Do Trees Sneeze?
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 30 January 2015

Do Trees Sneeze? by Jean Freeman illustrated by Val Lawton Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Jessica Bickford $12.95 ISBN 9781927756324 Do Trees Sneeze? is the fourth collaboration between the powerhouse children’s book team of author Jean Freeman, and illustrator Val Lawton.  It follows Where Does Your Dog Sleep?, Where Does Your Cat Nap?, and Wascana Wild Goose Chase, which are all just as fun, adorable, and perfect for early readers as this book is. Lawton’s illustrations are vibrant and energetic, and I especially love the sprightly Nonna who I suspect might be a depiction of Jean Freeman herself.  The trees in this book all have expressive little faces and Lawton captures the change of seasons in a lighthearted way – with the trees painting their own leaves to get ready for winter.  The colours are bright, but I especially love the black and white pages where the children have their eyes closed and are just listening to the rustle in the trees. You can even play a game of spot the bunny on a few of the pages! The story itself is cute and simple with two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, talking about how their Nonna says…

Art, his Heart…and the Phlart?!
Hear My Heart Books Inc. / 29 January 2015

Art, his Heart …and the Phlart?! by Fawn Einarson, illus. by Arthur Karakochuk Published by Hear My Heart Books Inc. Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $10.00 ISBN 978-0-9877251-5-8 One of the coldest facts in this world is that horrific things sometimes happen to our most vulnerable members of society: children. It takes a courageous and discerning writer to tackle difficult subject matter and present it in a way that children will understand, learn, and heal from. Saskatoon writer Fawn Einarson braves the task in her empowering illustrated book Art, his Heart … and the Phlart?! This sensitive picture book is published by Hear My Heart Books Inc., a small Saskatoon press publishing “therapeutic stories”. We learn the author’s intent in her dedication: “This story is meant to act as a shield to protect children from sexual abuse.” Einarson provides seven pieces of advice to adult readers who share this story with a child who discloses his or her own abusive experience: remain calm; ask if it’s okay to take notes; record exactly what’s said; do not ask leading questions; ask the child to draw a picture; “Let the child know that telling is okay;” and immediately phone a professional. The…

Literary History of Saskatchewan – Volume Two
Coteau Books / 28 January 2015

The Literary History of Saskatchewan. Volume 2 – Progressions edited by David Carpenter Published by Coteau Books Review by Keith Foster $24.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-567-2 (v. 2) The Literary History of Saskatchewan continues its analysis of the province’s literary pioneers in this second volume – Progressions. This collection of essays brings insights into Saskatchewan writers and their writing styles from the 1980s to the end of the twentieth century. This period brought the Saskatchewan Book Awards and the Saskatchewan Festival of Words into being, and strengthened the literary presses like Coteau Books. With the demise of the Saskatchewan School of the Arts came the closing of Fort San, which Ken Mitchell describes as “a prairie legend, a Woodstock on the Qu’Appelle River.” But rising like a phoenix on the prairie, the Sage Hill Writing Experience took its place. In an ironic twist, Mitchell had been turned down by W.O. Mitchell for a workshop because he “wasn’t good enough.” The younger Mitchell was determined to prove him wrong, and did, becoming an instructor at Fort San and a professor at the University of Regina. This 290-page book contains four tributes and eleven essays, each referenced, including one devoted entirely to Saskatchewan’s new…

Tending the Tree of Life
Wild Sage Press / 26 January 2015

Tending the Tree of Life by Irwin Kahan illustrated by Wendy Winter Published by Wild Sage Press Review by Jessica Bickford $25.00 978-0-9881229-8-7 Tending the Tree of Life is Irwin Kahan’s memoir chronicling his life from growing up on the Saskatchewan prairie, through the second World War, and onto his work trying to improve health care for those suffering from mental illness. I learned so much from Irwin’s story – from the struggles of pioneering while attempting to keep the Jewish faith, to the difficulties of trying to finish high school by correspondence lessons, and even to what it’s like to take LSD (for science, of course). Irwin’s optimism is clear throughout his story.  Despite the obvious hardships he and his family faced, not only with rampant anti-semitism, but simply surviving the harsh farming conditions of the prairies and then the horrors of World War II, Irwin refuses to complain.  He is endlessly focused on the good – his friends and family and the occasions where he felt he was doing good work to help others. I was so interested to learn about Irwin’s work trying to have mental illness, especially schizophrenia, recognized for what it is – an illness,…

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…

Entangled Roots
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 21 January 2015

