Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Gifts to make the world a better place

Goats – still one of the best gifts for the holidays. 

Baby blankets are matched 4 to 1
It just might be the most unique gift you’ll give this year. It most certainly will be the most life-changing. For a family the in the developing world, goat’s milk means important protein for growing children. The sale of baby goats means an income to pay for essentials – like an education – that open up opportunities. Hoofs down, we’re m-a-a-a-d about this gift!
See here.

Books also make great gifts. A book is the most basic of objects, essentially a pile of paper and ink. But combine it with the curious mind of a child and a book ignites change of the world-shifting variety. Buy one book for $10 and your donation is automatically matched at a five to one ratio, making your gift a $60 value. See books and other matched gifts here.

Many, many more gifts you can give this year to make the world a better place here.  

All the best of the season. ~Brian

Monday, November 29, 2021

Happy Hanukkah!


Happy Hanukkah ~ Hanukkah Sameach!

Note: Looking for Hanukkah presents for that other winter holiday coming soon? Check out books of Jewish interest for kids and teens here and here

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Wistful and the Good, Chapter One, by Mark Baker {an excerpt}

Dickens and Dumas serialized their novels. This classic approach to publication is becoming popular again with writers such as Salman Rushdie and Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk signing up with Substack to serialize their next projects. Mark Baker is taking the same route with his Anglo-Saxon period historical novel series,  Cuthbert's People. 

Serialization of the first volume  The Wistful and the Good, begins today. Read the opening below, and to read the rest of the chapter and to subscribe to receive a new chapter weekly, visit here.

Chapter 1, The Ship

Elswyth sat on the clifftop looking out over the bright sea. There was a steady onshore breeze blowing, stinging her eyes and tossing her hair out behind her. She refused to wear the wimple that should have covered her head and neck, for young men’s eyes would follow her hair as it bounced and swayed and danced. Young men’s eyes were a novelty and a delight. Not so long ago a child’s smock had hung from narrow shoulders straight downward to the ground. But now a woman’s dress flowed over curves like the tide flowing over smooth stones. Young men’s eyes followed the curves. Whenever she walked through the village, the young men would pause in their tasks, like seagulls hanging on the wind, eyes hungry for something beneath the surface of the wave.

Nor was she shy about looking at the young men. In the autumn, when the harvest had called every able body, man, woman, child, noble, free, and slave, into the fields from dawn till dusk, she had gloried in their broad backs, the flow of their muscles under the skin, the salt sweat of their tanned faces. And in the quiet of the evenings, she had found herself delighting in the thought of lying beside this one or that in the soft new-cut grass, and of the rasp of a calloused hand upon soft flesh.

But she was not for them. She was a thegn’s daughter, and promised long since to an ealdorman’s son. Young men’s eyes had no right to follow her. Her thoughts had no right to stray to hard hands or soft grass. There could be no starlit tryst on new-mown hay for her.

But the eyes of the young men were not her only delight. From where she sat, her eyes could follow the great curve of the horizon, the restless boundary between sea and sand below, the roll and swell of the tide, the curve of the sea grass, bent before the wind. These too were a delight, though the same blustering wind tried to tear her embroidery frame from her fingers and whisk away her threads to catch among the bracken and the gorse.

For the hundredth time she glanced upward, and this time, at last, she saw it. A flash of white, far out in the band of haze between sea and sky. A sail. Her frame and her needle fell into her lap as her eyes yearned outward toward a horizon that was empty once again.

This is how it is when you first see a sail. It will appear for a moment when the ship crests a swell and the light catches the sail just so. And then it will be gone, perhaps not to be seen again for minutes, or perhaps never again. Few eyes would have caught that first flash, or known it for what it was. But Elswyth knew, and in that moment of recognition her breath grew still and her heart raced as the world grew large around her.

Elswyth loved ships, every rope and spar, every plank and sail. She loved the smell of the pitch that lined the seams. Her eyes followed the curves of a ship. Her hands longed to touch, to follow the rise of the curving prow, the round fullness of the stern. She loved the way a ship cleaves to the swelling of the waves, its urgent energy under the force of wind or oar, its rise and fall as it mounted and drove from crest to trough of the ocean swell.

