Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Three Book Reviews: The Good Walk: Creating New Paths on Traditional Prairie Trails by Matthew R. Anderson; What Fills Your House Like Smoke by E. McGregor; and Tanning Moosehides the Northern Saskatchewan Way: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide by Tommy Bird, Lawrence Adam, Lena Adam, with Miriam Körner, and photos by Miriam Körner and Tommy Bird

 “The Good Walk: Creating New Paths on Traditional Prairie Trails”

Written by Matthew R. Anderson

Published by University of Regina Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$27.95  ISBN 9-780889-779655


Uncanny timing. I recently completed a pilgrimage walk—the 300-kilometer Camino de Santiago (Portuguese Coastal Route)—and not a week after my return from Europe I was reviewing a book about a very different—but much closer to home—set of pilgrimages. The Good Walk: Creating New Paths on Traditional Prairie Trails, by Swift Current-born and raised educator, author and Lutheran minister, Matthew Anderson (who’s also walked the Camino de Santiago), is compelling, exceedingly well-written and researched nonfiction concerning three ambitious Saskatchewan pilgrimages across Treaty 4 and 6 pastures, valleys, roads, ranches and farms, abandoned homesteads, brush belts, villages, First Nations’ reserves and more via the Traders’ Road/NWMP Patrol Trail (2015), the Battleford Trail (2017), and the Frenchman Trail (2018), and creating “healthy new stories” on the journey. “By walking,” Anderson writes, “our group was attempting to pay attention”.  

These “good walks” were undertaken by an eclectic assemblage—including clergy, writers, Elders, family members, a hydrologist, naturalist Trevor Herriot, and book dedicatee and Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society president Hugh Henry—to connect to the land and its stories while respecting the First Peoples who walked these trails long before Henry Kelsey set foot on them and Colonialism dealt its calamitous blows. Anderson makes a connection between long-distance walking and decolonization. He writes that Canadians “need to create better narratives about this land and our place, past and present, in it” and to question “the bright and shiny pioneer narratives”.

This mind-expanding book is steeped in empathy for Indigenous Peoples. Anderson writes of broken treaties and the mass starvation of Indigenous Peoples, and includes several quotes from Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars. Smudging and leaving tobacco were an integral part of these respectful pilgrimages.

Also noteworthy are the numerous poetic descriptions of prairie landscape and weather; anecdotes about group interactions and the hosts; and Anderson’s familial mission: to return a portion of his recently-deceased parents’ remains to the Shaunavon-area, “lonesome little grave” where the author’s infant older sister—whom he’d never met—is buried. Detailing the walk from Wood Mountain to Cypress Hills, Anderson says “gusts … scared up clouds of grasshoppers that would then be caught in the wind and ping off our bodies like flung gravel,” and “antelope zig-zagged away at our approach”.

The skilled weaving of the personal here-and-now (including Anderson’s serious leg infection during the final days of the Frenchman Trail), folklore and recorded—though not necessarily true—history brilliantly steered me through the sizeable book. A shocking revelation for this Saskatchewan-born and raised reader was that during the November 27, 1885 mass hanging in Battleford—eight nêhiyaw and Nakota were executed—Indigenous students from the Battleford Indian Industrial School “were forced to watch the hangings”. All these years later, racism is still prevalent in the province: the 2016 killing of Colten Boushie created a further divide.

This award-worthy book deserves a long slow read. Probably multiple reads. There’s much to take in with each of these prairie pilgrimages, and each “felt holy in its own way”.  



“What Fills Your House Like Smoke”

Written by E. McGregor

Published by Thistledown Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$19.95  ISBN 9781771872522


I must admit, the title of E. (Erin) McGregor’s debut poetry collection—What Fills Your House Like Smoke—greatly piqued my interest. I’m partial to similes and metaphors, and McGregor’s title was a poetic hook—what, exactly, does fill this Winnipeg poet’s house with metaphorical smoke? I guessed that butterflies and sweet peas wouldn’t be at the heart of it.

McGregor holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and the sheer variety of poetic forms—prose poems; free verse; quatrains; couplets; concrete; and experimental, sound-oriented pieces—in the book is consistent with the range I’ve seen in other first books by creative writing students. What differentiates McGregor’s poetry, however, is its nearly singular focus on the theme of personal identity; often, first books “free range” across themes and subjects. McGregor’s poems weave pain into a story.   

McGregor is a “Euro-Settler/Métis,” and in her piece “Weeds”—another metaphor—she begins: “Don’t judge me too harshly/for not understanding the small things/that come with your blood”. In that same poem: “[white people] have me by the roots/it’s confusing”. The poet contends with her lineage, and, in particular, the maternal line, including her grandmother, Dora—to whom the book is dedicated—and her mother, both of whom had “the drinking disease”. She writes of the hardships Dora faced, including an abusive husband who “beat her up and cleaned her out,/stole her dogs”. Of Dora’s siblings, she writes of “The streets of Toronto that swallowed one brother, the train/wheels in the Fraser Valley that bisected/another. The sea of alcohol/that could not be swum.”

The poems are real and raw—full of hangovers and lousy partners, class disparities and Death Apnea. And they’re credible, though the back cover copy claims the book’s “an incomplete and wildly imaginative biography of [McGregor’s] grandmother”. I applaud this imagination. In the opening poem— “Instructions for the Death of a Grandmother”—McGregor writes about her grandmother’s “gurgle-thick breaths,” and the poet wonders if Dora can smell “the stale alcohol” on her granddaughter’s skin. Hyperaware in the hours after death, McGregor considers “the way gas-bar lights make everything look silver” and she notes “the song that is playing on the radio”. At times grandmother and granddaughter are close, sharing “Japanese chicken wings and rice,” and other times they struggle with the “finding of things to give words to”.   

The poems are set in a few different locations, including Edmonton (“Edmonton is a thin soup, at first”) and Winnipeg, with its “goose shit and shadows”. In Edmonton, Dora’s husband “retrieves her from toilet-stall floors/and carries her, like a hunter with his kill,/to the cold car”. This poet demonstrates deft, non-sentimental handling of intimate personal experience, poem after poem.

What fills this house with smoke? Bravery. Honesty. Curiosity. The matriarchal line contains all the strengths and “lesions” of three generations, and the youngest of these women—through examination, contemplation and literary skill—is doing her best to slowly clear the smoke, and understand who she is.



"Tanning Moosehides the Northern Saskatchewan Trapline Way: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide"

Written by Tommy Bird, Lawrence Adam, Lena Adam, with Miriam Körner

Photos by Miriam Körner and Tommy Bird

Published by YNWP

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$49.95  ISBN 978-1-77869-032-7


In these modern times, when we want information our “Go To” is usually to Google or Youtube it. If one wanted to learn to tan moosehides, for example, they could indeed go online to discover how, but some steps might be missed. If tanning moosehides is indeed your intent, now there’s an excellent resource that you can hold in your hands or spread on a table: Tanning Moosehides the Northern Saskatchewan Trapline Way: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide. 

