Muffin the Rescue Puppy — Guest Post by Dasha Tolstikova

When I first saw a picture of Muffin, her name was Mimi and she did not look like a kind of dog that I would get along with very well. She seemed too tiny and too high strung and her name was MIMI, for chrissakes. So, I applied to meet an entirely different dog named Gary.

The animal shelter emailed back to set up an appointment for me to meet Mimi because they thought she might be perfect for me, and I wanted to seem game so I said I would meet her (with the hopes of meeting Gary the following weekend).

And then she was familiar. She was scraggly and feisty and feigned disinterest in a way that I knew. I thought we could live side by side. I crossed my fingers. I said that I would take her. I decided to name her Muffin.

Every day I wake up at 7:00 a.m. and take Muffin for a walk. And every day I cannot believe how lucky I got. Muffin is the most perfect dog for me. And Gary? Who is Gary?


Muffin, the day Dasha adopted her

Muffin, 3 months after living with Dasha

Dasha Tolstikova’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker. Her graphic-novel memoir, A Year Without Mom, has received three starred reviews and has been translated into Korean and Swedish. She has also illustrated The Jacket, written by Kirsten Hall, a New York Times Notable Book.

Tour Kellen Hatanaka’s Studio and Make Your Own Car

Kellen Hatanaka is an artist/designer living in Toronto, Canada with his wife, Kiersten and his dog and studio-mate, Paul. He is the author and illustrator of Work: An Occupational ABC and Drive: A Look at Roadside Opposites. Here are a few photos of his studio space. In addition to being a place to work, it is a place to display and collect art, books, records and a never-ending collection of odds and ends that transform the space into a place of inspiration.


How to Create Your Own Car!

We love Kellen’s unique way of illustrating his books, so we asked him to show us how he does it!

“I usually work with a combination of digital and hand-drawn elements. Most of the large shapes of color in my work are created in a computer program. You can create your shapes by using coloured paper!”

Step 1

Start with the largest, simplest shape of the car, which is the body. I am creating a station wagon which is long, but you can create a car of any shape and size.


Step 2

Add some windows by cutting them out of the body, or by pasting or drawing the shape of windows over top of your car.


Step 3

Continue to add details to your car. I always like to work from the largest, simplest shapes to the smallest, most complicated or detailed aspects of my subject. In this case, add some wheels and bumpers.


Step 4

Continue to add any other items or details that you would like to see on your car. Again, start with the general shape of the items you are adding. You can add the details later.


Step 5

Add in all of the details you like! At this stage, I often add hand-drawn elements or textures to my digital pieces. The wide stripes on the orange panel, the lines for the doors and the little bits of rust along the bottom are hand-made items. You can create your final touches by cutting out more paper pieces or drawing on your car with markers, pens or anything else you like.


Crokinole! Play with the Tweedles and Monica Kulling


It has been suggested that crokinole is the secret star (thank you, Carolyn!) of The Tweedles Go Online. The vintage board game keeps the Tweedle family entertained and happy in each other’s company. It also, ultimately, restores the peace. Can one ask for more from a tabletop parlour game?

The year is 1903, and the good-natured Tweedles are bound and determined to follow the inventive trends of the day. When not tooling around in their electric car (see The Tweedles Go Electric), they are engaged in a boisterous (and somewhat newly invented) game called “crokinole.” Eckhardt Wettlaufer, of Sebastopol, Ontario, devised the game in 1876. It was likely named after a crunchy French cookie, croquignole, and was once one of the most popular game in North America!

How do you play crokinole? The game centers on a wooden board with a hole in the middle and discs that each player must flick into the centre hole while trying to displace the other players’ discs. Attaining any level of proficiency requires tremendous eye-hand coordination and a gentle touch — skills young Franny clearly possesses, but Mama does not.


Why crokinole? When asked to write a second adventure for the Tweedles, I had only one puzzle piece — the telephone. Then, over coffee with Sheila, the sparks flew! Suddenly, I was searching for the word “crokinole.” I didn’t know the game. I’d never met it. The word — that is, only the first syllable — popped into my head. “It’s cro … cro … you know, that game.” “Crokinole,” responded Sheila. Well, I haven’t yet played the game, but I still love the word. It has become, as it is for Frankie, my rallying cry. “Crokinole!”


