What We Leave Out of Photos

I’m of the old school that believes photographs should flatter the subject.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to really get the aesthetic of Eldest’s THOUSANDS of selfies of his nostrils.  And when I say “get” what I really mean is “not totally hate.”

I will probably go to my grave without ever taking a selfie from below with my nostrils as the main subject, but then again, I can count on one hand the number of selfies I have ever taken.  I am the family photographer, so I am usually behind the lens.  I guess that means that one of the most significant things that gets left out of my photos is myself.

I just have no urge to photograph myself from arm’s length (or a selfie stick’s length).  I like to photograph others, and I like them to look right into the lens, and I really like to capture their best and brightest smiles.  The kind that light up the whole face.  I like to leave out noise and logos and often, even, setting, because what I want to remember is the face and the smile.

I don’t think I have more than a dozen photos of my kids crying, and I don’t think many of those were taken on purpose.  I’m not a documentary photographer.  I want to reminisce on good times in the moments with the photo albums.  That doesn’t mean I am whitewashing.  It means I have no need of the memory of sadness or anger or humiliation.  They don’t belong in a photograph album.

I have a few of them sleeping, because that’s the most tender and most vulnerable moment you can capture, and I need to see those baby faces in sleep for ever, but I will not allow others to photograph them sleeping.  A group of tourists tried to do that to my boys on the top of a roofless double decker bus in London, when they’d passed out with jet lag, and I got angry.  You cannot take photographs without permission, and sleeping children (and husbands) can’t give that.

Permission is something that I never leave out of my photographs.  I ask permission to keep the images of sleep, and now, I ask my kids’ permission to post to facebook.

On facebook at the moment, my profile picture is of the Library Lion from the New York Public Library, because I was there and I wanted to show off and I wanted to celebrate being away from my children and I wanted to honour the iconic lion.  Not all honourable motives, but the photo of the lion is flattering, even if it is shot from below.

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One thing you will never see as my profile picture is a picture of my children.  They are not me, and I am not them.  I love them will all of my being, but they do not stand for who I am.  They are their own persons.  And I am mine.  I may often be missing from our family albums, but I don’t leave myself out of my profile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Self and the Selfie

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“Try and get my dark side, man.” image via @garywhitta

The month of June has been devoted to photography here at 4mothers, and this week, we are turning the camera on ourselves to ask “How has social media affected how we portray ourselves in pictures?”

Do you selfie?  Even Darth Vader’s doing it, with a lightsaber selfie stick, no less.  (That would wreak some serious havoc with the light meter.  Just sayin.’)

Do you substitute selfie, putting up pictures of your kids, your food or your work space instead of a picture of yourself?

Is your profile picture a picture of you or of something that represents you or is it something altogether different?

Are your social media photos heavily edited or brutally honest?

Are you inundated with other people’s social media photographic “perfection” or TMI?

These are some of the questions we will be tackling this week.

In the mean time, have a look at this fascinating history of the female portrait in European art.  Just think, one day, years hence, one of those iterations will be of a woman posing with a selfie moue.

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Guest Post: Kristina Cerise

Husband cookies

 

Husband cookie (noun): small, flat and round baked treat which, for any number of reasons (e.g. unintended merger, over-cooked edges, contact with kitchen floor) has been compromised in a manner that makes it unsuitable for guests and available for consumption by spouse.

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Kristina Cerise is a Seattle writer, editor and mom trying to find meaning in the madness. Her essays have been feature on Brain, Child’s blog, in Working Mother, and most recently in Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness (Second Edition). She blogs about words and what they mean to her on Defining Motherhood.

