Category Archives: Canadiana

Tales From Big Spirit (Series) by David Alexander Robertson

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I have been a fan of David Alexander Robertson since I read his 7 Generations graphic novel series a few years ago. Recently I stumbled upon his graphic novel series for a younger audience called “Tales from Big Spirit”. Each book is about a prominent First Nations person from history and teaches the reader about their contributions using beautifully drawn graphics (there are a few different illustrators for the series). Although intended for children, I as an adult really enjoyed reading the books and learned a few new things.

The first title I read was “The Peacemaker- Thanadelathur” (illustrated by Wai Tien). This book teaches the reader about Thanadelathur, a remarkable Dene woman who helped make peace between the Cree and Dene peoples in the 1700s. She was originally captured by some Cree people, and managed to escape after the winter had passed. Nearly starving in the process, she was discovered by some geese hunters from the Hudson’s Bay Company and she agreed to become an interpreter for the Hudson’s Bay Company to establish trade agreements. After some difficulty, she proved the be successful, and Thanadelathur is still remembered today through oral tradition and the Hudson Bay Company’s records (quite a rarity for a First Nations woman at that time!)

Second was “The Poet-Pauline Johnson” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This book introduces Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk poet who was quite famous for her poetry reciting, especially “A Cry from an Indian Wife” which told of the Battle of Cut Knife during the Riel Rebellion. Being half European and half Mohawk, she worked towards reconciliation towards those groups of people, and her works have been honored by different groups yesterday and today.

Third was “The Ballad of Nancy April- Shawnadithit” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson) which tells about the extinction of the Beothuk people in Newfoundland in the 19th century. They became instinct due to various reasons, including loss of food sources due to competition with other groups in the area, death due to European diseases (especially tuberculosis), and violent encounters from other groups. Shawnadithit was the last known full-blooded Beothuk person until her death in 1829, and because of her, some history of the Beothuk people survive today.

Last was “The Scout-Tommy Prince” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This installment teaches about Sgt. Tommy Prince, the most decorated First Nations Soldier in Canada, who served in both World War II and the Korean War. As a young man, he spent a lot of time outdoors hunting and doing other skills, and he joined the army cadets when he was a teenager. Despite facing discrimination, he applied for recruitment several times until he was accepted in 1940. He volunteered to the parachute unit, being one of few who passed training. Later on he did many dangerous tasks; including scoping out and reporting on German assembly points (he laid a 1,400 meter long telephone wire and attached it to a phone in an abandoned farmhouse to do so!). After the wars, he became known once again for saving a man from drowning in Winnipeg. Since his passing, many schools and awards have been named after Prince to honor him.

In total, this has been a wonderful group of graphic novels that taught me a bit of Canadian History. Pauline Johnson’s writings are officially on my to-read list, and I have done further readings on the other individuals.  I truly recommend this collection for those young and old. These titles are available by Interlibrary Loan.

 

Review: The Wealthy Barber vs. The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton

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About a year and a half ago, I realized how ignorant I was with regards to money and started to educate myself in matters of personal finance in order to resolve my ignorance. Since then, I have read a number of books and articles, significantly improved my spending, started living below my means, and started saving. As I began my journey to becoming financially literate, one book that I was always recommended was The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton (1989). The book being nearly 3 decades old, I was hesitant to read it since I know financial matters are time sensitive. What I decided to do instead, was read The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton (2011) first, then go back and read Chilton’s first book.

I’ve actually read The Wealthy Barber Returns twice. The first time was in January 2016. The second time was just last month to get a refresher before starting his first book. I credit Wealthy Barber Returns with kicking my butt into gear and getting me to save at least 10% of my income, and opening up a RRSP. The illustration that caused me to do so was the following from this book: twins open up RRSPs. Each of them contributes $4,000 a year at 8% rate of return compounded annually. Hank opens up his RRSP and makes these contributions starting at age 25 for 10 years. Simon contributes starting at age 35 for 30 years. Because of the “magic” of compound interest, at 65, Hank’s RRSP is worth $629,741 and Simon’s $489,383. In spite of the fact that Hank saved for a third less time, he comes out $140k ahead by starting early. After reading this, I knew that even if could only contribute a few hundred dollars a year to start out, it was worth starting in my young 20s to get the compound interest ball rolling.

