birds in a single-page illustration with the descriptions on the facing page. I love these illustrations and am sorely tempted to rip them out and frame them (gasp!), but that verges on sacriligious. So, for now, they stay between the covers. I can't promise they always will though.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Factory Girl

There were many things that drew me to this book. The author, Barbara Greenwood, was one of course. She writes wonderful books -- primarily on history -- that I've always enjoyed. The cover drew me in too. I'm a sucker for old sepia photos and this cover image of young "factory girls" -- with one of the girls colour-tinted -- was riveting. I found myself staring into the faces of these girls -- close to the age of my own daughters -- and wondering about their lives. And the subject matter, of course, was also a great one. What a fabulous way to learn about and era of our history -- the lives of the working poor in the early 1900s, the reality of factories, unions, strikes, suffragettes,'s all here in Factory Girl.

In Factory Girl, Greenwood alternates the fictional story of Emily Watson, a girl whose family circumstances have driven her to find work in a garment factory, with non-fiction sections. These non-fiction sections give readers the back-story and context to better understand the story. For example, after the first chapter where we meet Emily trying to find work, the non-fiction sections explain the circumstances of life in North American cities in 1912. This gives the much-needed context that young readers will need -- how was life different then? -- to better understand Emily's predicament.

Wonderful historical photos are used throughout the book. Greenwood even weaves the story of photographers, and how important they were to bringing awareness to the plight of the working poor, into the story. Many of the photos are by Lewis Hine, a school teacher who was asked by activists to record the plight of child workers. Since factory owners would never have let Hine in the factories if they knew what he was doing, he told them he was documenting equipment. Cleverly, Hine asked children to stand in the photos under the guise of showing the scale of the machinery. His photos are riveting.

Both the fictional story and the non-fiction narrative in Factory Girl can stand alone, but together they make a stellar book that brings an important era of our history to life. Greenwood masterfully makes the story relevant to young readers, and gives them fodder to imagine how different their lives might have been if they'd lived a century ago. Greenwood adds food-for-thought at the end of the book with a spread on today's young factory worker.

Here are a few other reviews, from Education Oasis, Quill and Quire, and Canadian Materials. And here's a short interview with Barbara from Scholastic's Arrow Book Clubs.

What the Heck am I Doing Here?

No, this isn't a "what is the meaning of my life?" post. None of that here. It's all about the blog and why/what I'm doing. Now that I've been blogging for over a year, I finally think I know. When I first began I though I'd post mainly about my writing and upcoming events, but that can get a tad dull. (Especially for me.) Although I'll still include these things, Tough City Writer has evolved into more of a blog about books, writing and reading. Okay, okay, so the the blogosphere is filled with blogs like that. What makes this one different? For starters, I've focussed in on children's books for now and try to hone in on Canadian books and writers. There are plenty of blogs about American writers and books -- and kid's lit in particular -- but not many about Canucks that I can find at least. (If you do know of such blogs, please let me know. Sheryl's Reading Kids Books does I know.) We have so many wonderful writers and artists here in our vast country, this is my small contribution to getting the word out.

I am not a librarian nor a bookseller or publicist so I can't get my mitts on the latest and greatest new books to hit the shelves. Tough City is also a small town with an equally small library so it often takes awhile for the latest books to make it here. We do have two bookstores though (yup, TWO! -- not bad for a town with a population of 1500 -- and they're both independents) -- but they've pretty small kids' sections. This is all to say I'm not even going to try to make it a focus to review the latest books, unless, of course, publishers decide to send them my way. I'll write about the books that catch my fancy, imagination, eye... They might be published in the last year or two, but maybe not. Maybe they'll inspire you to check out a book you've never read or perhaps a new author. I've got stacks and stacks of books I've been wanting to read and when and if I do, I'll try to blog about them. For all the books that get dozens of reviews, there are gazillions more that fall off the radar for one reason or another before the ink is drying on the next season's catalog. Perhaps they'll find a place -- and a new surge of energy? -- here.

