Welcome to Spreading the Word!
The Spreading the Word project was made possible thanks to the generous contribution from Canadian Heritage. The project was developed with the intention of bringing Quebec’s English-speaking seniors together through the pleasure of reading; and to provide them the tools to organize their own book clubs and readings. In addition, the project aims to promote Quebec’s finest anglophone authors, whom we invite you to discover or rediscover…
This dynamic and user-friendly portal will provide the essential information and tools to help organize a traditional or virtual book club.
You will find interviews, audio excerpts of selected works, video clips, suggested readings, writing tips and more on this page.
Monique Polak is the author of 20 books for young people, as well as a teacher of English and Humanities at Marianopolis College in Westmount, Québec. Monique also writes for the Montreal Gazette was CBC/Radio-Canada’s inaugural writer-in-residence. A two-time winner of the QWF’s Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, Polak lives in Montreal where her hobbies include cooking, jogging, teaching, and, no doubt, writing. Her recent novel, Leggings Revolt, in which a boy named Eric enters a co-ed school for the first time in his life and is faced with the strict dress codes enforced on girls, conveys the injustice committed against girls by the school administration. In her novel, Pyro, the main character, Franklin, has always had a fascination for fire. But he must contain his pyromaniacal nature, or risk causing terrible consequences. Monique travels around Quebec, giving writing workshops to students and adults alike. Polak often says that, “Writing is a curious mix of hard work and great fun.” She believes that if one wishes to become an author, one should “Never give up. Even when you get rejection slips, you must soldier on.” Polak learns as much as she teaches, with new story ideas popping into her head every time a student says something funny or intriguing.
Learning the Ropes – Book Review
Mandy Campbell, a young Vancouverite with aspirations of becoming a circus aerialist and attending the world-renowned Montreal Circus College, is preparing to go on a trip of a life-time. Mandy’s father, reluctant to let her go, since his own family history causes him to worry about the safety of his only daughter, decides not to say farewell to at the airport. Mandy will be attending the MCC’s summer camp program, where she will meet new friends from around the world and top performers from Cirque de la Lune, the most popular circus troupe in the world. On the airplane, Mandy tells us, “I’m too excited to pay attention as the flight attendant explains the emergency exits. In about six hours, I, Mandy Campbell, will be at the Montreal Circus College’s Summer Circus Camp. Each year, only twenty-five teenagers from around the world are accepted into this prestigious program.”
Mandy, who must fight for the single aerialist position at the MCC, meets a fellow aerialist Genevieve, who will be fierce competition. She will also learn from Anastasia Bershov, a member of the world’s most talented circus family, and Hana, an acrobat from South Korea, about the importance of family and passion. But an aerialist’s death in the Montreal circus community creates tension at the camp as Mandy walks a thin line between success and failure.
The reader will be enchanted with the story of a teenage girl who faces opposition and struggle, whilst trying to give her 110%. Mandy’s strong and perseverant character will no doubt serve as a role model for all young girls.
Raquel Rivera has lived in Montreal since 1999. She has lived in various other places including Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Barcelona, Toronto, and Washington D.C. Her family background and extensive travels have led Rivera to explore the themes of opposing cultures and opinions. Although her books tends to involve outdoor adventure, Rivera says she particularly enjoys living in the city. She likes a “built, busy landscape with lots of windows for peering into.” However, she indulges herself in the occasional outdoor skirmish whether for a kayak ride, a nature hike or a ski trip, saying that these activities bring her an unusual sense of peace and respect for nature. She is a proud member of the Québec Writers’ Federation, the Writers’ Union of Canada, and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Rivera has a degree in Fine Arts and has worked as an illustrator, freelance writer, a teacher of English, and a photographer’s assistant. She has two children.
Tuk and the Whale is set in the early 1600s, off the eastern coast of Baffin Island. The book is told from the perspective of a young Inuit boy named Tuk, who witnesses the first encounter between his village and European whalers, who have been blown north off their sailing course. He describes the differences between the way of life of his tribe and that of the Europeans, especially their reasons for prizing the bowhead whale; the villagers for its meat and materials, and the Europeans for its potential profit from its fat and oil. Though the villagers are skeptical at first of the “tall men,” they decide that they will cooperate with them as they set off on a hunt. Beautifully simple and elegant to read, the story provides the reader with a perspective rarely seen before, that of an Inuit child’s. A child’s curiosity does not reflect political beliefs. A child sees new people not as a bad omen, but rather as mysterious creatures that aren’t too different from himself. Yet Tuk is also apprehensive about the “tall men”: “Strangers couldn’t be trusted. They weren’t related by blood, or by marriage. They didn’t bring news of friends and family in other camps. They could take things, break things–even hurt people. It was easy for strangers to do bad things to people because they didn’t know anyone. And they could always just leave again.” The reader is immersed in the world of Inuit culture, one of Arviks and Qallunaat, the Innu words for whale and foreigner respectively. Although the book is intended for a younger audience, it will surely leave the reader entranced by its authenticity, simple message, and relatable protagonist. The book also shows Rivera’s extensive research into a fascinating culture.
