Friday, November 07, 2008

Teens, Titles and Tate - Remembrance Day

The link to yesterday's All Points West segment has been posted... The theme - Remembrance Day. The books:
A Boy in War - Jan de Groot (Sono Nis Press)
What World is Left - Monique Polak (Orca Book Publishers)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Vancouver Island Author Celebrates International School Library Month

Go Troy!
Hometown author salutes his saviour
Heather Reid, Alberni Valley Times
Published: Friday, October 03, 2008

Troy Wilson grew up in Port Alberni and credits the John Howitt Elementary library among the things that helped him through his childhood. Despite growing up in a nature-lovers paradise, Wilson the boy, loved books and if not for the libraries and librarians of his youth he wouldn't be what his is today, a successful author.

In his Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers bio he says his favourite activities as a child were reading writing and cartooning. "As long as I had a steady supply of food, books, comics, paper and pens I was as happy as a colt in clover," he writes. That's probably why he's become a successful author of books for kids and spearheaded a campaign to support school libraries.

October 2008 is International School Library Month and in honour of that, Wilson has launched a year-long Be a Book Hero campaign. For every $20 donated, Wilson will send the donor a personalized copy of his picture book, Perfect Man, send a cartoon poster to the school of the donor's choice and give $7.50 to Love of Reading in Canada or Reader to Reader in the U.S. Both organizations support school libraries.

Perfect Man is about a boy whose favourite superhero retires, leaving him to discover his own super power, the ability to write really well, with the help of a wonderful teacher. Perfect Man has won a number of awards and his second book Frosty is a Stupid Name has also been published by Orca. Wilson now lives in Victoria.

He attended school in Port Alberni until his last two high school years, when his family moved to Nanaimo. Throughout his teen years he wrote on and off then he started college planning to be a teacher, but didn't complete the degree.

Wilson wandered the work-a-day world for awhile, working as a burger flipper, a private in the army, a gas jockey, a page at the Vancouver Island Regional Library, a daycare worker, a summer camp counsellor, an Internet skills trainer, a radio DJ and producer, a respite care worker and a market survey taker.

In 2001 he started writing seriously and he's found his calling according to the five-star reviews of his books at Amazon. The Be a Book Hero campaign gives Wilson a chance to support something that supported him, the good old school library. Visit his blog at to learn how you can help.

© Alberni Valley Times 2008

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Nominate Your Favourite Children's Books for the Cybils

It's that time of year again when Internetters around the world nominate their favourite children's books for the Cybils. Kid-lit bloggers then read the nominated titles, whittle the long-lists to short-lists and, finally, panels of judges select winners in various categories.

The Cybils website is a great source of lists of children's books - some of which originate with small, outside-the-mainstream publishers. Monitor the nominations in your favourite categories and you are sure to discover some nifty treasures!

Monday, September 22, 2008

How Bizarre is This?

While I was away, this terrible incident hit the news back at home:

Vandals hack off hair from North Saanich stallions
Stolen tail hair was a valuable selling point for breeding
Sandra Mcculloch, Times Colonist
Published: Sunday, September 14, 2008

The vandals who hacked off the tails of two stallions at a North Saanich stable Friday afternoon took more than just a metre or so of coarse black horsehair.

The horses' owners, Jan Sutherland and Kristy Rowlandson, say the thieves robbed Fiddler and Lad of their very identities.

The stallions are gypsy cobs, also known as gypsy vanners, and the small pony-type breed is best known for the flowing hair of its mane, tail and legs.

The two horses were fine at noon Friday in their paddock at Bodicea Farm on busy McTavish Road. A few hours later, Sutherland was told their tails had been roughly cut with a blade.

"I was like 'You're kidding, right?' Then I went out and I just about vomited," Sutherland said yesterday.

The tails had been in protective bags, and someone had cut them off and taken the bags full of hair. What remained was ragged stumps of hair, bluntly cut in varying lengths.

Sutherland said it's distressing to see Fiddler and Lad, both breeding stallions, in this state. "You want to grow their hair as long as you can get it. You never cut a gypsy horse's hair." Now it will be next to impossible to sell the stallions' services, since owners of breeding mares want to know the offspring will have the best traits of a gypsy cob -- and that's primarily lots of hair.

Showing pictures of how the stallions used to look won't be the same, Rowlandson said.

"It's like taking away what the breed is," she said.

