I write middle-grade historical fiction and so I do lots of reading in that area. I’ve developed a particular interest in Winnipeg history in the last year since I have been unable to travel to other places. Two books written for middle-grade kids that look at important times in Winnipeg history have been recent reads.
Colleen Nelson has written two engaging, award-winning middle-grade novels about a West Highland Terrier named Harvey. Harvey Holds His Own is the second in the series. Harvey’s owner, a junior high school student named Maggie begins to volunteer in a retirement home. Harvey helps her develop a special relationship with many of the residents in particular with Mrs. Fradette who tells Maggie all about the great Winnipeg flood of 1950.
Through photos and stories,Mrs. Fradette describes the dike that was built around her neighborhood, how her family moved all their furniture and belongings to the second floor of their home, how her brother’s Scout troop helped with flood relief, and howthe threat of the rising waters necessitated evacuation to the small community of Laurier Manitoba. There, in her grandfather’s car repair garage Mrs. Fradette developed the interests that would lead to her becoming the first female car mechanic in Manitoba.
Harriet Zaidman’s City on Strike is about the Winnipeg general strike of 1919. We experience that turbulent time through the eyes of Jack and Nellie who are from a working-class Jewish family living in the north end of the city. 13-year-old Jack has a job as a newsboy in order to bring in money for the household since his Dad is out of work and still recovering after falling victim to the recent flu epidemic. Nellie is a student at Aberdeen School.
Jack and Nellie are caught up in the action on June 21 when the police attack during a peaceful march in support of the strike. Jack offers help to photographer Lou Foote who is recording the striker’s march on film. Foote is a real person well-known for his work chronicling the history of Winnipeg. Nellie witnesses the overturning of the streetcar a classic moment in the strike and is led to safety by her school teacher Miss Ross.
Both Harriet Zaidman and Colleen Nelson have provided great stories about important events in Winnipeg’s past. Although their books were written for young audiences, adults will also find them an interesting and engaging way to learn about our city’s history.
I have a Timex wristwatch I love and have had for moreyears than I can count. I like the big numbers I can see without my glasses and the way its face can illuminate at night so when I wake up I can check the time. I’ve had one new battery put in over the years but otherwise that watch just ‘keeps on ticking.’
However, the watch straps always wear out, and once I almost lost the watch when the strap gave way and it fell off. So whenever I notice my strap wearing thin I have to hunt around for a place that sells reasonably priced straps and has a person on staff who knows how to replace it for me.
Last week I noticed my strap was about to give way and just for interest’s sake googled changing your watch strap. Sure enough, there were lots of videos that showed you just how to do that. Although having a special jeweler’s tool was helpful you could also just change the strap using a pointed dull knife.
I ordered a strap online and when it arrived I changed it myself in about five minutes!
It was so easy and here I’ve thought for most of my life you needed to be a jeweler with fancy tools to change a watch strap.
I wonder whatother things I could do myself ifI just gave them a try.
I had to wait thirty minutes to take a photo! On Friday I went to the beautiful new Bill and Helen Norrie library to snap a few photos of the literacy playground there.
I am the recently appointed editor of the regular newsletter for the Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library organization and in the next issue, I want to feature a story about the literacy playground at Winnipeg’s newest library.
The funds to pay for the unique playground were provided by our organizationthanks in part to a generous donation by Lawrence and Reesa Cohen.
What is a literacy playground you might ask? It is a small colorful wooden structure that provides children with activities that foster discussion and learning. Parents who are using the playground with their children receive ideas for things they can do to help develop their child’s literacy skills.
Of course, the literacy playground is in the children’s section of the library where it is surrounded by all kinds of books for kids displayed in a variety of ways.
You might think a library is a place where children need to keep quiet and sit still. Not anymore! On Friday after I had explained my need for photos to the head librarian she said I was welcome to take some pictures but should wait till there were no children using the playground.
I waited thirty minutes and had a wonderful time watching an endless stream of kids enjoying the activities provided by the playground. Finally, I had to ask a couple of children to move for just a minute so I could snap my pictures.
It was great to see the playground our group had donated to The Bill and Helen Norrie library being put to such good use!
There are literacy playgrounds at many other Winnipeg Public library branches and they are helping kids learn through play and helping families discover that libraries are not only places for reading but also for fun, activity, and human interaction.
