On September 9, I went stargazing at Eden Mills Writers' Festival with fellow teacher author, Uzma Jalaluddin. Her debut novel Ayesha At Last was optioned recently to be made into a Hollywood film. It was my first time attending the Eden Mills Writers' Festival tucked away in Eden Mills in Guelph, Ontario. I had a cha
If you look really, really closely, you can see Canadian author, Esi Edugyan reading from her latest award-winning novel, Washington Black. I loved her previous award-winning book, Half-Blood Blues, which I hope will be made into a movie. I am hoping to meet this author of Ghanaian descent who is based in Victoria, BC one day and I am putting that out into the universe.
September and October are the seasons for festivals, book launches, and deadlines. September marks the start of a school year and as a teacher, I am at my busiest-- setting up a new classroom, establishing routines, registering for courses,...
I was able to get to one this week-- the launch of Kenneth Oppel's newest book, Inkling, illustrated by Sydney Smith. Like all book launches, this one was a #kidlit reunion. I took some photos with those in attendance such as the book's creators, ya author Melanie Fishbane, my mentor author Richard Scrimger, authors Teresa Toten, Caroline Pignat, Sharon Jennings, and award-winning illustrator Eric Fan who is one half of the Fan Brothers. I totally fanned out (pun intended) when I met Eric and was so honoured to learn that Eric knew who I was let alone is a fan of my work (pun unintended).
In this issue…
Greeting. I admit it. This newsletter is a little late in getting to you but I hope you are doing well and in good health. It has been a busy summer. Thank you for your supportive comments over the years. It has been a blessing to be a writer and have my words in a published format on the written page. I still balance this with the life of being a teacher. This school year, I will be in a new position teaching music and French to students in Toronto. This is quite a transition for me. Hence, I will continue this Nadia’s Notables Newsletter in the seasonal format. Best wishes.
Nadia L. Hohn
2018 ETFO Writing Award
This year, I received the 2018 Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) award for the manuscript of my upcoming book about the late Jamaican poet, Louise Bennett-Coverley better known as Miss Lou. ETFO represents 85, 000 educators in the province of Ontario. I am pleased and honoured that this work, which will be my sixth published book and seventh if you include my contribution to the T-DOT GRIOTS anthology, has already received such a positive response. As we approach what would have been Miss Lou’s 99th birthday on September 7, 2018, I also accept this award is a tribute to my work but also to Miss Lou’s dedication to the education of Jamaica’s young people. Please read here for the media release.
In July 2018, I spent an amazing and transformative three weeks in Brazil. I spent my first week travelling solo and researching in Salvador da Bahia, the capital of the Brazilian state where the highest number of Africans were brought during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I then spent two weeks with American teachers through a program called Brazil Summer Teacher Institute through the Consortium on Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP). With this group of fourteen educators, over ten days, I toured Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Lastly, I spent my last week in Sao Paulo solo and thanks to Denise, Colleen, and Ben, especially my tour guides Alissar and Sayuri for organizing such an amazing experience.
Authors Booking Service: Welcome Caroline
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Caroline as the new president of Authors Booking Service (ABS). ABS has been a one-stop shop to connect authors and illustrators to readers since 2006. I have been a member and presenter since 2017. Please check out their website and my presentation page in order to book me at your school.