And she loved the young men who sailed in ships, with their strange voices, their hard, strong hands, their red sea-weathered faces, their sheepskin jackets stiff with salt and smelling of both land and sea and the marriage of both.

She loved the tales they told, of wild rocky northlands with their soaring peaks and deep fjords, of the sun-scarred south, where winters were green and summers brown, and men and women rested on the great verandas of stone-built palaces in the heat of the day. Everywhere they travelled, it seemed, was sharper, more vivid, more extreme than Northumbria, the soft country she was born to with its low hills, cool summers, and damp winters.

Once, as a child, she asked why they came here at all, to which the answer was, “For trade, my darling, and to see the pretty girls.” At which she had pouted and said, “But you always leave us behind!” And they always would leave her behind, for her fate lay elsewhere, in the ealdorman’s hall in Bamburgh. As the wife of Drefan of Bamburgh, she would rule over a great hall and host kings at her table. And yet, one glimpse of a sail and her heart was soaring, over the horizon and away.

Again a flash of white. She rose, letting her embroidery frame fall into the work basket at her feet. She shaded her eyes as she strained at the horizon. A square white dot danced into view along the line between sea and sky. She took an anxious step forward, careless of the nearness of the cliff edge. Her right foot caught her work basket and sent it tumbling over the cliff face toward the distant sands below, threads of green and gold and blue scattering to the winds.

What was it? Anglish, Pict, Norsk? It was a Norsk ship she longed for. But it was also Norsk ships her father feared. The ship she longed for was a knarr, a broad-bellied trade ship. The ships her father dreaded were longships, ships of war. Nothing but a knarr had ever come to their beach. Elswyth had never seen a longship. But the news was that a dozen Norsk longships had raided the holy island of Lindisfarne two weeks since, murdering dozens and carrying off much treasure and many slaves. Her home in Twyford was only a day’s ride south of Lindisfarne and her father, like every coastal thegn kept anxious watch for Norsk ships, though no other made his daughter his sentinel.

She longed for a knarr, for not only would a knarr bring wine and gemstones and silver—to trade for the dull necessities produced by her father’s manor—it would also bring new songs, old friends, and tales of Spain.

Ah, Spain! Her heart was full of the young men who sailed to Spain, who got drunk on the wines of Spain, who lounged on verandas with the dark girls of Spain. Was this a ship that had been, that would go, to Spain? Did it carry men who had been, who would go, to Spain? For a moment, all the longing in her heart was fixed on Spain.

The sail was plainer now, no longer disappearing into the haze along the horizon, and sometimes she could glimpse the line of the hull. Whether it was longship or knarr, she still could not be sure. But she was certain of its course now. By the quarter it came from and the line it sailed, it was coming from Norway, and it was heading for their beach. ...

… To finish reading the first chapter of The Wistful and the Good, and to subscribe to receive a new chapter weekly, visit https://gmbaker.substack.com/p/wag1 and click the Subscribe button.

Mark Baker recently moved to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. One of Brian's students for several years, he is now serializing his historical novel, The Wistful and the Good, on Substack under the pen name G. M. Baker. Mark has also published three nonfiction books as well as stories in a number of journals including: Dappled ThingsThe Rockford ReviewStorytellerSolanderOur FamilyNew England's Coastal Journal, and Fantasy Book. Find him as G. M. Baker on Facebook here. Subscribe to his newsletter here. 

 See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Seventy-seven Great Gifts for Writers

Books, of course, make great gifts, for yourself and for both the little people and the adults on your list. See “The best recent Jewish-Canadian books for kids” Part 1 here and part 2  here “More great books for gifts” here.

See “Gifts to make the world a better place” hereand see “The 7 very best gifts for writers,” here.

Sleep tight – you know you want a quilt that looks like book shelves – available here. Or go for a variety of blankets for writers here

Fingerless gloves for writing ~ they come in
Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, The Raven...
Stocking Stuffers
A gift bag of coffee or tea and snack foods, because writers have long thought that caffeine and sugar are their best friends. At the annual Briar's retreat in November, we determined that Hawkins Cheezies are the best junk food ever – and they're Canadian. Yum.
Healthy snacks, because sugar is not truly your bff.
If you're crafty in the kitchen, try some of these homemade treats here.
A bottle of Writers' Tears Copper Pot Irish whisky.

