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 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.

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, 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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Congratulations to Kristy, Leslie, Marie, Brenda, and Karon!

If you’ve had a story (or a book!) published, if you’ve won or placed in a writing contest, if you’ve gotten yourself an agent, or if you have any other news, send me an email so I can share your success. And be sure to let know if you're looking for a writers' group or beta readers; a notice in Quick Brown Fox, will help you find them. 

Email me


Hi, Brian.

I’d like to share that two of my novel entries into Canscaip’s Writing for Children Competition made it to the Short List of the YA category, and one of them, THE WILDWOODS, became a finalist. I started this series in one of your many classes I attended.

I wanted to thank you for providing a supportive place to begin writing, for the many sessions and workshops you presented that enabled me to learn and grow as a writer, and for the critical feedback you encouraged each member to bring to the group sessions. Writing is such a solitary, and sometimes lonely, endeavour. Having others to share the challenge, people who understand the highs and lows, the struggles and delights, has made for an exciting journey that never seems to end.

Thank you and take care,

Karon Young

Note: New classes begin in the new year, including a weekly Kid Lit course. Check them out here. Also, we have a one-day Kid Lit workshop coming up January 15. See here.


Hello, Brian.

I have created a website with a blog to promote my writings and those of my peers in the Wordsmiths group in Alliston. You may remember that you did some workshops for us pre-covid. Anyway, please take a look when you have a moment: 

If you care to, you can mention my website as an opportunity to publish short stories and poems for your readers. I also welcome guest writers who wish to promote their published/self-published books or simply to see a poem or short story published.

Yours sincerely,

Brenda Short


Hello, Brian.

My children’s story “Grammy’s Mittens” about a girl dealing with the passing of her grandmother before Christmas has been published in Cloud Lake Literary’s Volume 3.

Check it out here.


Marie Prins


Hi, Brian:

The Writers Community of York Region hosts an annual writing contest. This year, my story “Renovations” placed Second in the Short Story Division. The theme of the contest this year was “From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary.”  This story will be published in the WCYR anthology No Ordinary Day in the spring of 2022. 

Thanks for your support Brian.

Leslie Johnstone


Hi, Brian.

I wanted to pass along a HUGE THANK YOU for helping me out with that horror short story, “Momster.” Commuterlit emailed me this morning and she has accepted it for publication! This is my first publishing credit (aside from annual reports lol) and what I've learned in class and your feedback is what helped me get it there, so thanks so much!

Have a wonderful day!


Read Kristy’s story here.

For information on submitting to CommuterLit, see here.


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

Saturday, November 20, 2021

“The best recent Jewish-Canadian books for children and teens ~Part 1” by Brian Henry

From A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Rotem Teplow

Note: this piece was previously published on, the Jewish-Canadian journal of news and opinion.

Whether you have small children, pre-teens or teens, with Hanukkah coming at the end of the month – or for any time at all – you’ll want to check out these books.

Groundwood Books, the children’s division of House of Anansi Press, has put out a number of outstanding novels for children in recent years:

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen (published 2020, winner of the Jean Little First-Novel Award, available here). This novel should top your gift list if you have children aged 9–12.

Poor Miriam Brockman. With her dad out of a job, her parents have bought a motel. Not a nice motel and, as it turns out, not a motel that can possibly make any money. Because who wants to go to Greenvale, New York, population 510? Certainly not Miriam. She’s left all her friends behind in New York City, and all this motel offers her is endless work. It’s so run down the cracks in the walls have cracks.

Things improve when she makes friends with Kate, who belongs with the diner next door – a diner that’s also dying for want of customers.

Miriam and Kate turn their families’ finances around by giving people a reason to come to Greenvale. Yes, they’ve perpetrated a religious fraud, and yes, that’s ethically dicey, but can saving the motel and the diner be a bad thing?

This novel is clever and fun and full of the complexities of life. And it’s pitch-perfect on the awkwardness of being the only Jews around – Miriam claims to be a vegetarian to avoid explaining to Kate and her family why she doesn’t eat bacon. But when her family’s motel is vandalized by antisemites and when an even worse tragedy almost befalls them, the community gathers around in final chapters that are guaranteed to move the reader.

Edeet Ravel has two recent novels for children aged 9–12: A Boy is Not a Bird (published by Groundwood in 2019, winner of the Jewish book award, available here) and the sequel A Boy is Not a Ghost (2021, available here).

These are accomplished novels by an accomplished author. Ravel’s novels for adults have been nominated for both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award and have won the Hugh MacLennan Prize, The Jewish Book Award and the I.J. Segal Award, and Ravel brings all of her talent to children’s writing. Plan to fight with your kids about who gets to read these novels first. 

As A Boy is Not a Bird opens, eleven-year-old Nat lives in Zastavna, Bukovina. World War 2 is nearing their doorstep and Stalin swallows up the territory. At least they don’t have to worry about the Romanian Iron Guard anymore, says Nat’s mother, who is determined to pretend, for Nat’s sake, that they’re very lucky.

This becomes increasingly hard. Nat’s father is arrested, for having belonged to a Zionist group, or just to fill a quota, and is sent to the gulag. Then Nat and his mother, others from around town, and thousands from the region are rounded up and sent to Siberia – as pioneers or to get rid of them or because there is a quota to fill. 

Life on the cattle car as it slowly trundles north is a misery and, for the elderly and the weak, a death sentence.

Yet such is Ravel’s genius that we end the novel on a note of hope, not yet in Siberia, but with Nat and his mother reunited with friends who had been aboard a different cattle car and with the reader certain that somehow Nat will survive and eventually achieve his dream of moving to Montreal.

In A Boy is Not a Ghost, Nat must learn how to survive in Siberia, soon entirely on his own, as his mother is arrested for stealing a potato. The scope of this novel is broader, spanning not only more years, but an epic journey as Nat matures and eventually manages to escape from Siberia and bring his mother with him south, where in the novel’s final pages, they reunite with his father.

What makes this pair of novels even more remarkable is that they’re based on the true story of Nahum Halpern, who did indeed eventually make it to Montreal, where he became Edeet Ravel’s grade five teacher. You can read Halpern's memoir here.

In 2020, Groundwood also brought out A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night, a picture book for younger children, by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Rotem Teplow (available here), originally published in Hebrew in 2019 by Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir, Israel’s leading publisher.

A Sweet Meeting tells about young Miriam and the Moroccan Jewish holiday of Mimouna which marks the end of Passover. Moufletot, a yeast pancake that’s fried in stacks (yes, there’s a recipe!) is the special food of the holiday. 

But as it’s the end of Passover, Miriam’s mother has no flour to make the moufletot, so it’s off to the Muslim area of the city to buy flour and to bring back Miriam’s friend Jasmine to join in the Mimouna celebrations.  

A year later, Miriam’s family has made the Passover pledge “Next year in Jerusalem” come true. Now at the end of Pesach, Miriam can buy flour at the corner store, but she wonders if her friend Jasmine back in Morocco will still be looking for her to come buy a sack of flour.

A Sweet Meeting is a charming tale, sweetly illustrated, and a good chance to learn about a Jewish holiday you might not have heard of before. With relations between Israel and Morocco now normalized, it’s a fitting time for this story of friendship.


Read Part 2 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.