Besides a 10% fund, I also appreciated the various advice found in The Wealthy Barber Returns. Some of his advice is very simple (If shopping is your weakness and causes you to waste money, avoid the malls) while other advice is more complicated and situational, such as his banter on TFSAs vs. RRSPs and renting vs. owning. Although I agreed with the majority of what Chilton had to say, I did disagree with him on a few points-the main one that sticks out is his dislike of emergency funds (he claims that although great in theory, they don’t work out in practice). Regardless, I still believe The Wealthy Barber Returns is still a good introductory book for finance for Canadians- it certainly helped me better my finances.

Now onto Chilton’s first book- The Wealthy Barber. The first thing that surprised me when I started the book was the fact it was put in story format and didn’t discuss finances until Chapter 4. The narrative format has been praised as helpful to get the average reader engaged in a topic they otherwise wouldn’t have touched, but for me, knowing that the characters are fictional I was bored and ready to get to the heart of the book. I hate to say it, but if the useless banter between fictional characters were removed, the book would have been under 100 pages. However, I did get a refresher on things I already knew and learned a few things as well. The main point of the book is “save 10%- pay yourself first” which is an excellent reminder and cannot be emphasized enough. Chilton also talks about trying to evaluate your possible retirement needs and save in an RRSP, which is so crucial in this day of fewer pensions.

Nonetheless, I have to admit this book is dated. It started with the characters referencing VCRs several times, and more concerning, outdated financial advice. For example, when referring to RRSPs, the characters never mentioned the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) which allows you to withdraw up to $25,000 from your RRSPs to buy or build a home. Same with TFSAs- they came about in 2009 (20 years after the publication of this book) and they are a great way for Canadians to save, so someone starting with this publication would miss that valuable info. Also, a few weeks ago the government announced they will be doing away with the Canada Savings Bond program which was mentioned numerous times throughout this book as an option for saving. And when it comes to investing or buying a home, the characters referenced making 13% on a mutual fund annually, buying a home for $57,000 (at an 18% interest rate!), and buying a condo for $80,000. Any Canadian who gets their percentage figures from this book is going to be really surprised when s/he looks online for modern prices.

For all these reasons, I would much rather recommend The Wealthy Barber Returns over Chilton’s original publication. Finances are a time sensitive thing: prices and percentages change, new products are introduced and old products are done away with. Even though The Wealthy Barber is encouraging in some ways, it’s too out of date as a beginner’s guide to personal finance. My recommendation is to stay within the past decade for anything to do with personal finance; possibly less if it’s about a specific product.

 

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

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 This is the tragic story of an Ojibwe boy who runs away from a North Ontario Indian School, not realising just how far away from home he is. Along the way he’s followed by Manitous, spirits of the forest who comment on his plight, cajoling, taunting and ultimately offering him a type of comfort on his difficult journey back to the place he was so brutally removed from.  It is based on the short life of Chanie Wenjack (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) who was born in 1954 at Ogoki Post . He was forcibly removed from his home in 1964, when he was nine years old, and taken to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School over 400 kilometres away in Kenora. He died on 22 October 1966 while trying to walk home along the railroad tracks. Many young victims of the Residential Schools were buried without grave markers. Sometimes their families were not even informed of their death.

Ian Adams wrote ‘The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack’ for Maclean’s magazine not long after Chanie’s death in 1966. One outcome of his death – and countless others – was the first public inquiry into residential schools in Canada. Another longer-term outcome was a multimedia re-telling of Chanie’s story by a group of contemporary authors and musicians.  Joseph Boyden voices two tracks about Chanie on the latest album by A Tribe Called Red, The Halliuci Nation.  Gord Downie from the Tragically Hip teamed up with Jeff Lemire to produce Secret Path, which combines a graphic novel with ten songs, and was also filmed as an animation shown on CBC on the 50th anniversary of Chanie’s death.  Wenjack is a powerful and poignant look into the world of a residential school runaway trying to find his way home.