More books of course! Always a great idea for writers. According to Chapters you can find the best books of 2020 here. And don't forget that writers have kids who also like books.
If you're looking for Christmas books, Penguin has a boxed set of six Christmas classics: A Christmas Carol by Dickens, Christmas at Thomspon Hall by Trollope, The Night Before Christmas by Gogol, The Nutcracker by Hoffman … here.
You can find a selection of kids' Christmas books here or here or here or ... There are a lot of Christmas books for kids.
For a non-classic children’s Christmas book, try: Twas The Night Before Christmas: Edited By Santa Claus for the Benefit of Children of the 21st Century. This is a non-smoking version of the classic narrative verse by Pamela McColl, writing/editing under the pseudonym Santa Claus. See here here.
Good lists of Hanukkah books for kids are hard to find. Try here, or just buy all of Eric Kimmel's books. 

A gift certificate to Tim Horton’s, because a comfortable cafĂ© is often the best place to write {at least if you're not under lockdown because of a pandemic).
Fingerless gloves (type and have warm fingers). You can also get a Pride and Prejudice scarf, a Sense and Sensibility pillow cover, a Black Beauty baby blanket ... here
Reading is Sexy button … here
Timer for writing sprints
AquaNotes waterproof notepads (for shower ideas—yes, these really work!)
A stamp with a happy face for critiquing your fellow writers 

Board Games & Creativity Helpers
Apples to Apples is a great creative game; you need to match a noun card in your hand to a given adjective card and convince the dealer that your (absurd) choice really is the best. We had a hoot playing this at the end of the day at the Algonguin Writing Retreat last June. ~Brian

“The Story Engine” deck of cards with extension packs. Very helpful for new ideas here.

Dixit may be the most popular writing board game out there. Players have to convince other players that their story card is the best way to tell the story.
With 540 cards, the Storymatic feeds the imagination. Just pull out cards from each category (such as “Obstacle” and “What-choo-want”) and let the storytelling begin. Great for writers experiencing writer’s block and collaborative writing groups.  
Writer Emergency Pack. It includes 52 cards with fantastic illustrations and loads of ideas. Whenever you’re struggling with a story, you can pull out a card and get inspiration! (Or at least a giggle.)
The Game of Things  makes everyone write. You’re given a category like “Things that Jiggle” and everybody has to write down a funny or crazy answer. Then the leader of the round reads them anonymously and you have to guess who wrote what. If you play with the right people, it’s fun and funny.
In The Writer’s Toolbox, there are 60 games to play to inspire writers to create — be the first to create a story based on “First Sentences, Non Sequiturs, and Last Straws.” Also, use one of two spinners to generate a random detail that you have to include in your story. 
In Once Upon a Time, the leader plays cards to start a story, trying to guide the story toward his end card. Other players try to jump in and play their cards. First one to use all their cards up wins! Great fun for creative writers.
Bananagrams anagram game … here
Scrabble Magnetic Refrigerator Tiles … here
The Writer's Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the 'Write' Side of Your Brain ... here

For Writers Who Outline
Index cards
Post-It notes
Corkboard &  pushpins
Whiteboard with dry erase markers and eraser

For Writers Who Don't Always Write on Computers
Notebooks! Book stores often have great selections of notebooks and other essential writerly tools, and it's a good year to try to shop as much as possible at a bricks and mortar store.

Technology Helpers
Programs like Scrivener for organizing and word processing
Drogon voice recognition dictation software.  
Typing program (learn to type faster!), such as KeyBlaze.
Wireless/ergonomic keyboard or mouse
Virtual keyboard for mobile use

Big Ticket Items
New computer
Bigger computer monitor
Ergonomic desk chair
Cover design or editing costs for self-published authors

Writing Craft and Publishing-Related Books
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell
The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life,  by Anne Lamott.
Conflict, Action and Suspense, William Noble
The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White
The Fiction Editor, Thomas McCormak
How Stories Work, James Woods
On Writing: a memoir of the craft, Stephen King
The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker
Spunk and Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold Contemporary Style, Arthur Plotnik
Writing Down the Bones, Natlie Goldberg
The Thesaurus books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (The Emotion ThesaurusThe Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus)
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley
And don't forget, books are available at actual book stores.

