Ethel & Ernest

Now here’s a real charmer for you. By turns sweet, sad and funny, the animated film Ethel & Ernest will steal your heart.

I looked for this recently-made animated film at the local theatres, but didn’t spot it playing anywhere. So when a fellow library worker mentioned it had just come into WPL, I was thrilled! And I was not disappointed.

PEOPLE-PROD-Ethel-and-ErnestEthel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name by renowned children’s writer/illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, and many others) and pays affectionate tribute to Briggs’s real life parents. Ethel and Ernest are working-class Londoners who meet in 1928 and stay together until their deaths in 1971.

The movie consists of little vignettes of daily family life, told against the backdrop of changing times. The days of the Second World War are particularly fraught. The parents argue over whether to evacuate young Raymond to the countryside (“Over my dead body!” wails Ethel. “No, it will be his dead body.” counters Ernest), the family’s house and street are damaged by bombs and Ernest, working as a volunteer fireman, is utterly overcome by the destruction he has witnessed.

Ethel & Ernest packs a lot of emotion, but in an understated, maybe English, kind of way. I was a bit surprised at how involved I became with the characters, something I didn’t expect from an animated film. Watching Ethel & Ernest age and their health decline and then pass away, well, it is moving.

So yes, check out Ethel & Ernest. You might also want to have a look at the graphic novel (published in 1998). It is every bit as lovely as the DVD.

— Penny D.


Earth Day

EarthDaypic2_editedHow will you celebrate Earth Day on April 22? Maybe an Earth Day project, such as picking up litter? Or maybe some quality time spent in nature? I’m planning to visit one of my favourite places, a nearby wooded nature trail. Running along side it is a meandering creek, and I love to stop and listen to the running water and look at the play of light on water. Just thinking about it makes me feel happy (and peaceful and calm)!

If you’re looking for some quality Earth Day viewing or reading material, here is a selection of DVDs plus a recently published book that will, hopefully, leave you feeling positive and inspired about this beautiful, fragile planet that we call home.

Taking Root: the vision of Wangari Maathai (DVD)
Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman, started a greenbelt movement that led to the planting of 35 million trees in her home country. For her efforts, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first African woman to receive that honour.

Growing Cities: a film about urban farming in America (DVD)
The filmmakers take a road trip around the U.S. looking at urban farming. They profile people who are reclaiming vacant lots and working together to change those spaces into places to grow nutritious food. Now that’s a win all round. Growing Cities is very inspiring viewing.

Jane Goodall: Reason for Hope and Jane’s Journey (DVDs)
You can’t go wrong with Jane Goodall, the Englishwoman who studied chimpanzees for many years. She now devotes her time to travelling the world, bringing a hopeful environmental message to people. Both these DVDs examine her life and legacy. Or how about this? Go see her in person! Jane Goodall is appearing at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square on April 25th. How cool is that?

Earth: one amazing day (DVD)
I can only provisionally recommend this DVD, as, alas, I haven’t been able to see it (I’m stuck near the end of a holds list). This film, shot over the course of just one day, boasts spectacular and up-close nature photography.

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams (book)
This book poses the question, “Is being in nature good for us?” The answer is a resounding YES. Nature is deeply beneficial for our bodies and our minds. And I believe our spirits, too, should be added to that list.  In this lively-written, science-based account the author checks out many outdoor activities from forest bathing in Japan to rambling (a cool word for hiking) in Scotland. Read the book and find out for yourself how many hours a month are necessary, scientifically-speaking, to reap nature’s benefits. It’s probably less than you think!

Happy Earth Day!

— Penny D.

I Am. I Am. I Am.

I have imaginary friends and I won’t try to deny it. These friends are all online and are mostly writers, except for Kristin Bell who is just so delightful with her personal Instagram stories about her house being ambushed by raccoons and her children having worms (yes, you read that correctly) that I feel she’s really reaching out to us all.

