Vikki VanSickle on Writing, Reading & Other Pipedreams

Everything I need to know in life, I learned from children's literature

Happiness is a Penderwicks Novel: The Penderwicks in Spring Review

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How can a book that is ultimately about an eleven year old’s belief that she is responsible for the death of those she has loved be so funny and charming? Such is the magic of The Penderwicks in Spring, the fourth in the truly classic and heartwarming Penderwicks series. We throw words like “modern classic” around a lot in children’s literature, but The Penderwicks are deserving of that classification. I used to comp these books to Little Women, but The Penderwicks has now evolved into the series that other books are comped to, though I have yet to find a truly worthy contender.

This book focuses on Batty, who is now eleven. She has recently discovered a hidden talent for singing and cannot wait to share it with her family on her birthday, which also happens to be when Rosalind returns from college and Jeffrey is visiting from Boston. Despite a large revolving cast, the characters are clear and the reader never feels overwhelmed. Birdsall’s gentle third person narration gives us wonderful insights into her characters, some which tug at the heartstrings and others that made me laugh out loud. Ben is evolving into a sweet, serious boy with a love of rocks and a dislike of Rosalind’s schmarmy boyfriend (“How could such a person as Oliver come from a state with so many great rocks? Would Ben have to rethink his devotion to Minnesota?”). Skye is as angry and complicated as ever, and we get a breathtaking look into the source of this pain, one that slays the reader and sends Batty into a devastating tailspin. It is hard to watch Batty suffer, and she weeps throughout a lot of this book, which meant I also wept. I finished the book a few hours ago and I still feel emotionally sensitive.

One of the aspects of Birdsall’s writing I find the most interesting is which moments she chooses to include in her family saga, and which happen off the page. One of the challenges of writing a series that takes place over seven years is that obviously you can’t include everything. But Birdsall tends to include quieter, everyday moments instead of big dramatic ones. We don’t see Rosalind go to college, for example, or experience the birth of Lydia. But we do spend time with Batty in the woods or Ben behind the bushes playing army. Perhaps most significantly in this novel, we don’t see the death of Hound but we do experience Batty’s profound and prolonged grief, which is perhaps the unexpected choice, but an extremely effective one.

There are few things in life I enjoy as much as a Penderwicks novel. I have written about them before here. I love the wild, warm chaos of the family, which now numbers up to eight with toddler Lydia, nine if you count Asimov the cat, which Batty certainly would. I love the descriptions of home and the traditions and details that make the Penderwicks as real to me as any living breathing person in my life. Take for example, how at age five (otherwise known as the age of reason) each Penderwick chooses their own special cake which is made for them lovingly by the rest of the family every year on their birthday. I love how emotionally resonant the books are, a literary equivalent of that tender person who wears her heart on her sleeve. So many books these days use snark, irony or flashy gimmicks to win over a presumedly jaded audience, but Birdsall proves that all you really need to engage a reader is emotional integrity.

Apparently there will be one more Penderwicks novel after this one. I would read about this family all the way to old age. The whole series thus far stands up to re-reading, for both kids and adults. While all of the novels are genuinely emotional, this one dips into the darkest territory so far, but it is a cleansing and satisfying experience. I am so happy to live in a world where there are Penderwicks books. 

The Penderwicks in Spring will be available March 24, 2015 from Random House Canada.

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Cold Hands, Warm Heart: Waiting for Unicorns Review

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Who doesn’t love a unicorn myth? Author Beth Hautala weaves folklore about unicorns, whales, and specifically narwhals (the unicorns of the sea) into a gentle and lovely story about a father and daughter coming through grief in northern Manitoba. This is the kind of book we would have referred to as a “Vikki book” at The Flying Dragon, so it is fitting that I make my much belated return to blogging with this middle grade gem.

Twelve year old Talia is not pleased about accompanying her whale-researcher father to Churchill, Manitoba. Their relationship has been strained since the death of her mother and everything about the isolated northern city is cold and unfamiliar to her. But slowly Talia starts to let people in, like Sura, who is hosting Talia and her father, an ornithologist referred to as The Birdman (not to be confused with the title-character in the Michael Keaton film), and his charming grandson Simon.

