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Diversity Day Interview with Karen Bass

Posted on May 21st, 2016 by pajamapress

The Hill is a supernatural survival-thriller by award-winning author Karen Bass that draws inspiration from the true story of a remote plane crash and the Cree Wîhtiko legend. For the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, I sat down with Karen to discuss The Hill’s protagonists: Jared, an affluent white teen from Edmonton, and Kyle, the Cree teenager who rescues him, and how the relationship between the two boys reflects the racial and cultural tensions existing between these two groups in Canada today.

 

TheHill_WebsiteS. The Hill was the first of the Young Adult titles I read when I started my internship at Pajama Press, and I really enjoyed it. My favourite part was the banter between two boys. Was that fun to write or was that challenging in ways you didn’t expect?

K. It was mostly fun. I grew up in a family that used sarcasm an awful lot, and we were always poking at each other. So I was able to draw on that. And it was two teenagers so they do poke, poke, poke.

S. They do read like two teenagers.

K. Well that’s good.

S. What about the racial component to that dialogue? Where did that come from? Were you influenced by people you were speaking to at the time, because I know you did a lot of research for the book, or does it from your own lived experience?

K. I grew up in rural Alberta, so like a lot of rural Canada I think you see a lot of racism that maybe isn’t apparent in the cities, at least between First Nations and white communities. So I was certainly able to draw on what I’d seen myself, and the attitudes that I see in other people. In terms of Kyle and how he feels about it, that was partly talking to First Nations friends and partly whole empathy thing that writers have to draw on. Being able to put myself into his shoes and, you know, ask “how would I feel?”

S. I really enjoyed Kyle because he was the most “in tune” fifteen-year-old boy I’ve ever seen. He initiates a lot of the conversation between himself and Jared. Some of the ideas he brings to it are concepts that I first encountered in university. Why was it coming from him?

K. It was coming from him partly because Jared was oblivious. A lot of people do live their lives that way, where they don’t even look at how they’re affecting other people in their word choices or their actions. They don’t think about anybody that isn’t within their circle. It wouldn’t have sounded right coming from Jared. He was very…what did they call it? Affluenza? I hate that term, but that was his thing.

S. I actually have a note on how oblivious Jared is, but although he’s oblivious, he doesn’t seem to be malicious about. Was that an important part of how you chose to represent his ignorance?

K. I think if he had been malicious, he and Kyle would never have been able to connect and work together. Sometimes you have to look at where you need the characters to go and make sure their personalities are such that they can shift a little bit. Otherwise you would just have them sniping at each other. It is only four days in their time, so you’re not going to necessarily make huge leaps in that time, it’s more like small shifts. Someone who was just outright mean, it wouldn’t have worked.

S. I liked that there was room for Jared to become a bit more sensitive toward issues of race and class. Whereas someone who was more malicious might have dug their feet in and been more resistant.

K. Well, I think someone like that would have had much more of an “I don’t really care” attitude. Whereas Jared, maybe partly because his life is on the line, realizes that he’s at a point of disadvantage and that does make him more open to listen to what Kyle is saying. Once it finally sinks in that this isn’t his environment and he’s in a whole lot of trouble.

S. On that note, you’re from rural Alberta, so you’re very familiar with the landscape that appears in The Hill.

K. Oh, yes.

S. But you’re not a First Nations person or Cree yourself. Where do you think that situates you in regards to the larger discussion that was going on in the novel?

K. I guess I would be called an ally, if anything. I’m hopefully the person who is nudging other whites to reconsider their position. I do run across a lot of casual racism. It’s not necessarily malicious, but it is very much engrained. “This is what my parents and grandparents told me, so this is what I believe,” whether it’s about First Nations people being lazy, or whatever, which is just nonsense. Stereotypes are quite often nonsense, but the perpetuation is what causes the problem.

S. In terms of words and how we use them, Kyle frequently directs the Cree word “Moniyaw” (white man) at Jared. It’s also racial term, but somehow it seems less objectionable than it would if it came from the other direction. Does that speak to the power dynamics between two groups or how racism works in our culture?

K. I think I had him doing that as a way he could poke at Jared. For sure it was the idea that terms don’t always have to be loaded. To say ‘white man,’ it’s just a fact. It’s just who Jared is, as opposed to some of the other words we use for people of other groups or that we hear in society. Those are much more loaded. I don’t think it was ever malicious on Kyle’s part. Some of these things, it’s just your character when they come alive, they decide. I hope it’s not taken maliciously, although Jared doesn’t really appreciate it when he finds out what it means.

S. No, and I think I might have taken that cue from him.

K. I think what you’ve said about power issues is very valid. There is definitely a power imbalance and you need to be aware of that and be sensitive to it. Which teenagers are never going to be.

