Category Archives: Books

Christmas Books

I’m mailing the Christmas books today.  At the beginning of December, I send each of my grandchildren a pair of Christmas socks and a special book related to the season to read during Advent.  This will be my oldest grandson’s seventh Christmas book and my new granddaughter’s first. Sometimes the books are about the religious aspect of the holiday like this one I sent last year which told the nativity story with beautiful illustrations made from rocks.  Here are this year’s books. When I taught grade one and two I had sets of poems and songs for the children to learn for every theme we studied and Christmas was no exception.  I always included some poems by Jack Prelutsky. The kids loved his rhymes. I didn’t even know Jack Prelutsky’s poem book It’s Christmas was still in print so I was delighted to find it for my seven-year-old grandson who will probably be able to read most of these poems on his own. There are touching poems in the book like the one about a family caroling and poems that make you laugh out loud like the one about getting underwear for Christmas. As soon as I read this beautiful book I knew I wanted to buy it for my middle grandchild who is three years old and just loves stories. The first thing he said when I arrived at his home in Saskatoon on my last visit was, “Grandma did you bring books?”  He knows I always come with books to read to him. He is lucky to be growing up in a home filled with books and parents who love to read. Bear and Wolf is about two very different animals who strike up a friendship and go out and explore the natural world together. Their story warmed my heart.  In a time when many people in our world are being pushed apart by their differences and are failing to recognize that we can’t take the beauty of our natural world for granted, this story shows us what to do. It has a simple text and wonderfully interesting illustrations. For my granddaughter’s first Christmas book I chose Santa’s Cookie is Missing! Anne Passchier’s colourful illustrations leap off the page in this board book about the hunt to find the cookie left for Santa that has gone missing. My granddaughter just started to crawl and she is off on her own explorations now, so I thought she’d like this book about kids who explore their surroundings trying to find the missing cookie. Guess who ends up with it?

When my boys were little we lit the advent candles on our dining room table each evening in December and then read a story from the big basket full of Christmas books I kept under the table. I am happy the tradition of Christmas book reading is being carried on with the next generation.  

Other posts…….

Children’s Christmas Books- The Classics

A Christmas Tree For Readers

I Just Won a Cache of Great Children’s Books

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The Consolation of Water Lilies

Clouds reflected in the water in a pond full of water lilies in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg

In her beautifully written book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer has a chapter about water lilies. Kimmerer is a botany professor but she is also a poignant writer and has this incredibly wise and wonderful way of linking our lives to those of the plant world.

She tells the story of her two daughters leaving home.  She has just visited the older one who is attending university in a distant state and now she is driving the youngest daughter to the college she will attend.  Robin recalls all the responsibilities she had as a mother keeping a household running for her two daughters and supporting them in their various endeavours. There were constant demands on her to give and give and give.  Yet she is grieving deeply as she drives away after dropping off her daughter at her dormitory.  Robin decides to go canoeing and the time she spends in nature feeds her and restores her. Just as she has been giving to her daughters for so many years now nature is giving to her.

Water lily in a cenote in Mexico where I went swimming

Robin talks in particular about the water lilies she encounters canoeing and how they look so beautiful. She knows as a botanist that water lilies get their air and light on the surface of the water but they are anchored below by a rhizome as thick as your wrist and so strong it is almost impossible to break. Robin also describes in delicate and lovely language how the old leaves of a water lily and the new ones are inextricably linked and how they help one another survive. 

Robin is wise enough to let her readers come to their own conclusions but her words reminded me so much of my parenting experience.  How we hope when our children leave home we have given them a strong enough anchor as they seek the things that will bring air and light to their own lives.  How we hope that the bond we have with our children will keep us linked together albeit in constantly new and changing ways and that as our lives move forward we will continue to help one another survive and thrive in this world.  

This chapter in Robin’s book is entitled The Consolation of Water Lilies.  She named it perfectly. 

Other posts………….

Grateful for Mom’s Support

Captain Fantastic

Plants That Talked to Me

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Sadia -A Muslim Girl From Winnipeg

I just finished reading Sadia by Winnipeg author Colleen Nelson. It is a novel about a young Muslim woman facing the pressures most teens do as they deal with friends, faith, family, school work, extracurricular activities and their first romantic feelings.  There were many ways I connected with the book. 

  • It is set in my home city. Although Sadia’s family is from Damascus in Syria they have immigrated to Winnipeg where her Dad is a professor at the University of Manitoba and her Mom works at the Millennium Library. I liked coming across familiar places in the novel.
  • Sadia, a grade nine student, is crazy about basketball. I was a die-hard fan when both of my sons played basketball in junior high and high school. I could understand Sadia’s devotion to the game.
  •  I loved the photography assignment Sadia’s teacher Mr.Letner gave his class.  When I taught high school journalism I did a unit on photography and Mr Letner shows his students some of the same award-winning photos I used in my teaching.  
  • I am a big fan of Nadia Kidwai the CBC radio morning weekend host.  She has such a warm way with her guests and listeners. Nadia acted as a consultant for this book.  Sadia the main character wears a hijab and so does Nadia.  

