Blog Tour Review | Hey Canada! Vivien Bowers, illus. by Milan Pavlovic

Remember encyclopedias? Hardcover books with glossy, colourful pages. In my nerdiest moments, I had a great time flipping through them and learning random factoids about Elizabethan drama, far away places and whatever other topic catches my attention. Wikipedia is a much more efficient way to research, but there’s a certain charm in an encyclopedia’s glossy presentation of information.

Reading Vivien Bowers’ Hey Canada! reminded me of that experience. The story is simple: Gran takes nine-year-old Alice and eight-year-old Cal on a road trip across Canada. They visit all the provincial capitals, and learn about each one’s history and points of interests. It’s a fun, informative introduction to Canada for 7 – 10 year olds, a wonderful book for parents to read with their children to teach them about this country. As a recent immigrant myself, I would recommend this book to other immigrants, particularly those with children. Written in clear, easily accessible language and filled with photos of Canadian landmarks, Hey Canada! is a great way for a family to learn about the country together.

I enjoyed reading the facts and looking at the photos. I remember being in elementary school, and studying the dialects, cultural traditions and top industries of various regions in the Philippines. I imagine Canadian school children have studied the same about the various provinces. Hey Canada! is a great resource for this. I assume the plant and bird at each province’s chapter heading is the official plant or bird of the province (i.e. the osprey is the official bird of Nova Scotia and the mayflower the official plant), and I like that this was taught via a simple illustration in the chapter heading.

I liked the historical comic strips for a similar reason. Having not grown up studying Canadian history, it was fascinating to see small glimpses of each province’s history. For example in the chapter on Quebec, we see the British attack Quebec City in 1759, and the final panel shows the present-day Plains of Abraham as an idyllic park. I now want to visit the area, and perhaps read a bit more about this history.

The Find It! boxes are also particularly interesting as a teaching tool. It lists highlights in the chapter, and so, especially for parents reading with their children, it helps make the reading experience a bit more interactive. The only thing I didn’t like was that the list items sometimes referred to illustrations or text. Since they referred to highlights of the province, I would have preferred them to have referred to actual photographs. As well, and this admittedly is partly because I’m lazy, but I would have also liked the images to have labels, just so if I’m flipping through the book, I can immediately see what an image is, without having to search the entry.

Cal’s Tweets seemed designed to make the book seem more contemporary. Unfortunately, other than being labelled a tweet and, I’m assuming, consisting of less than 140 characters, it looked and sounded just like a regular Cal factoid rather than a tweet. I think using @ mentions, hash tags, and perhaps even formatting it to look like a tweet (with photos being labelled Twitpic or Instagram, and the Reply, Retweet etc buttons) would have helped these be more tweet-like. That being said, the primary appeal of Hey Canada! is its classic format, and the tweets just stand out as incongruous with everything else.

Hey Canada! is also very narrative in style, along with being informational. Gran and the kids joke around a lot, and there’s even a subplot about Cal’s hamster. The humour is very gentle, geared towards younger children and mostly about Gran’s singing and Alice’s snoring. It’s light family entertainment, and again, good for children or families reading together. With Canada Day coming up soon, it’s a great time to take an imaginary trip across the country with your whole family, and Hey Canada! is a fun way to do just that.


Thank you to Tundra Books for providing me with a copy of this book.

Review | The Dragon Turn, Shane Peacock

The Dragon Turn is the fifth book in Shane Peacock’s Boy Sherlock Holmes series, and the first one I’ve read. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, so reading a book about a teenage version of him will either be an absolute delight or an absolute disaster, depending on how Peacock chooses to portray him. I was also worried I might’ve outgrown YA adaptations of older characters. For example, I used to devour The Nancy Drew Notebooks, the Starfleet Academy series, even the Young Jedi Knights series. Now, while I still like YA, I’ve felt no desire to go back to those books.

I really liked Dragon Turn. Its mystery is more mystical (it involves a dragon) than I expected a Sherlock Holmes story to be, but, like all Holmes stories, presents a logical solution. A magician called the Wizard of Nottingham is killed. All that’s left of him are his blood and spectacles in the office of his professional and romantic rival Hemsworth. The climax of Hemsworth’s act involves a dragon, which offers a possible, gruesome explanation to the disappearance of the Wizard’s corpse.

