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High School Wish List

By Phyllis VanDusen
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Bad Girls of Fashion

Bad Girls of Fashion

Style Rebels from Cleopatra to Lady Gaga
by Jennifer Croll
illustrated by Ada Buchholc
also available: eBook Hardcover

The title says it all: Bad Girls of Fashion explores the lives of ten famous women who have used clothing to make a statement, change perceptions, break rules, attract power, or express their individuality. Included are Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. Sidebar subjects include: Elizabeth I, Marilyn Monroe, Rihanna, and Vivienne Westwood.

Photos illuminate the text, while edgy, vividly colored illustrations depict the subjects with interpretive fl …

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Freedom's Just Another Word

Freedom's Just Another Word

also available: eBook

The year Louisiana – Easy for short – meets Janis Joplin is the year everything changes. Easy is a car mechanic in her dad’s shop, but she can sing the blues like someone twice her age. So when she hears that Janis Joplin is passing through her small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Easy is there with her heart - and her voice - in hand. It’s 1970 and Janis Joplin is an electrifying blues-rock singer at the height of her fame – and of her addictions. Yet she recognizes Easy’s talent …

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The Secrets We Keep

The Secrets We Keep

also available: eBook

First she blamed herself. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

When Kit disappeared at a party and was found drowned in the quarry the next day, Clem knew who to point the finger at: herself. She was the last person to see him alive, the last person who could have helped. If she had just kept a closer eye on him instead of her crush, Jake, maybe Kit would still be here. She knows she made a mistake, and wishes she could just forget about it — but Clem’s friend Ellie says she’ll expose Clem …