Miscellaneous Suggestions
Comfort clothes (robe and fuzzy slippers, sweat pants, but be careful; you may never change out of them. See here!)
Gift basket full of writing-related ideas (pens, notebooks, special beverage and glass, inspirational items or quotes, etc.)
Gift cards for books
Gift cards for office supply stores
Subscription to music source; such as Spotify
Lithographs: Shirts and totes printed with images and the text of your favourite novels. Tattoos available, too … here.

Out of Print Tee’s: T-shirts, tote bags, iphone cases – all sorts of things, decorated with your favourite book covers (here).
Premium level of online service (Dropbox for automatic backups, Amazon Prime for free shipping/lending library, etc.)
Entry fee for a writing contest
Massage gift certificates, a back or foot massager
A head scratcher  – which surely no writer can do without! (Dogs love them, too. Cats will tolerate them.)
Writing time (anything from babysitting to a writers’ retreat to a
housecleaning service)

Have I mentioned that books make great gifts? See “The best recent Jewish-Canadian books for kids” Part 1  here and part 2 here “More great books for gifts” here, “Gifts to make the world a better place” here, and “The 7 very best gifts for writers,” here.

See Brian’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

“More of the best recent Jewish-Canadian Books for Kids and Teens” by Brian Henry

From Osnat and Her Dove by Sigal Samuel, illustrated by Vali Mintzi

Note: this piece was previously published on TheJ.ca, the Jewish-Canadian journal of news and opinion. See Part 1 of “Best recent Jewish-Canadian Books for Kids and Teens”  here.

Whether you have small children, pre-teens or teens, with Hanukkah starting Sunday evening, November 28 – or for any time at all – you’ll want to check out these books.

Author Kathy Kacer has two Holocaust-themed novels for young people out in 2021: Under the Iron Bridge (available from Second Story Press here) and Call Across the Sea (available from Annick Press here).

Under the Iron Bridge is fast-paced and exciting and manages to get across some of the horror of life in Nazi Germany. It’s compulsive reading. You certainly want to get this for the young teens in your life (ages 12–14). 

In Dusseldorf, Germany, 15-year-old Paul is pressured into joining the Hitler Youth. He despises the Nazis and especially how they’re treating Jews, but Paul has no way to express his opposition until he stumbles on the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of young people who have begun to resist – distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets, painting slogans on walls, and sabotaging Gestapo cars.

Paul attends Hitler Youth rallies by day and engages in resistance by night – until Kristallnacht. Amidst the burning of the Dusseldorf synagogue and the destruction of Jewish homes and businesses, Paul comes across Analia, a girl he’s had a crush on, being rounded up with other Jews for shipment to a concentration camp. At great peril, Paul is able to rescue Analia, but in doing so, exposes where his true loyalties lie. For the next seven years, until the end of the war, he will have to go underground.

As with Kathy Kacer’s other novels, Under the Iron Bridge has accurate historical underpinnings. The characters are imaginary but the Edelweiss Pirates were real and Yad Vashem recognized them as Righteous Among the Nations.

Under the Iron Bridge is part of Second Story Press’s on-going Holocaust Remembrance Series for young readers – which includes the very well-known book Hana’s Suitcase, and some 18 other books (see here). 

Call Across the Sea is part of Kathy Kacer’s Heroes Quartet, four Holocaust-themed books for children aged 9–12 (available from Annick Press here). 

Young Henny Sinding has grown up sailing her father’s boat the Gerda III, but with the Nazi’s occupying Denmark, Henny joins the resistance, and when the Jews are about to be deported, she suggests smuggling them to Sweden aboard Gerda III.

Like Under the Iron Bridge, Call Across the Sea is a good adventure story based on accurate history. The Gerda III was one of some 300 ships that helped Denmark’s Jews escape to Sweden, and Kacer includes a short note at the end of the novel about the real-life Henny Sinding.

Author Joanne Levy, published two books in 2021 for children aged 9–12, both with Orca Books: The Sun Will Come Out and Sorry for Your Loss (both available here):

 In the Sun Will Com Out, 11-year-old Bea goes to Camp Shalom for the first time. But what should be the best summer of her life, turn out to be the most anxious, and anxiety makes Bea break out in hives – great big ugly splotches all over her face. 