The Tweedles Go Online


Monica Kulling is the author of over forty books for children, including The Tweedles Go Electric and The Tweedles Go Online as well as the popular Great Idea series, stories of inventors. Going Up! Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top, the fourth in the series, was a finalist for the 2013 Norma Fleck Non-Fiction Award. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto, Canada. Visit her at

Deborah Ellis AMA Round-up


On Friday, September 19th, Deborah Ellis hosted a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) session. We want to thank everyone who participated for the wonderful, thought-provoking and even controversial questions centered around feminism, ideology and Deborah’s fantastic novels. For those of you who missed it, we’ve rounded up some key questions from the discussion:

Q.  In your opinion what’s the most progressive welcoming, women equal country based on opportunity and general equality?

A. I’ve heard that Iceland is very good. Women all over the world have talents to bring forward, and the more chances they get, the better their countries become.

Q. I teach The Breadwinner series to my 8th graders, and fell in love with your book Kids of Kabul last year as a read aloud. That book really showed my students how lucky they are just because of where they are from, and that they can do so much to help other kids in this world. What is the biggest thing you have taken away from your experiences with children in Afghanistan? Do you believe that there is hope to return the country to the way is was 60 years ago?

A. There is always hope. If we get off the backs of the young Afghan people by ceasing military interventions and give them the resources they need to rebuild their country.

Q. What does feminism mean to you?

A. Opportunities for women and for everyone to live the life that they want to live.

Q. When writing The Cat at the Wall, did you travel to the West Bank to talk with people about their experiences?

A. Yes, I traveled to many places in the West Bank including Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah. I met with young people of all ages in different circumstances. They told me about dealing with the Israeli military and wishing they could make friends with Israeli kids.

Q. Do you have a specific process that you follow for writing a novel?

A. I usually start with a question that I want to answer. What if something happens? Then I try to answer it. For example, what would is it like for children growing up under the Taliban? I wanted to try to understand that, so that’s why I wrote The Breadwinner.

Q. Any movie or book in the world, which one do you wish that you’d written?

A. wish I had written From Anna by Jean Little. It’s a book about a family escaping WWII, but it’s also the story of a little girl trying to figure out who she is. It’s written with simplicity and dignity.

Q. Deborah…you have gifted readers with your amazing insightful stories. The latest one that I have recommended and sold is Moon at Nine. What inspired you as a writer to record the real stories of young people seeking some kind of justice to their predicaments?

A. The book Moon at Nine is about two teenage girls who fall in love in 1988 Iran. It’s based on a true story. I met the woman whose story it was, and she asked me to write it for her because she still has family back in Iran. She couldn’t write it herself because it would put them in danger. I’m drawn to stories of courage because they inspire us to have courage in our own lives.

Q. You seem to travel a great deal. When did you decide to venture beyond Canada and write about the world beyond North America?

A. When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, I wanted to find out more about what those women were going through and how we could be useful back in Canada. So I spent time in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan meeting with people and hearing their stories. That was the first time I’d ever done anything like that.

Q. What does it feel like to fight for the oppressed and weak? Also, do you think that human’s can ever control their vices like greed, power, and jealousy which lead to evil actions.

A. I’m honoured to be able to meet so many courageous people around the world. About vices, there is a difference between being human and all the things and go with it and making it legal to drop bombs on people in other countries.

20662575Deborah Ellis, best known for her Breadwinner series, has donated more than $1 million in royalties to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International. She has won many awards, including the Governor General’s Award and Sweden’s Peter Pan Prize.


Her new novel The Cat at the Wall centers around Clare, a young girl who finds she has been reincarnated as a cat on the West Bank.




Ask Deborah Ellis Anything! Reddit AMA


With her new book The Cat at the Wall in bookstores now, Deborah Ellis is ready to tell all in her upcoming Reddit AMA (ask me anything) this Friday, September 19th, at 1pm EST.

20662575 The Cat at the Wall follows Clare, an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary reality of being reincarnated as a cat. She finds herself on the West Bank in a house inhabited by two Israeli soldiers and a small Palestinian boy hiding beneath the floorboards. Like all of Deborah Ellis’ work The Cat at the Wall will spark discussion. It will also inspire readers to imagine the power even simple acts can have.

In a recent interview for the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review, Malala Yousafzai named The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis as a book she wished all girls would read. Malala said, “I think it’s important for girls everywhere to learn how women are treated in some societies. But even though Parvana is treated as lesser than boys and men, she never feels that way. She believes in herself and is stronger to fight against hunger, fear and war. Girls like her are an inspiration.” Yousafzai’s interview is an inspiring read in itself and brings to light the importance of writers like Ellis, who are unafraid to tackle tough subjects and bring them to the attention of young readers.

