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Fun gift ideas for your kids this Christmas

I’m sure your holiday shopping list is already long enough, but have you started actually buying your holiday gifts yet? When it comes to the children in our lives, whether it’s your own kids, nephews, nieces or little cousins, the best gifts you can give them during the holidays is a sense of family and fun. But, they will still be looking out for gifts from Santa under that tree, so here are some toy ideas for the little ones in your life, or maybe for yourself because we are all kids at heart.

Colouring Books

So, colouring books have changed a lot since the 90s. Somehow, within the last year or so, colouring books became fun again, with many targeting adults as a stress reliever. With that being said, there are many options available for kids with beautiful illustrations. If your kids are into Harry Potter, consider getting them a Harry Potter Colouring book by Scholastic. This book also comes with many different options under the HP theme, including magical creatures and magical places. This book is recommended for ages 8-99 on the Scholastic website.

Personalized Bedtime Book

This one is definitely geared towards the younger kids. Give them the opportunity to get excited while seeing a character of themselves come to life in a version of their favourite bedtime story. Places like Me Bookz lets you choose your storyline, upload a picture of your child, add in details, and place your order for a hard copy version of your child’s story. You can also add an additional character to the story, just in case you want to add in your child’s favourite/ or annoying sibling. This gift is definitely something your child can hold onto and cherish even as they get older.

Chocolate Pen

If you have a little one that’s chocolate obsessed, why not give them the unique and yummy option of writing with a chocolate pen. This isn’t an actual pen made of chocolate, but a pen that dispenses liquid chocolate which hardens at room temperature. This opportunity allows your child to draw little 3-D versions of their treats before they eat them. This makes decorating cookies even easier and promotes creativity for your child. The Chocolate Pen also comes with different colours of chocolate, including white chocolate, pink and blue. The kit also comes with different candy moulds so your child can feel like a true master chocolatier.

PlayStation 4 Slim/ Nintendo Switch

If you have a child, or even a teenager that’s been after you to get the Playstation 4 , but you’re not willing to commit to the price, try going slimmer. The Playstation 4 Slim was released late last year and costs a fraction of the original Playstation 4. if you’re looking for the hottest option this year, price aside, the Nintendo Switch is generating a lot of positive buzz in the gaming world.

Hatchimals

This is an interesting one. I’ve seen it quite a lot of them while shopping around. The Hatchimals seems to be the latest craze for young kids, where children can watch and wait in anticipation as their new toy pet hatches out of an egg. This magical egg offers a thrilling surprise as your children learn about nurturing and love. Hatchimals even comes with a surprise twin option or various different critters that your child can watch grow.

Popin Cookin Kits

Unusual, cute and unique, these Popin Cookin kits by Kracie are popular in placed like Japan, where users of all ages are invited to craft miniature versions of food. I will admit, I have watched many You Tube videos on this trend and it’s quite fascinating. Your kids can craft miniature donuts, hamburgers, complete with fries and a soda or even sushi, pizza and ramen. These kits can be ordered on Amazon or maybe you can find one in a random grocery store in Little Italy like I did.

An Experience Coupon

This may be the most creative gift you give your child or children in your life. Think about their interests and take them on a fun outing for the holidays. Maybe it’s a trip to the spa to pamper your princess with her first manicure or a trip to the aquarium to delight them with creatures of the sea. Any memories made are worth more than a dozen presents.

Merry Christmas Shopping and let us know in the comments below what you plan to buy for your kids.

Snowstorm a sign of the apocolypse or just normal Canadian weather?

The late winter weather in Toronto has left many people feeling shaken. It appears that climate change is rearing its ugly head, making spring something akin to living in an ice box.

This change in the weather has left many struggling to prepare for a severe winter storm set to hit the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area — because apparently, as Canadians, we are easily frazzled by the mere possibility of this newfangled thing called snow. It is the Great White North after all. Snow in March isn’t that unusual. Still feel the need to bunk down in your basement and prepare for the next 48 hours of high winds and below freezing temperatures? Don’t worry, Women’s Post is here to help.

If by some random chance, the weather does become catastrophic, it is important to have an emergency kit. Everyone needs to have an emergency bag on the off chance that a natural disaster occurs, but what should go in it? Definitely include a flashlight with extra batteries and an extra phone battery if possible. Being able to contact people in the case of an emergency, especially when the power is out, is incredibly important. Also have a few non-perishable foods, toilet paper, and a first aid kit on hand. Some reports say to keep cash on hand to purchase goods if the ATM machines spark out, but it’s also handy to bribe people to help you in the case of an apocalypse. You can also burn it to stay warm!

