#IMWAYR January 16, 2016

#IMWAYR time again, when readers share what they have been reading and find out what others have been up to in the past week. The adult version of this meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. The kidlit rendition is hosted by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers. Whatever you are looking forward to in your next great read, these are fabulous places to start your search. 

That was a very busy week!

We celebrated my daughter in law's birthday on Saturday with an open house and supper. We decided to prepare Korean food since that is where she is from. Planning the menu involved a lot of reading and watching videos of how things are prepared. My daughter in law and I both liked Cooking Korean Food with Maangchi, although we also used ideas from other places. By Thursday we had a plan. On Friday we went shopping at a Korean market to make sure we had the correct ingredients. Friday evening we prepped until after 9:30 PM. We were up early Saturday cooking up a storm and completed what we had started the day before. We had Korean sushi, octopus, and chicken wings during the day. Supper was Korean barbecue with all kinds of side dishes including eggplant salad, radish salad, a potato dish, tuna cakes, and fried tofu. We had two kinds of cake! Everything was delicious. I loved the gotgamssam, treats made of walnuts wrapped in dried persimmons. I didn't take a picture of mine, but you can see Maangchi's here.

In spite of all that cooking business, I managed to get in a bit of reading and writing.



3 stars
The Artist and Me by Shane Peacock & Sophie Casson (Illustrations)

This book is dark and at the same time illuminating. It tells us a bit about the life of Vincent Van Gogh and how he was bullied by children and adults. What is unique here is that it is told from the point of view of a bully. This bully is a young child growing up in a community where this kind of behaviour is normal.
There is a lot this book has to teach us about being human and why we and the people around us might do ugly things.

5 stars
Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood & Sally Wern Comport (Illustrator)

It isn't enough to just read this book about people changing their lives through music. The instruments these children use are made from recycled material that is as foraged from the garbage dump where members of the community work. This alone makes it a powerful and inspiring story, but then I went to their website and listened to the music. I was completely blown away. You need to listen to fully comprehend what a stunning feat this is. After listening I came back to the book to learn from the end notes that these musicians have raised enough money to purchase land and provide housing for their community. They have made a difference for all the people in their community in many ways.

5 stars
Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio & Greg Pizzoli (Illustrator)

I now see why this book is getting so much buzz.
Dragon is such a nasty creature that the king offers a reward for whoever tames it.
First, the knights attempt to tame Dragon. It doesn't work out.
Next the villagers take it upon themselves to tame Dragon. Not only is it an embarrassing failure, Dragon becomes even nastier!
However, someone comes up with a stealthy plan. 
I was completely surprised and satisfied by this ending.

5 stars
The Thing Lou Couldn't Do by Ashley Spires (Netgalley)

Ashley Spires is back with another brilliant picture book sure to inspire and motivate all of us to try and overcome our fears. When Lou's friends take to a tree to play pirate, Lou is trapped on the ground because she doesn't know how to climb a tree, and is really afraid to try. Eventually though, she finds the courage and confidence to have a go at that tree. 
Maybe I won't ever really become friends with spiders, but I will try to not panic when I find them in my bedroom. 
lf anyone can help me find courage to do this, it will be Lou. 
Unfortunately this won't be available until May. 

5 stars
Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Sigh. It's Ben Hatke. If you know anything about picture books and graphic novel artists you will recognize his name and know that this book is one that you need for your collection without opening the first page. How I wish my boys were still young so I could read it to them. It will be years before my grandchildren will be able to appreciate this, but I'm still going to buy a copy for them so it will be here when they are ready.


4 stars
Smiley's People by John le Carré

My partner and I listened to this podcast while travelling back to Vancouver from our home in Oliver. It is a BBC radio dramatization of the book. George Smiley, a british spy, is brought out of retirement to figure out what happened to one of his former agents. I read all of this series when I was in my 20's, (a long time ago) and it took a while before I remembered where the story was going. I purchased le Carré's biography for my partner as a Christmas gift and have to wait for him to finish it. This production reminded me why.

4 stars
The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

This is a netgalley title that I wanted to read ages ago. Unfortunately, it expired from my device and I had to get it from our local library to read. It tells the story of three enslaved children who work on a cocoa plantation and how they eventually escape. 
There were parts that I had to read really fast because of the brutality. Still, I consider it a #mustpurchase for any school library that has students in grade 6 on up. 
Now I have to find a copy of Golden Boy to read. 

4 stars
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox & Fiona Hardingham (Narrator)

This was scary, but not so scary I had to stop listening. A group of children are sent away from London during WW 2, to get away from the blitz. They end up in Scotland in a castle that has been turned into a boarding school. They soon learn that it may have been safer had they stayed in London. Between German spies, dark magic and missing children, readers will be biting their fingernails before it is all concluded. I appreciated that while the children were ultimately responsible for defeating the evil magic, they were also surrounded by adults who mostly did their best to help them. 


I'm reading The Break by Katherena Vermette. I'm still listening to Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa. My audiobook expired, but no one else wanted it, so I was able to check out again. That probably tells you what you need to know about this book, but I will at least finish it. I'm still working on Spin: How Politics has the Power to Turn Marketing on its Head by Clive Veroni. 


I'm going to listen to Goblins Vs Dwarves by Philip Reeves just for a break in reality. I plan to start Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. I've also got a new pile of picture books to get to.


#MUSTREADIN2017 1/36

#MUSTREADNFIN2017 1 in progress

50 Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors 1/50 1 in progress 

Goodreads Reading Challenge 13/333

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

“When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

I learned about child slavery in the cocoa bean industry close to a decade or so ago and was forced to change how I feed my chocolate addiction. I eat less chocolate, but appreciate it more. I wish things had changed for the better since I first became aware of the this problem, but according to research done by Tulane University, "the number of children involved in hazardous work in cocoa increased by 46% in the Ivory Coast between 2009 and 2014."