Louise Penny is an author living in Sutton, a small village in the Montéregie, south of Montreal. She used to live with her husband Michael, but sadly he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and died soon after the publication of A Great Reckoning. Born in Toronto in 1958, Penny decided to become a journalist and radio host with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, specializing in news and current affairs. Her first job was in Toronto, but she soon moved to Thunder Bay, then to Winnipeg to produce documentaries and then to Québec City to host a 4 A.M. radio show. Penny ended up in Montréal, where she wound up her career with the CBC Radio. She would later fall in love with her husband Michael, the head of hematology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Michael had lost his wife with a battle to cancer a few years before, but they found solace in each other’s company. Fifteen years after they married, they moved to the Eastern Townships. Penny finds herself grateful for the situation that she is in. As she says: “There are times when I’m in tears writing. Not because I’m so moved by own writing, but out of gratitude that I get to do this. In my life as a journalist I covered deaths and accidents and horrible events as well as the quieter disasters of despair and poverty.” Penny was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2013 for her contributions to Canadian culture as an author who has shone a spotlight on the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Penny is the winner of numerous awards including five Agatha Awards, two Macavity Awards, two Arthur Ellis Awards and one Nero Award, awarded to her in New York City. Penny continues to write bestselling novels and we hope her thirteenth Gamache novel will come out next year.
A Great Reckoning is Louise Penny’s 12th book in her best-selling series featuring the Sûreté de Québec Chief Inspector Arman Gamache. An old map featuring Three Pines found in the village bistro is given to Armand Gamache upon his first day of his new job as head of the Sûreté Academy. Gamache can’t pass up the opportunity to finally end his life-long fight against corruption within the force, and where better to start than where the cadets are trained and taught? There he finds four young cadets, all from different backgrounds, and the body of the man he’d long wanted to take down. The map, first thought to be insignificant to the villagers of Three Pines, will have a large impact on Gamache’s position and the ensuing investigation. As Gamache will soon find out, “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household” – this piece of wisdom is a quote from the Bible’s Book of Matthew.
The four cadets will soon find themselves entangled with the map, and their search to find its history and its maker will have large implications in regard to both the murder and the rampant corruption and abuse of power within the police academy.
In a story filled with murder and betrayal, Penny manages to enthrall the reader with hope and amazement with each turn of phrase. Hidden secrets will be uncovered, lies unraveled and the truth discovered. As Gamache coms to understand: “Not every mystery is a crime. But every crime starts with a mystery. A secret. Some hidden thought or feeling. A desire. Something not yet illegal that evolves, with time, into a crime. Every homicide I’ve investigated started as a secret.” Gamache’s quest to drive out the weeds of the Sûreté will leave the reader captivated until the very end, where both Gamache and the reader will finally receive their answer.
On a personal level, I enjoyed that this book was set in the Eastern Townships, not far from my home in Montreal. I have always enjoyed police novels and mysteries – this is the first one that I have read that is written in English and set in Quebec. I look forward to getting to know Gamache even better!
Neil Smith – Bio
Neil Smith is a Montreal author who has published two books: Bang Crunch, a short story collection, and the novel Boo. Both of these works have been hugely successful, a success which can be attributed to Smith’s unique voice and ability to combine humor and sadness into one story, making a reader weep and giggle at the same time. Smith says he can write in just about any condition so long as he feels inspired. Smith’s greatest inspiration comes from other works of fiction. Smith’s novels are a pleasure to read and can inspire other creative minds. The idea for his most recent novel, Boo, stemmed from the year he spent living in Salt Lake City, where he attended a school where most kids were Mormon. Although he is an atheist, he developed a fascination with heaven, which led to his questioning his peers about the nature of Heaven. He integrated his classmates’ answers to all his questions into his story. Smith’s work was recognized several times in the last few years. He was a nominee for the Hortlist, Sunburst Awards, Prix de la Biennale, Prix de Libraires. He was the winner of CLA Young Adult Book Award and the Paragraphe Hugh Maclennan Prize for Fiction.
Neil Smith’s novel Boo is a creative work of genius that unites humor, sorrow and the struggles of adolescence in a very compelling book that I had a hard time putting down. The novel is about a thirteen-year-old introvert named Boo, who prefers reciting the periodic table rather than establishing friendships with other kids his age. The story takes place in a heaven designated for those who passed on at the tender age of thirteen. In heaven, Boo takes on a slightly different personality from the one he had on Earth; the Boo in Heaven is more open to social interactions and is less opposed to physical touch. The novel explains the uncertainty people face regarding death. As Smith writes, “But the truth is, nobody really knows where we go.” A line like this one allows the reader to contemplate the nature of death – and also how precious life is. In heaven, Boo makes a set of friends, among them is a boy who is aware of the cause of Boo’s death. When he reveals to Boo the true cause, Boo’s world is turned upside down.