Entangled Roots: The Mystery of Peterborough’s Headless Corpse by Bev Lundahl Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Keith Foster $17.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-31-7 In the early hours of a cold wintery morning in 1894, Hessie Gray was abruptly awakened to find smoke billowing in her Peterborough, ON bedroom. She opened the door to the kitchen. Seeing it was in flames, she broke a window and got her young children out. But her boarder, David Scollie, was still inside. With these few simple facts, Bev Lundahl’s Entangled Roots: The Mystery of Peterborough’s Headless Corpse sets the stage for her quest to determine what happened. An inquiry ruled that the fire was an accident and that Scollie had burned to death in his bed. But almost immediately, questions arose. Scollie’s head appeared to be missing. Had it simply burned away, or had he been decapitated? Rumours spread. Suspicions turned to Hessie. A preliminary hearing was convened. The strongest indictment against Hessie came from her sister, Mary McGregor, who happened to be none other than Lundahl’s great-grandmother. Mary testified that Hessie had threatened Scollie. Suspicion also turned to William McGregor, Lundahl’s great-grandfather. Adding to the mystery is the presence of several Aboriginal…

Hagios Press / 20 January 2015

Rove by Laurie D Graham Published by Hagios Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $17.95 ISBN 978-192671023-5 I usually open a poetry collection expecting that the first few pages will provide a reasonably good sense of the author’s style and subject matter. In the opening pages of Rove, by London ON poet Laurie D Graham, I correctly gleaned that this writer would address a veritable smorgasbord of issues: political, environmental, First Peoples’, agricultural, poverty, health, and urban vs. rural. I also learned that this rapid-fire poet writes mostly in couplets, she often begins her lines with imperatives (“Say fluorescent lightbulbs will save\the earth, say there’s a heart” and “See the branches of the suburbs blossom wild with bungalows”), and that hers is indeed a distinct new voice on the CanLit scene. Further into the book I realized that she also weaves in personal family history, and that I was often surprised and delighted by the myriad twists and turns this daring writer takes. Rove is a long poem that reads partly like a rant, (“say the numbers, tell the Wheat Board where to go, say it fast like an auction and move to the city, say minimum wage and grunt…

Paddling Routes of North-Central Saskatchewan
University of Regina Press / 16 January 2015

Paddling Routes of North-Central Saskatchewan by Gregory P. Marchildon and Carl Anderson Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $24.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-304-2 The photo on the cover of Paddling Routes of North-Central Saskatchewan shows a paddle dipping into the water. If this doesn’t make you want to pack up your troubles and explore the province’s pristine lakes and rivers, then the detailed descriptions and instructions of authors Gregory P. Marchildon and Carl Anderson surely will. Never canoed before? No problem. The authors rate the difficulties of each route so readers can choose the one most suitable for their level of expertise. If you’re up to the challenges as a seasoned canoeist, the authors have suggestive ideas aplenty. Marchildon and Anderson guide readers through twenty-three trips. Each lists the length of the trip in both miles and kilometers, the approximate time it takes to complete the trip, the number of portages required, and a list of map coordinates. Following some of the trip descriptions are endnotes with nifty tidbits of information that may surprise even some long-term Saskatchewan residents. Did you know, for instance, that Ile-a-la-Crosse takes its name from the game of lacrosse? The book provides the…

Every Happy Family
Coteau Books / 15 January 2015

Every Happy Family by Dede Crane Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-548-1 After finishing Every Happy Family, by Victoria-based Dede Crane, I felt the warmth of being included in a family that truly loves and cares for each other, despite divergent interests and personalities. In short, I felt this family’s embrace. Crane’s novel is a realistic study of family and the complex relationships that develop between generations, between husbands and wives, and between siblings. Readers are privy to the private thoughts, fears and hopes of various members of the Wright family over a period of five dynamic years. The story is told through the perspectives of each of the Wrights. Introspective Jill is an “itinerant linguistics scholar”. Words matter to this woman. Her Sandwich Generation responsibilities involve caring for her increasingly eccentric mother (the older woman spontaneously invites two men and a woman-“we need a fourth for bridge”-to live with her), and parenting three teenaged children: studious Quinn; athletic Beau; and adopted Tibetan daughter, Pema. The familial roster also includes Jill’s husband, Les, and her artsy sister-in-law, Annie. Crane’s taken on a large cast and she’s successfully created completely individual identities for each member….

Know Thyself
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 13 January 2015

Know Thyself: Help Me, I’m Naked, Book Three by Donna Miller Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Justin Dittrick $21.95 ISBN 9 781927 756348 In Donna Miller’s Know Thyself: Help Me, I’m Naked, Book Three, readers will find an engrossing, heartfelt, and honest memoir. Miller is a natural story-teller and memoirist, her memory of events startlingly clear, the prose crystalline, spare, and even. The events it depicts are relentlessly tragic, yet affirm the gift of life in faith, grace, and hope. The sense of harmony at this memoir’s depth is achieved through the rich development of its many strong female characters, who repeatedly demonstrate ingenuity, self-sacrifice, and resilience in the most trying circumstances imaginable. In one passage, the narrator admits that she does not grasp the difference between knowledge and understanding, with knowledge being defined as the possession of information, and understanding being defined as the possession of meaning in that information. This memoir’s great achievement is that it maintains just the right distance from its well-developed characters and detailing of events, a kind of sympathetic distance for the great costs attributable to free will, allowing the reader to grasp meaning in spite of the complexity of motivations…