29. Brother (David Chariandy)

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.52.57 PMBrother helps to open reader’s eyes to the grit, tenacity and struggle of growing up in the housing projects of Scarborough.  It describes the challenges of a single mother, raising two boys between the cultures of Trinidad and Scarborough.  The characters, the setting and the story seem true to life and the reader is left thinking about the disparity and despair of this family even after closing the book.

The mother works hard to support her kids.  Dad has abandoned them and she works long hours to feed and care for the boys who are often left to their own devices.  They experience violence and racism in their neighbourhood and at times escape to the calm, tranquility of the Rouge Valley which is near their complex.

Michael looks up to his brother David who is interested in music and starts hanging with the wrong crowd. Their lives are dramatically changed in one violent night, with one single gunshot.

The story is chilling and the characters and scene seem so realistic.  The description feels accurate and the reader keeps hoping that the boys will grow up safely in the care of their hardworking mother.

David Chariandy is visiting a library in London (Ontario) for One Book One London and I am looking forward to meeting him.


Posted in Canadian, Fiction | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

28. Big Potential (Shawn Achor)

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 6.25.38 PM“Success in not just about how creative or smart or driven you are, but how well you are able to connect with, contribute to and benefit from the ecosystem of people around you”.

After reading The Happiness Advantage, I was quick to borrow Big Potential:  How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness and Well-Being, placing it on hold at the library before it was even released.  My goal is to read a few leadership books amongst the fiction and this was a terrific change of pace after reading the Canada Reads short-listed books.

Shawn Achor’s newest book considers the importance of connection and working together towards success moving away from ruthless competition.  It is an easy read and offers everyday suggestions that can easily be adopted (such as writing a thank you note which not only makes others feel good but makes you feel good and encourages positive behaviour.

“Just as happiness is contagious, every dimension of human potential – performance, intelligence, creativity, leadership ability, and health – is influenced by those around us.  So when we help others become better, we reach new levels of potential, as well.  Rather than fighting over the pie, we can expand the pie instead”.

The book offers an acronym to remember the SEEDS of Big Potential:

  • SURROUND yourself with positive influencers
  • EXPAND your power by helping others lead from every seat
  • ENHANCE your  resource by becoming a “prism of Praise”
  • DEFEND the system against negative attacks
  • SUSTAIN the gains by feeling the “virtuous cycle”

Shawn Achor offers some positive suggestions to working with others but if you only have time to read one of his books, I would suggest that The Happiness Advantage is the strongest choice.  Looking for more?  Watch the YouTube video that has had over 2.28 million views and chuckle at his story about his sister, “the Unicorn”.

“The key to real leadership is inspiriting others to be leaders”.

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27. The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate)

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 4.23.17 PMThe One and Only Ivan is a terrific, middle-grade book that inspires kids to talk about the capture and treatment of wild animals. The book was based on a true story (watch the YouTube Ivan video) about a real gorilla, named Ivan, who was kept in a small, glass enclosure as the main exhibit of a shopping mall for over two decades before being adopted by Zoo Atlanta in 1994.

In the book, Ivan has almost forgotten his family and life in the jungle as he lives in his enclosure as the “one and only” silverback gorilla at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall with his friends Bob (a stray dog) and Stella (an elephant).  He is used to his routine, painting and watching TV until Ruby, a baby elephant, joins their group and makes Ivan begin to question their life at the mall.

Ivan begins to plan their rescue, so that Ruby can live a different life.  He experiences kindness from the maintenance man’s daughter who does her homework while her dad cleans and who brings him art supplies.

Discussing with Brendan, my 11 year old son, he “learned that people shouldn’t imprison animals in malls” and said that he “never knew people did that”.  We had visited the Ripley’s aquarium during our trip to Myrtle Beach and after reading Ivan asked “do you think they like that” considering the sting rays, jellyfish and horseshoe crabs that were on display for touching?  He also found it surprising that a Gorilla would take care of a baby elephant since silverbacks usually protect their own kind and thought it was “dope” who he befriended Bob and hid him from the mall owner.   We both agreed that it was great that he could be reintroduced to other gorillas after 27 years in captivity.

This is a terrific book to read with a grade 4-5 child.  Brendan read it with his class and I followed along at home so that we could discuss the story together.  If you don’t have time to read this book, check out the video link together with your children and discuss your thoughts on animals in captivity.

Being curious, we googled Ivan and learned that Ivan lived the rest of his life with other gorillas.  He died at the age of 50 years old at the zoo where he was known for his paintings.  Thanks to Mrs. Wilson who introduced us to a great book to discuss and share!  Brendan and I have both rated it 4 stars.