As the boys become acquainted, Boo learns that he was involved in a school shooting and the two set out on a quest to see if their killer is among them in heaven. This riveting journey takes a few turns for the worse before Boo makes peace with himself and his past.
Bonnie Farmer is not only a successful author, but also a playwright and elementary school teacher who lives in Montreal. Farmer grew up in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighborhood, the same place where Oscar Peterson grew up. Farmer is the author of three books, including Oscar Lives Next Door, which was recently awarded the Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Picture Books. Farmer’s childhood aspirations of becoming a model did not come to fruition, but she says she is fond of her current career path and would not trade it. Farmer also won the Canadian Children’s Book Center Our Choice Award in 2006 for her book ABC Letters in the Library. Farmer says her motto is to “at least try,” a motto that can be applied to every writing endeavor young writers face.
Oscar Lives Next Door is a fictional story based on the facts about Oscar Peterson’s childhood in the Montreal neighborhood of Little Burgundy. The book contains noteworthy illustrations by Marie Lafrance and proves to be a fantastic read for children of any age. The story of Oscar’s beginnings as a trumpet player is detailed and his passion for music is highlighted. The friendship between Oscar and his neighbor Millie is a beautiful example of childhood friendship. The book captures the small joys in life and allows the reader to understand, as Farmer puts it, “where the magic comes from.”
Millie is fascinated by Oscar’s musical talent and the two enjoy fun times together. Oscar catches a terrible case of tuberculosis that impedes his ability to play the trumpet. His friend Millie is concerned for him and brings him special deliveries during his hospital stay. Upon his return home, Oscar discovers a newfound joy, the piano. The rest is history.
Monique Polak’s novel What World Is Left won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The novel is based on Polak’s mother’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp called Theresienstadt. Her mother had kept her experience secret for more than 60 years before Polak convinced her to share her experience. Polak says that of all the books she has written, this one is the most important to her. “I feel,” Polak says, “that this is the book I was put on Earth to write.” Polak encourages her students to find the stories that matter most to them – and to put those stories into words!
The novel What World is Left is a beautiful, touching account of Polak’s mother’s war stories told through the eyes of a fictional character named Anneke Van Raalte. The story begins set in a town outside of Amsterdam where Anneke lives comfortably with her brother and parents. In the year 1942, the world that Anneke has known gets turned upside down when she and her family are deported to Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. Anneke struggles with being imprisoned for her religion, despite the fact she is not an observant Jew. The horrors of the harsh realities of concentration camp are exposed and the struggle to survive is depicted through the struggle of this young narrator. As Anneke tells us: “My heart feels empty. It is just an organ. Inside, my heart has become as hollow as my belly.” Anneke’s family survives thanks to the work of her father, a well-known Dutch artist, who is forced by the Nazis to produce Nazi propaganda. Anneke will struggle with her complex feelings – she adores her father, but she questions his decision to do what the Nazis have asked him to do. In the end, Anneke comes to accept that her father’s decision has kept her family alive.
The book is filled with touching glints of hope and beautiful quotes about the passage of time and the beauty in life.
Born in Quebec City, Marie-Louise Gay is an award-winning illustrator and author. Gay has won many awards for her written and illustrated works in both French and English, including the 2005 Vicky Metcalf Award, multiple Governor General’s Awards, the Ruth Schwartz Award and many more. Gay spreads her skills through readings, workshops and conferences all around the world. She visits schools and libraries in North America, in Europe and even in China. On her website, Gay teaches us that there are different ways of travelling. As she says: “I live in Montreal with my family. I still travel a lot, on foot, bicycle, by airplane and canoe — but mainly through my imagination.”
Born and raised in Chicago, but now living in Montreal, David Homel is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, translator and co-author of children’s books. Homel has lived in the United States, France and Toronto. Homel is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for Translation, and the author of eleven novels, including The Speaking Cure which won the Hugh Maclennan Prize.
David Homel and Marie-Louise Gay have co-written four books, Travels With My Family, On the Road Again!, Summer in the City and The Traveling Circus. Gay illustrated all of these books.
Travels With My Family
Instead of travelling to dream vacations to Disney World and motels with swimming pools and water slides, the parents in Travels with My Family insist on going to out-of-the-way destinations where other tourists don’t go. As Charlie, the story’s boy narrator tells us : «[My parents] are pretty strange that way. They want us to have new adventures in some out-of-the-way place.»