S. Would you ever revisit these characters at all, or do you think The Hill is their story and they’re done?

K. I don’t tend to revisit characters. There’s one or two books where I could maybe write a sequel, but I haven’t looked at it enough to actually do it. They’re probably done. Sometimes it’s fun to leave it in the readers’ hands and say, “what do you think happens with them?”

S. I think you wrapped it up well. I just really liked the boys and felt like I should ask. That’s all the questions I came up with. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the boys or diversity in YA fiction?

K. I think we’re seeing a lot more diversity in Young Adult fiction, which is awesome. In terms of First Nations you’re starting to see more First Nations writers who are really good writers, and I love that. People should have the wherewithal and the skills to tell their own stories.

S. So much storytelling is involved in First Nations cultures, and it’s so important.

K. A lot of it is really just learning to take that oral tradition and put it on paper. You’re seeing more film-making and stuff too, and I love it. I think it’ll only get better.

S. That’s great. Thanks for sitting down with me and answering my questions! I enjoyed it.

 

Click here to learn more about The Hill.

Learn more about World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (Diversity Day).

 

The National Reading Campaign callsThe Hill a “…climatic tale of survival”

Posted on May 11th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_Website“…Finding their common humanity despite their differences might be the hardest thing Kyle and Jared have ever done, as well as the most rewarding. Through a fantastical, yet modern and timely tale, Bass shows how the power of circumstance can bond even the most stubborn with life-changing results.”Amy Mathers

Click here to read the full review.

CM Magazine calls The Hill “…an interesting and unique” teen survival story

Posted on May 9th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_Website“The blend of realism and mythology is a difficult mix to pull off, but Bass succeeds admirably. The Hill is an interesting and unique addition to the ever-expanding body of teenaged wilderness survival novels…the added elements of Cree traditional beliefs and cross-cultural tensions help Bass establish her own niche within this field.”—Dr. Gregory Bryan

Click here to read the full review.

The Semah: ritual movement for International Dance Day

Posted on April 29th, 2016 by pajamapress

DanceOfTheBanished_website

British Columbia artist Pascal Milelli created an illustration of a couple dancing the semah for the cover of Dance of the Banished.

International Dance Day is a yearly event intended to celebrate dance as a universal art form that brings people together across cultural, political and ethnic barriers as a shared language. We’re celebrating today by giving centre stage to the semah, the traditional ritual-dance of the Alevi-Baktaşi people that is still flourishing today.

Both of the main characters in Dance of the Banished are Alevi, and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch did a lot of research so she could depict these little-known people and their customs accurately. In her Author’s Note she writes that Alevism is “a 6000-year-old religion that originated in Anatolia. Over the centuries Alevism has incorporated aspects of other religions. For example, Alevis consider Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammed, to be divine. Alevis avoid mosques and do not pray five times a day. They consider women equal to men.” (229)

The semah is the key form of worship among the Alevi. It is a twirling dance where men and women dance together but never touch. The semah’s style can vary widely depending on where it is performed, but its movements are always an expression of faith that symbolism the relationship between God, the Universe and Humanity; the rotation of planets; the progression of time and change; Ali’s ascension into Heaven; and the flight of cranes. It is always accompanied by a devout musician, often the community’s dede (spiritual leader), playing the bağlama (also called the saz), an instrument like a long-necked lute, but the music’s rhythm and characteristics also vary with community and region.

The dance is commonly understood to have three parts. The ağırlama, the first stage of the dance, is characterized but slow movements; the yürütme, when the dance becomes more lively and the dancers begin to move around in a circle while making swooping arm gestures, and finally the yeldirme, the fastest and most difficult part of the dance.

In 2010 the semah was registered on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. There are several organizations in and outside of Turkey that work to protect and preserve this ritual-dance for future generations of Alevi, including offering semah training courses to Alevi youth and instruction in the bağlama for young men.

You can learn more about the semah and the Alevi people in Dance of the Banished by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, or by checking out the links below.

Learn More:
Semah, Alevi-Bektaşi Ritual
Semah, Alevi-Bektaşi Ritual (UNESCO)
Re-Imagining Identity: The Transformation of the Alevi Semah by Ayhan Erol

About the Artist

Pascal Milelli is an artist and painter based in British Columbia. He has contributed his talents to a variety of projects worldwide, including tea packaging in Holland, videogame slipcovers in England and book jackets. Perhaps his most recognizable work is the original cover art for Deborah Ellis‘ Breadwinner trilogy. Pascal is also the award-winning author of three children’s picture books. Click here to learn more about Pascal and view his portfolio.

Early Modern Words for Modern Readers

Posted on April 22nd, 2016 by pajamapress

Namesake - a Lady Jane Grey novel by Sue MacLeodSince UN English Language day lines up with the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, we’re going to take a page out of his illustrious notebook and talk about some old-school English words that aren’t used so much anymore.