Much of the book is about Talia holding onto the memory of her mother, Katherine. She was the kind of person who believed in magic and made life bright and fun. Talia is desperate for stories about her mother, which Sura is happy to provide. This information and a few choice flashbacks sprinkled throughout the narrative make it achingly clear what Talia has lost. But this book is also about forging new relationships. Her father isn’t so much distant as grief-stricken. Talia and her father were never as close as she was with her mother, but they both yearn to connect and when they do it is extremely satisfying for the reader. Sura seems gruff at first but is patient with Talia and wins her over in part with pancakes and some truly delicious-sounding hot chocolate. And then there’s Simon the Guitar Boy, a preternaturally wise and positive influence on Talia. In other words, exactly the kind of friend/crush she needs. In many ways this book is about the power and importance of wishing, a not-so-distant cousin of hope. This keeps the book buoyant, and despite some truly aching moments, the book never becomes unbearably heavy.

There are a lot of lovely details in this book that straddle the line between whimsical and earthy, which is possibly my favourite line in children’s fiction, and one not easy to straddle effectively.  A particularly effective visual metaphor in the book is the jar of wishes that Talia keeps under her bed. I also loved the ‘unicorn of the sea’ imagery and the little tidbits of natural history, wildlife, and conservation which pervade the book and give a excellent sense of place. Canadian readers will especially love how Hautala represents one of our more Northern communities. The conservation angle and the setting are part of what sets Waiting for Unicorns apart from the crowd.

Fans of Counting by 7s, After Iris or The Secret Hum of a Daisy will appreciate this gentle and reassuring story about life after loss, set in a refreshingly unique location.

Waiting for Unicorns is available now in hardcover from Penguin Canada.

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The Best Moments in Children’s Books, 2014

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There were some shining moments in the children’s book world in 2014. This year we encouraged children to practice their reading with cats, celebrated graphic novels, established a new YA award in Canada, and took a stand on diversity.

Mac Barnett’s TED talk

Barnett’s books are funny, clever, and sophisticated, but never at the expense of child appeal. It comes as no surprise that the author himself is an engaging ambassador for children’s literature. In his TED talk “Why a good book is a secret door,” he discusses the human aptitude for imagination and gives plenty of real-life examples from his days as a camp counselor to his work at the inventive writing & tutoring organization 826LA, and his own writing.

 

Berks ARL Book Buddies Program 

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I mean come on. Look at this picture! So cute I had to post it twice. This story of the Animal Rescue League of Berks County Book Buddies program went viral in February, due largely to this image of a little boy reading to a shelter cat posted on Reddit. Encouraging children to read AND comforting cats? I am in.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

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This grassroots organization of diversity crusaders has come a long way. After BookCon announced an all-white, largely male line-up this spring, authors and readers took to the internet to make it known that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. To their credit, the organizers responded, and a panel entitled “The World Agrees: We Need Diverse Books” was added to the programming. Months later, after significant media coverage and successful crowd-funding campaigns,  WNDB is a full-fledged organization. Featuring grants, book lists, tips for bringing diversity into the classroom and an upcoming festival, it is safe to say that #WeNeedDiverseBooks is transitioning from a moment to a movement.

 

THIS ONE SUMMER wins the Governor General’s Award for Illustration

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In an insightful piece in The National Post this fall, Anna Fitzpatrick discusses the potential impact of Jillian Tamaki‘s GG win on the perception of comic arts. With the ever-growing popularity of graphic novels and memoirs for children (El Deafo, Sisters, Through the Woods and the upcoming Roller Girl), the ever-growing attendance at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and a TCAF pop-up shop at the Toronto Public Library this month, it is hard to deny that graphic art in all it’s permutations is commanding more respect. This is fantastic news. Just think of the amazing crossover and genre-bending books there are to come!

 

The Amy Mathers Teen Book Award is Established

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Book-lover and CanLit advocate Amy Mathers began her marathon of books, reading her way across Canada one YA book at a time, in January 2014 hoping to raise enough money to fund a much-needed award for Canadian YA. At the TD Children’s Literature Award Gala in November it was announced that her dream would become a reality. The first Amy Mathers Teen Book Award will be awarded in 2015. This is great news for the vibrant and diverse range of YA books published by Canadians.  Follow Amy’s journey and peruse her book reviews on her website or connect with her on twitter.

Now doesn’t that make you feel good? Here’s to a great 2015! Happy holidays, friends!

