Holiday Gift Suggestions: Children’s

giftbookIt is so satisfying to give a child a book that they truly love.  Here are my recommendations for children of all ages.

Middle Graders

sunnySunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

If the child in your life has read their copies of Smile and El Deafo to tatters, you’ll want to pick up Sunny Side Up, a big-hearted graphic novel about a girl sent to visit her grandfather at his retirement community.

Absolutely any novel by David Walliamswalliams

It’s too much of a challenge to pick just one David Walliams book to recommend.  His books are very funny and read aloud well.  They are perfect for families who’ve read everything by Roald Dahl and still want more.

nestThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Even as a child, I was drawn to the darker side of life.  Sentient wasps are pretty darn dark.  This tale of a boy dealing with his anxieties over a very sick baby brother is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline without being derivative.  It’s probably the best book I’ve read this year.


For The Picture Book Crowd

The Princess and The Pony by Kate Beatonprincesspony

Don’t be fooled by the title — this book isn’t just for pink-frilled Frozen fans.  My 5-year old loves this tale of a would-be battle ready princess and her “cutey-wootey” [his words] farting pony.

waitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes

Perfect for quiet cuddles before bed, Henkes’ Waiting is the quiet story of a collection of treasured toys sitting on a windowsill.  It’s destined to be a classic.

I Will Chomp You by Jory Johnchomp

As much for parents who remember the delights of There’s A Monter At the End of this Book as it is for kids, I Will Chomp You is the utterly interactive story of a monster who desperately doesn’t want young readers to turn the page.

Board Books for Babies and Toddlers

minimythWhile you can’t go wrong with the classics, like Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You?, I would buy one of Joan Holub’s Mini Myths titles and Herve Tullet’s The Game of Finger Worms for the babies on my list.  The Mini Myths are a mix of moral and good humour, while Tullet’s Finger Worms encourage young ones to see books as a kind of play.

Happy shopping!


Christmas Gift Suggestions: Biography


Who doesn’t love getting books for Christmas? Here are a few recommended biographies for those hard-to-buy-for folks that accumulate on your list:

BecomingNicoleBecoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt

When one of their two-year-old adopted twin sons declares himself a boy-girl, it becomes clear that the Maines family is in for an interesting ride. This is a moving story of an extraordinary family and it illuminates a subject at the forefront of our cultural conversation. A great gift for anyone who has been a parent, found themselves outside social norms, or who wants to know more about the transgendered.

Elon Musk, by Ashlee VanceElonMusk

Musk, inventor of the Tesla electric car, paypal, and SpaceX, is plainly a genius at the forefront of the tech revolution. This biography explores the maker-spirit of innovation that imbues his sometimes turbulent life, plus it’s a really good read. Santa recommends this one for all who liked Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, Moneyball by Michael Lewis, or anyone interested in technology.

GirlWith7NamesThe Girl with Seven Names, by Hyeonseo Lee

This compulsively readable memoir of a North Korean defector provides a different perspective than other books on this subject. Lee, from the privileged class, slipped across the border into China as a momentary act of teenage rebellion – then found she could not return. A terrific gift for those interested in international affairs, or in page-turning non-fiction.

Rescue Road, by Peter ZheutlinRescueRoad

A stranded vanload of puppies falls into Greg Mahle’s lap just as he finds himself at loose ends, and his life is changed forever. He becomes a dog rescuer, transporting abandoned strays from hard-luck neighbourhoods in the southern U.S. to “forever families” in the north. A heartwarming gift choice for any animal lovers on your list, particularly the dog people.

OpenHeartOpenMindOpen Heart, Open Mind, by Clara Hughes

A six-time Olympic champion, Hughes’ life appeared successful and vibrant. But as she matured she realized her extreme athletic ambition and party-hearty attitude were masking serious depression. Retiring from sports, she determined to heal herself – and emerged as a powerful advocate for mental health and other social causes. Recommended for sports aficionados, and anyone looking for an inspiring read.

Binge, by Tyler OakleyBinge

Pop culture phenom and gay Youtube celebrity, Tyler Oakley, has penned a collection of biographical essays loosely linked together. Conversational in tone, Oakley lurches between honesty and absurdity giving the reader a hardcopy version of his online personality. A perfect gift for the plugged-in teen, particularly if they are part of the LGBTQ community.

Happy Shopping! Hope you get a parking space.

