This week, the KWL team was lucky enough to be part of the live studio audience at CBC’s Canada Reads, Canada’s annual Survivor-style battle of the books! Five Canadian celebrities each champion one book and CBC broadcasts the live, week-long debate as the five panelists decide which book the whole country should read this year.
The theme for 2018 was “One Book To Open Your Eyes” and featured five diverse and thought-provoking titles by Canadian authors.
On day one, all five panelists were given the opportunity to present and defend “their” books. At the end of each day, each panelist must vote to eliminate one title.
The first title to be voted off was the The Boat People, Sharon Bala’s fictional account of the refugee crisis in Canada. Afghanistan-born, Canada-raised television host Mozhdah Jamalzadah defended this title, explaining that, as a refugee herself, she connected deeply with the themes in the book.
“When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war behind them and begin new lives. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the “boat people” are members of a terrorist militia. As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son’s chances for asylum.”
Next to go was Craig Davidson’s memoir, Precious Cargo, defended by tornado-hunter Greg Johnson. In his defense of the title, he argued that the book’s warmth and humor and overall message of inclusion and normalization of special needs, made it a must-read for Canada.
“One morning in 2008, desperate and impoverished while trying unsuccessfully to write, Davidson plucked a flyer out of his mailbox that read, “Bus Drivers Wanted.” That was the first step towards an unlikely new career: driving a school bus full of special-needs kids for a year. Armed only with a sense of humour akin to that of his charges, a creative approach to the challenge of driving a large, awkward vehicle while corralling a rowdy gang of kids, and unexpected reserves of empathy, Davidson takes us along for the ride. He shows us how his evolving relationship with the kids on that bus, each of them struggling physically as well as emotionally and socially, slowly but surely changed his life along with the lives of the “precious cargo” in his care. This is the extraordinary story of that year and those relationships. It is also a moving, important and universal story about how we see and treat people with special needs in our society.”
Jeanne Beker was left to break the tie between Precious Cargo and American War and admitted that while she loved the book, she ultimately felt that Precious Cargo didn’t “have the gravitas to be in the competition.”
Day three saw the elimination of Cherie Dimaline’s YA novel, The Marrow Thieves, defended by “Canada’s queen of R&B”, Jully Black. Jully says the book opened her eyes to the realities of everyday life in indigenous communities and believes the book should should be required reading for Canadians of all ages.
“Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden—but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.”
American War, a dystopian novel by Omar El Akkad was the final eliminated title. It was defended by actor Tahmoh Penikett who felt that the depiction of an American war “revolving around religious bigotry, regional hatred, racism, sexism and fake news” was truly a book to open the eyes of readers.
“Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war as one of the Miraculous Generation and now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past—his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.”
The winner of Canada Reads 2018 was Mark Sakamoto’s memoir, Forgiveness (which did not receive a single vote for elimination all week). Television host Jeanne Beker was passionate and emotional in her defense, stating:
“This is the book for Canadians. This is the book that will open your mind and your heart. This is a book about soldiering on through personal wars, [and also] about what it has to teach us about what happened in this nation.”
“When the Second World War broke out, Ralph MacLean chose to escape his troubled life on the Magdalen Islands in eastern Canada and volunteer to serve his country overseas. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Mitsue Sakamoto saw her family and her stable community torn apart after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Like many young Canadian soldiers, Ralph was captured by the Japanese army. He would spend the war in prison camps, enduring pestilence, beatings and starvation, as well as a journey by hell ship to Japan to perform slave labour, while around him his friends and countrymen perished. Back in Canada, Mitsue and her family were expelled from their home by the government and forced to spend years eking out an existence in rural Alberta, working other people’s land for a dollar a day.
By the end of the war, Ralph emerged broken but a survivor. Mitsue, worn down by years of back-breaking labour, had to start all over again in Medicine Hat, Alberta. A generation later, at a high school dance, Ralph’s daughter and Mitsue’s son fell in love.
Although the war toyed with Ralph’s and Mitsue’s lives and threatened to erase their humanity, these two brave individuals somehow surmounted enormous transgressions and learned to forgive. Without this forgiveness, their grandson Mark Sakamoto would never have come to be.”
A fantastic experience overall, and a great lineup of books! Have you read any of these titles? Which book would you recommend as required reading for your country? Let us know in the comments!