Often mislabelled “Old English“, Shakespeare’s English is properly called Early Modern English, the direct forerunner of the Modern English we use today. Early Modern English rose with the Tudor dynasty, the British monarchs who ruled during the era featured by Sue MacLeod’s  YA novel, Namesake. In this novel each chapter opens with an Early Modern English word that has fallen out of general use. For English Language Day, we’re going to share a handful of our favourites here.

Aroint

Let’s start with a strange one that has well and truly disappeared. The only reason we have any record at all of the word “aroint” is because Shakespeare used it in Macbeth and King Lear. This unusual verb means “begone!” or “get thee gone!” and only exists in its imperative form as a command. Its origins are unknown, though there is some speculation that it is local slang that emerged from farming communities in and around Cheshire, England, where milkmaids were recorded saying “rynt thee” to their cows after milking. In another context, “aroint thee” is used as a defense against witches—“Aroint thee, witch,”—having been popularized in Macbeth. This usage may have its roots in ‘rauntree‘, an alternate name for the rowan. Rowan wood, it was popularly believed, had properties that could deter witches and protect cattle.

640px-Gartenschlaefer-drawing

“Garden Dormouse (Eliomys quercinus)” (llustrierter Leitfaden der Naturgeschichte des Thierreiches) by T.F. Zimmermann, 1876.

Dormouse

The root of this Anglo-French word is from the French dormir (to sleep). The second syllable may have been mistaken for “mouse” by early English speakers, or it may be a compound of the English “mouse” and the French dormir. In Tudor times, Dormouse could also refer to someone who was sleeping or dozing, in the same way we might call a messy person a pig today.

Ruth

Our last featured word for UN English Language Day is “ruth”, which has virtually fallen out of use in English except as its opposite, “ruthless.” In the Tudor era it was a noun meaning “pity, compassion, or sympathy”. This form of “ruth” predates the Early Modern period by about 350 years and may originate from the Old Norse word hryggð meaning “sorrowful” or “grieved”. A second possibility is that ruth developed directly from the Old English verb “rue”, whose meaning reflects a state of feeling sorry or regretful, and is linked to emotions like grief and distress.

There are plenty of other obscure English words to explore in Sue MacLeod’s Namesake, where a history project and a mysterious prayer book connect two teenage girls across time, sparking an unlikely friendship.


Be word nerds with us:

Online Etymology Dictionary

Out of Shakespeare: ‘Aroint Thee’

CanLit for LittleCanadians praises The Hill as Karen Bass’ “best story yet.”

Posted on April 11th, 2016 by pajamapress

TheHill_Website“Karen Bass, the award-winning author of Graffiti Knight (Pajama Press, 2013) and Uncertain Soldier (Pajama Press, 2015), takes writing flight with The Hill, a chilling tale of endurance in northern Alberta, blending a survival story with the supernatural of Cree legends.  It’s hauntingly gripping YA and I think it’s her best story yet.
…In addition to a gripping action-rich plot of frightening circumstances, getting the voices of Jared and Kyle and the tone of the story right are Karen Bass’ greatest strengths in The Hill.  She balances the heart-pumping pace of a looking-over-your-shoulder chase with the antagonistic sparring between Jared and Kyle.  The two are so different in what they have, what they know, and who they are that it’s only fate in the form of a plane crash that could bring the two together.” Helen Kubiw

Click here to read more.

Uncertain Soldier shortlisted for the IODE Violet Downey Book Award

Posted on March 31st, 2016 by pajamapress

UncertainSoldier_InternetUncertain Soldier by Karen Bass has been shortlisted for the 2016 National Chapter of Canada IODE Violet Downey Book Award. This award is offered annually for the best children’s English book containing at least 500 words of text. The winner will be announced at IODE Canada’s 116th National Annual Meeting being held at the Lambton Golf and Country Club, Toronto, on May 27th, 2016.

Also nominated for this award are:

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
Speechless by Jennifer Mook-Sang
Avis Dolphin by Frieda Wishinsky and Willow Dawson
The Dogs by Allan Stratton

IODE Canada is a national women’s charitable organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for individuals through education support, community service, and citizenship programs.

You can learn more at the IODE website.

Uncertain Soldier, a suspenseful YA novel about a WWII prisoner of war struggling with conflicting loyalties, has also been nominated for the Forest of Reading Red Maple Award.

Quill & Quire Editor’s Choice review: The Hill by Karen Bass

Posted on February 8th, 2016 by pajamapress

“Alberta-based Geoffrey Bilson Award-winning author Karen Bass draws on the Cree legend of the Wîhtiko for her latest YA novel, which blends adventure, horror, and some good old-fashioned coming-of-age wisdom.

