Taking a Walk in the Forest of Reading

Red Maple Selections

Being an active reader is one of the most important ways for children to succeed in school.

The Forest of Reading program is designed to introduce students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to books written by Canadian authors. The program has ten categories broken down into different grade levels.

The Red Maple category consists of ten fiction books geared towards students in Grades 7 and 8. Every year, I wait rather impatiently for the Red Maple books to be announced. It is probably the single greatest resource I have to keep up-to-date on what’s new and exciting in young adult and junior fiction. Three of my favourites from this year’s Red Maple picks are:

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

Abandon all hope ye who enter Room 117.

The self contained special eighth grade class (SCS- 8) is held at the far corner of the school next to the metal shop and the custodian’s office. The class is made up of delinquents, goof-offs, troublemakers and anyone else who could be described as a hot-mess express. They are the unteachables.

Mr. Kermit used to care. He used to have enthusiasm for teaching but not anymore. He has 10 months until retirement and plans to coast along “teaching” the SCS-8 until June.

Author Gordon Korman has a talent for creating realistic and compassionate characters. Each chapter is narrated by a different student in Room 117. The reader learns that each so-called “unteachable” student has a real story. Parker has a legitimate learning disability that has gone unnoticed, Elaine’s tough girl reputation is based on a rumour and even Mr. Kermit has a back story that derailed his teaching career. It was easier for the school to label these people as problems instead of looking closely at the real issues.

The Unteachables is easy to read and is full of both humour and compassion.

Call of the Wraith by Kevin Sands

The White Lady gives nothing back. Legend says her spirit is bound to the water. When the snow falls she returns to walk the shore. She calls to the children. She traps them forever. The White Lady gives nothing back.

Christopher awakes in a cell, cold and alone. He remembers nothing.  He learns that strange events are happening all over England. Children are missing. Christopher believes if he can figure out what’s happening to the children, he can unlock his memories.

Fans of Harry Potter will find themselves captivated by this book. Christopher is a similar but more realistic version of Harry.  Orphaned, scrawny and bullied as a child, he was later taken to be trained as an apothecary’s apprentice. While he has no magical powers, chemistry proves to be his most effective weapon.

Call of the Wraith is the fourth book in the Blackthorn Key series but you can read the books in any order. The characters cross over in each book, but the plots are stand alone.

The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

At first glance The Light Between Worlds may seem similar to Narnia, but it is so much more. It explores the idea of what happens after the fairytale is over. Once you’ve been in a magical world how can you ever go back to living in the real one?

The story focuses on three children during the Second World War. The children spend many nights clinging to each other in a darkened bomb shelter. One night Evelyn prays to be sent somewhere else, somewhere peaceful. Magically, they find themselves in the kingdom of the Woodlands.

Although the tale of the Woodlands floats back and forth throughout the book, the story’s main focus is on the relationship between the siblings. Once they return to the real world, things between them change.

The Light Between Worlds covers a lot of heavy subject matter but there is so much truth to how the characters develop.  The story will hit home with anyone who has watched a love one battle depression.

For a complete list of books in the Red Maple category please see the WPL catalogue. And please stay tuned for more favourites in the Forest of Reading program.

— Lesley L.

Missed the “All Quiet at the Distillery” Walking Tour? Check Out the Virtual Version!

On October 3rd and 5th, customers and staff ventured out of WPL’s Ellis Little Local History Room and onto the streets of UpTown Waterloo to learn about the local impact of Prohibition and temperance. The walking tour began in front of the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery, where we looked across to the old Seagram’s Distillery buildings and learned about the beginnings of Prohibition. The story continued as Janet Seally, Manager of Information Services & Local History, told us of bootleggers purchasing Seagram’s whiskey under the cover of night and the inspectors who tried to stop them.

The second stop of the tour took us to the intersection of Albert and Dupont Streets where we stood in front of the building that used to be home to the Market Hotel and learned how prohibition affected the hospitality trade. The third and final stop on the walking tour was at the King St. and Princess St. intersection, across the street from Stark & Perri. We learned that Stark & Perri isn’t just a cool name; it’s a reference to Bessie Starkman and Rocco Perri, a bootlegging couple that ran part of their operation out of the building when it was the Waterloo Garage.