Mean girls make Camp Shalom anything but peaceful. There’s a boy Bea’s crushing on, but he’s crushing on her best friend. Plus, there’s an odd-looking kid who seems to work in the camp infirmary – where poor Bea ends up spending a lot time, what with those mysterious hives all over her face. As it turns out, this odd-looking boy has problems far larger than Bea’s, and between them, they learn much about friendship and about ometz lev – courage.

This is a wonderful story, fast-paced and fun, full of humour and heart.

Sorry for Your Loss is a miraculously good novel. Evie Walman wants to be a funeral director when she grows up – not so odd considering she already works in her family’s funeral home. She’s just 12, so she doesn’t work with the grieving families – until Oren Katzman loses both his parents in an accident that also leaves him wounded, inside and out. 

The heart of this story is Evie and Oren’s growing friendship. But Evie also brings Oren deeply into the workings of a Jewish funeral home, which is both fascinating and strangely comforting for Oren and perhaps also for the reader.

The Good Fight by Ted Staunton, illustrated by Josh Rosen (2021, Scholastic Canada available here) is a graphic novel geared to  kids in grades 6 and up.  

It’s 1933. Sid and his family live at the edge of the Ward, an immigrant slum in a Toronto rife with prejudice. Sid’s in with a gang of pickpockets, but when he’s caught, the police coerce him into becoming an informant. They’re after a union organizer – a communist, according to the Police Chief.

But the real heart of the story is the rising tension between Toronto’s homegrown Nazis and the Jewish and other immigrant communities – a tension that erupts into a historic riot following a baseball game at the Christie Pits.

This is a tough, gritty story, ably illustrated with tough gritty artwork. Kids will eat it up.

Osnat and her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Sigal Samuel, illustrated by Vali Mintzi (2021, Levine Querido, winner of the Jewish Book Award available here). 

Picture books rely as much on the art as on the text and it’s a lucky author indeed who gets as talented an artist as Vali Mintzi to illustrate her book. Full of deep reds, blues and yellows, Mintzi’s illustrations suggest a world of mystery, wonder and miracles that very much evokes the tone of this beautiful book.

Set in 16th Century Mosul in what it now Iraq, Osnat is the daughter of Rabbi Samuel Barzani, builder and rabbi of the Mosul yeshiva, who takes the extraordinary step of teaching his daughter to read. Osnat becomes such a good Torah scholar that her father agrees to her accepting a husband only if he’ll excuse her from chores so she can continue to study. Eventually her father and her husband pass away and Osnat becomes the head of the yeshiva. Not only that, but (as with any legendary rabbi worth their salt) she becomes a miracle worker.

This is a simply gorgeous book that children and adults alike will adore.

Other Canadian books of Jewish interest for young people:

A Struggle for Hope by Carol Matas (2021, Scholastic Canada, set in Auschwitz in 1943 and in Israel in 1948, for grades 6 and up, more info and available here). 

The Bagel King by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Sandy Nichols (2021, Kids Can Press, a Picture Book for ages 4–7, more info and available here).

Boy from Buchenwald by Robbie Waisman, with Susan McClelland (2021 Bloomsbury Children’s Books, a survivor memoir for ages 12 and older, more info and available here).

Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure by Anne Dublin (2021, Second Story Press, historical fiction for ages 9–12 more info and available here.)

The Little Synagogue on the Prairie: The Building that Went for a Ride … Three Times! by Jackie Mills (2019, self-published nonfiction picture book for ages 6–9, more info and available here).


Read Part 1 of "The best recent Jewish-Canadian books for kids" hereAlso, check out 7 great gift ideas for writers  for Hanukkah or for that other winter holiday coming up soon here, more great books to buy here, and 77 more gifts for writers here.

Brian Henry is a writer, an editor, and the publisher of Quick Brown Fox. He teaches writing courses for adults, including writing Kid Lit. He’s written book reviews for the Toronto Star and for Books in Canada, and opinion pieces for the Toronto Star and the National Post. He was also a regular contributor to the (now defunct) Jewish Tribune and to the Engage and Harry’s Place websites in the UK.

See Brian’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.