A great mixture of books in this review – Jennifer Dance’s Red Wolf, Stephanie Cooke’s and Mari Costa’s Paranorthern and Victor Pineiro’s TIme Villians.

Red Wolf

I haven’t really read a lot about the residential school system in Canada. I don’t remember studying it in school either. From 1831 to 1996, the Canadian government attempted to assimilate First Nations children, stealing them from their families and forcing them into schools where they were no longer allowed to speak their language or practise their culture. Their hair was cut, they were given new names and were often abused by the church, which ran the schools.

Recently, the bodies of 215 children were found at a Kamloops, British Columbia, school. You can read that story here.

While I have read two great picture books, both by Second Story Press, about residential schools (Stolen Words and I am not a Number), Red Wolf, by Jennifer Dance, was the first young adult book I have read on this subject. I felt the time was right to read it. I can’t change the past, but I can certainly learn from it and understand what happened.

While this book is fiction, as are the characters within it, Dance, in the section about The People, said the school is based on the amalgamation of various residential schools and experiences from people forced into this system.

In the late 1800s, Red Wolf befriends an orphaned timber wolf called Crooked Ear, cementing a bond between animal and the Upright child.

“But under the Indian Act, Red Wolf is forced to attend a residential school far from the life he knows…Courage, love and fat reunite the pair, and they embark on a perilous journey home. But with winter closing in, with Red Wolf and Crooked Ear survive? And if they do what will they find?”

You don’t really get to know Red Wolf before he is forced to become George in school as he is only five years old when his father is tricked into sending him to the residential school by signing a piece of paper with scribbles he doesn’t understand. You also forget while reading just how young Red Wolf is, or perhaps you want to considering what the little boy goes through in the hands of Catholic priests and nuns who, as Red Wolf rightly questions, knows little knows about love and compassion.

Not only are the children forced to give up their culture, language and identity, friendship is discouraged, and they are only taught the basics in school and are instead trained to do manual labour.

In addition to learning about what happens to Red Wolf and the other children of this fictitious residential school, we also learn about the ways of the wolves through Crooked Ear, whose parents are killed by the white man who is destroying everything in his wake. Crooked Ear’s story, and the story of the timber wolves who were viewed as dangerous and savage, was equally upsetting.

I love how Dance weaves the two stories together – showing the balance between the wolves and the First Nation’s people, how they appreciate each other while also keeping nature in check. Dance does this as well in her other book, Hawk, which I read years ago and still think about often.

Red Wolf offered a realistic portrayal of what life might have been like in a residential school and the subsequent fallout of generations of children who don’t know who they are. It was a good read, but a heartbreaking one – to think of all those children who never know why their parents let them go – and never came back to get them.

Paranorthern and the Chaos Bunny A-Hop-Calpyse

Paranorthern is the latest graphic novel by Toronto’s Stephanie Cooke, who I interviewed earlier this year, with art by Mari Costa.

In Paranorthern, Abby, a witch, and her friends are on fall break at their school in North Haven, a supernatural town. One day, Abby, who helps look after her mom’s magical coffee shop and her little sister Ella, noticed her sister was being picked on by some speed demons. In protecting her, she accidentally opens a portal, which wouldn’t be so bad except she opens it to a realm of chaos bunnies, whose purpose is to destroy everything in its path.

Abby and her best friends – Pumpkinhead (whose purpose it to ensure everyone knows what pumpkin spice lattes are made with. As a note, pumpkins are not used at this coffee shop. Ha), Wolf Girl, Gita, and a ghost, Hannah, who requires a corporal charm in order to have an actual physical form in this new dimension her family has immigrated to – now need to figure out what happened and close the portal before North Haven is overrun by chaotic bunnies.

Paranorthern had some funny bits in it. It was a fast-moving book but despite that, you got to know the characters. I did want to shake Abby for not agreeing to get help before the bunny situation became dangerous. Her friends rightly took some of the blame for not insisting she try to do it alone. Actually, all the points about the book that annoyed me were acknowledged – the fact that Abby was basically being an adult and how Hannah worries she doesn’t belong. I absolutely love the way Hannah’s grandmother explained that.

Paranorthern was a fun read.

Paranorthern is from Raincoast Books and HMH Kids and retails for $35.99.

Time Villains

Be careful who you invite to dinner would be the moral of Time Villains, a new middle grade book from Raincoast Books and Sourcebooks.

In this book by Victor Pineiro, Javi Santiago is trying not to fail the sixth grade. School isn’t his passion, but cooking is so when the annual “invite any three people to dinner” homework comes up, Javi, with the help of his best friend, Wiki, and his sister Brady, knows he is going to ace it.

“But the dinner party is a lot more than they bargained for. The family’s mysterious antique table actually brings the historical guests to the meal – and Blackbeard the Pirate is turning out to be the worst dinner guest of all time. As Javi, Wiki and Brady try to figure out how to get Blackbeard back into his own time, they might have to invite other legendary figures to set things right again.”

This is the first book in a series. While I didn’t like some of the dialogue, it didn’t seem natural, overall I enjoyed the book. I think it was an important first book to set up the next in the series, which I suspect might be even better.

I loved the premise of the book, the school, the teachers and Aunt Nancy, Wiki’s unique and mysterious aunt. I also enjoyed learning about the food, cultural and customs mainly from Javi’s Puerto Rican side, although you do get some from Wiki as well whose family came from Haiti.

There is lots of action in this book and I love how everything went. Brady, Javi’s little sister, was a bit too much for me, but you could see why Blackbeard liked her. No one will mess with Brady.

The Time Villains retails for $24.99.

Paranorthern and Time Villains are from Raincoast Books for an honest review.
The opinions are my own. Both books come out in July.