Posted in Children's, Fiction | Tagged , | 3 Comments

26. Every Note Played (Lisa Genova)

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 2.50.06 PMLisa Genova is best known for the heart breaking novel Still Alice which describes a brilliant woman diagnosed with early onset dementia.  Her fictional stories highlight diseases which impacts many individuals and their loved ones.  In Every Note Played she has brought this awareness to ALS (also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or motor neuron disease) which impacts 2500 to 3000 Canadians (www.ALS.ca).

Every Note Played is the story of ALS and of Richard and Karina.  Richard was an accomplished pianist with a busy life travelling to concerts.  His marriage to Karina had ended.  He was enjoying his single life when he started to notice difficulties with the mobility in his hands.  He was diagnosed with ALS which “gradually paralyzes people because the brain is no longer able to communicate with the muscles of the body” learning that “as the muscles of the body break down, someone living with ALS will lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, swallow, and eventually breathe” (ALS Society, Canada).  Initially, he kept his disease to himself, cancelling concerts without sharing the reason, hiding it from his ex-wife and delaying the conversation with his university aged daughter.

As Richard’s disease progresses, he could no longer hide it and realizes needs help.  He can no longer live alone, can no longer afford his apartment while paying for professional caregivers  The impact of this disease is devastating, and at times humiliating, but it was exaggerated in Richard, a man who’s life was sharing a love of music through his role as a renowned concert pianist.  As the disease progressed, he lost his ability to play the piano and slowly lost the ability to get dressed, feed himself and live independently.  Despite their relationship issues, Karina became his full-time caregiver, attempting to hide her resentments and comes to terms with their past relationship issues as they both avoid talking about their divorce.

As well as educating about the disease, readers see the tragic impact on caregivers .  It highlights the challenges of living in the United States where home care is not provided by government agencies but is self paid.  The story makes Canadian readers reflect on the care offered through government funded home care services.

I had difficulty putting down Still Alice (dementia), Love Anthony (autism), Left Neglected (acquired brain injury) and Inside the O’Briens (Huntingtons disease) but the characters in Every Note Played did not impact me quite the same.  They did not seem quite as real although as a health care provider, felt that it was a very accurate portrayal of a devastating disease.  Reading Every Note Played inspires me to reread Still Alice and to encourage my palliative care colleagues to pick up a copy of the book.

Would I recommend this book?  Absolutely!  Anytime readers can learn through fiction, it is a book worth reading.  This narrative will give readers an accurate understanding of a terrible disease and make them consider the role of caregivers.  Although difficult on the patient, caregivers deal with loss, sadness, frustration and  exhaustion.  They need the help and support of others including family, friends and professional caregivers.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending an Advanced Reader Copy of Every Note Played.  Watch for a separate blog post of the event with Lisa Genova at the Waterloo Library.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Canada Reads Finale

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 1.14.38 PMWhat an amazing day at Canada Reads!  Congratulations to Mark Sakamoto whose compelling family story, Forgiveness has been deemed the one book that Canadians should read to open their eyes!  The winning book was defended by fashion icon Jeanne Becker through 4 days of raucous debate.  Thank you to the CBC and their fabulous Canada Reads team who have done a stellar job organizing, producing and recording the debates – especially to Tara who has answered our questions and joined us on the CanadianContent Goodreads group.  This team has inspired Canadians across our great country and outside our borders to pick up great books and celebrate reading!  Thanks also to my daughter and my amazing book friends, who support and share my enthusiasm for CanLit and joined our CanadianContent contingent from Brantford, Guelph, Markham, Aurora, Kingston and as far away as Bermuda!


From L to R:  Dominique, Srividya,Shalom, Susan, Sarah, Tara (CBC), Kim, Allison,Erin,May, Rainey

The excitement was palpable as the studio audience filled the seats bringing together readers, book clubs and students to celebrate the title fight.  It is interesting to note that there was even a guide dog-in-training who may or may not have shared the enthusiasm – the dog slept right through the show!

After introductions of the panelists, the free agents (with no books to continue defending) had a chance to comment on their books and their experiences this week.  Ali noted that the Canada Reads organizers in the control room likely fell of their chairs with Jully’s suggestion that book debates be held twice a year, or even every month since their are so many great books!  Greg reflected on Precious Cargo being a celebration of special needs and how books like this change perceptions which is “what literature and reading is all about”.   Mozhdah noted that The Boat People made her realize the reality of what her parents had gone through as refugees and how her experience is similar to Priya, a character in the book.