Both tours ended in the welcome warmth of the Huether Hotel‘s malt room, where we heard from Libby Walker of the City of Waterloo Museum, and Kelly Adlys whose family owns the hotel. As some tour attendees sipped a beer at the Huether while they listened, their enjoyment was no doubt increased after hearing of the dry times in Waterloo around 100 years ago.

If you missed the tour, you can still experience the history through a virtual exhibit that has been created on the Waterloo Public Library’s Our Ontario site (the home of all our digitized local history material). The exhibit is made up of the research, photos and newspaper articles that were used for this year’s walking tour. Learn about the way Prohibition affected local distilleries, about secret rum running tunnels and more by visiting this link.

— Jenna H.

This Little Light

This Little Light” is a compelling story that takes place in the near future and features relevant issues, a tense plot, a strong main character and a shocking ending. The intensity grows throughout the story, which is set over 48 hours, as two teenage girls flee for their lives when they’re accused of bombing their high school’s “Virtue Ball”.

This is a Dystopian read where issues of socio-economic disparity, immigration, climate change, the power of the government, media and fundamentalist religion are at the forefront. Abortion has been re-criminalized and birth control is hard to obtain, which creates an underground “Pink Market” for these services. The rights of women have been whittled away to the point where teen girls are told their place in society, which includes declaring a chastity promise to their fathers. That’s a whole lotta issues, but it works.

Rory, as the protagonist, is a breath of fresh air. I love her strength and conviction as she voices her opinions and relentlessly questions the way things are being done (her outspokenness often being blamed on her being half Canadian! Atta, girl!). She’s one small voice in a sea of media, Christian fundamentalists and politicians who want to control the rights of women and keep immigrants “in their place”.

This story has a strong teen vibe to it which is great, but unexpected. The only thing I didn’t love was the teen speak which felt contrived and often grating. For example, “I wanted to tell Fee to go up and have a shower because smell ..” This kind of dialogue occurred a lot and felt awkward – like the author was trying too hard to sound like a teen.

Overall, this was an engaging, eye-opening read that handles some big issues within a compulsive story that shows the importance of people questioning how things are done and not just accepting what you see in the media as fact. This is, obviously, a good pick for people itching for books with a Handmaid’s Tale feel to it.

— Laurie P.

National Treasures

If you are a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 1 and Season 2) on TV, but are afraid to read a book by Margaret Atwood, I encourage you to give The Testaments a try! The Testaments is the long awaited and much anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale that reads more like pop fiction novel than a traditional Margaret Atwood book.

The Testaments takes place approximately 15 to 16 years later than The Handmaid’s Tale.  The reader sees what the world now looks like through the testimony of three female narrators: Aunt Lydia (yes, that Aunt Lydia), Witness 369A, and Witness 369B.

Aunt Lydia reveals that Gilead’s citizens are more power-hungry and corrupt than ever. Trust is a rarity and Aunt Lydia says to “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Having no friends, I must make do with enemies.” Witness 369A tells the reader about her life growing up as the daughter of a Commander in Gilead. Witness 369B lives in Canada, and gives the reader her perspective as an outsider of Gilead, looking in. I can’t give you any more details about the narrators without spoiling the many twists, turns, shocks and surprises you will encounter as you read the book.

I’ve been waiting for this sequel for so long that I really wanted to take my time reading it.  However, my copy must have contained chocolate because it kept calling me to come back to it, and I ended up reading it within a day. I found myself totally engaged with the narrators and each new morsel of information they revealed made it that much harder for me to put down.

I recently attended a “Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas” event that was presented onscreen at a local Cineplex. Ann Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, read two excerpts from Aunt Lydia’s narrative in The Testaments. Two other readers each read an excerpt from Witness 369A and 369B. Atwood was also interviewed and she was asked was what made her decide to finally write a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale after 34 years? Her answer?  When Trump got elected as President of the United States. Atwood was also asked what she thought was the most important issue facing the world today. Without hesitation she said our planet, and she feels if we focus on healing and protecting our planet, our other issues will fall into place.

— Sandy W.