The goal is for every library in the city to eventually have a literacy playground. I am proud of the funding Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library has been able to provide to assist in making that goal a reality.
I need to stay away from making Facebook comments about the pandemic. Yesterday a pastor I follow on social media suggested the new vaccine mandates here in Manitoba barring unvaccinated people from many indoor spaces and the reinstatement of the mask requirement, will add bitterness to the divide between people who support those initiatives and those who don’t. The pastor suggested it is probably best not to enter into Facebook discussions about those topics and I agree. I would have to say that anytime I have done so I have regretted it later and have often taken my comments down or modified them.
Vaccination and masking protocols are simply too contentious and I have found arguing in Facebook comments only fans the flames and doesn’t change anyone’s minds. Don’t get me wrong within the last few days I have been sorely tempted to make a comment on the Facebook pages of people who have a different opinion than I do, but most of the time I have managed not to, and perhaps writing this blog post will hold me accountable to that.
Of course, response to mandatory government directives is a topic that needs to be discussed, and historians and psychologists, and social scientists will no doubt be doing research projects for decades to come as they try to figure out why some people had so much vaccine and mask hesitancy during the pandemic and others were so wholeheartedly enthusiastic about vaccines and masks.
I am glad too for the information I receive via newspapers and magazines from credible journalists and people who are experienced and respected in their fields. But the pandemic response is probably best not discussed in Facebookcomments at least by people like me who aren’t experts in epidemiology or infectious diseases or social behavior or human rights law.
Some things lend themselves well to Facebook comments. A recent post of mine about the use of the old Eaton’s catalog, for example, was shared in several Facebook groups and I’ve loved reading and responding to comments about all the different ways people remember their families using the old catalogs.
On a Facebook page for Mennonite writers, I am part of an interesting discussion about how to write in the voice of people of different ages. These kinds of Facebook comment exchanges are helpful and interesting.
But at this point personal exchanges about the best approach to ending the pandemic seem to serve little purpose. It may be something we want to discuss again on social media in the future, but for right now I think it is best to show restraint. I hope writing this post will help to keep me accountable for doing just that.
Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson was displayed on the shelf just below my novel Lost on the Prairiewhen it first went on sale at McNally Robinson Booksellers at the beginning of May. I was delighted to see my book in the company of a novel by such an accomplished Canadian middle-grade author as Terry Lynn Johnson and even more excited when I discovered she was going to be a guest at the Middle-Grade Literature Book Club I participate in each month.
Last night at our August meeting I got to meet Terry and listen to her talk about her ninth book Rescue at Lake Wild which tells the story of a girl named Madison who rescues a pair of beaver kits. Terry is a conservation officer in northern Ontario and her work with animals was the inspiration for Rescue at Lake Wild.
During our book club meeting with Terry, we discovered that she loved watching David Suzuki’s show The Nature of Things when she was a child and remembers one episode, in particular, that was about beavers and the way they interact with humans. Early in her career as a conservation officer, Terry spent time working with a woman who was a wildlife rehabilitator. Her funny stories about the beavers in her care inspired Terry.
In Rescue at Lake Wild, the hero Madi’s crusade to save the two small beavers is inspired by her grandmother who was a wildlife rehabilitator. Nana has died but taught Madi so much about caring for animals and has left Madi her supplies and notes. I really liked Nana and even though she wasn’t alive in the book I thought about what a close relationship she and Madi must have had with each other. As a grandmother myself it made me think about how our relationship with our grandchildren can have a lasting impact on their lives.
It was interesting to hear Terry say that Madi the main character in Rescue at Lake Wild is the character in her books that is most like her. We also learned that Jane Goodall who is world-renowned for her study of chimpanzees, and who Madi dreams of meeting in the book, is someone Terry would love to meet as well. Madi does not get a chance to meet Jane in Rescue at Lake Wild but Terry hinted that if she writes a sequel to the novel that might just happen.
I was having breakfast with Manitoba poet Joanne Epp last week and she was curious about some qualities that are essential in writing for a middle-grade audience. I used examples from Terry’s book which I had just read to explain.
