Facing our fear

by Ildiko Sumegi

As October slips past and the darkness creeps in, fear seems a suitable subject for the season: fear of the unknown, fear of change (and its companion, loss), and of course, the fear that we often recognize in others but rarely in ourselves – fear of the truth. Facing our fears can take a bit of practise, and a scary story can be a good place to start. Here are a few chilling tales that may help children to explore the darker corners of their lives.

TheDarkThe Dark (Little Brown and Company, 2013) by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen

For Ages 5-7

This is the story of Laszlo and the Dark who live together in the same big house. Laszlo is afraid of the Dark. Sometimes, during the day, he likes to check on the Dark in its room – the basement. At night, Laszlo sleeps with a night light and a flashlight by his side. But one night the light goes out and the Dark comes calling. “Laszlo,” it says, “I want to show you something.” As Laszlo pads slowly through the house, he is eventually led down to the basement where…the Dark offers him a spare light bulb from a chest of drawers!

Lemony Snicket conjures just the right amount of tension to keep readers on edge until those final moments when fear dissolves into giggles. As always, Jon Klassen uses his spare artistic style to marvelous effect, juxtaposing light and dark on each page. Despite the light-hearted ending, this is not a bedtime book: it is one to be read in the bright light of day, well before the Dark comes calling.

DollBonesDoll Bones (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013) by Holly Black with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler

For ages 9–12

Alice, Poppy and Zach have just entered middle school trailing the games of their childhood behind them. Over the years, they have used their dolls to construct a world of adventure and mystery, and watching over it all sits the Queen – an antique bone china doll who sits locked up in a glass cabinet (her tower). When Zach’s father decides to throw out Zach’s action figures because he feels they are too childish for a boy of 12, the fantastical world of the three friends is threatened. This precipitates a heretofore unheard-of event: the removal of the Queen from her tower! The ghost of a dead girl haunts the doll and, to put it to rest, the three friends must set off on a quest – the final adventure of their childhood. Occasional black-and-white illustrations by Eliza Wheeler highlight the progress of the story.

Holly Black has constructed a creepy story around the loss of childhood. As events unfold, the doll becomes an increasingly disturbing presence, and conflict among friends begins to mar the initial excitement of the endeavour. Black has captured the tumultuous feelings associated with growing up: the anger and sadness of loss and the trepidation felt towards change. Children will be able to explore their own confused feelings under the convenient guise of reading a spooky story.

TheNightGardenerThe Night Gardener (Penguin Canada, 2014) by Jonathan Auxier

For ages 10–13

It is Victorian England. Fourteen-year-old Molly and her 11-year-old brother Kip are Irish orphans who seem to be getting by on their wits and the stories that Molly weaves for themselves and for others. Hired as servants of the fabled Windsor Estate in Cellar Hollow, they find themselves entangled in a mystery and a waking nightmare. Growing next to the Windsor’s home is an ominous black tree whose branches and roots have pressed their way through the walls of the house. Kip is instructed to steer clear of the black tree while gardening, and Molly is told to take no notice of the green door that remains mysteriously locked. Sleep only comes with nightmares…and in the morning, there are always inexplicable muddy footprints that must be scrubbed from the floors. When Molly and Kip decide to conduct investigations of their own, they realize that the Windsor Estate is no place to make a home.

Jonathan Auxier has produced a thrilling tale of horror and suspense dabbed with humour in all the right places. And while readers are busily turning the pages to see what happens next, they will find themselves digging a little deeper into their own minds. Why are stories important? What is the difference between a story and a lie? Above all, how can you know when you are lying to yourself?

Ildiko Sumegi is a Glebe resident, mother of two boys and a reviewer for Canadian Children’s Book News magazine.



Teen Author Fest comes to Sunnyside

by Christine Chevalier

The Ottawa Public Library is so excited about the lineup for our ninth annual Teen Author Fest, and we hope you are too.

Whatever your taste, the OPL’s Teen Author Fest lets you connect with the authors you love and other like-minded readers. Mark your calendars for Saturday, October 27 for a free, public, bilingual event for all ages at the Sunnyside branch (1049 Bank Street) and Southminster United Church (15 Aylmer Avenue) from noon to 5 p.m., with 11 young adult authors. We can’t wait for the fun to begin!