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Our principal steps up to the mic and taps it. The sound, like a gunshot, makes me jump. My heart is hammering so hard everyone in the auditorium must be able to hear. How many other kids in the crowd are feeling as freaked out as I am right now?
“Sure glad I wasn’t there that night,” Aubrey says beside me.
“Yeah, lucky you. My parents still don’t know I went.”
I crane my neck, trying to figure out where Ellie is sitting. These days I try to avoid her as much as possible. But whenever she “needs” me, I have to be on call. I spot her one row back, sitting stiffly, hands clutching the armrest. When she catches my eye, she gives me a knowing smirk. I look away quickly.
At the podium Mr. Sinclair clears his throat.
“Thank you, students, for welcoming Ms. Stitski into our school. As you recall from last June, she and her family endured an unthinkable tragedy. She wishes to address the school today to express some of her ongoing concerns. I hope you’ll all listen with respect and be brave enough to step forward if you feel you can help her in any possible way. Ms. Stitski.”
A tall, slim woman crosses the stage to the microphone. She’s dressed like a Banana Republic model, in a taupe jacket with rolled-up cuffs and black slacks. Her dark, cropped hair has a flash of grey along one side. She’s a pretty lady, Kit’s mom, but there’s something else there, too. A shadowy veil seems to cover her features, concealing who she was before all this happened at the start of the summer.
She stands and stares out for a moment, the auditorium crammed with students from grades nine to twelve. I know from my experience in theatre arts that she can’t see much; the bright stage lights are practically blinding. But she might as well be looking straight into my eyes. And reading my mind.
“I’m glad you could all be here today, and I thank Mr. Sinclair for permitting me to speak to you.” A dramatic pause. She’s obviously good at this. “I’m sure you all remember my son Kristopher, or Kit, as everyone called him, and the disturbing circumstances of his death.”
Something twists in my gut as she says those words. I half-wish I could crawl under my seat to hide. Her voice is controlled, measured, as if she’s standing in front of a court room addressing judge and jury.
“The coroner’s inquest deemed it ‘death by misadventure.’ That verdict has been haunting me ever since. Because I don’t agree. Something else happened that night. He did not wind up in the water by accident. I know that someone out there, one of the many who were at the quarry that night, knows more. Withholding that information could make you an accessory to a crime. It’s in your best interest to step forward, and tell the police what you know to help all of us, especially Kit’s brother and me, find some closure once and for all.”
“God,” Aubrey whispers. “She almost looks like she’s about to cry, doesn’t she, Clem?”
“Wouldn’t you?” I say, blinking back tears and clenching my fists.
“I’m trusting someone will do the right thing, to help the rest of us heal.” Ms. Stitski’s neck tendons are standing out now. Her face has become a tight mask. “So many of you loved Kit, I’m sure, but a few of you were responsible for being cruel to him in the past. Teasing, bullying, call it what you want. But trust me, I know who you are. If you had anything to do with this …” she almost chokes on her words, “then step forward. And clear your conscience once and for all.”
With that, Ms. Stitski abruptly spins and walks off the stage into the wings.
Instantly, the room fills with the buzz of a thousand bees. Mr. Sinclair hurries to the mic.
“Do your talking once you’re outside. It’s only ten minutes before last bell, but you’re all dismissed for the day. Please leave in an orderly manner, and enjoy your weekend.”
“She’s talking about Spencer, isn’t she?” Aubrey says, trailing me up the aisle to the exit. “I’ve heard stories. Kids are saying there was some sort of fight between him and Kit that night. Remember how he always gave Kit a hard time in middle school?”
Kids are saying. The thought is like a laser beam burning a hole in my brain. Who is saying? Who knows what?
Who’d believe anything — everyone.
“Yeah, but that was then and this is now,” I tell her. “A lot has changed since then. And anyway, who knows what really happened that night? Maybe we’ll never know for sure.”
I can only hope.
Ms. Stitski is a lawyer at a local law firm. She knows how to dig out the truth, and she’s on a mission.
The thought of what she might be able to find out leaves me almost breathless. Especially with Ellie keeping my secret.
And never letting me forget it.
“Pizza’s here, Clementine,” Mom calls from the kitchen that evening.
I’ve been hiding out in my room since I got home from school. Told my folks I was exhausted from a busy week. That’s a bit of a stretch. I’m actually exhausted from a busy mind — one that won’t allow me to think straight or concentrate on important things, like school work and theatre arts. Oh, and getting Jake Harcourt to notice me.
The way things are going, this is the new normal. Because guilt will not stop gnawing at me like a hungry rat. After this long, I almost had myself convinced that I was in the clear, that it was almost over. As if. But seeing Ms Stitski today made me realize that it will never end.
I force myself to walk to the kitchen and look happy about an order-in pizza.
“It’s your favourite kind, honey,” Mom says when I peek under the lid. “Lots of veggies and no anchovies.”
“Thanks,” I say. But the smell turns my stomach.
I take one piece and sit at the table. Zach’s inhaling multiple slices in front of the TV screen, playing a video game. So I’m stuck alone with Mom and Dad, and no kid-brother buffer to distract them. Not that it’s really necessary. Mom’s watching a video on her iPhone and laughing; Dad’s reading something on his tablet and frowning.
I nibble my pizza slice and chew quietly, half-hoping they won’t feel obligated to question me about my day the way a lot of parents would. But also half-hoping they might.
What I definitely need most right now is a friendly ear. I need someone to talk to, to help me figure stuff out about Ellie and every awful thing that’s been going on between us. That used to be Mom — I used to be able to tell her anything. But this time, I’m too ashamed, too afraid of what she’ll think of me. Plus she never seems to have much time to listen to me anymore.
Come to think of it, neither does Dad. They’re almost always lost in their own virtual worlds — when they aren’t stressing out about work, being super-busy teachers.
They’re no worse than Zach and me, though. A family of techno-geeks who seem to rarely share actual face time. I’ve spent the last four months in misery, wallowing in my guilt, and they haven’t even looked up from their screens long enough to notice. Might as well talk to the wall most of the time.
Because for sure the wall would make a better listener than my parents.

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Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain

also available: eBook

While struggling with the death of her beloved adoptive mother, sixteen-year-old Brenna reconnects with members of her biological family, hoping to discover why her biological mother broke off contact many years earlier. At the same time, she is falling in love with Ryan, who provides support while she grieves but has to leave her when she needs him most. Despite powerful feelings of abandonment, Brenna realizes that getting strong physically and focusing on the needs of others might just help …

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A Groundwork Guide
by James Laxer
series edited by Jane Springer
also available: Hardcover eBook

An investigation of the origins of democracy in a range of countries and societies, from ancient Greece to modern times, and the threats that democracy is under today. An excellent introduction to democracy for young adults.