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Summer Days, Starry Nights Shortlisted for the 2015 Red Maple Award

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I could not be more thrilled to be among the fantastic writers on the 2015 Red Maple Award list. The OLA Forest of Reading is one of the largest children’s choice award programs in Canada and attending the Forest of Trees ceremony in Toronto is one of my favourite days of the year. If you have any doubt about the state of reading in this country, this is a program to check out. But don’t take my word for it:

 

If you get the chance to go to Harbourfront and witness the 8000+ school children screaming for their favourite book, I highly recommend it. You will leave grinning and feeling like the world is in excellent hands. Mark Medley did a fantastic article about the event in The National Post. Read it here.

I have created some resources to compliment the Summer Days, Starry Nights reading experience. Please check out my resources page to find:

-Discussion questions and a list of related activities

-Pinterest Inspiration board- Here you will find a collection of images that inspire the setting, the clothes, and some of the characters in the book

-Playlist- I have pulled together some videos of artists and musical groups that are mentioned in the book or inspired the characters of Bo, Gwen, and Johnny

I am also available for school visits and have a quantity of Summer Days, Starry Nights bookmarks available for your schools and libraries. Leave me a message in the comments and I’m happy to put together a package for you (while supplies last).

 

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Thank You for the Borderlands: RIP Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Zilpha Keatley Snyder, 1927-2014

When I was a kid I got a box of books at a garage sale. I don’t remember how old I was. It was the summer, possibly between grades 3 and 4, or 4 and 5- but I do remember that box vividly. I discovered some of my favourite authors in that box: E. L. Konigsburg, Judy Blume, and my favourite author of all time- Zilpha Keatley Snyder. At the time, Snyder was the wild card. None of my friends had heard of her. I took great pleasure in recommending The Stanley books, The Egypt Game, The Witches of Worm, and her fantasy series Below the Root to everyone I knew. I still read and love Snyder’s books. She is my greatest inspiration as a writer of children’s fiction.

What I love about Snyder’s books is that they deal so well with things that happen in between, in the borderlands between ages, genres, and perspective. Her characters were often somewhere between childhood and adolescence and she wrote in the spaces between genres. She was never just realistic, just fantasy, just historical. On her website, she even has a category of books called “Border Line Fantasy.” Now there is a writer ahead of her time. Sometimes the magic in Snyder’s books was real, sometimes it had a logical (non magical) explanation. Sometimes the ghosts were literal, other times they were imagined. With Snyder’s fiction I was never sure what kind of book I was about to read, but I knew that no matter what the subject matter or the ending, I would love it.

Many people have said and will say much more eloquent, specific things about Snyder and her work, like this lovely piece from PW, for instance. But I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of accolades because you don’t love an author the way you love one as a child. She is the kind of author I want to be. Every time I sit down to write a little part of me wonders if my work stands up to hers, if it would belong on the same shelf. So here is a list of some of my Snyder favourites:

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The Witches of Worm is about an ugly cat, adopted and loved by a girl who discovers that the cat may be possessed by a witch. This is a book that can be enjoyed equally by cat lovers and cat haters, a rare feat of fiction indeed. The story and some very creepy spot illustrations make it an ideal Halloween read. I have a memory of staying up way to late to finish this in bed and scaring myself silly. And I am firmly on the cat lover end of the spectrum.

The Egypt Game is about a group of children who create an elaborate fort and game based on the myths of Ancient Egypt, an innocent game taking place in the shadow of a recent string of child murders. This is a masterful book in terms of plot, atmosphere, and relationships, likely why it was a Newbury honour book. But it also had tons of detail about Ancient Egypt, which I couldn’t get enough of at the time. I desperately wanted to play my own version of the Egypt Game.

The Changeling is about two girls who meet in the woods between their houses and become friends. Martha, shy and conservative, and Ivy, wild, imaginative, and fearless, who claims to be a changeling child left by the fairies with her family, constantly in trouble with the law. Sigh. Doesn’t every twelve year old girl want a friend like Ivy?

Below the Root is the first book in The Green Sky fantasy series that takes place on a planet entirely covered by trees. I was not an avid fantasy reader but I could not get enough of this book. At the time it was one of the most beautiful, saddest stories I had read. I remember begging (badgering might be more accurate) the children’s librarian at the Woodstock Public Library to order it in because it wasn’t in our system.

The Stanley Family series, beginning with The Headless Cupid, is essentially a loose collection of stories about a blended family learning to get along and live together, with a good dose of mystery and suspense thrown in. These bear the hallmark of 1970s-1980s realistic children’s fiction that was issues driven, made extremely popular by Judy Blume. I wanted very badly to be part of the Stanley family’s antics.

