Lily in the Loft

Lily in the Loft by Carol L. MacKay Illustrated by Val Moker Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Allison Kydd $14.95; ISBN 978-1-927756-91-1 (softcover) Though reading some children’s picture books is an exercise in tolerance for adult readers, others have immediate appeal for both adult and child. MacKay’s Lily in the Loft, a story of hope, disappointment and ultimate reward, is an example of the latter. To a child it suggests the importance of dreams and determination, while to an adult—especially if that adult is a prairie writer—it’s richly evocative and an important historical document. The narrative of Lily in the Loft revolves around a young girl named Frances. Frances loves to write, and the story captures the vulnerability and desire of a beginning writer—or indeed of any writer. “Am I any good?” the young protagonist asks herself. “What if they don’t like what I write?” Frances is fortunate in that she has a mother and an aunt who support her dreams. She also lives on a farm, where nature and animals are part of her world and feed her creative imagination. MacKay obviously knows this world and gives the reader just enough of the setting without distracting…

Lullaby Lilly

Lullaby Lilly by Laurie Muirhead Illustrated by Debora Johnson Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Allison Kydd $14.95; ISBN 978-1-927756-94-2 (softcover) Some picture books are a challenge for adult readers: how does one read with the appreciation of a child, letting go of adult expectations about what makes a story or a poem? Lullaby Lilly is a charming tale that evokes the importance of family, creative expression and simply having fun. It is also part of a tradition that honours “child-like-ness” for its own sake. The main character in the story is Lilly Lamm, and she loves lullabies; in fact, she exhausts her family of mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandpa and grandma with her demand for lullabies. “Make up your own,” they finally say. What can Lilly do? She hasn’t yet learned her ABC’s, so how can she write her own verses? Fortunately, Lilly’s mother is “in the garden planting rosemary and sage . . .” She stops what she is doing and shows Lilly how to spin lullabies by recklessly combining all the words she knows (including some she didn’t know she knew) with images from the world around her. This book offers a…

Questions for Wolf
Thistledown Press / 3 May 2016

Questions for Wolf by Shannon Quinn Published by Thistledown Press Review by Allison Kydd $12.95; ISBN 978-1-77187-058-0 Questions for Wolf is a collection of poetry in Thistledown Press’s New Leaf Series. In these haunting, often savage lines, Shannon Quinn evokes not only those who have been exploited, silenced and murdered, but all women. The images are so delicate, yet complex, it is best they speak for themselves. First there are the children: “younger girls fly by/lost in the magical history/of secondhand bikes/all tassels and pigtails . . .” and close by there’s “. . . a circle of girls too young to be with boys who drive cars. . .”. Then come the evils of “sparse expectations,” “a list/of inner-city mortifications/that comes with being poor and a girl”. Quinn knows the drive for something better and the desire for love and attention: “Boys see you for the first time/They see you they see you they see you/gliding mid-flight/Can’t touch you/Can almost touch you”. Such vulnerability leads to ruin, and yet: “I don’t want to be gentle/or wear the comfortable footwear/of common goals/or join the queue/to pull a ticket to collect on insufficient blessings”. Addiction too begins with the promise of…

Queen of Fire
Serimuse Books / 26 April 2016

Queen of Fire: Book One of the Leather Book Tales by Regine Haensel Published by Serimuse Books Review by Allison Kydd $14.95 ISBN 978-1495909511 The first part of a trilogy, Queen of Fire is a fantasy novel suited to a young adult or even juvenile audience. Not that the tale is simple and straightforward. There are actually dozens of people to sort out and an assortment of special, even magical, powers. I am reminded of my sons playing Dungeons and Dragons. They spent so much time designing their characters and their characters’ special gifts, but little on the game itself. Or perhaps that was the game, to imagine the possibilities. In this instance, special gifts may return in later novels. The main action of this novel begins with fifteen-year-old Rowan, who lives with her mother, a healer and herbalist, in an isolated cabin on the edge of a forest. Rowan is a typical teenager, longing to test boundaries and resenting the one she loves the most, as her mother represents rules and limitations. All too soon, the girl really is on her own and must discover wits, powers and endurance and find guidance among strangers. She also discovers something her…

