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.

Making Memories the TV Way

Remember appointment viewing TV? It’s not really a thing in 2019 because everyone subscribes to a different cable or streaming service. It seems like every time I turn around there is a new option for viewing. The end result is that it is rare for everyone to be watching the same television program at the same time like we all used to. In the days before streaming we would all watch the same television shows and then share the experience the next day. The day after a big television event everyone would talk about it. After the final episode of M.A.S.H. or Friends people would discuss the plot at school or work – it was big news. Now it happens less and less.

I have great memories of watching television with my family when I was a kid and then, in university years, cozying up on a couch together with classmates to watch our favourite shows (although we really should have been studying). When I talk about this with people at the library now we all agree that it was the sharing that really meant something – everyone involved in the same activity and then talking about it later. We all knew the same characters, story lines and theme songs! Oh, the songs.

Here at the library we have shelves and shelves of the TV shows that will take you back to the days of your childhood – just pick a decade. We have Green Acres, Family Ties, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and every wonderful season of Scorpion (if you haven’t seen it yet, you have to – it’s like the A-team but set in 2010s). The real thrill of having this diversity of television viewing at our disposal is that it is so much easier to find the show that matches your needs. Just watch an episode or two and see if you like it and then bring it back to the library if it doesn’t work for your family.

We hear this kind of feedback all of the time at the library desk, especially from people who are trying to find something that suits a variety of tastes in one group. Trying something new at the library is a breeze and we can help you sort through all of the choices. When you are able to browse through a collection that houses television programming that was written in the 1950s (Gunsmoke), the 1970s (Mary Tyler Moore), the 1990s (Frasier) and this past year (Mr. Robot) it is so easy to be extra aware of things like the sense of humour used by the writers and actors. You can even make your choices based on how graphic they are in their depiction of violence or sexual content in an individual series. Parents and grandparents come to the desks to find television shows that they can share with children and grandchildren or they come to us to ask for suggestions. This is all possible through the wide assortment of series that we have here on the shelves.

At our house we now know that we have fallen in love with the work of television producer Mike Schur. It wasn’t deliberate. We didn’t set out to follow the TV shows that he made but there was a moment when I was listening to a podcast for the television show The Good Place when I heard a conversation about his work and found that so much of the content that was coming from his production company – Fremulon – falls in our top five of all-time favourite television programs. We have made characters and catch phrases from Parks & Recreation, The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine part of our household because they feel like ‘family’. Well, a particularly diverse and extremely funny family. The team at Fremulon have cast talented actors who are able to make television shows that are telling you a story – whether it is in a police station, city council office or in another ‘place’ – while making you feel like you could be at home there too.

And, isn’t that what made watching television so cozy way back when you were a kid? Feeling comfortable at home, just sitting on the couch, fighting over what you would watch, because someone wanted to watch the Sunday Walt Disney movie but someone else wanted to watch the football game? You can take home a television series (or try more than one – we have so many here on the shelves) and make some cozy memories of your own.

— Penny M.

Dare to Read a Scary Story This Halloween

Normally, I avoid reading anything scary. Horror just isn’t my thing. I can live without ghosts, goblins and things that may or may not be dead. Halloween, however, is an exception. It is the only time of year I’m brave enough to pull out a scary story and curl up for the night. Some of the best scary stories I’ve dared to read can be found in our teen section:

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Buckle up. You are in for a wild ride. Rules for Vanishing is not your usual horror novel. It breaks all the rules. It’s not a story that you can predict. You just have to keep reading and let the tale unfold.

Everyone in Briar Glen knows the story of Lucy Gallows. One day she ran into the woods and disappeared. Legend says that once a year a road opens up in those same woods and Lucy stands at the end. Everyone thinks that Lucy is just an urban myth. Until Sara’s sister goes missing.

Determined to find her sister, Sara searches for Lucy’s road. There are rules she must follow: find a partner, never let go, find a key, never stray from the path. There are seven gates she must pass through. If Sara can complete the journey maybe she can find her sister and bring her home.