The family travels in a car without air-conditioning. Sometimes they even take their cat Miro along with them – only Miro is prone to carsickness. Charlie’s family drives for hours to get to the middle of nowhere; they play countless back-seat games of Twenty Questions that end badly, their cat runs away. What happens when the family arrives at their destinations is even wackier: they get a visit from Hurricane Bob, Charlie’s younger brother Max almost drowns when the boys’ mother forgets the tide schedule while collecting sand dollars off the coast of Georgia. The parents mistake alligators for logs in the middle of Okefenokee Swamp and they even end up eating grasshoppers in Mexico.
The book is told from the point of view of a big brother who suffers through various family trips, and who struggles to keep his little brother out of trouble. I enjoyed reading this book because it reminded me of all the crazy adventures my family and I have experienced during our own travels. This book may inspire other people to tell the stories of their family’s wild adventures!
Lori Weber is a Montreal-born author of young adult and middle-grade novels. Weber’s most recent novel is called Lightning Lou. Weber has a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and a Master’s Degree. Weber obtained her Master’s Degree in Nova Scotia, where she lived for a couple of years before moving briefly to Newfoundland. When Weber and her husband moved back to Quebec, she pursued her teaching career. She has taught English Literature and Creative Writing for many years at John Abbott College.
Weber began her writing career by publishing short stories and poems in various journals. In 2004, her first novel for young adults, Klepto, was published. Weber has now published nine books, all of which have been Best Selections by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Weber regularly visits schools and does workshops for groups of teenagers. On her blog, Weber says that, “Both are labour-intensive (teaching and writing) and the two together equal more than one full-time job, but I’m so happy to be able to earn a living and continue writing books.”
Yellow Mini — Review
Yellow Mini is a collection of free verse poems that tell us the stories of young teenagers who seek to discover themselves and their struggle to figure out their individual identities. Weber provides the readers with a unique insight on each of the book’s characters. The poems are told by a set of characters who share their stories in their own individual voices.
Weber chose interesting perspectives to draw from: students, parents and teachers. The poems include stories about Mark, who is grieving his father’s death; Stacey who is hungry for attention; Annabelle who wants to change the world; Christopher who falls in love for the first time; and Mary who must let go of her fear of playing piano in front of an audience. These stories intertwine, letting the reader understand and appreciate the characters’ markedly different perspectives. Yellow Mini is about friendship, love, loss and teens’ relationships with their parents. But mostly, this is a book about growing up.
Weber’s language is powerful and deeply moving. Some passages gave me goosebumps, such as this one – told from Mary’s point of view: “Isn’t that worth your money, Mother,/ Or would you rather see me/ In pieces, lost, with nothing/ To make me whole?”
What I found the most touching about this book were the poems told from the point of view of the parents. These poems show us that adults do not have it all figured out either, and the teenage years can be difficult not only for teens, but also for their parents who love them.
Heather O’Neill is a Canadian novelist, poet and a short story writer. In 2006, O’Neill published her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals. A year later, the novel was selected for the 2007 edition of Canada Reads, where the author won first prize. Lullabies for Little Criminals was shortlisted for eight major awards, including the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Governor General’s Award. Chatelaine Magazine has described O’Neill as “one of the most influential women in Canada.” In her blog, O’Neill describes how she feels when she is writing: “But in the actual writing itself, I go to such a strange, secret place that all that stuff just kind of falls away.”
Daydreams of Angels — Review
I could never write a book review that could do justice to O’Neill’s genius in this collection of short stories. O’Neill’s imagination allows us to see the world in a new,eccentric way. When angels appear in any other literary book, they tend to be symbols of innocence and purity. However, O’Neill’s angels do not fall into that camp—they smoke, they visit a whorehouse, and pass out business cards.
Many of the stories in this collection involve characters telling stories and taking control of their own stories. Besides adapting fairy tales, O’Neill also adapts biblical narratives in these short stories, turning them into something whimsical and magical. Some of the lines left me astounded. O’Neill fills her book with muses and metaphors. My favorite line from this collection is: “Women go crazy for a man with no conscience.” In my opinion, that line is totally true!
My favorite story in this collection is called “The Story of Little O.” In this story, O’Neill describes a little girl whose grandfather calls her Little O. In this story, we can find examples of O’Neill\s poetic style: “The sky became pink as the sun set, like someone had poured a packet of pink Kool-Aid into a glass of water.”
Daydreams of Angels is a book that should be read more than once because it is so deep and beautiful. I plan to start re-reading it as soon as I have the chance!
