Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First days at school are always scary

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The Pocket Mommy (Tundra, 32 pages, $18 hardcover) by Ottawa author Rachel Eugster, with artwork by Ontario artist Tom Goldwater, will resonate with kindergarten students.

When Samuel doesn't want to remain in school without his mommy, she offers to become small and stay in his pocket for the day. But he's not prepared for the trouble Mommy causes: knocking off books, falling into flour and correcting his art work.

By the end of the day he's happy to insist that Mommy stay home. Goldwater's watercolour artwork makes an attractive addition to the text.

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First-graders will enjoy Noni Is Nervous by Toronto TV host and author Heather Hartt-Sussman (Tundra, 24 pages, $20 hardcover).

Noni is worried about her first day of school. She bites her nails and twirls her hair as she wonders if her teacher will be mean, if she'll spill her juice box, if she might have an accident. But when all goes well, it is her mother and father who are nervous and bite their nails.

Hartt-Sussman is known for such children's titles as Nana's Getting Married and Here Comes Hortense! Award-winning artist Genevi®ve C¥t© of Montreal has added simple but sensitive illustrations.

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Gloria Ann Wesley is a Halifax writer and poet whose work has mainly centred on stories of black settlers in Nova Scotia. Her latest young-adult novel, If This Is Freedom, published on the Roseway imprint of Winnipeg's Fernwood Publishing (272 pages, $20 paperback), tells the story of Sara Cooper, who accepted the promise of land and protection to those who had stayed loyal to Britain in the American Revolutionary war, moved from American territory and relocated to an area called Birchtown on the outskirts of Shelburne, N.S.

However, reality soon proves the promises false. The land is poor, supplies are scarce and the only work available is of the most menial kind.

Sara has signed an indenture agreement with the Blyes, a wealthy, unscrupulous couple. In a plot reminiscent of Les Mis©rables, when her wages are withheld she steals a loaf of bread to feed her family, a deed that leads to unimaginable consequences.

If This Is Freedom (being released Oct. 1) is not an easy book to read. There are many instances of bad faith and unnecessary hardship. The almost death-bed conversion to decency of the Blyes seems both too late and too unlikely.

Wesley has told an honest tale of a very difficult period in Nova Scotia history. While Sara is a heroine of courage and determination, her efforts here seem destined to have very little positive outcome.

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The Path of Names, a first novel by Vancouver author Ari Goelman (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 340 pages, $19 hardcover), is about a maze. Not since Carol Shields' Larry's Party has this deliberately confusing arrangement of greenery and paths held such a prominent role in a novel.

However, Goelman's maze is magic and has somehow trapped the souls of two little girls who wandered into it years before.

Half fantasy and half realism, his story contains ancient Jewish lore and a number of sacred Hebrew words. The narrator, 13-year-old Dahlia Sherman, has been sent to a summer camp to learn more about the Hebrew religion and language.

As she deals with ghosts and golems, and children possibly disappearing into the maze, this book might just become a late-night thriller for future campers.

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In my August review of Sue MacLeod's novel Namesake, I mistakenly attributed Lady Jane Grey's death to a command of Henry VIII. She was executed at the order of Henry's daughter, Mary, in 1554.


Winnipeg writer Helen Norrie's column appears on the third weekend of the month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 A1

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