Review: Gottika by Helaine Becker

 I’ve always been a fan of Helaine Becker’s nonfiction and her picture books, but I was intrigued when I heard she had a new fantasy novel in the works.

Incorporating graphic novel elements illustrated by Alexander Griggs-Burr,  and set in an alternate dystopian world, Becker hinges the turning point of Gottika on a character straight out of a Jewish legend, a Gol.  These are magical creatures made from clay and earth and brought to life by powerful charms are charged with protecting against oppression. These incongruent elements come together to create a fabulous read enhanced by Griggs-Burrs visuals.

The story begins with fifteen year old Dany yearning for relief from the oppression of Count Pol’s reign. But, he is too young to know how to bring it about. As a Stoon, he, his family, and his friends are nothing more than second class citizens subject to the brutality of Gottika City’s Guards. Dany can’t understand why his father, a respected elder, doesn’t  do more to stop the tyranny. Instead of acting, his father hides behind closed doors with the few books the officials have allowed him to keep.

Dany seethes with frustration that is further fueled by a father who treats him like a child and a mother whose secret past  haunts her. Pol’s increasingly brutal actions force Dany’s father to take a stand, but not in a way that Dany had ever imagined.  His father creates and breathes life into a Gol. The Gol is charged with protecting their people, but when his father is imprisoned and slated for execution, even the Gol can’t help, Dany must act to stop Count Pol.

Gottika is the perfect mashup that results in a great read; one that kept me awake until I turned the last page.

Walter Dean Myers

Sad news…

African-American author, Walter Dean Myers passed away yesterday. He was 76 years old. He was one of several wonderful writers who changed the face of literature for young people in North America.

I had the pleasure of hearing him speak only once, but his words, like his books, will remain with me for years to come. Fallen Angels, Monster, and Bad Boy are some of my favorites. I will be revisiting them, and I hope you do too. He often set his stories in inner city neighborhoods and featured characters who often made  less than ideal choices.

Myers,who grew up in Harlem under some tough circumstances,  dropped out of high school, and had more than a few brushes with the law.  He managed to stay connected to books and reading through his local library.  In a public radio interview on “here & Now,” Myers says, “My circumstances often seemed insurmountable to me, but through reading I reached out for ideas that might help me escape them. The books I read showed me options other than those I saw reflected in my surroundings. They gave me new definitions for success in my life.”

After working a series of low paying jobs, he took the advice of a high school teacher who had told him to keep writing no matter what.  Fortunately for all of us, Walters followed that high school teacher’s advice.  He went on to publish more than 100 books and became one of the most respected voices in young adult literature in America.  He was a tireless advocate for literacy, and his writing was especially popular with middle and high school boys.  His books garnered multiple honors including: five Coretta Scott King Awards for African-American fiction, two Newbery Honor Medals, and a Printz Award. He was named a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in 2012-13.

For young writers looking for writing advice, Myers published Just Write, which he described as a template from his own life.




Stories come in all shapes, sizes and mediums

I love that stories can be told in so many ways.  Here’s a Ted Talk by Jim Toomey that is really cool…it’s his story on how he became a cartoonist, but it’s also the story of how “Story” comes in a variety of forms and how it can have an impact on our world.  So, for all you parents and teachers out there who tell kids to stop doodling, you may want to check this out. And for those of you who are kids and doodle-inclined, this is for you.

Orca book Publishers spring book launch

Orca Book Publishers is celebrating some awesome authors in their spring book launch.  If you’re in town, be sure to drop in. If you can’t make it, books will be available through your local bookstore, or online.


Victoria writers to catch in December

Authors Sarah Harvey & Robin Stevenson


Monday December 9th, 7:30 pm at the Victoria Children’s Literature Roundtable

Two local authors for teens, Sarah Harvey (Lit Report, Death Benefits, Three Little Words) and Robin Stevenson (Record Breaker, Attitude, A Thousand Shades of Blue) will tell us about their writing experiences. Sarah, an editor for Orca Books, will also talk about the editing process, focusing on the new Limelights series of novels about the performing arts.