Ann Charney was born in the former Lwow, in Poland in 1940. Charney was raised in Montreal and attended McGill University where she received her Master’s in French literature, and the Sorbonne in Paris, where she received a “licence en lettres.” Charney has been a political columnist for Maclean’s, Saturday Night and Toronto Star, as well as a literary reviewer for the Montreal Gazette and the Toronto Star. She has written many non-fiction books such as Defiance in Their Eyes: True Stories from the Margins, which was a finalist for the Mavis Gallant Non-Fiction Award. She also writes fiction and published her latest novel Life Class in 2013. Charney has won numerous prizes, both for her fiction and her non-fiction. These prizes include two National Magazine Awards, the Chatelaine Fiction Prize, the Canadian Authors’ Association Prize, and the Canadian Jewish Congress Award. She was also named an Officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. In an interview with the Montreal Review of Books, Charney explains that her writing is straight to the point and not poetic: “I’m not conscious of style; I am conscious of language, I rewrite everything I cannot tell you how many times. Everything has to be totally clear, and as simple as possible; I don’t like, you know, lyrical prose or poetic prose; I like things to be absolutely limpid and clear and easy to understand.”
Ann Charney’s novel Life Class deals with numerous characters in different stages of life. As we follow these characters through an omniscient narrator, we get a glimpse inside the various characters’ minds and we become acquainted with their unique thought processes. The novel begins in Venice and follows Helena, an older woman who helps illegal immigrants to find jobs. Helena helps a Croatian, Nerina, find work with a wealthy American couple. Nerina’s dream is to immigrate to the United States, but she cannot find a way to do so. She later marries Walter, a humiliated American who lost his fortune in Venice and is looking for a fresh start. As Charney writes, “The idea of marrying Nerina and taking her to America becomes the only desirable course open to him …. He has little to lose, and Nerina so much to gain .… Whatever happens, it can’t be any worse that what awaits him if he remains in Venice.”
Although the book is initially set in Venice, there are no Venetian characters. Instead, the book focuses on the foreign community — the relations between them and how tight knit the community is. As soon as the characters begin to gain depth, the location changes to Smith Falls, New York, and then almost as swiftly to New York City, following Nerina. This technique allows Charney to explore the theme of displacement, a theme that Charney has said is close to her heart as a Polish immigrant. As Charney put it: “Yes, I’m very interested in the whole idea of displacement because I think it’s the big theme of our time, everybody is moving, populations are shifting. You know, there’s a lot of migration, a lot of refugees, and societies that were homogeneous before, like Quebec used to be…. So, I’m interested in the people who arrive from distant places and how they sort of had to reinvent themselves to fit into the new culture.”
What I liked most about Life Class is that Charney’s book is different. I enjoyed the use of the omniscient narrator and I liked that Charney included old and young characters. I also enjoyed reading about life in Venice and I liked how Charney incorporated elements from her own experience.
As the granddaughter of European immigrants, I, too, am aware of the difficulties faced by my grandparents to fit into Northern American society and the loneliness associated with it. They moved from Kaunertal, the mountainous ski center of Austria to the flat and lonely Edmonton. Their closest relatives were in Chicago. Knowing my family’s stories, I am especially touched by Nerina’s story and can relate it to my grandparents’ experience. Like my grandparents, Nerina also moved from a busy, touristy place to a small, foreign town where people behaved in a reserved way.
Author Bio of Saleema Nawaz
Saleema Nawaz, the author of Bone and Bread, was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1979 and raised by her Caucasian mother. Her East-Indian father was absent. Nawaz lived in Ottawa until she completed her Bachelor of Humanities at Carleton University. She later attended the University of Manitoba, where she received a Master’s of Arts degree. Nawaz now lives in Montreal, Quebec, with her husband, stepdaughter and baby daughter, and writes fiction and non-fiction of all sorts. Nawaz has been interested in writing fiction since she was in first grade. She published her first short stories in literary journals in 2005. She went on to win the Journey Prize for her short story, “My Three Girls,” published in Prairie Fire. Her short fiction collection Mother Superior was published in 2008d in 2008 In 2013, Nawaz released her first novel Bone and Bread, which was published by House of Anansi and won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. Bone and Bread was a selection in CBC Books’ 2016 Canada Reads competition. In Nawaz’s blog, Metaphysical-Conceit, she writes that writing is a lengthy and complicated process. As she puts it, “If there’s one thing that’s certain about the writing life, it’s that it isn’t for anyone who is interested in immediate gratification.”
Review of Bone and Bread
Since the death of her father at a young age, grief has been a constant in the life of Beena, the narrator of Saleema Nawaz’s novel, Bone and Bread. Now in her early thirties, Beena must deal with her biggest loss so far: the death of her sister. After losing their parents, then being left by their guardian abruptly and being forced into the guardianship of their verbally abusive uncle, Beena and her sister Sadhanna only had each other.
Nawaz’s story follows Beena as she tries to navigate through life after Sadhanna’s death. Beena tries to maintain her relationship with her new boyfriend while keeping him at a distance from her son, Quinn, who is himself trying to learn to live without his aunt with whom he was extremely close. In fact, when Sadhanna was alive, Quinn often behaved as if he preferred her to his own mother.