The Search for 2015’s The Book

no-peekingOver the years, choosing one book to gift our adult relatives has become a bit of a thing in our household.  That’s why this weekend when my husband and I found ourselves temporarily childless, we settled in for a marathon browsing session on all our favourite book sites.  [If you are my parents or in-laws, now is a good time to stop reading and close your browser.  No peeking.]

We had thought that choosing this years Book would be a no-brainer — undermajorPatrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is still mentioned as the best book we’ve ever given, and deWitt had a new book out this year.  What we didn’t bank on is that our Irish relatives actively sought out a copy of Undermajordomo Minor upon its publication.

Which left us a bit stumped.

littlelifeWe tossed around some big titles from 2015 — Hana Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Booker-prize winner Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, my husband’s favourite reads of the year, were mentioned and then discarded as not being upbeat enough for holiday gift giving.

I was all for giving out Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a Lost Child, but wasn’t sure that everyone in the family had kept up with the Neopolitan novels.  (I’m purposefully deferring reading Ferrante’s latest because I really really really like delayed reading gratification.)

In the end, it was this CBC piece from January  that captured our emmaottoimaginations and decided the matter for us.

Though neither of us have read it, we’ve decided that Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James is The Book for gift giving in 2015.

The novel begins with a letter from 82-year old Saskatchewan native Emma to her husband, Otto:

“I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry, I’ve left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.”

The water Emma refers to is the Atlantic Ocean and she embarks on the 3232 km journey alone and on foot — the last great adventure of her life.  As Emma walks and Otto waits old memories resurface revealing a past full of hunger, war, passion and hope.


Uplifting Non-Fiction

Reading booksShorter days and colder temperatures make me want to curl up with a great feel-good text. Here are a few of my favourite uplifting non-fiction reads:

DayWorldCameThe Day the World Came to Town, by Jim DeFede

Thirty-eight jets (more than 6,000 travellers) bound for the United States were redirected to Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001. This is the account of the citizens of Gander who dropped what they were doing in order to help out – taking people into their homes, crawling into jet cargo holds to feed the animals on the flights, tracking down people and information, and affirming the basic goodness of humankind during a moment when such goodness was easy to doubt.

Little Princes, by Conor GrennanLittlePrinces

Grennan, a young guy seeking a bit of travel adventure, finds himself volunteering in a Nepalese orphanage where he gets wrapped up in the lives of the energetic and resilient kids. Then, to his horror, he discovers that the children aren’t orphans at all… and he decides to do something about this complex and dangerous situation. You’ll be drawn into the author’s world as he finds out that he really can make a difference in the world.

KingPeggyKing Peggy, by Eleanor Herman

Peggy, a secretary at the Ghanaian embassy in Washington DC, gets a wildly unexpected phone call – she has been elected king of Otuam, an African village of 7,000 souls. She comes to realize, however, that the elders who elected her, did so because they thought they could control a woman whose home-base was across the ocean. Wrong. They soon discover that their days of corruption are numbered as Peggy finds ways to improve the lives of her people.

Drama High, by Michael SokoloveDramaHigh

Set in a Bruce Springsteen rustbelt town, this biography of a high school drama teacher extraordinaire is engaging and truly inspiring. It’s the story of Lou Volpe, whose forty year career as a high school drama teacher has transformed the lives of hundreds, even thousands of students. Who doesn’t love to read about people doing the job the great universe intended them for?

SparkThe Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius, by Kristine Barnett

When the experts break it to the author that her autistic son is not expected to achieve much more than dressing himself, Kristine Barnett decides it is time to withdraw her child from their care. She notes that the therapists focus on the things her son cannot do, and she decides to use his interests (and the things he can do) as an access point to his autistic isolation. This strength-based approach is highly successful and once her son is able to communicate, it becomes evident that he is a prodigy.

Wish You Happy Forever, by Jenny BowenWishYouHappy

In the process of adopting a Chinese orphan, Californian filmmaker, Jenny Bowen, discovers the terrible conditions these children were growing up in. Bowen decides she has to do something about these kids and sets out to make a difference. And make a difference she has. But imagine a Chinese national coming to Canada and setting up programs in our group homes or orphanages. At best, we’d ignore such audacity; at worst we’d arrest and deport. So how did an American transform Chinese institutional child care? The fragile dance Bowen and her cohorts conduct in order to fly under the radar and affect change makes for compelling reading. Well worth your time


Colleen’s Recent Reads – Early November

Thanks to the recent heavy rains, I’ve been curled up with these excellent novels, mostly historical fiction, and featuring some of my favourite topics: orphans, Canadian history and Scotland.