Also: Orca Books presents their new titles, and Sarah Harrison, Children’s Librarian, showcases Christmas books for gift-giving. Enjoy some Christmas treats!

The VCLR is open to the public. Members free, drop-ins $5, students $4. Meetings are held at the Nellie McClung Branch Library, 3950 Cedar Hill Road.

Doors open at 7 pm. Browse Schoolhouse Teaching Supplies and Children’s Bookstore’s table before the meeting. Bring a friend!

For more information about the Roundtable, call 250-598-3694, find us on Facebook, or visit:

Author of the Silverwing and Airborn series in Victoria

I won’t be in town for this, but if you are, don’t miss author Kenneth Oppel’s talk for the Victoria Children’s Literature Roundtable Monday October 21st, 7:30 at Nellie McClung Library.  I love his books and if you haven’t read them, you will too!

Monday October 21st, 7:30 pm

at the Victoria Children’s Literature Roundtable

All the way from Toronto: meet Kenneth Oppel, author of the Silverwing and Airborn series, Half Brother, This Dark Endeavor: the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, and more! Join us for Oppel’s illustrated talk about his career as an author – starting with his earliest writings in school, what inspired him, and how he got his first book published at age 17.

The VCLR is open to the public. Members free, drop-ins $5, students $4. Meetings are held at the Nellie McClung Branch Library, 3950 Cedar Hill Road.

Doors open at 7 pm. Browse Schoolhouse Teaching Supplies and Children’s Bookstore’s table before the meeting. Bring a friend!

For more information about the Roundtable, call 250-598-3694, find us on Facebook, or visit:

Short-lists and winners

It’s award season, and yes, it’s hard to keep up.  If you hail from north of the 49th parallel, you’ll be familiar with the Ontario Tree Awards…These are a big deal here, cuz they’re a reader’s choice award, and what author doesn’t want his/her readers to love their books!  There are awards for fiction as well as non-fiction with 6 English categories and two French.  Their site has a handy template that links each category to this year’s short list as well as short lists and winners for several previous years.  I recommend printing the lists off for future reading.


The short-list for the Governor General’s Literature Award For Children’s Text (see below)


The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna

Becoming Holmes by Shane Peacock

Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol

Counting Back from Nine by Valerie Sherrard

and short-list for the Governor General’s Literature Award for Illustration (see below) were also recently announced.


Miss Mousie’s Blind Date illustrated by Rachel Berman

Oy, Feh, So? illustrated by Gary Clement

Northwest Passage illustrated by Matt James

The Dark illustrated by Jon Klassen

How To illustrated by Julie Morstad


Our friends south of the Canuck border are also celebrating short-lists of their own. The finalists for the 2013  National Book Award for Young People’s Literature has just been announced.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (S&S/Atheneum).

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (S&S/Atheneum).

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Knopf).

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff (Putnam).

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second).


And finally, here in Victoria, BC we are celebrating Polly Horvath’s Bolen Books Prize win for Children’s Literature.

I have a dream…

50 years ago today, a great man gave a speech.  I watched Dr. Martin Luther King ‘s speech 50 years ago when I was a a kid of 9.  It gave me shivers back then. I watched again today, and iIt still gives me shivers.  The message of this speech still resonates. “I have a dream…meeting physical force with soul force…I have a dream…from every mountain side, let freedom ring.”


Info for Young Authors






Karen Krossing, author of The Yo-Yo Prophet, has put together an awesome list of where young authors can submit their writing.  Check it out.  And while your at it, check out some of Karen’s equally awesome books.

Editing is for everyone

When I visit schools, I often tell kids that becoming a good writer is important even if they don’t want to become authors.  So, when I ran across this photo, I had to post. Below is President Obama editing a speech. Ya gotta love it!


A detailed look from White House photographer Pete Souza at Barack Obama, Copy Editor in Chief.

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