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April 2021

Jo's Picks

The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett
(Riverhead Books)

Twin black sisters Desiree and Stella run away from their small Southern town to find new lives in the big city. A few years later Desiree moves back with her child while Stella disappears to live as the white woman she can pass for. Desiree never stops looking for her sister as their lives unfold in very different directions. This is an epic family story, encompassing generations, moving from the South to California, and spanning years from the 1950s to the 1990s. A nuanced, multi-layered look at racism both external and internalized, identity, and sister/motherhood, a tightly woven family drama, a tale of diverging journeys and reconnection. Poignant and powerful, a book to enjoy and discuss.


Firekeeper's Daughter

By Angeline Boulley
(Henry Holt and Co.)

Eighteen year-old Daunis Fontaine is bi-racial, white and Ojibwe, and caught between those two worlds though adored by family on both sides. Forced to give up her dreams of playing hockey and practicing medicine in order to care for her fragile mother after her uncle dies tragically, Daunis immerses herself in her friendships and tries not to feel bitter. A bright spot, her brother's new hockey teammate Jamie, who is enigmatic and charming but not quite what he seems to be. When tragedy strikes again and Daunis witnesses a brutal murder-suicide, she reluctantly goes undercover for the FBI who are investigating a series of drug deaths which are plaguing indigenous communities around Sault Ste-Marie and further afield. This book goes deep into historic and present day racism and colonialism but importantly celebrates the culture, traditions and daily life of the Ojibwe, in particular the strong family connections. Boulley enriches her prose with indigenous words, phrases and concepts. It is an immersive experience, truly beautiful, and a great counterpoint to the tension and suspense that builds throughout. Complex, fascinating and thrilling.


The Coffinmaker's Garden

By Stuart MacBride

This is the third ex-Detective Inspector Ash Henderson novel but it can be read as a standalone. Reminding me of Kate Atkinson's fantastic Jackson Brodie series, there is plenty of gallows humor to offset the dark subject matter.  The action begins on a stormy night on the Scottish coast, as sections of the headland are giving way and Father Christmas lookalike Gordon Smith's back garden is beginning its inexorable tumble into the sea. As it does, human remains are revealed. Lots of them. At the same time, the police are on the hunt for a child murderer. Ash Henderson is called upon as a consultant, due to his previous experience with serial killers. This is scary, gory stuff and impossible to put down. The pace is propulsive, the characters are off the wall and engaging, and the dialogue is whipsmart.


Anne-Marie's Picks

Nature All Around: Birds

Written by Pamela Hickman
Illustrated by Carolyn Gavin
(Kids Can Press)

In this latest offering from the Nature All Around best-selling series (previous books focus on plantsbugs and trees), birds take centre stage. The Canadian author/illustrator duo (author Pamela Hickman lives in Canning, Nova Scotia) expertly serve up lots of fascinating science about birds - from key identification markers to bird behaviour, life cycles and habitats - in a lively, accessible package. Bold, colourful artwork and an attractive, spare layout maintain readers’ interest, and much of the book is structured around an exploration of birds throughout the seasons, laying out an observational roadmap for fledgling bird-watchers. A fun guide at the back of the book suggests useful items for a bird-watcher’s backpack and lists important things to consider when trying to identify different birds including size, shape, beak type, markings and song.


The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

Written & Illustrated by Lita Judge
(Roaring Brook Press)

Employing a mix of poetry, science and art, this picture book is The Hidden Life of Trees for the school-age set. Kids (and adults) will learn about how trees talk to each other, help their neighbours, parent and plan families, tell time, provide homes for thousands of other species, hibernate and much more. It illuminates the magic of mycorrhizal fungal networks connecting communities of trees into a “wood wide web” wherein electrical and chemical signals are exchanged like secret codes. Highlighting the work of Canadian scientist Dr. Suzanne Simard, this book artfully challenges the “survival of the fittest” theory of nature, suggesting instead that cooperation - both between and within species  - may be the organizing principle of forests.  

Forest Magic: A Guidebook for Little Woodland Explorers

Written & Illustrated by Sarah Grindler
(Nimbus Publishing)

“There is so much life in the forest and so many things to explore!” This beginner’s guide to forests contains just enough detail and scientific fact to pique kids’ interest without overwhelming them. Young readers will be charmed by gentle watercolour forest vistas they can dive into, coupled with detailed illustrations of individual specimens they can study. Selections of leaves, wildflowers, mushrooms, lichens and forest creatures (with legs ranging from none to one hundred) are all offered up for identification.  

Jo's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations