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Open Book’s Holiday Book Guide 2011: History & Politics

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Holiday Book Guide 2011

Happy Holidays from Open Book! Our second annual Holiday Book Guide will direct you to some of the most engaging books on store shelves this season. Open Book's Guide will be regularly updated throughout December, featuring a fresh theme with each listing.

Today's theme is HISTORY & POLITICS


Sweet Hope (Guernica Editions) excavates an aspect of the American South that is perhaps not familiar to most: the forced labour of Italian immigrants during the turn of the last century. Mary Bucci Bush explores the hidden history of her ancestors with a complex work of fiction that is methodically detailed and viscerally accurate. As Mary shared with us in her On Writing interview, her memory of her grandmother's stories from her time working as a cotton sharecropper led Mary to travel to Arkansas to see this place, which in turn led her to consult a historian of the area. What she learned about this stain in North American history became too rich and rife with questions, images an ideas for her to pass up exploring in novel form.

In this time-traveling adventure tale for young adults, 17-year old Taylor is inexplicably sent back in time to World War II Italy, where she finds herself fighting alongside her much younger grandfather in the Canadian Army. Back in her Time (General Store Publishing House) by Patricia Corbett Bowman is an exciting historical tale, with a tough, spirited young protagonist.

Five Good Ideas functions as a crash course in effective non-profit management. This book stems from a fruitful partnership between Coach House Books and Maytree, a non-profit that concerns itself with empowering other non-profits and propelling them towards success. The book is edited by two veterans of the field, Alan Broadbent and Ratna Omidvar and includes a wide variety of experienced voices discussing everything from basic principals of effective leadership to using emerging technologies for branding and marketing your organization. Spread the holiday cheer around your non-profit by ordering five copies of Five Good Ideas and save 20 percent from Coach House Books' website. Now that's a good idea! Or would that count as five good ideas?

The Hangman in the Mirror (Annick Press) by playwright and novelist Kate Cayley is about Françoise, a 15-year-old orphan in 18th-century in France. After the death of her parents, she takes a job as a maid. She is caught stealing and is sentenced to death, and there’s only one small chance to escape. This gripping YA novel is based on a true story.

Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct US Power (University of Toronto Press) by Stephen Clarkson and Matto Mildenberger explains the power relationship between the United States and Canada and Mexico. Clarkson and Mildenberger describe how Canada and Mexico both serve as allies to the US and contribute to the US’s global economy and world power.

Impressive, harrowing and moving, Beyond Bullets: A Photo Journal of Afghanistan (Annick Press) documents award-winning photographer Rafal Gerszak’s experience in Afghanistan and the experiences of the people who live there. Beyond Bullets includes over 40 photographs, which are framed by Gerszak’s journal entries. For ages 12+.

David Helwig's protagonist in his engaging novella, Killing McGee (Oberon Press), is a Canadian historian named Lewis who teaches at a university in Ottawa. Stuck in a sessional position at work and with an unhappy marriage at home, Lewis becomes caught up in a discovery he makes at the National Archives about the murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee. A perfect gift for the academic in your life — or anyone who enjoys a good story.

Give this book to a a curious child and you’re sure to hear shrieks of laughter and squeals of “eeeewwwwwwww.” 50 Underwear Questions: A Bare-All History by Tanya Lloyd Kyi. This is one fun book — and it’s also interesting and informative. Kyi’s writing is complimented by deft and hilarious illustrations by Ross Kinnard.

Feminist journalist and activist Michelle Landsberg started her career writing a column for the Toronto Star in 1978, and for 25 years, readers followed her column about the lives of various women. Not one to shy away from controversial topics, Landsberg's provocative columns were engaging, inspiring and are still highly relevant. Writing the Revolution is a selection of some of Landsberg’s columns from her years at the Toronto Star.

Morning Star (Second Story Press), a young adult novel by Judith Paxton, tells the stories of Flower and Felicia, two girls who live more than a century apart. Flower and her family flee life on a Southern plantation to find freedom in Canada. Felicia moves from Toronto to a small town where she finds she is one of the only black students. In her new school, she is asked to write a school project about her ancestry.

Fans of sweeping historical fiction will love Come From Afar (Cormorant Books) by Gayla Reid. Set at the end of the Spanish Civil War, the novel tells the story of a young Australian nurse, who after giving birth to a daughter in England, waits for news of her lover, a Canadian volunteer soldier who is missing in action. As she waits, she tells her infant daughter the story of her childhood in the Australian bush and the events that would bring her to where she is now.

Dr. Sharifa Sharif's memoir, On the Edge of Being: An Afghan Woman's Memoir (Three O'Clock Press), is an eye-opening account what it's like to grow up as a female in Afghanistan. The focus of Sharif's memoir is her own experience, but she relates it to the experience of other girls and women who grew up in the "repressive, violent and sometimes redemptive aspects of Afghan society."

Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War (Pajama Press) by Marsha Skrypuch is the captivating, true story of the last Canadian airlift operation out of Saigon in 1975, bringing 57 orphaned babies and children to Canada. One of those children was Tuyet, a resilient young girl whose job it was to help look after the other children at the orphanage. It is through her eyes that Skrypuch tells this real-life, emotional journey.


Buy these books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

The Holiday Book Guide is written by Kate Burgess, Michael Doyle and Clelia Scala

Are you a high school student who loves to write? Check out Write Across Ontario, a creative writing contest for Ontario high school students from IFOA Ontario and Open Book: Ontario. You can find the full details at

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