SCBWI LA 2018
In August 2018, I had the pleasure of attending my very first Los Angeles conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI has two annual conferences that take place in two cities— LA and New York City. Previously, I have attended the NYC SCBWI Conference in 2015 and 2016. This is an expensive event but well worth it. Picture 1, 500 pre-, self- and traditionally published writers and illustrators with the “rockstars” of the children’s literature world spending 3 to 4 days in workshops, networking, schmoozing, and being inspired. That is what this event was for me. Please check out the highlight reel here. You will see a familiar face at 10:06/10:07
Back to School: Graduate Diploma
I have been working on a young adult novel that I have been calling Number 8 for the last seven years. During this time, it has taken on a few manifestations as I work on it and I realized that the research for this novel would require a trip to Brazil. Through aggressive grant applications, I received the funding to make this possible in July 2018. I have also completed three one-on-one critiques this year for this novel and based on all of my feedback, I need some help in pulling it together. Enter: Cherie Dimaline. Cherie is the author of a Canadian best-selling 2017 novel called The Marrow Thieves, a young adult indigenous futurist/science fiction. I read the book earlier this year and it was a Canada Reads finalist in 2018. I also attended a Toronto Public Library workshop a few years ago and Cherie was a panelist. Recently, I saw Cherie speaking at the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in 2018. Feeling that I needed a mentor to tell my story, I had the feeling that Cherie might be that person. Coincidentally this summer, I learned that Cherie would be on the faculty for Humber College School of Writers Fall 2018. By then, it was already August 2018. I contacted both the school and Cherie and asked if there was any way that I could work with her as my mentor. After a few weeks, I received some wonderful news. I will be working with my first choice. (I have completed this program in 2015 on a middle grade manuscript that I worked on with mentor/author Richard Scrimger. This was my first finished novel manuscript ever.) As I juggle full-time teaching at a new school, writing projects, and other commitments, I know this will be a very intense, busy 20 weeks but it can be done. I am determined to learn all I can in this process and get this manuscript ready for submissions to agents and publishers in 2019.
Malaika Number Three and Play
Great news! There will be a sequel to Malaika’s Winter Carnival (#2), the sequel to Malaika’s Costume (#1). I am calling it Malaika #3 (or, Book #7) and it has been a story that I have had for the past few years so I sat down and wrote it. Malaika #3 is still in development and I have been given a greenlight from Groundwood Books for a release in 2020. I have also been working on a Malaika play manuscript through playwriting courses and now a mentor who will help me complete it. Stay tuned!
Summer 2018 Events and Appearances
It was a busy summer for me with presentations and booksignings. Here is where I was:
Malaika's Carnival Storytime
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 2-3pm
High Park Library
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Book Signing
Sunday, July 29, 2018 11am-2pm
Brampton, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Storytime and Book Signing
Friday, July 27, 2018 11am-3pm
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Carnival Presentation
Friday, June 8, 2018 10am-12pm
School Presentation in Stouffville, ON
Words of Advice
Find a mentor. We can’t know everything. A mentor can help us eliminate the guess work. They also have experience, perspective, and advice. A mentorship may come at a cost but can be quite valuable. I am currently working with two mentors to help me bring out my stories.
Writers at the Toronto
Reference Library as part of
In this month's edition of What Am I Reading, I broke a record. I have read and reviewed a total of 18 books and in addition to this number, 13 other mostly picture books. I surpassed my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge of 50 books. I originally set a goal of 25 but raised it to 50 when I was getting close. Now, I am at 81 books which is 162% of my reading goal. I have discovered a new way to "read" which I have added to my other ways and that is the e-audiobooks that I borrowed online through the Toronto Public Library. These audio mP3s are awesome because they go wherever my laptop goes. I can listen to them while I cook, towel off after a shower, clean, etc. September was a record-breaking month for reading books. I'm learning a lot about craft, storytelling, and recurring themes. I am also learning what works for me and what doesn't in terms of the types and styles of stories I wish to tell.
At the time of last revision of this posting on September 28, I am in the midst of reading The Boat People by Sharon Bala (slow reading in a physical book), Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (on my Kindle), Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (on audiobook in my car), and Flying Lessons & other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (on e-audiobok on my laptop). Please read my reviews below. Happy reading!!!