Author Colleen Nelson, a Winnipeg teacher, says she wrote Sadia at the request of a Muslim student who was disappointed there were so few novels with Muslim young women as the protagonists.  

Another book I have read that has a Muslim young woman as the main character is Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali. It is however directed more towards an older adolescent audience while I think Sadia might be enjoyed more by younger teens. 

I learned more about the war in Syria from reading this book.  

I learned what it might be like to wear a hijab.

I learned about an amazing worldwide project called If You Give a Kid a Camera.  

Photo of Colleen Nelson from Dundurn Press

I was introduced to Colleen Nelson. This is the first of her novels I have read and it made me want to read more of them.

Other posts………

George

Coop the Great

She Persisted

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This Was Crazy Wonderful!

I counted nearly 250 people lined up to enter the Grant Park Highschool gym for the Friends of the Library book sale when the doors opened at 10.

On Saturday I volunteered at the annual Friends of the Library book sale at Grant Park Highschool. The sale has been a Winnipeg tradition for more than a decade and a half.

My job was to sit at the door and count the people coming in.  We opened the doors at 10:00 and ten minutes later 331 folks were in the gym engaging in a book buying frenzy.

The calm before the storm. Volunteers worked hard on Friday night to set up more than fifty tables full of books

For a whole year dedicated volunteers had been sorting and pricing and boxing books in the basement of a Winnipeg library and now another raft of volunteers was helping customers find books, acting as cashiers and keeping all the tables stocked with merchandise.

Books are organized into more than twenty categories.

The money from the sale all goes to support programs at Winnipeg’s public libraries. In 2018 the sale raised $23,000.  At 1:30 when my shift ended 1047 people had passed through the doors.  I wonder how many more visited Saturday afternoon and Sunday?

Look at all these eager book buyers!

I couldn’t believe how many of the folks I recognized as they came through the door.  I saw former students of mine, people from my church, my children’s friends, a fellow blogger, colleagues from the art gallery where I work, members of other boards I serve on, a resident of my condo, a former Winnipeg Free Press colleague, a player on my husband’s ball team, a good friend and a university colleague.  People left with boxes and carts and huge bags full of books.

I said good-bye and thanked people for coming as they exited.

Sitting at the door as they left many book buyers engaged me in conversation or made comments I overheard.

“This was crazy wonderful.”  

“I come to this sale every year.  I wouldn’t miss it. ” 

“I’m a teacher and now my classroom is stocked with books.” 

“I’ve been here browsing for hours. It’s awesome.”

“Large print books are so hard to find, but I found some here.”

“As you can see from this stack I’m a biography man.”

“I’m ready for eight months of winter reading now.” 

“I found all these lovely huge art books and I am going to frame the pages to make a classic art wall in our house.”

“I hope there is enough room in my car for all these books.” 

“I got Christmas presents for all my grandkids.”

“A big thanks to the volunteers for doing this.”

“This is my second visit today and I’ll be back again tomorrow.”

“I found a bunch of new authors I want to try.” 

“I wish I had three or four more hands so I could carry more books.”

“I hate to go home and leave so many beautiful books behind.”

“I found some really nice surprises.”

“What great fun I’ve had.”

Anyone who thinks people are no longer passionate about books and reading should have been at the Friends of the Library sale last weekend when Winnipeg book lovers of every age indulged voraciously in their love of literature. 

Other posts……….

My Childhood Reading Heaven

Winnipeg’s Millenium Library

There’s A Waterfall on the Library

A Bottomless Vortex of Books

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Thoughts on Dora Dueck’s New Book All That Belongs


One of the ways a good book engages you is that you are able to make some kind of personal connection with one or more of the characters.  While I was reading Dora Dueck’s new book All That Belongs I was making so many connections with her protagonist Catherine that I started jotting down a list of things we had in common.  When I got to twenty I stopped, but I could have easily continued.

Catherine and I are both retired and live in apartments in downtown Winnipeg. We volunteer at Thrift Shops. We like to go for walks along the river. We feel an obligation to spend time with an ageing parent. We grew up in Mennonite homes. 

How often did I sit around a campfire with various church youth groups singing Kumbaya just like Catherine did in her teens? Catherine and I saw the Sound of Music multiple times when it first came out. We met our husbands, who both became teachers, at Mennonite colleges and began our relationships with them at the college fall retreat. We have younger sisters living in Winnipeg in homes very different from our own.  We see our sisters regularly. We savour the special feeling of buying a new notebook for journaling and writing. 

Catherine and I spend time down at the Forks in Winnipeg. In fact, I picked up a coffee and pastry at the Tall Grass Prairie bakery there and ensconced myself in one of the comfy chairs in their new second-floor sitting area to finish reading All That Belongs. Over the course of the book, Catherine explores her family’s history including tragic events that happened in Ukraine.  I just read a short story to my writers’ group on Thursday night that included some of the tragic stories I’ve discovered while exploring my family’s past in Ukraine. 