Wild_RoseWild Rose, by Sharon Butala

Sophie was a sheltered girl from a well-off Montreal family in the 1880’s when she married hastily and went off to sparsely-populated southern Saskatchewan to begin her married life as a homesteader. Before long she is abandoned by her husband and desperately struggling to survive with her young son. Sharon Butala has been writing contemporary novels set on the prairies for over 30 years; this is her first historical novel.

Orphan #8, by Kim Van AlkemadeOrphan8

Rachel was orphaned at age 4 and sent to the Hebrew Infants Home in New York City. As the story alternates chapters between Rachel’s childhood and her adult years, we learn what happened to her there, and how she still suffers the mental and physical consequences. In a book club summary at the back of the book, Van Alkemade explains the shocking events in her own family that were the basis for the novel.

TidesOfHonourTides of Honour, by Genevieve Graham

As World War I begins, young Nova Scotia-born Daniel joins the fighting in Europe and meets a young woman in France. Invalided back to Canada, he works to bring Audrey to join him in Halifax, just before the Halifax Explosion of late 1917, a real event that devastated the city.

The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’DonnellDeathOfBees

Marnie and Nelly are young Glasgow teenagers with a big secret: their far-from-ideal parents are buried out back. Their story is troubling but often funny as they try to get by without anyone finding out they are on their own.


World War I Titles

PoppyAs Remembrance Day approaches, take a look at a few of our World War I titles, currently on display on the third floor.

AndWeGoOnAnd We Go On: A Memoir of the Great War, by Will R. Bird

When his dead brother – killed in action – appeared before him in uniform, Bird enlisted in the army to take his place. This memoir covers Bird’s life in the trenches from 1916 to the Armistice, and when it was first published in 1930 it was welcomed as a truly authentic account of the war. Bravery, camaraderie, horror, and savagery all take their place here, along with an unexpected spirituality and interest in the paranormal. A rediscovered classic of the Canadian canon.

Vimy, by Pierre BertonVimy

Based on personal accounts and interviews, Berton shows what it was like for the young men (some only sixteen) who seized Vimy Ridge from the Germans in 1917. It was the first enduring victory of the Great War, and was achieved in hours at a cost of 10,000 casualties. This outcome is truly remarkable in light of the French losses of 150,000 men in their earlier unsuccessful attempt. The battle of Vimy Ridge is widely considered the moment Canada’s national identity emerged and Berton’s haunting narrative illuminates this moment.

LawrenceInArabiaLawrence In Arabia, by Scott Anderson

Critically acclaimed, this book sheds new light on the life and actions of T.E. Lawrence, and on the consequences of imperial arrogance. Anderson introduces the main players that surrounded Lawrence’s World War I exploits bringing to light the machinations and manipulations of the great powers and overturning conventional thought on the formation of the modern Middle East.

Unknown Soldiers, by Neil HansonUnknownSoldiers

An astonishing three million soldiers remained unaccounted for at the end of the First World War leading an unassuming English chaplain to propose a symbolic burial in their memory – an idea soon widely adopted. Hanson focuses on three soldiers, relying on letters and diaries to show what life was like for some of those who would forever go missing.

GreatestVictoryThe Greatest Victory: Canada’s One Hundred Days, 1918, by J.L Granatstein

In the last hundred days of the Great War, the Canada Corps made astounding contributions to the fight – capturing Amiens, crossing the Canal du Nord, smashing the Hindenburg Line, seizing Cambrai and Valenciennes, and defeating a quarter of the German army in the field. It was a new focus on mobile warfare that allowed these successes, changes that would reverberate in World War II.

North Shore Giller Prize Party!

The 2nd Annual North Shore Giller Prize Viewing Party returns to North Vancouver on Tuesday, November 10 from 5:30pm-8:30pm.  

Join notable CBC Radio broadcaster and acclaimed author, Grant Lawrence, to celebrate Canadian Literature. The Scotiabank Giller Prize Awards Gala will be livestreamed from Toronto.

There will be light appies, readings from the 5 shortlisted books, beverages and raffle prizes.

Let’s have a look at the opening passages of shortlisted titles:

from Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis:

One evening in Toronto, the gods Apollo and Hermes were at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern. Apollo had allowed his beard to grow until it reached his clavicle. Hermes, more fastidious, was cleanshaven, but his clothes were distinctly terrestrial: black jeans, a black leather jacket, a blue shirt.