The story fluctuates between Beena’s present and her past, from the day her father died to the last fight between Beena and Sadhanna before Sadhanna’s death. This constant rotation between the past and the present demonstrates Beena’s struggle to live fully in the present and focus on repairing her strained relationship with her son. In particular, Beena recalls Sadhanna’s never-ending battle with anorexia and her struggle to maintain her mental health. We learn that Sadhanna was hospitalized several times. As Beena says, “My sister aimed to succeed in everything she undertook, and in being sick, she surpassed everyone’s expectations.” When Beena returns to Montreal to clean out Sadhanna’s apartment, she discovers more about her sister’s last weeks and her abrupt death than she expected.
Bone and Bread dissects the sisters’ bond through all the various stage of their lives and conveys the importance and strength of what it means to have a sister. Sadhanna’s unexpected death teaches Beena that life is unpredictable and she must fight to honor her sister. This novel explores the bond of two sisters who cannot be separated by anger, jealousy, illness, distance — or even death. As Nawaz writes, “The work of getting closer, of loving harder, is the work of a whole life.”
As a Montrealer, I enjoyed reading a book set mainly in Montreal. The book is also set partly in Ottawa, a city I have often visited because my grandparents live there. Though I do not have a sister, I have one brother. He is two years younger than me – so we have the same age difference as the siblings in Bone and Bread. Nawaz’s book reminded me to value the bond I have with my brother. When I was growing up, I always wanted a sister. By reading the book, I discovered some of the hardships associated with having a sister, but also the fulfilling, heartwarming bond that can exist between sisters.
Alice Zorn’s Biography
Alice Zorn is a Montreal-based writer who was born in Hamilton, Ontario. Zorn has published many short stories. She is the author of a short story collection entitled Ruins and Relics (2009), as well as two novels: Arrhythmia (2011) and most recently Five Roses (2016). Ruins and Relics was a finalist for the Quebec Writers’ Federation McAuslan First Book Prize. Zorn has also participated in the Banff Writing Studio. Zorn prefers to write in the mornings. Like her character Maddy in Five Roses, Zorn owns a weaving loom. She has said that her writing is character- oriented. She has also said that she believes, “people have a desire for stories.” Zorn includes authors Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen and J.M. Coetzee among her literary influences.
Five Roses is the story of three women who live in Montreal’s historic Pointe St-Charles neighbourhood. The women’s names are Fara, Maddy and Rose. Fara is a newcomer to Pointe St-Charles. She and her husband Frederic have just purchased a home in the Pointe. Their neighbor Maddy has lived in the area for many years. Rose, who grew up in the country, is also relatively new to the Pointe.
For those of us who live in Montreal, the Five Roses sign is an important landmark. Rose will fall in love with a man who has been squatting in an abandoned watchman’s shed, from which he has a perfect view of the Five Roses sign.
Zorn is a gifted writer. Not only does she introduce us to her three principal characters, she also brings the neighborhood of Pointe St-Charles to life. In fact, in this book, the Pointe feels like another character. Zorn tells us that Fara and Frederic “could afford to buy if they headed into a scruffier neighborhood, away from the upscale bistros and grey stone facades.”
This book is also about the aftermath of suicide. Fara’s life has been affected by the suicide of her sister Claire. And the house that Fara and her husband move into was the site of a suicide by one of its former inhabitants. Fara asks herself, “If Claire’s ghost never haunted me, why should this boy’s?”
The style of this book is poetic. Here is one example of Zorn’s poetic writing: “On the sidewalk sat a toilet planted with blowsy pink petunias. The row houses along the street still looked old and pockmarked, but this time Fara granted that they’d withstood the years. They were solid.”
This book introduced me to interesting characters and it also increased my appreciation for Montreal – the city where I have lived all my life. Every time I take the train to Ottawa or when my dad drives me back from the South Shore where I sometimes play hockey, I notice the Five Roses sign. Since reading Zorn’s book, I have developed a new appreciation for this Montreal landmark.
Madelein Thien’s Biography
Madelein Thien is a Canadian short story writer and novelist who lives in Montreal. Her most recent novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing recently won both the prestigious Governor General’s Award for Literature and the Giller Prize. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and is nominated for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Fiction Award. Thien was born in 1974 in Vancouver, British Columbia, to a Malaysian Chinese father and a Hong Kong Chinese mother. Thien studied contemporary dance at Simon Fraser University; literature at the University of British Columbia, and creative writing at City University of Hong Kong. A recipient of the Canadian Author Association Air Canada Award for the most promising Canadian writer under age 30, Thien was also a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers in 1999 and again in 2001. Thien’s other books include Simple Recipes (2001), The Chinese Violin (2002), Certainty (2006), and Dogs at the Perimeter (2011). Thien’s work has been translated into 16 languages. Thien has said she feels shy about offering writing tips to aspiring writers. However, she does have one excellent piece of advice: “Compel us, make us see things we did not have the capacity to see before.” This is exactly what Thien does in her own writing.
