The Winnowing Book Launch

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Fall is just around the corner which means sweater weather, pumpkin pie, and The Winnowing! I’ve been busy working on some guest posts for The Winnowing blog tour and booking events for the fall. Full details coming soon, but for now here is everything you need to know about the Toronto book launch!

When: Tuesday, August 29th 6:30pm

Where: Supermarket Bar & Restaurant, 268 Augusta Avenue, Toronto, ON. Kensington Market

This is a public event, kids and friends welcome!

Books will be sold by beloved Toronto institution and indie bookseller Bakka-Phoenix.

Trivia master and kid lit author Evan Munday will be hosting a round of trivia around 8pm. He will be focusing on related topics (children’s books, 1980s pop culture, science fiction, etc). There will be prizes, so bring your brainiest pals!

New Book Alert: THE WINNOWING

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I am thrilled to share the news that my next middle grade novel The Winnowing will be published by Scholastic Canada this fall. Here is the official description:

Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday.

This will be my fifth novel for kids and veers into new territory for me. Specifically sci-fi and speculative fiction territory. Surprised? Let me take you back a few years. . .

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On Friday nights in grade seven you could find me in the basement, in the dark, watching the X-Files. Conspiracy theories? Loved them. Alternate histories? Couldn’t get enough. Ghosts? Into it. Aliens? Obviously. My obsession culminated in a friend and I traveling to Mississauga to attend an X-Files convention. We listened to panels and bought merch and wore FBI badges made in Microsoft Paint— hers said Mulder, mine said Scully—but the highlight was a pitch session, at which I got up in front of a conference room full of much older “X-Philes” and a panel of screenwriters to pitch my idea for an episode.

At first glance, The Winnowing might seem at odds with my previous work. But at its core this is a “Vikki VanSickle book.” What do I mean by that? Essentially I’m exploring my perennial themes—relationships, puberty, coming of age—set in a world that could have been. I’m interested in what ordinary people do in extraordinary situations.

The Winnowing is a love letter to the X-Files and the worlds and concepts that show opened up for me. But it’s also about the everyday, inescapable conflicts of adolescence: fighting with your best friend, being forced to work with your arch-nemesis, constantly worrying about your appearance and what other people think, and wondering where you fit in the world.

Oh, and that X-Files pitch session I entered back in 1995? I won.

The Winnowing will be available in fall 2017 from Scholastic Canada. I would be absolutely tickled if you would pre-order a copy at your local indie, Indigo, Amazon, or wherever you buy books. More details to come!

What I Read in 2016: Picture Books

I value my picture book collection the way that Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler values her files: deeply, though you wouldn’t know it by my lack of an ordered cataloging or shelving system. Here are some of the books published in 2016 that made it onto my shelves this year.

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Panda Pants  is a dialogue between a young panda and his father. The little Panda is set on a pair of pants. The father is unconvinced. The silliness is tempered by a dead-pan delivery and a touch of philosophy. Like Zen Shorts, if conceived by the Comedy Network.

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My Friend Maggie is another fantastic offering from Hannah E. Harrison. All of her books have the emotional realism of Kevin Henkes’ work and her illustrations GLOW. This book isn’t just kid-friendly, it strikes a deep, deep chord. I’m not a crier, but this book makes me tear up every darn time.

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Miss Moon lives in a beautiful, well-mannered world of dogs and dresses and boating parties that I would also love to live in. In Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess, Janet Hill’s collection of life lessons are accompanied by her distinctive oil-paintings and would be a great gift for dog lovers, graduates, or people with a taste for whimsy.

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Sara O’Leary is grand master of the list poem. In A Family is a Family is a Family she lists a wide range of families, accompanied by Qin Leng’s delicate illustrations of the small pleasures of domestic life.

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Jo Ellen Bogart’s quietly magnificent The White Cat and the Monk is an ode to work, peace, and stillness. Even non-cat lovers will admit that there is something delightful in a monk comparing his daily routine to that of his cat’s. Illustrator Sydney Smith does a great job getting into the head of a cat and demonstrates why his work keeps turning up on award lists.

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Lion Lessons is begging to be turned into a piece of theatre. A boy studies to be a lion with an actual lion. Simple, funny, genius. Jon Agee’s books are on my auto-buy list.

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Just when you thought there were no new ways to tell a first day of school story, Adam Rex comes along with the perspective of a new school building in School’s First Day of School. Christian Robinson’s bright, retro art helps make this brand new book feel like an old favourite.