The remaining defenders repeated many arguments from earlier in the week with Jeanne showing her emotions, fighting back tears sharing her personal experience Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 9.07.34 AMand feelings towards Forgiveness.  I wish that she had shared more details about the books to prompt Canadians to really think about Mark Sakamoto’s maternal grandfather starving in a prisoner of war camp while his maternal grandmother started a family after being displaced to live in a chicken coop working in the prairie fields.  These details would have provided additional strength to her arguments.  Tahmoh was a strong, measured debater but spent a lot of time repeating the importance of difficult stories telling truth.  While I don’t disagree, he too could have shared more anecdotes about American War and really dug into the character changes of Sarat.  These arguments could have resonated with the other defenders who all expressed appreciation about Sarat.

Forgiveness “sheds a light on a shameful chapter of Canadian history” (Jeanne Becker)

Each defender had a chance to try and convince the free agent panelists and  Tahmoh spoke of Romeo Dallaire’s insight that the “the greatest weapon of mass destruction is child soldiers” while Greg countered that he was looking for hopefulness.  I struggled with Jully’s comments that “white Canadians” are privileged and “sit in their cottages and homes, swipe their visa cards to make Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 10.43.22 AMdonations”.  She later spoke of gaining allies in working through the issues of indigenous and black Canadians but her statements judging “white people” do not inspire working together (with her).  Regardless, we need to continue to appreciate and support the diversity that makes Canada great!   I appreciate Jully’s passion but her aggressive attitude was not engaging to a group of readers who were not only enjoying diverse books but supportive of the rights and freedoms of Canadians during a time when Canada works to atone for historical decisions through actions like the Truth and Reconciliation report.  Tahmoh moderated her comments by expressing the need to stop the cycle of mistakes and inspire action to move forward through hearing the stories.  I can’t agree more.  He later commented he wants to read Wab Kinew’s book, The Reason You Walk and I would encourage his to also read the memoir Up Ghost River by Edmund Metawabin.  From a fictional perspective, I would also suggest reading anything by my favourite author, the late Richard Wagamese – especially The Medicine Walk, Indian Horse or Ragged Company.

Here are a few highlights from the finale debates:

  • “we have the power to change our minds” (Jeanne) opting to live and to live with compassion and positivity which the world needs right now.
  • Tahmoh shared that forgiveness is only one aspect relating American War indigenous issues and a truth that needs to be heard.
  • All the panelists did root for the character of Sarat who was radicalized.
  • Tahmoh’s – grade 3 teacher called in to congratulate and support him.
  • Moses Znaimer (City Tv)  brought Jeanne to tears when he called prompting to Jeanne to comment on him being an amazing mentor and that being on Canada Reads was an emotional stretch “like nothing I have ever imagined”.

The debating ended with a positive moment when each panelist shared what they appreciated about each of the remaining books.  For Forgiveness the comments included:

  • Jully  liked following Grandpa Ralph’s story as well as appreciating the aspects of mental health included.
  • Mozhdah appreciated  “just about everything”  as the story was from the heart and  “so powerful, so magical, so exceptional”.  
  • Greg’s highlight was reading Grandpa Ralph’s story and his eyes were opened to Ralph’s struggle in the POW camp.
  • Tahmoh related that he can relate to coming from two opposite cultures understanding what it is like to love an alcoholic.

The comments for American War included:

  • Mozhdah shared that although it was dark and difficult to read she liked Sarat “and the way way Omar El Akaad has created this world and flipped things around, I thought that was a genius move”.
  • Greg found the book to be a “page flipper” that was “wildly entertaining”.  Although it “did not fit my world view, the message is important”.
  • Jully felt a connection with Sarat’s father leaving for work having grown up with Caribbean descent where many father’s had to leave to find work.
  • Jeanne commented that it was “well written, very visual and very cinematic”.

Towards the end of the debate, each defender was granted 30 seconds to make a final statement:

  • Forgiveness is  “a book about healing oneself before we have the power to go on and grapple with the big picture” (Jeanne)
  • “We have to hear the hard stories” and he “encourages all Canadians to tell their true stories”.  He ended with a quote from Sarat “when I was young, I lived by the sea with my father and my mother and my sister. I was happy then”. (Tahmoh).

Mark Sakamoto joined by phone and tearfully thanked Jeannie, laughing that his earlier promise of sending her to Milan was really a joke.  He shared that he owes her a “debt of gratitude” and shares this win with her parents who are holocaust survivors”.  Jeanne was able to comment on “what a ride” the Canada Reads experience had been saying:

“as much as something might scare you… just do it!  put yourself out there”

Ali wrapped it all up noting that all 5 defenders were clearly out of  their comfort zones this week as he encouraged “get reading Canada”!