Now my editors and publishers (real or potential) may look at this blog as one big collosol waste of time, and for a time I wondered that too. But I must say that I think blogging has made be a better reader (and, heck, I have to write these things, so at least that's something). When I read now with a mind to a possible blog entry I'm a bit more analytical in my reading and am thinking a lot about why this book "works", or doesn't. I figure this will help my own writing, too. And as far as habits or ways to procrastinate go, it could be far, far worse than blogging.

This is it for navel-gazing and introspection, but 'tis the season for such pursuits. I hope you'll keep visiting and also will take a moment to tell me what keeps you peeking at Tough City Writer.

Over and out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Writer Montage

Okay, I know I'm a nerd, posting on Christmas Day before we've even broken out the champagne and orange juice, but it's mercifully quiet, the fire is "crackling" (well, whoosing; it's gas) and I have a few books at my side to choose from. It's going to be a lovely day and here's a little ditty to start it off. My Christmas gift to you dear readers; all three of you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Alternative Twelve Days

We've been thinking a lot about New Zealand around here lately. P is working on a project for social studies and as her country of choice, she selected NZ. So we've been poring over the pictures of our fabulous trip there far too many years ago. (Only a third of those pictures are in albums of course!) And since we've got NZ and Christmas on our minds, we pulled out our copy of A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree, NZ's take on The Twelve Days of Christmas. Check out the blog from Mama Lisa, with the full text, a picture of a pukeko and a bit of NZ and Maori history in the comments section.

And lookee here, someone has made a fabulous quilt of the story!

And while we're in the southern hemisphere, here are three Australian versions. In our stack of Christmas books, we have a version of the Aussie Twelve Days written by June Williams and illustrated by John McIntosh. I can't find a cover image, but here are a few of the interior images.

No doubt there are a lot of other "alternative" Twelve Days. (A quick search yielded a few, which are unprintable/unlinkable here considering young eyes might be checking out my blog.) If you know of any others, please send a link or drop me a note.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Education About Christmas and Canada All in One Book

A Northern Nativity by William Kurelek is both a second-hand score and a Christmas title, but I'd buy it new if I came across it. This book, now over 30 years old, is another great addition to a collection of Christmas books by Canadians. In our home we celebrate Christmas in a fairly secular way. While I try to explain to my kids the various celebrations during this, the dark season, my kids are not particularly well-versed in religion. That's a shame I think, not because I'll ever be much of a church-goer, but more that so much of our history, literature, customs, etc. are so thoroughly grounded in Christianity. I think my kids, in fact most kids today (and me too) are missing out on a lot of depth behind what we, and others, do and why we do it. But I digress, sort of. This is all a lead in to saying that there's a lot of think about in this book of Kurelek's.

In A Northern Nativity Kurelek writes and paints his way through dreams of the twelve-year-old William as he imagines the nativity scene in various parts of Canada. He wonders:

If it happened here as it happened there...
If it happened now as it happened then...

Who would have seen the miracle?
Who would have brought gifts?
Who would have taken Them in?

With this premise, the book begins. Each spread shows the nativity in a 20 different settings -- an igloo in northern Canada, a hay shed on a ranch in the foothills of the Rockies, a box car, at Niagara Falls, and even in a broken down car beside the slag heaps of a mining town. It's such an interesting idea and certainly you'll never come across another book like it. And it contains lots of food for thought. In a spread entitled, A Farm Family's Adoration, the Madonna with child sit in front of a Christmas tree, before a farm family. At the end of the spread he writes:

"As William woke he recalled that the Christmas tree had stood not before but behind the Holy Family. He remembered a poem he had heard:
Lead us aaway from the Christmas tree,
Lead us back to the Christmas cave.
If we have gifts to give
Teach us to give to the hungry, the poor, the sick, the lame."

In many of the spreads Kurelek has such sentiments and "teachings" getting at the heart of what Christmas is really meant to be about. This is not really a picture book for young children, but it would certainly be a wonderful book to read (and discuss) with older children.