The softcover guidebook by northern Saskatchewan residents Tommy Bird, Lawrence Adam, Lena Adam, and award-winning La Ronge writer Miriam Körner takes readers through the twenty-four steps involved in the time-consuming process of tanning moosehides, “a skill passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial”. The book is filled with colour photographs provided by Miriam Körner and Tommy Bird, and it begins with a helpful introduction.

If you’re from the north, you may already know the various uses of tanned moosehide. They were and are “sewn into mukluks, moccasins, mitts, vests, jackets, pants, tent coverings, dog harnesses, toboggan bags, bedding, snowshoe straps, laces and a lot of other day-to-day items”. You may have also seen beaded moosehide purses, credit card holders, earrings, and dress clothes for Queen and King Trapper winter festival events. The introduction relays that historically, Woodland Cree families on remote traplines all worked together to process the hides—it’s a huge job. Now one can learn some of the tanning skills— and “get knowledge from Elders”—at hide camps or culture camps, but there may not be time to learn everything.

Recognizing that it’s important to pass on the skills they learned with their own families, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation’s Tommy Bird and Lawrence and Lena Adam of Fond du Lac Denesuliné First Nation have combined their “decades of experience” in moosehide tanning to share with newbies, “so that the youth of today can once more pass this knowledge on to the next generation”. In Tommy’s back yard, the trio have tanned “more than thirty hides from start to finish, and smoked “more than a hundred that had been softened in tanneries”.

It takes strength, perseverance, skill and practise to do this traditional work. The materials list is surprising, including “A small pot to cook the brain mix in,” “Oatmeal,” and “Sunlight liquid dish soap and/or bar soap”. On the optional list of materials: “Common salt,” “Sawdust” and “Spruce cones”. A bone scraper is among the important tools for tanning moosehide, and the writers include the steps to make your own from “the leg bones of moose, elk, deer, or bear”.

I particularly liked Step 24: “Sit Back and Admire Your Work”. The accompanying photo shows Elder Lena Adams and her husband Lawrence holding a finished hide that looks “soft like a fleece blanket”.

The detailed instructions, helpful photographs, and “trouble-shooting tips” in this guide are inspiring, and I hope copies of it frequently find their way into the hands of those who desire to do this culturally significant work.




Friday, March 1, 2024

Five Book Reviews: Protecting the Prairies: Lorne Scott and the Politics of Conservation by Andrea Olive; Unpoken by Tammy Ottenbreit; A Moment of Clarity: Stories of Lives Lived and Unlived” By F. E. Eldridge; “The Island Gospel According to Samson Grief” by Steven Mayoff; and “My Little Métis Sleepy Horse” written and illustrated by Leah Marie Dorion

“Protecting the Prairies: Lorne Scott and the Politics of Conservation”

By Andrea Olive

Published by University of Regina Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$32.95  ISBN 9-780889-779600


Andrea Olive’s Protecting the Prairies: Lorne Scott and the Politics of Conservation ingeniously illuminates the fifty-year history of Saskatchewan’s environmental policies and conservation practices (or lack thereof) via a political biography of lifelong conservationist, activist, farmer and politician Lorne Scott, who began building bluebird nest boxes as a teen and eventually served as Saskatchewan’s Environment and Resource minister. (And there’s much of import in between.) Through exhaustive research and interviews with Scott and his conservationist and political contemporaries, Olive makes a strong case for why Scott’s considered to be “Saskatchewan’s most important naturalist,” and her writing’s so dynamic, this reviewer didn’t notice she was getting a broad education in Saskatchewan politics, as well as conservationism.    

Humble, community-oriented and sans secondary education, Scott’s earned so many accolades and awards, there’d not be a wall large enough to contain them: from the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Canadian Nature Federation, and the Whooping Crane Conservation Association; an Order of Merit (“as an outstanding young citizen”); a Saskatchewan Centennial Medal; the Saskatchewan Order of Merit; a Governor General’s Conservation Award; and the Order of Canada … just to name a few.

He's published numerous newspaper and magazine articles; worked at the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History and as a park naturalist for Wascana Centre Authority (both in Regina); banded tens of thousands of birds; served on/presided over myriad boards and organizations; and been a politician. Scott was nominated as the NDP candidate for the Indian Head-Wolseley constituency in 1990, and elected as government member of the Legislative Assembly for that area—where he was born, raised, and remains—in 1991. From his service as reeve to his ongoing work with Nature Saskatchewan and his position of chair of St. Andrew’s United Church Council in Indian Head, this man’s legacy of volunteerism and his commitments to conservation and community have earned him glowing praise across the board, from politicians to fellow farmers in the province where, Olive writes, “most people … seem to be rather carefree on environmental issues”.

Superhuman? It would almost appear so, but kudos to Olive for also delivering a balanced perspective. She alludes to Scott’s complicity (as Environment Minister) with the NDP government on uranium development, and writes that “climate changes leaves him fumbling”.

Olive is a SK-born political scientist and human geographer at the University of Toronto Missisauga. Her passions are “environmental policy” and “understanding how people see and value their relationship with nature”. Aside from her revered subject, Lorne Scott, she credits writer and grasslands conservationist Trevor Herriot, author Wallace Stegner, and American conservationist/ author Aldo Leopold as inspirations. She speaks often of the “western paradox”—the desire for a sustained, resource-based economy and the reality that such economy plunders natural resources, habitats, and the creatures who depend on them.

After reading Olive’s exquisite book, one might indeed believe Lorne Scott wears a cape, but no, “To his family and friends, he is just Lorne—the farmer driving around in an old van with the licence plate “Nature”.   




By Tammy Ottenbreit

Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$24.95  ISBN 978-1-988783-97-0


It’s delightfully surprising to encounter a book penned by someone who’s come to writing after a career in a completely different field, and find that the book proves well worth the read. Case in point, Unspoken, by Regina’s Tammy Ottenbreit. A longtime medical laboratory technologist, Ottenbreit “needed something to challenge her creative skills” upon retirement, and she found it in writing Unspoken. The mostly historical novel is based on the “tragic tale of [her] great-aunt,” and Ottenbreit does her relative’s story justice in this 278-page fictionalized account. It opens in 1922 Winnipeg, ends in Moose Jaw (2016), and includes a realistic Atlantic sea-crossing for a group of Hungarians lured to Canada by the promise of “one hundred and sixty acres for ten dollars”.