For those of us in the studio audience, we were treated to a visit from Mark Sakamoto and his family.  He had time for a few book signings and pictures before he was whisked off for interviews.  I also had time to meet Ali and have a chance to sit in his chair… Move over Ali Hassan!!!


If my readers have been following the YouTube recordings of the show, you may have seen the Question and Answer sessions that continued after the radio and television broadcasts ended.   It was particularly refreshing to hear the great questions from young readers which provided more insight into the Canada Reads experience.

In reflecting on comments that it is the best time to live in Canada, a question arose relating to avoiding a dystopian future.  Comments included:

  • Canada is passive and needs to speak up (Jully) noting that she feels the need for allies, “especially privileged allies that are not afraid to say something”.
  • Mozhdah shared she lives a double life, living a privileged life in Canada while seeing despair and oppression in the Middle East and war zones.

I always love knowing what others are reading and a question came in from twitter asking what the panelists are reading next:

  • Tahmoh shared that his father a voracious reader who constantly gives him book.  Next up is Wab Kinew’s autobiography.
  • With Tahmoh’s recommendation, Greg is going to read Romeo Dallaire’s book and was warned that to read this traumatic book it is important to be in the right place as it is the heaviest book he had ever read.
  • Jully plans to read the bible and learn lines from a script.
  • Jeannie is looking forward to Tina Brown’s book, Vanity Fair Diaries to find some levity and plans to reread her parents memoir, Joy Runs Deeper as she “owes them a big debt of gratitude for bringing her up to see the world the way she sees the world”.
  • Mozhdah has a lead role in Red Snow, a Canadian film, so is reading a script and also needs to fact check a book being written about her.  She also has plans to select another pile of books like the Canada Reads selection.

CanadianContent member, Srividya got to ask a question about non-fiction and biographies versus finding truth in fiction:

  • Tahmoh loves fiction, he states that some stories are based on historically accurate things and that his book choices depend on his mood since “books are all about reading them at the right time”
  • Mozhdah found so much truth in American War and The Boat People yet loves biographies and true stories.
  • Jully commented on the power of vision, dreams and keeping minds open.
  • Greg said that he never reads fiction and had questioned whether The Boat People was fact or fiction as it seemed so real.

A 12 year old twitter fan asked what the defenders found to be their favourite thing about the week:

  • Jeanne – getting to hang out with great people, making connections and working with the people behind the scenes as it takes a village to make a show like this.
  • Greg also commented on the characters around the room and the fun he had making fun of Ali.
  • Jully commented on how those about those around the table, or perhaps all of us in the studio saying “we are Canada”.

That is it for my blog posts on Canada Reads.  It has been a whirlwind week and I am so grateful to have spent time in the studio for the opening day and finale.  It is an exceptional way to share a love of books and I look forward to Canada Reads in 2019!!!

Posted in Canada Reads, Canadian | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Canada Reads Day 3

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The third day of the “title fight” left American War and Forgiveness still standing as The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline, as debated by Jully Black, was a knockout.  The fighting and biting was diminished, compared to the previous debate, and Greg Johnson jokingly started the saying that they had gotten “in trouble for talking over others” from their host, Ali Hassan.

In a heartfelt moment Greg spoke about the voting that took Precious Cargo out of contention and noted that he was the first panelist in 17 years to come from the province of Saskatchewan.  He generously shared that he had bought 25 copies of Precious Cargo to donate to his daughter’s high school.  He also plans to donate 25 copies of The Marrow Thief to a northern, indigenous school.  His generosity was a very positive start to the day’s debates.

For the remaining books, trailers were reviewed.  Tahmoh told his fellow debaters that he was planning to listen to counter their points in an effort to sway them.  Jeanne admitted to a sleepless night as she is so invested in Forgiveness which has not had ANY votes against it.  She seemed to feel a bit guilty about her seemingly (but denied) strategic voting against Precious Cargo.  Jully was visibly teary at the beginning and informed the crowd that today’s news had included the fact that the Pope is not planning to apologies to past residential school students.

In speaking of the future vs. past settings in the books, Mozhdah noted that she is not as into fiction but really likes memoirs and real stories.  Tahmoh described the United States as having more conflict and division than they did at the time of the Vietnam War. He spoke of a president that is not being a leader and who is not creating unity which is why American War resonates with him.  Jully spoke of not knowing where we are going until we look at the past and lauded the crowd of youth who are empowered through social media.