Theme Week: The 4mothers1blog Illustrated Dictionary (By Way of Several Books)

I’ve been on a reading adventure of late: books that take as their subject British landscape and its lore and vocabulary, a trail that led to the idea for this week’s posts.

plot-m_1516470fIt all began with The Plot: A Biography of an English Acre by Madeleine Bunting.  The book is an attempt at a biography of the author’s father, a very difficult man, through a biography of The Plot, his sacred acre of land.  A sculptor, devout Catholic, and Arts and Crafts adherent, John Bunting built a chapel by himself and by hand on a remote acre of land in Yorkshire.  He decorated it with religious sculpture and devoted it to fallen soldiers, but he excluded his wife and children from his obsession.  Madeleine Bunting is full of ambivalence as the biographer of this acre of land, and she approaches The Plot sideways to try to fathom what it was that so absorbed her father.  She comes up with so much more rich detail about this acre of land than he would have known, and it feels often as though she may have done so to subvert his own interests.  It was a fascinating read for its tension between biography (by proxy) and local knowledge.  The sheep that graze on the Yorkshire moors, for example, symbols of England’s pastoral identity, are more expensive to keep than the wool they produce.  It’s illegal to burn or bury wool, though, so there’s a massive glut of wool.  The sheep’s grazing is what is necessary to keep the moors looking like moors, though; otherwise, there’d be shrubs and trees instead of heather, and heather attracts tourists, so sheep are actually more valuable in a tourist economy than an agricultural economy.

91nv6gcfWqLIn one of this year’s surprise hits, A Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, James Rebanks makes the same observation.  Rebanks, a shepherd in the Lake District, has, of all things, a hugely popular Twitter following (@herdyshepherd1), and on the strength of that success, he wrote this book about his work on the land.  He also remarks on the unprofitable cost of shearing a sheep, and he is eloquent on the value of the enormous work that goes into the care of the herd.  He is wonderfully acerbic about the disconnect between Romantic literary notions of land and landscape and his own experience of it.  As a teen not quite old enough to leave school to work on his family farm, Rebanks recalls chafing under the requirement of school, but deciding to tune in one day when he realizes that a guest speaker at their school assembly had begun to talk about the Lake District, where his family had farmed for generations.  The subtext of her talk is that to want to leave school in order to farm was to be more or less an idiot:

The idea that we, our fathers and mothers, might be proud, hard-working and intelligent people doing something worthwhile, or even admirable, seemed to be beyond her.  …  I listened, getting more and more aggravated, as I realized that curiously she knew, and claimed to love, our land.  But she talked about it, and thought of it, in terms that were completely alien to my family and me.  She loved a “wild” landscape, full of mountains, lakes, leisure and adventure, lightly peopled with folk I had never met.  The Lake District in her monologue was the playground for an itinerant band of climbers, poets, walkers and daydreamers … people whom, unlike our parents, or us, had “really done something.”  …  I realized then, with some shock, that the landscape I loved, we loved, where we had belonged for centuries, the place known as “the Lake District,” had a claim to ownership submitted by other people, based on principles I barely understood.

In large part, his book is a corrective to this teacher’s brand of condescension, and it positively glows with the author’s pride in his work and heritage.  It is uneven–some parts are beautifully crafted, and others needed more polishing–but a very enjoyable read.

91eAbJWoD6LMeadowland: The Private Life of an English Field is a similarly structured book.  Limited, as is Bunting’s book, by a tiny parcel of land, John Lewis-Stempel writes a season-by-season diary of his meadow.  He also takes issue with the Romantic notion of wilderness, but is happy to quote Wordsworth for his epigraph, in which, he says, the poet gets it right:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things

We murder to dissect.

