It is 1981. Six-year-old Tuan Ho, his mother and three sisters are living in Ho Chi Minh City with relatives and anxiously waiting for word from his father and eldest sister who escaped Vietnam the previous year. Returning home from school one day, Tuan finds a jug of water and bags of dried food at the door. His mother announces that she cannot wait any longer; they are leaving.
In the middle of the night, the family creeps from the house, and boards a truck heading for the coast. They hide in bushes until the small skiffs appear, and then race toward them through gun fire. The skiffs head for a fishing boat that waits offshore.
Before long, that boat has sixty people aboard, all desperate to escape Vietnam. Families huddle together. Children fall asleep to the sound of the motor and waves.
Tuan wakes to a hot sun burning down on him. Though his throat is parched, he can have only a capful of water. The trip, his mother tells him, will take four days and one jug of water is all they have.
On the second day, the boat springs a leak. Tuan’s mother and aunt take turns bailing water but few others offer to help. The captain offers them a bottle of water in thanks, which they hide away.
Tuan wakes to silence on the third day. The motor has stopped and the fishing boat is adrift at sea. With dwindling food and water, the refugees aboard the leaking boat are in an increasing desperate situation.
On the fifth day, Tuan spots another boat in the distance, also adrift. That night, the other boat goes up in flames. The captain explains that the other boat has mistaken theirs for a rescue ship and lit a fire to get their attention. The refugees watch in horror as the other boat is overtaken by fire and sinks. Afterward, Tuan cannot sleep. He fears that they, too, will die at sea. He gets up and helps his mother bail water. He hears her gasp as she spots dolphins swimming in the waters before. “it is a sign,” she says, and they are both comforted.
The next day, an American aircraft carrier appears on the horizon. A rope ladder is lowered and slowly, carefully, Tuan and the other refugees climb to the deck of the massive ship. A sailor lifts the boy from the ladder, smiles, and offers him a glass of cold milk. Tuan and his fellow refugees are safe.
Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho and illustrated by Brian Deines, Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s story of Survival is the true story of a young boy’s experience of escape from Vietnam, survival adrift at sea with his family and dozens of other refugees, and their eventual rescue by an American naval vessel. Representative of the experience of many Vietnamese-Canadians, this perilous account of the a family of Vietnamese boat people is an important event in our collective history. Tuan, his sisters and parents now live in Canada.
Born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1871, Emily Carr studied art in San Francisco before returning home to teach art classes to children and paint. From her earliest years as an artist, she was interested in, and sketched and painted the villages and cultural artifacts of the Aboriginal peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
In her 30s, Carr spent several years in England and then Paris where she discovered modern art. She returned to Victoria in 1912 with her own striking post-impressionist style of painting.
Shortly after her return, Carr made a six-week trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Skeena River, where she made a visual record of totem poles and other material history of the Haida, Gitksan and Tsimshaian. In those drawings and sketches, Carr found the two major themes of her greatest works of art; the cultural history of the west coast’s Aboriginal people and the landscape of this region.
Carr pursued her new artistic vision for several years, but her work received little interest or support from the pubic. Unable to live from the sale of her art, she gave up painting and opened a boarding house.
In 1928, Eric Brown, the director of the National Gallery of Canada contacted Carr. The Gallery was organizing an exhibition of West Coast Aboriginal art in Ottawa, and wanted to see her pictures. Fifty pieces of her work were included in the show, and Carr’s rail passage to Ottawa was paid for by the Gallery so that she could attend the opening reception.
There she met Lauren Harris and other members of the Group of Seven. They recognized in her a kindred spirit; she was thrilled to discover in them a passion for representing the rugged landscape in new and distinctly Canadian ways. Energized by her visit east, Emily Carr returned home to British Columbia and resumed painting.
With the money she earned from sales of her work, Emily bought a caravan which allowed her to spend weeks at a time painting in remote locations. She painted until 1941, when poor health forced her to put down her brushes.
In his beautifully written and illustrated book Four Pictures by Emily Carr, graphic artist Nicolas Debon recounts the life and career of this pre-eminent Canadian artist through the stories of four of her most iconic pictures. A wonderful book for readers – and art lovers – from six year old!
After 50 years, his grandfather is retiring from farming and moving to town to be near family. Todd has come for the auction. Farm equipment, furniture and household items are organized neatly on the front lawn, ready for the auctioneer’s hammer.
