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Lillian H. Smith

Doll Houses: Creepy or Cute?

March 23, 2015 | Sarah | Comments (3)

Doll houses are cute, right? WRONG. Do a quick search for doll house stories, and you are bound to come up with one of the scariest books (of my childhood, at least): The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wright. Amy and her sister Louann move to an old farmhouse with their aunt Clare, where the inhabitants of a dusty dollhouse in the attic start to move around at night, revealing clues about a grisly family secret.

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, is about three friends, Zach, Poppy and Alice, who are on the verge of leaving their doll-playing years behind. They are drawn together for a midnight mission involving a creepy China doll with a strange pull and the crushed bones of a dead girl who yearns to be laid to rest.

  The Dollhouse Murders   Doll Bones  

However, for every Chucky there is a Tottie, as in Tottie Plantagenet, from Rumer Godden's classic The Doll's House. A doll who is not cruel or twisted, but well-rounded and caring. Three of my favourite more cheerful doll tales are The Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, brilliantly illustrated by Brian Selznick (pre-Hugo Cabret), The Doll Shop Downstairs, by Yona Zeldis McDonough, and The Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson. 

  The Doll People   The Doll shop downstairs   The paper dolls

So, what do you think? Do doll houses make you go, "Aaaaarrrgh!" or "Awwwww"? If you can't decide, drop by Lillian H. Smith branch to see the Osborne Collection's new doll house. Do you think these dolls move around at night after all of the library patrons have gone home?


I certainly don't want to stay around to find out . . .

Cartoon Exhibit and Drawing Workshop

June 28, 2014 | Amy | Comments (0)

Cartoon by Tony Wan

Do you love to look at art?

Do you love to draw?

Do you feedback on your work from a professional?

Join us on Thursday, July 24th for an exhibit of Chinese Cartoonist Tony Wan's work, followed by a drawing workshop for teens!



Tony Wan has been drawing for contests and newspapers since he was eleven years old. In 1999, he was on Time Magazine's first list of the 100 most influential and iconic people of the year.


The exhibit will be held on the lower level of the Lillian H. Smith branch, 239 College St (just east of Spadina), from 10:00am until 4:00pm, followed immediately by a drawing workshop from 4:00pm to 6:00pm!

Teens, please phone (416) 393-7746 to register for the workshop. All materials will be provided. You can also bring some of your previous work for feedback!

What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past

June 19, 2014 | Sarah | Comments (0)

WDOBsmallI first picked up this book in the depths of last February, when I was spending a lot of time at home, awake in the middle of the night nursing my newborn son. It was a riveting read for those long dark hours, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Toronto's medical history, in the history of mental health treatment, or in a meticulously-told story of family secrets come to light. Fitzgerald's book won the 2010 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Non-Fiction, and is his second after 1994's Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College.

What Disturbs Our Blood probes Fitzgerald's family history: the author's father and grandfather were both recognized pioneers in Canadian medicine, but both men also stuggled with depression.

John Gerald "Gerry" Fitzgerald (grandfather, 1882-1940) became a doctor at a young age, studied in Paris at the Pasteur Institute, and, when he returned to Toronto, was determined to develop vaccines against diseases that he saw raging through some segments of the Canadian populace. He revolutionized public health in Canada, helping to develop and then make available, for free, vaccines against diseases such as diptheria and rabies. Doctors Banting and Best were two of his contemporaries. Sadly, he died in his prime by suicide. His funeral was held at U of T's Convocation Hall.

John "Jack" Fitzgerald (father, 1917-1992) was a well-known physician who worked at Toronto Western, and opened Toronto's first allergy clinic. Despite a successful career, he attempted suicide twice and spent the last few decades of his life in a drugged haze.

While reading, I was struck by how much of the Fitzgerald family story takes place in and around the Lillian H. Smith neighbourhood. Here are some local highlights:

One Spadina Crescent


photo credit: Simon Pulsifer

This was the site of the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories; when Gerry's vaccine operation grew out of it's original Barton Street location, this is where it ended up. It's been 100 years now, as you can see if you visit Sanofi Pasteur (the pharmaceutical company that swallowed up Connaught years ago).

250 College Street

Gerry Fitzgerald worked for Doctor C.K. Clarke at the Toronto Asylum for the Insane (999 Queen St.) 250 College was named after Dr. Clarke: it was first called the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, and is now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) College St. location.

