Why you should read The Jaguar’s Children right now


In 2015 award-winning author John Vaillant released his first novel “The Jaguar’s Children” saying that the issues of Mexico’s plight are just too complex to do justice in a non-fiction book.  The book cover shows a wall….the same wall that everyone is talking about in 2017.

jaguars-children-cover

It’s this wall that our main characters Hector and Cesar must overcome but the greater story is in the reasons that have pushed Hector and Cesar to make this choice. For one, their home region of Mexico, Oaxaca, has been overtaken by corporate farming and the heritage strain of Oaxaca’s indigenous corn is being bioengineered out of existence.  The corn is an underlying metaphor that pervades the novel as Hector’s own Zapotec heritage is threatened by modernisation and his decision to leave Mexico altogether.  Most of the novel takes place inside the water truck which conceals the boys’ identities but becomes their prison as it breaks down in the hot desert sun.  In dealing with this real conflict, Hector takes Cesar’s phone and tries to reach out for help.  Timely and gripping, The Jaguar’s Children will leave you with questions about our own responsibilities as global citizens and who gains most from economic policy.

Join me in TeachOntario for a great discussion beginning February 21, 2017. TeachOntario is an open space for educators and the public alike. This is our first fiction collaboration with the Ontario School Library Association and we’ve chosen The Jaguar’s Children because it is a) a wicked good book and b) because it was nominated for an Evergreen award by the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program.  The book club is inside the Explore section of TeachOntario as we are inviting the public to join in so please bring a friend.

To register for the book club, go here: https://www.teachontario.ca/community/explore/TO-OLA-book-club

They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

They Left Us Everything: A MemoirThey Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first became interested in Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything as it has won the Ontario Library Association’s 2016 Evergreen award for best in Canadian adult fiction. This book is my surprise read of the year. Aging parents and all their stuff? The topic doesn’t really sell itself, does it? But then I engaged with Plum’s story as it speaks to the changing nature of family dynamics. Her family is challenged by her father’s Alzheimer’s disease, her brother’s cancer and the general decline of her mother. As her parents age and pass away, she is left with a monument to their time on Earth that seems psychologically insurmountable to deal with. Each item that Plum touches resonates with a history sometimes obvious but more likely it’s true meaning isn’t revealed until Plum has a series of serendipitous moments. This book spans the time it took Plum to deal with each item, the family disagreements about how to deal, and the time of putting it all to rest. This book is filled with the things that we think and don’t say and in joining Plum in her memoir, I feel better about the future challenges in my own life. It is descriptive and concise, and a true tribute to family dysfunction in all its glories. If I could, I’d buy a copy for each family member with a card attached that says “Fair warning.”

As I was searching, I found this article about the home itself filled with marvellous descriptive pictures that match the ones in my head: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/a-lakeside-home-well-stocked-with-history/article622715/

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The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

The Jaguar's ChildrenThe Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remember how when you studied Canadian literature we were referred to Margaret Atwood‘s book Survival? The Jaguar’s Children is a fine example of how this same theme is evolving in the year 2016 as our main character aims to travel to El Norte to escape the oppression of his homeland in Oaxaca, Mexico. I wish I could download this book into the brains of anyone involved in political discussions about free trade and immigration if only to offer a deeply personal perspective. This character-driven book offers masterful writing as Vaillant gradually reveals why his protagonist sacrifices all he holds dear for the hope of gaining access to North America. I particularly marvel at the way Vaillant invites the reader into the language and cultural history of the Zapotec through his family history.

Nominated for an Ontario Library Association Evergreen award, The Jaguar’s Children will leave you wanting more.

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Punishment by Linden MacIntyre

PunishmentPunishment by Linden MacIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MacIntyre masterfully combines a serene small town setting with the incestuous secrets of the past. Tony, a retired guard from the nearby penitentiary, returns home to create some space between himself and the drama of his former employment only to discover that his past won’t let him alone. White lies and half-truths abound in the community around a murder, a drug ring and the ex-convict living nearby. Tony is compelled to get further involved than he ever imagined. MacIntyre combines clues and red herrings so skillfully that the reader will never see what’s coming. Nominated for the 2016 Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen award, this gem is sure to thrill readers of all types.

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This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The ClimateThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book has changed my life. This book is the first book I’ve read from the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen selections for 2015. Naomi Klein is such an important voice for Canada that this book was on my to-read list well before it was nominated though. I enjoyed reading this book through Audible.com‘s selection so I listened to about 7 hours a week which was wonderful because it has a lot of important information about climate change that are combined with unfamiliar issues such as economics, world trade, environmental law, industrialization, and indentured slavery that I needed to digest in smaller pieces. Klein manages to put all of these issues together into one book and concludes that if we can’t manage to adjust our culture of consumption that we don’t have a chance of stopping global warming. More importantly though, that we need to start making right the crimes that we have committed through industrialization and globalization and make reparations to developing nations that are still disadvantaged by centuries of colonial actions. At home in Canada, Klein argues that we need to demand a higher minimum wage so that people can stop taking McJobs for shitty companies who continue to put capitalism first and human needs and the environment as distant seconds.  In a deeply personal chapter, Klein reveals that her concerns for climate change exploded during her struggles with infertility and points to our dramatic increases in infertility and disease as the red flag symptoms that we continue to ignore by believing in the capitalism-driven pharmaceuticals instead. In summary: I learned a lot.

As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will carry this book in my library but it isn’t going to be an easy sell. However, as a research tool it will be phenomenal and I will bring bits and pieces of it out to stimulate inquiry research and for discussion for years to come.

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted GirlsThe Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recent winner of the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen fiction for 2014, Cathy Marie Buchanan transported me to another place and time with this story of sisters surviving all the odds against them in 1880s Paris. I love it when a book prompts me to do more research and I’ve spent the week since finishing it searching out Degas, Zola and even maps of Paris. As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will recommend this book to my mature readers. There is one scene where Antoinette performs sexual acts that are too adult for my intermediate readers, but the rest of the book is magnificently constructed. The plot and setting are steeped in art, history and most importantly, the sacrifices that sisters make for each other. In trying to escape their circumstances, the sisters come to realize the importance of staying true to each other. Buchanan has filled her website with Degas’ studies for his ballet paintings and sculptures and includes her memoirs of her own research trip to Paris for this book. I can’t wait until she writes another book and I sincerely hope it is similar in proposing a fictionalized story behind works of art.

The main character, Marie, models for this Degas sculpture.

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