When I was reading All That Belongs the phrase ‘gentle reader’ kept coming into my head. It is a kind of old fashioned way writers like Charlotte Bronte or Jane Austen address their reading audience directly.  I felt like Dora was talking directly to me in this book and she had some important things to say, but she did so in such a gentle and measured way that I felt a sense of comfort and goodness as I read.  

 All That Belongs made me think of Hans Werner’s book The Constructed Mennonite. Like Catherine in Dora’s novel, Hans explores some startling things he discovers about his family’s past that he didn’t know while growing up. 

I spent quite a bit of time studying the wonderful artwork by Agatha Fast Doerksen on the cover of All That Belongs.  I thought about how I might create a similar kind of creative collage with photos of people from my family’s past.

 I was sorry to miss Dora’s Winnipeg launch of All That Belongs because of my trip to Croatia. I would have liked to hear what she had to say about her book.  I did, however, follow her blog posts about her travels to launch her book at various locations in Canada.

All That Belongs is published by Turnstone Press and is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers.  I would definitely recommend it and I’d love to hear from blog readers about points of connection they may have discovered in the book.  

Other posts……..

Writing is the Way I Think and Remember

The Age of Hope

There Is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction

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Bookish Anticipation- Why Not Join Me For These Book Events?

Much of my life revolves around books. Two upcoming events have me flush with bookish anticipation and excitement. One is the annual Friends of the Library book sale which will take place at Grant Park Highschool next weekend. I recently joined the Board of Directors of the Winnipeg Friends of the Library organization. I helped to found the Friends of the Library group in Steinbach many years ago and thought I’d like to get involved with the organization again. To learn more about the substantial fundraising efforts the group undertakes each year I have gone down a number of times to help at the Friends Book Room in the basement of the St. James Library. Here a dedicated group of volunteers works year-round to sort and organize and pack hundreds of boxes of books for the annual Friends of the Library sale at Grant Park Highschool. The money raised supports, among other things, the wonderful Writer in Residence program at the library. It is a service that has benefitted many fledging Winnipeg writers, including me. I will be volunteering at the Friends of the Library book sale this coming Saturday morning. Come down to say hello and pick up a few books!
I also just purchased the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It will be the book up for discussion at the November 12th Books and Brushes event at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I will be leading that discussion. McNally Robinson Booksellers, co-sponsors the Books and Brushes series with the WAG, and when I purchased my copy of the book there recently, the clerk raved about it to me. I am so looking forward to reading Braiding Sweetgrass which as the famed Jane Goodall says, “shows how the factual, objective approach of science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people.” I am already thinking of many ways I will be able to connect the book to the current work on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. You still have nearly a month to get the book and read it. I’d love to have you join me for Books and Brushes on November 12. Details are here.

Other posts…………

Books and Brushes- Connecting Art and Literature

A Bottomless Vortex of Books

Grandparents Who Were Readers

 

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It Isn’t The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale published in 1985 was a hugely influential novel for me. I have re-read it more times than I can count. I watched the first season of the television series based on the book and have read the graphic novel version as well. The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, a woman imprisoned in a future patriarchal, fundamentalist Christian nightmare. The Handmaid’s Tale has sold more than eight million copies worldwide.

The Testaments is Margaret Atwood’s newly published sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. It is different from its predecessor in many ways. Let me mention three. 

First of all, The Testaments features three narrators instead of just one and we are kept in suspense for quite some time as to how those narrators are connected to one another. The narrators’ voices are unique to their varying ages and life experiences and some critics say that means the sections by two of the younger narrators read more like chapters from a teen or middle-grade novel. That may be, but as someone who writes for that age group and realizes just how many adults are reading and appreciating teen and middle-grade novels these days, that isn’t a negative, but a positive about the book for me.

I am glad Atwood includes these young voices in The Testaments because as Greta Thunberg’s story has taught us, it is going to be young people who will change our world for the better. Their voices need to be heard and Atwood makes sure of that in her novel. 

Secondly, The Handmaid’s Tale was a sobering kind of fatalistic read, and in 1985 its warning signs about how the religious right might come to denigrate and enslave women in the future was a compelling motivation for me to work actively for more gender equality in the workplace, in my church and in my community. The Testaments, current politics in the United States aside, has a more hopeful tone but does imply that things will probably get worse before they get better.

Aunt Lydia as she appears in the Hula television series The Handmaid’s Tale

Finally, in  The Handmaid’s Tale, we get only a cursory look at Aunt Lydia one of the older women tasked with training young handmaids for their roles as surrogate mothers for barren wives and their husbands. In The Testaments, we come to know Aunt Lydia in a whole new way. We learn about her accomplished past, the hardnosed and realistic way she deals with the present, and her rebellious hopes for future revenge.  

Margaret-Atwood-2018

Margaret Atwood

The Testaments is a completely different kind of book than The Handmaid’s Tale and if you are expecting something similar you will probably be disappointed.  But if you are open-minded and ready to experience something new from Canada’s most celebrated author you will enjoy the book as much as I did. 

Other posts……..

A Graphic Handmaid’s Tale

Thoughts on Seeing The Handmaid’s Tale Ballet

Abortion and Summer Jobs

 

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