This book is full of nightmares and is a combination of everything that makes a horror story great. It has mystery, suspense, paranormal activities and things that go bump in the night. I’ve never read anything quite like Rules for Vanishing. It is difficult to describe the feeling you get while reading it. It’s eerie and terrifying and I loved every minute of it.

The Dogs by Allan Stratton

The Dogs is a psychological thriller mixed in with classic horror. It was the winner of the 2016 Red Maple Award.

Cameron and his mom move into an old farm house with a shady past. Cameron begins to sense things in the house that others cannot. He hears dogs barking in the distance. He sees a young boy walking in the fields. Brushed off as a mental health issue, no one takes Cameron’s sightings seriously. However, Cameron becomes more and more obsessed with discovering the identity of the boy and the mystery surrounding the farm house.

Author Allan Stratton blends a modern day story with supernatural elements so well that you won’t know where the human mind stops and the ghosts begin. I’m not going to lie….I slept with the lights on after I read this one.

How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires and Zombies by David Spurlock

Horror stories are not for everyone and some creative minds may prefer to spend the evening sketching undead creatures of the night instead.

How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires and Zombies is one of the most versatile art books I’ve come across. It’s not a step by step instructional book, but rather how to take your art to the next level. There are tips on lighting, style and perspective. It is interesting how much the story can change when a drawing is changed from a different angle or when the lighting is shifted from one part of the picture to another.

Each section of the book is centered on a different monster and gives the origins of each classic creature. The roots of zombie tales can be traced to the West African religion of Vodun. There are accounts of people being turned into mindless monsters by witchdoctors known as a bokor. The stories grew to become the type of flesh-eating zombies we see in movies starting with the classic 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.
There are even articles featuring classic horror artists, including Basil Gogos, followed by a breakdown of his iconic oil painting of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. Even if you are not artistically inclined, this book is an interesting read about the history and lore that make up the modern day horror genre.

Happy Halloween!

— Lesley L.

What are the WPL Book Clubs reading in November?

Date: Monday, November 11 at 7 p.m.
Location: Main Library, Auditorium
Title: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Goodreads rating of 4.03. Read the reviews.
Discover information about the author and discussion questions.
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book.

Date: Thursday, November 21st at 1:30 p.m.
Location: Main Library, Boardroom
Title: Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Old Man Hu’ng has been making and selling pho to hungry devotees for nearly 70 years, continually adapting his recipe and the location of his food cart to accommodate the terrible demands of poverty, war and oppression that have plagued Hanoi throughout his long life. Cherished least of all his mother’s ten children thanks to an inauspicious facial birthmark, Hu’ng was sent in 1933 to apprentice at his Uncle Chien’s restaurant where he achieved mastery over broth and noodles. Inheriting the business from his uncle, Hu’ng’s sublime cookery and willingness to barter made him a favourite in the 1950s with the Beauty of Humanity Movement, a group of artists and intellectuals who dared question Communist rule, at great peril.

Heading the movement was Dao, a poet whose young son Binh would shadow Hu’ng at the restaurant, hungry not for noodles but for the attention that his own revolutionary father was too distracted to provide. When Dao was inevitably arrested, Binh’s mother whisked the boy into hiding, blinding him in one eye to avoid conscription. Hu’ng was forced to close his restaurant, but not knowing any other life’s work, he persisted in making and selling pho by pushing a food cart through the city, even when forced to make his noodles with scavenged pond weeds.

Fifty years later, Binh is a middle-class Hanoi carpenter who once again consumes daily bowls of Hu’ng’s pho, following the old man to whatever location he has moved to in order to evade police beatings. Binh tries valiantly to protect Hu’ng, the gentle old man who is as close to a father as he has ever known. By extension Hu’ng is also a grandfather to Binh’s son Tu’, a somewhat aimless Nike-shod tour guide who wears his clothes and hair in modern fashion, and yet whose spirited idealism reminds Hu’ng of his revolutionist grandfather.