In this eye-opening work, political scientist and award-winning author James Laxer warns readers that our common assumptions about democracy — that it is a natural progression of advanced societies and that it is on the rise worldwide — are misguided. Democracy, in fact, …

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Nation Maker

Nation Maker

Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times
also available: Paperback


An exciting story, passionately told and rich in detail, this major biography is the second volume of the bestselling, award-winning John A: The Man Who Made Us, by well-known journalist and highly respected author Richard Gwyn.

John A. Macdonald, Canada's first and most important prime minister, is the man who made Confederation happen, who built this country over the next quarter century, and who shaped what it is today. From Confederation Day in 1867, where this volume pi …

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In thirty days, for weal or for woe, the Confederate Government will be inaugurated. By the exercise of common sense and a limited amount of the patriotism which goes by the name of self-interest, I have no doubt the Union will be good for the Country’s weal.
—Macdonald to Newfoundland politician Ambrose Shea, June 3, 1867
Confederation Day, on July 1, 1867, passed tolerably well. All across Ontario, large crowds turned out to watch the parades and fireworks, listen to concerts by military bands, eat free steaks carved from oxen roasting on spits, sit through speeches by politicians, and cheer on games of cricket or croquet, with sack races for the children. The excitement was equally high in the English sections of Montreal. In Nova Scotia, though, several newspapers bordered their front page in black, and the government forbade distribution of the governor general’s proclamation. In Quebec, the crowds were sparse, Montreal’s powerful Bishop Ignace Bourget delayed expressing even grudging approval for Confederation until the day had passed, and George-Étienne Cartier’s own newspaper, La Minerve, informed readers that Confederation provided a direct route to “l’indépendence politique.”
All that really mattered was that Confederation had happened. For the first time ever, colonials had written their own constitution. They had done so despite having only two federal models as guides, in Switzerland and the United States. In Britain, the only role model that mattered, sovereignty was singular, residing in its entirety in the king in Parliament. The constitution itself, the British North America Act, if breaking no new ground politically or legally, was nevertheless in some respects remarkably ambitious. To join the Maritimes to the old Canada in fact as well as in law, the new dominion pledged to build a railway across the five hundred miles of wilderness between Quebec City and Halifax. It also declared itself ready to extend all the way to the Pacific—which, if the western colonies agreed, would make the country the second largest in the world after Russia.
John A. Macdonald was the man behind this extravagant commitment. Cartier, his Quebec ally, had originally opposed it, concerned that it would add too many anglophones to the new nation; George Brown, his long-time opponent but an irreplaceable partner in the Confederation project, preferred a mini-federation that excluded even the Maritimes. Macdonald himself had been skeptical at first, fearing that the West would attract immigrants away from the still under-populated Ontario. But then he had changed his mind: “The Americans must not get behind us,” he wrote to a friend. With the purchase of Alaska from Russia early in 1867, the United States had already turned its gaze northwards; other attempts to expand beyond the forty-ninth parallel were certain to follow.* The first came in December of that same year, when Minnesota senator Alexander Ramsey placed a resolution before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations proposing that Canada, in return for a favourable trade pact, “cede to the United States the districts of North America west of longitude 90 degrees.” The resolution failed, but the larger contest between Canada and the United States over dividing North America had begun. One country had to lose.
The contest was hopelessly unequal. The United States was much larger, incomparably richer, far more developed and, with the Civil War won, confident and energetic. Above all, after a near century as a nation-state, it knew what it was, while the new dominion did not. A great many Canadians didn’t even want to be Canadian, whether Canadiens in Quebec or, as would soon become apparent, Nova Scotians too. The uneven mix of support, indifference and resistance within the country to even the idea of a larger Canada, along with the U.S. interest in annexing its northern neighbour, measured the task ahead for Macdonald.
Despite a few glitches, Confederation Day passed better than tolerably well for Macdonald personally. It invested him with a quality he had long been lacking—gravitas. He now had the title of Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, rather than, as earlier, Premier, the Honourable John A. Macdonald*. As further augmented his persona, after a decade as a rackety widower, he again had a wife, and so a portion of that prized Victorian virtue of respectability. She was Susan Agnes Bernard, twenty-one years his junior, whom he had married the previous February in London.