Added Sutherland: "For a gypsy horse to not have a tail is totally insulting. If they had cut off the tail of any other horse on the property, it wouldn't be such a big deal." It's a baffling case, said Cpl. Marlene Martin of the Sidney/North Saanich RCMP.

"I wondered why somebody would want to do this," she said yesterday.

"The first thought is it's just malicious." But upon investigation, Martin discovered horsehair is used in First Nations artwork.

Sutherland added that there's a big market for the coarse hair of stallions -- it's popular with makers of bows for string instruments -- with 500-gram bundles selling on the Internet for $200 to $300.

Her two horses were recently at the Saanich Fair, and they had the longest manes and tails of any horses there.

Ironically, Sutherland had a bag full of horsehair she would have given away to anyone who wanted it.

"They didn't need to practically dismember my horses," Sutherland said.

She estimates it's going to take two to four years for the tails to grow back.

Police are looking for witnesses who might have driven past the crime scene Friday afternoon.

Anyone with information can reach Saanich RCMP at 250-656-3931 or Crime Stoppers at 250-386-8477.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jo's Journey in the North Shore News

With thanks to the North Shore librarians... here's a nice writeup in the North Shore News.

Jo's Journey is full of fun touching on B.C.'s rich history
Rachel Brown, North Shore News
Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Read about the young heroes of British Columbia's colourful past, from the gold rush, to China town at the turn of the century.

Celebrate B.C.'s 150th birthday by reading these exciting stories available at any branch of the North Vancouver District Public Library.

- Jo's Journey by Nikki Tate, Orca Book Publishers, 122 pages, $7.95.

Nikki Tate's novel Jo's Triumph (sequel is Jo's Journey) features Jocelyn, a feisty young orphan who escapes from The Carson City Home for Unfortunate Children and disguises herself as a boy.

Little does she know that her expertise with horses will lead her straight to the Pony Express.

"Jo" has all kinds of adventures along the way including an encounter with the meanest man on the route who learns her secret and threatens to reveal Jo's identity.

In Jo's Journey, Jo hears talk of gold strikes in British Columbia's Cariboo.

Together with her friend Bart, they make the journey northward in search of gold!

Jo and Bart encounter the roughness of the landscape as well as some very rough characters along their journey -- with so many obstacles to overcome, it seems they will never reach their destination.

Jo's adventures offer excitement for young readers in grades 4 and up.

Both girls and boys will enjoy the trials and tribulations that Jo and Bart experience and readers will learn lots of interesting facts about the Cariboo region of British Columbia during the gold rush.

Readers also might enjoy Tate's mystery series set in the Gulf Islands, including Trouble on Tarragon Island, which was nominated for a Red Cedar book award this year.

Try these other great historical novels set in British Columbia:

- A Ribbon of Shining Steel by Julie Lawson

- White Jade Tiger by Julie Lawson

- Barkerville Gold by Dayle Gaetz

- Boxcar kid by Norma M. Charles

- An Ocean Apart: The Gold Mountain Diary of Chin Mei-Ling

- By the skin of his teeth: a Barkerville mystery by Ann Walsh

Rachel Brown is the children's librarian/assistant branch manager at the Parkgate Branch of the North Vancouver District Library. She loves reading adventure stories with feisty characters like Jo.

© North Shore News 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Age Labels on Children's Books

Well, this is pretty cool... I think this is the first time (and perhaps the last!) that I've been quoted in an article alongside illustrious authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett! The article, by Barbara Julian, is in today's Vancouver Sun and deals with the topic of age labels on books for children. Here's the text:

Kids' Books, Unlabelled
Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett and other prominent writers are urging publishers not to specify age groups on the covers of children's books
Barbara Julian, Special to the Sun
Published: Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reviewers of children's books are often asked to indicate the age range for which particular books are meant. It's usually parents who request this, or childless people wanting to buy books for their friends' children.

It's easy to see why they feel a little lost in the kid-lit world, but they're asking us to do something that doesn't come naturally. We want to share the titles that excite and delight us, but we fear that by steering a particular age group toward them, we could be steering others away.

Pinning reading ability to age level is an inexact science, as any teacher knows. An exceptional book won't stay within an age-defined straitjacket, anyway. A clever, humorously illustrated picturebook gives as much pleasure to the parent reading it aloud as to the child listening and looking.

As for chapter stories, the same themes have entranced us, with age no barrier, since the first stories were acted out by cavemen around the fire.