We initially meet Sister Maria, a nun and midwife at the Sisters of Mercy home (for “the poor and unfortunate women”), where dead babies are buried with graves “marked with a rock, handpainted by the older children”. Gulp. We can surmise that contemporary Clair, in Saskatoon, will have some connection to the empathetic nun. The former’s on a mission to discover who her deceased father’s biological mother was. Claire has abandonment issues: her father left the family when Clair was eleven, and there’s a “beast that gnaws at [her] soul”. She hopes that a DNA testing kit and diligent research will provide some answers to the mystery of her father. She has an urn with his cremains, and considers how bizarre it is that “A man’s entire life [is] taking up less space in the closet than [her] shoes”.

It’s two other female characters, however, that are the story’s main focus. Anna is married with children and about to board a ship in Liverpool, along with her siblings and their families. Anna’s daughter, Annie, was born deaf and mute, and her “affliction made her dear to [her mother’s] heart”. A morbid cliffhanger near the end of Part 1 in this three-part novel makes it impossible to put the book down.

Ottenbreit’s at her finest when she’s describing the difficult sea journey across the Atlantic on the Bavaria. Walking the gangplank to board was terrifying for Anna: “The height hypnotized me, and the sight of the icy grey water swirling below froze me in place”. The steerage area “reminded [her] of a burned forest of tall, leafless trees in all directions. Dim oil lamps hung from hooks …”. The red-bearded deckhand leads them past the section designated for single men, and warns “Women and children alike have been grabbed, and no good comes from it”. Indeed, these rough men became “bolder and more offensive as the days passed”.                 

Twenty years after immigrating, the Hungarian families are celebrating Dominion Day 1921 in Saskatchewan, where they’ve happily homesteaded between Regina and Moose Jaw. When Ottenbreit skillfully juxtaposes a sexual assault with “party lights glittered in the distance,” I know she’s earned a seat at the Authors’ table. For pacing, plotting, interesting characters and a satisfying ending, Unspoken earns high marks.   



“A Moment of Clarity: Stories of Lives Lived and Unlived”

By F. E. Eldridge

Published by YNWP

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$22.95  ISBN 978-1-77869-007-5


Beyond the handsome cover of Saskatoon writer F.E. Eldridge’s first book, A Moment of Clarity: Stories of Lives Lived and Unlived, I discovered bittersweet tales that span decades, cover a rainbow of emotions, and cross borders both real and metaphorical. Except for one, the twenty-two stories feature female protagonists … from an Annapolis Valley, NS girlhood in the 1950s to a young woman’s lonely college days in Edmonton, and from work in NWT to mid-life relationships and concerns in Saskatoon and nearby Dundurn, SK.

The stories are “loosely based” on Eldridge’s own experiences, which lends extra authenticity to the settings and characters. These sometimes yearning, sometimes feisty main characters are generally from large, impoverished but hard-working rural families, and they often have difficult relationships with their mothers. Solace is frequently found in dogs, ie: Harold, “a black, long-haired mongrel of uncertain origin” whom character Lily confides in after her baby sister dies; Reggie, a German shepherd that enjoys road trips with his widowed owner, Lil Thomas, who operates a herb farm and finds a duffle bag filled with $90,000 (will she keep it?); and vomiting siblings Opal and Pearl, seven-year-old “Medium-sized black German shepherds” who “[fidget] like a couple of restless tap dancers to be let into the backyard”.   

In the first story we meet fifteen-year-old Tess, one of a family of six children. Tess is responsible for “mak[ing] the family supper every night” and getting her younger siblings off to school. Mature beyond her years, she’s the daughter of a hard mother and a father who suffers his wife’s wrath, and drinks more than he should. When the children bring home a blind kitten, their father surreptitiously kills it, and—as suggested in the titular “moment of clarity”—empathetic Tess considers “the quiet war that must be raging within him”.      

Eleven-year-old Lucy also works hard: she earns money picking fruit and vegetables in the Annapolis Valley, and her mother insists that the girl “use her summer wages for school clothes and supplies”. It’s 1961, and Lucy’s thrilled to receive her brother’s hand-me-down bike, even if it doesn’t have a seat, back wheel or chain. Without the bike, she’d be walking the three miles to school.

These characters aren’t always presented in a positive light. Nan, in “A Sister’s Ambiguity,” steals from her father and resents her sister, who suffered greatly after drinking lye as a toddler. Anna Mae pesters her grandma’s boarder to let her try chewing tobacco. With just a year between them, sisters Laura and Florence get into outrageous physical fights so often, a social worker steps in and threatens to remove one of them from home. The hatred extends into adulthood.  

In this book filled with women, it’s interesting that my favourite story, “Mr. Simpson,” concerns a man. It’s a mental health story—Ralph’s phobic about bugs—and an example of how when we choose a perspective far different from our own, the resulting story can be profound. All in all, well done F. E. Edridge.



“The Island Gospel According to Samson Grief”

By Steven Mayoff

Published by Radiant Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$25.00  ISBN 9-781989-274972



Buckle up, Readers. PEI’s Steven Mayoff has penned a clever and entertaining novel that melds Pink Floyd; Judaism; art; dirty local politics; asinine radio show hosts; a foul-mouthed, riding crop-wielding webcaster in Anne of Green Gables orange braids; a hurricane; and a trio of unlikely characters—Judas (yes, that Judas), Fagin (from Oliver Twist) and Shakespeare’s Shylock. The Island Gospel According to Samson Grief is an immersive trip that leaps across the fine line between gritty realism and magic realism, and I’m glad I went for the ride.  

Mayoff’s book aptly begins with a Socrates quote about madness, “which is a divine gift,” and for much of the 347 pages the First Person narrator and politically-subversive artist-of-some-acclaim, Samson Grief, wonders if he has indeed gone mad. Grief creates “fantasia(s) of Jewish iconography set on modern-day Prince Edward Island,” and his most acclaimed work is Anne of Bergen-Belsen, a painting of a raggedly-dressed Anne Shirley with burning eyes, tattooed numbers on her skeletal forearm, and a Star of David armband. She’s standing before a concentration camp fence and a “candy-striped lighthouse”.

This powerful and controversial work attracts the attention of “the Supreme One,” and his messengers—Judas, Fagin and Shylock—spontaneously appear “in gaudy summer shirts and goofy headgear” to protagonist Grief. They explain—in individually distinct and cracking good diction—that The Supreme One (aka God) has “seen fit to bless this small red mote [PEI] as the new Promised Land”. Before that happens, however, Grief must build a synagogue on the site of a 100-acre garbage dump, which a shady, bolo tie-wearing local entrepreneur-turned-MLA already has slated for a money-making resort and kids’ camp. This nefarious politician’s daughter is the gal webcamming in the crimson bodice, and his hijab-wearing ex-wife is the woman Grief’s falling for.   