He was now, at fifty-two, in full middle age. He had changed little. He had no grey hairs. His torso was still angular, his indifference to food offsetting his excessive intake of liquor. He never exercised beyond walking the short distance to work, but his energy remained exceptional. He put in long hours and was still capable of ferocious bursts of effort. Even on holiday at the cottage he later bought in Rivière du- Loup, he diligently went through the official papers from Ottawa and replied to incoming letters until the early afternoon.
Liberal MP Charles Langelier, who sat across from him in the House of Commons in the 1880s, left the best description of Macdonald from these years: “His eyes lively and his look pleasant. A charming smile, an enormous mass of curly hair, a slim build, his walk an elegant nonchalance, and a nose that made up his whole glory.” Nature had indeed given Macdonald the priceless political asset of being distinctive. Wherever he went— out on the hustings, attending some grand public event or talking to urchins on the street—he was recognized and attracted a crowd. In political cartoons too, especially those by the brilliant J.W. Bengough in the weekly satirical magazine Grip, he jumped right off the page into the consciousness of readers. Bengough could be savage about Macdonald’s political and administrative misdeeds but not about him personally, casting him in the engaging roles of a naughty schoolboy, a street-smart scamp, an artful dodger.
A large part of Macdonald’s distinctiveness was of his own deliberate invention. In an era when shrub-sized beards were the style, he was always clean-shaven; he wore attention-getting clothes, such as bright red cravats and trousers with large checks. As time went by—the influence of a chatelaine, no doubt—he more often wore grey trousers and a matching Prince Albert jacket, although still with a red cravat. But that mass of hair and glorious nose ensured that almost everyone knew him at once. During his one trip out west, by train late in life, an old-timer, unaware who he was, described him as a “seedy beggar.” Macdonald, overhearing the comment, shot back, “Yes, a rum ’un to look at, but a rare ’un to go.”
Langelier was also correct in his description of the new prime minister’s “elegant nonchalance.” Macdonald’s habitual response to the flaws and follies of humankind was an amused insouciance. In the House of Commons, he typically reacted to some assault on his policies or his morals with a quip, the best of which made his outraged opponent laugh at himself. Wit, spontaneous and unrehearsed, was his hallmark: accosted by a suffragette demanding to know why he but not she had the vote, he pondered and then replied, “Madame, I cannot conceive.” Although all politicians are actors, or ought to be, few have been so utterly at ease in their skin as Macdonald was. He accepted himself for the bad as well as the good, never apologizing for his drinking or for his procrastination in making decisions. As Sir Joseph Pope, his last and ablest secretary, put it, “He knew every chord of the human heart; he understood every passion that swayed man’s nature.” This acceptance made him a good politician, but it was also innate. He understood women well and enjoyed their company, even though, lacking the vote, they were of no consequence politically. They, in return, “worshipped him,” in the judgment of editor John Willison of the Liberal Toronto Globe.
Macdonald’s knowledge of people earned him a collateral political gift—he knew how to manipulate them. By Confederation, he had won over to his side a former Liberal leader and premier, John Sandfield Macdonald, and a former Liberal cabinet minister with a strong following, Thomas D’Arcy McGee. His first cabinet included three Liberal front-benchers, lured there to sustain the illusion he was leading a Liberal-Conservative coalition.* Several Liberal members of Parliament deliberately avoided talking to him for fear he would seduce them into crossing the floor. One Liberal MP, talking to him in some corner of the Parliament Buildings, was overheard to say, “Oh Sir John, I do so love you. If only I could trust you.”
The bond between him and his own MPs and supporters was even closer, of course, almost intimate. Scarcely any of them ever turned away from him, mesmerized by his charm and the hours he spent in the Commons listening to the incoherent addresses of backbenchers and then praising them lavishly. He distributed patronage plums, either directly to his supporters or to others they wished to please. In fact, though, many got nothing—yet, as Willison noted, they still “went through fire and water for him,” because they loved him.