TheHill_WebsiteEn route to spend the summer with his mining-executive father in Yellowknife, 15-year-old Jared Fredrickson’s private jet crashes in a remote swamp in Northern Alberta. He regains consciousness as a rescuer enters the scene—Kyle Badger, a Cree teen (also 15) who happened to be nearby and saw the plane go down. After bandaging the unconscious pilot’s bleeding head (there are no other passengers or crew), Kyle helps Jared out of the wreckage, and the latter convinces the former to climb a nearby hill in the hopes of getting some cellphone reception and calling for help. Kyle is more than reluctant. His Kokum (grandmother) has always warned him to stay away from the hill, which is said to be cursed. But Jared is insistent, and the two boys set off on a quest that will lead them straight into the path of mortal danger.

Jared and Kyle could not be more different. Raised in Edmonton by extremely wealthy parents (now divorced), Jared wants for nothing. He is small in stature and obsessed with material goods; he worries more about his damaged laptop than the injured pilot. He also has zero survival skills. Kyle, on the other hand, is the size of a large adult man, shares a small home with his grandparents and younger brother, and is obviously comfortable in the wilderness.

It quickly becomes clear that Jared doesn’t stand a chance of surviving without Kyle’s help, though the two don’t exactly hit it off. Kyle sees Jared as a spoiled, oblivious white kid, while Jared considers Kyle an overbearing bully who uses his size as an intimidation tool. The racial tension runs high, with Jared making ignorant—though not necessarily ill-intentioned—comments about aboriginals and Kyle referring to Jared as Moniyaw. “[It] isn’t an insult. It just means white man,” says Kyle when Jared’s temper flares at the perceived slight. “And if I called you ‘brown man,’ you’d flatten me,” responds Jared.

The dynamic between the boys is the best part of the narrative, and will open many readers’ eyes to the issues of race, class, and privilege. Neither Kyle nor Jared are bad kids, but they both have faults, and their process of figuring those out and coming to terms with them comprises the bulk of the story not dealing with their bigger problem: the Wîhtiko.

Bass does an excellent job of bringing together the elements of her novel, successfully weaving the supernatural thread into what would be a challenging situation for the boys even without it. Their climb up the hill releases the Wîhtiko from its lair and traps them in a parallel dimension where monsters and figures from legend are real, and the boys’ world—including the crashed plane and Kyle’s family—is rendered inaccessible by a strange fog that allows them to see, but not cross over.

The mismatched pair learns to rely on each other as they scramble through the wilderness for days, trying to outrun an advancing forest fire as well as the monster that threatens to eviscerate them. The description of the beast as a “vaguely human, skeletal creature” with a gaping-hole mouth, pieces of lip flapping against its bony chin, and bloody stubs for fingers is certainly nightmarish, but Kyle and Jared’s encounters with the creature aren’t overly scary for the reader. Jared’s terror is convincingly portrayed, however…”

CBC’s 100 YA Books That Make You Proud To Be Canadian

Posted on June 29th, 2015 by pajamapress

books-100-banner-rev

This Canada Day, celebrate your patriotism the literary way.

CBC Books has rounded up 100 Young Adult Books That Make You Proud To Be Canadian. How many have you read? Take the quiz on the CBC Books website.

Among the chosen 100 are Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean and Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass. We are indeed proud to have these books recognized as the great Canadian treasures we believe them to be.

Nix Minus One, a novel by Jill MacLean Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass, winner of the Geoffrey Bilson Award and the CLA Young Adult Book Award

Will this list inspire you to read more Canada? Are there any standouts you feel are missing? Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #CBCbooks100.

 

Moon at Nine is the romantic adventure tale longed for by queer teenagers—Plenitude Magazine

Posted on June 18th, 2015 by pajamapress

Moon At Nine by Deborah Ellis - the true story of two girls who fell in love in post-revolution Iran “Like a conscientious hiker, Deborah Ellis treads skilfully through the historical terrain of her thirtieth work, Moon at Nine. The revolutionary tumult of 1980s post-shah Iran might not seem like fertile territory for a YA novel with queer and feminist themes, yet Ellis’s superbly crafted storytelling weaves together the ensuing political chaos with a teenage girl’s struggle to find her place within her restrictive society in a way that reveals the YA genre as capable of more than it is usually given credit for. That Ellis is so comfortable spinning so many plates at once is a testament to her authorial skill; that not one of these plates falls is what makes Moon at Nine such a cracking piece of literature.

…Moon at Nine is the romantic adventure tale longed for by queer teenagers prowling the school library for stories that more closely resemble their own. The novel’s foreign and historical setting are brought to life by Ellis’s energizing prose, and each character is fully realized as a layered human being attempting to negotiate and survive an oppressive political regime. While Deborah Ellis succeeds resoundingly in her pioneering position, Moon at Nine reveals that LGBT themes so dexterously written into YA literature are sadly all too rare.”

—Matthew R. Loney

Click here to read the full review.