Ali asked the debaters how important for a book to be enjoyable.  Mozhdah said that until these books she would only have chosen books to enjoy, not so much books that would teach her about life.  She noted that American War was difficult and took her 14 days to finish.  Greg disagreed and feels reading is about enjoyment and encouraged the young crowd not to think that the world is a horrible, negative place.  Jully highlighted that her imagination was sparked through The Marrow Thieves.  Tahmoh felt that if we were to limit books to those that were enjoyable, we would be missing so much information and that hearing the truth is important so that we don’t repeat cycles of the past.  He referred to Romeo Dallaire’s book, Shaking Hands with the Devil which is a very difficult book to read but a book that he recommended to all Canadians.  Jeanne spoke about reading choices being dependent on where you are in life, how much time you have and how many other things you do in your life to build your soul.  She wants to enjoy the read, choose stories that resonate and help her get to her next level and be the best person she can be.  This is a great question and one that would be very interesting to discuss at a book club.

Other CBC hosts provided voiceovers to support one book and then the panelists were asked about which character was most compelling.  The characters identified were:

  • Sarat (American War) as her story seemed real yet Mozhdah spoke of her story being the thread that resonated as she “forced herself” through the book.
  • Mark Sakamoto (author of Forgiveness) as he described his grandparents journey and the lessons he learned that helped him deal with his mothers addiction.
  • Frenchie and his brother (The Marrow Thieves).
  • Ralph MacLean – Mark’s grandfather who was an eyewitness and lived to tell this story and had the openness of heart to embrace his daughter’s love of a Japanese man despite his experience in a POW camp.

The panelists debated whether fact or fiction was better at highlighting truths discussing empathy and the effectiveness of fiction followed by each panelist providing a final comment:


  • Tahmoh reiterated American War is a book about truth and that there is a vicious pattern of hiding unfortunate truths which need to be heard.
  • Jeanne shared that Forgiveness is based on being an eyewitness to a dark chapter in history and is about expanding the future by forgiving the past.  It is about moving forward and healing the self before you can heal the world.
  • Jully simply started to sing John Lennon’s Imagine.

The voting today removed The Marrow Thieves with 3 votes for it and 2 votes for American War.  Interestingly Forgiveness has received NO votes in the first 3 days.  Today was calmer without interruptions and panelists talking over each other.  Each debater had the time to share their thoughts.

What will happen on the final day?  Who knows?  It is a game show crossed with a book contest and anything can happen.  My hope is that American War will be voted off and Forgiveness will be the one book that will open the eyes of Canadians.  Regardless, it will be a fun day to be in the studio audience as a part of the CanadianContent contingent.

On the live feed, there was an opportunity for question and answers which shared some great insights:

  • Jeanne appreciated having a platform to change hearts and minds and to open a window to new possibilities.
  • All the books are winners to be chosen for the show.
  • Being a panelist was both an opportunity and responsibility for Tahmoh who found it hard to critique the other books.
  • Appreciation for the CBC focus on indigenous programming.
  • Tahmoh’s mother is writing a story about her experience in residential school which CBC is interested in facilitating.
  • The panel feels that the young people should read both The Marrow Thieves and Precious Cargo.

A twitter question asked panelist what they dreamt about which elicited some interesting answers including:

  • Jeanne  had a dream about the CBC hairdresser doing her hair as “big hair”  and she had to go on the show looking like that thinking the 80s are back.
  • Jully dreamt of eating mexican food with her late mom.
  • Mozhdah dreamt about being unable to leave the Canada Reads table and other panelists  hating her for voting their books off
  • Tahmoh was busy fending off a pack of coyotes bin his sleep while he struggled to get to his son who was at home in a cabin.
  • Greg said he dreamt about Ali and then suggested they switch glasses which they did on the set.
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Canada Reads Day 2

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 11.03.35 PM

Sadly, I was not in the studio audience for Day 2 and like many Canadians had to listen to the excitement following a busy day at the office.  During the day, it was very difficult to avoid the results of the vote and I was tipped off by social media that the book that I had defended at the Canada Reads: Brantford Public Library Edition was voted off.

On the YouTube recording, it was great to see our CanadianContent friend, Rainey, given props for coming all the way from Bermuda to participate in Canada Reads.  It will certainly be exciting for a group of 12 of us to attend the finale when the one book that will open Canadian’s eyes is chosen.

The show began with Mozhdah commenting on Monday’s results when The Boat People was voted off.  She almost seemed to express relief that she and the author Sharon Bala could now relax and enjoy the show without pressure.

Tuesday’s debating was enhanced by voiceovers from each author describing their own books along with clips of encouragement for each defender including:

  • Jully’s  fan Mike “Pinball” Clemens  who wished the other competitors good luck defending against Jully.
  • Tony Penikett, Tahmoh’s father who reinforced that American War is important as Canada cannot escape the chaos of the United States.
  • Greg Johnson’s daughter who identified herself as the favourite and advised her dad to keep keep pushing through.
  • Mark Sakamoto’s  grandfather who described that Forgiveness was heartfelt in sharing a real life story that will make readers cry and laugh.