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
I admit it. I gave this book 5 stars because I can relate to the character described... Stargirl. She walks to the beat of her own drum. She is oblivious to the comments and stares of those around her. Not really caring what others think. She is not afraid to go out on a limb. She wears long flowing dresses and sunflowers, plays the ukulele, and sings happy birthday and distributes cookies to everyone. She names herself whenever she feels like it. She goes to the desert, meditates, and finds her happy place. She sounds like some of my picture book author colleagues who I call friends. Narrated by the late John Ritter (of Three's Company series, How to Date My Teenage Daughter), I thought this actor was an odd choice for this audiobook. However, two chapters in, I realized that John Ritter was a natural as it becomes evident that the story is told from the perspective of Stargirl's former boyfriend looking back on his high school years. This does not give the story a dated quality as might be expected but it rings true and clear and very current in that hippy, dreamy, west kind of way. Stargirl sounds really fun and like someone who would be fun to hang out with. The experiences that the narrator described reminded me of the time I tried to "go natural" in high school in the 1990s and again fully, this time, 20 years ago, still way before it was popular. Today, the natural hair movement is a multi-billion dollar industry. It reminded me of the many times I dressed up on Halloween in high school regardless of anyone else dressing up. It reminded me of the best friends that I had in high school that did not "fit" in any particular group (immigrant kids- Indian gothic into heavy metal and vampires who played classical piano, Trinidadian gifted student who sings musicals and had a show on cable TV and political aspirations). And there was me, kid of Jamaican immigrants who loved acid jazz, wrote for the school paper, directed plays, played piano and saxophone, reading African American novels, drawing, and vintage clothing. We all had been on student council too. The first friend and I would make up stories involving the boys we had crushes on. Maybe this wouldn't seem odd in certain contexts but certainly it did in my high school. "Stargirl" is an age-old story, archetypal about popularity and true selves. I can relate to the shunning that Stargirl experienced in her high school. Yet, what rings true with Stargirl is a message of being true to who you are no matter who is watching. You may lose a few friends, even in Stargirl's case, a boyfriend, but what is all of that when you can look yourself in the mirror and appreciate who you are. I loved it and it made the sequel (which I read first a few months ago) that much more clear. Stargirl was so different but she is the type of girl who I see growing up and being a really successful artist or entrepreneur... she thinks outside of the box and unfortunately, her Arizona high school students just could not appreciate or keep up with her. I hope to see a movie of this one soon.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I remember hearing about the popularity/household name-nature of this book years ago and the film adaptation but I did not know why its reputation gave it quite the name. Now I know. The Fault in Our Stars was an audiobook for me narrated by sixteen year old Hazel Grace, a sixteen-year old terminal lung cancer survivor. In her circle are her parents, her cancer surviving boyfriend Augustus Watters, his parents, and their cancer support group members. This book was raw, honest, and so very real as I am also a cancer survivor. This book also dealt with the heavy themes of death, mortality, illness, and loss. It is also probably the first audiobook that had me crying at the wheel as re-processed the loss of my brother. This book is sincere. It sounds like a very intellectual, existential, and authentic sixteen year old who has an obsession with an author, one in which she used a dying wish to fulfill a visit. Filled with disappointments and heartache throughout, there is a sense of hope that despite the pain and "shittyness of cancer", there are pockets of beauty, hope, and a bright future. This was a wonderful read. I am looking forward to watching the film.
Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older
This book continues the Daniel José Older "ShadowShaper" series and story of Sierra Santiago in Brooklyn. I read this book on my Kindle. I enjoyed this book and its live action scenes. I think its action scenes are strong, as are the interweaving of social issues affecting Black people such as police brutality, carding, and wrongful imprisonment. I like how Older included allies as well as other characters. At times, I found there to be too many and it was a little confusing however all together, I felt the fullness of Sierra's circle, a symphony, a community really. The representation of Brooklyn was true through the Jamaican accent of Desmond and the Haitian Creole dialogue of Robbie. There is also a tenuous love story/triangle involving Sierra in the mix. I gave this book a 4 stars. I found it to be confusing at times which may be because of the number of characters as well as the fantasy elements. Nevertheless, this is an excellent read for those who love urban fantasy with AfroLatin and indigenous cultures.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
I read The Belles and gave it four stars for world building. In author Dhonielle Clayton's first novel, I read about a French/New Orleans-inspired society called Orléans. It is rich in details and ornate, sooo much vocabulary and very desrciptive. Sometimes it was gustatory as the words flowed... at times I felt that the descriptions and story could have been tighter. This novel was a very slow read for me. I began it in February and finished it in September. I realize that The Belles has a sequel which will be published soon. I am curious to see how it develops. Full disclosure, I met Dhonielle Clayton on two occasions and we are part of 2 online groups for writers of colour.
