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STAFF PICKS

September 2018


Jo's Picks

Split Tooth

by Tanya Tagaq
(Penguin Canada)

Powerful and moving, violent and magical, sensual and cerebral.  Tagaq (an internationally-renowned throat singer) taps into the raw power of the ice, sky and earth of Nunavut, the setting for her beautiful, disturbing, genre-bending novel set in the 1970's. Recounting the tale of a young indigenous woman, Tagaq blends together memoir with fiction, and prose with poetry. Throughout the whole, run beautiful threads of myth. It is many things- rapturous, gritty, immediate, shocking, but also leavened with descriptions of incandescent joy. A completely immersive read.

 

Inkling

by Kenneth Oppel
(HarperCollins)

An engaging, humorous, poignant middle-grade book for the 8-12 year old reader (but a lovely story for anyone really.)  Ethan can't draw for beans but he's been coerced into inking the story for the graphic novel project his class is doing. His dad is a comic book artist beloved by millions who is dealing with a severe creative block following the tragic death of Ethan's mother. And then there's Sarah, the little sister who steals every scene, Rickman the old, arthritic and overweight cat, and Inkling, a sentient splotch of ink.The characters are all beautifully developed and captured. Various dilemmas are addressed and resolved, gentle lessons about grief, difference, acceptance, bullying, and art are invisibly woven into the story. Layered,  complex, heart-warming and discussion-worthy. A great read- aloud. And Sydney Smith's wonderful ink drawings bring it all to life.


Alice's Picks

French Exit

by Patrick DeWitt
(House of Anansi Press)

French Exit is an incredibly sharp, brilliantly written, very, very funny 'tragedy' of manners. An aging widow, with a tongue as sharp as a whip, faces impending bankruptcy. She takes her listless adult son and cat (who may contain the spirit of her late, caddish husband) and escapes, via cruise ship, to the continent.  Scenes on the boat made me think of a darker version of Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter, with its great cast of indelibly drawn characters. The strange little family ends up in Paris, where things just continue to fall apart, and High Society has never looked so low and hilariously pathetic. Patrick DeWitt is one of our best writers, and this is a taut, very satirical, but surprisingly moving novel.

 

Why Are You So Sad?

Selected Poems of David W. McFadden, Edited by Stuart Ross
(Insomniac Press)

I was very sad when my friend, and one of Canada's best ever poets, David W. McFadden, died this June. I can't think of a more readable poet whose works were also incredibly beautiful, complex, simple, funny, and heartbreaking. He wrote and published for over 50 years, his books of poetry and travel pieces (the Great Lakes Suite is particularly wonderful) published by small presses in Canada. It felt great when he finally (finally!) won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2012 for What's The Score - he had been ignored for major poetry prizes for far too long. (Listen to him read from one of the poems here). Why Are You So Sad? is a great introduction to his work, a nice selected to start with, before diving into individual books. It includes some of the best poems from his 12 books (to that date - he wrote 5 more after this selected!).  Every single one of these poems is fresh and surprising, and absolutely wonderful. Please read this - and feel happy, feel sad, feel the wonder of reading a most excellent poet.


Anne-Marie's Pick

A Letter to my Teacher

Written by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
(Schwartz & Wade)

With the new school year upon us, this picture book provides an inspiring example of how transformative a student-teacher relationship can be. It is written as a letter to a teacher, filled with a girl’s reminiscences of her second grade, for which she arrives on the first day in a foul mood and sporting a stormy frown. So far, school had meant sitting still and listening, two things she wasn’t very good at. Her teacher surprises her, however, engaging her on her own terms. She invites her to explore creeks and old houses to learn about plants and history, and to plan a garden to learn reading, math and writing. She recognizes the girl’s potential even in the face of her “exasperating” behaviour, and cleverly channels her exuberance and penchant for exploring into learning. In her disruption and avoidance tactics, the teacher senses the girl’s insecurities and subtly takes her aside for extra help. Ultimately this book is a welcome reminder that the qualities of a “good student” are neither fixed nor innate, but ones which may be cultivated by the right teacher. On the eve of her first day of teaching, the girl, now grown, reflects on this pivotal experience and concludes her letter with the hope that she can do the same for a new generation of students.

 



Alice's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations

Jo's Recommendations