Books

A New Book Set Right Here in Winnipeg

One of the reasons I enjoyed Suzanne Costigan’s new young adult novel Empty Cup, is because it is set in Winnipeg and the places its young protagonist Raven frequents are all within walking distance of my home. 

ghandi

Gandhi at The Forks in Winnipeg

Raven works at a coffee shop at the Forks. The statue of Gandhi near Winnipeg’s new Human Rights Museum plays a significant role in the story. Raven often walks along Henderson Highway and Waterfront Drive and has a romantic moment with her boyfriend on the Disraeli Bridge. It was easy for me to visualize many of the scenes in the book because they take place in my neighborhood, in the places where I walk everyday.empty_cover_cover_finalEmpty Cup shouldn’t be a feel good novel, yet strangely it is. Raven is dealing with some big problems. Her mother, who admits to Raven she doesn’t love her,  lives with a sleazy man named Trevor who Raven rightly fears. Raven’s kind biology teacher turns out to be anything but the white knight Raven longs to have ride into her life. Cole, the boy Raven lives with when her mother kicks her out of the house, has emotional problems that only the regular use of marijuana seem to ease.

 Raven makes some poor choices in the novel but also some courageous ones. She graduates from high school, holds onto her part-time job and resists the temptation to become involved with drugs. Given all the things she has going against her how is that possible?

kevin chiefRecently I heard Kevin Chief speak. He is the representative in the Manitoba Legislature for the constituency where both Raven and I live. Kevin faced some significant challenges in his youth but says he managed to rise above them because he was fortunate to always have at least one adult that cared about him, often a teacher or a coach. He also was a good athlete with a passion for the game of basketball and that was a key to his salvation.

Raven too has one person in her life that genuinely cares about her. Sarah is the mother of Raven’s long time best friend Lyla, and Sarah is there for Raven when she really needs it, offering the affection Raven’s own mother can’t provide. Raven also has a passion that is a key to her salvation. She loves art and she gets into an art class where the instructor helps her realize just how talented she is.

So although Raven’s life is tough and sometimes almost unbearable to read about, her story is also one of hope, not in an idealistic impossible kind of way, but in a realistic, ‘it can be done’ fashion. Young people who read this novel, and who may feel their own lives are hopeless, will get a real sense that they too can survive and move forward.

emptyful sculpture Winnipeg Millenium LibraryThe theme of the empty and full cup that Costigan weaves beautifully through the novel will especially appeal to readers. It reminded me of another Winnipeg landmark- the emptyful sculpture at the Millenium Library garden.

If I were still a high school English teacher Empty Cup would definitely be on my class reading list. Winnipeg high schools would do well to add a copy of Empty Cup to their libraries. It’s a young adult novel with a positive message and realistic characters set right in our home city.

Other posts about books set in Winnipeg…….

There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction

Fox

The Wittenburgs

Categories: Books, Exchange District | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Visiting the Home of a Canadian Author

Gabrielle Roy's childhood home in St. Boniface

Gabrielle Roy’s childhood home in St. Boniface

Gabrielle Roy is one of Canada’s literary giants and she was born right here in Winnipeg. I had a chance to visit her childhood home during the recent Doors Open event. guide gabrielle roy houseOur first guide Adreanne was a college student from Quebec.  She told us Gabrielle had lived in this house at 375 Deschambault in St.Boniface from her birth in 1909 till she left for Europe in 1937.

Our second guide shows us a photograph of Gabrielle's family

Our second guide shows us a photograph of Gabrielle’s family

Gabrielle’s parents both moved to Manitoba from Quebec. Seven of Gabrielle’s siblings survived childhood.  She was closest to her sister Bernadette who became a nun. 

OUr guide explains how a stereoscope works

Our guide explains how a stereoscope works

Gabrielle’s father worked for the Canadian government settling new immigrants in western Canada. He was nearly 60 when Gabrielle, his eleventh child was born.

Gabrielle Roy's mother's sewing machine

Gabrielle Roy’s mother’s sewing machine

Gabrielle’s mother loved fashion and dressing up. She bought material at the Eatons story to make dresses for her daughters. After her husband became ill and could no longer work Gabrielle’s mother earned extra money for the family by doing sewing.