It was hard to find reviews, but here's one from Book Loons, and here's what Judith Saltman has to say about this book in Modern Canadian Children's Books (Note: "Modern" is relative here as this book was published in 1987.):

"In A Northern Nativity (1976) Kurelek moves from memoir to dream and legend. He sets one of the most resonant of narratives, the nativity, against the kaleidoscope of Canadian scenes. Based on a series of childhood dreams, the paintings place the nativity in the time of Kurelek's own childhood memories and relocate it in a cinematic journey across Canada. The holy family, depicted as representing all Canadians from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to Ottawa, appears in many changing cultural identities, including Inuit, black, and Indian."

You can see some of the interior images here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Book Lists are Popping Up Everywhere

'Tis the seasons, folks. For book lists, that is. I keep the Globe & Mail's Top 100 Books of the Year, dreaming that I might read them all (Ha, ha, double ha; obviously I live in eternal hope) and feverishly scribble on scraps of paper the names of great books I hear on various radio programs. In the spirit of all things bookish and listy, I give you a few links just in case you haven't fulfilled your book-buying quota for the holiday season and beyond.

For the wee ones, here's John Burns's 10 Picture Books for Tree-Bound Tots from the Georgia Straight. (And while I'm at it, here is another of John's great columns from earlier in the year: For the Little Darlings: Pages to Gobble in Glee.)

Sticking to the left, er west, coast, here's a new list as of today from The Tyee. (This list is worth the read just for the chuckle. Take this entry:

"For that hard-to-shop-for fan of graphic-novel memoirs about once-famous Chinese acrobat/magicians who taught Orson Welles about showbiz and were once the toast of vaudeville but today are unjustly forgotten, as told by the acrobat/magician's great-granddaughter, a Vancouver filmmaker who discovered a lot about herself and her family as she researched this fascinating story:

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir by Ann Marie Fleming (Riverhead/Penguin)."

While we're at The Tyee, if you're feeling a bit out of it with all of the fuss about The Golden Compass (and are too afraid to ask anyone), you might check out Crawford Killian's review.

And then there's the good 'ol CBC. Sounds Like Canada gave us a list of cookbooks today and if you go to the "Interviews" you can find the most recent picks from the CBC Children's Book Panel.

All for now. Any lists to share? (Like what's on your wish list?)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vancouver Envy

Most days I love living here in Tough City, especially at this time of year when it's quiet (few tourists) and everyone is oh so happy and social, despite the grey, rainy days. But, there are other days when I wish I lived in the city so I could take advantage of city events like the upcoming show at Atelier Galley of Julie Morstad's art from one of my favourite kids' books, When You Were Small, by Sara O'Leary, which I previously blogged about here. There are 13 images for sale and the show is only from 2 to 4 so if you're still looking for a Christmas gift for me, be quick!

Sara sent me a note saying that a sequel, Where You Came From, will be appearing soon. Here's a sneak peek at its cover.

While we're (sort of) on the subject of Christmas, check these lovely (and also quirky or downright macabre if you look closely) Christmas scenes in miniature from Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meet Tiffany Stone

Here's the first of what I hope will become many interviews with Canadian writers. This is the email "conversation" I had with the kids' poet, Ms. Tiffany Stone. This fab photo of the fun-loving Ms. Stone is courtesy Photography by Raegan.

Tiffany's books, Floyd the Flamingo and Baad Animals are favourites of mine. They're filled with fun, wacky poetry with ditties like this:


Do not tie knots
in unsuspecting snakes.
Do not hop on hippo's heads
to get across the lake.
Do not cheat when playing chess
with cheetahs late at night.
It may not be illegal
but that doesn't make it right.
Do not connect a leopard's spots
or toot a rhino's horn.
Laugh at a hyena
and you'll wish that you weren't born.
Do not subtract with adders.
Do not pinch a chimpanzee.
Do not, do not, do not, do NOT
times ninety-nine
times three!

from Baaaad Animals

Tough City Writer: What's the best thing about being a writer?

TS: When a kid comes up and recites one of my poems to me from memory and entirely of his or her own volition. Something created by little ol’ me is now an actual factual part of someone else. How cool is that?!? It’s especially sweet when that kid is the one I’d never expect to care about what I write. To make that kind of a connection is…well, indescribable!