Gramps is at the front door, offering a cold drink, but Todd wants to say hello to the animals. By the time his grandfather catches up with him, the boy is standing bereft in the empty barn.
“You sold all the animals!” Todd yells.
“I had to.”
Hearing something in the old man’s voice, Todd turns to see that his grandfather is crying. He starts crying. too.
Old man and young boy, they walk to the bluff from which they can see the fields spreading into the distance, and they talk about the farm. His grandfather recalls first coming to the land, and thinking that it would be the place in which he and his young wife would make a wonderful life together.
They were homesteaders, pioneers. They cleared the fields of stones, and worked long hours in all kinds of weather. Todd’s mother was born at home during a snowstorm, with no one but Gramps to help her safely into the world. They didn’t have electricity for years, not until Todd’s mother was in high school.
Todd lives in town but has always loved coming out to the farm for visits. He enjoyed going to the grain elevator with Gramps, and milking cows with Gran. He had fun keeping an eye out for his grandfather while Gran snuck a turn on the swing in the barn.
As the sun goes down, Gramps and Todd head back to the empty house, and share a picnic of bread and cheese and pickles. Gran had made the pickles before she’d died the previous fall.
The pickles remind Todd and his grandfather of Gran’s garden, and of the scarecrow she always put up to scare away the birds. Each year, Todd remembers, the scarecrow was different – a clown, a dancer, a witch.
Sitting there on the floor of the empty farmhouse on the night before the auction that will spell the end a half century of farming, Gramps has an idea. Maybe they could make some scarecrows of their own. Old man and boy, they dig through bags of old clothes and fetch straw from the yard. Soon there are scarecrows riding the combine, working at the sewing machine, and standing by the baler. There are scarecrows tending the old washing machine, and sitting in the old rocking chair.
When Gramps and Todd curl up on a mattress to sleep that night, they know they will have to be up early in the morning. Buyers will turn up early for the auction. Though it has been a difficult day of good-byes, it will be followed by new beginnings.
Written by Jan Andrews, author of Canadian classics such as Very Last First Time and When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew, The Auction tells the story of the an old man whose long years of farming on the prairie are drawing to an end, and of a young boy, his grandson, who has come to help him mourn that end and to celebrate all of happy times. A wonderful story for old and young alike.
T’was in the moon of wintertime
when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
sent angel choirs instead.
So begins the Huron Carol, written by Jean de Brébeuf in about 1642 on the shores of Georgian Bay. Brébeuf, a French Jesuit missionary, travelled from Québec to Huronia in the spring of 1626. Charged with converting the Huron Wendat, the indigenous people of the area, to Christianity, he established the mission of St. Marie Among the Huron near present-day Midland, Ontario.
A brilliant linguist, Brébeuf learned the Huron language and culture, created a Huron-French dictionary to aid his fellow missionaries, and translated the catechism. He also composed The Huron Carol, which tells the Christmas story using the symbols, themes and motifs of the Huron Wendat. Shepherds become hunters, a longhouse stands in for the stable, and the chiefs, who come from afar just as the wisemen did, offer gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
The missionaries had little success converting the Huron Wendat to Christianity. With fellow Jesuit Gabriel Lalemant, Jean de Brébeuf was captured and martyred by the Iroquois in March 1649. Their deaths brought to an end the Jesuit mission to the Huron. Survivors withdrew to Quebec and to what is now Oklahoma. The Huron Carol, written and first sung in the language of the Huron Wendat people and now in French and English too, serves to remind Canadians of an important landmark in our long and often troubled history with the first nations of this country.
Illustrated first by Frances Tyrrell in 1990, and then, in 2006, by Ian Wallace, The Huron Carol brings to life Jean de Brébeuf’s transplanted Christmas story and recalls the rich cultural traditions of the Huron Wendat. Both Tyrrell’s and Wallace’s editions would make a wonderful addition to the library of anyone who celebrates Christmas here in Canada.
November 1900. The crowds are lining up outside the circus tent of Le Cirque L. Cyr for the evening’s performance. They have come to see jugglers, acrobats, contortionists and clowns, but mostly they have come to see Louis Cyr, the strongest man in the world.
However, all is not well with the circus’ star performer. When she asks why the doctor has been to visit, Louis admits to his young daughter that he has many health problems, and that the doctor has told him that he must retire.