Join us for author panels, writing workshops, meet and greets, autographs, book sales and book prizes. Come and meet authors Lucile de Pesloüan, Hadley Dyer, Susan Glickman, Tiffany D. Jackson, E.K. Johnston, Justin Joschko, Sophie Labelle, Sarah Raughley, Émilie Rivard, Star Spider and Danielle Younge-Ullman. Check out BiblioOttawaLibrary.ca/TAF for all the details.

Introducing a few of our visiting authors.

Tiffany D. Jackson is a TV professional by day and a novelist by night. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking. Ottawa is Jackson’s only Canadian stop on her fall 2018 book tour! If you love suspenseful realistic fiction, check out her books, the critically acclaimed Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming.

E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes. Johnston’s books range from contemporary fantasy (The Story of Owen, Prairie Fire) to fairy-tale re-imaginings (A Thousand Nights, Spindle) to science fiction (That Inevitable Victorian Thing), and from small-town Ontario (Exit, Pursued by a Bear) to a galaxy far, far away (Star Wars: Ahsoka).

Sophie Labelle is a Canadian author, cartoonist and public speaker. She is transgender and known for her webcomic Assigned Male, detailing her experiences as a trans woman. She is active in the transgender rights movement and speaks on the subjects of trans history and trans feminism. Labelle’s novel, Ciel: Comment survivre aux deux prochaines minutes, is a romance that explores gender roles and stereotypes.

Sarah Raughley grew up in Canada writing stories about freakish little girls with powers because she secretly wanted to be one. She is a huge fan girl of anything from manga to SF/F TV to Japanese role-playing games, but she will swear up and down at book signings that she was inspired by Jane Austen. If you are a fantasy fiction fan, don’t miss out on Raughley’s Effigies series.

All of their books can be borrowed from the Ottawa Public Library.


Finding-The-Way‘Novel’ way to view history

Finding the Way: 
A Novel of Lao Tzu

by Wayne Ng
Earnshaw Books, 2018

Reviewed by Dorothy Anne Phillips

Reading history in fiction form is always a pleasure. Wayne Ng’s novel about Lao Tzu introduces the life and wisdom of this man, who lived in China about 2,600 years ago. Lao Tzu’s teachings, called The Way or the Tao, (or Dao) still resonate in our time. English translations of his book, The Tao Te Ching, are available in bookstores and often on hold in the public library.

Finding the Way takes the reader immediately into the desert where the old man of 95 encounters guards at the Han Gu Pass. The pass was an important military defence post at the junction of the Wei and Yellow rivers in what is now called the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. The captain of the guards persuades the traveller to tell his story and we are taken back through his tumultuous life and into the court of King Jing at Chengzhou, the core of the Zhou empire. At the court, Lao Tzu becomes the archivist for the royal collection dating back hundreds of years. There he dispenses his wisdom to those who wish to listen, sometimes at his own peril. Among the characters he encounters, including the twin princes, one of whom is heir to the throne, there is conflict and mystery. Which prince will prevail? Who is the Black Serpent? With few sources of what life was actually like in the days of Lao Tzu, Ng has created a lively and exciting story using legends and imagined details of daily life.

One of the characters who appears at the court is Confucius. His philosophy and teachings are in stark contrast to those of Lao Tzu. Confucius believed that a set of laws and rules, well adhered to by a population, would provide the order required for a society. Lao Tzu believed – it can’t really be put into a short phrase but something like – we must follow our own innate nature and not be constrained by someone else’s rules. And so there is yet another mystery in the novel: which philosophy will be most influential in the court? Both philosophies are still followed in our present day, which can be seen in some current conflicts.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Ng was born and grew up in Toronto, with exposure to both eastern and western views of the world. His interest in Lao Tzu was kindled when his wife gave him a copy of The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. In a CBC interview Ng claimed to have written the book for himself, but he also believes that westerners could benefit from better understanding eastern philosophies. A novel format, he thought, would appeal to westerners who could absorb some of the ideas of this Master Scholar easily in the familiar form of a mystery story. And the reader does just that.

Dorothy Anne Phillips lives in the Glebe. Her book: Victor and Evie: British Aristocrats in Wartime Rideau Hall, was recently published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.


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