You know, the feeling when I finally finish a poem and I just know it works is pretty good, too.

The worst thing? Rejection letters from publishers. And lines that won’t scan no matter what.

TCW: Do you remember any favourite books from your childhood?

TS: The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I copied Arrietty’s diary out of the book into a little journal so I would have my very own handwritten copy of her diary to keep. National Velvet. I really wanted to be Velvet Brown. The Secret World of Og because of course there were other worlds my parents didn’t know about! Rumer Godden’s The Doll House because at one point in elementary school, it was the thickest book I had ever read. Wind in the Willows—both my parents came from England. And the What Katy Did books. Oh yeah—Little Women. My friends and I set up our own book club based entirely around that one book. Alice in Wonderland because it abandons so many of the ‘rules’ of reality (whatever that is!). I could keep going. I read A LOT.

With three young kids, I don’t have time to read for myself as much as I used to but when I do, I still prefer kids’ books. I think it’s because there’s so much hope and possibility in them. Grownups need more of that! There are tonnes of Canadian children’s books I absolutely love but for fear of leaving out someone I know, I’m going to wimp out and not be specific here. What I will say is look for Canadian children’s authors at your local library and at bookstores worth their salt everywhere!

TCW: If you could live in one book, which one would it be? (And what character would you be?)

TS: I would be Pippi in Pippi Longstocking because in real life I live in my head too much and am not brave, adventurous or athletic—although I aspire to be! I also care way too much about what people think of me. Pippi couldn’t care less! Plus I love the funky way she dresses and who wouldn’t want bright red hair and sticky-out pigtails?!?

TCW: Is your fridge covered in magnetic poetry?

TS: Not officially. Besides magnetic Lego and gears, it does have some magnetic words from CBC’s Early Edition on it that my son Emory won at a book event I was part of. But thanks to my two year old, Kaslo, these words have been ‘edited’ quite a bit. (They’re under the fridge, I think.)

Here’s one of my fridge poems from awhile ago that I liked enough to write down:

crave dynamite anatomy always
get not good enough anxiety only
hooray to pain
love being vain
how else is there
I am a cartoon
and you?

TCW: Do you have a favourite time and place to read?

TS: All day long on a tropical island. But seriously. I read at nighttime. In bed. Once the kids are asleep. If I can stay awake.

TCW: Do you write in other genres than poetry? Can you share?

TS: My very first book, Tall Tale: The True Story of the World’s Largest Tin Soldier, is non-fiction and tells, you guessed it, the true story of the construction of the world’s largest tin soldier, which is located at the New Westminster Quay in New Westminster, BC. The book was a commissioned piece so it’s pretty hard to get hold of. It was a terrific learning experience, though, because the illustrator and designer, Elisa Gutierrez, and I were responsible for most of the book’s production. And Tall Tale turned out not half bad if I do say so myself—thanks mostly to Elisa! By the way, check out her fabulous wordless picture book, Picturescape, published by Simply Read Books.

That said, my genre is really poetry. It’s taken me a long time to figure out something I knew back in elementary school but obviously forgot somewhere along the way: I’m a poet. I love writing poems. I enjoy editing other people’s picture book stories for Tradewind Books and as a freelance editor but I have absolutely no talent when it comes to creating my own prose stories. And that’s okay. I just wish publishers weren’t so reluctant to publish collections of kids’ poems by poets who aren’t already dead. And that bookstores, etc. would put more effort into drawing people’s attention to good books of good poems. Poetry has a lot to offer. I believe that the more you play with words, the more they become your friends. Plus reading poems aloud—and lots of poems are meant to be read this way—exercises your tongue and trains your ears to hear the music in language. In fact, I double-dog-dare-you to go find a poem and read it out loud right now! Just remember to come back because there’s still a little more of this interview.

Yes, ma'am. I went and read The Secret Life of Slugs . See how obedient I am?

TCW: Your poems are wonderful and funny. Lovely word play, and well, just fun. Do you play around with other forms of poetry too?