A middle-grade book needs lots of action and Terry’s novel has that. It starts off with a bang as Madi does a dark and dangerous dive into a beaver lodge to save the two little orphaned kits whose mother and father have been shot. Madi must go to great lengths to hide the kits from her own parents at the same time as she tries to solve the mystery of who shot the beavers and keep at bay a nosy older sister who knows about the beaver kits and is constantly threatening to reveal Madi’s secret.
The second quality in a good middle-grade novel is that the young protagonists must untangle the conflicts in the novel, not adults. And that certainly happens in Rescue at Lake Wild. It is Madi and her best friends Aaron and Jack who end up solving the mystery and saving the beavers.
Finally, a speaker at a children’s writing conference once told me that near the beginning of a middle-grade book there must be some reference to poop or pee. I made sure that happened in my novel and Terry does too with a funny scene where Madison is trying to get the beaver kits to ‘do their business’. After plopping them into a Rubbermaid tub full of water they finally poop.
Terry’s novel Rescue at Lake Wild provides a master class in writing for a middle-grade audience. I also learned from our visit with Terry last night that she has made hundreds of virtual visits to classrooms something I hope to do this coming year as well.
I love the fact that I shared a set of shelves with Terry Lynn Johnson at McNally Robinson Booksellers and I loved her book Rescue at Lake Wild. I can recommend it for adults who’d like to learn more about beavers as well as any middle-grade readers they might have in their lives.
A University of Harvard study of 13,000 American adults found that people over the age of 50, who volunteer for two hours a week have a substantially reduced risk of dying or getting sick. Their mental health is also better. Volunteers feel less hopeless, depressed, and lonely.
An ever-increasing body of research is linking altruism to longevity and quality of life. Dr. Eric Kim one of the authors of the Harvard study says even during the pandemic we should try to find ways however small to contribute to the healing of others and the quality of life in our communities while continuing to follow health guidelines. Once the COVID-19 crisis is over we need to establish even more structures within communities that help people to volunteer.
Former American President Jimmy Carter is a great example of this. At age 96 he still volunteers his time annually to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity. He and his wife Roslyn have helped build and repair nearly 5000 homes in 14 different countries. Carter says that throughout his life he has seen the difference volunteering can make.
The Harvard study shows that by volunteering we are not only helping others we are really doing ourselves a favor too.
Although there were times during the pandemic we couldn’t volunteer at all my husband Dave and I have been able to restart some of our volunteer commitments. He supports a service program at our church that brings in young people from other countries to do humanitarian work in Winnipeg and I volunteer at a Thrift Shop.
I know that being able to volunteer once again has certainly improved our mental and physical health. The pandemic has helped to make us even more aware that volunteering is good for us.
Yesterday a friend discovered this 1976 Eaton’s catalog in the Winnipeg Thrift Store where we both work as volunteers. 1976 was the last year Eaton’s published a catalog. They published the first one in 1884.
I remember my Mom telling me how in the 1920s she and her sisters combed through the Eatons catalogue picking out dolls they hoped to receive. Especially coveted was the Eaton’s Beauty Doll.
My sister and I did the same thing in the 1950slooking through the Eatons catalogue for dolls and other toys we wanted for Christmas.
My mother always sewed my dresses but for my first day of school in 1958 she let me order a dress from the catalogue.
Once when we were touring the Eatons Centre in Toronto a guide told us that decades ago Canadians had used the Eatons Catalogue for three purposes besides finding things they would like to order.
Apparently when kids couldn’t afford shin pads for playing hockey they used catalogues instead strapped to their legs with canning jar rings.
Old catalogues were also used instead of toilet paper in outhouses before bathrooms were common in homes.
And before the advent of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or Playboy magazine, the lingerie or swimsuit section of the Eatons catalogue was popular alternate viewing.
We just finished watching the Netflix series The Chair. The story begins as Ji-Yoon Kim becomes the first female chair of the English Department at an American college. She has lots on her plate. Some of her colleagues are way past retirement age and hardly any students sign up for their classes, while a brilliant black female professor who is very popular with students isn’t receiving the academic recognition she deserves.
Another professor makes a Hitler salute to illustrate a point during a lecture and the student body stages a protest.Then there is the wealthy donor who wants a famous actor rather than a distinguished scholar to give an important annual lecture at the college.
And as if she doesn’t have enough to juggle at work Ji -Yoon is trying to parent her adopted daughter who has behavior issues. She struggles to maintain a good relationship with her traditional Korean father and is trying to figure out if she wants to include romance in her life.