Peacock’s Sherlock is a highly intelligent, logical fifteen year old, who already has plans of becoming a detective when he gets older but who, in the meantime, just wants to keep a low profile. He’s half-Jewish, and so faces discrimination, which may explain part of his desire to remain below the radar. So, rather than take credit for mystery solving, Sherlock feeds information to Lestrade, a young police officer intent on impressing his Inspector father. I love this characterization of Sherlock and young Lestrade. The adult Holmes is such a confident, almost arrogant man, and I love seeing this younger version of him as more vulnerable, insecure and self-conscious. He’s sympathetic in a much different way from the adult Holmes, yet he maintains the intelligence and logic that so characterize Holmes as a detective.

I also enjoyed seeing Lestrade as a young man longing for approval. I was expecting either a bumbling, incompetent Lestrade or an absolute bully, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him so sympathetic. He’s still incompetent as a detective, but his desire to impress his father casts a whole new light on his approach towards detecting.

Peacock even gives Sherlock a love life, which I don’t usually enjoy in mysteries, but which I liked here. Romance also prompts a reluctant Sherlock to get involved in the Wizard’s case. Sherlock’s girlfriend Irene Doyle (who, I presume, will grow up to marry a Mr. Adler and later become The Woman in Holmes’ life) was promised a boost in her stage career by Hemsworth, so she convinces Sherlock to help prove Hemsworth’s innocence. It’s a complicated case, and soon even Sherlock isn’t sure about what really happened to the Wizard. I did figure out the answer before the big reveal, but then the book is aimed at readers much younger than I am (never mind how much younger), so that’s really nothing to brag about. (I’m still bragging, though. I almost never guess the answer before the big reveal!) Still, Peacock pieces together the puzzle well, and I loved seeing Sherlock before he became the infallible detective we all know.

Dragon Turn is a wonderful book. I think its target audience (ages 10 – 14) will love it for its adventure, mystery and characters, and, as an older reader, I enjoyed it for the way Peacock wrote Sherlock Holmes. On a minor note, I much prefer Beatrice Leckie to the more worldly and manipulative Irene Doyle. As far as I know, Beatrice is a wholly Peacock-created character, and she’s just a lovely Betty Cooper-type character, and I’m crossing my fingers that Sherlock will eventually end up with her, if only in Boy Sherlock Holmes.

Blog Tour: Stones for My Father, Trilby Kent #SFMF #50BookPledge

“There once was a little dikkop that had spotted wings and knobbly knees, and a tiny voice that squeaks.” So begins a story Corlie Roux tells her brother Gert and “one or two other children” at an internment camp in Kroonstad. The British have invadedSouth Africaand are driving Boer families like Corlie’s out of their farms and into internment camps (women and children) or war prisons (men). It wasn’t as if this had come out of nowhere – Boer families have lived in fear of British invasion for a while, and many Boer men, including Corlie’s father, have already died defending their land.

Corlie is a brave girl. When faced with British soldiers, she wishes she could fight with the men instead of having to hide with the women and children. She says she wants to be a pirate when she grows up. And she tells stories, indulging her imagination and delighting Gert, even as her mother warns her that a girl should focus more on household chores and less on “spinning lies.” Her Ma admonishes her to be more practical, but it is Corlie’s stories that help her and Gert deal with such a horrific situation as war. Corlie tells the story of the dikkop because “my brother and I had seen all we needed to see of human suffering, and it was the wild beasts of the veld that helped us escape into our memories.” And so she spins tales.

See, the little dikkop is thirsty, but the lake is guarded by much larger and stronger animals like hippos and rhinos. The dikkop has wings, but is too afraid to fly. Then a klipspringer comes along and offers to help the dikkop get a drink. Can the dikkop trust the klipspringer? More importantly, should the dikkop take the klipspringer’s advice and work with the hippos and rhinos rather than fear them? Like the dikkop, Corlie meets a Canadian soldier who appears sympathetic. And like the dikkop, Corlie must decide if perhaps the British aren’t so different from her after all, and if the Anglo-Boer war isn’t a simple, black and white battle of good vs evil.

In Stones for My Father, Trilby Kent tells the story of a brave young girl forced to grow up far too early. This is a good book for children ages 9 and up who are interested in historical fiction. It’s a touching look at the Anglo-Boer War from the perspective of a child, and Kent even includes a short epilogue about the war, which provides helpful background information to readers who, like me, are unfamiliar with that point in history. Stones for My Father uses the gritty realism of such details as maggots in the flour to express the need to escape into fantasy once in a while, and more importantly, the need to try as hard as you can to hold on to childhood as along as possible.