February 2018 Reads

When Melanie Hennessy of the Milton Champion interviewed me for an article in recognition of my upcoming retirement, she asked me if I could tell her what my favourite books are, and I had to confess that it was an impossible question for me to answer.

I've read so much (although still not enough!), and have loved so very many, that trying to come up with favourites was a bit like trying to say which leaf of grass in my front yard I like best. Like all readers, I’ve read books that made me laugh until I’ve cried, books that solidified life-long friendships, books that made me think, books that made me angry, books that made me weep, books that thrilled me, books that surprised me, and disappointed me, and bored me, and took me to other times, places and worlds. I couldn't possibly identify favourites.

So instead I shared with her a number of books that were important to me, which she listed on a sidebar to the story. Each resonates with me for different reasons, and since I shared my answers with Melanie, I began to ask myself why these three? I think I’ve figured it out, and I decided to share why I love these books with you as a Valentine. I hope you enjoy the explanations.

Three reading recommendations follow.

The Story Girl by L. M. Montgomery

Recommended by Leslie

The Story Girl

I don't remember not knowing how to read. All of my sisters are big readers, and as the youngest of five girls, it certainly seems as if I picked up their love for books, too. When I was seven, there were some changes in my family’s circumstances, and foster care became the necessary direction for us. I was placed in a home along with one of my sisters, and I took at least three books with me, and one of them was this wonderful title. I had already read it more than once, and I’m sure I read it at least a dozen more times as a child. Many people love her Anne books more (and I love them, too), but this book, which I've been told was Montgomery’s favourite, meant so much more to me. Many characters populate the story, but the fascinating Story Girl herself, with her gift at drawing people into the stories she tells with such uncanny skill has always been my favourite element of the book. I realize now as I look back that it had to have influenced my career path, since the love for story – the power of story -- is at the heart of this cherished book. I’ve never been without a copy.

Get your copy of The Story Girl today.


The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

Recommended by Leslie

The Incredible Journey

Thinking about this book always makes me laugh. No, I am not so heartless as to think the trials and tribulations of the three devoted and determined pets in their effort to reunite with their family are amusing. I laugh at myself. I think I read this book when I was eight. Readers of my 2017 reading journal may recall that I am a bit of a sucker for a dog in a book (and a good cat, too, although cats aren’t often depicted positively in fiction). Perhaps it was this book that started my fondness for pets as important characters. So I read this book and my earnest, pet loving soul was outraged, so outraged that I had to speak to my teacher about it. I asked her why that awful grown-up who was there with the animals and saw their plight, and who drew such (incredible) pictures of them, and told their story, why, oh why didn’t that person step in to help. Poor teacher. She didn’t laugh in my face (although I dearly hope she did laugh later), and instead, kindly, explained the difference between fiction and non-fiction books to me. I think my response was Oh. In my own feeble defense, the line drawings are really very good. Remembering this moment always brings a smile to my face, and perhaps was another life moment that suggested my eventual career path?

Get your copy of The Incredible Journey today.


All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Recommended by Leslie

All Quiet on the Western Front

This book is one of those transformational reading experiences you have if you are lucky and have it at the right time and the right place to change the way you think. I read it perhaps in grade 10 or 11. I am sure I will sound naïve and narrow-minded when I say that my 14 or 15 year old self didn’t much like Germans and this is something I now look back on with shame. I was a Canadian Forces child, an uncle had died fighting over the English Channel, and books, movies, documentaries and news at that time still related back to the two World Wars, especially the Second, in a way that may surprise those much younger than me (I’ll be 60 later this year). As a result, perhaps you’ll forgive my teen self in her belief that Germans were the other, the enemy. And then I read this book. Thank goodness I did. Profoundly, it tells the story of a group of men fighting in the First World War. You like these men. You sympathise with them as they live brutal lives trying to survive. And if you are a voracious reader like me, you just start reading a book without knowing anything about it – not even reading the dust jacket. I think I picked it up as I was then and continue to be interested in the both of the World Wars, and I really loved the poetry of the title. So as I’m reading about and caring for these characters, I am getting more and more puzzled. Something just was wrong. Suddenly I realized that these were *Germans*. These fellows are the good guys in the story: they are the protagonists. And they were humble and decent and life-loving, good and sometimes not so good; they were complicated and regular people: just like all the rest of us. Not demons. It was one of those times that when looking back now, I can see the power of fiction in teaching empathy, understanding, and compassion. That the ‘other’ is the same. And as a result, my world view grew to a more informed, nuanced, and balanced one that seeks the other side of the story. I’ve never read it since. And I’ve never forgotten its impact. I can’t help but think that this was another important stop on my reading journey that suggested my final career destination.

Get your copy of All Quiet on the Western Front today.


It was an interesting exercise to try and figure out the why behind my memories of these books. When you think about books that immediately spring to mind when asked what books were important to you, are you able to drill down and figure out why? I was very surprised by my answers when I posed the question to myself. And I’m so glad I took the time to think about it. Thanks, Melanie.