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
What a delightful little book! It was short, sweet, funny, and cute. This was a middle grade audiobook. The narrator is known as Jeanie and his brother Ernie. They are ten and fourteen years old respectively. The adults in these books are funny and I love the vibrant and diverse portrayal of black men, manhood, and a complex father-son relationship. Some may think that blindness, hypochondriac, death, and divorce too harsh topics to be dealt with in children's books but not the case for Jason Reynolds. His characters breathe life and humour and a pluckiness and colour. Jeanie and Ernie are visiting their grandparents in Alabama while his parents have some things to "work out" in Jamaica. I loved this little book which was a short and light read coated with the love and toughness that is family. At first I wasn't sure if I would like it, but it's use of voice, vernacular, and character developments are strong. I liked discovering the quirks of each personality and found myself excited to learn more. This was the first book I had read in its entirety by award-winning author, Jason Reynolds. I look forward to reading many more.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
This was an irresistible audiobook. I listened to it over 3 days. I came to a few conclusions about the author John Green. First, between the last of his books I read The Fault in his Stars and this one Looking for Alaska, I see themes running through-- angsty upper middle class white teenagers, existential questions, and mortality. I could not relate to the characters' upbringing or the private Alabama boarding school where this high school is set as my own. However, I love the smart questions they ask. The narrator is Miles/Pudge who talks about his final year of high school in which he transferred from Florida to a boarding school in Alabama. There he befriends his roommate the Colonel/Chip, a Japanese hiphop loving exchange student named Takumi, a subdued sometimes girlfriend Lara, and the moody manic chain smoking alcoholic, Alaska, with whom Myles is obsessed. These are not your typical slacking teens. They remind me of the stereotypes of kids I would expect to see at a private school-- entitled, self-centred, know-it-alls, cocky who abuse substances but still manage to get straight As and call in favours when needed. I know this is a stereotype and very far-removed from my own experience but I sensed in this book. On the other hand, John Green is an amazing storyteller and this book had me hooked. At some points, I sat in my parked car, listening to the CD, as my poor battery worked over time. I can't wait to read more of John Green's books including the most recent one that came out with the cool cover. I also appreciate that he gets to speak after the reading on the recording is complete.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
This book was meh. I remember when it was made into a movie. I remember wanting to see it. But, I wasn't really invested in this e-audiobook nor its characters. I didn't get their world. I didn't get the stakes. There was a lot of cursing and a very permissive environment. Perhaps my teenage upbringing was very sheltered or strict or both but it felt like rich people problems. I liked the musical references but I was expecting a little more. It is not badly written. It's just that I did not feel invested with this one. However, I will definitely do e-audiobook reads more often. I can play them in the background as I get ready for work, wash the dishes, or another activity. I still want to see the movie.
Brother by David Chariandy
This was a shorter novel. I loved how it allowed me to dive deep into a world... one that was not my own but familiar. I read this as an e-book on my Kindle. There were place names and intersections that I vaguely new as I taught for 1.5 years close to the intersection named, Markham and Lawrence. I felt the edginess of the descriptions used, the grittiness, the constant agitation that was very palpable, that something was about to go absolutely wrong, the sadness constantly lingering. Chariandy's Scarborough is mixed with sadness and beauty, dashed dreams and potent masculinities, discrimination and bottled anger, and explosive resentments with insanities and losses, racism and police brutality, violence with no where else to go, ricocheting off the intersections and in the neighbourhood blocks, all within a small area as the narrator Michael and the other characters (his mother, Francis, Jelly, Aisha, her father) rarely leave their neighbourhood. This book was well-written. My only dissatisfaction was the end. I felt it almost trite and very different than the tone of the rest of the book. I am not sure what the ending would be but I felt it abrupt. Nevertheless, this was a good read. Can't wait for this book to be made into a film directed by Jamaican-Canadian Clement Virgo (Rude, Planet of Junior Brown, Book of Negroes, Love Come Down, Lie With Me, Greenleaf).