 Aside from its hilarious originality, this novel scores high points for Mayoff’s ability to differentiate the diverse cast, including the “three boils on [his] psyche’s backside,” whom the author brilliantly distinguishes through voice. Fagin’s Cockey accent is bang on, and Shylock speaks thus: “’The man hath been well knocked off-kilter, if not in evidence of his frame, then most surely in the maze of his brain,” and he also delivers this apropos gem: “̒What form doth reality take and what may be said of fiction? Is one a mirror for the other or are they clothed by the opposite ends of a single thread?’”

Mayoff’s previously published the award-winning short story collection Fatted Calf Blues, a novel and two poetry collections. A painterly writer, he explains Grief’s “love at first sight” with the island’s “cobalt rivers and cerulean bays” and the “endless sky of washed-out robin’s egg blue.” From farmers’ markets to the Confederation Bridge to “the slightly concave loneliness of living on an island” and the Crazy Diamond bar managed by his Pink Floyd-loving, moonshine-selling friends, Mayoff’s painted a riotous portrait of his beloved PEI, complete with hurricane (“Hurricane X”) which might indeed usher in “a new beginning” for Canada’s smallest province.  



“My Little Métis Sleepy Horse”

Written and Illustrated by Leah Marie Dorion

Published by Gabriel Dumont Institute Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$17.50  ISBN 978-1-988011-31-8


Sometimes simplicity’s best, and that’s particularly true when it comes to the plots for board books written for toddlers and young children. Prince Albert, SK Métis writer and artist Leah Marie Dorion keeps it simple—but also beautiful and bilingual—in her board book My Little Métis Sleepy Horse, released by Gabriel Dumont Institute Press. The vibrantly-illustrated story’s Michif translation is credited to Michif language keepers and educators Irma Klyne and Larry Fayant, both also from Saskatchewan.

The book shares a day in the life of a nameless girl and her beloved horse, beginning with “My horse wakes up. I wake up.” The full-bleed illustration opposite this reveals a yellow and orange, groovy-styled sun with rays like long arms that stretch across the page; cheery, oversized flowers; and the basic figures of a horse and a black-haired girl wearing a purple dress. The child’s arms salute the sun, and the colours and stylistic use of imperfect circles within all the objects—including the grass and the sky—set the upbeat tone.

Text is minimal, ie: “My horse eats grass. I eat an apple,” “My horse runs fast. I run fast,” and My horse rests. I rest”. The words and corresponding illustrations demonstrate the girl’s close relationship to her horse and the activities they share, ie: jumping and playing. The horse theme is apropos, as “Horse stories are an important theme in Métis oral history,” and though any child could certainly enjoy this small, easy-to-hold book, when Métis children have this story read to them, it “can help reconnect [them] to their Métis cultural routes on the high plains”.  

Dorion’s been writing and illustrating books for several years, and her numerous titles include The Diamond Willow Walking Stick: A Traditional Métis Story about Generosity and Relatives with Roots: A Story about Métis Women’s Connection to the Land. If you’re already familiar with her award-winning work, you’ll know that “Her artwork celebrates the strength and resilience of Métis women and families”.

The story comes full circle, with the child and horse sleeping on the ground— after a fun and active day—beneath dragonflies, stars, blue and purple circles and the blue infinity symbol that’s featured on the Métis flag. “The symbol represents the immortality of the nation,” (metisnation.org) and again, this is fitting, as books like Dorion’s keep the Michif stories and language alive. This illustration also appears on this sturdy book’s cover.  

Translators Klyne and Fayant share extensive backgrounds in preserving the Michif language. Klyne grew up on the road allowance east of Katepwa in the Qu’Appelle Valley. She worked for the Department of Education in Regina and served thirty-two years with Gabriel Dumont Institute. Fayant, also from the Qu’Appelle Valley Road Allowance, “picked stones and cut pickets for farmers” in his youth. He lives in Balcarres, SK, and continues to teach Michif.   

We’ve all heard about “a boy and his dog”. Thank you, Dorion, for mixing it up, and sharing “a girl and her horse” story … in two languages.




Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Five Book Reviews: Jawbone by Meghan Greeley; The Star Poems: A Cree Sky Narrative by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber; Benny's Dinosaurs by Ashley Vercammen, illustrations by P Aplinder Kaur; Prince Prickly Spine by Tekeyla Friday, illustrations by James Warwood; and Faith in the Fields: Picturesque Ukrainian Churches of Saskatchewan by Fritz Stehwien


By Meghan Greeley

Published by Radiant Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$20.00  ISBN 9-781998-926008


Original. Startling. Candid. Jawbone is a quick-read novella by Newfoundland writer, performer and director Meghan Greeley that encompasses the inherent joy and terror of being alive and being in love. It’s outrageous that a book this polished is the author’s debut title.

I initially wondered what I was getting into. Greeley writes: “I was wired shut, and then a man put his latex fingers in my mouth and cut out the wires with gardening shears”. What? Plotwise, the narrator—a concertina-playing actor—is recuperating in a small cabin (she told the Airbnb owner that she was “looking for the loneliest place in the world”) after an accident left her both physically and emotionally shattered. We know her boyfriend had moved to California months earlier, and his letters are scattered throughout the text. The red-haired costumer designer the actor’d been sharing an apartment with was tantalizingly bizarre, ie: they created a list of tasks that take approximately a minute to complete, like “Microwaving a small portion of leftovers”. And the roommate—she of the “smoothest skin”—is difficult to read. Just friends? More than friends? Then there’s the climactic aquarium incident, among a crowd and before a bloom of jellyfish.   

All in all, Planet Earth seems too alien to navigate and the narrator wants “to disappear,” so she decides to apply for a nonprofit-sponsored, never-return trip to Mars, and must create a minute-long video audition. Trouble is, her jaw’s been wired and speaking’s impossible. For now, there’s the cabin, where she learns that “twenty-nine showers” is “the lifespan of a bar of Irish Spring soap if you are rigorous”. For now: memories.

You can’t help but fall at least a little in love with this narrator; she bleeds insecurity, strangeness and desire across every page. Among the things that make her ache: “the smell of wet snow on pines; the last lines of television shows” and “any mention of the beaches of Normandy”. She bought a hat “that made [her] feel more like [herself] than anything ever had before”.  

Though the premise sounds “out there,” the story’s completely earthy. The memorable cast is compelling, eccentric and will say (and do) almost anything, often apropos of nothing. The roommates “drank gin and put bras on [their] heads and pretended [they] were dumb men”. They played “Winter” in summer, exhaling smoke from a “half-smoked cigarette” and pretending “that the smoke was [her] breath, frosting in cold air”. Underneath the stream-of-consciousness reveries, remembered conversations, and the actor’s eclectic confessions (“My teeth felt different in California;” she “concoct[s] email passwords from the things of which [she is] most deeply ashamed”) lies a credible story of simmering attraction. Readers, you’ll feel it, too.