If this “storm” turns out to be a few snowflakes and a slight chill wind, which is the more likely option here in every-centimetre-of-snow-is-a-disaster Toronto, take the time to hang out with family and enjoy yourself. Read a few good books and catch up on a Netflix series, and try not to let the cold air depress you. It will pass soon enough and spring will be well on its way. Take advantage of being able to cozy up in your slippers and cuddle with your loved ones. This final stretch of winter is manageable as long as chocolate and warm drinks are involved. If you have an indoor fire, make sure to turn that on for an added touch.

Winter is almost over (unless the apocalypse really is upon us) and doing relaxing indoor activities in the last stretch is the best way to survive this last big snow storm.  Be sure to enjoy how bright and beautiful the snow really is. Try and appreciate how that fluffy white stuff clings to the trees and makes everything so silent and still. Soon it will be gone for good and the warmth will set in. In a way, won’t you miss the ethereal beauty of the snowy weather.

Or will you? Just kidding…you definitely won’t!

5 must-read books set in Toronto

Toronto is a beautiful city and sets the perfect stage for a novel. From the downtown cityscape to the heritage buildings that seem to emit stories from their very foundations, it is easy to imagine a tale of romance taking place or the plot of a horror story being set in a dark subway tunnel. Many famous authors have used Toronto as the setting of their novels. Here are a few of my favourites.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

In the Skin of a Lion is by the renowned Canadian-Sri Lankan Michael Ondaatje and is one of the most famous novels set in Toronto. The storyline takes readers back in time to Toronto in the 1930’s and focuses on key themes of that era. The separation of immigrants in Cabbagetown was considered normal at the time, and Ondaatje uses the novel as a way of showing how immigrants are mostly left out of Toronto’s history.

A fictional story develops around R.C Harris, Toronto’s commissioner of Public Works. Harris built several of the city’s most important landmarks, most noticeably the water treatment plant and the Bloor Street Viaduct. In the Skin of a Lion is a story that converges two storylines, between immigrants who built the structures and Harris who commissioned them, leading to a shocking conclusion. Upon moving to Toronto, I read this book and it helped me to understand the true history of this city. Furthermore, Ondaatje captures a sentiment that permeates through Toronto to this day, and it lends a new perspective to living and surviving in the Big Smoke.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat’s Eye is set in Toronto and follows the life of fictional artist Elaine Risley through her childhood in Toronto to her eventual return to her hometown. The novel begins with Risley riding on a streetcar, or the “the iron lung” as Atwood describes it, with two friends. Risley ends up getting bullied by her friends, and almost freezes to death in a ravine mid-way through the book. The setting of the ravine is a common theme in novels set in Toronto because of the recognizable topography in the city. When the artist returns to the city of her birth, she realizes integral things about her past. Atwood really sets the scene of the non-linear relationship all of us have with life. Cat’s Eye discusses a child’s perspective of growing up in Toronto and paints a special picture of the large metropolitan area.

Headhunter by Timothy Findley

Timothy Finley’s Headhunter is a dystopian novel set in Toronto at a time when a disease called sturusemia has swept through the city. The disease is carried by birds and, as a result, the city decides to kill them off.  The storyline is focused around a schizophrenic librarian named Lilah Kemp and two psychiatrists named Kurtz and Marlow, drawing a parallel with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Mental illness is rampant and Kurtz uses his wealthy patients to his own ends,

The novel is set around Rosedale and the Parkin Psychiatric Institute based on the Clark Institute of Psychiatry located at University of Toronto’s College St. location. Findley’s perspective of Toronto paints a frightening and fascinating picture of downtown Toronto and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies begins in a small town near Toronto known as Deptford, Ont. The central character is Dunstan Ramsay and the novel follows his life from small-town Ontario to big-city Toronto. Ramsay stays in contact with friends from his childhood and always plays a supporting role in their lives instead of taking charge of his own — known as the “fifth business”, a term coined by Davies.

After a series of tragedies occurring in WWI and WWII, Ramsay finds his destiny and his own sense of self. This novel discusses wealth and how dangerous it is in the hands of people who don’t deserve it. Davies draws an interesting connection between academia and capitalism, which is relevant to Toronto’s culture even today. Davies is one of the great Toronto writers in the last century and most of his novels bring in Canadian themes. This book is a great read and every Canadian should be familiar with Davies’ works.

Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig

Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig is a relatively new novel, released in 2008. It is a dystopian novel set in the underground subway tunnels as a disease spreads throughout the city. The setting scene describes Toronto as a cold place, with subway tunnels and ravines that “slice around and under the streets, where the rivers, the Don and the Humber and their tributaries, carve into the heart of the city.” The storyline focuses around a group of girls that contract this disease, and the subsequent result of everyone beginning to die. One of the characters also becomes obsessed with capturing the devastation on film, which is quite fitting considering Toronto is the center of Canadian film. This is a great novel to read on the subway and was even nominated as a must-read by the TTC Toronto book club.

Books about Toronto shed light into various themes and imaginings that plague this city. It is a metropolis that creates endless opportunities for settings in novels that embrace the history of the city and its future. Reading all of these novels often makes me think what I would write? Which setting would I use for my Toronto story? In Canada’s largest city, the options seem endless.

What is your favourite novel about Toronto? Let Women’s Post know in our comments below.

Totsapalooza: being hip and happening with your kids

The 2016 Small Print Totsapalooza was hip and happening as kids dancing their little hearts out, ate delicious cupcakes, made innovative crafts and costumes, and listened to great storytellers.

On Feb. 6, the Revival Nightclub near College and Ossington hosted a different type of dance party, catering to trendy young urbanites in the two-to-eight year old bracket.

The annual event is run by Small Print, a local non-profit dedicated to children’s literature and providing opportunities for kids to take part in literary programs. By providing indie dance music and a cool way for families to have fun, Totsapalooza is dedicated to little readers and provides fun ways for children and authors to interact and have fun with the kids.

“It is always a whirlwind,” said Shana Hillman, board member of Small Print Toronto. “At the end, instead of beer bottles, it is cheesestring wrappers that are left on the floors. It is an opportunity to hang out with your kids in a really cool way.”

“Small Print is about doing interactive literary events with children. All of the events have a component where they get to interact and create, which helps innovate kids to become storytellers.”

Totsapalooza attendee, Aurora, playing dress-up.

Finding Winnie was one of eight children’s books sold at the event and was read by author Lindsay Mattick, the granddaughter of Harry Colebourne who discovered the real life bear, Winnie. Her son attended the event as well and took part in the reading.

Finding Winnie started from a personal place because it is in my family,” said Mattick. “It has been incredible to share the impact of the story I wanted to share as a mom.”

Finding Winnie is a story about Colebourn, the Canadian war veteran, who found Winnie, the bear that inspired the classic tale of Winnie the Pooh. Winnie was a black bear found in White River, Ontario in 1914. Colebourn brought him to the London Zoo, where he met a little boy named Christopher Robin.

“This experience for me is a dream come true. [Totsapalooza] is a very awesome event. It embodies so many things the kids should be doing dancing and enjoying books,” said Mattick. “I think as a parent, we all want to teach our kids to appreciate and be aware of great books and stories.”

All of the storybook authors at the event were Canadian, and parents, and their kids, had an opportunity to meet them first-hand. What made this particular event unique is that it catered to a specific demographics — kids and parents who were interested in the indie scene.

Being an indie parent means you are invested in preserving the tradition of books in place of Ipads, supporting local music and literature, and rejecting large corporations such as Disney in favour of smaller enterprises. Snacks were provided by local vendors, in addition to craft beer for the parents. Totsapalooza featured Bellwoods, a local indie band that graced the stage in the afternoon.

“It is an event with indie music, craft beer, and no Disney content in site,” Hillman said. “It definitely gives them exposure to an audience, and a chance to directly connect to their customers and future fans.”

Author, Lindsay Mattick reading to the kids.

From crafts to dancing to dressing up in costumes and taking fancy photos, Totsapalooza had something to offer everyone big and small. The event was an overwhelming success and is worth attending in the future. My own daughter didn’t want the Totsapalooza party to end and we will definitely be returning next year.

A flocking good book

Birding with Yeats

A Memoir by Lynn Thomson

 

Reviewed by Sarah Thomson

I sit still in the boathouse with all the windows open and listen. A huge storm hit the island this morning, the rain left large puddles on the deck, the leaves rustle as the sun pushes out, and the odd drop still falls on the roof. A man and a boy row past in a canoe. They are both shouting “row, row, row” in unison — too busy to notice the calm that has settled over the lake. A kayak rounds the corner of the island across from us. The rower dips his paddle in slowly, evenly, his motion in harmony with the calm around him – he has grace.