To rationalize the natural world, he says, is pointless, so he offers a detailed and charmingly disjointed journal of his observations of the flora and fauna on Lower Meadow.  One wonderfully self-deprecating observation that he makes is that while the English have a rich and varied lexicon for place names and features of the landscape, their imagination runs dry when it comes to naming the parts of individual farms.  Every farm in England, he says, has a Lower Meadow or a North Field: “hardly ever do they lift themselves above the ultra-prosaic. …  People needed to know field names, which were their places of work.  Children and wives needed to know where to take men their ‘elevenses’ and ‘fourses,’ their cider or tea, their bread and cheese.”

coverAnother surprise hit from the past year is Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk.  The book is a curious mix of a grief memoir, a hawking history and handbook, and a biography of T.H. White, and these disparate themes are expertly woven together by an author who is in total command of her material.  Winner of many prizes, including the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the Costa Book Award, H is for Hawk is one of those rare reads that does all of its work well.  When the author is blindsided by a crippling grief for her father, she begins to dream of hawks.  As a child she had been an avid student of falconry, and in the midst of her grief she revives that passion and sets out to acquire and train a goshawk that she names Mabel.  It is an admittedly silly and old-fashioned name that comes from the Latin amabilis, meaning loveable or dear.  In hawking circles, the sweeter the name of the hawk, the more fierce it is likely to become; nominative language here works in opposition to its goal.  The name is not meant to signify.

916sVKaIeaL__SL1500_Names do signify in Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, however.  This is also something of a genre-bender.  Part essay and part dictionary, the book is a celebration of land and language.  “This is a book about the power of language,” he writes on page one. “It is a field guide to literature I love, and it is a word hoard of the astonishing lexis for landscape that exists in the comparison of islands, rivers, strands, fells, lochs, cities, towns, corries, hedgerows, fields and edgelands uneasily known as the British Isles.”  A book driven in large part by a desire to defy the inevitable death of language when urbanization makes redundant the rich variety of words for natural things, this book is also a call to get back into the natural world and experience first hand the places and phenomenon now made rare by modern life.  This book does not murder to dissect, but it does attempt to give verbal shape to the beauteous forms of things.  It’s a book to dip in and out of, to use as a resource and as a missal for those devoted to the natural world.

And, finally, Landmarks brought me to Uncommon Ground by Dominick Tyler.  Tyler’s book is also a dictionary of words that describe places, but his is illustrated with breath-takingly beautiful photographs that illustrate the words he defines.

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This is clitter or clatter depending on whether you are in Devon (clitter) or Cornwall (clatter).  It is a word to describe the piles of granite boulders that litter and clutter the hillsides.  I feel so incredibly tender about that perfectly apt word.  How many people actually use it today?  Well, if we don’t use it, at least we make a few more who know what it means and can conjure this image to define it.

It was the tender desire to protect and the contagious zeal to revel in language that gave me the idea for this week’s posts.  In keeping with photography month, we thought we’d take the opportunity to share with you some words and their definitions that are entirely idiosyncratic to our families.  This week you will see illustrated definitions of words unique to us.  Unless, perhaps, they aren’t!  Will you see any words you use?  See any that you will adopt?  Play along this week and share words unique to your families.

We are thrilled to welcome, once again, Kristina Cerise, who’s own mothering dictionary is a delight and an inspiration.  Defining Motherhood is one of those blogs that makes you grateful for this world wide web of goodness.

Guest Post: Jose Carlier on How to Photograph Kids with a Phone Camera

IMG_3199I am so excited to welcome Jose Carlier to the blog today.  Born in Holland and raised in Iran, Jordan, Egypt, France and other assorted locales, Jose is a New York-based photographer whose nomadic sense of adventure is evident in her every frame.  Whether she is shooting fashion for a magazine or environmental portraits of kids, Jose’s pictures are whimsical, bold, and unexpected.  Trained at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and published globally, Jose, a mother of two, has most recently focused her lens on kids.  She starts with an unexpected outdoor scene, places high-energy children in it, and captures the can’t miss moments.  Check out her work on her website, Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

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10 tips for shooting portraits with your phone camera

(I use the iPhone 6)

1.  My #1 rule would be to take a step back.  Phone lenses are wide lenses, and they distort the face when you get up too close.  Shoot from further away, and you can always crop your image later during your editing process.