Looking to kick 2024 off with a fabulous read? Jawbone is a book for anyone who has ever “wanted something, something, something else”. Finally, the cover is another example of how Radiant Press is producing the most gorgeous books out there. It shimmers. And much like the text within it, it’s positively radiant.    



“The Star Poems: A Cree Sky Narrative\acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina: nêhiyawi-kîsik âcimowin”

By Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber

Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$24.95  ISBN 9-781778-690174


It’s innovative, bilingual, and gives us another kind of Genesis. The Star Poems: A Cree Sky Narrative/acâhkos nikamowini-pîkiskwêwina: nêhiyawi-kîsik âcimowin is a Cree/English poetry collection by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber, a Regina writer, editor and professor of Indigenous Literatures at the First Nations University of Canada. Archibald-Barber has ingenuously combined traditional Indigenous creation stories—The Star stories—with quantum physics, and the result is a star-studded collection of eye-opening poems.

The author essentially contemporizes Cree oral tradition stories (that “teach us how we are all related to Creation through the same source of energy and spirit”) by spinning them into poems that merge with the “spiritual and scientific understandings of the cosmos and the quantum foundations of reality”. He cites Blackfoot scholar Leroy Little Bear’s talk on quantum physics and Indigenous spirituality as a major inspiration, particularly Little Bear’s discussion on “how the quantum superstrings are what Indigenous cultures have traditionally called spirit”. He also laud’s Cree educator Wilfred Buck’s video, “Legend of the Star People,” which describes the “Hole-in-the-Sky—a ‘spatial anomaly’ or a ‘wormhole’ that leads to and from the spirit world” via the help of Star Woman and Grandmother Spider. By presenting his work in English and Cree, he simultaneously also helps keep the Cree language alive.     

This stunning collection’s divided into two sections: “The Star People” is the stronger of the two. It’s told within a sweat lodge’s “dome of woven willows” and contains the Creation narrative. Throughout the book the poet effectively weaves the here and now with the celestial, ie: “a sudden splash cuts the silence/rocks cracking in the cosmic hearth/the universe takes its quantum shape/fills itself with its first breath”. This first powerful poem, “Emergence,” includes: “and I crawl out through the door/a dazed child, a little spirit/dragging space-time behind me/like an old blanket”. The three-page piece introduces the “story of the stars/of the stones/of our grandfathers and grandmothers,” and in following poems we meet the Star Woman, who “dances/with a blanket made of stars” and Grandmother Spider, guardian of “the quantum door”. Star Woman “plucked a string” from “countless self-amplifying loops” and eventually “the galaxy began to fray/stars spilling out like scattered beads”. The Creator steps in and warns to respect “the threads” as they “belong to the universe and hold the sky together”.

Star Woman sees the “earth gleaming in the starlight”. She wants to go there, and does, in human form. The other Star Children, hearing her sing, soon follow, and become “the People of the Earth”.

It's a fascinating braiding of the traditional and scientific, and some kind of magic happens as a result. The poems also touch on how “the balance was undone”: the “Paper People” arrived, the Indigenous “were barred/from walking on the open land,” and traditions were lost.

This stanza alone proves this poet’s prowess:

the busker strums a song

                                          on the corner

where our light

              cones overlap

and the strings vibrate

for a moment

as I catch your glance

          from the window                      of a passing car.




“Benny’s Dinosaurs”
Written by Ashley Vercammen, Illustrated by P Aplinder Kaur
Published by Home Style Teachers
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$20.00  ISBN 9-781778-152924
It’s common for children of a certain age to go through a dinosaur phase—if memory serves, my own son was about seven when he was passionate about dinosaur books, facts and toys. Prolific Saskatchewan writer and Home Style Teachers’ publisher, Ashley Vercammen, has tapped into that possibly universal dinosaur appeal with her colourfully-illustrated softcover Benny’s Dinosaurs. She’s dedicated the book to her “dinosaur-loving nephew, Benny”.  

On the first page we learn that the titular “Benny” is a paleontologist about to lead a tour because “It’s a field trip day!”. A picnic will also ensue. Dressed in a brown uniform with a ranger-type hat, brown boots and a backpack, the swarthy blond paleontologist introduces us page-by-page to a variety of well and lesser-known dinosaurs in a rainbow of colours, and some of the creatures feature spots, horns and feathers. The story is illustrated by P Aplinder Kaur with playful-looking dinosaurs—Triceratops is green, Kosmoceratops is blue with fifteen horns and spikes, Tyrannosaurus Rex is dark pink—and their polka-dotted eggs. P Aplinder Kaur—also a cartoonist and digital marketer— lives in Kharar, India. Author and illustrator have teamed before.

Tour guide Benny engages his audience with questions and comments, and on each page Vercammen includes the phonetic pronunciation of the dinosaur being discussed, ie: Giganotosaurus, which “was a little bit bigger than the T-Rex,” is pronounced “Jai-ga-nuh-tuh-saw-ruhs,” and the elephant-sized Xenoposeidon is pronounced “Zen-o-puh-sai-dn”). This could be very helpful for early readers and older folks.   

Young children will enjoy the bold, cartoon-like illustrations, and even at this reviewer’s great age, it’s fun to learn new things about dinosaurs. I didn’t know that the dinosaur with the longest name is Micropachycephalosaurus. “Phew, I bet he took a long time to write his name!” Benny says. Vercammen often includes light humour in her numerous children’s books. I also didn’t know that Leptoceratops “sometimes walked on two legs” and “lived in caves,” and that “there are over 700 known dinosaurs”. On the prairies, the small and light Albertosaurus “often travelled in packs to stay safe and find food,” Benny explains. And can you name a dinosaur that is the “the height of an average man”? Perhaps the dinosaur-lovers in your family or classroom—or this book!—can enlighten you.

Vercammen lives in Saskatchewan and writes books to engage “readers of varying English abilities in conversation”. She regularly markets her titles at book fairs and other in-person events. If you’d like to see her growing library of books, please consult her website at www.ashley-vercammen.ca. Interestingly, she’s also published a colouring book version of Benny’s Dinosaurs, and readily helps other writers publish their stories via her publishing company, Home Style Teachers.

Benny’s Dinosaurs is a treat. I wonder what this enterprising author will entertain young readers with next? From haircut and dentist appointments to the touching sibling story, Little Big Sister: Big Little Brother, Vercammen’s always got surprises up her sleeves, and she regularly rolls them up to do the hard work of book marketing.



