Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Global Kidlit in Vancouver

Usually on a visit to Vancouver I try to make it to Vancouver Kidsbooks. I missed it this trip, and it's the one thing I wish I'd made time for. Vancouver bookstores and libraries have an amazingly wide-ranging selection of kids' and YA books. There seems to be a sense of obligation to keep up with literary trends in the entire English-speaking world--Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and even South Africa--as well as the United States and of course Canada itself.

Here are a few books I've found at Kidsbooks on past visits:

Camp X
by Eric Walters.
A huge hit in Canada when it came out, this cracking yarn of a World-War II spy story set in a small Canadian town barely cracked the U.S. consciousness. In fact, I couldn't even find a copy in the states when it showed up on the Young Reader's Choice Award nominee list a few years ago. Fortunately (for me and for all the kids who've been snatching it off the shelves ever since) Kidsbooks had it.

The Exiles
. by Hilary McKay
Hilary McKay's Casson family books are well-loved among American kidlit connoisseurs, but it's harder to find her earlier books within these borders. The Exiles, McKay's first novel, sends four cranky, argumentative sisters off to an unwilling beachside summer with "Big Grandma." It's not as tightly-constructed as the Casson books, but her trademark humor and strong, quirky characters are well in evidence.

A Monkey's Wedding
, by Norman Silver
Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, it ain't. This tale of four teenage girls of different races and backgrounds in post-apartheid South Africa makes for grim reading at times; the friends' stories don't all end happily, to say the least. This book gave me a sense of kids' actual lives in the "new" South Africa that news stories never would have provided. For that reason alone, it's survived several personal-library weeding sessions.

Orphan at My Door: The Home Child Diary of Victoria Cope, by Jean Little
The "Dear Canada" books are our neighbor to the North's answer to the "Dear America" phenomenon. This volume, by one of Canada's best-known historical novelists, takes as its topic the "Home Children", British orphans who were shipped overseas to be employed/adopted by Canadian families. Their story is similar in some ways to that of the Orphan Train children in the States--some found real homes, some were abused. "Orphan at My Door," set in Guelph, Ontario, in 1897, actually tells the story of a Canadian girl whose family is hosting a Home Child.

Four Pictures by Emily Carr,
by Nicholas Debon
Emily Carr was an adventurous and driven painter with a deep passion for art and for nature. At a time when nice Victorian ladies (Victorian in both senses--Carr lived in the British outpost of Victoria) stayed home and received callers, Carr set out for a remote First Nations village to learn about the people and sketch their art. She was eventually "discovered" by the Canadian Group of Seven and achieved some recognition. This graphic biography sketches out the main events in Carr's life while giving a sense of her work. It's short--just 30 pages--but beautifully done.

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