Lil Grey Donkey, The
Ghost Mountain Publishing / 20 June 2019

The Lil Grey Donkeyby Carolyn WilliamsIllustrated by L.E.StevensReviewed by Michelle ShawPublished by Ghost Mountain Publishing$20 ISBN 978-1-9994737-1-6 This is a beautiful story about a small grey donkey “with big brown eyes” who is injured in a fight with a cougar while guarding some sheep with her friend, the Llama. But rest assured, there’s a happy ending! She subsequently finds her forever home with the author where she takes “her place in the herd, becoming a buddy for the foals and … loved by all”. The Lil Grey Donkey is so loved in fact that she appears on the Christmas cards “all dressed up with bows and a Santa cap on”. She becomes part of the community and even goes to town to greet the hospital patients before they go home. Using simple language and cartoon-like drawings that ooze personality, I think the book is ideal for drawing the young reader in without feeling intimidating. And the delightful picture of the Lil Grey Donkey on the front cover will captivate young readers before they even open the book! Williams, whose previous book The Happy Horse was released earlier this year, doesn’t actually name the donkey in the story. But there’s a…

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…

Happy Horse, The

The Happy HorseWritten by Carolyn Williams, Illustrated by L.E. Stevens Published by Ghostmountain PublishingReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$20.00 ISBN 978-1-9994737-0-9 There’s so much adoration and delight – both in and between the lines – of Carolyn Williams’ slim, illustrated softcover, The Happy Horse, I’m reminded of a movie opening where it’s all blue skies and butterflies … which portends a forthcoming turn into darkness. Williams, a “transplanted Englishwoman living life (and loving it) out in the wilds of the great Canadian prairies” has teamed with Ohio illustrator L.E. Stevens to produce a book about the sweet life of a never-officially-named-in-the-story horse (I glean it’s “Snoop” from the dedication) that the writer actually owned – his photo appears above the book’s dedication – and clearly admired, as the book’s an homage to that extraordinarily ambitious animal. You could say that this is a book about a horse with a life well-lived. A happy horse with a life well-lived! Williams employs repetition of the phrase “He was a Happy Horse” as the last line in the first thirteen pages of this thirty-two page text – each facing page features a line-drawn illustration of the horse and its activities – and alters that…

Murphy Mondays
DriverWorks Ink / 10 January 2019

Murphy Mondays by Jane Smith Review by Michelle Shaw Published by DriverWorks Ink $13.95 978-1-927570-45-6 If you live in or around Saskatoon the chances are that you have already seen or heard about Murphy, the lovable brown and white English Springer Spaniel who spreads a little magic wherever he goes. Murphy is a St John Ambulance (SJA) Therapy Dog who regularly visits Royal University Hospital’s (RUH) Emergency Room as well as other care facilities around the city. He also sometimes visits the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the Saskatoon airport. Murphy holds the distinction of being the first SJA Therapy Dog to visit an emergency room in Canada. He was such a success at RUH and made such a significant difference to patients and staff that the program has since been expanded in Saskatoon, as well as emergency rooms in other parts of Canada. He was also one of the SJA dogs who visited the injured Humboldt Bronco hockey players and their families in hospital after their bus accident in April 2018. Murphy and his handler/owner Jane Smith moved to Saskatoon from Nova Scotia in 2014. Jane’s youngest daughter Sarah George was the first to suggest that Murphy would…

Mama’s Cloud
All Write Here Publishing / 31 August 2018

Mama’s Cloud Written by Jessica Williams, Illustrations by Mateya Ark Published by All Write Here Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $22.50 ISBN 978-1-7753456-1-9 There’s no rule that says children’s books must feature “feel good” stories, and I applaud those writers who do tackle the serious or sensitive subjects – like illness, bullying, or poverty – and find a way to create stories that children will find interesting and entertaining. Saskatchewan writer Jessica Williams has just done this. In Mama’s Cloud she’s teamed with Bulgarian illustrator Mateya Ark to deliver an engaging story about a woman who suffers from depression, and the ways in which her imaginative young daughter attempts to cheer her. Williams begins by presenting readers with an idyllic mother-daughter relationship. The child-narrator says “When Mama smiles, her eyes twinkle like a thousand fireflies. Her hair is soft and smells like purple lilacs in spring. Mama is Magical …” The pair play games of “Fairies and Wizards and Superheroes,” and in both text and illustration “Mama” is portrayed as smiling and affectionate. But “Sometimes a dark cloud drifts into the room and settles over her”. And thus begins the child’s mission to restore “Mama’s magic”. This book succeeds…

My Buddy, Dido!

