Late off the mark…

Way back in November, I attended the 2016 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards in Toronto, as one of the jurors for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. Even though it is posted online, and the news is rather old at this point, here is the list of finalists and winners (from the Children’s Book Centre website):

  • TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($30,000)
    Missing Nimâmâ
    , written by Melanie Florence and illustrated by François Thisdale
    Other finalists:
    The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel
    That Squeak, written by Carolyn Beck and illustrated by François Thisdale
    The Wolf-Birds, written and illustrated by Willow Dawson
    A Year of Borrowed Men, written by Michelle Barker and illustrated by Renné Benoit
  • Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000)
    Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox
    , written and illustrated by Danielle Daniel
    Other finalists:
    In a Cloud of Dust, written by Alma Fullerton and illustrated by Brian Deines
    InvisiBill, written by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Dušan Petričić
    Sidewalk Flowers: storyline by JonArno Lawson; illustrated by Sydney Smith
    The Wolf-Birds, written and illustrated by Willow Dawson
  • Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction ($10,000)
    Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and You
    , written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    Other finalists:
    The Art of the Possible: An Everyday Guide to Politics, written by Edward Keenan and illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
    A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars, written by Maria Birmingham and illustrated by Josh Holinaty
    Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War (CitizenKid), written by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine, and illustrated by Claudia Dávila
    Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat, by Paula Ayer
  • Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction For Young People ($5,000)
    Uncertain Soldier, by Karen Bass
    Other finalists:
    Avis Dolphin, written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Willow Dawson
    The Farmerettes, by Gisela Tobien Sherman
    Mad Miss Mimic, by Sarah Henstra
    The Unquiet Past (Secrets), by Kelley Armstrong
  • John Spray Mystery Award ($5,000)
    The Blackthorn Key,
    by Kevin Sands
    Other finalists:
    The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency), by Jordan Stratford
    Delusion Road, by Don Aker
    The Masked Truth, by Kelley Armstrong
    Masterminds, by Gordon Korman
  • Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy ($5,000)
    The Scorpion Rules
    , by Erin Bow
    Other finalists:
    Clover’s Luck (Magical Animal Adoption Agency), by Kallie George
    The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel
    A Thousand Nights, by E.K. Johnston
    The Unquiet, by Mikaela Everett
  • Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000)
    The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby
    Other finalists:
    5 to 1, by Holly Bodger
    The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace), by Erin Bow
    Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromly
    Young Man With Camera, by Emil Sher

The weekend of the awards, having met so many wonderful authors I did not previously know (or in some cases know about), I made myself a promise to read and review all of the winners, at least, and as many of the nominees as I could get to. In terms of the winners, having (not surprisingly) already reviewed the winner of the Bilson award, Uncertain Soldier (for this blog), as well as Missing Nimâmâ and The Truth Commission (for Resource Links magazine), I decided to start with the John Spray Mystery Award, for which I had read none of the finalists. I have reviewed The Case of the Missing Moonstone (which I just happened to get my hands on first) and have now read The Blackthorn Key, and will post that review soon. As I review the books, I will update the links above.

(I have to say that both The Blackthorn Key and The Case of the Missing Moonstone should have been entered as contenders for the Bilson award, as well. Publishers take note: if you don’t enter, your authors can’t win, and The Blackthorn Key would certainly have made my short-list of nominations this year.)

In addition to adding these excellent titles to the list of books I want to review, and the “to review” pile of already-read novels by my desk, right beside the older pile of “to read then review” novels, I was sent a few books by authors I met at the gala and really enjoyed talking with. So I have my work cut out for me for the next few years, even without the increasing number of really great books for young adults and children being written by Canadian authors. I’d better get on this…


Judy Brown Memorial Scholarship

So, this is not a review… but for all of you in the Lower Mainland of BC, there is a book sale for a great cause coming up. Judy was a truly wonderful person, whose academic specialties aligned with mine (Canadian Studies and Children’s Literature); I am proud to have known her. I’ll be there as the doors open on Wednesday…

Fundraising Book Sale for The Judy Brown Memorial Scholarship in Canadian Literature

9:30 am – 4:00 pm
Wed. Jan 28, Thurs Jan 29, Tues. Feb 3, Wed. Feb 4

All the books in this sale come from the extensive personal library of Judy Brown.  Judy’s collection is rich in many areas, especially Canadian Studies and the humanities.  Come to the sale! Well-loved books here! And books as new!   Find books for yourself or maybe that perfect gift book.  Fiction, literature, critical studies, language, biography, history, women’s studies, politics, philosophy, travel, religion, children’s books and critical works on children’s literature, …and more.

Because there are so many books, we anticipate that we may not have room to get all of them out on sale in only two days—so we have planned a second sale in the first week of February, just in case.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books!   Lots of bargains for all kinds of booklovers! Come early!