One day Hu’ng’s improvised pho stand is visited by a beautiful stranger, Maggie, a foreign-raised Vietnamese art curator who was spirited out of Hanoi as a child during the fall of Saigon. Her artist father disappeared in those tumultuous times, and Maggie has returned to the country of her birth to learn his fate. Hearing of Hu’ng’s reputation, she has come to plead for answers–did he know her father? Hu’ng’s memory is failing, but he dearly wants to help this young woman, whose beauty sends him back to a time long ago, when he loved a girl whose betrayal he has never forgiven. . .

Goodreads rating of 3.92. Read the reviews.
Consider these discussion questions from Book Browse here
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book here

The Family Upstairs

Lisa Jewell is one of my all-time favourite authors. When she has a book out, you know I’ll be reading it. Her latest book, The Family Upstairs is a delightfully sinister psychological thriller with a bit of a gothic vibe that was engrossing until its final pages.

The story occurs in two different time frames and is told using three different points of view (and short chapters) which keeps the tension high and the pages turning quick. The pieces of the story surrounding a dysfunctional family, their posh manor house and their guests, gradually come together as the mystery of what happened to the manor’s earlier occupants unfolds for the reader.

There are a lot of characters, but Jewell gives them distinct voices and an impressive amount of depth. This is distinctly darker than Jewell’s previous books but just as gripping and I enjoyed the clever twists and even the disturbing feel. While I’m not a fan of open-ended stories, the loose ends in this book didn’t bother me as much as I would have expected.

Overall, this was a wonderfully gripping, slightly ominous, twisted family drama. Without divulging the plot, I’ll just say that this is another must-read book by Lisa Jewell.  WPL has ordered paper copies and audiobook on CD for this book that publishes November 5th.

— Laurie P.

The Buzz About “Tasty”

I recently spied two new cookbooks on the display shelves at the Main Library: Tasty Dessert and Tasty Ultimate. A quick flick through them revealed tantalizing photos and recipes using everyday ingredients with inviting, short (and short-ish) instructions. I whipped out my WPL card, ran them through the self-check and took them both home with the hope that many tasty treats and meals were coming soon.

“Tasty” is connected to Buzzfeed and dominates social media. They have an incredible 97 million + likes on Facebook, 33.6 million followers on Instagram, and over 16 million subscribers on YouTube.  Wowzers. Their claim in Tasty Ultimate is “…whether you’re a sometimes cook or a master meal prepper….with 150 recipes, clever hacks and must-know techniques, this cookbook will teach you how to kill it in the kitchen.” Well, we’ll see about that!

I ended up selecting 4 recipes between the two books. It’s fall and I’m happy to leave pumpkin spice lattes to others. My autumn “go to” is ginger…ginger snaps, ginger cookies, and gingerbread so there was no way I would pass trying their “Gingersnap Wedges” recipe. Now, my version didn’t actually snap but the flavour was so wonderful and warming that I was very happy that they ended up more chewy than crisp. I’d definitely make them again…which will please my family no end.

On the flip-side, the “Banana Bread Cookies” were merely a “meh”. Yes, they tasted like banana bread but even with the obvious giant hint in the name, I thought there’d be some sort of interesting twist. I’ll stick to making the traditional loaves and muffins from my own recipes in the future.

For a chocolate fix for my family, I whipped up a batch of “Cakey Brownies” and, with another Captain Obvious-type moment, they were like cake brownies. Or really, more a very dense cake rather than what I think of as a brownie. The cake was delicious and I think it should be advertised as that but hey, I don’t have 33.6 million followers so that’s just my opinion.

Finally, for a savoury treat, I tried the Cocktail Nuts recipe. Using pecans, walnuts, brazil nuts and almonds, I made “Mediterranean Herb & Seed Mix” and “Indian-Style Seasoning Mix”. Super easy to make…just watch carefully as toasting nuts will burn the second you look away. Both types had wonderful flavours and would be delicious to share at a dinner part or parcel up as a homemade gift at the holidays.

So, overall my results were good but, in the end, I actually was a bit under-whelmed by the two Tasty books. Between them they have almost 300 recipes and after making my four and taking another browse through, I didn’t find any other “must try” recipes for the future. My advice, borrow them from the library before buying. Or join the masses and follow/like/view on social media.

— Sandi H.