Libby on Wednesday is about a girl who lives in an old mansion (this is a common theme in Snyder’s books) and has to put up with a group of eccentric writers who live and work there. This sounded like heaven to me and I couldn’t understand Libby’s reluctance to join their writer’s group. Despite this difference of opinion, I quite liked Libby and I loved this book. Also, as I learned as an adult, her depiction of writers’ workshops is spot on.

Season of Ponies is about a girl who meets a boy who lives with a herd of magical ponies. This sounds an awful lot like a premise for many of those glittery, sparkly early chapter books “for girls” about ponies, but the story is much deeper, earthier, and has a touch of The Secret Garden to it. Even I, avowedly not a horsey person, wanted to find Ponyboy and his horses.

The Velvet Room is about a girl who discovers a tunnel to a secret abandoned mansion full of turrets, plush window seats, and libraries. This place could have been dreamed up by Anne Shirley. Basically everything I ever wanted to find when I was nine years old.

The Truth About Stone Hollow is essentially a friendship story disguised as a ghost story, but it excels on both counts. Plus adding “The Truth” to any title pretty much guaranteed that I would read it. I loved (and still love) an implied lie. Who doesn’t want to find out the truth about things?

I’m not sad that Snyder has died because she had a long life and a wonderful career. What I hope is that people will stumble across eulogies and posts like this and feel inspired to pick up one of her books. You won’t regret it; she was a master.

 

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Feeling Halloweenish: 4 Spooky Books

It’s my favourite time of year! Pumpkins, black cats everywhere, clever costumes, and amazing ghost stories. What’s not to love about Halloween? Here is a round-up of some spooky, atmospheric and down-right terrifying books perfect for those of us who wait all year for October:

The Swallow by Charis Cotter

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If you’ve read Summer Days, Starry Nights you know I love the sixties. This period in Toronto is evocatively portrayed in this moody, unsettling ghost story by Canadian author Charis Cotter. The atmosphere reminded me of Janet Lunn’s old-school storey Double Spell, peopled with well-rounded Kit Pearson-esque characters.It’s hard to talk about this book without giving too much away. The stuffy, cloying house was particularly vivid, as was Polly’s large, rambunctious extended family. I will say that as an avid reader of ghost stories, this was a refreshing take on the genre. It is just as much a friendship story between two lonely girls as it is a spooky read.  Cotter captures the anxieties and frustrations of tweens very well.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

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This collection of graphic (as in illustrated) short stories was pitch perfect. Emily Carroll is an acclaimed Canadian cartoonist/illustrator and I fully expected her art to be stunning. What I did not expect was her superb pacing and knack for telling really, REALLY scary stories. Definitely not the faint of heart, this collection is about the dark side of humanity as much as it is about ghosts, monsters, and ghouls. Her stories feel classic, like Poe or Irving, but they are original contributions to a tricky to navigate canon. This is definitely a book I will return to every October.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

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This collection of poems based on fairy tales isn’t strictly Halloweenish, but it does suit the creepy, atmospheric October vibe. One of my favourite poetry collections is Transformations by Anne Sexton, which also retells fairy tales. Poisoned Apples is distinctly modern, with references to selfies, social media, etc, but witches and curses and classic fairytale tropes abound in this thought-provoking collection. Heppermann weaves in reflections on female teenage sexuality, empowerment, consent, and body image, with a number of startling images revolving around eating disorders. Poetry can have a particularly strong impact of teenagers, and with the word feminism being bandied about in the media these days, this collection provides an intimate space for personal reflection. Personal favourites include: Nature Lesson, Red-handed, and Transformation.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

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I’ve mentioned this book before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Auxier (another Canadian! Why are we so good at scary?) has a gorgeous command of language and he practically paints the story of two Irish orphans working in the world’s creepiest house with his words. This book lends itself well to reading aloud but can be equally enjoyed curled up in a chair with a mug of something warm. Like all good ghost stories, there are questions of life and death, right or wrong, and love, above all else, reigns supreme. A classic in the making.

What are your Halloween favourites?

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Fall 2014 Events- TPL, INSPIRE and Blue Heron Studio

Interested in marketing and publicity? Got a story up your sleeve you are dying to tell? Or would you just like to hear me read from one of my books? I have a number of fall events lined up. Hope to see you out there in the wild!