Review of Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Madelein Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing is set in Canada, as well as in China, a country governed by a Communist party that excels at propaganda and censorship and which managed to conceal a genocide of 78 million civilians during the Chinese Cultural Revolution from the outside world. Thien uses fiction to inform readers around the world about this terrible time. During the revolution, basic human rights that most of us take for granted such as listening to and practicing music were forbidden. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a nightmare for the characters in Do Not Say We Have Nothing, many of whom are classical musicians. Their instruments were destroyed. As a character in the book recalls, “Not one piano survived [at the Shanghai Conservatory]. Not one.” Chinese musicians who dared to disagree Chairman Mao’s teachings were tortured and humiliated, accused of treachery and vanity and dispatched to work in the farms and factories of the hinterlands. Perhaps most tragically of all, people were forced to conceal their true selves from others and from the world. Those who could no longer bare the pressure committed suicide.
At the beginning of the story, we meet Li-ling, whose English name is Marie. Li-ling is a Chinese-Canadian mathematician who recalls the mystery of her father’s sudden departure from his family in Vancouver and his suicide in China when she was 10 years old. The novel opens with the beautiful quote, “In a single year, my father left us twice.” It was 1989, and Marie’s father’s death coincided with the massacre in Tiananmen Square, a student uprising that resulted in thousands of deaths and which led to the world’s awareness about what was going on in Communist China.
Two months later, Marie and her mother receive a letter from a woman in China asking them to provide shelter for her daughter, Ai-Ming, who had gotten into trouble during the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. Slowly, Marie pieces together her father’s history and his country’s through Ai-Ming’s stories.
From my point of view as a musician (I play the clarinet), the book’s storyline pulses with music. Thien makes observations about some of the most renowned figures of the music world – Bach, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Debussy – throughout the book. For example, her father’s friend Zhu Li assesses a gorgeous-but-bloodless fellow violinist: “She played Beethoven as if he had never been alive.”
At one point, I could almost feel the depersonalization and numbness of living through the Cultural Revolution, especially the perfunctory praise for the Communist party and Chairman Mao in the day-to-day conversations – the conversations sound as if they are coming from a Communist Twitter bot. I felt that the book implies that China is still an unfinished work, just like the unfinished symphony in the story.
On a personal level, Thien’s book speaks to me directly. I was born in 1998 in Yun Nan, in the southwest region of China. I came to Canada in 2004. In my elementary school history class in China, the Cultural Revolution was never discussed. The only person who ever spoke to me about the Cultural Revolution was my maternal grandmother. She told me that her family had been landowners before Chairman Mao came to power. The Communists beat her father to death. Two summers ago, I visited my grandmother who was then living in a village in Dali Province. To this day, she has not been able to forgive Chairman Mao. When I next visit China, I hope to discuss Thien’s book with my grandmother.
Biography of Elise Moser
Elise Moser is a Montreal-based author and editor. Moser was born in Brooklyn, but spent most of her childhood in New Jersey. She now divides her time between Wisconsin and Montreal. Moser is the author of many short stories, which have been published in Canada and the United States. She is also the author of the novel Because I Have Loved and Hidden It, and the YA novel Lily and Taylor. What Milly Did is Moser’s first non-fiction book for kids. Moser moved to Montreal to attend McGill University, where she earned a BA degree in English Literature. She worked for many years at Paragraph Bookstore and has also worked as a sales representative for an American university press. As a child, Moser loved writing. As an adult, she has taken many writing courses at the Quebec Writers’ Federation here in Montreal. Between 2009 and 2012, Moser served as the president of the Quebec Writers’ Federation. Moser says that she most enjoys, “sitting down and spinning out the first draft” of her stories. Asked about her inspiration, Moser says, “inspiration comes from the actual words. A good turn of phrase of image will stick with me.”
Review of What Milly Did
What Milly Did is the story of Milly Zantow, a Wisconsin woman who is one of the pioneers of recycling in North America. We learn from this fun, interesting book that Milly was born on a farm in Oklahoma in 1923. Though at the time, people did not even know the word recycling, Moser tells us that during those days, “people found new uses for all sorts of things at home.”
In 1978, when Milly, who was a volunteer for the International Crane Foundation, traveled to Tokyo she noticed that people there recycled. As Moser writes, “Every day it was something different. One day it was glass, another day paper, another day metal.” Milly brought this great idea back to America, where she knew there was a garbage crisis. In 1979, Milly and her friend Jenny Ehl founded a company called E-Z Recycling. As Moser explains, “Milly and Jenny didn’t start their company with the idea of making a lot of money for themselves.” They wanted to help their community. They understood that people needed to learn about the importance of recycling. In 1982, Milly and Jenny sold their company to a bigger recycling company. Afterwards, Milly came up with the idea of classifying different types of plastic with a triangular emblem with a number inside it. This symbol continues to be used today. You can find it on any item made of plastic.