Gabrielle Roy with her grade one class at Provencher  School

Gabrielle and her grade ones at Provencher School

Gabrielle became a teacher and taught in Manitoba for a number of years before leaving to move to Europe and then to Montreal. the tin fluteGabrielle set her first and most famous book The Tin Flute in Montreal but several of her books have Manitoba settings including the two I am currently reading……

children of the heartChildren of My Heart which is about a young school teacher and her students and..BC46Roy_deschambault.inddRue Deschambault about life in St. Boniface.

Toys in the attice of Gabrielle's Roy's home

Toys in the attice of Gabrielle’s Roy’s home

Gabrielle Roy’s house would be a great place to bring children. I went up to the attic of the museum and saw activity centres where young visitors could put on little dramas with costumes, write poems, listen to stories and play with toys from the time of Gabrielle’s childhood. 

Gabrielle Roy

Gabrielle Roy

Gabrielle Roy won the 1947 Governor General’s Award for fiction. A quote from Gabrielle Roy  “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” was on the back of the Canadian $20 bill from 2004 to 2012. 

Other posts about Manitoba authors………

The Age of Hope

The Constructed Mennonite

A Children’s Writer Who Has Found the Magic Formula

 

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Chocogasm

What Next?

T-4's at chocolate eventSaturday day night I was in chocolate heaven for a few hours. Along with three good friends and former teaching colleagues, I attended a chocolate dinner at the McNally Robinson Community Classroom. ChocolatourHosted by Doreen Pendgracs the author of the book Chocolatour A Quest For the World’s Best Chocolatewe not only enjoyed a delicious meal where every course featured something chocolate, we also learned so much about chocolate from Doreen and her special guest Constance Popp who is a chocolateur with her own shop here in Winnipeg on Provencher Avenue. 

The menu included………

strawberry spinach salad

A strawberry, almond spinach salad with a dressing made from quince and dark chocolate balsamic vinegar

bittersweet chocolate beef ribs

Bittersweet chocolate beef ribs for the main course

caramel pepper chocolate mousse cake

and caramel chocolate pepper mousse cake for dessert. waitress mcnally's

A lovely surprise was having a former student of ours as our server. doreen chocolatour

Doreen is a chocolate expert and in between each course she shared…

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The Future of Books

ken robertsI went to hear Ken Roberts speak about the future of books at the Winnipeg Millenium Library on Monday night. The death knell is ringing for the printed book. Surprisingly Ken predicts that even the e-book as we know it today may soon give way to the next big thing in reading. Learn about it in my post on the Vast Imaginations site.

Other posts about the Millenium Library………

Visiting the Millenium Library

Emptyful

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Larry’s Party

larry verstraeteWinnipeg author Larry Verstraete launched his new book Life or Death on Sunday at McNally Robinson Booksellers.  This is Larry’s fourteenth book.

Read all about Larry and his launch party in my post on Vast Imaginations, a blog for children’s writers. 

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The Wittenbergs by Sarah Klassen- Should This Have Been A Teen Novel?

         the wittenbergsMia is an important character in Sarah Klassen’s new novel The Wittenbergs.  Mia is seventeen, loves to write, enjoys long distance runs and has a budding romance with the star of the high school basketball team who happens to be aboriginal.  Thoughtful, kind-hearted and principled Mia endears herself to the reader.  I liked Mia so much I wished Klassen had told the whole story  from her point of view.

      Mia would make the perfect heroine for a teen novel. She is  trying to figure out who she is and what she wants for her future, but is on this journey of self-discovery amidst difficult circumstances. Her father is an administrator at the high school she attends and he’s having an affair with her English teacher, the one person who affirms Mia as a writer. Mia’s mother is suffering from depression and her grandmother is dying. Her older sister has passed on a defective gene to her two young sons and as a result they are developmentally delayed. Mia may carry that gene too. To complicate things further a good friend of Mia’s is mixed up with drug dealers and wants her to withdraw money from the family bank account to pay them off. Her basketball player boyfriend is ready to have sex but Mia isn’t sure she is. Then there is the older man, a young university professor who is interested in her and professes true love. Should she encourage his affections?  All the ingredients are there for a great teen novel as Mia tries to navigate her way through a very rocky turning point in her life

Sarah Klassen

Sarah Klassen

Having said that, hearing the voices of the other members of Mia’s family as the narrative shifts from one point of view to another does add interest and depth to the story.  Each member of the family experiences growth and change during the novel and so perhaps we do need to hear things from their perspective in order to appreciate their unique arcs of self-discovery. 