In other words, it has actually gotten worse.

This book lets you into those children's lives.

Here is the goodreads synopsis:

Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. For two years what has mattered are the number of cacao pods he and his younger brother, Seydou, can chop down in a day. This number is very important. The higher the number the safer they are because the bosses won’t beat them. The higher the number the closer they are to paying off their debt and returning home to Baba and Auntie. Maybe. The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how much he and Seydou owe, and the bosses won’t tell him. The boys only wanted to make some money during the dry season to help their impoverished family. Instead they were tricked into forced labor on a plantation in the Ivory Coast; they spend day after day living on little food and harvesting beans in the hot sun—dangerous, backbreaking work. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive—until Khadija comes into their lives.

She’s the first girl who’s ever come to camp, and she’s a wild thing. She fights bravely every day, attempting escape again and again, reminding Amadou what it means to be free. But finally, the bosses break her, and what happens next to the brother he has always tried to protect almost breaks Amadou. The old impulse to run is suddenly awakened. The three band together as family and try just once more to escape.

My Thoughts:

Sullivan has crafted authentic characters trapped in horrific conditions. I connected to and cared about them right from the start. I was there with them on that farm and wanted desperately to take them away from it and keep them safe.

I believed in the developing relationship between Amadou and Khadija in spite of its inauspicious beginning. Both of these children change for the better as a result of it. I was fascinated by the relationship between Amadou, Seydou and Moussa, their slaver. It shows classic stockholm syndrome. Even though Moussa is undoubtedly brutal, Sullivan has given him a whisper of empathy that makes the strange relationship believable. It isn't until Seydou is hurt that Amadou realizes that they have to escape.

I had a hard time reading sections that show the abuse experienced by these children. However, the brutality is integral to the story and doesn't feel out of place at all. I suspect the reality of working on a farm like this would probably be much more savage.

There is information at the end of the book about child slavery and what readers might do about it.

This is a book that needs to be in school libraries. It is an important addition to books like Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and other titles that focus on social justice issues.

You can learn more about The Dark Side of Chocolate here:


The Thing Lou Couldn't Do by Ashley Spires

Ashley Spires has done it again; created a picture book with a character so filled with spunk we can't help but love her. Her playful juxtaposition of sweetness and humour in her text and images, captures the quintessence of childhood.

Lou and the rest of this diverse group of characters are adorable. Like all children across time, Lou and her friends, in their playful role-playing and adventuring, are preparing themselves to take over the world. They can do all kinds of things including running faster than airplanes, building mighty forts and rescuing wild animals.

They are deep sea divers, race car drivers, and maybe even pirates. Yet when Lou's friends decide a tree will be their pirate ship, she hesitates. Lou has never climbed a tree before. She doesn't know how. She isn't sure if she wants to learn.
Poor Lou.

She tries to redirect her friends to play another game, but they are adamant that only the tree will do. She tries to keep herself busy doing other things. She creates all kinds of excuses for why she can't climb the tree. 

Meanwhile, her friends remain in the tree. They are having a fabulous time.

How Lou manages to find the courage to overcome her fear, I leave for you to read and find out.

What I can tell you is that Ashley Spires does not let us down. 

This ending is both courageous and realistic. Readers of all ages can make connections to our own fears, worries and challenges. Hopefully Lou and Ashley will help us all find our own confidence and hope. 

Unfortunately, you will have to wait for May, 2017 to purchase it. Mark your calendars.

The Last Tree by Ingrid Chabbert & Raúl Nieto Guridi (Illustrations)

5 stars
I've gone through this book numerous times and am still wondering how to write about it in a way that will do it credit and capture its essence. I suspect it is beyond me, but here is my poor attempt. 

When a picture book works, there is a seamless marriage of image and words. Separating one from the other in this artistic union becomes impossible. 

This is one of those books.

Guridi's illustrations are paradoxically dark and joyful. The abstract illustrations portray landscapes and people in minimal detail. I like that we never really get enough information to determine the children's gender. The city is portrayed as large rectangles in varying shades of grey. The children, their bikes, books, the small details of their personal world, and the tiny bits of nature are the only aspects of colour against this backdrop of a drab world. 

Chabbert's text is similarly contrary, being a combination of despair and hope. 

A father tells a bored child stories of his life growing up. The memory of the father's childhood compares to his child's in stark contrast. 

..my dad told stories about the world when he was young.
His favourite thing was rolling around
in the grass with his best friend.
Cartwheels on Monday, leapfrog on 
Wednesday and kite-flying on Sunday. 

This is not the experience of the child.

I had a best friend too.
but not the grass to go with him.
Instead, we had roads, walls and
lots of other ugly things.

The only green the child and their best friend have is a patch of grass so tiny, the blades can be counted. They bike to visit it, only to discover that the number is diminishing.

At home, the child finds solace inside books that display the green of the natural world.

One day the children find a tree seedling. 

Upon discovering that it is threatened by the construction of a 247 floor condominium, they come up with a plan and decide to rescue it. This is shown in child like illustrations on lined paper. It shows the life cycle of a tree with the rescue revealed in the process. The two children bike far from the city and plant the tree.

The children's rescue of the tree provides a dystopian counterpoint of hope. In spite of the fact that we might think this would be an optimistic event, when we eventually see these two characters, now adults, visiting this last tree, it's portrayed in darkness. 

It is after all, still the last tree. 

I would I would certainly purchase this book for my school library. The possibilities for its use in different units are endless.