As the sounds of the starting performance drift into their caravan from the nearby circus tent, Louis recalls for Émiliana how he came to be crowned the strongest man in the world. Born in Quebec, he moved with his family to Massachusetts. Seeing his potential, his father trained him from early childhood to build up his strength. Louis recounts how he entered a weightlifting competition at a neighbour’s suggestion, and, at the tender age of seventeen or eighteen, found himself named champion of America.
Married soon afterwards, Louis and his new wife, Mélina, returned to Quebec where he found work as a lumberjack and where the story might have ended had the young strongman not been challenged by a rival weightlifter to settle which of them was the strongest man in Canada. Michaud was amazingly strong, but Louis proved to be stronger still.
The publicity surrounding his win brought Louis to the attention of one MacSohmer, a promoter who promised him worldwide fame and 35 dollars a week. As the star of shows throughout the US, Louis learned how to be a professional showman but, when MacSohmner didn’t pay him the sum they’d agreed on, he and Mélina headed home to Quebec.
Shortly after Émiliana’s birth, they bought a wagon and Louis refined his strongman routine in small towns and villages all over the province. He became so successful that the Cyrs were able to buy a tavern where Louis continued to put on his strongman act.
Eventually, he was invited to tour Europe. In England, Louis performed to packed houses, and received the compliments of the Prince of Wales himself. By the time he returned to Canada, Louis had been recognized as the strongest man in the world, and was able, at last, to realize his dream of owning a circus of his own.
It is time for Louis to perform. As the ringmaster announces him, Émiliana wishes her father good luck. He will walk out into the ring and dazzle the audience with his amazing feats of strength, culminating in lifting a table upon which stand eighteen men. He finishes his act to thunderous applause. Perhaps, someday, someone else will claim the title but, for now Louis Cyr remains the strongest man in the world.
Written and illustrated by celebrated French graphic artist Nicolas Debon, The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr, recounts the story of famed Canadian weightlifter Louis Cyr, who traveled from working-class roots in Quebec and New England to the performance halls of North America and Europe, and was acclaimed as the strongest man in the world. A charming and inspiring story for readers from age 4.
Chuck Ealey won every game he quarterbacked in high school. He also won every game he quarterbacked at the University of Toledo, more than any other quarterback in college football history. Yet, after he graduated, no American professional football team was prepared to sign him as a quarterback. That’s because Chuck Ealey is black and, in the early 1970s, the National Football League didn’t believe that someone of his colour could successfully quarterback a professional team.
So Chuck Ealey signed on with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL, the Canadian Football League, and, in his rookie year, led them to a Grey Cup win. He was also named Rookie of the Year.
Born in 1950 in racially segregated Portsmouth, Ohio, Chuck grew up in the North End, a rundown neighbourhood separated from the rest of the town by railroad tracks. He was raised by a single mother who worked long hours to give Chuck the chances in life that she had never had. Though money was tight and she had dropped out of school, Chuck’s mother wanted her son to get an education.
Chuck was still a kid when he started working his throw. He’d find stones along the railroad tracks and throw them at passing trains, aiming for letters on the sides of the boxcars rumbling past. He got so he could always hit his targets.
Chuck worked just as determinedly at football practice and in school. His high school football coach was watching, and eventually he asked Chuck to quarterback the team. There were those who felt that, as a person of colour, Chuck didn’t have what it took to lead a football team on the field, but his coach and teammates knew he was the best player for the job.
However, it wasn’t easy. At a game against another high school, players on the opposing team targeted him. As the clock counted down the final seconds, Chuck’s team was down by five points. Chuck got the football and waited while a teammate raced toward the end zone, and a defence man from the other team came in for the tackle. He waited and remembered his days of throwing stones at passing trains. And then he threw the football, a ball which dropped right into his teammate’s hands. That teammate crossed into the end zone, scoring the winning touchdown.
Written by his daughter Jael Ealey Richardson and illustrated by Matt James, renowned illustrator of such Canadian classics as Northwest Passage and I Know Here, The Stone Thrower is the inspiring story of Chuck Ealey, whose talent and determination lead him not only to a university scholarship but also to the winningest season as quarterback in American college football history. When no NFL team would sign him because of his colour, Chuck Ealey came north to Canada and played six successful seasons in the Canadian Football League. An important reminder of the ongoing struggle against racial discrimination, The Stone Thrower is a wonderful book for readers from age 4!
When Prime Minister John A MacDonald proposed building a railroad to unite the new nation of Canada with the west coast, he also created the North-West Mounted Police to ensure the safety of those who worked on its construction. Teachers, farmers, students and lumberjacks, the new recruits set out from Manitoba for the West. It was a long and difficult journey.