978-1-55498-120-5_lIn her recent nonfiction work Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids, Ellis collected interviews with Indigenous children aged nine to eighteen from across North America and brought their compelling stories into the spotlight. In this book, like her previously acclaimed collections of interviews with Afghan, Iraqi, North American, Israeli, and Palestinian children, Ellis gives children a voice to talk about their cultural identity. It is no surprise that Looks Like Daylight has been announced as a finalist for the 2014 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction.

She continues to post gripping interviews on her personal blog with children whose stories she wants to tell. Her piece for The Guardian entitled “How War Changes People” explores identity as a human right, and describes how war has affected children she has met in war-torn nations. In this essay, Deborah asks, “How do we create an identity for ourselves, and communicate it to others, when all we have known gets stripped away? How do we find the core of who we are in times like this without completely losing our minds?”


Deborah Ellis wants to answer any creative, honest, and provocative questions you might have. On Friday, September 19th, sign up for an account on and participate in the AMA session.

DEBORAH ELLIS REDDIT AMA – Friday, September 19th, at 1pm EST

Deb Ellis AMA (dragged)

Joy in the Storm – An Open Letter From Deborah Ellis to the Gaza Strip


The on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine ebbs and flows in intensity and cruelty. The hardships for children come in the form of bombs from the sky, rocks thrown at car windows, insults at checkpoints and never being sure that the calm of the moment will stretch into the evening.

Kids around the world try to make the best of whatever situation the adult world throws them into. I’ve met kids in refugee camps in Pakistan who make kites from string tied to plastic shopping bags, kids in Zambia who make toys from old tins they find on rubbish tips and kids in prison in Russia who make bracelets from strings torn from their blankets.

The last time I was in Israel and Palestine, in January of 2013, I asked kids what they do to keep themselves feeling as good as possible while the adults around them serve up chaos on a platter for breakfast, lunch and supper.

Yael, a 12 year old Orthodox Jewish boy living in Sderot, next to the Gaza Strip, told me that when the Palestinian bombs rain down on his town, he goes into a shelter and sings psalms, and that helps him feel not so afraid.

A 14 year old Palestinian boy in the southern part of the Gaza Strip told me, “Sometimes we will be out playing football and we’ll hear that the bombs are coming again and we’ll just keep playing. Playing football gives us hope. If we are going to die, we might as well die doing something we love.”

Yaffa, who is nine, is a girl from the Druze community living in the Golan Heights, smack up against the buffer zone between Israel and Syria. She has witnessed large-scale disturbances from refugees breaking through the border and deals with a constant military presence in her town. She chooses to focus on collecting rocks and looking for frogs.

Jabor, a thirteen year old Israeli Arab in Haifa likes to watch Mr. Bean movies when he gets sad, and Jehad, 12, loves to spend time in the children’s library in Ramallah.

All of these children have joys and aspirations that have nothing to do with killing anyone. If left to shape the world on their own, they would make art, play sports, enjoy the natural world and build friendships – all excellent pursuits that would have a lasting positive impact on the world they are going to take over from us.

I wonder what it will take for us to get out of their way and let them get to it.

deb2Deborah Ellis is the author of over twenty beautiful, thought provoking books for young people, including The Breadwinner Trilogy, which has won several literary awards. In her latest work of fiction, The Cat at the Wall, the conflict at the West Bank is told through the eyes of Clare, a young girl who finds herself reincarnated as a cat.

Join Deborah Ellis for a Reddit AMA on Friday, September 19th, at 1pm EST, for a chance to ask her any and all earnest, honest, and provocative questions.

Matt James rediscovers the Northwest Passage

Earlier this week, the news broke that one of the lost ships from Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage was found in the Canadian Arctic by Parks Canada. You can read more about this fascinating discovery and story here.


Naturally, this news story made us think of beloved Groundwood creator Matt James and his unique re-imagining of Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage, a haunting and moving tribute to the adventurous spirit of explorers and to the beauty of the vast land and icy seas. Here’s what he had to say about the find:

Matt JamesWow! Nice job Parks Canada!

I’m not surprised to hear that the boat was discovered very close to where early Inuit accounts suggested it was to be found.

It’s kinda spooky seeing that “ghost ship” sitting peacefully at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. I wonder what they will find on board?



NWP cover

Northwest Passage

by Stan Rogers and Matt James

Award-winning artist Matt James takes the iconic song “Northwest Passage” by legendary Canadian songwriter and singer Stan Rogers and tells the dramatic story of the search for the elusive route through the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific, which for hundreds of years and once again today, nations, explorers and commercial interests have dreamt of conquering, often with tragic consequences.

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