“Prince Prickly Spine”
By Tekeyla Friday, Illustrated by James Warwood
Published by Tekeyla Friday Studios Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$11.99  ISBN 978-1-7772418-4-1

 How in the world did she come up with this?

 That was my initial reaction to the multi-talented Tekeyla Friday’s enchanting chapter book, Prince Prickly Spine. Its royalty, dragon, castles and jousting make it medieval. The futuristic “Pizza Pads” (for playing music) and Pizza Palms (like cellphones, they’re used for calls and texting, but also feature a “pepperoni-flavoured keypad” and are pizza-shaped) give it a sci-fi touch. And the fact that the story’s protagonist is a kid who’d rather be playing video games than keeping his room tidy, exercising or “paying attention to [his] tutor” gives it a very “contemporary kid” feel. And I haven’t even mentioned the prince’s fairy godfather, Joe Troll, who frequently screws up wishes, but then “Nowadays in Medievaldom, anyone could apply to be a fairy godparent, as long as they had a pixie spark”. The Swift Current author delivers a strong dose of humour, and that works in every genre.    

Friday, who is also a stop motion animation and claymation artist, clearly has a wonderful imagination and knows just what juvenile readers appreciate in a book: an irreverent child; a dangerous rescue-the-princess-from-the-dragon mission; and lots of physical comedy, thanks here to a clumsy young prince. Twelve-year-old Prince Evert doesn’t behave like a real prince in any way, shape or form. When his mother enters his messy, foul-smelling room and confiscates his electronics, the prince says fine, he’ll “go outside and walk around the moat,” but that doesn’t cut it with the queen. She sends her lazy, stinking son—he’s not bathed in a month—on a quest: he must journey to “the Shadow Dragon’s Cave and rescue Princess Amelia”. Prince Evert says: “Are you batty, woman?” And even worse luck: he’s not allowed to take his Pizza Palm, so will be relying on an old-fashioned parchment map: “It looked sort of like a caveman’s drawing of a GPS.”

The prince’s humiliating attire for his adventure demonstrates Friday’s fine use of similes: “The sock smelled rancid, like dead, salted fish that had gone rotten”.

The writing is witty, the characters delightful, and the book is illustrated in comical drawings by James Warwood, from Wales. I laughed when I saw the image for the “WANTED ALIVE NOT DEAD” poster, which included this: “Note: She’s too young to marry.” That’s just fine with Prince Evert, who only “wanted to play video games and chat on Medievaldom social media and play MeTube videos,” plus “hang out” with his bestie, Prince Roman Porter.

Other characters include the protagonist’s brother, Don, who calls Evert the “Sloth Prince” and tells Evert that after the Shadow Dragon eats the prince’s feet, he’ll “have to wear wooden ones,” and Tilly, the teasing maid. After the prince loses his horse he connects with his comical fairy godfather, the bulbous-nosed Joe Troll, and the boy hopes for a magical fix to his situation. Unfortunately, the bumbling troll has made another mistake. Will someone be “dragon food by sundown”?  

This book is a royal romp. Enjoyed it!     



“Faith in the Fields: Picturesque Ukrainian Churches of Saskatchewan”

Paintings, drawings and sketches by Fritz Stehwien

Published by Landscape Art Publishing

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$19.95 ISBN 9-781738-021901

Fritz Stehwien was a German-born Saskatoon artist (1914-2008) whose life and work continue to be celebrated by many, including his family. The art-filled hardcover is an archival project produced by Waltraude and Barbara Stehwien, and in its introduction we learn that the book “was inspired by two exhibits held at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada in Saskatoon: Faith in the Fields (1997) and Faith in the Fields II (1999)”.

The beautifully-bound book features page after page of full-bleed, mostly pastel images of the singular churches and landscapes Stehwien encountered in his adopted home on the Canadian prairies. (The lifetime artist was forced to serve as a soldier in Eastern Europe during WW II.)

This art book also commemorates the “resilience” of “European settlers encountering the harsh prairie climate”. This resilience came, in part, due to “their faith and strength,” and memorials to this history are found in the Ukrainian churches—“revered prairie icons”—still scattered across Saskatchewan. While some of these architectural delights are now abandoned, others have become designated heritage sites.

The artist returned to Europe in 1942, attracted especially by “the picturesque onion domes in Belarus and Russia”—architecture commonly replicated in Ukrainian churches on the prairies. Russia’s war on Ukraine in 2022 prompted Stehwien’s family to publish this latest book, which they’ve dedicated “to the resilience of the people of the Ukraine who are once again required to draw on their strengths for survival”.  

The pastel, acrylic and charcoal images draw the gaze in and make me contemplate what it may have been like to arrive as a settler on the bare, harsh prairie. Several of the paintings include neighbouring cemeteries, the graves marked with tall Orthodox crosses. The landscapes illustrate the seasons as well, ie: barren winter fields, and spring-filled ponds, as we see in the paintings of the churches in Plainview, Bankend, Fernwood and Theodore. I admire the sunset-strokes behind the Catholic churches Stehwien captured in Bodnari and Yorkton.

The book also includes a list of the Ukrainian churches and the year they were built, as well as a map showing their locations in Saskatchewan. I find the grand Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral in Saskatoon, where I attended a very traditional wedding decades ago. Across the page there’s St. George Cathedral, also in Saskatoon, with several onion-shaped domes crowning its glory. I’ve also personally admired many of these churches from the highway during my travels across the province, and on page 36 I find All Saints (Orthodox) nestled between golden-leaved trees and spruces in my hometown of Meadow Lake. Certainly I remember this domed beauty, but I don’t recall ever entering its doors, and that’s a pity.

I’m so pleased that the Stehwien family has chosen to honour their father’s art and their cultural heritage in this artistic way. I hope that it finds its way into the hands and hearts of those who will cherish it.


Thursday, November 23, 2023

Five Book Reviews: Towards a Prairie Atonement by Trevor Herriot; The Treasure Box by Judith Silverthorne; Loggerheads by Bruce Hornidge; The Story of Me by Denise Leduc, illustrated by Olena Zhinchyna; and 2 Women 2 Generations 26 Poems by Sheri Hathaway and Louise (McLean) Hathaway

“Towards a Prairie Atonement”

By Trevor Herriot

Published by University of Regina Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$22.95  ISBN 9-780889-779648


Award-winning writer, prairie naturalist, and birder extraordinaire—Regina's Trevor Herriot requires little introduction. River in a Dry Land: bestseller. CBC Radio: regular. I’ve just devoured Herriot’s Towards a Prairie Atonement—an eloquent treatise on the interconnected injustices that Colonialism and profit-at-all-costs dealt the prairie Métis and all living things dependent upon the Aspen Parkland grasslands. Though compact in size, this three-part essay dispenses an enormous amount of history, appeals for a reckoning, and delivers a few slight feathers of ecological hope. Herriot says he “set [his] heart on telling a story that [would] inspire people to take a second look at what we all lost, and could yet restore, in our regard for more sophisticated and nuanced forms of land governance”.  