2.  Keep the background simple.  It’s easy to lose your model in a busy background.  If they have light hair and/or clothing, try a darker background so that they will pop out and a lighter background if your subjects are darker.  Also, be careful that you don’t have branches, poles etc. sticking out of your model’s head (when using a busier background).  I love old walls as a background (they have tons of character).  I don’t love graffiti (way too busy unless clothing is styled specifically with the graffiti in mind).

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3.  We have always learnt to keep the sun behind us while shooting so that we don’t get shadows on our models’ faces.  I recommend that, but it’s also very popular at the moment to shoot with the sun behind the model while exposing for the model’s face (press on the face on the phone screen to expose for it prior to shooting).  Experiment with the position of the sun and you can get fun flare effects.

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4.  Shoot from above.  If you are lower than your model’s face you will have a bigger chance of capturing multiple chins ;-)

5.  I find that lots of kids’ eyes are sensitive to sunlight and you will end up with lots of images with 1/2 closed eyes.  If I notice that they are blinking a lot, I will ask them to close their eyes, I will count till 3, and then shoot when they open their eyes at 3.  Prevents discomfort and bad images.

6.  When you are setting up your shot you can touch the screen to set your focus and exposure.  Play around with the exposure.  As you touch different areas of the scene on your screen you will notice the image getting darker or lighter.

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7.  Don’t ZOOM in!  Remember as you zoom in you will lose a lot of photo quality.  It’s better to crop the image later or step in a little closer to your subject.  Don’t get too close or you will get distortion (see tip #1).

8.  I never use flash.  I don’t like the effect you get at all.  The newer phones are incredible, and you can get great results in low light situations.  Try tip #6 to expose for the darker areas.

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9. I was amazed to discover that most of my friends didn’t realize how many editing options we have on our phones.  On my iPhone 6 I can go to edit on a photo and press on the 3rd icon (looks like a clock), ignore the options, and go to the 3 horizontal lines (list icon) and click on that.  It then opens up light, color and b/w options so you can get really specific.  For example getting rid of the dark shadows without changing the rest of the image.  Most photo addicts have other photo editing aps (I love Snapseed) but I use them less and less as each new phone camera gets better quality and editing options.

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10. Filters.  Lots of photographers stay away from filters because they feel it’s a crutch.  I think that if you have a good image to start with, you can improve it with some filters and it’s fun to play around with them.  Actually if you have a bad image you can also use filters to save it :-)  Just don’t go too crazy.  Pick a few favorites and stick with those and create your own style.

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Guest Post: Moira Wright on Taking Landscape Photos with your Phone Camera

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAJvAAAAJDI2Mjc2MTExLTAwMTgtNDhhMS04M2FiLTI0NzBkNTY1MTM1OAWe are thrilled to welcome Moira Wright to the blog today.  Moira is the Vice President of Public Relations at Holt Renfrew, and the creator of some of the most beautiful landscape photos Instagram has to offer.  She is also family, and when I asked her to share her secret for her amazing photos at a family gathering a few years ago, she said to me, as she says below, with her characteristic grace and humility, that she just uses her phone.  It was that exchange that inspired me to explore the camera function on my own phone, and it is to Moira that I owe the joy that comes from capturing my still lifes.  Armed with her tips below, I’m now ready to try my hand at some landscapes, too.

 

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What I appreciate about Instagram is that it really just illuminates inspiration. Yes, it can be a distracting and sometimes vacuous pursuit, and I am often amused by how our “fake Instagram life” may contrast with our real one. At times I am tempted to post images of the daily domestic mess or less harmonious moments to more authentically represent reality, however, given my role in public relations representing a retail brand, I keep my profile open and my posts are filtered to ensure they are in keeping with my public self. I also find it helpful in moments of feeling overwhelmed to review the peaceful and aesthetically pleasing moments to remind myself of the good times – and anticipate those to come!

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Instagram or any other photo gallery is a reflection of your personal lens – posts reflect what you see and what you are drawn to, and what you spend your time pursuing.

I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, stayed in the land of living skies until the age of about 30. I am naturally drawn to – and crave – open spaces and landscapes.  I will always run for the hills on the weekend whenever I have a chance, as an antidote to long weeks spent in a windowless office, and a busy and cluttered home shared with 3 boys in a house we jokingly refer to as “the tube” for its row house effect. For me, the ideal weekend involves a family hike along the Bruce Trail, or if I am lucky enough to be near water, on a kayak in Georgian Bay or in Nova Scotia. Snow or rain, sun or not, I crave a vista of nature. In an overscheduled world, I love the family bonding moments we enjoy in nature, discovering interesting animals, birds, flora or fauna. I also appreciate time alone in the woods, fields or on calm water.

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My photo methods are quite simple – all photos are taken with my iPhone 5. Essentially the shot is what I see. The light is of course best in the evening or early morning, and an early mist is also lovely. I will sometimes play with the light settings – just by tapping on different parts of the screen to adjust the light before taking the shot. I do this particularly with sunset shots. When posting to Instagram, I rarely filter or amend the photo – perhaps just brightening an image a little if needed, or playing with the colour saturation a little – always within the Instagram photo editing menu.  The square format of Instagram is sometimes a challenge with landscape, so I do have an additional app called SquareReady that I sometimes use to adjust the image if I want to keep the full latitude visual.

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As my phone battery often has limited life with the camera open, my Mophie is key for extended battery life on a long walk. And having the right apparel for the weather is key – I hike on the most cold days of winter, and love a walk in the rain.  Here are a few posts, with some accompanying notes.

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This was in the rain! The boys were not originally happy to be wet, but then became enthralled with the discovery of caterpillars and a grosbeak. I may have brightened the image a little before posting.

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This is a view from the Bruce Trail near Hockley Valley Resort, at sunset. Generally with sunset I may adjust the light settings to focus them off centre (in this case, closer to the left, nearer the setting sun) by tapping on the screen. In this case, I wanted to further illuminate the landscape, which had the trade-off effect of limiting the depth of colour in the sky. You can get very different images of the same moment.

I wanted to keep the full length of the landscape, so I reshaped the image within the app SquareReady before posting in Instagram. It’s very seamless, you simply open the app, go to your photo library, and then click through to open it within Instagram.

Sometimes I might enhance the colour just a little with the saturation setting from the Instagram photo editing menu. (see below as well)

 

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How to Take a Still Life with Your Phone Camera

As I mentioned in my post last week, I have been really energized by the practice of carrying my phone along on my walks and trying to capture some of what I see around me.  The fact that I give myself the task of capturing one good image from each walk means that I am looking around me more carefully, and when I see something interesting, I am then thinking about how best to frame it, capture it, translate it.

Here are some of the steps to capturing a great still life in nature.  If you are inspired to go out and take any photos after reading this, please post them and tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.  I’d love to see where your walks take you.

1.  Pay Attention.

What moves you?  What brings you a moment of joy?  Pay attention to your surroundings and tune into what’s important to you, what catches your eye.  What has been capturing my attention lately is colour and light.  Who can resist the bright flowers and the crisp greens of spring?  I took this picture on a really bright day, and what caught my attention was the way the leaves cast shadows on each other.

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The shadows multiplied the shades of green, and highlighted that really juicy pale green of the young leaves.  I tried it from several angles and distances.

