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…

Little Bear

Little Bear Written by Elaine Sharfe, Illustrated by Karen Sim Published by YNWP Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $9.95 ISBN 9-781988-783086 Do you remember being a child and wishing you were a teenager? I sure do. I was particularly envious of a teenager named Cindy, who carried Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum in her handbag, and whose long, blonde hair swished when she walked. I wanted to grow up and have a handbag, a purse, and hair that reached to my waist, too! Saskatoon writer Elaine Sharfe’s growing collection of illustrated children’s books now includes a story about a cute bear cub who can’t wait to grow up and really ROAR! Sharfe’s figured out the formula for creating stories that the youngest children will want to read–or have read to them–time and again, and Karen Sim’s illustrations–full bleeds on every other page–are a perfect complement to the text of Little Bear. Using the Rule of Threes re: repetition, we journey along with Little Bear, the book’s impatient star, as he wakes up each day and asks his mother “Am I Big Bear yet?” Little Bear encounters three friends–each a different species–and, as it’s taking too long to become Big Bear, he asks…

Behind the Moon
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 2 February 2018

Behind the Moon Written and Illustrated by Elsie Archer Published by YNWP Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $14.95 ISBN 9-781988-783079 I’m highly impressed when a creator can effectively write and illustrate his or her books, thus my metaphorical hat is tipped to Elsie Archer, author and illustrator of Behind the Moon, an inspirational children’s picture book that delivers the autobiographical story of two sisters – Marjorie and Elsie – who were children during the terrifying time we know as the Second World War. An illustrated book only truly succeeds when both text and images are on par. The story must also convey original ideas. I’ll begin with Archer’s imaginative writing. Hand in hand, the sisters stand beneath the night sky and the elder sister, Marjorie, explains to Elsie that the moon is “the door to heaven,” and the stars “are actually holes that God poked through the sky with His fingers”. A few days later, during the full moon, Elsie exclaims that the “door to heaven is wide open”. As only a child might, Elsie thinks this is wonderful because now “the angels can go back and forth without getting squished!” The sisters demonstrate a strong faith in God. They…

Angel Blessings
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 23 January 2018

Angel Blessings Written and Illustrated by Marilyn Lachambre Published by YNWP Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783093 Quite coincidentally, I read the illustrated children’s book, Angel Blessings, the first title by Kamsack, SK writer and illustrator Marilyn Lachambre, on the one-year anniversary of my younger brother’s passing; at the end of this review, you’ll read why this is significant. In this attractive hardcover released by Regina’s Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, Lachambre rhymes her way through All Things Angel: who and what they are, and the many ways they bring us comfort, protection, and inspiration. The rhyming text will be appealing to young ears, as will the soothing sentiments, ie: “Angels are with you day and night …. keeping you in their loving sight,” and “They’re always with you, through joy and sorrow—protecting and guiding, today and tomorrow”. I could see this uplifting book being used as a nighttime prayer for young children. Its Christian emphasis and calming words would be a wonderful way for children to fall asleep, ie: “Even at bedtime when it’s time to sleep, they will stay with you while you slumber deep. As you lie quietly in bed tonight, know that Angel wings are…