The wisely-woven text begins with a map of the Saskatchewan and Manitoba rivers and historical sites discussed, and an edifying timeline that stretches from the 1600s to 2012. These centuries saw the beginnings of Canada’s fur trade; the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies jostling; buffalo’s demise; a plethora of government decisions that greatly impacted upon the Métis; the plight of Louis Riel; the establishment (and consequent brutal displacement) of a 250-strong Métis settlement around the Ste. Madeleine mission north of Fort Ellice; the institution of community pastures in Saskatchewan and Manitoba via the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (the Canadian government’s response to the Dirty Thirties); and Stephen Harper’s reckless gutting of the PFRA, created in 1935 for the “protection and programming for vulnerable grassland ecosystems”.    

With each of Herriot’s books, it’s not just what he says (and considering his passion, intelligence and concern, he has much to say) that appeals, it’s also how he says it. Birds are never far away, and here we find the longspur’s “warm and holy” eggs in his initial paragraph, where he’s walking, as he’s done for two decades, “onto the scattered archipelago of native prairie islands surrounded by a sea of cash crops”.

His human company in this story includes fellow grassland naturalist and photographer Branimir Gjetvaj and Michif Elder Norman Fleury; Fleury provided the book’s “Afterword”. Together they walk and talk in the Spy Hill-Ellice community pasture among rare birds, “small mandalas of antennaria in bloom,” and the Ste. Madeleine headstones. At this site years before, the Métis “spoke the language, sang the songs, and told the stories that their fur-trading ancestors first voiced in the prairie world”. Even now, Métis (“new people who were not this and not that,” Fleury says) families gather at the pasture’s “well-tended” campsite for a summer celebration, and indeed, the import of community and “how the prairie might bring us together” are part of what Herriot advocates. The Michif are tenacious.

Colonialism, Herriot asserts, is “an utterly unreliable narrator” and atonement begins with “recognizing and honouring what was and is native” but’s been “evicted from the land—native plants and animals but the original peoples, cultures, and languages too.” I assert that Herriot’s a completely reliable narrator, and I’ll never tire of his imperative themes.      



“The Treasure Box”

By Judith Silverthorne

Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$19.95  ISBN 9-781988-783888


The Treasure Box is the fourth Judith Silverthorne novel I’ve read during my decades as a book reviewer, and again, this Regina-based writer has mesmerized me. I reviewed Silverthorne’s middle years’ novel, Convictions, in 2016, and must reiterate what I wrote about that novel, as it absolutely also applies to The Treasure Box: “This is extremely competent writing, and what's more, it's a story that's hard to put down.”

Silverthorne’s credible and likeable ten-year-old narrator, Augustus Ludwig (aka Gus), has just reluctantly moved from Calgary to Regina after his parents’ split. Now Gus, sister Hannah and Mom have moved in with Grandad, who is suffering from intermittent memory loss, and will soon be transitioning into a seniors’ home. It’s a lot, but there’s more. At school Gus becomes the target of “serious bonehead” Connor and his gang of “top dogs,” who mock his name and make school miserable, but their teacher, Mrs. Redmar, has given the class a family history assignment that may change everything for empathetic Gus … his curiosity about his own ancestors, his acceptance of the move, and even his thoughts about his unusual name.  

Initially Gus feels that his family history will be “lame,” as Grandad’s the only relative he knows, but in the first chapter he finds himself in the attic, where “The bare dim bulb cast spooky shadows across the slope-ceilinged space” and inside a “scarred, wooden drop-leaf desk,” he uncovers a carved wooden box—the treasure box. The disparate items inside, ie: a “snippet of faded blue ribbon,” a coin, and a scrap of a map possess the ability to transport him back to World War II, and even much further back, to the 1600s. Each time he dares handle the objects in the treasure box, he is briefly but viscerally transported to life-and-death scenes involving his ancestors. But who were these people, and how were they connected to the yellowed, German baptism certificate from 1944 that only cookie-baking Mrs. Kramer (“Vhat do you vant?’”) down the street can translate?

There are numerous topical threads in this novel, and I hope the book’s incorporated into classrooms across the country. There’s multiculturalism and racism (Gus befriends Yussuf, who’s family fled Syria, and First Nations’ Issac, who shares his lunch with a classmate who’s often hungry); aging; divorce; and war. The fascinating historical elements include The Thirty Years War and the Great Frost of 1709, when birds froze “like tiny marble statues” in trees and in mid-air. Silverthorne evokes both a prairie homestead (“A clump of tall aspens grew out of the foundation of the collapsing, grey-and-weathered barn”) and WW2 trenches (that “heaved with rats”) with equal success.   

Though history’s a major element, the author consistently keeps us current, as well. Grandad says the war his father fought in (for the Germans) was “More real than video games,” and expressions like “No can do” and “Sounds like a plan” maintain the novel’s present feel.  

And the conclusion: mastery. Congratulations, Judith Silverthorne. You’ve slayed it again.




By Bruce Hornidge

Published by Endless Sky Books

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$24.99  ISBN 978-1-989398-97-5


In 1993 I was minivanning toward Tofino with my young family while an anti-logging protest was brewing in the surrounding forest, and Bruce Hornsby’s “If a Tree Falls” was the soundtrack. Thirty years later, how ironic to read a detailed memoir by a former BC logger and get quite a different perspective on that tumultuous “War in the Woods”.

Loggerheads is a candid account of the “Clayoquot Sound land-use scuffle” between logging protestors and forestry giant MacMillan Bloedel, and the “world media hype” that accompanied it. It’s a peppery book, competently written by a man who had (caulk) boots on the ground: Ex-Clayoquot Sound forest worker Bruce Hornidge, who at times was “dripping saliva from [his] teeth” while protestors were “[chaining] themselves to logging equipment and [obstructing] forest workers from doing their jobs”. In his metaphor-rich account, he says the decade-long forest and land-use tensions “raged like a forest fire” and “a tsunami of Utopian beliefs and related misconstruing washed over the West Coast of Vancouver Island from around the world”.        

Hornidge began working for the Kennedy Lake Logging Division of MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., near Ucluelet, in 1967. He pulls zero punches regarding how he felt about the demonstrators and tree-blockades, the “octopus-like bureaucracy,” the media (“There was little interest in the logger’s point of view from their predominantly urban audiences”), and “the affected people, the families losing livelihoods,” including his own family. He writes as well about “fear-style management,” unions (“a good thing”), fires, and of friends and foes made during his logging industry life.