The Mounties build a first outpost in the land of the Blackfoot at Fort Macleod. At length, an agreement was reached with the Blackfoot that the railroad could cross their territory.
However, not of those who called the Prairies home were happy with MacDonald’s vision of a Canada that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Métis leader Louis Riel wanted to stop the division of his ancestors’ lands and create a separate country for his people but his dream did not come true.
The railroad was built, and soon the sound of the train whistle could be heard from Canada and across the Prairies to the Pacific coast. Trains brought settlers west from Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. They also brought immigrants from Europe. The settlers built homes and communities, ploughed fields and fenced pastures, all under the protective watch of the Mounties.
When gold was found in the Klondike, and thousands flocked there in hopes of striking it rich, the Mounties were there to bring order and make sure that the law was upheld. The Mounties also went to the Far North, and, with the help of the Inuit, explored the Canadian Arctic.
In 1904, King Edward VII gave the Mounties a royal title, in recognition of their service to Canada, and they became the Royal North-West Mounted Police. In 1920, their name was changed to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. To this day, the RCMP protect Canada and Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Written and illustrated by Marc Tetro, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is a simple and visually beautiful introduction to Canada’s national police force. From its founding shortly after Confederation to the present day, Tetro’s book celebrates the RCMP in all of its red-serge-tunic and its wide-brimmed-campaign-hat glory. A lovely book for readers from age 4!
In 1985, Rick Hansen, who was thrown from the back of a pickup truck at age 15 and paralyzed from the waist down, starts a two-year marathon around the world in his wheelchair to raise awareness about people in wheelchairs and raise money for research into spinal cord injuries.
Supported by a small team of people at home who managed tickets and travel plans and a second team on the road, he wheels south into the United States and all the way to Florida. There he meets a young girl named Sandy who is also in a wheelchair. She is waiting with a picture she has drawn of the athlete crossing a finish line. Her friend Beth, who knows Sandy is very artistic but cannot get to the art room on the third floor of their school, watches and resolves to talk to the school principal about moving the art program to the first floor.
Lost and getting honked at by a bus in London, England, a flu-ridden Rick Hansen is recognized by two young sisters who offer him lemon drops and a clean handkerchief before the Queen’s own motorcycle escort comes to the rescue. Soon Rick is back on course.
In Poland, the Man in Motion motor home catches fire. Alerted by a young boy’s calls for help, two of Rick’s team members rush in and carry him out so fast he doesn’t have time to pull on a pair of pants. That evening, the young boy, whose name is Patryk, attends a reception in Rick’s honour.
No matter how long their days are, Rick and his team have to do ordinary chores like laundry. The two guys on laundry duty in northern Italy, are grumbling good-naturedly in a laundromat when they are recognized by a young Italian-Canadian girl named Gianna. Gianna, who is also blind, is thrilled to get the chance to talk to members of Rick’s team. She sits down to chat and finds herself perched on top the team’s dirty laundry. After they leave, she tells her cousin Matteo that the Man in Motion wants to make life easier for people like herself who are living with disabilities.
On a bridge between Israel and Jordan, Rick meets four members of a friendship club for kids from these countries who struggle to get along. In New Zealand and feeling a little down because it’s the holiday season and he’s far from home, Rick is cheered up by two boys, Connor and Rowan, who ask if they can wheel along with him. They tell him that, inspired by his example, they’ve joined wheelchair sports teams.
In Australia, Rick reaches the halfway mark in his marathon. He celebrates by rolling over a line drawn in whipped cream, and tells a group of school children that, though he sometimes gets tired and discouraged, he’s going to finish what he set out to accomplish. Rick wheels along the Great Wall of China. Speaking through an interpreter, he urges a young girl to follow her dreams. “There are no walls in life you can’t climb. There is nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it,” he explains.
Then, finally, Rick is home again in Canada. Starting from Cape Spear, on the east coast of Newfoundland, he still has thousands of kilometres to roll until he reaches British Columbia. A girl on a bike named Leslie finds two ice cream pails and attaches them to the front of her bike with a sign that reads Donations. Before long, she’s collected almost five thousand dollars for spinal cord research. Rick invites her to the birthday party Islanders are putting on for him. There are seven birthday cakes.
