Thursday, June 30, 2011

Canadian Books for Canada Day!

Tomorrow, July 1st, is Canada Day. So why not celebrate with some Canadian books? Here are three ways to discover excellent CanCon for all ages!

1. Check out Canadian Bookshelf, the new website featuring books by Canadians. Tagline: "If it's Canadian, it's here."

2. Enter the Great Canadian Blog Bash for a chance to win some great prizes (including books, of course!). The contest closes on Canada Day, and is open to Canadian residents only--plus, the giveaways are all Canadian-sponsored! How cool is that? (We're sponsoring SMS Book Reviews, if you'd like to win some of our books!)

3. Starting July 4th, visit Ten Stories Up for Cantastic Authorpalooza! Interviews with a total of 20 Canadian children's authors and illustrators will be posted, and each week will be topped off with a giveaway. We're pleased to announce that two of our authors will be profiled: Ruth Ohi on July 5th and Claire Eamer on July 12th. Stop by and check it out!

Happy Canada Day!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In Honor of National Aboriginal Day: Christy Jordan-Fenton on Shannen's Dream

Today's post is by author Christy Jordan-Fenton, who is spreading the word about Shannen's Dream.

When I heard the youth of Attawapiskat speak about Shannen’s Dream, I felt a need to do something beyond signing a petition or writing a letter. How could I not be inspired, as the students spoke of their friend Shannen Koostachin and her dream for the right of all children to attend “comfy” schools? For Shannen, that didn’t mean a school where students lounge around all day on fluffy pillows. It meant one with a regularly operating school bus, where learning was not done in a cubicle set on a toxic field, and running water was something that could be counted on. I was dismayed to discover that Shannen’s friends, like many Aboriginal youth, do not go to the type of school Shannen wanted for them.  Instead, they endure conditions most of us would find absolutely unacceptable for our own children, and they do it for a chance to learn.

The story of Attawapiskat reminded me of my mother-in-law, Margaret. In the book Fatty Legs, I wrote about how she actually begged her father to take her to a residential school. She attended for two years without seeing her parents and endured some very harsh conditions, all for her own chance to learn. It seemed shocking to me that in today’s day and age, some Canadian children must still fight for what many of us take for granted, and must often leave their communities to pursue a full grade twelve education.

I felt a need to do something that would encourage the children to keep up their campaign, while helping with their plight at the same time. So, I decided to start a book drive and I put a call out to all of my friends (some who are also authors, like Susan Hughes) to send books to the community, which is on the coast of James Bay, Ontario. And I didn’t stop there. I contacted Annick Press to see if they were willing to help out… and were they! Annick responded by sending 12 kgs of books! As you can see, the children were very grateful to receive them.

Sadly, Shannen is no longer with us, having been taken in a car accident last year at the age of fifteen. But I think she would be very proud of her community’s efforts to improve education for all First Nations children. The campaign she started has become the largest youth-driven, children’s rights movement in Canadian history, earning her a nomination at age thirteen for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Her dream will become a reality for Attawapiskat in 2013, at which time the government has pledged to build a new school for the community.

If youth like Shannen and her friends can accomplish all of this without receiving an education at an acceptable standard, just imagine what they can accomplish with proper learning conditions. Hopefully their efforts will eventually see all Canadian children learning in “comfy” schools.

So, this National Aboriginal Day (June 21), I would like to ask you to think of the youth who need your support.

A big thank you to Annick Press and everyone who sent books! Way to get behind some inspirational students! For more information on Shannen’s Dream, please visit their website, join their Facebook page, and watch this video of the Attawapiskat youth talking about Shannen's Dream:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In Defense of Dark Fiction for Teens

Last week, a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Darkness Too Visible” criticized contemporary young adult fiction for being so dark and explicit that some parents feared its effect on young readers’ “happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart.”

After lamenting the popularity of such books, the article ended by encouraging parents to protect their teens: “The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives.”

The YA community quickly rallied, and soon readers, authors, teens, librarians, and parents were posting their own perspectives and tweeting about the importance of authentic YA fiction with the hashtag #YASaves. (Bookshelves of Doom compiled a handy list.). Their counter-arguments brought up many good points: it’s unfair to compare contemporary YA literature against the classics (after all, who knows which of today’s YA blockbusters will still be around in fifty years?); teens going through tough times need to know that they’re not alone and that there’s hope; teens have always had access to edgy fiction, usually intended for adults (for example, at the age of eleven or twelve, many of my friends were devouring V.C. Andrews books, which are full of explicit sex with a bit of incest thrown in); and of course, the fact that horrible things do happen—and ironically enough, teens learn about such things from the news, where human suffering is often sensationalized and provided without further context.

At Annick Press, we don’t publish dark, realistic teen fiction for the sake of sensationalism or to “bulldoze coarseness or misery” into any teen’s life. We publish it because it speaks to teen readers about things that are important to them, and it does so without speaking down to them or lecturing them. In books such as Leslie’s Journal (dating violence), Double or Nothing (gambling addiction), and In Ecstasy (drug use), teens figure out how to deal with complex problems on their own—an important step in becoming an adult. And yet these books aren’t meant to be “lessons”—they are, first and foremost, compelling stories that draw teens in for the same reason as adults: they want to know what happens next.

Now more than ever, when there are so many forms of entertainment competing with the joy of losing oneself in a good book, it is vital to encourage a reading culture. And that starts with well-written stories that reflect the world we live in, and also allow us to imagine ourselves in other worlds.