If you can’t attend the book sale and would like to take this opportunity to make a gift to the Judy Brown Memorial Scholarship in Canadian Literature, here are various options for you to make a gift.

Ways to give:

Through the English Department website entry, with information about Judy herself, and the establishing of the scholarship:

By cheque:

Attention: UBC Annual Giving

500 – 5950 University Blvd. Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z3

Note: Make the cheque payable to “University of British Columbia” and indicate on the memo line “Judy Brown Scholarship”.

By Phone (Credit Card):

Contact: UBC Annual Giving

Tel: 604.827.4111 or 1.877.717.4483

If you have further questions, please contact Betty Yan at 604-827-0331 or

About Judy

Judy Brown was beloved by generations of students at UBC, and her inspired teaching won her multiple awards, including a 3M Fellowship, Canada’s highest award for excellence in undergraduate teaching.  By establishing this scholarship, we will honour Judy’s many contributions to UBC, her educational leadership, and in particular her dedication to English undergraduates studying Canadian literature.  The scholarship will be offered to a student completing third year, for the best essay on Canadian literature submitted for a course in the Department of English.


With thanks to all, from Judy’s sisters, Jackie, Barb and Caroline, and from her colleagues in the English Department.

“You Never Forget the First Time,” a guest post by Catherine Egan

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada, and one subject of gratitude for me is the number of fresh voices in YA fantasy literature, building new worlds for us to explore, new characters to love and hate. I am also grateful that one of these voices, Catherine Egan, will be a guest blogger here today. In preparation for the release of the final book in her Last Days of Tian Di trilogy—Bone, Fog, Ash & Star—Ms. Egan has constructed a blog tour discussing some of her favourite villains.

Catherine Egan grew up here in Vancouver, but lived for a number of years in Asia before  ending up in New Haven, Connecticut: far too far away for regular author visits at Kids’ Books… which of course saddens me greatly. It will have to suffice that she is willing to share her lively intelligence with us through her blog tour.

The Last Days of Tian Di tells the story of Eliza, who is told she is a sorceress and taken from her father to be taught her craft. She is flung into a world of political conflict that takes her alternatively into the far North, into danger, into the heart of her father’s culture, and into a deeper knowledge of who she truly is. In Sword & Sorceress (2012), she learns her true identity; in The Unmaking (2013), she learns to use the power she has discovered. I am really excited to see where her journey takes her in Bone, Fog, Ash & Star (2014), and where the story leaves us all.
9781550505146_FC        9781550505597_FC        9781550505931_FC



“You Never Forget the First Time: Jadis from the Narnia Books and Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials,” by Catherine Egan

When I was little, I didn’t want to learn to read. It was hard work, and when I was struggling with every word I couldn’t enjoy the stories. I used to make a great fuss about it. But then, as is so often the case when a small child learns a new skill, it seemed to come all at once. When you haven’t been able to read and then suddenly you can, you might notice something you’d always taken for granted: that every bookshelf in the house is full of books, and that you can take any one of them off the shelf and read it by yourself. It is obvious, of course, but I remember how stunned I was when the realization first hit me – that all these stories were mine for the taking, as I pleased. That is how, as a Very New Reader, I came to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe for the first time.

I didn’t know what a wardrobe was, but I was interested in the witch. I liked witches! But this witch was nothing like the funny, friendly witches from Jill Murphy’s series. This was the White Witch, Jadis – my first encounter with a truly scary villain. For the first time in my life, I was reading about evil.

Reading the book to my own son thirty-plus years later she seems fairly standard fare, as villains go. She’s cruel and imperious and remorseless, and what she wants is to rule all of Narnia – power for its own sake, since she has no desire to rule well. I’ve long since lost interest in pure, uncomplicated evil. I like my villains more conflicted. The grey areas where villain and hero meet are more exciting than the sharp good and evil divide. But still, even rereading the book as an adult I get a chill around my heart when the White Witch invites Edmund into her sleigh. I always identified uncomfortably with Edmund, though I wanted to be like Lucy. We know how false she is, how wicked her intent must be; but Edmund is taken in, stuffing his face with Turkish delight. It takes a lot to scare and horrify me now, but then? I will never forget how frightened I was, how I nearly had to stop reading but I couldn’t stop reading, and whenever she came sweeping and raging into the story I read faster and faster, heart racing with fear and a new kind of delight. You never get over your first villain.