They had been drinking, but it wasn’t the alcohol that intoxicated them. It was the worship their presence elicited. The Wheat Sheaf felt like a temple, and the gods were gratified. In the men’s washroom, Apollo allowed parts of himself to be touched by an older man in a business suit. This pleasure, more intense than any the man had known or would ever know again, cost him eight years of his life.

from Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated by Donald Winkler:

My grandmother, mother of my father, often said:

“There are no thieves in Arvida.”

For a long time, it’s true, there were only good people in Arvida. Honest and industrious Catholics, and the Protestant owners and managers of the aluminum plant, who were basically, if you could believe my father, good human beings. You could leave your tools lying around in the garage. You could leave car doors unlocked and house doors open.

There was a very beautiful photo from after the war, which was, like all beautiful photos, an empty picture, with practically nothing in it and everything outside it. In it, a dozen bicycles were strewn over the lawn in front of the clinic. Outside the photo, in the building’s basement, children were lined up before a large white curtain, waiting to be vaccinated against polio. Outside the photo, the few times I saw it, my grandmother pressed her finger down on it, saying:

“You see? There are no thieves in Arvida.”

That’s what she said all her life, my grandmother, mother of my father. Except for about twenty years when, from time to time, she looked at my father and said:

“There were no thieves in Arvida. Now there’s you.”

from Outline by Rachel Cusk

Before the flight I was invited for lunch at a London club with a billionaire I’d been promised had liberal credentials. He talked in his open-necked shirt about the new software he was developing, that could help organisations identify the employees most likely to rob and betray them in the future. We were meant to be discussing a literary magazine he was thinking of starting up: unfortunately I had to leave before we arrived at that subject. He insisted on paying for a taxi to the airport, which was useful since I was late and had a heavy suitcase.

The billionaire had been keen to give me the outline of his life story, which had begun unprepossessingly and ended – obviously – with him being the relaxed, well-heeled man who sat across the table from me today. I wondered whether in fact what he wanted now was to be a writer, with the literary magazine as his entrée. A lot of people want to be writers: there was no reason to think you couldn’t buy your way into it. This man had bought himself in, and out, of a great many things.

from Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

One afternoon in 1946 a child was telling his toy soldiers the tale of a certain tall, menacing-looking Gypsy who was walking down a road in rural France. He had a trained bear and he played the violin. Something magical was meant to happen to him, naturally. However, in the middle of the tale, the child was called to lunch and never returned to the story.

The Gypsy stood there, contemplating his existence. He wasn’t even a real Gypsy, not a member of the great Romany people, but more like the fictional kind, like the ones that you see in old-fashioned storybooks. He had on a pair of black leather boots, a pinstriped suit and a hat with its brim pulled down over one eye. He had a twinkle in the eye that you could see and a violin case under his arm. At least the boy must have thought that Gypsies were the most handsome men in the world, because he was darn good-looking. He was just a stereotype, a collection of spiffy attributes and flashy characteristics. He was one dimensional in that sense. He had no depth.

from Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Mam repeatedly asks whether or not he can hear her — d’ya hear me Martin John? Because we can assume she doesn’t feel heard. She doesn’t want to hear what it is he would say, if he were to speak the truth. She saw a man on telly once. She has seen plenty men on telly, but this one frightened her. She has seen many men on telly who frighten her. But he frightened her in a particular way. He frightened her the way she feels frightened when she sees someone lash out at a dog. In actual fact, she’s not a woman easily frighted. The dark, insects, vermin, death, moths in the flour — none bother her.

But a glance, a moment, in which there’s an indication of what might be the truth of a person sits longer at her. A rat would run under the cupboard sooner than look at you. A man or woman who lets a boot fly at a dog or throws an item at a chicken in their way has a raw and sealed-in-something that she’s convinced can never be dislodged. That man on the television made her afraid because she recognized something of her son in him. There were many who talked of their crimes in that programme. They talked like they were uncomfortable ingredients in a recipe. Something hard to shop for like chopped walnuts, ground lemon rind or tamarind. They used the names of the crime, I murdered, I raped, I killed, I punched. Not him. The details are gone. He talked above and around his crime. He remained oblivious or chose oblivion. He was unsure why he was in here. He did not say he hadn’t done it. He did not say it was a mistake. He merely said nothing either way.

Limited tickets available, get yours today! 

All funds benefit the 2016 North Shore Writers Festival, co-planned by the North Vancouver District Public Library, the North Vancouver City Library, and the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

Sponsored by: The North Shore News
Food and beverage provided by Thrifty Foods, Bridge Brewing Company, and Loblaw’s City Market.

For more information, email Meghan Crowe at