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Oh my gosh. This book was breathtaking, a masterpiece. Deep, moving, emotive, intense,... Just wow. It shocked me and went in directions that I did not expect. I know it's on the NYT Bestselling list, I searched to find out and was pleased that it will be made into a movie, but the deep issues-- mental health, migration, immigration, family secrets, poverty, feminism, coming of age,... This was an audiobook for me and is written in the first person voice of teenager Julia Reyes. The book takes place in modern day Chicago. She is a teen with a strong sense of voice-- she's rude, she doesn't like people, she's anxious, and direct. In the wake of the death of her older sister Olga, so much ground is covered here as Julia begins to dig into her sister's past. This book, I add to titles which have me so awestruck that I long to write something so captivating and perfect (Brown Girl Dreaming, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Piecing Me Together, and other titles). I look forward to the movie and think it will inspire and speak to so many teens, especially first generation children of immigrants. The characters and situations are so real, too real. Way to go with this groundbreaking novel, Erika Sánchez. I would give 6 stars if I could. Cannot wait for the film!
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
This book was amazing. Jennifer Donnelly wrote such a compelling book that felt modern in its relevance and accessibility. Mathilde "Mat" Gauthier (Gokey) was such an interesting character. Like Julia in "I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter", Maude in "Maude", and other books, she wants to be a writer. She is fighting against forces such as poverty and the conservatism of a woman's role at the Turn of the Century as she contemplates marriage and domestic duties versus a career of university studies and writing. Mat is present, reflective, smart, and creative. She is industrious, reliable, and responsible having to take the lead in a household as the eldest of four girls and a widowed father. As an oldest sister, I related to Mat. Her sense of loss for her mother is palpable. This was also an audiobook and a very important read. I loved the equally-brilliant character of Weaver, a Black boy who escaped a Jim Crow south and memories of the murder of his father, with his mother to make it to this upstate New York town. Mat and Weaver are college bound and the prized pupils of teacher Emily W____. I loved the ending and it felt right to me. I long to read more of Jennifer Donnelly's work.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This was a good e-audiobook. Short and sweet. It was written in verse but when Jason Reynolds (author and narrator) read it, it sounded more like prose. The book also felt familiar to me. It felt like the Christmas Carol and Boyz in the Hood, as Jason described in the interview after the reading. I liked this book. It was okay. I liked that it offered several perspectives and insights into the mind of someone who just lost their brother to gun violence. I also liked his contemplation in relation to the three rules: 1) don't cry, 2) don't snitch, and 3) always get revenge.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
I love this story of redemption. This was an e-audiobook. I thought wow! Six hours? How will I get through this and before I knew it. I spent the last 1.5 hours of this book, listening at my bedside, and getting ready for sleep, way past my bedtime. I love this story of family-- father-son, brother-brother, sister-brother, and so on. Being my third Jason Reynolds book in a week, I realize that family is an important topic for this young writer. I liked the characters "Ali" and Needles and Jazz and Delores who embody integrity and I love how dad and Noodles are working towards that. I love how this story explores black manhood in all of its facets. I also love how he integrates other issues, the "hard stuff", such as gun violence, drugs, prostitution, single-parent households, and poverty into this story, in the background but also "other mothers", Black manhood, and gentrification. The book is narrated in the voice of the main character. I feel his innocence. There is the potential for this book to be heavy but it still retains humour and growth in all of its main characters. Well done!