Years later, sometime in my twenties, I read Philip Pullman’s dazzling trilogy, His Dark Materials. The resonances from Narnia were subtle but unmistakable, and I was interested but unsurprised to discover later on that Pullman had written the books partly to stand in philosophical opposition to the Narnia books. Of course, as a child I did not recognize at all the Christian theology underpinning the Narnia stories, and reading His Dark Materials as an adult, I have to confess (at the risk of sounding like a dunderhead) that I was and am basically uninterested in the philosophy put forth by Pullman. Ironically I found the third book in the series, in which his message becomes more overt, altogether too “message-y.” The connection to Narnia that struck me may not have been intended by Pullman at all. But as soon as Mrs. Coulter appeared in the first book, I thought of Jadis.

We first encounter Mrs. Coulter kidnapping a child. She is beautiful, dark-haired, wearing a long fur coat. She offers him chocolatl, tells him: “As it happens, I’ve got more chocolatl than I can drink myself. Will you come and help me drink it?” And the boy? “He’s lost already.” I thought of Jadis offering Edmund a hot drink, “something he had never tasted before, very sweet and foamy and creamy, and it warmed him right down to his toes.” Mrs. Coulter is initially very seductive. When she turns on Lyra, she is terrifying – ruthless and strong – and then Lyra’s fear and regret echoes Edmund’s when the White Witch shows him her true, wicked self.

Even Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father, seemed like a potential echo of Aslan. He is essentially good, but frightening too – his expressions and features are described as “fierce” and “savage” – “all his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it.” Lyra’s relationship to Lord Asriel – of fear and love and respect together – is much like the Pevensie children’s reaction to Aslan, just as her initial devotion to and then terror of Mrs. Coulter echoes Edmund’s relationship with the White Witch.

While Lewis is writing about the clash of Good and Evil in their truest and most elemental forms, Pullman wants to create a more complicated moral universe. Mrs. Coulter is a wonderful villain, absolutely vicious – but she finds herself loving Lyra in spite of herself, and her final act is her redemption. She does not stop being evil but nor can she stop loving her daughter, and that love does not vanquish her evil either, but it does prove more powerful in deciding her self-sacrifice. Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are complicated figures, imperfect and driven by their passions – very human, in other words, and I suppose that is Pullman’s point: that both good and evil are very human, and that rarely is anyone purely one or the other.

Jadis is not meant to be human or to elicit our sympathy. She is simply the embodiment of Pure Evil, hungering for power, inflicting eternal winter on her subjects. There is no possibility of redemption for her, and love is quite beyond her. The stories get put in opposition to each other regularly, mainly because of Pullman’s comments on the Narnia books, but putting aside the theological questions they grapple with, I think that as stories one leads nicely to the other. The Narnia books are written for younger children, and the story, whether you read it as a Christian allegory or not, has resonated with one generation after another. The White Witch on her sleigh, imperious and then suddenly, falsely kind imprinted on me as the Ultimate Villain, and no villain in any story since has ever scared me quite so much. When I read The Golden Compass, the first in Pullman’s series, Mrs. Coulter offering the little boy chocolatl brought it all surging back – that first shivering pleasure at reading something scary, my awe at this figure of towering evil, the horror at the idea of being tempted and deceived, of falling into her power.

Mrs. Coulter, for all that she may be a more interesting figure for a teenager or an adult (and particularly a mother) to read about, remains, for me, a mere shadow of Jadis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was my own magical doorway to the immense power of stories – the fear and grief and wonder a story could evoke – and the Witch, with her white face and her red lips, offering sweets, will always be the first nightmare figure to get under my skin and scare me witless.

* * * * *

This is one in a series of blog posts on villains; you can check my blog for a list of villain-posts. Let me know in the comments: who are your favorite fictional villains? Choose villains from books / movies / comic books / TV – just not real life! A winner will be selected by random number generator (I’ll post a screenshot) and I will send you a book bundle – all three books in The Last Days of Tian Di series – chock-a-block with villains and their villainy.

Contact Catherine Egan

Blog (contests! give-aways!):
Twitter: @bycatherineegan


The full blog tour schedule

October 10th: Isn’t he scary? Isn’t he beautiful? with many thanks to Helen Kubiw for hosting! You can also read her review of the third book here.

October 13th: You Never Forget the First Time: Jadis from the Narnia Books and Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials at

October 14th: I love you and I want to kill you; let’s make out: Bad Boy villains in YA at

October 15th: There is nothing on earth that we share: Javert from Les Misérables at

October 16th: Sometimes the bad guy just wants to be a big snake: Mayor Wilkins from Buffy the Vampire Slayer at

October 17th: An exchange of gifts: Linay from Plain Kate at

YA and teen literature

In June of 2009, Cheryl Klein, a member of the child_lit listserv I belong to, blogged her definition of YA literature, which I would like to share with you (she has just called our attention to it in a thread on the listserv). Klein’s definition successfully distinguishes YA literature from literature for other audiences, without attempting to categorize the audience by age. While I have distinguished between the terms “teen” and “YA” literature on my blog, both are encompassed within the more accepted use of the term “YA,” as Klein defines it.