This book does not only tell Milly’s story. It also includes interesting facts about plastic and its effect on the environment. Did you know, for instance, that our oceans contain more than 17 million pounds of plastic garbage? Or that there is a bridge in Scotland made from recycled plastic bottles that is strong enough to carry 44 tons of pedestrians or vehicles.
The book also includes illustrations by Scot Ritchie. This book raises awareness about the impact of plastic waste. It will also inspire readers of all ages to recycle.
Anne Renaud Biography
Anne Renaud is a Montreal-based children’s author who writes in both English and French. She has published several picture books for readers aged four to eight years old, as well as historical non-fiction for readers aged nine to twelve years old. Renaud’s work has been short-listed for several literary awards, including the Silver Birch Award, the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award, the Red Cedar Book Award, the Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, and the Red Maple Award. Renaud contributes regularly to children’s magazines such as Highlights and Cricket. She has contributed poems, articles and craft projects to these magazines.
Readers often ask Renaud why she writes books. This is her answer: “I find writing to be a very creative exercise. It’s also because I can’t dance well and I can’t sing well, so I’ll try my best at writing well.” Renaud has said that her goal is “to educate, entertain and inspire young readers.”
Pier 21 – Review
Pier 21 is located in Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia. It is the place where European immigrants arrived in Canada between 1928 and 1971. It is also the place where half a million Canadian service personnel left for battle during the Second World War.
In her book, Renaud shows us the important role immigration has played in Canadian life. She also shows readers how varied the immigration experience was from one decade to another. For instance, between 1928 and 1938, the majority of immigrants to Canada came from Great Britain, but during this time, Canada also opened its doors to immigrants from Poland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Romania, Italy and Czechoslovakia. In 1940, a ship carrying what Renaud calls “guest children” brought children from England to Canada. Renaud describes how the children, “were given life jackets, which they had to carry with them at all times. They also practiced lifeboat drills as a safety precaution.”
In her book, Renaud includes many sidebars with facts, as well as interesting historical photographs. Readers learn, for example, that in 1866, a quarantine station was established on Lawlor Island at Halifax Harbour, in order to care for sick immigrants whose illnesses were contagious. Photographs include a striking black and white shot of immigrants aboard a ship, waiting to go ashore in Halifax, as well as a photograph of the guest children Renaud writes about.
Finally, Renaud includes interviews with individuals who passed through Pier 21. They include Sidney Coles, who was born in Britain, but who was sent to live in an orphanage because his family was so poor. In 1932, at the age of fourteen, was sent to Canada so that he could work as a farmhand. After he arrived at Pier 21, Coles took a train to Fredericton, New Brunswick. Coles had four sisters. Three of them were adopted, the fourth went to live with an aunt. Coles told Renaud that, “Over the years, I returned to England to visit with my sisters and still remain in contact with them to this day.”
In my opinion, Pier 21 shares the living story of immigrants who helped shape our country. This book made me appreciate how lucky I am to be Canadian. I am proud to live in a country that has a history of welcoming new immigrants.
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List of Featured Books
Tuk and the Whale (Raquel Rivera)
Five Roses (Alice Zorn)
This Is Sadie | Sara O'Leary (Author), Julie Morstad (Illustrator)
Yellow Mini (Lori Weber)
Travels with my Family (Marie-Louise Guay, David Homel)
What World is Left (Monique Polak)
Pier 21: Stories from Near and Far (Anne Renaud)
Passover: Festival of Freedom (Monique Polak)
Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson's Childhood | Bonnie Farmer (Author), Mari
Daydreams of Angels (Heather O'Neill)
What Milly Did (Elise Moser)
Learning the Ropes (Monique Polak)
Life Class (Ann Charney)
The Devil Out There (Julie Keith)
The Speaking Cure (David Homel)
Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Madeleine Thien)
Boo (Neil Smith)
Spreading the Word : The Tour !
The project has four goals: to promote Quebec’s English-speaking authors; to reduce isolation among Quebec’s English-speaking senior citizens through reading and writing; to develop entertaining cultural activities for English-speaking senior citizens throughout the province, to allow them to connect with others through books, reading, writing and the Web; and to support community organizations and reinforce their ability to be effective in the long term.
An actor and workshop facilitator (Fanny Lacroix) will tour different Quebec regions: Laurentides, Gaspésie, Abitibi, Eastern Townships (Knowlton, North Hatley, Lennoxville, Magog and one or two others) and Montréal to meet with seniors in community centres. She will give one workshop on reading aloud to each group of seniors as well as presenting the webinar.
Associate Programming Director, TD – Blue Metropolis Children’s Festival and Educational Programs:
Linda Amyot – firstname.lastname@example.org
Edition and multimedia :
Stephen Portman – www.in-no-v8.com
Artist – ‘Tuk And The Whale’ segment: Juni Crane
Workshop facilitator :
This project was made possible with the help of :