If you don’t have time to watch the entire show, here are a few of Tuesday’s highlights for each book:


  • no votes against it from any defender.
  • described the importance of “soldiering on through personal wars”.
  • Jully felt it was two short stories and then was corrected that there were actually 3 stories within the narrative.  Although Ali is the impartial narrator he did add that these stories do come together in the end.

Precious Cargo

  • Greg hopes that Precious Cargo elicits laughter and the understanding people with special needs are approachable.
  • Comments made that the memoir did not reveal enough about character as debaters wanted to know more about the characters including Nadia who spent a lot of time in her own space and had a minor role.
  • Requests for a sequel to learn more about the future for each rider and for Craig, the driver of the bus.

Marrow Thieves

  • This book described in terms of  “survival and thriving”.
  •  It was highlighted that this would be an important read for highschool students.
  • It was during the discussion about this book that the ‘biting’ began between Jully and Jeanne making it difficult to hear as they both strongly shared their views.
  • Tahmoh shared that his mother had attended residential school and highlighted that it is easy to judge indigenous people’s decisions when we don’t know what they endured.
  • He noted that the problem with the book is that it does not speak to issues of today.

American War

  •  Described as age turner by one debator and another shared that she saved the book for last and could only read it 20 pages at a time.
  • There is a dark nature to the book and readers may not want to go to bed worrying about the end of the world
  • Jeanne felt that this book celebrates revenge.
  • Mozhdah shared that the book was very political and that many North Americans ignore what happens in rest of world
  • This book garnered a lot of emotions and at one point the defenders were all talking over each other making it  “very messy for radio listeners”.

The Lightning Round gave each defender 40 seconds to comment on their book and comments included:

  • Jeanne – It is important to learn from past, soldier on and rise above revenge, living  with love and compassion.
  • Jully – The Marrow Thieves is a book of today which reimagines the past and rewrites the future.  It provides a bridge to start the conversation.
  • Greg – Precious Cargo is important because no one is talking about special needs.
  • Tahmoh – He shared that American War reflects urgent times of war; climate change,  child soldiers; radicalization and a loss of innocence which are all ugly topics which need to be told.

The tone of today’s debates was radically different.  There were times that it was difficult to hear debaters talking over each other.  Sadly, while I was hoping for assertive debate and Jully continued to talk over others and interrupt while Jeanne became aggressive.  Mozdah remained fairly quiet and seemed to have difficulty jumping into the conversation.  Tahmoh is likely the most effective debater but his arguments seemed repetitive and Greg could have added different points to his arguments.  I wonder if it would have helped if had connected that while the kids on the bus all had special needs everyone deals with challenges.  Each child, each family, each bus driver and each Canadian deals with their own challenges whether they are visible or unknown to others and we need to be kind and thoughtful.

The voting was interesting, 2 votes for American War and 2 votes for Precious Cargo leaving Jeanne Becker (the debator who did not vote for either of these 2 as the tie breaker).  It was shocking that she chose Precious Cargo when she spoke so strongly against American War.   She denied applying strategy to her vote but it was disappointing to hear her comment that the book did not have the “gravitas” to be in the competition when she spoke so positively for it during the debate.   It was also notable that Forgiveness has not received any votes against it.

Following the debates, a teacher in the audience asked the 5 debaters to speak about how they would champion reading and the importance of reading:

  • Jully commented that as a person often on her phone or computer these books have “relit her imagination“.
  • Mozhdah shared that she uses music and entertainment to promote education to girls in Afghanistan where illiteracy high.
  • Greg said that it doesn’t matter what you read (he loves non fiction) but the important thing is just to keep reading.
  • Tahmoh highlighted the opportunity to hear other peoples stories and get an education about things you might never hear about.
  • Jeanne encouraged the students to journal, writing about their own family experiences.

Day 2 is done and I will see if I can avoid learning who is voted off until I have a chance to watch the debate replays on Wednesday!

Posted in Canada Reads, Canadian | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Canada Reads Day 1

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It was inspiring to be part of the live studio audience of the 17th annual Canada Reads, also known as the “great Canadian book debate” and “the title fight”.  It was terrific to meet up with May and with Rainey, a CanadianContent member who flew all the way from Bermuda with a bag full of Canada Reads themed mugs.

This year’s theme was the one book that would open your eyes and CBC Books has done a terrific job promoting and planning this event moderated by Ali Hassan (thanks Tara who was part of the CBC crew and connected with the CanadianContents group).

