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.

Origins of Tokyo Digs a Garden—Guest Post by J.E. Lappano

I first had the idea for Tokyo about a decade ago.

Throughout most of my 20s, I worked as a landscaper in Toronto, spending the spring, summer and fall in the tiny backyards, alleyways and rooftops of the city. The designer I worked for used native plants in his designs and hand tools whenever physically possible, taking a gentle approach and respect for the ecosystems we’d be cultivating. When I wasn’t complaining about back pain or the heat or the rain or the wind or the cold, I loved this work because it provided the space and time for daydreaming.

Lappano1 One of the urban gardens Lappano helped install & maintain while daydreaming about Tokyo Digs a Garden (Credit: Todd Smith Design)

Before long, the idea for Tokyo appeared: nature transforming a city overnight. Through some magic, the boundless imagination and creative destruction of childhood, Tokyo and Kevin let the wild loose across the city.

I’m intrigued by the idea that “the wild” is not something we have to leave our own backyards to see; even in the parking lots of high-rises, nature it’s there waiting for us to discover. It doesn’t take much coaxing to show itself. Lift a brick, or look in the cracks of pavement and there it is, in its cool, muddy potential.

I sat with the idea for about ten years before I decided to finally write something down.

Lappano2

A view of Lappano’s workspace with intern pictured (bottom left)

And I didn’t do it alone. Our daughter Maia (my trusty four-year-old editor in residence) helped with the early drafts. I’d read the story aloud to her, and it became painfully clear when something worked or when something didn’t. (Kevin the cat and his quest for ice-cream earned a more prominent role because of her notes!) Amelia, our youngest, also loves Kevin, but is more captivated by Kellen Hatanaka’s detailed and vibrant illustrations, and wants to know more about each and every thing on the page.

Lappano3

Amelia & Maia – celebrated book critics & self-proclaimed wildlings

Since becoming a parent, stories, like the natural world, are joys to discover. My wife Stephanie is a library enthusiast; she comes home weekly with bags and bags of picture books that the four of us happily devour. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to add Tokyo Digs a Garden to the vast literary territory that’s out there for children, parents, and all book lovers to explore. With any luck, it can help to transport us into a space where nature thrives and endures in the wildness of our imaginations.

Lappano4

Lappano poses with a woodland gnome in Guelph, Ontario. Nature is full of surprises!


Groundwood Logos SpineTokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings with his family and his cat, Kevin. For years, highways and skyscrapers have been built up around the family’s house where once there were hills and trees. Will they ever experience the natural world again?

One day, an old woman offers Tokyo seeds, telling him they will grow into whatever he wishes. Tokyo and his grandfather are astonished when the seeds grow into a forest so lush that it takes over the entire city overnight. Soon the whole city has gone wild, with animals roaming where cars once drove. But is this a problem to be surmounted, or a new way of living to be embraced?

With Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka have created a thoughtful and inspiring fable of environmentalism and imagination.

Behind Fear, Sadness — Guest post by Rui Umezawa

“Hell Screen” is a 1918 short story by the celebrated Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa that tells of the great artist Yoshihide, who is fascinated in the beauty he sees in horrific things. In the newest television incarnation of Hannibal Lector, the cannibal psychologist is a connoisseur of all things beautiful, including exquisite gourmet recipes for preparing human flesh.

The images contained in both narratives are ghastly and horrendous. Yet beneath them — under the gore and the grotesque — we discern a sublime sorrow, tragedies of immense proportions.

In interviews and discussions surrounding my new collection of stories, Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan, the idea has been put forth more than once that Japanese ghost stories are sadder than their Western counterparts. My reaction to this has been to suggest that all horror stories, Japanese or otherwise, tend to be as tragic as they are horrible.

I am, for example, an avid fan of The Walking Dead. (I had the thrill of a lifetime when I met Norman Reedus and Steven Yuen a couple of years ago at Toronto’s Fan Expo.) I do not watch the show, however, to watch zombies repeatedly feast on human entrails. As gruesome as such images are, one gets desensitized to them quickly.

In contrast, the tragedy of the zombies, and of the survivors who try in vain to hang on to their humanity, have not diminished over the five seasons the show has been on. I remain empathetic, heartbroken and mesmerized, like Yoshihide in “Hell Screen” watching Hell materialize in front of his eyes.

Most all horror stories therefore are tragic to me, regardless of the culture from which they originate. Stories of souls encased in hideous shells, trapped in a world into which they did not ask to be born. The Japanese undead are no more sorrowful than any other.

On the other hand, this sensibility that discerns poignancy in terror may indeed reflect certain Japanese qualities. The Japanese, after all, often use dead wood in flower arranging.

From the religious symbols present in Dracula to the sin of idolatry in Frankenstein, in Western horror traditions, terrible things happen in the presence of a Judaeo-Christian God. We understand there is justice that transcends the chaos. This perspective is comforting.