Meet Author Joanna Goodman

Joanna Goodman, author of the One Book, One Community selection for 2019, The Home For Unwanted Girls, is visiting the Region of Waterloo from September 24 to 26. Four (4) author events, including book signings, have been scheduled:

Tuesday, September 24
7:00pm to 9:00pm
Knox Presbyterian Church, 50 Erb St W, Waterloo, ON N2L 1T1

Wednesday, September 25
1:15pm to 2:15pm
Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School, 1206 Snyder’s Road West, New Hamburg N3A 1A4
Note: this event is open to the general public, not just to students of Waterloo Oxford.

Wednesday, September 25
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Kitchener Public Library – Central Library, 85 Queen St N, Kitchener, ON N2H 2H1

Thursday, September 26
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Trillium United Church, 450 King Street East, Cambridge, ON N3H 3M9

All of the author events are free but attendees are advised to arrive early for a good seat.

To learn more about Joanna, The Home for Unwanted Girls and One Book, One Community, visit oboc.ca

In-Between Days

In-Between Days is a memoir about living with cancer. For people who are sad-averse, this subject matter would be enough to keep them away from this book. Having it presented in a graphic novel format could be the last straw for the reader sitting on the fence. However, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and experience this illustrated emotional, spiritual and physical cancer journey that Teva Harrison takes us on.

At the age of 37, Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, a disease that, at the time, was classified as incurable but controllable. Believing that she would be living with this disease as a chronic illness, Teva sought the help of a psychiatrist who worked in the oncology department at her hospital. Talking through her concerns led her to creating drawings of the dark emotions she was experiencing. Her doctor encouraged her to continue with this therapeutic exercise and from that encouragement, this graphic novel was born.

The reader is taken through Teva’s cancer journey from diagnosis through numerous treatments to her eventual acceptance of the incurability of the disease. The illustrations are done in black and white, which allowed her to depict her experience, both starkly and also more-lightheartedly. Visually, the drawings are stunning in their simplistic detail.

We learn of her first meeting with her soul-mate/husband David and the incredibly beautiful way their romance unfolded and the solidity of that relationship through some of Teva’s darkest moments.

Anyone who has experienced a devastating diagnosis of any kind, whether personally or alongside a friend or family member, will understand the oscillating moments of torment and hope that patients experience. The need for connection versus the need to be alone; the need to eat versus the emptiness of hunger; the need to get up and out versus the paralyzing fatigue that makes the smallest movement seem monumental. Harrison walks us through the map of the intimacies of her life with candor and humour. She was blessed with a family of exceptional women and that legacy and support was the steel in her spirit when the days seemed their darkest.

Spoiler alert. I’m not going to lie to you… by the time I reached the end, I really thought/hoped/prayed that Teva’s story would end well. And I think to a certain extent, it likely did insofar as she lived with passion and ferocity, in the face of an uncertain future. I expect that she packed more ‘living’ into her dying days than some people do in their ‘living’ days. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming tale told by a very brave and very talented woman.

— Nancy C.

Someone We Know

Shari Lapena, the Toronto-based lawyer-turned-author, is on my short list of ‘Favourite Suspense Authors Evah’. With her latest book, Someone We Know, she once again provides her readers with a fast-paced, suspenseful and twist-riddled whodunnit.

This was a thrilling ride through a suburb that is full of secrets, deceit and a dead woman with a complicated past. Ooooo, right? Lapena provides great twists and many plausible suspects leaving readers to question pretty much every character’s motives. The characters are a diverse and complicated bunch, but each felt well-developed and featured a wide range of personalities – with some being not so likable and others hiding deep, dark family secrets with smiles on their faces. You just don’t know who to trust.

My only beef is a small one – it’s but a wee moo – but I found there were a lot of characters to keep track of and with the police sometimes referring to characters as ‘Mr. so-and-so’ versus their first names, it got a bit confusing remembering who was who. The author is good at reminding the reader but this suburb has a lot of residents that readers will have to keep track of.

I don’t want to give away any secrets or twists but I’ll just say that Lapena has, once again, written a clever, compulsive, hard-to-put-down suspense read with a long list of culprits that will keep readers guessing (and second guessing) until the bitter end. You’ll want to get your hands on this book ASAP. As luck would have it, WPL has copies of this title in regular print, large print and audiobook on CD that you can borrow!