TS: Thanks! There are many, many fantastic serious poems out there but I prefer to be silly. I figure the world is a serious enough place without me adding to it!

I first got really into writing poetry in grade six. My teacher, Mrs Pudek, wrote poetry. Mostly unrhymed descriptive poems to go with photographs she (or maybe her husband) had taken. She encouraged the class to write these kinds of poems, too. Man, I loved Language Arts that year! And, you know, I totally recommend that when kids start writing poems they don’t worry about rhyme. Although rhymed verse often seems quite simple when you read it, it can be amazingly difficult to write. Plus worrying about getting the rhyme and rhythm right can put a cramp in what you’re trying to say. In fact, I only started writing rhymed poems after submitting a collection of free verse to a publisher who read it, liked it but told me that I should try writing in rhyme if I wanted to write for kids because the only thing harder than getting a rhymed collection of poems for kids published if you’re an unknown poet is getting an unrhymed one published. So I switched and have enjoyed it so much I haven’t written any free verse in a long time. Just to prove I did actually write something other than “humorous nonsense verse” (as reviewers tend to call what I currently write), here’s one of those descriptive, unrhymed jobbies I wrote in university that actually got published in several poetry anthologies:

rush hour in the rain

wet streets
shiny black like licorice
twisting through the city

traffic tastes its way home

TCW: On that note, what's for dinner?

TS: Leftover homemade mixed vegetable and bean curd pulao (rice, tofu, cashews, mixed veg and spices). I had planned on cooking something tonight but my kids wanted to paint this afternoon and, well, there was a lot of cleanup. Kaslo thinks his body makes a fine canvas!

Before I finish off, I realize I’ve mentioned my two sons but not my daughter, Jewell. This could put my life at risk so I’m going to end by saying, “Hi, Jewell!” Oh, and go read another poem!

Roger! I'm happy to obey. Thanks for the chat, Tiffany. We look forward to your next work, "humorous nonsense verse" or otherwise!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Book Pairings

Thanks to inspiration from Mother Reader's Twenty-One Way to Give a Book I compiled a list of ideas from members of CWILL BC. You can read their ideas over at the CWILL Blog.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Second Hand Score: The Christmas Bower

Imagine my delight at coming across a book that has liberal doses of two of my favourite things: birds and Christmas. (Oh, and fantastic illustrations, too.)I can't recall where I picked up The Christmas Bower by Polly Redford - one of my usual used-book haunts, no doubt.

I can't find too much info. about the author of The Christmas Bower, Polly Redford, but she seems to have written a few other books about wildlife in the 1960s. It's obvious she knows something about wildlife from her telling of The Christmas Bower. Noah and his ornithologist Uncle Willie, who works as the curator of birds at the Museum of Natural History, are wild about birds, and Redford gets all of the birding references right -- their lingo, equipment, and fanaticism, even mentioning the birder's journal, The Condor. The rest of the family is preoccupied with the family business, Hartman & Company, "the biggest, best, department store this side of New York." Now that Christmas is upon them, the family must decorate the store in a way that outshines all other years. This year's theme? Birds. But not just fake ones, real ones too. You can probably see where we're going. The idea of lovely birds in cages, sweetly trilling and just quiety being beautiful is quickly put to rest. Birds escape and chaos ensues.

When I first flipped through the book, what drew me in immediately, was the fabulously distinctive illustrations by Edward Gorey. I knew his art looked familiar to me and then I realized it's because he illustrated one of my all time favourite kids' books, The Shrinking of Treehorn, the tale of poor Shrinking Treehorn and his wonderfully oblivious parents whose inattentiveness would cause great distress to today's parenting gurus.