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My favourite debut of the year is Ooko, by author-illustrator Esme Shapiro. Foxes abound in children’s books, but never has a fox been so sweetly delusional before. A quirky friendship story with a twist. Bonus human leg hair!

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Julia Sarda’s colour palette of rich jewel-tones and Goth-meets-Art Deco sensibility is an unexpected but brilliant pairing with Kyo Maclear’s fable about a list-making family. Maclear tends to be paired with airier, more whimsical illustrators, but The Liszts is proof that her canny text works just as well with a darker, earthier art style.

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In Scribble, child-whisperer Ruth Ohi imbues simple shapes (circle, square, and triangle) with matching personalities who are thrown for a loop (shape pun!) when scribble arrives. The book works on two levels, as both a story about learning to accept other’s differences and also as an ode to imagination.

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There will always be a desire for counting books and Lucy Ruth Cummin’s A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals adds an element of mystery and dark humour to this tried and true formula. In a post-Klassen/hat eat hat world you may think you know the twist…but DO you?

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Thanks to Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick I have always been drawn to topiaries (yes, even after The Shining). The Night Gardener features some pretty fantastic creations and captures a sense of wonder and possibility in a spare text accompanied by old-timey, sepia-toned illustrations.

What I Read in 2016: YA

I read a LOT of fab YA this year, some of which I won’t go into here but you should definitely pick up (A Torch Against the Night! Empire of Storms! The Sun is Also a Star!). This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some YA titles that made me think, slipped under the radar, stood apart from the crowd, or otherwise caught my attention in 2016.

Herstory: Historical fiction featuring women’s stories 

Ruta Sepetys (self-proclaimed Seeker of Lost Stories) writes with such emotional poignancy and respect for his historical subjects and Salt to the Sea is her best novel yet. Her historical fiction is so good it often busts out YA territory and is included in adult round-ups. If you haven’t had the chance to read her yet I’m not sure what you’re waiting for…don’t you LIKE joy?

There is so much to love about Outrun the Moon. Boarding school setting? Check. Amazing scene in which a young Chinese-American girl negotiates a place at a prestigious, previously all-white girls’ boarding school with an Old White Man? Check.  Survival narrative based in an actual historical event (the San Francisco earthquake of 1906)? Check. Stacey Lee’s book hit all of my sweet spots and is a sweeping, engaging adventure story.

Out of this World: Slightly under-the-radar sci-fi & fantasy 

Where Futures End was a twisty, mind-bending collection of interconnected short stories about what happens when two parallel worlds realize each other’s existence. I’ve never read another YA novel quite like it and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, those who like it (*raises hand*) are fanatical about it. By far the most original book I read this year and especially good if you’re in a reading rut. I can’t wait to see what author Parker Peevyhouse does next.

By all rights Julia Vanishes should be The Next Big YA fantasy series. This first book in a planned series captured the hearts of fantasy-lovers and non-fantasy readers alike, which is not an easy task. Catherine Egan (another Canadian author) effortlessly blends a pseudo-Victorian England with witch lore, fantasy tropes and a good old-fashioned mystery. I have yet to meet a reader who didn’t fall in love with the caustic- and possibly magical- spy, the eponymous Julia.

Truth & Beauty: Writers who remind you that even terrible situations can be beautifully written

Still Life with Tornado broke my heart into six sharp little pieces. Teenage Amy meets two younger versions of herself and one older version of herself and the four of them try to pinpoint where exactly things started to spiral out of control in her life. This is a book about how an entire family is affected by an abusive member and the complicated healing process. A little bit existential, a little magic realism, this is a hugely impressive and innovative work by A.S. King.

Trilby Kent is one of Canada’s most decorated writers of young people’s fiction and Once in a Town Called Moth is my favourite of her books (so far).  She brings a poet’s eye for detail and specifics to this coming of age story that unfolds with the pacing of a mystery. The narrative goes back and forth between an isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia and contemporary Toronto. Both streams are excellent but I particularly loved how Kent portrays Toronto.

What it Feels Like For a Girl: Contemporary YA dealing with sexual assault, violence & rage 

The Female of the Species walks the line between contemporary realism and allegory in the best possible way. There have been a number of YA novels in the last little while that explore female anger and this one presents rage in all its shades and temperatures. Author Mindy McGinnis did not hold anything back in her visceral descriptions, either. Lines from this book will stay with me forever.

Canuck author E.K. Johnston is having an excellent year with three new books: NYT bestseller Ahsoka;  Spindle, the follow-up to her lush A Thousand Nights; and my fave of the three, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, which has so many starred reviews it’s impossible to ignore.  Unlike Johnston’s previous work, this one is based firmly in the reality of contemporary teenhood, specifically what happens after team captain Hermione Winters is drugged and raped at cheer camp. Frank discussions about faith, blame, abortion, and surviving abound. This is a fierce book; Winters has no time for small-minded, pity-filled or suspicious people or shame.