Children read largely to learn about the adult world, and adults sometimes still choose books for their "inner child." What varies is vocabulary level, and vocabulary comprehension grows at no set pace. Who, child or adult, doesn't read better when hungering to find out what happens next?

A group of children's authors in England (see feel so strongly about this that they have signed a formal statement against mandatory age labelling in the book trade.

"You simply can't decide who your readership will be," argues Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. "Nor do I want to, because declaring that it's for any group in particular means excluding every other group, and I don't want to exclude anybody.

"I avoid giving the age of my characters, for that reason. I want every child to feel they can befriend them."

This opinion seems to have struck a chord. More than 3,300 people -- librarians, teachers, editors, booksellers, readers and authors -- have signed the British statement to "disavow publicly any connection with such age-guidance figures."

Some British children's writers have taken the issue to an almost metaphysical level. "The space between the young reader's eyeballs and the printed page is a holy place and officialdom should trample all over it at their peril," declares Terry Pratchett. And to Alan Garner, age banding "insults both book and reader, and attacks the root of literature."

How do their Canadian counterparts feel about "attacking literature" with age labels on book covers?

"Good for Pullman!" says Sandy White of Victoria's Kids In Print bookstore. "I prefer not to have age suggestions on covers. When parents come in looking for books by age, I point out that they have to go by their child's own interests."

Children's author Nikki Tate, who is also a bookseller and a publicist for Sono Nis Press, agrees. "A very young child with a strong interest in a topic may devour a book intended for adults, whereas even the simplest, most attractive book on the same subject won't tempt someone with no interest in the content. A good book is a good book is a good book."

She acknowledges that buyers new to children's literature may need help but says, "That's what knowledgeable booksellers and children's librarians are for. A competent children's-book person should be able to place just the right book into the hands of every child reader."

They'll look at the inside, the blurb, the cataloguing data and the length. So why do publishers put age labels on covers?

One reason is that competent children's-book people aren't always around, even in schools. After budget cutbacks were imposed on B.C. school districts a few years ago, qualified library assistants were often replaced with general clerical staff.

Also, books are increasingly sold in places other than bookstores. As fantasy writer Neil Gaiman notes, "In the U.K., more and more books are being sold through supermarkets. People in supermarkets don't have to know anything about what they're selling. They just need to know where to put it on the shelves."

Authors, of course, are glad to have their books sold anywhere and everywhere, so most are happy to put up with whatever aids the untutored vendor may need.

What the British campaign is attempting to do is stop a mandatory, standardized age band being used across the publishing industry.

Just how prevalent is age labelling at present? Labels are still in the minority. Penguin Books and its children's imprint, Puffin, sometimes suggest an age range beside the price, as do HarperCollins, Scholastic and Simon & Schuster, but selectively.

Books designed for school use, such as Scholastic's various fiction series and Dorling Kindersley's large-format non-fiction titles, make the most use of age guidelines.

Orca Book Publishers in Victoria usually shows not age but discreet "reading level" designations on covers, in response to requests by teachers and school librarians. The company's Andrew Wooldridge says these levels are calibrated minutely by the Fry computer program, which measures words per sentence and paragraphs per page, as well as simplicity of construction.

Do authors write to fit this program? No, says Wooldridge. "The reason our books are popular is that story always comes first."

Phyllis Simon, co-owner of Vancouver Kidsbooks, also feels that what educators want to know is not the age, "since every child is so different," but the reading level a title is aimed at. But even that is just a guideline and "should not be used as gospel."

Judith Williams, the Alberta author of several prize-winning youth science books, recognizes the usefulness of age designations in linking to grade and curriculum levels. Yet she also feels labelling doesn't let children "judge for themselves what they want to read. I believe children are keenly aware of age designations, and putting that on the book itself will discourage some readers on either end of the scale."

Let that information remain in catalogues and on websites like Amazon, she suggests. Book lovers pick up all sorts of clues about a new title or author practically by osmosis.

Age designations highlight the gap between book professionals or book lovers and people who don't know their way around books.

With more than 1,200 new titles published annually in B.C. alone, the latter understandably want some way of narrowing down the choices.

Age labelling may be most misleading when it comes to the "young adult" designation.

A generation ago, kids were meant to go unimpeded from the felicities of Charlotte's Web to those of Jane Austen. Now they may be steered into a ghetto of "issues" plots heavy on crackheads and dropouts, homelessness and shoplifting.