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
As I listened to this book, it felt very familiar. I think this was because I listened to this e-audiobook two years ago driving to or from Montreal. I remembered the toady frogs and the whoop-sloop or perhaps that was also in Christopher Paul Curtis' other book, Elijah of Buxton. I really liked this book. There is a certain magic about Curtis' book that brings a modern freshness to a historical story. This one takes place in Michigan during the Great Depression. Bud, not Buddy is an orphan looking for his father. His search takes him on a few adventures and he uses his wit and smarts to land him just where he needs to be. Bud is a lovable character and I just want to pinch his cheeks or adopt him, whichever comes first. Readers would also love Rita Williams-Garcia's book Clayton Bird Goes Underground. I hope that I will read and audio e-read more Curtis' titles in the future.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
Amazing book! Told from the perspective of a white South Carolina thirteen year old sharecropper, the Journey of Little Charlie different perspective on the Underground Railroad and early Black settlement in Canada. I loved the fresh voice and the onomatopeia used, "Char-lie Bo-bo." The narrator for this audiobook was excellent especially with his reading for the villain of the story. This book would also make an excellent movie and a perfect edition to Curtis' other work.
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
This book was impressive in terms of the research the author did and the way he told the story. Andre Alexis was both the author of Fifteen Dogs as well as the narrator of this e-audiobook. His dog barks, growls, and ruffs were quite impressive. I also loved how local this book was as I recognized street names in and around High Park as well as the actual park itself. These are places where I have been. The book felt very Toronto as he also described the areas close to the beach. Fifteen Dogs follows the lives of particular dogs who originally called High Park home. The dogs live in a violent world in which one is dominated by getting mounted or becomes the alpha. Dogs develop intense relationships with their master's which most often is a strategic union but can also result in abuse, abandonment, and envy. There are conversations between the Greek gods about the fates of the dogs as well as their master's. The humans can be bumbling, absent-minded, and emotional. This book was interesting and made me think a lot about the Mexican movie "Life's A Bitch/Amores Perros". It literally is like the Disney animated film "All Dogs Go To Heaven" or "Lady and the Tramp", except much more literary and with adult humans. Fifteen Dogs was also the winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers Trust Prize which are Canada's largest cash prizes in literature. I think it is great study of storytelling in a unique way. It seems that it was written in free verse as indicated in the afterward however I could not detect this with the audiobook.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
This book was okay. Full disclosure, I know this author. I also know that Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Award in 2015 for his previous book, The Crossover, which was also written in verse about basketball. Booked was about a boy in eighth grade named Nick who goes through average everyday stuff-- a crush, parental issues, school, and commitment to sports. I thought this book would be more about soccer but it's never too far away. I look forward to reading other titles by Kwame.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
This audiobook felt a bit heavy at first. I was not sure if I was ready to dive into that mood. The Iranian Revolution and the meeting of an intellectual literary club. This book was well-written and very lengthy to read, about eighteen hours in length. I appreciated the analysis of the literary masterpieces-- Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, and the Great Gatsby-- in the context of a war. The author's voice is strong, confident, and full of presence. I enjoyed the stories of the lives of the women featured and how they were able to connect the characters in these novels to their own while living in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The price that professors and students paid was heavy and the losses great. I think this book served as a good introduction to life in Iran during the 1980s and 1990s. At times, I wondered about the privilege, almost aristocrat, feel of the narration.
Patina by Jason Reynolds
I enjoyed reading this much anticipated title by Jason Reynolds. I recall hearing and seeing about Patina on social media and Twitter. I enjoyed the perspective of a female athlete who runs track. In Patina, I learned about the tragedy and joys regardless, she reflects a resilience deemed Black Girl magic. Although Patina had some real challenges in her life, I wonder if they could have been captialized on more as I felt that the story could use more tension at some points, that the stakes could have been raised higher. Nevertheless, Reynolds is a gifted writer and he effectively conveys the voice of a pre-teen girl who has to mother her sister (something to which I completely relate).