Middle Grade Gift Suggestions 2016

Last week I got to talk to one of my favourite people, Ann Foster, about middle grade fiction. When not working at the Saskatoon Public Library recco-ing kids and teen books, she is writing about fashion in TV over at You Know You Love Fashion (currently chronicling the enviable wardrobe of Phryne Fisher) and spearheading a number of podcasts, including Radio Book Club and You Were Going to be Fantastic.

Ann and I met on a book jury and we still love to find reasons to talk about books. Now you can hear us do that in this episode of Radio Book Club. The topic was near and dear to my heart (middle grade!) and I was happy to wax poetic about my fail-safe picks for this holiday, featured above.

Grab a cup of your favourite hot seasonal beverage and take a listen:

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/smy9s-655461

Follow Ann on twitter to learn about her many bookish and pop-culture endeavors

Magical Contest Alert: Win a Custom Illustration of your Pet!

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How much do you love that little guy? Now imagine YOUR pet with the fantastic beasts treatment!

November is the month of fantastic beasts, and the good folks at Penguin Random House Canada are running a wonderful contest to celebrate all things magical.The prize? A signed copy of If I Had a Gryphon AND a custom illustration of your own beloved pet (with some magical additions) by illustrator Cale Atkinson! I wrote If I Had a Gryphon as a primer on the pleasures and perils of magical pet care after seeing the vast numbers of kids at storytime who were a tad too young for Harry Potter or the wonderful Candlewick “Ology” books (Dragonology, Mythology, etc).

To enter, tweet a picture of your pet using the hashtag #IfIHadaGryphon before November 25th, 11:59pm EST. You do *not* need to include the book in your picture, just your pet being adorable will do!

I  cannot wait to see all your pet photos in my twitterfeed.

Contest open to Canada & the United States. Full rules here.

 

 

Middle Grade Monday: Charmed Thirds

They say good things come in threes, the third time is the charm, etc, etc. Basically three is the luckiest, most magical of numbers. I hope this is the case for these three series, all near and dear to my heart, which happen to have third installments out this fall. These three series walk to the line between chapter books and true middle grade, but I think you’ll find they can be enjoyed by ALL ages, including adult women who are not ashamed to be seen laughing on the subway reading a gloriously glittery Hamster Princess book. But I digress…

Magical Animal Adoption Agency #3: The Missing Magic 

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For those who are magically inclined, look no further than The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series by Canadian author (and in the interests of full disclosure, good pal) Kallie George. With the latest installment in the Harry Potter movie franchise featuring fantastical beasts a-plenty, magical creatures have never been more popular. This gentle series is perfect for younger readers who prefer their magical creatures cute rather than scary. In this third volume Clover is learning to share the spotlight with Oliver, a bit of a know-it-all who shows up at the agency and begins to encroach on her territory. Clover’s insecurities and jealousies are put to the test when Mr. Jams is called away and she must work with Oliver to solve the mystery of  the missing magic.

Hamster Princess #3: Ratpunzel 

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For those who like their fairytales mixed up, starring rodents, and decidedly funny, look no further than Ursula Vernon’s Hamster Princess series. This time our intrepid, fraction-loving hamster is escaping her mundane duties princess-ing to help Wilbur recover a stolen hydra egg, leading them to the mysterious Ratpunzel and her weird mother figure who reads her sad stories in order to collect her tears. It isn’t necessary to read these books in sequence, but you will want to read them all immediately if this is your first foray into Harriet’s world. This is not a graphic novel but does have a number of spot illustrations and fantastic one-liners.

Dory Fantasmagory #3: Dory Dory Black Sheep

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For those who prefer contemporary realism (with a very strong dose of imagination), look no further than my favourite rascal, Dory Fantasmagory. Dory lives in two worlds, her real world and her imaginary world, and the two collide in hilarious ways. Abby Hanlon’s first person narration is reminiscent of Junie B Jones or Clementine in its potent sense of character and authenticity. Dory talks and feels like a six-year-old. Take, for example, this perfect description of what happens when she sees her best friend Rosabelle: “We take turns picking each other up. It’s like hugging, but more dangerous.” In an excellent example of Knowing Your Audience, in this third adventure, Dory is struggling with her reading. This series is heavily illustrated, with most spreads featuring at least one spot illustration. Perfect series for transitional readers.