Politics aside, the author also includes much practical information about what it takes to be a tree feller, with descriptions of bucking, falling (“a noble enough calling”), and the many ways a tree can end a logger’s life. One must “determine where the tree will go—and put it there”. Easier said than done. His conversational anecdotes frequently include drama ie: a chunk of windfall “took my hardhat off my head as I hit the good old Mother Earth” and “I saw the bar and chain beside my right eye and ear. My glasses disappeared off my face”. He discusses the brush aka “crap” (salal bush, ferns, etc.) that makes logging challenging, and something called “vibration disease” (Reynaud’s Phenomenon), caused by power-saw vibrations; they could eventually result in finger or hand amputations. Hornridge also shares the harsh psychological effects of being considered “a heartless chainsaw-wielding mass murderer of trees”.

In 1993 the band Midnight Oil visited the region “to bolster the Clayoquot Protest event”. Greenpeace and a “German film group” also amped things up: “It seemed the media was dancing for the protest groups, and the protest groups were acting for the media”.

Regardless of one’s opinion of logging, it’s undeniable that Loggerheads is insightful, well-documented, and at times poetic, and as its passionate author—now retired and living in Ontario—fittingly says, his “personal clarification of events” has been “Written, ironically, not on tables of stone like commandments, but on paper. From wood.”



"The Story of Me”

By Denise Leduc, Illustrations by Olena Zhinchyna

Published by Lilac Arch Press

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$11.66  ISBN 9781778286933


Denise Leduc is a chameleon. The Aylesbury, SK writer easily changes genres, and she writes well in each of them. Perhaps you’re familiar with her children’s picture books—Poppies, Poppies Everywhere!, Letting Charlie Bow Go and In the Prairie Wind—or her titles for older readers, like Why Not Now?, My Sun-sational Summer and My Wonderful Winter. Her latest softcover is The Story of Me, a journal dedicated to her grandmother “for the memories she created with me when I was a young child”. Leduc writes that her “hope for these journals is to provide opportunities for our own reflection and for sharing between the generations”.

I can certainly get behind that. Even before reading, I decided I’d share this book with my octogenarian mother, two provinces away, in Saskatchewan. Though we speak on the phone daily, an occasional conversational prompt is welcome. As Leduc suggests, “Sometimes conversations with loved ones … can help get the memories flowing”. The Story of Me delivers forty prompts to help one “remember stories” from his or her life, and it includes several spaces for personal notes and attaching photos or other mementos. Rather than using the book as a journal, I’ll use it to interview my mother and record her responses.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Ukrainian artist—and “optimist!”—Olena Zhinchyna, beginning with the cover painting of yellow blossoms against a purple background. The journal opens with the question “What are ten things you would tell people about yourself,” and a series of lines—like a ruled notebook—appear beneath this. On the opposite page, we find another original, full-bleed floral painting.

The next several pages are headlined with questions about family names, memories and traditions; holidays; childhood treasures and friends; birthplace and travels. Many of the aforementioned questions might be easy to answer, but queries like “What would be a perfect day inside?” and “If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be? Why?” require more contemplation, and that’s where things will get even more interesting.

 I appreciated the nature-based questions, including “What things do you love in nature?” and “What are some of your favourite places in nature?” Leduc doesn’t just stick to roses and butterflies, however; she also asks “What is a challenge you’ve had?” and “How did you handle this challenge?” I wonder what the question “Who have you loved?” will bring up for Mom.

The book ends on a sunny note, asking for a list of “Things I am Grateful For”. The illustrations—particularly the two evocative, wintery landscapes—may aid in contemplation as readers consider these wide-ranging questions about their experiences. Answering the prompts could take a few hours or a few weeks.

Christmas and birthdays provide wonderful opportunities to share activity books like this journal, but really, no special occasion is required to write about our own lives or to give someone our undivided attention while they speak about theirs. This book says: Go ahead. You’re important. And I’m listening. 



"2 Women 2 Generations 26 Poems"

By Sheri Hathaway, Illustrated by Olena Zhinchyna

Welcome Home Publishing

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$13.19  ISBN 978-1-7388223-4-8


I like to be surprised. Upon receiving the slim poetry collection 2 Women 2 Generations 26 Poems by Saskatoon’s Sheri Hathaway, I noted the book’s short, back cover description: “This is a mother-daughter project containing verse from two women of very different pasts,” and I fully expected that Hathaway—a grandmother of eight—had collaborated with a daughter on this collection of prairie-based poems. I was wrong. This book actually features the work of Hathaway and her mother, Louise (McLean) Hathaway, a former teacher who experienced the Great Depression and World War II. The elder poet died in 2009. Her daughter explains that she “didn’t know [her] mother wrote any poems,” but Sheri discovered them after her mother’s death “In her boxes of books, papers, photos and diaries”. Another surprise: both poets had published work in local publications.        

The book mostly features Sheri Hathaway’s work; eight poems were penned by her mother, one of which, “Heart Cry,” is a fine example of showing emotion, rather than stating it. It begins: “Snow covers all./The brown mound of cloggy earth,/Our spray of mums,/gold, russet, and bronze for October,/The wreath of everlasting flowers/from his classmates”. Readers glean that the poet’s describing a child’s grave. The poem powerfully ends with three words: “our only son”. I also enjoyed the senior poet’s “My Childhood Home,” a descriptive piece written in quatrains. Rhyme was more commonly used when these poems were written, and she’s elected an ABCB rhyme scheme that doesn’t seem forced, ie: “Beneath the piano window/Stood the organ and its stool/Round which on Sunday evenings/Hymn singing is the rule”.

Interestingly, in organizing the poems for this book, Sheri Hathaway has included a prayer poem, “A Prayer for Family,” in her “Of Faith” section, and her mother’s section begins with “A Mother’s Prayer”. The latter piece was found “on the back of an old envelope with a grocery list on the other side and used as a bookmark”. Christianity and the poets’ personal relationships with their God is evident in several of the pieces.

The younger Hathaway show’s great diversity in her subject matter. She begins with two sprightly children’s poems, includes a humorous poem about being a young bride learning to ski, and also writes compelling pieces about making marmalade: when the winter sun streamed through the window, “The jars lit up like light bulbs, glowing orange and yellow as if lighted from the inside”. The poem “Thoughts from a cancer clinic waiting room” reveals a strong faith.

A freelance writer and watercolour artist, Sheri Hathaway was raised on a farm near Marwayne, AB. I consulted her website (sherihathaway.com) and learned that she’s “a former teacher and explorer of other occupations that now add fodder to her articles, poems, books and paintings.” The small graphics (not the author’s) dispersed throughout the book add to the generally upbeat tone of the poems, some of which earned prizes in contests.  

Mother and daughter, different lives, similar passions for the prairies, poetry, and God’s “pure gold” love.