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Posts Tagged ‘helen-kubiw’

Helen Kubiw reviews Next Round on CanLit for LittleCanadians, “a story like no other”

Posted on August 12th, 2016 by pajamapress

NextRound_WebsiteThe 2016 Olympics are on in Rio and the media will be trumpeting the success stories of many an athlete, but Chechen-born Canadian boxer Arthur Biyarslanov has a story like no other.  And it’s a story that John Spray, benefactor of the TD Children’s John Spray Mystery Award, tells with inspiration and appreciation in Next Round: A Young Athlete’s Journey to Gold.

Arthur Biyarslanov’s story begins as a three-year-old escaping with his mother, Alla, twelve- and eleven-year-old sisters Bariyat and Bella, and nine-year-old brother Rustam from their war-stricken village of Gudermes in Chechnya to meet up with his father, Hairuddin, in Azerbaijan.  Facing soldiers with rifles and tanks and grenade-launchers of the Russian forces attempting to seize the Chechen republic was hardly an idyllic childhood for Arthur, affectionately called Borz, Chechen for wolf.  Their harrowing escape reunites the family in the windy city of Baku, Azerbaijan where he and his brother play with a makeshift soccer ball of socks and electrical tape to escape the austere conditions of their apartment and new life amongst strangers.  Soccer becomes Arthur’s salvation, helping him to learn the Azerbaijani language and fit in.

After the death of his father, the family deals with their new poverty by moving to even small quarters in a tough neighbourhood where Arthur, the new kid and target of bullies, becomes known as a fearless fighter but competitive athlete.  Though soccer is his sport of choice, Arthur often spars with his brother and sister Bella who were both karate champions, becoming a proficient wrestler, albeit a clumsy one.  And then his mother decides a fresh start is needed for the family and Canada would be it.

In Toronto, Arthur continues with his soccer, making new friends, learning English and becoming even more athletic,  including running and basketball in his many activities, though soccer is still his first love.  But a broken leg at the beginning of Grade 7 and subsequent slow recovery has Arthur concentrating on sports that demand more from his upper-body strength, leading him to boxing.  Though he knows he has lots to learn–he gets beat up regularly at sparring sessions–his brother Rustam knew “the Chechen Wolf would be a champion boxer.” (pg. 74)

The rest of Arthur’s story, peppered with numerous photographs, documents the young man’s rise in the boxing ring under the coaching of former Olympian John Kalbhenn and working with trainer Danny Santagato, whom Arthur affectionately calls Uncle Danny. From his first bout in 2008 to a rivalry with Zsolt Daranyi Jr. and having to choose between soccer and boxing, Arthur makes boxing his vocation, training tirelessly, and focusing on getting gold at the 2015 Pan Am games.

John Spray’s intent in writing Next Round is heartfelt and clearly evident from his dedication:

For all those children who escaped the horrors of war to find peace and new beginnings…and for Arthur, who replaced the sound of gunfire with the smack of leather on a punching bag.

The purpose of the book is clear but it’s John Spray’s writing that will capture Arthur Biyarslanov’s story better than any colour commentator could ever hope to relay as the boxer reaches for gold at this year’s Olympics.  John Spray, who owns a private investigations agency and is great lover of mysteries, tells Biyarslanov’s story as the harrowing action story that it is.  From witnessing at age three the massacre by Russian soldiers of  Chechens desperately attempting to flee for Azerbaijan, to the family’s escape across the cold water of the Yujniy Gerzel River into Dagestan and Arthur’s regular conflicts with the frightening old Azerbaijani woman whose fruit tree he climbs and his contentious boxing relationship with Zsolt, Next Round: A Young Athlete’s Journey to Gold is a  gripping story whose next chapter is still untold.

But no matter what the next round in his sport may bring, Arthur’s hard work and tireless dedication to boxing will give any opponent he faces a scare when looking into the hungry eyes of the Chechen Wolf. (pg. 100)

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Read more book reviews by Helen Kubiw.

Elliot “something very, very special”—CanLit for LittleCanadians

Posted on March 2nd, 2016 by pajamapress

“As soon as I read Elliot, I knew it was something very, very special.  And then I learned that Elliot was a translation (capably handled by Pajama Press’ Managing Editor Erin Woods) of a 2014 French-language picture book from Les 400 coups that had already won Le Prix du livre jeunesse des Bibliothèques de Montréal for 2015.  Its subtlety and poignancy ensures its sure status as a winner in English as well!

Elliot_WebsiteElliot is a heartfelt story about finding one’s true family, the one that will love and care for you forever. It might be a foster family, it may be the family you’re born into, or it might be the one that ultimately adopts you, as Elliot is fortunate to find.  But Julie Pearson embues the story of Elliot with an underlying sadness, for Elliot who is being a child and for his parents who try to do the best they can for him but can’t quite manage it.  And Manon Gauthier’s subtle collages of muted colours, save for Elliot’s red striped shirt, express that sadness and the grayness of tenuous family so movingly.  I defy anyone to read Elliot and not cry for the emotional hardships Elliot braves and cheer for the rosy blush of happiness (with a splash of red text) that comes when Elliot becomes part of a new family.

There are very few picture books that I want to clutch a little tighter and hold onto in my heart a little longer.  Elliot is one that has touched me so.”
—Helen Kubiw

Click here to read the full review.

 

 

A Year of Borrowed Men a “valuable and touching read…on the cusp of Christmas”—CanLit for LittleCanadians

Posted on December 22nd, 2015 by pajamapress

A Year of Borrowed Men | Michelle Barker & Renné Benoit | Pajama Press“…Released on Remembrance Day, A Year of Borrowed Men will be a valuable and touching read for years to come in classrooms commemorating those whose lives were touched by war.  But on the cusp of Christmas–also a memorable event in the story–A Year of Borrowed Men will speak to inherent kind-heartedness and be a reminder to demonstrate our humanity even in the most challenging of circumstances.   The potential, unspoken, that the Schottke family’s adherence to the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” might extend to their own family members away at war, is undeniable.  But their charity to strangers in a time of war, when others only demonstrate anger and suspicion, is a worthwhile lesson in empathy.  Michelle Barker gets the tone right for this message, telling her mother’s story simply and forthrightly, as a child might see the circumstances.  The fear and confusion is there but it is superseded by a fundamental goodness to do what is right.  Look at Renné Benoit’s unassuming illustrations of this child, this farm, the men and relive a simple though still harsh time, when war was horrific but there was a gentleness that could still be found. Thank goodness.”
—Helen Kubiw

Click here to read the full review.

Quill & Quire praises Timo’s Garden

Posted on September 17th, 2015 by pajamapress

Timo's Garden | Victoria Allenby & Dean Griffiths | Pajama Press“Encouraged to sign up for Toadstool Corners’ Great, Green Garden Tour, rabbit Timo begins feverishly planning and improving his garden. With rhythmic pairings of activity (“He trimmed and he tidied. He hurried and he scurried. Her raked and he staked. He worked and he worried”), Timo toils with boundless determination and relentless perfectionism, leaving little time to spend with his friends. Though tempted by Hedgewick’s spinach cakes, a visit to the lake, and tennis with Suki, it is only when a rainy day interrupts his efforts that Timo realizes he should have been tending to his friendships instead of his plants.

With deft pen and colour, respectively, author Victoria Allenby and illustrator Dean Griffiths pay homage to the characters (rabbit, hedgehog, mouse, frog, and badger) and gardens in the stories of Beatrix Potter while providing a light, cautionary tale about finding balance. Unlike Allenby’s fun 2013 picture book, Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That (Pajama Press), which focused on true feline behaviour, Timo’s Garden takes an anthropomorphized approach and will speak to any reader who might get too wrapped up in seemingly important endeavors.

The images by Griffiths, whose artwork has graced more than 25 children’s books, complement the message. His endearing creatures, vibrant flowers, and brilliant garden designs will transport readers to a storybook world in which friends are riches not to be overlooked.”
—Helen Kubiw

A version of this review appears on Helen’s blog, CanLit for LittleCanadians

“Teachers will now be scrambling to use Once Upon a Line,” says CanLit for LittleCanadians

Posted on August 17th, 2015 by pajamapress

OnceUponALine-COVER-FAKE-FOIL_RGB_500px“With Once Upon a Line, Wallace Edwards has catapulted himself and his books to the status of must-haves for any home, school or public library.  The USA may have Chris Van Allsburg and most notably The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, but teachers will now be scrambling to use Once Upon a Line instead as the go-to book for story-starters and creative writing projects based on intriguingly unique illustrations that get the creative juices flowing.

Once Upon a Line is so rich in its visual effects and textual texture that it deserves all the golden stars on its cover and more.”

Click here to read the full post.

Princess Pistachio is Anne of Green Gables for youngest readers, says CanLit for LittleCanadians

Posted on October 17th, 2014 by pajamapress

PrincessPistachio_HR_RGB“…Children have always been taken with Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam series of books, by the wonder and wisdom of an older sister and the innocent inquiry of her little brother.  Now, these readers can enjoy Marie-Louise Gay’s signature illustrations in the more challenging stories of Pistachio, the girl who is definitely more like a pixie than an angel.  She may still have Stella’s dramatic flair but it’s wrapped up in a scampish nature that is all Pistachio.

But, what will exalt Princess Pistachio to the upper echelons of early chapter books is the voice that Marie-Louise Gay has given the little girl and the richness of the text in general.  Delightful play with words and challenging vocabulary enriches Princess Pistachio above most early readers….

With a second book, Princess Pistachio and the Pest, already scheduled, I believe that Marie-Louise Gay and Pajama Press have just created an Anne of Green Gables for the very youngest of youngCanLit readers, and one who will poke at our hearts and funny bones alike.”

Click here to read the full review.

CanLit for LittleCanadians reviews Dance of the Banished

Posted on August 22nd, 2014 by pajamapress

DanceOfTheBanished_HR_RGBDance of the Banished is an old tale.  It’s the familiar love story in which two young people are separated, here by family, distance and war.  But, sadly, it’s also the story of prejudice, fear, and injustice, and the subsequent torment that intensifies that separation.  Dance of the Banished may be an old story in its foundations, but its context is wholly unique, expertly researched and penned by award-winning author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch…By creating legitimate characters in her fiction who bring varied and personal perspectives to the situations experienced and who speak through their questions and confusions and convictions, Marsha Skrypuch can tell the whole story, not just the public one….And we are grateful for that opportunity and bold honesty.”

Click here to read the full review.

A Brush Full of Colour is “larger than life – CanLit for LittleCanadians

Posted on August 19th, 2014 by pajamapress

ABrushFullOfColour_HR_RGB“…this book is virtually larger than life. Within a scant 40 pages, the authors share Ted Harrison’s progression from the coal-mining County Durham in England, to art school and military service post-WWII, teaching, immigration to Canada, and full-time artistry…A Brush Full of Colour is an exemplary youngCanLit biography having: informative text, organized well under headings such as Childhood, Travelling the World, Life in the North, and A Full-Time Artist; an assortment of visuals, including photographs and samples of Ted Harrison’s artwork throughout his career; quotes from the artist; and key features of non-fiction texts such as a table of contents, index and resources section…”
Click here to read the full review.

CanLit for LittleCanadians enjoys Peach Girl

Posted on June 17th, 2014 by pajamapress

PeachGirl_C“…Based on a traditional Japanese folktale about a peach boy named Momotaro who fights demons, Raymond Nakamura updates the story with a strong female protagonist as an activist, rather than a warrior.  Her no-nonsense attitude and tact are the armaments of her endeavour, ones she embodies rather than carries.

…Momoko’s disregard for rumours and the directness of her engagement with everyone, from her parents to the animals and the ogre, can certainly teach us all a lesson or two.  With fortitude and respect (she never negates the animals’ stories of the ogre), and a healthy dose of trust, Momoko is able to make a start on creating a better world.”

– Helen Kubiw

Click here to read the full review.

Quill & Quire reviews Sylvia McNicoll’s Revenge on the Fly

Posted on May 16th, 2014 by pajamapress

RevengeFly_C_Dec5.indd“In veteran children’s author Sylvia McNicoll’s new book, grief and anger are the overriding emotions 12-year-old Will Alton feels over the loss of his baby sister and mother to illness in the family’s native Ireland, even as he and his father embark on a fresh start in 1912 Hamilton, Ontario. When Dr. Roberts, Hamilton’s health officer, visits Will’s new school to speak about the role of flies in the transmission of disease, and to announce an essay and fly-killing contest (“You can be a hero to your city, vanquish disease, and win great prizes too”), Will is eager to win.

As determined as Will is to kill “the miserable creatures that had caused my family so much grief” and win $50 to help his father find them a new home (away from the rooming house of the vile Madame Depieu), hostile classmate Fred Leckie is just as relentless. Worse still, Fred has the advantage of being wealthy enough to bribe others to do the work for him, and a father with a factory of workers whom he compels to help his cause. Fortunately Will is tireless, clever, and goodhearted, attributes that are always valuable when facing challenges.

McNicoll never allows her characters or storyline to become predictable. Will, his father, and the rest of the cast possess individual voices that ring true and avoid cliché. And, while the ending is satisfying, it isn’t neatly tied up with a bow. Rather, McNicoll illustrates how difficult life was for poor immigrants in the early part of the last century by framing their struggles against a tragic, peculiar episode in Canadian history.”

—Helen Kubiw