Critters: Underdark
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 18 December 2019

Critters: Underdarkby Allan DotsonPublished by YNWPReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783437 How best to describe Regina writer, artist and teacher Allan Dotson’s monster-inspired graphic novel, Critters: Underdark … a 153-page, 10-years-in-the -making labour of love, and black and white demonstration of great talent? An equally touching and humorous allegory for our socially-fractured and racially- divisive times? A textual and artistic tour-de-force? Each of the above applies, but at the heart of this fantasy’s success is the creator’s unique imagination, his skill at storytelling, and his deft ability to create individuated “monsters” – both visually and literarily – that readers of all ages will quickly care about. It’s easy to suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the train-wrecked world of innocent Eddy – a pincered “ettercap” who looks like a louse – and his first friend, the snaggle-toothed monster Sally, who tells also-caged Eddy: “You’re not alone. We’re all scared.” Eddy’s toddler-like diction is adorable, ie: “Is we all getting’ stuffs? Like weppins?” and “O nos! Thems gonna git us!” Many things are “skeery”. In the first few pages we learn that these creatures, captured along with several others by the dwarves at the bidding of the medusa queen,…

Raymond Raindrop and Swings and Things
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 18 December 2019

Raymond Raindrop and Swings & ThingsWritten and illustrated by Eileen MunroPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$12.95 ISBN 9-781988-783444 I was introduced to the fun-filled illustrations and down-home text of Saskatchewan artist Eileen Munro in 2014 via her rural-themed alphabet book, ABC’s Down on the Farm. Now, five years later, she’s followed up with another picture book, this time featuring two educational stories: Raymond Raindrop and Swings & Things. Munro’s cover advertises “Facts and fun – 2 Books in 1” – it’s a double treat for young readers and story listeners, and an ingenious way for a writer using YNWP’s excellent publishing services to get the most bang for her buck. As the title reveals, Raymond is a raindrop, which Munro visually presents somewhat like a grey Hershey’s Kiss with simple facial features, three-fingered white hands and two black ovaline feet. Raymond’s character, however, is far from simple. “Shy and a little bit proud,” he “stayed by himself” while his fellow raindrops “bounced and bubbled” together. Our watery protagonist notes that the people on the land below him look worried re: the lack of rain for their crops. The story is about the importance of working together….

Baxter and the Blue Bunny
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 22 November 2019

Baxter and the Blue Bunnyby Lorraine Johnson, Illustrated by Wendi NordellPublished by YNWPReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$12.95 ISBN 9-781988-783413 Baxter and the Blue Bunny is the debut children’s book by Yorkton writer Lorraine Johnson, and the story flows so smoothly along one would think it was penned by a veteran. Complemented by Alberta illustrator Wendi Nordell’s colourful and “just right” illustrations of the canine character Baxter and his home and family, this simple, well-told story hits a surprisingly deep emotional chord. The story, told in Baxter’s voice, begins at a pet shelter, with “mom and dad, and two brothers” choosing the black and white Shih Tzu-looking dog. “I am looking for them … and they are looking for me,” Baxter says, “each of us wanting to find someone special to love, to look after, and to grow up with.” It’s easy to read this story as an allegory, for isn’t that what most of us humans want in life, too? Through the text and Nordell’s inviting scenes we experience the days in the life of a happy, well-loved dog: he plays tug-o’-war with the boys, hide-and-seek with the adults, and Grandma brings a “stuffed blue bunny” which “soon becomes [Baxter’s]…

Walk in Wascana, A

A Walk in WascanaWritten by Stephanie Vance, Ilustrated by Wendi NordellPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-40-6 Saskatchewan resident Stephanie Vance clearly loves Regina, the city she grew up in, as she’s made it the subject of her first book. A Walk In Wascana is an homage to Saskatchewan’s capital and specifically picturesque Wascana Park, with its natural beauty; various winged and four-legged creatures; and also diverse manmade features, including fountains, a boathouse, and the Kwakiutl Nation Totem Pole (a gift, she explains, that is from British Columbia). Vance has teamed with Alberta artist Wendi Nordell to create a delightful softcover homage to the park. The rhyming text and bold, full-colour illustrations on each page are exactly what young ears and eyes enjoy at “storytime,” though the book could also be a pleasant memento for anyone who has lived in or visited Regina. The story sees a young blond boy exploring the expansive park. A playful bunny seemingly beckons the child to follow it through the paths and “grand green trees.” Readers will recognize the variety of birds and waterfowl on the lake, including sparrows, pelicans and mallards, and adults can make a game of…

When We Had Sled Dogs

When We Had Sled Dogs: A Story from the Traplineby Ida Tremblay and Miriam Körner Published by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-39-0 Searching for a book that’s educational, Woodland Cree/English bilingual, and specifically Saskatchewan? If you’d also appreciate that the story be packaged in a beautifully-illustrated hardcover, then When We Had Sled Dogs: A Story from the Trapline, should fill your desires. This upbeat and colourful book was inspired by the life of La Ronge, SK Elder Ida Tremblay, who shared her memories of “growing up following the seasonal cycle of trapline life” with Miriam Körner. Körner – also from La Ronge – wrote and illustrated the book, which, sadly, Tremblay never got to see, as she died shortly before it was published. During the summer, while Tremblay’s father worked as a fishing guide, the rest of the family camped at McKenzie End, close to La Ronge. Before winter froze the lake, Ida’s family would canoe for five or six days to their cabin on the Churchill River and tend the trapline until spring. Körner’s had the privilege of accompanying Tremblay “up north and back to the past,” and thus veracity is maintained through first-hand…

