Thursday 25 March 2021


By Michael Christie


It’s 1974 and Willow Greenwood is living in her Westfalia, travelling to various logging camps with her son, Liam, in tow.  Willow’s intent is to sabotage logging operations and generally interfere with the industry that is destroying B.C.’s vast and beautiful forests.  In fact, she has devoted her life to this endeavour.

Unexpectedly, Willow is the daughter of Harris Greenwood, a rich lumber magnate who lives in a mansion in Shaughnessy.  As we delve into Willow’s history, Michael Christie takes us on an elaborate journey across Canada and right through the 20th century.

Willow’s roots (pun intended) go back to a maple farm in New Brunswick where, in 1934, she is found as a newborn who’s been left to die in a tree.  Everett Greenwood, a drifter (and Harris’s brother), temporarily adopts her and sets out to find her a good home.  He and Willow jump on freight trains and find food wherever they can.  But as they journey through the forests of Quebec (where Willow is almost adopted by a grieving young couple) and the dust bowl of Saskatchewan (where Everett finds temporary work) towards B.C., Everett becomes progressively more attached to Willow and does not want to give her up.

Everett’s story is utterly compelling.  Throughout his journey, we meet a series of other characters, each with stories of their own.  Michael Christie takes readers back to 1908, when Everett and Harris were boys, then fast forwards all the way to 2038 when Jake Greenwood, Willow’s granddaughter, is a forest guide on Greenwood Island, one of the last stands of old growth forest left in the world.

I absolutely loved this epic family tale!  Although not always entirely believable (how do you jump onto a moving train with a baby strapped to you anyway?) I could not put this book down.  Michael Christie has a way of weaving an elaborate and intricate tale that combines multiple layers, threads, characters and time periods. 

He also delves into the fascinating science of trees and likens the inner workings of the forest to that of a family.  Jake Greenwood knows “[t]hat even the impenetrable mysteries of time and family and death can be solved, if only they are viewed through the green-tinted lens of this one gloriously complex organism.”

Highly recommended!



Friday 12 March 2021

Anxious People


By Fredrik Backman  

Is it possible for a book to be at once heart-wrenching yet heart-warming, improbable yet realistic, farcical yet deeply, utterly human? If so, Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People has done just that. Anxious People follows a group of people who, while attending an apartment open house, find themselves held hostage by an unlikely bank robber.  Don't worry, they make it out – and this is not a spoiler, as this is where the story begins. 

Though what happens within the apartment walls is the plot’s focal point, the book is not about being held captive: at least, not literally. Instead, this is a story about each person that finds themselves there on that day, and indeed, the secrets keeping them trapped within themselves. We meet a couple considering the apartment as their next project – just another distraction from a marriage that is falling apart. We meet a second couple looking for the perfect home in which to raise their first child, though neither seems ready for either home ownership or parenthood. We meet an elderly woman who claims to be viewing the apartment for her daughter, though the truth appears to be far more solemn, and a bank director seeking the perfect place to die. Finally, we meet the bank robber, who epitomizes being in the wrong place at wrong time – not only in the apartment, but, ultimately, beyond. 

This book is spell-binding, perhaps because there is something within each character that is so relatable. Though I found myself laughing aloud throughout (there are certainly points of sheer ridiculousness), this is a story about loss: of that which we let go of willingly, and that which we cannot control. This is a story about aspects of life that we allow to define us, as letting them go may mean redefining who we are. Above all, though, this is a story of hope. Backman expresses, yes, how we sometimes find ourselves facing someone who reflects to us what we most fear about ourselves. Anxious People suggests that sometimes our biggest fear is staring us right in the face and all we need to do is look up. But when we do look up, and we see someone who understands, that can be exactly what we need to begin moving forward. If you are looking for both a hearty belly laugh and a mirror of your own humanness, Anxious People could be your stellar next read. 


Friday 5 February 2021

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?


Was the Cat in the Hat Black?

by Philip Nel

February is Black History Month, which is a time to celebrate Black voices and Black lives while also recognizing the work that must be done in the present to ensure diversity and racial justice is part of the future. One part of this necessary work is highlighting the importance of creating ongoing conversations around diversity and representation, beyond the single month of February. A place to look to in creating such conversations is that of children’s literature. Movements like the We Need Diverse Books movement advocate for diversity in children’s literature, fighting for the publishing industry to create books in which all children see themselves reflected while simultaneously arguing against problematic representations of race. A critical part of this work is to examine where such representations have occurred and continue to occur, identifying where conversation and change is necessary. Philip Nel’s Was the Cat in the Hat Black? does exactly that.  

A scholar in children’s literature, Nel examines how racist stereotypes and representation in children’s books perpetuate racism in adulthood, shielded by the presumed innocence of childhood culture. Analyzing works dating back to the early 1900s, Nel illustrates how, historically, children’s literature has incorporated both overt racism and subtler racism and also establishes the contexts from which such racism has emerged. He identifies how publishers have attempted to obliterate racist representations through omission of race, and how such omissions create more harm than good. Though much of his focus, as the title would suggest, is on analysis of Dr. Seuss’s works, Nel also evaluates both older works and newer pieces. Finally, while much of the book is dedicated to identifying the problematic nature of many children’s books, Nel establishes how children’s books can also combat racist ideologies, concluding with 19 suggestions for how to begin the process of change and minimize the diversity gap currently present in children’s literature. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is worth noting that Nel is clearly an academic writer, which is evident through the tone of the book and the consistently cited research. As such, I found this to be a slower read: both due to the density of the content and the richness of its delivery. I found I often would read, put the book down for a bit to consider it, and then begin again. Despite its density, however, I could not stop thinking about this book; Nel’s writing is engaging and the arguments are well-considered, founded in research, and thought-provoking. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to approach children’s literature from a critical evaluative lens and to anyone seeking ideas for discussing representation with young readers.