When one looks at horror in terms of karma, however, it becomes less personal. Like some twisted variation on Newtonian physics, in folly we throw certain kinds of energies into the world which inevitably return to us. It is as absurd as nature, and as inexplicable.

In the Chinese five-elements theory (wu xing, which actually means “five progressions”) fear arises from sorrow. In observing the ruthless, random tragedies in life, we understand we might be affected at any time. And from this fear rise anger and violence, as the flight or fight instinct takes command of us. This is the sadness of the world, the foundation of fear for those of us who do not believe in a loving, supreme being.

So while Japanese horror stories may not be intrinsically more tragic, my tendency to discern the sorrow behind the terror may indeed reflect Japanese traits. Just as I can appreciate the comforts of a Christian God, however, so can my non-Japanese friends appreciate the bleakness of His absence. Truths are multiple and depend on perspective.

This idea is at once a source of despair and of hope.

Portrait of a Groundwood Intern

RachelFagan

This summer, we were very lucky to have the help of fabulous intern Rachel Fagan at Groundwood HQ. We asked her to write a few words about the day in the life of a Groundwood intern for our blog. Read on for a peek behind the curtain!

Groundwood is usually off to a leisurely start in the morning, and the office is quiet as the staff slowly trickle in; most of them with coffee in hand. Someone invariably comes bearing sweets to share.

I sit down at my desk and, as always, am greeted with a cheerful smile from Sheila who I suspect may actually live in the Groundwood office as she’s always in before me and is always there to wave goodbye when I leave.

The first thing I do is check my email, then I organize the newest mail pile and make sure none of them are for Anansi.

By mid-morning, the office is humming with activity. Michael uses my desk to spread out the newly arrived prints for the Fall 2015 picture books – very exciting stuff! I take a break from my emails to glance over some beautifully illustrated Pacific west coast landscapes from West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet written by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Karen Reczuch. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Suzanne stops by for a hallo! and offers me a manuscript to scour for grammatical mistakes. I’m just happy to read a new manuscript, but I get to work. Embarrassingly, I spend about ten minutes deliberating over a comma and then mention the potential intruder to Suzanne who spends another few minutes thinking about it as well. We’ll have to ask Nan when she gets in.

Soon I’m sent over to the bookstore to measure the books. Yes, that’s right. As Sheila and Suzanne calculatingly discuss the size of the upcoming fall season’s novels, they decide to send me to Type Books to do some research. I awkwardly ask the Type employees if they would mind me spending some time with my ruler in the children’s section. They happily comply. Five by eight seems to be the popular size, so I hurry back to deliver my findings.

At 3:30, the Groundwood staff file into the conference room for our production meeting. I’m just an observer, but everyone else intently scribbles away in their notebooks as Erin goes through the list of upcoming publications and delivery dates.

As the day comes to a close, I finish up any remaining emails and if I have time browse through some of the new material, trying to familiarize myself with the impressively large Groundwood catalogue. I generally get distracted until Sheila peeks out of her office and reminds me that it’s after five.

I pack up my bags, clean up my desk and arm myself with a manuscript to read at home, As I walk out of the office, I’m met with a barrage of smiling goodbyes and see you next weeks. Another busy day at Groundwood is over and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

The Essential Role of School Librarians — Guest post by Marie-Louise Gay

static1.squarespace

Recently, the Lester B. Pearson School Board of Montreal decided to eliminate the jobs of all school librarians in their employ because of government budget cuts. Marie-Louise Gay was asked to give a statement about this at a recent board meeting, which you can read here. This post was originally shared on Marie-Louise Gay’s website, and she’s allowed us to repost it here.


 

We send our children to school to learn to read, to write, to expand their minds, to give them a chance to lead successful happy lives. A primary school is a small milieu where, for the first time, young children are exposed to the vast world outside of their homes.

It is a place where they will learn skills that, for the most part, they will use throughout their lives. So how can a school open the doors wide enough to introduce children to original thoughts, other lives, different cultures and knowledge?

As an author and illustrator of over sixty children’s books over the last thirty years, I have had the pleasure of traveling all across Canada, from Vancouver to St, John’s, and from Inuvik to Chisasibi, as well as crisscrossing the United States, giving workshops, presentations and readings to thousands of students in libraries and schools: huge inner-city schools, rural schools, remote island schools, first nation schools, alternative schools, private and public schools.

What has struck me in the hundreds of schools I have visited is the influence that a school library and a school librarian have on the children I meet. I can tell as soon as I start interacting with them that the children are more engaged and more articulate; they ask questions, their minds race to make connections. They share something precious: a love of reading, a curiosity, an open mind and a boundless imagination. And the reason is that they have access to a wide collection of books, classics and contemporary, and they have someone who can suggest, lead, persuade and inspire them to expand their minds with books.