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John Pateman is CEO of Thunder Bay Public Library.

 

Interview with Emma Hooper

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Picture of Emma HooperRaised in Alberta, Emma Hooper brought her love of music and literature to the U.K., where she received a doctorate in musico-literary studies at the University of East Anglia and currently lectures at Bath Spa University.  She comes home to Canada to cross-country ski whenever she can. You can find her online at emmahooper.ca.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James?

Emma Hooper: The characters of Otto and Etta are inspired by, and loosely based on, my maternal grandparents. My maternal grandmother taught in a small prairie schoolhouse, like Etta, and my maternal grandfather came from a farm family of fifteen kids, like Otto. His hair all did turn white when he was over in Europe for the war. It’s a family trait, actually. I’ve got a natural white streak, and my brother does too… .

Etta’s journey has a very Forrest Gump-like feel once other folks start to follow her and bring her supplies.  Was this intentional?

Ha! No, I can’t say any Forrest Gump relation was intentional, but I’m certainly not the first, or last, one to use this type of ‘inspirational journey’ plot… it’s a good one!  I think it’s pretty much inevitable that people will find another book/movie/story like yours, no matter what you’ve written. There are only so many basic plots and basic character demographics, so I don’t mind so much. The content, the details, the style and the tone of the writing are the distinctive features, I believe.

Thinking of the details, why does Etta decide to go east to the Atlantic ocean?

Two quick answers for that: 1) Personal history (retracing Otto’s steps) and 2) The Rocky Mountains…

Oh yes, the Rocky Mountains would be a rather big obstacle when travelling on foot! While Etta is off on her adventure, Otto bakes through her recipe book.  Are these recipes from a family cookbook?

Yes they are. They are my grandmother’s, and, like the ones in the book, the originals were full of little coded shortcuts and amendments that made it difficult for anyone but my grandmother to really get them right! Like Otto, I’ve tried the cinnamon buns so many times…though I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded! Matrimonial cake/squares I’m better at. I’ve never tried the flax flower paste though…

You’ll have to give the paste a try!  Along with writing books, you’re the solo musician Waitress for the Bees and a member of the string quartet The Stringbeans.  Has music had any influence on your writing?

I think my musical background makes me overly sensitive to things like rhythm and pacing in my own writing. I can spend ages labouring over one sentence that’s perfectly okay in terms of grammar and content, but doesn’t have quite the rhythm, quite the right tempo. It pushes prose a bit more in the direction of poetry, I think (although I also think there’s no definite line there, no black and white. I like the idea of prose that reaches into poetry sometimes and vice versa).

So what are you working on now?

Putting the finishing touches on book two! It’s got mermaids…

That sounds exciting – I can’t wait! To finish up I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

One of the first ‘big kid’ books I remember reading was called My Daniel; it had something to do with dinosaur bones and the loss of a brother. I remember crying and crying as I read it and LOVING it. With that came the realisation that writing, books, could have this hugely potent impact that readers could let themselves go into.

Nowadays, I admire writers who play with magic and reality, and who embrace joy as well as suffering in their books. Examples are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Not exactly, no, I think everyone is allowed to have different tastes and things that will speak to them more or less. However, I do think that everyone should READ something! So, I guess my answer to the question is: Anything and everything!

That’s totally fair.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

A nonfiction book, actually, which is fairly rare for me, called Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music.

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We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones

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Most of us have watched a viral video online.  But what happens if that video involves someone from your family?  And you first hear about it on the news?