All kidding aside, beyond Instagram and Twitter posts, reading a personal essay is a fabulous way to submerge yourself in someone’s life experiences. Reading about someone’s troubles and their triumphs (raccoons and worms and all) shapes the way you feel about things and helps to relearn things you thought you already knew.

I recently read Maggie O’Farrell’s gorgeous essay collection, I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. Now. Don’t let the title throw you off. This collection is uplifting. O’Farrell reminds us of the invisible tightrope we’re always walking between living and dying, and it’s a good reminder. A wake up call to remember what really matters and most likely, it’s never going to be on my phone.

O’Farrell tells stories that made me cry and also laugh out loud. The first story gave me straight up chills. It’s her story of hiking around a lake while traveling alone when encountering a man who tries to attack her. Brush with death number one. I dare you to not keep reading!

Her stories are not told in the order in which they took place in her life. They weave a gorgeous narrative with incidents from when she was young showing up after we learn about boyfriends, jobs, family and then eventually about her own children. There is something for everyone and like I said, it’s a great reminder to live these days as best we can, helping others and maybe making some ‘real’ friends along the way.

— Sarah C.

Fighting Cancer. Finding Courage.

“Courage is not always big and bright and loud; sometimes it’s as silent and small as true words, a smile when you’d rather weep, or getting up every day and living with quiet dignity while all around your life rages. You cannot truly love, live or exist without courage. Without it you are simply biding time until you die.”

In 2013 Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Approximately 10 per cent of these cancers will be caused by BRCA1 gene mutation. Those who carry the gene have a drastically increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer at a young age. After learning she carried this gene, Jolie made the decision to reduce her risk and removed both her breasts and later her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Although the gene is hereditary, gene testing is the only way to know if you are a carrier. Jolie is an advocate for gene testing, believing that knowledge is power. She encourages women to learn their options.

wendy-mills-author-photoPositively Beautiful by Wendy Mills begins with 16-year-old Erin heading to school on an ordinary Tuesday. She attends class, laughs with her best friend and studies for a physics test. But her ordinary day comes to a screeching halt when her mother announces she has breast cancer. Life is now split into two categories: before the cancer and after the diagnosis. To make the situation even worse, the cancer was caused by the BRCA gene. Erin has a 50 per cent chance of being a carrier of the gene. However, Erin cannot be tested until she is 18. Even then, the healthcare community recommends she wait until she’s 25 and see a genetic counselor before even thinking about being tested.

How is anyone not supposed to think about such a terrifying situation? Erin is consumed with thoughts of the unknown. Will she have to remove her breasts? She bought her very first bra just a few years before. She hasn’t even thought about having children. Now she’ll have to remove her ovaries? Suddenly the everyday dramas of teenage life seem small and trivial. No one her age can possibly imagine what it’s like to be faced with these decisions. Erin reads about a direct-to-consumer company that will conduct the gene test without having to go through a medical provider. Without telling anyone, she jumps at the chance to find out her status.

When her test comes back positive she reaches out to an online forum for young BRCA gene carriers. She meets a young lady named Ashley who helps her find her own inner strength.

There are some very emotional passages in Positively Beautiful. Both Erin and her mother are incredibly strong women. Although cancer is part of the plot, the main theme of the book isn’t illness, it is courage. Erin shows us that courage lives in all of us, we just need to know where to look.

— Lesley L.

Listen Up!

I love nothing more than discovering new musicians and being the one to introduce these amazing artists to other music lovers!

