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Starred Review for Moon at Nine from Ken Setterington for Quill & Quire

Posted on March 21st, 2014 by pajamapress

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“With her multiple award-winning works of fiction and non-fiction, Deborah Ellis has introduced readers to the harsh realities of life for youth around the world. Her latest novel, based on a true story, is another powerful, realistic tale that will capture the attention of teen readers.

In Moon at Nine, Ellis expertly weaves the politics, religion, and culture of 1988 Iran into the story of Farrin, a 15-year-old girl who obediently tries not to draw attention to herself. Her family’s wealth and support for the Shah put her at odds with the other girls at her Tehran school. When a new girl named Sadira arrives at the school, Farrin finds it impossible to maintain her low profile.

Sadira is irreverent, studious, and challenging. Most of her family was killed in a bombing and she now lives with her father in a small apartment. This austere existence contrasts with the lavish lifestyle maintained by Farrin’s family. Still, the girls become fast friends, and find their feelings developing slowly and realistically into love.

Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, and Ellis carefully handles the cultural taboos and legal restrictions of lesbian relationships. When the nature of Farrin and Sadira’s involvement comes into question, the girls’ lives change drastically. Farrin’s grandmother suggests a hasty engagement and marriage. Classmates are charged with policing the girls’ conduct, and when a secret kiss is observed at school, all contact between them is prohibited. The title comes from a pact made by the girls before they are separated—and eventually imprisoned—to look at the moon every night at nine o’clock, knowing the other is doing the same.

Moon at Nine is a riveting tale of young girls being true to themselves and their love, set against a political and cultural backdrop few readers will have first-hand knowledge of. Ellis once again proves she is a master storyteller. Readers will remember Farrin and Sadira long after the final page has been read.”

—Ken Setterington, author of Stonewall Honor Book Branded by the Pink Triangle

Spring Previews from Quill & Quire and 49th Shelf

Posted on January 20th, 2014 by pajamapress

Today Quill & Quire and 49th Shelf both shared lists of Spring 2014 books they are eagerly anticipating from Canadian publishers.

MoonAtNine_C_Oct5.inddQuill & Quire says, “This season, shelves will groan under the weight of titles from some of kidlit’s most beloved Canadian authors. Fresh off her Norma Fleck Award win for her non-fiction title Kids of Kabul, Deborah Ellis will release a novel in April with Pajama Press. In Moon at Nine ($19.95 cl.), Ellis reaches back to 1988 Iran to tell the story, based on true events, of Farrin and Sadira, two teenaged girls whose love for each other is illegal – and punishable by death…

RevengeFly_C_Dec5.inddTwo books featuring the doomed ocean liner Empress of Ireland will arrive this spring. In February, Sylvia McNicoll’s Revenge on the Fly ($12.95 pa.) will be released by Pajama Press. Leaving behind England (and the graves of his mother and baby sister) 12-year-old William sails to Canada with his father, where he joins the campaign to eradicate flies in cities and stop the spread of deadly diseases.”

Click here to read Quill & Quire’s full Spring preview 2014: fiction for young people.

WhenEmilyCarrMetWoo_RGB49th Shelf’s list features Moon at Nine as well as the newest title from Monica Kulling and Dean Griffiths: “When Emily Carr Met Woo (April)…is the story of painter Carr’s relationship with her famous pet monkey.”

“Award-winner Deborah Ellis’s latest, Moon at Nine (April), is a novel about two teenage girls’ illegal romance in 1980s’ Iran.”

Click here to read 49th Shelf‘s post “Most Anticipated: Spring 2014 Kids’ Books Preview” and get excited about this new season in publishing!

Quill & Quire calls Cat Champions “ideal” for cat lovers

Posted on October 17th, 2013 by pajamapress

CatChampions“Cats may have conquered the Internet, but every year thousands still end up homeless in shelters, sanctuaries, and feral colonies. Cat Champions is about some of the people – most of them kids – who dedicate their personal time, imagination, and resources to care for them.

The book starts with a brief overview of Felis catus, or the domestic cat: its social, physical and behavioural characteristics, as well as various breeds. This section also profiles some unusual felines, such as the Hemingway cats, a colony of six-toed kitties that roam Ernest Hemmingway’s historic home in Key West, and the inhabitants of Japan’s famous cat islands, who vastly outnumber human residents.

In addition to those interesting tidbits, Laidlaw offers practical information about what to consider when adopting a cat, what makes a good shelter, the pros and cons of kittens versus adult cats, whether to allow your cat outdoors, and the truth about declawing. The author also suggests considering a cat’s colour – black cats tend to be adopted less often (a phenomenon known as Black Cat Syndrome) because of enduring myths that they are evil or bring bad luck.

The highlights of this book are the profiles of the cat champions themselves. Readers may be inspired to take action after learning about kids like Harley Helman of Ohio, who had the idea of collecting blankets for shelters and rescues when she was only eight, or 17-year-old Kieran Zierer-Clyke, who socializes feral kittens in his Toronto home to prepare them for adoption.

Written in a clear unpreachy style and brimming with lovely full-colour photos, this is an ideal volume for any young cat lover who wants to take his or her passion a little further than simply clicking “like” on YouTube videos.” – Emily Donaldson, a freelance reviewer and editor in Toronto.

Quill & Quire praises “Character-rich” Graffiti Knight

Posted on August 22nd, 2013 by pajamapress

“Alberta author Karen Bass’s latest novel is a character-rich story about a 16-year-old boy struggling with anger, loyalty, and rebellion. What makes Graffiti Knight different is the setting: Soviet-occupied Eastern Germany in 1947.

Wilm and his impoverished family live in a tiny flat in war-ravaged Leipzig. His father is a crippled, bitter war veteran, his sister an emotionally paralyzed victim of the Soviet invasion, and his mother a ghost-like figure fighting to keep the family together. The only people in Wilm’s world with any power are the Soviet occupiers and the brutal collaborationist East German police; everyone else compromises and tries to get by.

Minor acts of rebellion give Wilm a thrill and offer him a sense of power that he is otherwise lacking. Unfortunately, the minor vandalism he and his friends see as a game escalates dangerously. Suddenly, Wilm finds himself dragging his family and friends into a deadly race to escape across the border into the American zone.

The characters in Graffiti Knight are multi-faceted and their motivations complex. Wilm, in particular, represents an excellent portrayal of how teenage anger can sometimes lead to stupidity. In attempting to assert his individuality, Wilm is seduced by the power he feels carrying out sabotage. But does that mean he is the same as the enemies he is trying to outwit? …Wilm is a thoroughly believable character who invokes the reader’s sympathy (and a sense of frustration at his actions).

Bass has artfully recreated an historical time and place peopled by realistic, three-dimensional characters grappling with their own emotions and global forces they can only barely understand.”—John Wilson, whose latest novel is Stolen (Orca Book Publishers)

Quill & Quire enjoys “lively” Community Soup

Posted on May 27th, 2013 by pajamapress

“In this Stone Soup-flavoured story, a Kenyan school is busy with lunchtime preparations. While the teachers stir the broth, students pick vegetables from the community garden. Kioni is late—she’s looking for her goats, which have a habit of wandering away. Not only do the wayward animals break the “no goats at school” edict, they also wreak havoc in the garden. Frustrated by her uncooperative, stubborn charges, the young girl grumbles, “I’d like to put them in the soup.” A creative classmate sees a culinary opportunity and incorporates the goats’ milk as a special ingredient.

The book’s spare text warmly invites the reader into the daily life of the village. The simple sentences have a conversational tone and the superb pacing makes for a lively read aloud. Children will also enjoy the riff on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (“Kioni has a herd of goats, / with hair of calico”).

This is Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award winner Alma Fullerton’s first time as both author and illustrator, and her paper-sculpture illustrations are a visual feast. When Kioni realizes the mess her goats have caused, her “oh no” moment is captured up close, as she gazes directly at the reader, hands covering her mouth with surprise and chagrin. In the field, the children’s bright clothing stands out against the leafy green background. Textures seem tactile, from the rough, peeling bark on twigs to the softly curling tufts of the goats’ hair.

Community Soup offers a satisfying blend of cooperation, hard work, and play…”

Linda Ludke, a librarian at London Public Library.

Sarah Ellis praises Hoogie in the Middle in Quill & Quire feature review

Posted on April 20th, 2013 by pajamapress

Brothers and Sisters: Two picture books touchingly explore sibling relationships through illustrations as strong as the text, writes Sarah Ellis

“Scene: Two children stand in the late afternoon sunlight comparing shadows. The little brother says, “Look! I’m long!” His older sister replies, “I’m longer.”

Siblings give us our first experience of the tyranny of comparison. Birth order programs us for life, and, in childhood, where you fit in is as obvious as your shoe size or those marks on the doorframe. It’s no wonder our position in the family is such a rich source of material for picture books.

Hoogie in the Middle, by Stephanie McLellan and illustrated by Dean Griffiths, features a family of benevolently hairy monsters who look like a cross between a domestic long-haired cat and one of Sendak’s wild things (the horned one in the striped pullover), resplendent in My Little Pony colours. Pumpkin, the eldest child, is blue like mom. Baby Tweezle is green like Dad, but middle child Hoogie is magenta, like herself. Hoogie feels ignored and neglected, neither as cute as Tweezle, nor as competent as Pumpkin. Finally she has a meltdown, and Dad and Mom helicopter in to comfort her.

This picture book is a terrific example of words and images doing their own job. The text gives us movement (as Pumpkin skips and Tweezle toddles), melody (as Hoogie whispers, “Too big. Too small. No room for me at all”), and, most of all, metaphor (“Sometimes Hoogie feels like the hole in the middle of a donut.”

The pictures carry the emotional weight. The composition of family scenes says it all: close pairings of parent and child leave Hoogie floating alone against a white background; Hoogie looks sideways across a double-page spread but nobody is looking back; her sister and brother are enclosed in circles and triangles while she’s isolated on a facing page.

Griffiths captures the body language of children (well, of childlike, horned, fanged, cat-like things) perfectly. The final spread shows Hoogie swinging between her parents’ hands, her posture a subtle combination of joy and tension, triumph and just a tiny bit of anger…”
Q&Q feature reviewer SARAH ELLIS is a Vancouver author and former librarian.

Debut novel Namesake earns starred Quill & Quire review

Posted on April 20th, 2013 by pajamapress

“In her debut novel, Sue MacLeod successfully accomplishes a feat many more experienced writers struggle with: weaving an historical narrative smoothly into a contemporary storyline. The Toronto author uses the tried-and-true device of time travel to bring together two very different girls who share the same name: Jane Grey.

Modern Jane is a 15-year-old Halifax girl trying to navigate the first few months of high school and a host of typical teen problems, which pale in comparison when she comes face-to-face with a girl whose life is about to come to an abrupt end.

A mysterious prayer book mixed in with a pile borrowed from the library for a school history project throws Jane through a wormhole into the world of her namesake, the doomed 16-year-old who ruled England for nine days in 1553 before her cousin Mary had her imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually beheaded for treason.

As Jane learns about Lady Jane, both through writing her history project and her friendship with the tragic figure, the reader becomes informed as well, but the knowledge is imparted in a subtle, natural manner. Likewise, MacLeod drops tidbits of Halifax history into conversations and Jane’s descriptions of her hometown. Many books for young readers attempt similar tactics, but rarely are they executed this well.

With surprising clarity, MacLeod also captures the heightened sensitivity of teen interactions. The shifting allegiances and subsequent jealousies that define female friendships and the fickle, temporary nature of teen romance are presented realistically, without the taint of adult judgment.

The real accomplishment, however, is MacLeod’s treatment of Jane’s unpredictable relationship with her (mostly) functional alcoholic mother, Analise. Will it be a good day (“Single Mother as Hero”) or bad (“A Day When Hell Broke Loose”)? Analise is needy, yet takes little interest in her daughter’s life unless it suits her. And she is mean, with a vindictive streak that plays a major role in the book’s climax. Yet she can be loving, and despite Jane’s anger and resentment, ultimately the girl just wants her mother to get help.

It sounds like a lot of ground to cover in one slim volume, and it is, but with sensitivity and some well-placed humour, MacLeod pulls it off.”
Dory Cerny, Q&Q’s Books for Young People editor.

Nix Minus One is “absorbing, emotionally resonant” —Quill & Quire

Posted on January 4th, 2013 by pajamapress

Available February 15, 2013

Novels written in verse are difficult to execute well. On one hand they have a tendency toward melodrama; on the other they showcase poetry’s inherent ability to communicate flashes of thought, emotion, and experience. For YA novels in which the protagonists are often dealing with difficult situations, balance comes from allowing the characters to emerge authentically without forcing their voices to fit the format’s mould. Nix Minus One achieves this balance.

Though he’s now tall and lean, 15-year-old Nix struggles to lose his “Fatty Humbolt” elementary school identity, make friends, and prevent his older sister, Roxy, from self-destructing. Nix keeps to himself, channelling his frustrations into woodworking and caring for Twig, a neighbour’s dog. But when Twig is endangered and Roxy gets wrapped up in a toxic relationship, Nix is forced to fight against his introverted tendencies and stand up for those he loves.

Author Jill MacLean effectively crafts the verse to create Nix’s voice and uses imagery to convey emotion. Nix’s acerbic tone when faced with uncomfortable situations (such as when he receives his report card or when Roxy asks him to install a lock on her door) reveals his struggle to fit in and his frustration over the differences between the person he wishes he could be, the person people expect him to be, and the person he truly is.

While Roxy’s downward spiral feels a little contrived, MacLean tempers this with Nix’s protective feelings toward her. The novel’s strength comes from the authenticity of Nix’s emotional evolution, Twig’s parallel development from a sad and lethargic dog to an active and loveable one, and the complexity of the brother/sister relationship. This is an absorbing, emotionally resonant book.

Melanie Fishbane, an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Click here to visit the Quill & Quire website

Quill & Quire praises A Good Trade

Posted on September 20th, 2012 by pajamapress

“To most North American children, being able to turn on a tap and have clean water come out is a given. The latest book from Alma Fullerton, with illustrations by Karen Patkau, should open children’s eyes to the fact that not everyone is so lucky.

A Good Trade portrays a day in the life of Kato, a young Ugandan boy who rises with the sun and travels barefoot to the water pump just outside his village to collect a day’s worth of water for his family. On this particular day, an aid worker comes to the village square with a delightful gift, and Kato is inspired to reciprocate her kindness.

Fullerton uses simple prose to relay the story of Kato’s walk to the pump and back, but she notes details—the sloshing of water in the jerry cans, the rumbling of the aid worker’s truck, the armed soldiers standing sentry in a field—that paint a complete picture. Kato’s harsh reality is illustrated through tender moments as well, such as when he splashes cold water on his dusty feet before starting the long trek home.

Patkau’s distinctive digital illustrations are a pleasant complement to Fullerton’s text, capturing the terrain of the village. The greens and browns of the landscape provide a muted backdrop to the children’s brightly coloured clothing and jerry cans. The hard lines and distinct coloration make the pictures leap off the page, as in one splendid image of children pumping water that captures the vibrancy of a girl’s dress, the texture of the children’s hair, and the leafy foliage.

There is much more to this gentle story than its obvious message about the hardships faced by others. The juxtaposition of happy children in a war-torn village, and the beautiful exchange between Kato and the aid worker, portray the endurance of childhood innocence, suggesting small joys can be found in imperfect places.
–Katie Gowrie, Q&Q’s editorial intern.

Rebecca Bender wins the Blue Spruce Award!

Posted on May 28th, 2012 by pajamapress

Pajama Press author Rebecca Bender has taken home the Blue Spruce Award for her debut picture book, Giraffe and Bird (Dancing Cat Books, 2010)!

The Blue Spruce Award is part of the Ontario Library Association’s annual recreational reading program, the Forest of Reading. Readers from across the province voted for their favourite in a shortlist of books for their age category; Giraffe and Bird was chosen by voters aged 4 to 7.

Rebecca received the award at the 2012 Festival of Trees on May 15, the same day her second picture book, Don’t Laugh at Giraffe, hit the shelves. Quill & Quire has already given the sequel a starred review, saying, “Endearing animal buddies Giraffe and Bird return in Rebecca Bender’s stellar second book, Don’t Laugh at Giraffe…a warm, gentle tale with a good message and plenty of funny moments, making it a great choice for sharing. After all, the story reminds us, it’s always better to laugh with a friend that at one.”

Pajama Press will be releasing a Giraffe and Bird greeting card line this summer, and further books are being planned. For those who just can’t wait, the characters will interact with fans on special Facebook pages, The Giraffe and The Bird.