The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (2017, 2018)

8 to adult

The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (2018)

Pick up a copy of the Oxford Junior Dictionary and you’ll find the latest technological words like chatroom, blog and voicemail. But you won’t find acorn, buttercup, minnow, panther, and dozens of other natural world words that were cut to make room for the new entries. Robert MacFarlane noticed, and decided to do something. He collaborated with artist Jackie Morris to create what they call a “spell book” in a bid to conjure back 20 of the lost words. Both are British, and there is a decidedly British flavour to the book, celebrating childhood fascinations for conkers and brambles, newts and wrens, weasels and willows, though happily these are words equally familiar to Canadians and Americans, and doubtless in many other English-speaking places.

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Witness: Lessons From Elie Wiesel’s Classroom, by Ariel Burger (2018)


Witness: Lessons From Elie Wiesel's Classroom, by Ariel Burger (2018)

I first learned of Nobel Peace Prize winner, scholar, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel when a professor assigned his memoir Night, a book I still have on my shelf, for a European history class. (We also watched Rome: Open City – awesome class.) Wiesel passed away in 2016, to our collective loss. The world needs more people like him, activists who coach world leaders toward peace rather than war, toward acceptance and love instead of fear and hate. Witness offers an understanding of this wise teacher through the eyes of Ariel Burger, his former teaching assistant. The focus is of the religious, spiritual, and philosophical discussions from his classes, learned mostly by students but occasionally by the teacher. Perhaps the best description of this book is in Wiesel’s own words to a class: “Whatever you learn, remember: the learning must make you more not less human.”

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Women Talking, by Miriam Toews (2018)

Contemporary Fiction

Women Talking, by Miriam Toews

In 2009, six men are arrested in Bolivia for drugging and raping the women and girls of a Mennonite community over several years. That horrific but true event is the inspiration for this powerful novel. Canadian Miriam Toews, an ex-Mennonite, delivers a compelling and devastating critique of patriarchy in what she calls “an imagined response” to the events. In the novel, a 2018 Governor-General Literary Award finalist, nearly every woman and girl in the fundamentalist Mennonite community of Molotschna, Bolivia, is a victim. The women are divided on whether they should leave or stay, and the book opens as eight of the women meet to decide for them all. Time is of the essence, as the men of the community are about to return from posting bail for the eight accused.

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Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer (2016)

Science Fiction
Quantum Night, by Robert J. SawyerRobert J. Sawyer is arguably Canada’s best science fiction writer – winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Aurora awards, along with a lifetime achievement Aurora Award, though he is still in his 50s. A meticulous researcher, his writing pokes at the intersection of science and ethics – what if an extraterrestrial creature unintentionally broke the law? What if a soul could exist apart from a body? Should right to privacy trump technology that would virtually guarantee public safety? Thoughtful stuff. Quantum Night examines the idea of conscience and consciousness. You lose consciousness under surgery, but it comes back. What if one could also “lose” and “gain” a conscience? Read More »

Next Year, for Sure, by Zoey Leigh Peterson (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
Next Year, for Sure, by Zoey Leigh PetersonAfter nine years in a monogamous relationship that has others calling them the perfect couple, Chris and Kathryn challenge societal norms when Chris decides to act upon an attraction to Emily, with Kathryn’s encouragement. This is the story of that exploration into polyamory, and it’s not a linear path. Family and friends are horrified and upset, acquaintances judge them, feelings are soon hurt, rules are established and broken. This debut novel by Peterson raises a myriad of questions for the reader to ponder as we witness the changing relationship between Chris and Kathryn. What is love, what is a crush, and what does it mean to love? Is it possible to love two people, to be in love with both of them, at the same time? Read More »

Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by Glenn Ringtved (2001, 2016)

Illustrated Book
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn RingtvedThis is the second of two books I’m reviewing today on grief and death. They are challenging issues for any of us, and when children are involved, books can offer a way for adults to help kids grasp an understanding of death and accept the pain of loss. This tender and sensitive book offers an honest and gentle approach to an impending loss. Four children are sharing a kitchen table with Death, who has come for their beloved grandmother. Death is presented as a visitor, a kind one, whose heart is surprisingly full of a love for life. The children naturally try to deter Death from his task. Read More »

Duck Soup, by Jackie Urbanovic (2008)

Picture Book
Duck Soup, by Jackie UrbanovicThis delightful and comical picture book is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and is still in print – it’s easy to see why! The book was first published in 2008, when it earned a starred review from Kirkus. I recently discovered it on my library’s bookshelves and immediately fell hard for this funny and silly story that will appeal to young children. Max the Duck likes making soup and has had both hits and misses, from the yummy-sounding squash gumbo to the Cracker Barrel Cheese and Marshmallow soup. But this time, this time Max is about to create his culinary masterpiece. Read More »