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determination, while to an adult—especially if that adult is a prairie writer—it’s richly evocative and an important historical document.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…

More Babas, Please!

More Babas, Please! by Marion Mutala, Illustrated by Olha Tkachenko Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Michelle Shaw $14.95 ISBN 9781927756928 Award-winning author Marion Mutula’s latest book, More Babas, Please! is a happy celebration of grandmothers. All grandmothers everywhere. “Big ones, small ones, fat ones, tall. Curly-haired, straight-haired, wig-wearing, bald.” The rhyming has an almost sing-song rhythm which seems so natural that you instinctively know that a lot of work has gone into making it seem so effortless! The layout is classic and clean with lots of white space and large type, perfect for early readers and grown-ups with bad eye sight. Each left page features a beautiful full page colour illustration by Ukranian-born illustrator Olha Tkachenko. Although the book celebrates grandmothers of all nationalities, Mutala’s love for her Ukranian heritage and her babas is a constant thread throughout the book. She uses Ukranian words like holubtsi (cabbage rolls) and dyakuyu (thank you) and for non-Ukranian speakers there’s a helpful glossary at the back of the book. There’s even a recipe for Baba Sophie’s Borscht! The book gave me a warm feeling as I reflected on my own grandmother. It speaks to all the good that grandmothers do…

Road Allowance Kitten
Gabriel Dumont Institute / 25 January 2017

Road Allowance Kitten by Wilfred Burton, Illustrated by Christina Johns, Translated by Norman Fleury Published by Gabriel Dumont Institute Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $15.00 ISBN 978-1-926795-72-0 This bilingual (English and Michif) children’s picture book – with the green-and-yellow-eyed, plot-important kitten on the cover – gently tells a true and unpleasant story in prairie history: the poverty, hardship and displacement of the Road Allowance Métis. Like it sounds – and as explained in the back-notes – a road allowance is “a strip of [government-owned] land adjoining a parcel of surveyed land … set aside in case roads will be built in the future.” One need not know the historical truth to appreciate this well-delivered story about family and friendship, sharing, and both the joys and hardships of living a basic lifestyle, but it bears a reminder. After the 1885 Resistance, numerous Métis displaced from their traditional homes and land used scrap materials to build new, often uninsulated and tar paper-roofed shacks on road allowances. They worked for local farmers (ie: clearing fields of rocks and trees), and picked Seneca root and berries, grew gardens, trapped and hunted (though a 1939 law made year-round and unlicensed trapping and hunting illegal, and…

Good Morning, Sunshine!
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 7 December 2016

Good Morning, Sunshine! (A Story of Mindfulness) by Trina Markusson, illustrated by James Hearne Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $15.95 ISBN 9-781927-756775 There’s much talk these days about mindfulness, and truth be told, this reviewer has signed up for a class on that very topic. I’m also starting to hear that mindfulness-or “living in the moment”-is being taught in some schools, and I can only imagine how much this will benefit students who adopt the practice into their daily lives. Perhaps you remember some of the worries you had as a child, or you recall how stressful teenage years can be. Maybe you have a son or daughter who is fearful or anxious, and you don’t know how to help them. Let me introduce you to Good Morning, Sunshine! (A Story of Mindfulness), a gently-told (and sweetly-illustrated) children’s book by Regina teacher, speaker, and writer, Trina Markusson. Drawing from her youngest son’s experience, as well as her own, Markusson, has penned a sensitive story about Zachary-a boy old enough to play football but young enough to enjoy the company of a teddy bear-that demonstrates how hanging on to the past or worrying about the…

Hanna’s Letter
DW Ulmer / 17 August 2016

Hanna’s Letter by Darren Ulmer Published by DW Ulmer Publishing Review by Leslie Vermeer $9.95 978-0-99502421-2 It’s said that books are a way to start a social conversation. That’s certainly the case for Darren Ulmer, author of the children’s book Hanna’s Letter, which follows a child living through her parent’s serious illness. Ulmer wrote the book to give families a resource to talk about and prepare for the effects of life-threatening illnesses. When Hanna finds out that her father has throat cancer, her world turns upside down. She feels sad and helpless until she realizes there’s one person who can help: Santa Claus. Her selfless letter to Santa, which forms the centre of the book, represents an important step in her journey, and her family’s, through a cancer diagnosis and recovery. We see Hanna’s fear, her wistfulness, and ultimately her hope as the wish expressed in her letter comes true. Beautifully illustrated by Diane Lucas, Hanna’s Letter is a compassionate story based on real life. Saskatoon-based writer and speaker Ulmer is himself a cancer survivor, and the book is modelled on his family’s experience. “This was a very personal story, my story,“ he says, but he fictionalized it to help…