 

TPL Teens: Young Voices Conference

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Saturday, October 25th, 9-4pm, Toronto Reference Library

PANEL: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED

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WORKSHOP: HOW TO BREAK THE RULES

2:15-3:30

 

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Inspire Toronto International Book Fair is the new kid on the block in terms of literary events. For a one-time admission fee you can access three days of panels, book signings, and author interviews with the likes of Meg Wolitzer, Sylvia Day, Jon Klassen, and yours truly.

Saturday, November 15th, 3-4pm

Panel, Young Narrators in Contemporary Literature (also with Claire Cameron and Heather A. Clark)

Spark Stage

 

Sunday, November 16th, 4:30-5:00pm

Reading, Summer Days, Starry Nights ; Days That End in Y

TD Children’s Stage

 

Blue Heron Studio Workshops

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Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge is one of my favourite independent bookstores. Featuring a curated selection of books and an impressive roster of events and workshops, they are a destination for book lovers. I’m holding three workshops over the course of one weekend.

 

INSPIRED WRITING FOR KIDS

This is for kids who are interested in writing. There are stories all around us, waiting to be told. In this workshop kids will learn how to find ideas and develop stories by breaking all the so-called writing rules.

Saturday, November 29, 2-4pm

Ages 9-14

More info and registration here

 

INTRO TO MARKETING AND PUBLICITY

Writing a book is half the battle. In the digital age, effective self promotion isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Many people feel overwhelmed by social media. Let me show you simple ways to develop your brand and make meaningful connections.

Sunday, November 30, 11am-1pm

Teens & adults

More info and registration here

 

ADULTS WRITING FOR THE CHILDREN’S MARKET

This frank, informal and interactive session includes writing and editorial tips and a look at the Canadian children’s book market from multiple perspectives.

Sunday, November 30, 2-4pm

Adults

More info and registration here

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YA to the Rescue: On Therese Casgrain & A Mad, Wicked Folly

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This disturbing piece of news about the Harper government erasing Canadian feminist and women’s rights activist Therese Casgrain’s name from an award (not to mention that her image was also removed from the $50 bill in 2012) made me feel many things. Angry, obviously. But also disappointed, uneasy, and incredulous. It’s easy to take the enormous achievements of Therese Casgrain and The Famous Five  for granted. This shameful debacle made me think of one of the best books about the struggles of the suffragette movement (also one of my favourite books of 2014): A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller.

Vicky is kicked out of her fancy French school when word of her posing nude gets round to the staff. She returns to London only to find her parents less than sympathetic. She is given an ultimatum: marry well, therefore erasing her scandalous past, or move to a remote town and become a spinster. What Vicky really wants is to be an artist, but the only way she can possibly pursue these dreams is to compromise by marrying the not-so-awful Edmund. But then a few choice encounters with members of the suffragette movement and a poor (but charming) police officer have Vicky second guessing everything.

I am a big Downton Abbey fan. Sybil is by far my favourite Crawley. What’s not to like about her progressive attitude, rebellious fashion choices (those harem pants!), or willingness to get her hands dirty in the name of helping others? There’s a lot of Sybil in the protagonist of this decadent historical YA novel, Vicky. She doesn’t start off as a suffragette, rather she becomes involved in their movement after a series of encounters with various individuals. Although she has strong feelings on women artists, she doesn’t immediately make the connection to the parallel political struggle. This felt true to a head-strong, self-centred (in a good way) teenage heroine. I liked this progression. It was well-paced and felt natural.

The supporting cast is excellent. There are no straight-up villains. Thought at many times I wanted to slap certain characters, Waller sheds light on their motivations and the result is nuanced, believable characters. If we want teenagers to be passionate about history and the struggles of our ancestors, there is no better way than to present them in an accessible, engaging, yet accurate manner. The book includes a fascinating historical note that outlines just how vicious the struggle became. Fans of detailed historical fiction and readers who are looking for an accurate portrayal of what women went through to get the vote will love this rich, compelling story.

A Mad, Wicked Folly is available in hard cover now from Penguin Canada.

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Nina LaCour, Patron Saint of California: Everything Leads to You Review

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This blog is in danger of becoming a Nina LaCour fansite, but I can’t  help gushing about her books. Her latest might just be her best one yet.

When Emi’s senior year ends, her brother gives her the keys to his sweet apartment for the summer, telling her to use the space and the time to make something extraordinary. Two opportunities arise, the first when Emi is offered her dream job as a production designer on an indie film, a project she truly believes in, and the second when an estate sale at the house of a reclusive Hollywood legend leads her to his secret granddaughter.