      Besides shifting from character to character we also shift from the present to the past as Mia interviews her grandmother for a school project and writes stories about her ancestors’ life in Ukraine before and after the political upheaval that forced them to immigrate to Canada.

      Sarah Klassen is a former high school teacher and that shows in her realistic descriptions of life in a collegiate- the graduation exercises, classes and assemblies.

The thrift store that serves as a setting in the novel.

The thrift store that serves as a setting in the novel.

Klassen has also been a volunteer at a thrift store and that becomes an important setting for one of the members of the Wittenberg family. Since I also volunteer at the same thrift store as Klassen, I can vouch that she vividly brings to life the atmosphere and personalities of the place. Klassen has traveled in the Ukraine so when the Wittenbergs take a tour there to learn more about their past and to return their grandmothers’ ashes to her childhood home, Klassen does a good job of immersing us in the sights and sounds of Ukraine with her evocative writing. Of course the main setting for the book is the city of Winnipeg and Klassen as a long time city resident does Winnipeg justice with her descriptions of the parks and streets, the Winnipeg Jets and places like The Fort Garry Hotel . The Wittenbergs are Mennonites and most Mennonite novels have rural settings. Klassens’ is one of only a few set in a major city. Klassen also captures Mennonite church services and congregations very authentically as well as the denomination’s uneasiness with more charismatic off shoots. 

      The ending of the novel by no means neatly resolves every conflict for the Wittenberg family  but it was for me at least, a hopeful if not happy conclusion and that always makes me like a book. 

Posts about other books set in Winnipeg……..

The Winnipeg Strike

The Flying Bandit

There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction

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A Literary Walk

winnipeg westwood library walkKeats Way? Browning Boulevard? Shakespeare Bay?  Who knew streets in Winnipeg had such literary names? I found out on September 27th when my sister and I joined a group of about twenty other people to walk the streets of west end Winnipeg and listen to some great literature performed by a talented woman named Tauni. westwood literary walk library winnipeg

It was a beautiful autumn day. At each of our stops on the literary walk a member of the library staff introduced us to the author or poet being featured………..tauni peforms literary walk winnipeg

And then Tauni read work by that writer in her dramatic and interesting voice.keats way westwood winnipeg

At our Keats Way stop we heard A Thing Of Beauty is A Joy Forever and learned about Keats’ sad love affair with Fanny Brice. More than a few eyes were teary after that performance. twain drive

At Twain Drive we were treated to Mark Twain’s funny and thought-provoking fable of the learned cat and the mirror. dickens drive winnipeg

We walked over next to Dickens Drive……

tauni literary walk westwood library winnipegwhere we heard a humorous excerpt from Chapter 8 of Pickwick Papers titled STRONGLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE POSITION, THAT THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE IS NOT A RAILWAY

shakespeare bay westwood wiinnipeg Tauni outdid herself at Shakespeare Bay acting out a scene from A Mid Summer Night’s Dream tauni performs mid summer nights dream and taking on the roles of all four of the lovers.browning boulevard winnipeg

Tauni told us at Browning Boulevard she had planned to read How Do I Love Thee but it just made her too emotional so she had to settle for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s  Sonnet 14  If Thou Must Love Me. 

We moved on to  Frost Avenue where Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken was the perfect poem for a walking tour. 