My Good Friend Grandpa

My Good Friend, Grandpa Story by Elaine Sharfe, Illustrations by Karen Sim Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $9.95 ISBN 9-781927-756713 You don’t have to be a grandparent to appreciate Saskatoon writer Elaine Sharfe’s illustrated children’s book, My Good Friend, Grandpa. Indeed, anyone with a heart will adore this beautifully-rendered tale about a boy’s strong connection with his beloved grandfather, and, as in all the best writing, the author skillfully evokes emotion without regressing into sentimentality. Want to write your own children’s book? Reading and studying great books is the best way to learn, and I’d definitely recommend Sharfe’s well-written story to anyone who has an emotional children’s story to tell. The tenor is spot-on here. Sharfe starts and ends on just the right notes, immediately establishing the characters’ close relationship by simply stating it: “Noah and Grandpa Ed had been good friends for as long as Noah could remember. Grandpa Ed said they had been friends forever.” Nanaimo illustrator Karen Sims ably demonstrates this tight bond via full-colour images that show the young, big-eyed boy and his loving grandfather involved in activities that range from watering plants at the family cottage to enjoying treats…

Li’l Shadd: A Story of Ujima
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 2 February 2016

Li’l Shadd: A Story of Ujima by Miriam Körner and Alix Lwanga, illustrated by Miriam Körner Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $29.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-48-5 Saskatchewan’s history is so multi-culturally rich that there are, admittedly, elements of it that I’ve scarcely even considered. Take, for example, the first African-Canadian pioneers, including the trail-blazing Dr. Alfred Schmitz Shadd (d.1915), for whom two Melfort streets and a northern Saskatchewan lake are named. Dr. Shadd shared an affinity with First Nations’ folks, “due to the similarity of their experiences with colonization and racism,” and the Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum – with the assistance of other funders and sponsors – has brought just one of Shadd’s success stories to light in the delightfully-illustrated children’s book, Li’l Shadd: A Story of Ujima. The title character, Li’l Shadd, represents Garrison Shadd, the real-life son of the good Dr. Shadd, who’s also recognized for his work as a politician, teacher, farmer, journalist and friend. Garrison was actually five years old when his pioneering father died, so the story itself is slightly fictionalized. The plot concerns the child accompanying his father (via horse-drawn wagon) to tend to the baby girl of a…

The Two Trees
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 4 September 2015

The Two Trees Written by Sally Meadows, Illustrated by Trudi Olfert Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-43-0 I love receiving new books to review, but sometimes I can’t get to them immediately. Before I had a chance to dive into The Two Trees, a children’s book by Saskatoon writer\illustrator team Sally Meadows and Trudi Olfert, my visiting friend, Flo, picked the book off my kitchen counter and read it. “What did you think?” I asked. “Loved it,” Flo said. “It brought tears to my eyes.” Any children’s story that can move an adult to tears is one I don’t want to wait another moment to read. I took the softcover book to my deck and in the few minutes it took to engage with the sensitively-written and pastel-illustrated story – about the relationship between two brothers, and the younger’s difficulty with the elder’s inability to socially interact “normally” both at home and school – I too, experienced the proverbial lump-in-throat that signifies an emotional connection’s been made. “Wow,” I said, “what a strong metaphor for ‘otherness’”. “I know,” Flo said. “And that word at the end, ‘almost’ … that’s what got me.”…

Leaving Mr. Humphries

Leaving Mr. Humphries by Alison Lohans Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-07-2 There are some writers you can always depend on to turn out a good book, regardless of the genre. I first knew Regina author Alison Lohans as a short story writer for young adults. She’s also impressed me with her novels and children’s books. The ability to genre-hop and keep the literary standards at high-bar are Lohans’ trademarks, so I’m not surprised that Leaving Mr. Humphries, her tender story about a child reluctant to let go of his stuffed blue teddy bear, Mr. Humphries, also delivers a read that simultaneously entertains and plucks at the heart-strings. This book is the result of a familial collaboration: it’s illustrated by Gretchen Ehrsam, Lohans’ American cousin, who-like the author-enjoyed childhood vacations at the family’s cottage in Dorset ON. What first impressed was how quickly I was engaged. With kids’ books, writers don’t have the luxury to slowly beguile readers, and Lohans instantly gets us into the main character’s head and heart-space. Josh is the protagonist. His mother is off to “a conference in the city,” and he’ll have to stay with Grandpa and…