This was too close to capture the feeling of the wide bright sky:

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And this captured the blue sky but not the intensity of the bright light, and the background is too busy:

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I finally realized that I would have to get underneath the tree and shoot towards the sun from an angle only possible from the ground, so I sat down on the sidewalk and got this:

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Now I had the shot that captured what I was seeing: new leaves, green shadows, bright light, blue sky.  This was taken with my iPhone camera with no filters, and it’s pretty close to the final image that I published on Instagram.  I then edited and framed the photo in Phototoaster so that the leaves on the bottom were off centre and in sharp focus, leaving the background foliage blurry, and I made the colour more intense.  These are effects that I added after the fact with my photo editor app: Phototoaster.  I love Phototoaster.  I am not the kind of person who likes to experiment or play with technology because I don’t have the patience, but Phototoaster is the exception.  With this app, you choose a photo from your phone camera album (the original is not changed), and then you have fun and play.  You can add shading, intensify colour, blur the edges, make it black and white or sepia, choose a texture that makes it look like an oil painting or an old photo.  So many possibilities and so much fun.  Taking the picture is really only the beginning; most of the effect comes from using the photo editor.

2.  Get Close.  Really Close.  Closer!

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I lost some of the resolution by using the zoom to get so close to this tiny lilac blossom, but I still like the final effect.  Get as close as you can without using the zoom to get the best resolution, and then play with the zoom when you edit.

3. Compose.

I did not want that lilac flower to be in the centre of the square photo, so I composed the photo with it off-centre, and the eye travels from bottom left to top right with the movement of the stalks.  Figure out where you want the eye to go.  Do you want symmetry or asymmetry?  Do you want attention all in the foreground, or do you want to keep details from the background?

4. Crop.

I do all my cropping in Phototoaster so that my original is not changed.  It’s a really important step that allows you to cut out any extraneous “noise.”

5. Edit.

This is the really fun part!  I have so much fun taking a photo through different incarnations.  When I took this photo, I wanted to capture my sense that the poppies were on fire.  Something about the early morning light shining through those fragile, feathery petals looked like flame.  This is as shot:

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And then to intensify the colour I played around with focus until I got the best impression of fire that I could.  I actually had a hard time deciding between these.

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6. Frame.

It’s the final step to making your image pop.

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What We’re Reading: Kids’ Edition

From Beth-Anne

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Recipe for Adventure Hong Kong by Giada De Laurentiis

Continuing along with this series, my eldest chose this book for his Cereal Box Book Report. The story followed the same pattern of siblings, Alfie and Emilia, being magically transported to another country to learn about its food and culture. I am amazed by how much my son does learn about other cultures from these books, and it’s mostly from the conversations that occur after he’s closed the cover. To honour our ritual we will be dining in an authentic Chinese restaurant. After reading Naples, we indulged with pizza at Libretto, Mother’s Day was extra special by enjoying a fancy schmancy Parisian dinner here and I still owe him a New Orleans dining experience. Any Torontonians, I welcome your suggestions for both New Orleans and Chinese!

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Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate Di Camillo

My middle son thoroughly enjoyed the entire Mercy Watson series and is delighted that the adventures continue with Leroy Ninker’s charming spin-off. Di Camillo is a favourite author in these parts, and judging by the snickers that I hear coming from his room and how excitedly he retells the chapters to me, she doesn’t disappoint with this book either!

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Knuffle Bunny Trilogy by Mo Willems

My youngest has fallen for Knuffle Bunny just as his older brothers before him. Can I just say, I love these books? My youngest has a strong attachment to his “Georgy” and this trilogy from Mo Willems serves as the perfect books to engage his critical thinking. I like to ask him questions that encourage him to make connections to the text (the classic: relate and reflect) and to infer what’s going to happen next.   But put all of that learning aside, these books are just so much fun! The illustrations using a combination of photography and drawing could be great inspiration for a summer writing project for older kids. Now that I think of it . . .

From Nathalie

Like Beth-Anne, we love all of Mo Willems’s books in this house, especially the learn-to-read Elephant and Piggie books.

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I am of the opinion that Mo Willems should rule the world, but children’s author world dominion dreams aside, I am all about imaginary wish fulfillment.