Gingersnap Wedges

1 c plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
½ c packed dark brown sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
3 tbsp molasses
1 large egg at room temperature
1 c chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
1 tsp turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan with a circle of parchment paper, cut to fit.

In large bowl whisk together flour, soda, ginger, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Make a well in the centre and set aside.

In medium-sized bowl combine brown sugar, butter, molasses and egg. Using a handheld electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add to the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until combined.

Add the crystallized ginger* and stir in with rubber spatula until evenly incorporated.

Scrape dough into cake pan and press into even layer. Score dough into 8 wedges, then sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar. (I used regular sugar and it tasted just fine!)

Bake until dough is no longer shiny and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pen to a wire rack and let cool completely in the pan, about 60 minutes. Inverted the cooled dough onto a cutting board. Turn right-side up and cut along the scored lines to separate the cookie wedges before serving.

*I didn’t have crystallized so I added some freshly grated ginger and it was marvelous

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.

The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer is a stellar debut novel for Ta-Nehisi Coates. While he has had an illustrious career in journalism, this is his first foray into fiction and he has hit a home-run! Coates’ writing style is stunningly eloquent, creating passages that transport the reader into the images and scenes created by his masterfully selected language. This is a gorgeously written piece of literature!

The story revolves around the life of Hiram Walker, one of the ‘Tasked’ on a plantation in Virginia called Lockless, owned and run by the ‘Quality’ Walker family. Once a thriving operation, the land is dying and the plantation and the ways of the gentry are facing a slow death.  We meet Hiram at a young age after his mother has been sold into bondage. He finds safe haven with a cantankerous woman in the slave village and it is during this time that he realizes that, even unschooled, he has an extremely unusual capacity to remember things. This talent brings him to the attention of the plantation owner, Howell Walker, who also happens to be Hiram’s birth father. Recognizing the tremendous gift that the boy has, Walker Sr brings the boy up to the main house to be educated and to be his white son Maynard’s servant.

This is the beginning of a journey that will take Hiram through oppressive suffering toward a future that will enable him to become a soldier in the underground war between the Quality and the Tasked. He will begin to unearth the memory of his mother, buried deep within him, that will allow his gift of ‘conduction’ to emerge, a gift that will help him to understand that freedom without love and family is bondage in its own way.

The story is based on the real life experiences of William and Peter Still, African-American brothers who were able to purchase their freedom from slavery and went on to become active abolitionists and conductors on the Underground Railroad. Fleeing For Freedom: Stories of the Underground Railway and The Underground Railroad Records are compilations of experiences of  the slaves and conductors who worked on the secret network and reflect the perils, tactics, and emotional struggles faced by the freedom seekers and fighters.

A warning to the reader: the inhumanity depicted in this story is almost beyond belief and yet multitudes of blacks have this savagery imprinted into their DNA through the generations that lived and continue to live in a country still much defined by its roots of slavery. 

— Nancy C.

Beer, Polkas and … Murder!

As K-W celebrates Oktoberfest season – a time of beer, polka and all things Bavarian – it’s the perfect time to pick up the Sloan Krause cozy mystery series by Ellie Alexander. The series is set in a small town known for its own Oktoberfest celebration and focuses on the growing culture of craft beer.

The first book in the series, Death on Tap, introduces readers to the town of Leavenworth, Washington. This Bavarian-inspired tourist town has a colourful cast of citizens including Sloan Krause, whose life revolves around her family-owned brew house and restaurant. When a murder occurs at one of the small craft breweries, Sloan finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation.

While the mysteries in the first three books of this series are at the forefront, Alexander also provides readers with interesting tidbits on craft brewing and its growing culture. As someone who enjoys craft beer, I found the info on the brewing process, flavours etc. quite interesting. But it was the underlying mystery surrounding Sloan’s murky past that kept me coming back for more. Since this mystery about Sloan’s early life builds over the three books, I highly suggest reading the books in order.

Book 1: Death on Tap
Book 2: The Pint of No Return
Book 3: Beyond a Reasonable Stout

Whether you’re a craft beer aficionado or simply not a beer person, I think fans of lighter mysteries will enjoy cozying up this Fall with this series.

— Laurie P.