Leon Bridges is my latest ‘find’ and his debut album Coming Home is a treat for the ears!! Released in 2015, it is garnering a lot of critical acclaim. Stylistically, Bridges could be likened to ’60s soul with overtones of Rhythm and Blues. Bridges, along with co-writers Austin Michael Jenkins, Joshua Block and Chris Vivion, takes the listener back to the early days of R & B reminiscent of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. Jeff Dazey’s magnificent saxophone had me swooning. It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach… the way to mine is the sensuality of the saxophone! Let the sultry sound melt your heart in Lisa Sawyer… it’s visceral!!! If you are looking for a gospel fix, River will take you down! For a quick peek at this amazing artist, check out Tiny Desk Concert. This album is a treasure and I can hardly wait for his next release which is slated for sometime in 2018.

baziniCanada’s own Bobby Bazini is another young singer-songwriter lighting up the airwaves with a voice that moves between husky and deep-chested to soft and melodious. Hailing from Quebec, his latest album Summer is Gone has a soul/folk feel and his lyrics add another level of depth and richness, pulling the listener into his emotional rendering of these songs. Bazini has created an album full of songs that cover the spectrum for emotive style allowing him to showcase his powerfully stirring voice. This is the third album Bazini has released in his career and he is showing no sign of slowing down.

— Nancy C.

New Spring books

I’m not so interested in the new spring fashions but I am all about trying on the new Spring books. With the fresh crop of new titles every year I feel like I can try on something new, just like I might have done in a clothing store, but there is no risk of a fashion faux pas, and the return policy could not be better. The library is so generous – if I return the item within 21 days there is no penalty at all…and sometimes I can keep it for longer at no charge. This borrowing-books-from-a-public-library deal is just amazing.

So, what if I am looking to inject some colour into my book wardrobe this year? Well, Anna Quindlen’s latest novel, Alternate side, has a museum director and an investment banker living in one of those gorgeous Manhattan neighbourhoods that we always love to read about. After 25 years of a satisfying but uneventful marriage surrounded by people who are living lives very much like theirs the calm is shattered when an arrogant neighbour commits a violent act against their kind neighbourhood handyman. The vibrant book cover depicts the streets of a neighbourhood that seemed friendly and calm but changes in an instant. I am looking forward to another Anna Quindlen read. I can’t see myself wearing these colours but I will carry the book around town.

In books and in fashion you can never go wrong with classic black and white. Christine Mangan’s debut novel Tangerine is given very fine treatment with this colour choice and the ominous shadow behind the figure of woman just adds to the feeling of fear. This novel centres on the relationship between college roommates who meet again years later in Morocco. Alice Shipley is in an unhappy marriage when her friend Lucy arrives and is so relieved to have a friend that she isn’t suspicious about her intentions. This is just her first mistake. When her husband John goes missing everything starts to unravel for the introverted American and the novel has you flipping pages to see where the two women end up. I can’t imagine that Alice’s white shirt stays quite so crisp by the end of the novel but I am keen to find out.

It takes a lot of confidence to carry off a tropical print and choosing one that has a marigold base is even more difficult. Marigold is a colour with a very high level of difficulty – Greta Gerwig carried it off with her Oscars gown but it’s really not for the faint of heart – and Leah Stewart is bringing a beautifully quirky story to match the bright cover of What you don’t know about Charlie Outlaw. Charlie is a TV star who decides to hide on a remote island after he makes an unforgiveable (by Hollywood standards) mistake in an interview. His actor girlfriend, Josie, is left behind at the centre of the hurricane that he caused and the story alternates between their voices. There is a bit of romance, some show business gossip and an opportunity for both performers to learn a bit about themselves. I do like the look of the binoculars on the cover and hope that I won’t be convinced that yellow is a good choice for my wardrobe this year.

And there is nothing better than a Canadian designer… right? In clothing, books, and music we have so many options. This year The Tragically Hip will be the topic of their first print biography by author Michael Barclay. His book will cover the band’s early days, their role in Canadian culture, that epic final tour and Gord Downie’s role in reconciliation with Indigenous people. I don’t think that I will ever be as sartorially brave as Gord and wear a Jaws t-shirt or a shining mauve suit but I’d like to think that reading this book (and listening to the obvious playlist) will help me to be further inspired by this story of five musicians from Kingston.

These gloriously coloured covers match the promise of the stories that their authors have created and this list only gets us through to early April. Just imagine what will hit our shelves in May!

-Penny M.