It's a niche for which many writers write specifically, and they find followers.

But as downbeat subject matter, this fare may create as much reading reluctance as it overcomes.

Sandy White, of Kids In Print, gets around that ghetto by instead recommending contemporary fantasy-historical-adventure stories -- a sub-genre that has taken off on the coattails of Harry Potter.

Let's consider that biggest youth seller ever. J.K. Rowling's tales enticed small children to stretch their comprehension abilities. Those who leapt into reading with Book One of the series were grown up by the time Book Seven came out, but many still read it as avidly as they did the first book.

So much for age categorization, we might conclude.

Yet, on occasion, buyers and sellers alike appreciate a guide, and marketers will do whatever makes a product shout, "Choose me! Choose me!"

Book lovers and reviewers simply respond with yet another reading skill: We learn not to see age labels. To us, it's unwanted information and we filter it out.

Barbara Julian is a Victoria writer and former librarian.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dark Creek Conbrio

She's here! Our long awaited foal, Conbrio, arrived June 26, 2008 at 5:15pm. Bonny and baby are doing well...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New Project - Teens, Titles, and Tate

The following is from the CBC Radio - All Points West website...
Check back for updates each week through the summer. We'll be talking about books for teen readers - the first couple of segments have been posted online.

Going to extremes. Today we hear about a few books that are sure to get your heart racing.
Listen to the interview (runs 8:34)

Dead in the Water by Robin Stevenson (Orca Book Publishers)
Mountainboard Maniacs by Pam Withers (Walrus Books)
How Angel Peterson Got His Name: And Other Outrageous tales about Extreme
Sports by Gary Paulsen (Random House/Yearling)
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston (Atria Books)
No Time to Say Good-bye by Sylvia Olsen (Sono Nis Press)*

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Good Luck, Karen!

Lovely article in today's Times Colonist about Karen. It's getting so exciting! We will hear this week whether Karen has made the team and will be Beijing-bound!

Journey from injury to Paralympics an inspiring story
Marilyn Mccall, Times Colonist
Published: Sunday, June 01, 2008

Saanich horsewoman Karen Brain is a world-class competitor whose training is on target for competition in Hong Kong this summer, a city that will host the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events.

Only one small obstacle remains: Though she has earned the required five qualifying scores, she has to wait until June 4 to learn if she has been selected for the Canadian dressage team at the 2008 Paralympics, Sept. 6-17. Considering the much larger obstacles she has already overcome, it is no wonder that Brain feels optimistic about her chances.

Brain represented Canada in the three-day event at the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Rome. When she was long-listed for Sydney in 2000, it was only the sudden lameness of her talented horse Double Take that kept her from the Olympics that year.
Author Nikki Tate, right, has written a book about Paralympic equestrian Karen Brain. It is named after Brain's favourite horse, Double Take, and chronicles the young rider's remarkable recovery from a catastrophic accident. The biography is written to appeal to all ages.

Author Nikki Tate, right, has written a book about Paralympic equestrian Karen Brain. It is named after Brain's favourite horse, Double Take, and chronicles the young rider's remarkable recovery from a catastrophic accident. The biography is written to appeal to all ages.

Determined and positive, she began working with new young prospects, her eye trained on the next Olympics. But in September 2001 she fell from a young horse, breaking her back. Suddenly, even walking again was doubtful.

Seven years later she is preparing to compete in her second Paralympics. Brain brought home two bronze medals from Athens four years ago, competing on a borrowed horse. This time she is training her own 12-year-old Dutch warmblood mare, VDL Odette, for the Beijing Paralympics.

Nikki Tate, friend, author and biographer of Brain, first met her when Brain coached Tate's daughter more than 10 years ago. Tate followed Brain's story when she "went off to take on the world." Because she was in Ontario on a book-signing tour when Brain had her accident, Tate went to visit her in the Ontario hospital.

To her surprise, there was Brain, paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair, being picked up to give a riding lesson. Tate was in awe. "Such high spirits -- determined to battle on."

The motivation to write Brain's biography was clinched when Brain went off to Athens in 2004 to compete on the Paralympic team. Tate said, "This is a great story and more people should know about it."

I caught up with Brain during a one-week window when she was in Victoria. She had just returned from two months of showing in California, and was preparing to move to Langley for four months of training with coach Leslie Reid, a highly regarded Canadian Olympic team member who is also going to Hong Kong.