Underdog Duckling, The

The Underdog Ducklingby Sally MeadowsPublished by Your Nickle’s Worth PublishingReview by Amanda Zimmerman$14.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-30-7 How do you get through a time in your life when everything seems upside down? Is it possible to overcome adversity and grow through the challenges? Sally Meadows, a former scientist and educator from Saskatoon, brings us an answer in her powerful and heartwarming story of a little boy facing his mother’s illness. When she is moved into the hospital and his dad is devoting his time to keeping up the farm, Quinn moves to the big city with his grandfather. He has a hard time settling in at his new school and it is only at a nearby pond where he finds an escape. When he witnesses the bad treatment of a duckling by the other birds on the water, Quinn feels a special kinship with The Underdog Duckling. “Why don’t the other ducks like the duckling? And why weren’t its parents taking care of it?” It is through this animal’s trials that Quinn learns how resilient he can be when things are all going wrong. Sally Meadows instantly grabs her readers with the affirming line “Never stop being you” and follows with a…

Rockstar

“Rockstar” by Marny Duncan-Cary, illustrated by Val MokerPublished by Your Nickel’s Worth PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$14.95 ISBN 9-781988-78383 Southern Saskatchewan musician and writer Marny Duncan-Cary has capitalized on her complementary talents: she’s taken the lyrics from a song she wrote in 2002 and has used them as the text for an illustrated book in 2019. It’s a formula she’s successfully employed before (ie: her book/song Who’s That Man? earned a silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in 2010). This time the four-time Saskatchewan Country Music Award winner has transformed her song “Rockstar,” and along with vividly-colourful, full-bleed illustrations by artist Val Moker, Duncan-Cary has produced a lively song readers can hold in their hands. When one is both a dedicated artist (in any genre) who works from home and a devoted mother, juggling the necessary “me” time and family time can be a serious challenge. (I’ve been there myself; my own answer was to carve a week or two out of every year to “retreat” and work on my writing while my children were young.) In her softcover book “Rockstar,” Duncan-Cary exposes the everyday demands of children, like “Mom, can you get me some juice?” and “Mom,…

Musician’s Compass, The
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 6 February 2019

The Musician’s Compass: A 12-Step Programme by Del Suelo Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783321 Regina writer and Juno Award-winning musician (with band The Dead South) Erik Mehlsen – who writes under the pseudonym “Del Suelo” – explains in the author’s note for his second book, The Musician’s Compass: A 12-Step Programme, that he wrote this text because “the music industry is an environment that fosters mental illness, and [he] had no idea how to talk about it”. That said, and first person voice aside, he maintains that this isn’t a memoir. What it is: 131 gritty fictional pages about a band. For many in the arts, what begins as a passion can become terribly hard and unsexy work. Suelo presents a grueling day-in-the-life of a young (and at times extremely juvenile) four-piece Canadian rock band on tour in Germany. He peels back the lid on the rock and roll road trip, and it’s a bleak, barely-holding-it-together experience, complete with a groupie who overdoses on cocaine, band in-fighting, severe sleep deprivation, excessive drinking and marijuana imbibing, reeking clothes, and a narrator (Dev) who’s almost ready to pack in his bass-playing days, yet…

Thunderbird, The Quesnel, and the Sea,
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 10 January 2019

The Thunderbird, the Quesnel, & the Sea by Bev Lundahl Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-35-2 In The Thunderbird, the Quesnel, & the Sea, Bev Lundahl takes readers on an investigative journey to track down a stolen grave marker carved in the shape of a mythical Indigenous thunderbird. She invites readers to follow her leads, hoping to find the missing artifact but not knowing if it even still exists During the dark years of World War II, while docked at Alert Bay on the coast of British Columbia, sailors from the Canadian corvette HMCS Quesnel removed the carving from the ‘Namgis First Nation burial ground. The area was notable for its totem poles, and the crew wanted to distinguish their West Coast ship from East Coast ships. A thunderbird mascot would do just that. The thunderbird was in such poor shape that the crew wasn’t sure whether to fix it or simply discard it. They opted to repair and paint it and bolted it to the crow’s nest on the mast. The Quesnel‘s captain, Murdo Smith, wanted the thunderbird off his ship, not because it was stolen, but because he believed it was…

Steeps of Time, The
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 6 December 2018

The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings by Victor Carl Friesen Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Reviewed by Ben Charles $25.00 ISBN 9781988783222 The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings is the latest publication from legendary Saskatchewan poet Victor Carl Friesen and his fourth collection of poems and accompanying paintings, both of which produce warm, nostalgic, and detailed recollections of the beautiful nature found in Saskatchewan and of life on the farm. Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, this riveting collection of fifty-five poems is separated into two portions that each illustrate different themes in the author’s life. The first section, titled “A Burgeoning”, is comprised mainly of descriptive, traditional poetry that, as mentioned, describes natural phenomenon and rural life in Saskatchewan. The latter section, titled “The World Illuminated”, is far more abstract and delves into the emotions, opinions, and outlooks on life of the author. In both segments Friesen showcases his uncanny descriptive abilities that immediately transport the reader to the bountiful natural beauty found in Saskatchewan. While reading such poems as “A Leaf in the Wind” or “Spring’s Regalia”, I was reminded of times being out in the fields while hiking or hunting, appreciating the beauty of…