The Chair tells an engaging story with lots of action and humor but I would offer these three observations.
The syllabus at the university in the film was so steeped in tradition. The students were mainly reading things like Chaucer and Shakespeare and Melville. The work of white writers, mostly male seemed to dominate the courses offered. We didn’t see professors using contemporary texts by a diverse group of authorswhich I know quite a number of universities do by now.
I think the series realistically showed just how hard it is for single parents to juggle a challenging work-life and less-than-perfect family life.Ji-Yoon has reached what she thought would be the pinnacle of her career. She is the chair of the English department. She is also finally a mother something she’d always dreamed of being. And yet her life is so much harder and less fulfilling than she had imagined.
I thought it a bit unrealistic that every older professor in the department was portrayed as out of touch with students and dull in the classroom. My experience both as a teacher and student of English in secondary schools and universities leads me to believe that age isn’t always a factor as to whether a teacher is interesting or relevant.
The Atlantic reviewer calls The Chair “the best Netflix drama series in years.” Have you seen it? What did you think?
About a year ago I decided I needed to hear more positive news. I was becoming overwhelmed by all the doom and gloom in the media. So I subscribed to several different news services that send positive messages into my inbox on a regular basis. Here are three things I’ve learned recently that make me hopeful.
TEN BILLION TREES
In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, citizens of every age and from every sector of society planted more than 20 different kinds of trees. The effort started in 2015 with a goal to plant a billion trees. That target was reached in 2018. So now Pakistan has a new goal this time for the whole country instead of just one province to plant 10 billion trees by 2023. Local communities have established plant nurseries to provide the trees. Pakistan has a history of deforestation. The tree-planting effort prevents soil erosion that causes dangerous landslides and also helps remove carbon from the air.
In the last decade, twenty countries have gone from having major malaria outbreaks to being declared malaria-free by the World Health Organization. China is the latest country to receive the designation. The death rate from malaria worldwide has fallen by 60% and the number of cases by 36%. This is due to the widespread distribution of bed nets treated with insecticide and better drugs for helping malaria victims.
A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR WOMEN
Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott two of the richest women in the world have teamed up to donate 40 million dollars to organizations that promote gender equality. In addition, Melinda French Gates has promised the foundation she heads together with her former husband will give $2.1 billion over the next five years to advance gender equality worldwide. Research shows that gender equality decreases child poverty, stimulates the economy, reduces violence, improves the outcomes for racialized and marginalized groups in society, and creates safer and healthier communities.
Earlier this month Dave and I had dinner with a married couple we have known for over twenty years. Two decades ago when they were preparing for their wedding they asked to interview us so we could give them some marriage advice. At the time Dave and I had been married for a little over twenty-five years ourselves.
The first thing they asked us to provide was a key phrase for success based on our marriage experience.
Dave said, look at the big picture. It is easy to get so caught up with the immediate problems in your marriage, you lose sight of its long-term value. Over time perhaps conflicts can be resolved, hurt feelings eased, and difficulties worked through. Don’t act rashly when you feel overwhelmed. Later, you might wish you had looked ahead at the big picture and considered more carefully how your actions could impact your family’s future.
I said, don’t expect your partner to make you happy. Happiness is an individual responsibility so pursue interests of your own. If there are times when your marriage is going through a difficult period, perhaps it will be career satisfaction, your children, your friendships, your hobbies, or your volunteer work in the community which will provide a sense of well-being. We place too great a burden on our significant other if we expect them to be responsible for the happiness in our life.
The engaged couple also asked us to comment on some of the things which had caused conflict in our marriage.
Deciding how our money should be spent has often been contentious for us. Giving our partner the freedom to splurge at times, on things we might not think are necessary, has made a difference.
We talked about raising children. Respecting our divergent opinions and recognizing how we’d been influenced by the child-rearing practices in our own childhood homes was helpful.
We talked about a balance of power and the importance of ensuring both spouses feel equal responsibility as well as equal opportunity.
Finally, the couple asked what things were the most important to us in a marriage partner. Trust and faithfulness were vital for me. Fun and a sense of humour were Dave’s top criteria.
It is nice to know the couple we gave this advice to twenty years ago is still together but each marriage is so different. Any two people who want to have a life-long relationship must find their own unique way to make things work.