— Laurie P.

Down-home with The Prairie Table

The Prairie Table features good ol’ Canadian recipes from the blogger behind the highly successful The Kitchen Magpie. In this cookbook, Karlynn Johnston shares over 100 recipes – from appetizers and main dishes to side dishes, delicious desserts and cocktails (compliments of Mr. Kitchen Magpie). These tasty yet doable recipes will encourage us to share more meals with those we love and remind us of the importance of reconnecting at the end of a busy day.

I immediately enjoyed the personable, friendly feel to Karlynn’s writing as she shares the recipes she makes for her own family and big get-togethers. Organized into 8 chapters and with a nostalgic, retro vibe to its colour pictures, Karlynn weaves some of her heritage into the book by dedicating the first chapter to the tasty Ukrainian dishes she grew up on. As a Tater Connoisseur myself, I’m particularly smitten with the section on perogies – particularly her “Choose Your Own Perogy Adventure“!

I tried a couple of the recipes before this review — my daughter and I made the Cake Mix Cookies (using Cherry Chip – deelish!) and I’m relieved to know that Karlynn (like myself) is a serious banana hoarder. I am not alone. Phew! Her Banana Gingerbread Loaf was a great way to reduce my cache of frozen ‘nanas and it was big time yum at home and shared with coworkers at WPL. With my eye on many more recipes to try (Beer and Orange-Glazed Salmon, Curried Honey Chipotle Sweet Potatoes, Make-Ahead Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole…), this will be a much used cookbook in my home.

With good tips, a wonderful down-home feel and a great selection of doable recipes, The Prairie Table will get home cooks into the kitchen and eager to share their new culinary skills at family dinners, dinner parties and large potlucks.

-Laurie P.

Staff Picks for Summer

WPL staff love sharing what they’re reading…or looking forward to reading! If you’re looking for a new great read, why not check out our Staff Picks List for Summer 2019. This list of fiction and non-fiction is for adult readers.

We’re also sharing our top picks for kids and teens. We hope you have a summer full of sunshine, good times and great reads.

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Mind & Matter

Beach read, smeach read. I think that we should all read anything we want in the summer – spin the wheel and pick a genre, any genre. The New Yorker (available to us online, 24-hours a day, through RBdigital) published an article which unveiled the truth behind the summer reading season.

It turns out that the whole summer reading phenomenon is a put-up job created by the publishing industry at the turn of the last century. Those clever marketing people just wanted to sell more books! When vacation getaways became popular, thanks to railways and steamships, they got to work and made sure that their product would be ready for packing into stylish suitcases. They repackaged older titles as “summer” editions (I know that I would be fooled by this – I can easily be taken in by a book with a straw hat on the cover), encouraged their authors to write novels set on campsites and summer resorts and poof, made the summer novel an important part of the publishing market. Well, it all worked out well for them, didn’t it?

Now it seems like every newspaper and magazine we receive here in the library runs a feature on summer reads, beach reads, resort reads or cottage reads. Men’s Health magazine (available on the shelf and through RBdigital) has even promoted books that are ‘unsung beach reads’ in their July/August issue. I’m in favour of this, wholeheartedly. Let’s all read more!

I recently fell so hard for a book that didn’t have a straw hat on the cover and looks more like a back-to-school title than anything else but I encourage you to rush out and grab a copy. Mind and Matter, the memoir by former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel is not your typical NFL story. It’s really not like any book I’ve ever read before. The subtitle of his book is “a life in math and football” because at the time his book was published John was working towards his PhD in math at MIT. Not something might expect to read about a former NFL player and maybe that is what makes this book a fantastic read. I read it, one of my daughters read it and then my husband picked it up and we all have not stopped talking about it whenever we can move conversation towards the topic of John Urschel. If we have talked to you in the last few weeks we have probably mentioned him.

Although he was born in Winnipeg, Urschel had moved to Buffalo by the time he attended high school. He began to play football because he was inspired by his father’s college career and saw it as a way to be popular. Urschel enjoyed the sport and loved being on a team right away but it wasn’t easy. He worked hard, practiced at home and had extra coaching from his father so that he could catch up with kids who were far stronger players. But something that did come easy to him, even at a very young age, were puzzles and math.