"My training progresses uphill," Brain said. "I have made some good improvements with my horses. I have four months now. In my two months [in California], I made good progress, now I have double that time."

Brain also has to attend to her equine partner's mental health. VDL Odette was imported from Holland to Ontario when she was six, and Brain got the mare two years later. One challenge will be to sort out the cycles of this sensitive mare, as she has quite a physical reaction when she is in season (receptive to breeding), perhaps because of her earlier life as a broodmare.

Brain will road-ride every day before schooling in the ring, because her mare likes it. As Odette does not like ring work that much -- apparently she is sensitive and has an opinion -- Brain likes to start a training session with something the mare does like.

Brain and Odette have the potential in Hong Kong to win three medals. Will she win gold? As Tate says, "Never count her out. She will rise to the challenge and give it 110 per cent."

Brain could win a medal in the individual competition and in the Kur freestyle event (a choreographed piece set to music), and she and her teammates could win medals in the team competition.

Don't be surprised if an updated biography of Brain appears in the future. As Tate says, "There are great chapters to come."

And, she points out, the subplot of this remarkable rider's accomplishments is that Brain hopes at some point to make a bid for the Olympic team. Her attitude, her determination and her willingness to do the hard work are all on her side.

While the Paralympics organization pays some costs, training and showing a horse at the international level is an expensive venture. If you would like to help Karen Brain achieve the next step in her dream, please go to her websiteto contribute.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How Not to Trim a Limb

Let's say that there's a huge old cedar, with a huge old branch drooping dangerously low (as in, too low to get the back-hoe underneath, if someone were, say, digging a grave nearby).

This is how NOT to deal with the situation.

1. Fetch a ladder
2. Lean ladder against part of branch closest to tree
3. Because the brush is so thick close to the trunk, rest the top end of the ladder 15-20 feet away from the trunk. This will still leave plenty of heavy branch to get rid of.
4. Start up the new chainsaw - lightweight and gas-powered, it is perfect for this job.
5. Send Bert, your favourite backhoe guy up the ladder with the chainsaw.
6. To be extra safe, brace yourself at the bottom of the ladder. You wouldn't want that ladder to slip.
7. Watch as Bert cuts away smaller side branches. Watch as they fall harmlessly to the ground. Admire how well Bert handles the chainsaw. Think just how smoothly this job is going.
8. Watch Bert cut a "V" up underneath the big, fat branch, which weighs as much as a small tree.
9. Watch Bert cut down through the top of the branch.

What happens next happens very fast. The part of the branch closest to the tree has now been relieved of a great deal of weight. It bounces straight up, well beyond the reach of the top end of the ladder. This means, of course, that for one odd second the ladder is suspended in midair. And then, gravity calls, and the ladder, Nikki, Bert, and chainsaw (still running) sail through the air. They land in a heap in this order: brambles, ladder, Nikki, Bert... Chainsaw lands some distance away, purring happily.

Amazingly, no major damage to anyone - even the ladder survived. I'll let the bruises on my arm blossom fully and then, if I remember, I'll post some technicolour photos. Nothing like a shot of adrenaline to liven up a dreary day of clearing brush.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I Know it's Not Friday...

... but who declared Friday to be poetry day, anyway? Given that reflecting on this poem for the past couple of days was what tipped my hand this morning when the vet was here, thought I'd post it for all to read. The vet was out to do the normal prenatal check-up for my mare, but while he was here, I asked him to have a look at poor, ancient Emma (40, if she was a day) to see whether he agreed that it was time to Let Evening Come. And, indeed, it was. Emma left us while peacefully chewing a mouthful of grass up in the field, her favourite place of all.

Let Evening Come
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio, originally uploaded by nikki_tate.

Here we go... a standard issue tourist photo of the Ponte Vecchio... Sigh. Was I really there? When can I go back?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sculpture by Marino Marini

Sculpture by Marino Marini, originally uploaded by nikki_tate.

One of various cool pieces of sculpture I drooled over at the Museo Marino Marini in Florence. I have been so very, very bad about not posting recent photos and other stuff to blog, Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter (I blame endless travels and spotty Internet access for this problem). Now that I am finally home again for a bit, I shall try to be a better blogger. Here's the first contribution.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Just a Tad Overwhelming!

Books, books everywhere! The Bologna Children's Book Fair is rather an overwhelming place to wander! Row after row of children's book publishers with booth after booth full of titles from around the world. Austria, Belarus, Argentina, Botswana, Korea, Malaysia, NZ, Australia, the USA, Great Britain - publishers large and small, industry associations, trade publications, etc., etc. all here to showcase authors, illustrators, books, and products...