The book I am reading has me thinking about the way people choose to live – in harmony with the natural world, or in discord, blind to its rhythm and beauty. It is a memoir titled Birding with Yeats, written by my sister-in-law Lynn Thomson. While the title suggests that it is about birding, the book is about so much more. It encompasses her desire to shed convention and live in harmony with the natural world, and touches on the strong relationship she has built with her son, Yeats. Her book is shortlisted for the Edna Staebler Award for non-fiction (https://legacy.wlu.ca/homepage.php?grp_id=2529&pv=1.

Birding with Yeats weaves Lynn’s journey through life, her challenges and successes, together with her determination to raise her son differently and break free from convention. The book includes vivid descriptions of the places they visited to bird watch, and the beauty they found along the way. To use her words, it is about “hearing the stillness and feeling the light.”

The memoir will challenge the reader to think about the way they have chosen to live. It captures Lynn’s desire to be true to her inner nature and to live by her own set of values. Her reverence for the natural world gleams through the narrative, allowing the reader to feel the same sense of awe and wonder that she discovered.

Birding with Yeats describes the strong relationship that develops between a mother and son. It tells of how Lynn and Yeats grow and learn and share in the beauty around them. She writes about how Yeats pulled her into birding. The special relationship they have is strengthened by their shared love for nature, and their desire to live their lives with grace. She describes his unique way of looking at the world and writes, “he is grounded, like his grandfather, and connected to the rhythms of the natural world.”

But the memoir also wrestles with the issue of conforming to societal standards. Lynn explains her struggle to break free from an upbringing that pushed her to be competitive, to conform and have a career. Instead of struggling to carve out and shape her future, she chose to allow life to happen — to be true to the grace inside her. Without the expectations created by social conformity, she experienced the world at her own pace, and grew to understand the value and impact that the natural world has on her.

Historians believe that people formed structured communities, towns and social conventions to protect and shelter us from the harsh realities of the natural world. Birding with Yeats will cause you to question the value of our current social structure. From tribalism, to religion, to “Kardashianism,” social structures often blind us from an intrinsic understanding of our relationship with nature. Birding with Yeats is a reminder that while society may seem to offer protection, it also numbs us to the beauty and wonder that is just beyond our next career choice.

Bidr

The vivid description in Birding with Yeats takes the reader into the moments, allowing you to feel the wind blow the “scent of saltwater to the shore.” The narrative leads the reader along beside Lynn and her son on their journey out to the marsh at Point Pelee, the pebble shores of Vancouver Island, and the forests and lakes of Muskoka. But it also touches on the calm and light they are able to find in the heart of downtownToronto. Despite the traffic and noise of the city, they venture out to natural spaces where birds and beauty survive. From Ashbridges Bay, to Toronto Island, Riverdale Farm and the Brickworks, there are places they find solace and comfort away from the concrete and steel that dominates downtown Toronto. The memoir explains how Lynn is able to balance her life as a bookseller living in the heart of the city, with her desire and need to be constantly connected to the natural world.

Lynn has shared a beautiful and unique way for a city dweller to live life in harmony with the natural world. After reading it you may find yourself looking for the stillness and light that she has beautifully captured in her memoir. Without realizing it, Lynn has shared the beauty and grace that is deep within her. I sit on this island we share and her book reminds me to be still and listen.

Thank you Lynn.

***** For a signed copy of Birding with Yeats visit/call Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street, Toronto,ON. 416.361.0032

Is there gender discrimination in the publishing industry?

So you want to be a writer?

Well, we have some bad news for you. Ladies, if you’ve ever dreamed about winning a prize for your literary master piece, we’re going to need you to remember something; Don’t write about women. Unless, that is, you’re a man. And that may be a little difficult to do, seeing as if you’re a woman, you can’t really be a man.

A recent study by English-American novelist, Nicole Griffith reveals that books about women don’t win big awards. The results were revealed after analyzing some of the most prestigious literary awards, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award to name a few.

”Either this means that women writers are self-censoring, or those who judge literary worthiness find women frightening, distasteful, or boring. Certainly the results argue for women’s perspectives being considered uninteresting or unworthy. Women seem to have literary cooties” the writer stated on her blog.

The post caused quite an uproar from writers all over the world. Each of them took the opportunity to look through their country’s prize lists and unfortunately found similar results.