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Enter The Candy Conspiracy by Carrie Snyder, who has been our guest on the blog and whose books for adults we have loved.  Carrie has invented a world made of candy, with lollipop trees and a cupcake castle.  So far, so sweet, but the Juicy Jelly Worm who resides in the castle does not like to share, and all the kids in Candyville can only stand and watch while their monarch gobbles all the goodies himself.  Candy-craving kids get clever (and alliteration gets contagious, apparently!), and candy-flavoured democracy will have its day.

For middle grade readers, Middlest and his friends are loving the Big Nate books by Lincoln Pierce.  Told in comic strip style, they feature hapless and endearing Nate, who finds himself in trouble again and again.  And the boys have read and reread these books again and again.  One added bonus of my son and his best friend reading these books is that they’ve also gone back to the classic Calvin and Hobbes, which does a mother’s heart good to see.

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Finally, for young adults, I recently read Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra.

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The protagonist of this novel is Leonora Summerville, a bright spark, a beauty, an heiress and a thorn in her older sister’s side because Leo may prove difficult to marry off.  A speech disorder causes her to stutter, but it also allows her to imitate other people’s voices with eerie precision, earning her the moniker Mad Miss Mimic.  Set in 19th century London, where opium fever is raging, the book is full of period detail.  Medical and political intrigue abound, as her brother-in-law’s medical use of opium and her suitor’s political ambitions come under threat from the bombing campaign of the mysterious Black Glove Gang, who oppose the government’s proposed ban on the importation of opium.  Add two handsome and charismatic young men who vie for Leo’s attention and affection, and you have the ingredients for a ripping good yarn.  I read it in a single sitting.  Sarah and I were in graduate school at the University of Toronto together, and she is now a professor of English literature at Ryerson University.  Mad Miss Mimic is her first novel, and what an outing it is!

From Carol

king's equal

In The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson, Prince Raphael will inherit the kingdom from his dying father provided he can find a woman equal to him in beauty, intelligence and wealth.  This proves rather tricky, since Raphael is an arrogant and conceited fellow.  The story of how Rosamund overcomes Raphael’s vanity and prejudices is at once magical, clever and lyrical.  Nathalie will be horrified, but I didn’t register the author of the book before reading it, although the writing soon prompted me to check.  Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, had my boys were riveted. We read so many books, and I love the exposures to so many adventures, but I recognized immediately the quality of writing in this book, and my children’s response to it revealed that they did too.

cloud tea monkeys

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham also made an impression on my boys. When Tashi’s mother becomes too sick to pick tea leaves in the Himalayan mountains with the other workers, Tashi tries to go in her place. Too small for the task, and frightened for her mother’s health, she finds aid from unlikely friends, who gather for her the rarest of teas in the world. The plight of the working poor, heightened by the nasty Overseer, is depicted effectively enough that it’s unsettling that only Tashi and her mother’s dependence on the work of picking tea are alleviated at the story’s end. Beautifully illustrated by Juan Wijngaard.
witches
One of the things I deeply envy about my husband is a large cardboard box in the basement which holds the best reads from his childhood. He wanders down there when he’s looking for a new novel for the kids, and emerged one night with Witches by Roald Dahl.  Shortly after he read it to my boys, my eldest (who just turned 9) asked me to read it again.
A young boy (the nameless narrator) and his grandmother (his parents die early on) first try to avoid and then are forced into the world of “real witches”, who are cleverly disguised as ordinary women.  After personally and irreversibly experiencing what the witches are planning to unleash on children in England, the narrator must try to stop them.
It was such a fun read, with perfect illustrations by Quentin Blake, and is poignant without sentimentality. I loved the matter-of-fact mutual adoration and interdependence of the narrator and his grandmother. The adventure and fantasy are wonderful, but the understated love between this unlikely pair resonates at least as much.

If you buy any of these books from Indigo, we will get a teeny tiny percentage of the sale.  If you buy any of these or other kids and teen books in-store between June 5-7, you will get 10 times the plum points.