We cruised through two and a half of the four main exhibition hallsss before retreating to the hotel for a break, heads spinning, backs and feet aching.

A couple of strange 'ain't it a small world' moments included running into Andrew Wooldridge of Orca Books (also from Victoria) and seeing a review of BTS Racehorse in ForeWord, a magazine promoting independently published books.

After we regroup and recover a little, we're going to head back to the fair to try to get hold of a catalogue (they hadn't been delivered yet! someone missed a deadline...), which we will study over dinner and then come up with a strategy for tomorrow.

Yesterday's wandering through Bologna was magnifico! We stumbled into the Museum of Archaeology, which was excellent. Items dated back to the early Paleolithic period (700,000 years ago!) and the Bronze Age. There were also plenty of Etruscan, Roman, and Greek goodies to ogle as well as an impressive collection of Egyptian artifacts.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Off to Italy!

How fitting that this morning's weather is nasty! A late March storm complete with snow, freezing rain, and high winds is making things pretty miserable here on Vancouver Island! The Malahat is a mess, traffic (and drivers) snarling... Which makes me think I should pack my bags and head for somewhere pleasant... like, say - ITALY! Bologna (and the annual International Children's Book Fair) is clearly the place to be.

Diane Morriss (publisher, Sono Nis Press) and I will meet up at the Vancouver airport later today (the weather is allowed to be unpleasant, but not bad enough to cancel flights...) and from there will head to Bologna via Heathrow and Munich. A loooong trip, yes, but in First Class (!!), so we should survive just fine.

After several days at the book fair, we'll head to Florence for a few days of 'business meetings' - roughly translated as recovering from the book fair, sipping coffee by day and wine by night, and taking in the sights at a leisurely pace...

I'm leaving my laptop at home (which feels a bit like cutting off my right arm), so not too likely to be doing massive amounts of blogging... Will post some pix after I get back.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Great Review of Racehorse!

CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008

Behind the Scenes: The Racehorse.

Nikki Tate.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008.
72 pp., pbk. & hc., $19.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55455-032-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55455-018-0 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Horse racing-Juvenile literature.
Racetracks (Horseracing)-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

**** /4


A top-notch breeding farm is a bit like a spa for horses. Mares and foals are given the best of care – roomy box stalls, large paddocks (outdoor enclosures) and fields for exercise, top-quality food, and regular veterinary attention. Keeping a mare at one of these excellent facilities can cost more each month than renting a house. But if the horse turns out to be a winner, the owner stands to make a lot of money in prizes and, eventually, from breeding fees and the sale of offspring after the racehorse has retired.

Tate, an experienced horsewoman and novelist, has written a fine introduction to the racehorse, the sport of horse racing, and the many people involved in the sport. In a brief overview of the history of horse racing, the reader learns about the origins of thoroughbreds, standardbreds used in harness racing, and the steeplechase. Much of the text focuses specifically on thoroughbreds. Tate traces the life of these racehorses from birth at breeding farms, through the training of young horses, their care and training at the track, to the excitement of race day and eventually to post race life – if the horse is fortunate, it will escape the pet food market and find a new role as a riding horse or life in another adoptive home. Along the way, the reader is introduced to an amazing assortment of horse people including exercise riders, outriders, grooms, farriers, track veterinarians, trainers, owners, and, of course, jockeys. Tate includes general information and some jockey facts that are specific to Canada, Ireland, England the United States. She does not shy away from some of the more controversial elements of racing, including the fact that, faced with pressure to win, some jockeys develop eating disorders or drug and alcoholic addictions. The book emphasizes the importance of safety precautions at the track and accurate registration and random drug testing to thwart drug abuse and cheating. Given the amounts of money to be earned from winning horses and their breeding potential, the sport, like others starring human athletes, is prone to illegal activity that is difficult for track officials to stop.

Though the racing industry doesn’t emphasize this fact, horse racing is a dangerous business. Horses die on the track every day, and many others suffer from career-ending injuries.

Tate ends the work on a sobering note. There are not enough homes for failed or retired horses. Some injuries require euthanasia. Nevertheless, horse racing remains a popular spectator sport, with Canadians wagering 1.7 billion dollars on horse races in 2004.

