Books are always a safe bet for gift-giving. This holiday season, we are selecting a few new books and some that are not necessarily new, but have been chosen as some of the 150 Nova Scotian books that have defined or influenced us over the years. As part of the Canada 150 celebration, Nova Scotia Public Libraries, in concert with readers and librarians, have chosen books that are truly Nova Scotian, highlighting our wonderful “writers and citizens, ideas and attitudes, culture and environment, stories and treasures.” So, whether you want to gift the book or read it yourself, here are some great ones to curl up with by the fire.
The Little Tree by the Sea: From Halifax to Boston with Love by John DeMont and illustrated by Belle DeMont (children’s illustrated)
On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in wartime Halifax Harbour, creating what became the largest man-made explosion of its time. More than 2,000 people died (500 of those children) and 9,000 were injured. A single little tree whispered from its branches the word “Help” that was carried by the wind to the people of Boston. Within 48 hours Boston and Massachusetts organized trains to carry 33 doctors and 79 nurses. To repay the City of Boston for its generosity, the little tree (which now had become huge and majestic tree) was given to the city of Boston as a way to say thank you, a tradition that continues to this day.
Published by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing. $17.95
The nymph and the Lamp by Thomas Raddall (adult fiction)
Set in 1920s Nova Scotia, this book is the perfect mix of quaint Maritime culture and a beautiful romance between two unlikely characters. Raddall captures the beauty and desolation of a fictitious Sable Island, a bustling 1920s Halifax and the sprawling farmland of the Annapolis valley in this classic story that quickly became one of Canada’s best-selling books. Although it was first published in the 1950s, it remains an iconic representation of Nova Scotia literature.
Published by Nimbus Publishing. $18.95.
The Promised Land: a Novel of Cape Breton by Bill Conall (adult fiction)
In 1970, a group of Hippies crosses the Canso Causeway to begin a new ‘back-to-the-land’ life in Cape Breton. Grubby, scrawny and broke, they are not unlike the original Scottish immigrants of the 1800s. Their several adventures culminate in the famous Hippies’ Ceilidh, which is still a subject of conversation today. Then, forty years later, a young Ellen Coulter takes up her first doctoring job at a small clinic in Baddeck, and gradually settles in to life in the little village. The Promised Land is, first and foremost, a story of community; of people of all ages and backgrounds in all their human glory, complete with laughter, tears, and downright foolishness. Awarded the 2014 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.
Published by Boularderie Island Press. $19.95
Rise Again! The Story of Cape Breton Island by Robert Morgan —Adult non-fiction
Renowned historian, archivist, and teacher, Robert Morgan, fully detailed Cape Breton’s history from its geological roots to Mi’kmaq life before discovery, the planting of French Louisbourg, and the island’s first economic boom. Morgan takes the reader through the 19th century and sees Cape Breton as a new home for the Acadians, the Irish, and the Scottish, preparing the ground for the second economic boom as world markets were found for Cape Breton’s coal and then steel industries. This unique book is the best full-scale history of Cape Breton Island ever written and is the perfect gift for history junkies.
Published by Breton Books. $21.95
Shattered City: the Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery (3rd Edition) by Janet Kitz (adult non-fiction)
This book is the most comprehensive ever written on the Halifax Explosion. It details the massive devastation, the aftermath and the restoration and encompasses dozens of previously unpublished stories, photographs, and documents, along with some thought-provoking coverage of the inquiry into the disaster. A best-selling book from its first printing in 1989, the new edition has an updated cover and is sure to be a must-have for readers.
Published by Nimbus Publishing. $22.95
The Stone Canoe: Two Lost Mi’kmaq Texts by Elizabeth Paul, Peter Sanger, illustrated by Alan Syliboy (adult non-fiction)
In 2003, poet and essayist Peter Sanger uncovered two manuscripts among the Rand holdings in the library at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. One of these contains the story of Little Thunder and his journey to find a wife, as told to Rand by Susan Barss in 1847. The other is the story of a woman who survives alone on an island after being abandoned by her husband. It was told by a storyteller known to us now only as Old Man Stevens and dates from 1884. Both are among the earliest examples of indigenous Canadian literature recorded in their original language; the 1847 transcript being perhaps the earliest. Their publication in The Stone Canoe makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Mi’kmaq storytelling and indigenous Canadian literature.
Published by Gaspereau Press $29.95
Then and Now: Photographs of Nova Scotia by Wallace MacAskill and Len Wagg (adult non-fiction)
Wallace MacAskill (1887-1956) is one of Nova Scotia's foremost photographers, lauded for his portraits of seascapes, sailing and fishing ships, and picturesque landscapes. In this remarkable collection of then and now photographs, Len Wagg follows in the footsteps of 50 of MacAskill's best shots, recreating them in colour contemporary portraits. Through side-by-side comparisons, readers see how much has changed, and how much has remarkably remained the same. Included are urban streetscapes, important events and monuments, and spectacular scenery from around the province-Halifax to Louisbourg, Chester to Pictou. The 100 photographs in this book are captioned with short anecdotes conveying the significance of the images and the process of finding the location for some of MacAskill's original work.
Published by Nimbus Publishing. $29.95.
Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr. (adult fiction)
By acclaimed author of Like This, a finalist for the Giller Prize,Leo McKay Jr.’s bestselling novel is set in a small Nova Scotia town, where a family is changed forever after a devastating mining accident claims the lives of twenty-six men. As the story shifts back and forth in time and between characters, we meet the men and women of the Burrows family: brothers Ziv and Arvel, drawn to the mine for different reasons; their father, a former union organizer; Ziv’s ex-girlfriend, now living in Japan; and Arvel’s wife, who hopes for a better life for herself in the city. In the aftermath of the explosion, and as the investigation into its causes unfolds, the members of the Burrows family are forced to confront each other – and themselves – bringing the novel to its moving and redemptive conclusion. Written in spare, hard-hitting prose, and inspired in part by the Westray mining disaster, Twenty-Six is a novel of universal human struggle and understanding that evokes in all its drama and pathos a community transformed by tragedy.
Published by Emblem Editions $19.99.
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki (Illustrator) — (children’s non-fiction)
This book was a finalist for the 2011 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction. It tells the story of Viola Desmond, who in 1946, was told by an usher in a movie theatre to move from her main-floor seat up to the balcony. She refused and was eventually charged and fined by police, but she vowed to continue her struggle against such unfair rules. Like Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, who many years later, in 1955, refused to give up their bus seats in Alabama, Desmond’s act of refusal awakened people to the unacceptable nature of racism and began and process of bringing an end to racial segregation in Canada. An afterword provides a glimpse of African Canadian history.
Published by Groundwood Books. $18.95.
Rockbound by Frank Parker Day (adult fiction)
The classic novel of Nova Scotia’s South Shore, it is enormously evocative of the power, terror, and dramatic beauty of the Atlantic sea, and unrelenting in its portrait of back-breaking labour, cunning bitterness, and family strife. Rockbound is a story of many passions-love, pride, greed, and yearning — all formed and buffeted on a small island by an unyielding wind and the rocky landscape of the human spirit. Roockbound won Canada Reads in 2005.
Published by University of Toronto Press. $31.95.