All that fall and winter Rick wheels across the country, through the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario and the Prairie provinces. The Prime Minister presents him with a cheque for a million dollars. In Alberta, native elders present him with an eagle feather for strength. His mother is waiting at the B. C. border to welcome him, then it’s back to Vancouver and a huge welcome-home celebration attended by fifty thousand people. He’s rolled through thirty-four countries, raised twenty-six million dollars for spinal cord research, rehabilitation and wheelchair sports, and shown the world that people with disabilities can do amazing things.
Written by Ainslie Mason and illustrated by Ron Lightburn, Roll On is the true story of Rick Hansen’s two-year Man in Motion marathon around the world to raise awareness about people living with spinal cord injuries and the profound effect that marathon had on some of the thousands of young people he met on his travels. An inspiring book for readers from Grade 2.
It is spring and an important day for the Sts’ailes people. They will celebrate the First Salmon Ceremony to thank the river for the salmon it brings.
Young P’ésk’a awakens to find that his family is already up and busy, but that the ceremonial tray has been left behind. Picking it up, the young boy sets out to find the Siyá:m, the chief. The Sts’ailes village lies between the forest and the river.
Salmon is the most important food in their diet, but they also hunt the animals and eat the berries found locally. In fact, everything they need comes from the river or the forest. Cedar is used to make canoes, houses, mats, baskets, hats and clothes, and burned in the smokehouse to smoke salmon. From the animals the Sts’ailes hunt comes not only meat but skins that can be cleaned and stretched for drums.
A drum beats to signal that a first salmon has been caught. Just in time, P’ésk’a delivers the ceremonial tray to the chief. Soon, the whole village is enjoying fresh grilled salmon. Afterward, P’ésk’a stands with his mother and watches as the chief leads the procession down to the river and returns the salmon bones to water. Once again, the Sts’ailes thank the river for the sth’óqwi, its great gift to them.
Written and illustrated by Scot Ritchie, P’ésk’a and the First Salmon Ceremony tells the story of the Sts’ailes people of southern British Columbia and their relationship with the forest and the river during one important day, that of a First Salmon Ceremony one thousand years ago. Ritchie’s charming illustrations celebrate both the beautiful natural environment of the Sts’ailes’ home, as well as their lives and traditions. A wonderful book for readers from age 4.
April brought spring to Ste. Justine, Québec. The boys hated spring. The rink melted and spelled the end of the hockey season. Until the snow flew again, there would be nothing but school and boxing.
The world boxing champion was Joe Louis. Young Roch Carrier didn’t like boxing enough to put his picture up on his bedroom wall next to that of Maurice Richard, the famous number 9 of the Montreal Canadiens, but he joined the other boys in the Côtés’ summer kitchen for the boxing matches.
One of the Côté boys would draw a big chalk square on the wooden floor and everyone gathered round this improvised ring to cheer on the boxers. When it was his turn, Maurice danced around, fists up and head down, but he never lasted longer than a single punch. He would stumble out of the ring, his face bleeding. The girls, who came along to watch the fights and fuss over pugilists, never threw a single admiring glance his way.
Roch’s friends were the sons of farmers, truck drivers or loggers. They had been working along side their fathers since they were small, and were strong and well built. Roch, on the other hand, had arms like noodles.
The winter he turned ten, Roch spotted a newspaper ad promising to make him into a world champion. He sent off five dollars to the address indicated and then a further thirty dollars, just about all the money he had in his bank account, to purchase his Miracle Muscles kit.
He stuck to an exhausting regime of self improvement all that winter. he ran to and from school, raced up and down the stairs, and worked out with his new exerciser and barbells. As he exercised, Roch repeated, “I’m a champion,” as motivational auto-suggestion. Before long he was dreaming of besting first the Côté brothers and then conquering greater opponents and becoming the first French-Canadian boxing champion in the world.
Spring came at last, and with it Roch’s chance to prove himself. He stepped proudly into the ring in the Côtés’ summer kitchen, conscious of his new muscles. He ignored a snickering reference to his resemblance to a plucked chicken and prepared to fight. The bell sounded, and he attacked.
When he opened his eyes, Roch found himself lying on the floor. His nose was bleeding. As he lay there, the prettiest girl in the whole class smiled at him and threw him some wildflowers. He had at last become a champion of the boxing ring!
Written by Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen, The Boxing Champion is a sequel to The Hockey Sweater, and recounts the humorous tale of a young boy’s campaign to prove himself in the boxing ring and, if not cover himself with glory, at least win some attention from the girls. This lovely story recalls the days of classified ads that promised the world…and sometimes even delivered. A wonderful book for readers from age 4.