Each defender brought their own feedback, constructive criticism, praise and a sense of humour to the debate and the audience was not disappointed.  Who were the 2018 defenders?:

  • Tahmoh Penikett- defending American War is not only a science fiction fan but starred in Battlestar Galactica.
  • Mozhdah Jamazadah – defending The Boat People is a multi-talented star and television host who has sang in Afghanistan and at the White house.  She has been called the Oprah of Afghanistan.
  • Jeanne Beker – defending Forgiveness and best known from Fashion Television.
  • Greg Johnson – defending Precious Cargo hunts and photographs tornados and laughed that being on Canada Reads is “literally” a thrill of a lifetime.
  • Jully Black – defending The Marrow Thieves is known as a queen of R&B and is a Juno-winning singer songwriter who not only showcased her book but also her big personality.

Each defender had a minute to describe their books and the audience got another chance to watch the trailers that had been posted online including:

  • Tahmoh shared the relevance of American World as the country is currently facing a crisis, is more divided with evidence of the erosion of democracy and empathy.  He feels that America has failed to reconcile with their past leading to apathy  and to pain and suffering.
  • Mozhdah feels that The Boat People helps readers to think of each refugee as an individual with a story.  As a former refugee she felt connected with the book which “gives the refugee crisis a human face”.
  • Jeanne – shared that Forgiveness is a tales of toughness and tenacity which shows that shattered lives can be rebuilt.  As the child of immigrants she notes that this book “sheds light on a shameful chapter” of Canadian history yet shows that healing is possible as we pledge to forgive but never forget.
  • Greg – championed Precious Cargo which he connected with as a parent of 4, with little understanding of kids with special needs.  He shared that Craig takes the reader on his journey of understanding, coming to recognize that all kids have challenges.
  • Jully -defended The Marrow Thieves, a book that rewrites the indigenous past and reimagines the future as it highlights chosen families and the voice of youth.

If you have not watched the debates, I suggested checking out the  YouTube video which not only shares the discussion but if you hold on to the very end includes some questions and answers which provide additional insight.

In the end, The Boat People was voted off receiving votes from both Greg and Jully.  It was clearly a difficult decision by the panel who all shared both highlights and criticisms of all the books.  If I had to pick a strongest debater, i would chose Tahmoh who provided clearly articulated arguments sharing both praise and constructive criticism.  Greg, like his author, seemed to take the role of “class clown” providing a bit of comic relief.  Going forward, I hope that both Jeanne and Mozhdah become more assertive in the debates and ensure that they get their points across.  It might help Jully to be more conscious of interrupting and bring additional strength to the content of her arguments rather than just a strong tone.  Certainly the first day was when each defender got comfortable with the format of the debate and I am sure we will see more personality coming through as the finale approaches.

It was terrific to be able to ask the panel how they had prepared the night before for today’s debates and they all had unique answers:

  • Jully – laughed that she prayed and did some preparation this morning
  • Greg – had drinks with the author
  • Jeanne – watched a stupid show on netflix to take mind off things and then started looking for quotes on forgiveness
  • Mozhdah – flew to Vancouver and then to Toronto as she reviewed her notes.
  • Tahmoh – reviewed the book and his notes before hitting the gym and getting back to the books

Another question was about strategic voting and all of the defenders denied this and agreed that listening and open minds were essential.  Greg had changed his mind during the debates and Jeanne kept reminding herself of the theme.  Tahmoh stated that he had not thought strategy but did admit that he wants to win!

It was interesting to hear the answers to the question about how each defender had chosen their books.  Both Tahmoh and Greg had been given a couple books to read and review, choosing the strongest of the pair.  Jully felt that her book chose her and noted that she had asked for a book that she might not pick out on her own.  Jeanne read a couple before one resonated and Mohzdah was sent a couple of summaries before feeling a connection after reading the first chapter of the Boat People.

The debate was fast and ended on a high note when I won a kobo reader for asking the first question.  I will think of my day at Canada Reads every time that I enjoy my kobo!

Tuesday is a work day, sadly, I will not be watching live but am not sure that I will be successful avoiding the social media which will reveal the second book to be voted off!


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Canada Reads: Let the Debates Begin!

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 1.50.27 PMCanada Reads is an exciting time of year for CanLit lovers!  It combines the passion of literary contests with the excitement and strategy of a game show.  Does the best written book win?  The most popular book?  Perhaps not, books might get voted off early by debaters with a strategy to save their own skin… errr… covers.  Regardless of the winner, Canada Reads gets Canadians buying books, reading books and talking about books which is an amazing feat!