Almost every page includes one or more colour photographs that aptly illustrate the text. Some miscellaneous facts, definitions, and even profiles of individuals such as Julie Krone, the first woman jockey in the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame, are presented in sidebars or pages that are attractively printed on colourful backgrounds that stand out as separate from the main text. Tate includes a citation to the Behind the Scenes website where more information and resources can be found. No other bibliographical references are provided. There is a serviceable index and a list of photo credits. One final observation: uninitiated readers will be amazed at the confusing array of data provided on the racing program that fans use to help them plan their wagers.

Highly Recommended.

Val Ken Lem is a catalogue librarian and collection liaison for English, history and
Caribbean studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

BTS: The Racehorse Buzzing in New Zealand!

Wow! Word sure travels fast! This writeup was posted on a website from New Zealand... Thanks are owed to David Aldred of BC Standardbred who a) noticed the book and b) took the time to write about it! An extra bonus is that one of the very, very helpful people who patiently answered my questions (Bill Young) is mentioned, which is extremely cool!

Veteran BC horsemen, Bill Young is featured in a newly released book "Behind The Scenes - The Racehorse".

The two page story briefly takes you back to the start of Bill's career at British Columbia's Ladner track and reflects on his life in the industry that he still actively participates in today as a trainer at Fraser Downs.

The book written by experienced horsewoman and author Nikki Tate and published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, takes you behind the scenes to examine the fascinating world of the racehorse.

Tate takes you on a journey looking at the history of horse racing, from chariots to chuck wagons, the racing breeds, standardbreds, thoroughbreds and quarter horses, the role of trainers, grooms, drivers, riders, farriers track vets, outriders and paddock judges.

The author also shows her readers what a day in the life of a horse at the racetrack looks like and a horse's life after racing.

She also looks at problems that exist in our racing industry.

Almost every page features great colour photographs including a couple of shots of BC's Sandown Park.

Behind the Scenes, The Racehorse is informative and very interesting reading, particularly for the younger reader looking to find out some basics about horse racing.

The book is beautifully presented with excellent photographs.

David Aldred, BC Standardbred

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Congratulations Cybils Winners and Finalists!

The winners of the Cybils were announced today... Check out this amazing list of fabulous books... And don't forget to nominate your favourite books next year!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

No Apologies!

...for not blogging for a while. And, if I don't apologize for not blogging, I can at least honour one of my New Years' Resolutions! Obviously, I'm not doing so well on my other resolution - to blog mroe often!

Anyway, the silence in blogland has nothing to do with a lack of things going on over in the real world. Today, for example, a lovely review of Behind the Scenes: Racehorse in the Globe and Mail by Susan Perren.

By Nikki Tate, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 72 pages, $24.95, ages 9 to 14

"People and horses have co-existed for thousands of years, though nobody is quite sure when humans realized that horses were capable of providing more than a source of food. Once people saw how fast their new mode of transportation could be, it probably wasn't long before the first horse race took place."

These words set the stage for a very thorough and very readable investigation of racehorses and horse racing, an arcane subject, perhaps, for the young, but in Nikki Tate's hands an engrossing one.

Tate uses coloured photographs liberally and to good effect to take her readers into horse barns and onto racetracks. She tackles the history of and differences between Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and Quarter Horses, as well as their attributes.

Tate doesn't hesitate to illuminate the dark side of horse racing - drug abuse, cheating, overproduction, inbreeding, abuse - but her enthusiasm carries the day.

Oh, how elusive the Globe and Mail review! And how sweet when the coveted review finally appears! Yes, I am celebrating here today!

The great review made up a little for the terrible, terrible behaviour of Ringo, my young and zany Welsh-Hackney cross. I am not exactly sure what set him off, but wow - our quiet stroll down the road and back (pony in hand as he's not yet broke to ride) was way more exciting than it should have been!

As I type, I wonder if there is even any point in trying to catch up on all the highlights of the last couple of months. It feels like an impossible task - so I'll stick to what's going on today.

The most interesting thing that's going on is the Cybils picture book judging (fiction category). While my own deliberations have been tortured (there are seven excellent finalists), I can only imaging what the next three or four days of group discussions will be like (I am one of several judges). Ack. How on earth are we to decide this one?

In less interesting, but quite fun news, just finished my column for Island Parent Magazine - reviewed a stack of books for kids about dogs - dog training, dog care, dog behaviour, dog breeds... you get the idea. Watch for the column in March.