Leacock Avenue winnipegWe ended the tour laughing at Leacock Avenue where the murder mystery Hanged By A Hair had us all chuckling. 

poetry  reading westwoodI  enjoyed the literary tour. It was a lovely day. I got to visit with my sister. I had a chance to listen to some great poetry and literature read professionally. I had some exercise as we walked from place to place. 

westwood_library_01Later they served us tea and dainties back at the library and talked about another tour in spring. As I drove home I saw Sandburg Bay, Wordsworth Way, Shelley Street, Thackery Avenue, Robert Service Bay, Caryle Bay and Carroll Road. Plenty of literary material in the neighborhood for another walk. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……..

The Millennium Library

Carol Shields

Manitoba Writers Guild

Categories: Books, Literature, St. James | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jon Klassen- A Winnipeg Boy Hits the Big Time

450px-Jon_Klassen_2013Jon Klassen a former Dreamworks animator turned children’s writer who was born right here in Winnipeg, is having enormous success with two new children’s books – I Want My Hat Back andThis Is Not My Hat. Read about why I think he’s hit the big time so quickly on my Vast Imaginations site.

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Confessions of A Fairy’s Daughter

confessionsshow

 

 

The final Winnipeg Fringe Festival show I saw was without a doubt the best. Check out my review on my blog What Next.

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GoodWill and Good Memories

Last week while going for a walk in Winnipeg’s Exchange District neighborhood I found the GoodWill  Store on Princess Street. People donate clothing, books, appliances, furniture, dishes and other things they don’t want to the store and the GoodWill sells them, giving their profits to charity. The GoodWill was a place of wonder and delight for me as a child and I couldn’t resist going inside to see if it was as I had remembered it. I am sure the store has changed in the last 45 years but one thing hadn’t changed. On the far wall just where they had always been, were rows and rows and rows of books from the floor to the ceiling. The shelves of the Good Will Store were one of my main sources for reading material when I was a child. We lived in Steinbach which didn’t have a public library till 1973, the year I turned twenty. Our church didn’t have a library yet, in fact we didn’t even have a building. We met for services in a school basement.  The old Kornelson School where I first attended classes in Steinbach didn’t have a library either.  My parents couldn’t afford to buy me new books all the time and Steinbach didn’t have a book store. 

Perhaps because I had been read to often when I was a child, I grew up loving books and read voraciously. On family trips my Mom would tell me to get my nose out of my book and look at the scenery. Here I am setting off for my first day of school with a book in hand. I could read before I started grade one. So what was a girl who loved to read and had no access to books in her home town to do? My reading salvation lay at the GoodWill store.  On trips to Winnipeg my Mom often made a stop at GoodWill and patiently waited while I picked out books to read. Books were 5 cents each.  On my birthday my Grandma and Grandpa Peters always sent me a one dollar bill in my birthday card. That was 20 books! Should I choose a Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Box Car Children, Elsie Dinsmore, Bobbsey Twins, or another book in the Anne of Green Gables series or Little House series? I was in heaven in the GoodWill Store! All those books!

The GoodWill Store is still in the same location at 70 Princess Street as it was when I was a child. GoodWill was founded by a United Church minister Rev. J. Richmond Craig in 1931 as a way to provide employment to people who were out of work because of the depression. His slogan was “Junk into Jobs.” The store initially sold stuff left over from church rummage sales but expanded quickly. GoodWill continues to provide employment to people who find it difficult to obtain jobs. The GoodWill organization receives no government funding and every year they give their profits to worthy Manitoba causes. They now have 5 stores in Manitoba, four in Winnipeg and one in Ashern. The building at 70 Princess where I bought books was built in 1903 by the Bole Drug Company. Chemists manufactured their products in the building and they were shipped all across Canada. The Bole Building was one of the first to have speaking tubes that allowed the various departments in the building to communicate with one another. D.W. Bole who owned the company was a Winnipeg school trustee and a member of Parliament from 1904-1908.  Pharmaceuticals continued to be produced in the building till 1932 and in 1934 Good Will which was in need of bigger premises took over. In the last 75 years GoodWill has given jobs to hundreds of men and women and provided them with more than $12 million in wages. They have helped to recycle and reuse millions of items that might otherwise have been thrown away. They also made one little girl hungry for books to read very happy and left her with magical memories of their store. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like…………

Children’s Party with Aunt Olly

Kornelson School Memories

Anne of Green Gables -A Faith Perspective

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