Well, what about Canada? You may have heard about two female literary icons by the name of Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood. It must be comforting to know we give women the voice they deserve. However, when Maclean’s looked at Canada’s major prizes (Scotiabank Giller, Governor General’s, Rogers/Writers’ Trust) the results were, well, ”Canadian” as Maclean’s put it. The trends were visible but not as pronounced. 26 men and 20 women were handed awards, meaning the raw male-female ratio was better than in the U.S. (Yay?)

The solution to this problem is simple; change it. ”The best way to get decision makers to start taking some remedial action where required is to figuratively smack them around the head with indisputable detailed and in-depth analysis.” Griffith suggests. It’s important to raise awareness of these issues using data and facts. Once we start realizing that discrimination exists, there will be the urge to make changes.

Ideas have already started circulating on the web. One publisher responded with a pledge to accept no books from male writers for a year. Another argued that is time for everyone, male and female, to sign up to a concerted campaign to redress the inequality.

 

What are some of your ideas? Comment below and let us know!

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Putting a crack in the mould

From Nov 2005 Women's Post archives

He Drown She in the Sea

Shani Mootoo

McClelland & Stewart

360 pages, $29.99

 

Reviewed by Desi Di Nardo

 

It is no wonder Alice Munro calls Shani Mootoo’s most recent book, He Drown She in the Sea, “a story of magical power.” As in her previous success, Cereus Blooms at Night, you find yourself immersed in and stimulated by arresting scenery, redolent of guava mangroves, squawking green parrots, verdant bamboo forests – and all things tropical and lush. Such a colourful palette resonates with fluid, figurative language, while vivid descriptions explode before the eye and tempt the sensory. We quickly acquire a taste for Mootoo’s fictional town of Guanagaspar – a wondrous, numinous land infused with fertile scents of marigolds, coconuts and exotic blossoms.

The reader gains panoramic access into Harry St. George’s life, first in British Columbia’s bristly, towering milieu, where “range beyond range of ice-capped mountains…bursts of lavender, clumps of mustard golden rod.”

The “Canada of postcards” is contrasted to his impoverished existence in Trinidad. Once a servant’s son, Harry recalls his love for Rose, the daughter of an affluent family for whom his mother worked as a laundress. The tale unfolds years later, with Madam Rose recounting her secret visit abroad to unite with Harry.

Their story is a hopeful, evocative one woven from two fine silk threads of past and present. Set during World War 2’s political unrest, Mootoo brings to light the war’s impact not only on blacks but also on Indians of varying skin tones.

The book reminds of the film Sideways, in which the subject of wine becomes an underlying metaphor for personal awakening. In He Drown She in the Sea, wine is what is used to distinguish caste, along with the “Munrovian” mention of linoleum three separate times to further stress class distinction as the narrator later points out Harry’s new terrazzo floor.

Mootoo also tackles the issue of gender inequality through the interactions between Harry and the women he encounters. When a spirited female teaches Harry to canoe, he questions whether his wine-tasting club has ever met a woman – or even a man – as adventurous. “She wasn’t in this moment physically appealing to him, yet such independence fascinated him.”

Afterwards, when Harry’s circumstances improve, his mother asserts their new status: “We living in town now, and I don’t work for nobody no more. I, Dolly Persad, have servant – manservant, to boot – now.” The writer tactically deploys characters to overstate gender inadequacies and illustrate potentially powerful woman, the sort men from Guanagaspar desire yet reverently fear.

Interestingly, by the end, it is Rose who takes the reader on a suspenseful ride. Readers nearing the conclusion must accept that they might be left dangling by a string, suspended in mid-air uncertainty. Actually, they should expect it. But wait: as Mootoo’s last chapter looms, readers can’t help but feel they are heading towards a languorous, wistful dream, and are wary more now than ever for Rose’s and Harry’s outcomes. And this, much like the ocean that begins to swell and rise above them in that very poignant moment, also reaffirms.

Desi Di Nardo is a writer in Toronto

Win a copy of Toronto Caribbean Carnival: A Tribute

Do you want to enjoy the Caribbean Carnival year round? Women’s Post is offering one reader the chance to win David Ayres’ gorgeous coffee table book Toronto Caribbean Carnival – A Tribute. With 300+ colour photographs and fascinating history summaries of each element, this book is a great way to learn about and relive the Carnival. Enter today for your chance to win.

Contest Rules & Regulations:
Contestants must reside in Canada (excluding Quebec) to be eligible to win
Contestants must be 18 or older
Contestants are eligible to enter 1x daily (further entries will not be counted)
Contest closes on Tuesday, August 6th, at 2 p.m.

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