CBC radio began this “battle of the books” in 2012 and each year a theme is chosen along with 5 personalities to defend each of 5 books.  The debates take place over 4 days and at the end of each day, a book is voted off until one book remains which all Canadian’s should read.

As I researched this post, it was great to learn that the publisher of the winning book donates a portion of their proceeds to charity!

The debates beginning tomorrow include the following titles:

Prior to the debates, CBC has shared many insights into each book, author and debater.  They have also prepared trailers which do a great job of representing each book.

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Reflecting about past Canada Reads, I thought it would be interesting to share the past winners.  This list makes me realize that I have a lot more reading to do!  The chart below shows the successful books and authors each year since 2002.

Year Author Book
2002 Michael Ondaatje In the Skin of a Lion
2003 Hubert Aquin Next Episode
2004 Guy Vanderhaeghe The Last Crossing
2005 Frank Parker Day Rockbound
2006 Miriam Toews A Complicated Kindness
2007 Heather O’Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
2008 Paul Quarrington King Leary
2009 Lawrence Hill The Book of Negroes
2010 Ncolas Dickner Nikolski
2011 Terry Fallis Best Laid Plans
2012 Carmen Aguirre Something Fierce
2013 Lisa Moore February
2014 Joseph Boyden The Orenda
2015 Kim Thuy Ru
2016 Lawrence Hill The Illegal
2017 Andre Alexis Fifteen Dogs
2018 ? ?

In 2017, it was invigorating to attend the finale of Canada Reads when Andre Alexis won the honour with his book Fifteen Days winning the title of the one book that Canadians should read.

As this post is uploaded, I will be enroute to Day 1 of Canada Reads and am looking forward to the excitement, strategy and perhaps, treachery as the 2018 debates begin.  Watch for Canada Reads posts each day as the contest continues and join me in discussing some great Canadian books!

Which book do are you rooting for?  Which book do you think will be voted off first?

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Canada Reads: BPL Edition

Canada Reads:  BPL Edition has inspired, prepared and motivated a group of readers for CBC’s Canada Reads. It has helped the audience to consider which book is the one book to open your eyes and deserves to be the “literary survivor“.  Hosted on the third floor of the Brantford Public Library, each of 5 books was represented by 5 dedicated readers.  It was a fun evening and a privilege to participate and talk books!

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Canada Reads: BPL Panel including Caroline Freibauer, Penny MacKenzie, Danielle Baines, Susan Gibson and Anna Rowe (photo credit James Clark, BPL)

Each panel member (in order of picture) represented one of the books from the Canada Reads short-list and included:

  • The Marrow Thieves, (Cheri Dimaline) represented by Caroline Freibauer, teacher librarian, former Expositor reporter.
  • Forgiveness (Mark Sakamoto) represented by Penny McKenzie, former BPL board chair and retired English teacher.
  •  American War (Omar El Akkad) represented by Danielle Baines, BPL staff.
  •  Precious Cargo (Craig Davidson) represented by myself, Susan Gibson
  • The Boat People (Sharon Bala) represented by Anna Rowe (BPL Staff)

Each participant described their book and shared their views on how each book challenged readers to find new perspectives and to look differently at themselves, their neighbours and the world around them.  Each defender shared one thing about each book that the audience should remember, their final thoughts and answered questions about their books.

A few memorable comments included:

  • One of the panelists shared that at her school, the “short bus” was referred to as a “opportunity” bus.  in relation to Precious Cargo, it truly was an opportunity bus creating and “opportunity” for the author and readers to learn, reflect and be open to life changing experiences.
  • Other readers have struggled with the first half of American War
  • Freibauer is excited that The Marrow Thieves was a very engaging book for students
  • That while the story was terrific, McKenzie, a former English teacher would assign  the mark of C+ to Forgiveness for the writing
  • The defender of The Boat People felt that although she was left hanging, she learned much about refugees

For an event that was scheduled from 630 to 730 pm, it was terrific to see that the book discussion was so lively and ended at 9:00 when the audience was reminded that the library was closing.

Many in the audience revealed that they had not yet read any of the 5 books so I hope that the evening inspired readers to choose at least one book to read before the Canada Reads debates start tomorrow.

Both the main and St. Paul’s library have a poster board and library members can vote, with a maple leaf sticker, for the book that should win the 2018 Canada Reads debate.  At the end of the event, the the votes were fairly even but the voting is  open until the event so it will be interesting to see if the results mirror the CBC Books event.

Overall, it was fun to have people talking about CanLit and was a great precursor to the Canada Reads event which begins tomorrow!  Continue watching for my thoughts and comments on each day of the debates.  I will be in the studio audience for day 1 and for the finale and can’t wait to share the excitement!!

Please comment below as to which book you think should win the event!

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