As for ordinary Canadians, they, according to the journalist M.O. Hammond, flocked to his railway coach, they hung about his carriage, and they invaded his hotel rooms.” Macdonald’s own analysis was even better: “They prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.” He made them laugh, never talked down to them, and paid them the compliment of always speaking spontaneously, never from a text, and usually without notes. To make his points, he ambled along in a conversational style, waiting until a heckler intervened to give him the chance to be rude about Brown or to “hive the Grits.” Macdonald treated all people as his equal, whether a coach driver or a British duke. He once walked out on George Monro Grant, the principal of Queen’s University and one of the country’s most eminent men, so he could talk to a barber.
Grant had persuaded Macdonald’s sister Margaret to invite him to her Kingston house so he could have a private after-dinner conversation with the visiting prime minister, no doubt about university funding. Through the meal they chattered amicably, but before any business could be done, Macdonald slipped away. When Margaret remonstrated with Macdonald later, he explained that he had gone to a pub to converse with a barber “who controls thirty votes”—in contrast to Grant, who, like all high-minded intellectuals, “prefers to make up his own mind.” The everpolitical Macdonald made sure this story leaked out.
After Confederation, he gained another asset. The event turned him into Canada’s first celebrity—the only one until Toronto’s Ned Hanlan won the world rowing championship in England in 1879. People wrote to him not just to ask for patronage or to complain about some policy, but also to tell him their personal concerns. Among Macdonald’s responses to these letters is one to Francis Jones of Kemptville: “I have your letter of the 25th informing me that there are suspicious strangers about Smiths Falls. Many thanks for the information. I shall cause immediate inquiries to be made.” Another, to an E. Stone Wiggins, reads: “I am not a sufficient mathematician to be able fully to appreciate your long sought for solution to the bisection of an Angle by purely mathematical means.” In a country where the people across its expanse had so little in common, Macdonald belonged to everyone. He was both their leader and their friend.
All these attributes diverted attention from the most considerable of Macdonald’s qualities: he was exceptionally intelligent, with a subtle and capacious mind. Usually, Macdonald sheathed his intelligence, so as not to block voters’ sight of him. He only brandished it offstage, as when he held his own in private discussions with Britain’s ablest public figures, including a late-night, brandy-fuelled review of politics and literature with Benjamin Disraeli, his “twin” in wit, theatrical looks and Machiavellian guile. His schooling had ended at sixteen, but he never stopped learning. Pope described him as an “omnivorous” reader; he read not just politics, law and biography, but novels and poetry. He dropped lines from Shakespeare, Milton, Sheridan, Trollope and Dickens into his speeches, not to impress but to illuminate an idea or advance an argument. When he reached the town of Victoria on his western tour, he remarked that there “the day is always in the afternoon”— an apt allusion to Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eaters.”
Once, while praising the “good memory and a vicious fluency of speech” of a leading Conservative member, he dismissed the MP’s career prospects because he was “altogether devoid of reading.” He most certainly had his defects. He drank far too much, regularly going on prolonged benders. “John A. carried out of the lunchroom hopelessly drunk,” the senior official Edmund Meredith recorded in his diary after one early cabinet meeting. (Besides cold beef and mutton, sherry, port and whisky were all available in the cabinet room, and at reduced prices.) Macdonald also had a quick temper. On one occasion he suffered a defeat in the Commons after he ruined a make-up meeting with a key, wavering MP by showering him with abuse over past wrongs. He could be cynical too, as when he exclaimed, “There is no gratitude to be expected from the public; I learned that long ago.” And he could be crass. In 1872, in advance of an imminent election, Macdonald enacted legislation to protect the legal status of unions, but wrote soon after to the editor of the Conservative Mail newspaper, reminding him that it was one thing to attack capitalists but “when the present excitement is over, you must look to them & not to the employed for support.” Over time, he became careless about administration, describing his early attempts to advance efficiency, long since abandoned, as those of “a devil of a reformer.”

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Caricature Cartoon Canada

Caricature Cartoon Canada

edited by Terry Mosher
also available: eBook

The idea for this collection came from a conversation I had with the great Russian cartoonist Oleg Dergachov, who now lives in Montreal. Oleg told me of a Moscow cartoonist who, on his deathbed, asked that onea of his favourite cartoons be engraved on his headstone. rather than the usual text. Apparently a group of colleagues now gather annually and toast their former friend over his unique gravestone with a glass of vodka or two.The anecdote poses a question of any cartoonist: What cartoon have …

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