When John Urschel was just 13 his mother arranged for him to audit a college-level Calculus course because she knew that he would enjoy it so much. They played a little game where she would let him have the change from their shopping trips if he could calculate the tax before the cashier finished tallying their purchases. She had to stop that quickly as his mental work was so quick.

Everything Urschel writes in this autobiography is very matter of fact, partially because he wants to tell a convincing story about following the path that feels right to you, even when people around you are telling you it isn’t the right one, and all of the little glimpses he shares about his younger grades just jump off the page.

He wrote this book with the assistance of his partner, author Louisa Thomas, and it is honest and inspiring (even when he gets down to the nitty gritty of explaining a multi-step logic problem). Urschel made the choice to accept a scholarship to Penn State in 2010 although his mother was pressuring him to attend Stanford because he felt like their football team would be the best fit for him. When he arrives on their campus it’s the first step in a long journey to the NFL and this half of his life story is filled with exactly what you would expect – grueling workouts, games out of town, making lifelong friendships with other players and fighting to keep his spot on the roster. Learning about his time at Penn State is particularly interesting as he was there during the time that football players were sanctioned for the acts of their former coach Jerry Sandusky. It’s the first of many moments in John’s life that the reader feels like they have that “fly on the wall” experience.

When Urschel was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 draft he had completed his master’s degree and even published a paper in an academic journal. At this time in his football career he was starting to feel the pull of his academic interests but still wanted to stay with the team. Incredibly he was able to balance both his school world and the life of an NFL player. It’s wonderful to read the story of his management saying that now that he is signed to a big football contract it’s time to do something about the horrible car he has been driving. Urschel had been driving the same car for years so he agreed to this and asked that they order him a Nissan Versa. A new one, certainly, but not the type of car you would expect of someone who has just signed an NFL contract. And definitely a slightly smaller car than would comfortably fit an offensive lineman. It’s a story that is constantly fascinating.

Something you would expect in a memoir about a football player is for it to discuss concussions. He talks about the possibility of injury, brain and body, throughout his career and the part they play in his life. Each time he considers whether he will continue on in the sport this is something that is on his mind and he spends time in the book discussing how he is able to compartmentalize his feelings about injuries. He is aware of the chance he could develop CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and addresses his concerns. He is honest about how it might change the direction of his career as a mathematician but he continues to work at both math and football with equal passion despite experiencing a concussion during Ravens training camp in August of 2015.

His love of football and mathematics are interwoven perfectly throughout the book and that is one of the things that make it such a pleasure to read – the balance. He gives equal weight to both and as you read you can see why he devotes so much to making both parts of his life a success. This isn’t an autobiography that gives much detail outside of those two pursuits but this helps you to see why he does so well in both vocations. He occasionally mentions other players on his teams, shares details about the mentors he has at the universities or says how much he enjoys the campus where he lives but there are very few incidental moments shared about how he spent his life. At the end of the book you realize the reason for this is because it’s likely he didn’t have much extra time between playing a competitive sport and his academic life. Well, he does mention wanting to take a break at one point, and this is when he takes up chess in a more serious way. He had enjoyed it off and on throughout his life but when he decides he needs it for a change of pace he orders specialized books, studies the most famous games, and finds himself spending hours contemplating a particular position on the board.

Finally Urschel does find that his life at MIT is the more appealing one. He acknowledges that either football or mathematics would benefit from his full-time attention and he knows that he is looking forward to going back to school more than being at ‘work’ on the football field. It isn’t a decision that he makes easily (and in an interview I read he says that he does miss his NFL pay cheque) and he notes that his fiancé and their daughter factor into his retirement from the NFL.

At a young age John Urschel decided that he wanted to choose an unexpected career path and put everything he could into making his unlikely future happen. In Mind and Matter he has written an inspiring, enjoyable memoir that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages – whether they enjoy math or football or neither of those things – his story is so compelling. And, if you want to, skip ahead to the logic puzzle it is on pages 8 through 12 (yes, it takes 5 pages to describe this puzzle and the solution, he is the real deal).

— Penny M.