Although The Christmas Bower was written in 1967, it didn't have a dated feel. (It seems to be actually set in the 1920s or so, based on the dress. The only things kids might find amusing is the fact Noah' parents sleep in single beds. Very 1960s TV if I recall!) Noah seemed mature beyond his years and all of the characters were distinctive and amusing in their own way. I especially adore the fabulous Mrs. Ogle, the stereotypical wacky bird lady with a lot of money and time on her hands. I've done a quick scan and you can pick up copies at on-line sellers of used books relatively inexpensively. It's worth adding to your collection of Christmas books, and if you don't have a collection, this would be a great one to start with!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Easy Reading is Damn Hard Writing

BC writer Ann Walsh is on the cover of the Winter 2007 issue of BC Bookworld. Below her pic is a quote from her interview: "Nearly everyone is going to write a children's book someday when they have a free weekend." Good one, Ann. Everyone thinks writing books for kids is a snap, but, as writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was purported to say, "Easy reading is damn hard writing." In other words, folks, it ain't as easy as it looks. Take, for instance, this little gem I recently came across: See Otto by the mighty talented David Milgrim. It is a "Ready-to-Read" book, Pre-level 1, published by Aladdin (Simon and Schuster). Pre-Level 1 is identified as "Recognizing Words" so the books have: word repetition, familiar words and phrases, and simple sentences. (And hilarious illustrations I might add.) With just 19 words Milgrim has created a charming, funny and witty first reader. No "See Dick Run" here. I'll keep my eyes peeled for the other in this series: Ride Otto Ride, See Pip Point, Swing Otto Swing! and See Santa Nap. As the reviewer from Kirkus says: "More, Otto, more!"

Saturday, December 01, 2007


I am such a fan of Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust -- iIt's truly one of my favourite kids' books. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up Hesse's Stowaway. It seemed to have all the right ingredients for me -- Hesse as an author, historical fiction, sailing voyages of discovery. The stowaway in this story is young Nicholas Young, who was an actual crew member - and presumed to be a stowaway as his name doesn't appear on the ship's roster until well into the journey -- on Captain James Cook's first voyage of discovery, 1768-1770. Hesse uses a journal format to relay Nicholas's story. Through short entries we slowly gain a picture of our young protagonist, the life he has run from (with ominous references to The Butcher), his life hidden amongst the animals as a stowaway, and then his gradual acceptance as an important and valuable crewmember aboard the H. M. S. Endeavour.

Stowaway is a well-researched book and gives the reader a fabulous sense of how the journey unfolded and its trials and tribulations, but (could you hear the but coming?) I think the use of the journal format was a poor choice. Telling the story through Nicholas's journal doesn't allow Hesse the room she needs to make a gripping narrative. I kept "waiting for something to happen." Of course, there was a lot happening on the voyage, but the journal format never gives us a change to bring out and develop the adventure and the drama of the entire ordeal, and an ordeal it was for much of the time. The only time I sensed a peak in the narrative was as they leave Batavia when one man after another -- and sometimes several a day -- dies.

There is much to learn in this book, however. Young readers will get an excellent sense of shipboard life, of Cook's journeys of exploration, relationship between explorers and native people, natural history (Nicholas often assist's the onboard naturalist, Joseph Banks), sailing terminology, and more. It would make a great read for young readers interested in this era of exploration, sailing adventures, and for teachers as a way to support units on exploration and discovery. As always, these are just my impressions. Here are a few other reviews, from Kids Reads and Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

And here's an interesting article: Consider The Source: Feminism and Point of View in Karen Hesse's Stowaway and Witness. Food for thought there.

Next up for me from Hesse: The Music of Dolphins. I've always wanted to learn how to speak dolphin!

Philip Pulman on Writers and Company

Before you know it, bloggers across the blogosphere will be commenting on the release of The Golden Compass, a movie based on the first book in Philip Pulman's His Dark Materials Trilogy. I won't be among them because I've just started to re-read the book and won't see the move until I'm done. But, I did enjoy the interview on CBC's Writers and Company with Pulman. The first interview of two is posted on the Writers and Co. website. The second will take place this week. Interesting listening considering all the much-predicted brouhaha and threats of book banning that have (hopefully) peaked with the release of the movie. Where have all of these people been hiding over the years? Oh yes, fretting over Harry Potter. Well they ain't seen nothing yet. Bring on His Dark Materials.

If you're ever interested in following all things about banned books, Bookshelves of Doom is a great place to begin. They've got several links up to the Pulman fuss.