That’s what happens to Finn Parker in Amy Jones’ debut novel We’re All In This Together.  Finn sees a video of a woman go over Kakabeka Falls in a barrel and survive.  That woman just happens to be her mother, Kate.  Finn finds herself pulled back to a life, a town, and the family which she had abandoned.  Her twin sister, Nicki, doesn’t want her back in Thunder Bay.  Their dad, Walter, is mostly absent, out on Lake Superior rather than facing his family.  Their adopted brother, Shawn, is trying to hold the Parkers together while his wife, Katriina, is slowly falling apart on the sidelines.   And Nicki’s teenage daughter, London, is more concerned with meeting the marine biologist she has a crush on than having anything to do with her stupid family.

We’re All In This Together is written from multiple viewpoints, which lets you see the same events through often drastically different perspectives.  This was most evident between Finn and Nicki, who are identical in looks but totally different on the inside.  These viewpoints reinforce how real the Parker family is.  Sure they are dysfunctional in their way, but what family isn’t?  The story, while sometimes a bit crazy, will keep you reading.  We’re All In This Together gives hope for how even a splintered family can come back together in a time of great need.

We’re All In This Together is The Thunder Bay Public Library’s first One Book: One Community book.  For more information and to get involved in our fall events for this book, please visit tbpl.ca/onebook.

 

Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

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This quirky book focusses on Etta, a retired prairie emma2school teacher who decides to fulfill a lifelong dream to see the Atlantic Ocean.  And, she decides to walk there.  She leaves a note for her husband Otto asking him not to follow her, and sets off one morning.  As with many literary journeys, hers is both physical and spiritual.  Etta reflects on her life as she walks, revealing how she happened into a job at a dusty one room school house, fell in love with a boy who was sent off to war, and ended up marrying another.  She becomes a reluctant celebrity as her journey is observed, documented and celebrated by people along the way.  Like Forrest Gump, she never asks for help on her walk, but folks are happy to provide it. An interesting twist is that James, a fox, joins Etta early in her walk and becomes her advisor and protector.  Etta’s memories paint a picture of how the war years deeply impacted daily life on the prairies — both the lives of communities and the lives of individuals. Otto, the husband Etta leaves behind, comforts himself by baking his way through Etta’s recipe box.  This is Emma Hooper’s first book and it has been translated into 18 languages, which attests to its universal appeal. She is definitely a writer to watch! This  book was chosen as Edmonton Public Library’s “One Book:  One Community” book last Fall.  Our own “One Book: One Community” book was recently announced, and is Amy Jones’ “We’re all in this together”.  Watch our website www.tbpl.ca/onebook for more information about what we have planned.

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If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

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If I Fall, If I Die is the first novel by Michael Christie. Set in his hometown of Thunder Bay, If I Fall, If I Die follows the adventures of Will, the son of an agoraphobic mother. Will’s mom is terrified of leaving the house and Will considers himself her guardian, keeping her safe from what he calls the Black Lagoon (her debilitating depression brought on by her fear). But when he hears an unexpected noise in the yard, he braves the dangers he imagines there to be…and discovers that Outside isn’t as scary as he previously thought. He even meets another boy, Marcus, who agreed to be friends. And so Will starts venturing Outside more and more, especially once he realizes Marcus is missing; Will makes it his mission to find the other boy, even though no one else seems to care about “another runaway Native kid.”

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The first half of If I Fall, If I Die was amazing. Christie has beautiful prose, which is perfect for describing the wonderful world Will and his mother have built for themselves Inside. And even how Will started literally braving the Outside was so well done. But from about 100 pages in, the book changes focus, making what should have been a spectacular read merely okay in the end. That being said, it’s definitely still worth reading. If I Fall, IF I Die transitions from agoraphobia to dealing with racism in our city. Racism against Native Canadians in Thunder Bay is quite bad, so having the first boy Will meets Outside be a Native Canadian makes it unsurprising that the book deals with this racism in some fashion. I’m glad to see this discussion happening, and I hope Christie’s book will lead to more awareness of the issue our city faces.

 

Shauna Kosoris – www.tbpl.ca