My Buddy, Dido! by Marion Mutala Published by Your Nickle’s Worth Publishing Review by Amanda Zimmerman $14.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-23-9 Grandfathers are amazing people. Whether they play games, tell jokes, read stories, or simply snuggle their grandchildren, they are always sharing their love. In this delightful picture book, Marion Mutala reminds us why grandpas are such exceptional family members. My Buddy, Dido! is her 10th book, following her celebration of grandmothers in More Baba’s Please! With her background in Ukrainian children’s tales (her Baba’s Babushka series are award-winning), she has a great grasp of the fundamentals, introducing readers to Dido, the Ukrainian grandfather. Before the tale even starts, a full page graphic showcases ‘grandpa’ in other languages with bright, bold colours. As for presenting a new term, Dido is so casually included in the pages that both children and parents alike will believe they’ve always known it. There is only one other word in the tongue- Holushki– and, flipping to the back, a recipe for the soup awaits. Marion also strays from the regular story format, choosing instead to go over a Dido’s characteristics in rhyming verses: “Who listens to me when I’m mad? Who consoles me when I’m sad? Who…

You Can Count on the Prairies

You Can Count on the Prairies Text and photos by Leila J. Olfert Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $12.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-11-6 I’ve been reviewing books in various genres for the last few decades, and I can say without reservation that You Can Count on the Prairies, the hot-off-the-press illustrated, children’s counting book by Leila J. Olfert, has been my quickest read yet. What can one say about a twenty-nine page book that contains only seventeen words, and sixteen numbers? Well, as it turns out, rather a lot. Olfert, a former preschool teacher and avid textile artist and photographer, has taken a prairie icon – the grain storage bin – and used it as the central image in this finely-produced SK-based book for youngsters. Beginning with zero, the first page features a close-up photograph of golden grain stalks against a blurred field and sky backdrop. The next page reveals a single grain bin, as perfectly round and centred on the page as the field surrounding it is flat. Four birds are perched at the top, where an auger would pour the grain in. As the numbers on each page climb, so do the number of…

When The Trees Crackle with Cold Activity Book

When the Trees Crackle with Cold: A Cree Seasons Activity Book By Bernice Johnson-Laxdal and Miriam Körner Review by Michelle Shaw Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing $12.95 ISBN 9781988783161 Created as a companion activity book to the award-winning When the Trees Crackle with Cold: A Cree Calendar, this book could equally stand alone as a wonderful introduction to the Cree language and culture for readers of all ages. The first book by co-authors Bernice Johnson-Laxdal and Miriam Körner was a beautifully illustrated narrative of Bernice’s Cree childhood in northern Saskatchewan. The narrative of their book is based around the Cree calendar, which consists of six seasons divided into twelve moons, and Bernice’s family’s activities associated with each moon. The activity book follows the same format with simple projects which deepen and complement the reader’s understanding of each of the activities described in the first book. Each page is black and white with a full-page illustration on one of the facing pages. Activities include making your own toy dog team, creating your very own geese flying in a V-formation, growing your own tomato plants, and even instructions on how to make your own moose call. There are also word searches…

When The Trees Crackle With Cold: A Cree Calendar

When the Trees Crackle with Cold: A Cree Calendar By Bernice Johnson-Laxdal and Miriam Körner Review by Michelle Shaw Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing $12.95 9781927756935 Winner of the recent Saskatchewan Book Awards Children’s Literature Award, When the Trees Crackle with Cold: A Cree Calendar is a beautifully written and illustrated narrative of the author’s Cree childhood in northern Saskatchewan. Bernice Johnson-Laxdal comes from a large family of 14 children and grew up in the predominantly Métis community of Ile-a-la-Crosse, which is situated along one of Western Canada’s major fur trade routes. From an early age Bernice was involved in her family’s traditional activities: gathering, growing and preparing food, hunting, trapping and making clothing. Most of these activities were (and still are) dependent on the seasons of the year. The book beautifully combines story and image with Körner’s playful watercolors skillfully enhancing the simple word pictures. The narrative is based around the Cree calendar which consists of six seasons divided into twelve moons, which reflect the traditional knowledge of the natural cycle. I found the concept so much more enriching for my soul than the traditional Western calendar! I loved the way each of the 12 moons reflects the…