Corvus
Thistledown Press / 19 April 2016

Corvus by Harold Johnson Published by Thistledown Press Review by Allison Kydd $19.95; ISBN 978-1-77187-051-1 Corvus is a novel that repays the reader’s persistence. Its setting is eighty years in the future, during a time of uneasy peace after a period of war, caused in turn by ecological disasters that have moved populations north, which causes overcrowding. The wars, therefore, are primarily to protect territory and the technological bubble enjoyed by the wealthy. This futuristic setting may initially discourage some, but ultimate rewards make it worth reading on. The fact the novel is set in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and involves a First Nations community might also give one pause. Fortunately, it is not overly derivative nor an obvious political agenda thinly disguised as fiction. The theme does remind one of Thomas King’s The Back of a Turtle, which also features the tragic destruction of First Nations communities by corporate greed. As a rule, such corporations are represented by whites/“Europeans” or (in the case of King’s protagonist) by First Nations descendants who have lost touch with their origins. At first, Corvus seems to justify reservations. First the raven appears, a familiar totem for the First Nations psyche, suggesting the book will…

Free Knowledge
University of Regina Press / 11 December 2015

Free Knowledge: Confronting the Commodification of Human Discovery Edited By Patricia W. Elliott & Daryl H. Hepting Published by University of Regina Press Review by Allison Kydd $27.95 ISBN 9780889773653 Free Knowledge is a collection of articles that offers some surprises to readers who might assume corporations are always the bad guys. After all, most readers have heard of corporations hoarding and overpricing pharmaceuticals, making them unavailable to the countries that need them most. Many readers might also be aware of dangerously close relationships between private corporations and universities and other public research facilities. Some articles address these issues, but the overall discussion of a “knowledge commons” is much broader. Articles also consider seeds, especially those that are genetically engineered and patents that attempt to “own” that knowledge, the implications of copyright, the appropriation of culture and questions around free access as opposed to subscriptions, among other things. In fact, the book covers so many aspects of knowledge and its possession that it’s difficult to evaluate the collection as a whole. Though the editors are professors, not all the authors represented here are academics. Some are graduate students, farmers, activists, ethicists or publishers. Perhaps that explains the breadth of the…

Disengaged: Fixed Date, Democracy, and Understanding the 2011 Manitoba Election
University of Regina Press / 21 October 2015

Disengaged? Fixed Date, Democracy and Understanding the 2011 Manitoba Election By Andrea D. Rounce and Jared J. Wesley Published by University of Regina Press Review by Allison Kydd $39.95 ISBN 9780889773554 A book written primarily by academics for academics may not initially jump off the shelf. Then there are the realities of publishing date-sensitive material; contributors’ reasonable comments and assumptions can be out of date by time of publication. Yet Disengaged?, a disassembling of a particular election, identifies important issues and has implications beyond the province of Manitoba in 2011. It also made fascinating reading while the country was in the midst of the 2015 federal election campaign. As suggested by the title, Andrea Rounce, Jared Wesley and nine other contributors focus on voter engagement, as democracy depends on an engaged electorate. Insights about voter participation are also relevant outside Manitoba, and political science professor Wesley compares Manitoba voter trends with federal rates and those of other provinces. He also provides some historical background. Unfortunately, some comments are out of date. For instance, Wesley makes no mention of “the orange sweep” and election of New Democratic poster girl Rachel Notley in Alberta. Neither do speculations about the significance of a…

Emily via the Greyhound Bus
Thistledown Press / 22 January 2015

Emily via the Greyhound Bus by Allison Kydd Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $9.95 ISBN 978-1-927068-09-0 Saskatoon publisher Thistledown Press has long been a friend to first-time poets and prose writers via its New Leaf Edition Series, giving many writers (including yours truly) the generous break that launches a writing career. Thistledown’s eleventh release of New Leaf titles puts writer Allison Kydd in the spotlight, and if you have a road trip or flight forthcoming, Kydd’s Emily via the Greyhound Bus could be your ideal companion. The 64-page story takes readers on a winter bus trip from Toronto to Saskatchewan and delves inside the private thoughts of its title character, a woman who-like many-“always rushed in before she knew where she was going.” On page one we learn that Emily, a First Nations’ woman, has left her longterm relationship and is now at an emotional crossroads. What should she do with her life? How might she begin again? Would a return to her reserve be a wise idea? Her crisis is heightened by the fact that her nausea on the bus may signal more than travel sickness: could she be pregnant again? Emily has much to…