That is the role of the school librarian.

In opposition to this, I have visited schools where libraries are inexistent or very poor, where books are outdated and in sad physical shape, where the library is used as a place to put unruly students, and run by well-meaning volunteer parents or overworked teachers. In these schools I meet children who know how to read, but since they are not in contact with a variety of books about an infinity of subjects that would expand their minds, they are more passive and less engaged.  Some lucky and passionate readers in these schools might have a chance of becoming life-long readers if books are read in their homes, or if they have access to a public library. But the others, the children from low-income and less educated families, the reluctant readers, the slow readers, the bored readers, the new immigrants to our country will be functionally literate, but reading will not be an integral and important part of their lives. And a lot of doors will remain closed to them.

That is why I find it so shocking that we would not support the important role of the school librarian, as well as a school library in every single school. That, as a society, we would not demand that our young children be offered  a rich choice of reading materials that will enlighten their choices, instill a sense of belonging to a community, accept difference and expand their vision of the world.

This is what school librarians bring to a school:

They have the up-to-date knowledge of what books will interest, stimulate and persuade children to expand their reading habits.

They make a choice of which books to buy on an often reduced budget. They prepare and catalogue the books.

They keep a modern, well stocked, well organized library where they suggest and recommend books that will ignite and inspire young scientists, romantics, adventurers, athletes, artists, science-fiction fans, drama queens, budding computer experts and daydreamers.

They give enthusiastic readings to classes that visit the library. Have you ever seen a school librarian reading a book to a class? It’s pretty awesome. Stories come alive. Strange voices ring out. Kids are mesmerized.

School librarians organize book clubs, book weeks, book fairs and reading marathons, creating an excitement and a buzz about reading and books.

School librarians organize and coordinate author visits, meeting with students to read, study and discuss the author’s books ahead of the reading.

School librarians help, advise and collaborate with teachers as well as students with their research projects, directing them to books, materials and websites where the best information can be found.

Above all, school librarians are passionate about their goal, which is to get all children hooked on reading.

School librarians are irreplaceable and essential to a modern-day school.

 

— Marie-Louise Gay

Great Moments in Swimming History: Lord Byron

To celebrate the launch of Swimming, Swimming, we asked illustrator Gary Clement to tell us about some of his favourite swimmers. He did us one better, and created five comics about them! We’ll be posting Gary’s comics all week. Click here to see everything posted so far.

swim-byron-600


Swimming, Swimming by Gary ClementDrawing on his own memories of the best days of summer in the city, Gary Clement brings us an illustrated version of the beloved classic “Swimming, swimming in a swimming pool,” full of fun and humor.

 

Great Moments in Swimming History: Lynne Cox

To celebrate the launch of Swimming, Swimming, we asked illustrator Gary Clement to tell us about some of his favourite swimmers. He did us one better, and created five comics about them! We’ll be posting Gary’s comics all week. Click here to see everything posted so far.

swim-lynne-600


Swimming, Swimming by Gary ClementDrawing on his own memories of the best days of summer in the city, Gary Clement brings us an illustrated version of the beloved classic “Swimming, swimming in a swimming pool,” full of fun and humor.

 

Great Moments in Swimming History: Johnny Weissmuller

To celebrate the launch of Swimming, Swimming, we asked illustrator Gary Clement to tell us about some of his favourite swimmers. He did us one better, and created five comics about them! We’ll be posting Gary’s comics all week. Click here to see everything posted so far.

swim-johnny-600


Swimming, Swimming by Gary ClementDrawing on his own memories of the best days of summer in the city, Gary Clement brings us an illustrated version of the beloved classic “Swimming, swimming in a swimming pool,” full of fun and humor.

 

Great Moments in Swimming History: Esther Williams

To celebrate the launch of Swimming, Swimming, we asked illustrator Gary Clement to tell us about some of his favourite swimmers. He did us one better, and created five comics about them! We’ll be posting Gary’s comics all week. Click here to see everything posted so far.

swim-esther600


Swimming, Swimming by Gary ClementDrawing on his own memories of the best days of summer in the city, Gary Clement brings us an illustrated version of the beloved classic “Swimming, swimming in a swimming pool,” full of fun and humor.

 

Great Moments in Swimming History: Edgar Allan Poe

To celebrate the launch of Swimming, Swimming, we asked illustrator Gary Clement to tell us about some of his favourite swimmers. He did us one better, and created five comics about them! We’ll be posting Gary’s comics all week. Click here to see everything posted so far.

swim-edgar-600


Swimming, Swimming by Gary ClementDrawing on his own memories of the best days of summer in the city, Gary Clement brings us an illustrated version of the beloved classic “Swimming, swimming in a swimming pool,” full of fun and humor.

 

 

Contact us

Get in touch with us!