The love story, between two women, is tender and engaging, fraught with tension but without a lot of drama. The book isn’t about being a lesbian in love, but about love full stop. The more books we have where issues of diversity are seamlessly woven into the narrative and not singled out as “other” the  better. The novel is also about Emi growing into herself as an artist and a young professional. I particularly enjoyed the moment where Emi butts heads with her boss only to realize that her boss was right and she was wrong. Who hasn’t had that moment of creative righteousness, only to be humbled later on? This is a lesson we all can learn, particularly a young generation of people who have been told that everything they do is miraculous.

It is fitting that this book is about the magic and fantasy of the movies. The narrative unfolds like a fantastic indie film, the kind of movie I am always seeking but can never seem to find: funny, warm, character-driven, and gorgeous to look at. And nary a manic pixie dream girl in sight! It is a particular accomplishment to create such a lasting visual impression considering this is a novel with no visuals to speak of, only the ones LaCour conjures with her pristine language.

Everything Leads to You is about details, something I have always thought LaCour does better than her contemporaries. Just as Emi scours flea markets and auctions for the perfect couch or markets for the perfect botanical, one gets the feeling that LaCour has been just as careful in how she selects her words. There is something deliciously meta in the way that we get to experience LaCour creating a world in which Emi creates worlds.

I hope California adopts LaCour as their state laureate. In all three of her novels the topography and spirit of California is so strong it transcends setting and becomes a character. Francesca Lia Block made a name for herself as a sort of poet laureate or voice for LA, and I’ve come to associate LaCour with California at large. More, please!

Everything Leads to You is available now in hard cover from Penguin Canada.

 

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What to Read This Summer: Middle Grade

Here are some great recent/upcoming middle grade titles for the tween in your life, or, if you’re like me, your own inner tween:

 

The Glass Sentence

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Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series gets comped  a lot in fantasy, but this is the only book I’ve read in recent memory that lives up to it in terms of richness, ingenuity, and political intrigue. This is a gorgeous literary offering about a world that has been split up across time after the Great Disruption, meaning that different time eras are living next to each other. The various time zones/states have been living in relative harmony, although paranoia and suspicion has head to the borders being closed. I could just as easily have included this in the YA list, though technically it is middle grade. The finished copy of this book has all the wondrous trappings that book fetishists like me crave: maps, a velum slipcase, and embossing!

 

The Night Gardener

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Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? The latest book from Canuck Jonathan Auxier offers Irish orphans, a derelict Victorian mansion, a ghostly gardener and a potentially evil tree. Auxier’s language is perfect for reading aloud- though make sure your campers/children/friends are not faint of heart.

 

The Circus Dogs of Prague

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I was totally charmed by Rachelle Delaney’s first book about JR and the embassy dogs and the second is just as fun. Readers who prefer their middle grade fiction gentle, funny, and classic will love this series about dogs who travel the world and solve mysteries in exotic European capitals. This would make a great family read aloud, particularly for a reader adept at doing doggie voices.

 

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek 

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I’ve already raved about this teen memoir (which is technically YA), but I think in the hands of a 12 year old girl this funny, warm and smart treatise on what it means to be popular could work miracles. An ideal graduation gift for kids moving from middle school to high school.

 

A Snicker of Magic

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Author Natalie Lloyd does some fun things with language and description in this quirky read about magic lost and found. Readers who revel in words and their bookish-ness will have so much fun with this book. A little bit Chocolat (minus adult themes and Johnny Depp), a little bit fairy-tale, you really can’t go wrong with a town called Midnight Gulch and a protagonist named Felicity Pickle.

The Thickety

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What a great title! This complex middle grade tale has two of my favourite things: witches and a mysterious forest. In fact this is the second book on this list alone that features a spooky wood (The Night Gardener has The Sour Woods). Kay and her brother Taff have grown up shunned by their community after their mother is convicted of witchcraft. And when I say shunned I mean shunned. Some of the discrimination they face is cruel and upsetting. The only thing people fear more than witchcraft is the strange, dark wood that seems to be slowly overtaking the island. But Kay has always felt that the forest has called to her, and one day she ventures in…

Don’t be misled by it’s fairy-tale themes, this is a dark, harrowing tale that is more Brothers Grimm than Frozen.

Happy Reading!

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