150 College Street

Fitz 1
This is the Fitzgerald Building at the University of Toronto, built in 1927, currently home to part of the Faculty of Medicine. Visible in the top left corner is the Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building (144 College), and across the street is the Dala Lana School of Public Health. Gerry Fitzgerald was instrumental in creating the original School of Hygiene at U of T in the 1920s, which was devoted to public health training and research. Today, Fitzgerald Academy at St. Michael's Hospital is named in his honour.

If the above snippets of Toronto's medical history grab you, you might be interested in Heritage Toronto's walking tour, "Dr. Fitzgerald and the Connaught Laboratories,"led by James Fitzgerald. It will be taking place this Saturday, June 21 from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Book Review: Beautiful Darkness (Graphic novel) - Beautiful, and dark

June 4, 2014 | Amy | Comments (0)

FYI: Most of the links on this page will take you to web pages that are in French, as this is a translated work and the author and illustrator are based in France.

Beautiful Darkness

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, illus. Kerascoët, trans. Helge Dascher.

Originally published as Jolies Ténèbres by Dupuis.

Generally, I am a fan of Drawn & Quarterly  graphic novels – who doesn’t like books published by an independent, Canadian publishing house based in Montreal? However, when I first placed a hold on this book from the new graphic novels list, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Looking at Beautiful Darkness, I just thought the cover illustration was gorgeous and interesting. Indeed, the illustrator Kerascoët, the pen name for Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, are very talented and have worked on many different books together. A preview of Beautiful Darkness is available from the publisher’s website, if you want to check out the artwork yourself. The author, Vehlmann Fabien, is fairly prolific as well, although only a few of his works have been translated into English and are available through the library.  

Although I skimmed the description of the book on the publisher’s website, by the time I had the book in my hands, I'd all but forgotten what I read, and so I didn’t really realize how dark it was going to be.

In Beautiful Darkness, we don’t know where Princess Aurora or her tiny friends came from (or how they wound up inside the body of a dead girl), and why they’re wandering and homeless. The book starts off with Aurora attempting to find homes and make a community for the group, but this quickly falls apart when different members don't get along and become abusive. French cover of Beautiful Darkness

With death and decay both prominent themes throughout the book – as well as murder, greed, betrayal, revenge, and all that gritty stuff – “evil writ tiny” seems an apt description. Called an anti-fairy tale, this book contained elements that strongly reminded me of fables I’ve read – the spoiled princess from the original Frog Prince and characters in Thumbelina both come to mind. It also reminded me of both The Borrowers by Mary Norton and, later in the book, of Princess Mononoke, only much darker and more disturbing. (Okay, Princess Mononoke is a little dark and disturbing to begin with).

Overall, I loved it. Dark, disturbing, and retold fairy tale elements? Count me in.

Reader be warned - don’t be fooled by the gorgeous artwork the way I was. Beautiful Darkness is pretty, but Grimm.

If you've already read Beautiful Darkness, what other fairy tales did it make you think of?

Cosplay Inspiration and Events

May 28, 2014 | Amy | Comments (0)

Danbo from Yotsuba&!
Danbo from Yotsuba&!. Photo by author.

Last weekend was Anime North, an annual, fan-run convention in Toronto for anime, manga, gaming, Japanese and other Asian culture, as well as pop culture. I have been a loyal attendee since 2001, and most years, I cosplay. That is, I attend in a costume based on a character from a game, a book, a movie, or a television show. One of our guest bloggers, author Amanda Sun wrote an excellent post for us last summer on what cosplay is, so I'll skip over that here.

Super Mario Cosplayers
Gender-bending cosplay or "crossplay"

Normally, I make a costume based on one of my favourite anime - such as Black Butler (also a manga!) - or a video game, but this year I decided to do something different. This year I decided to make a steampunk costume. Rather than recreating a specific character's costume, I was working from my imagination, and I was paralyzed by choice. Gears, goggles, and gadgets, oh my!

So I turned to the many books on steampunk costumes and accessories available from the library. Here are a couple of my favourites...

Anatomy of Steampunk




The anatomy of steampunk : the fashion of Victorian futurism 

by Katherine Gleason






1000 steampunk creations : neo-Victorian fashion, gear & art

by Joey Marsocci

Both are full of gorgeous pictures of fantastical costumes and creations, done with a level of skill and an eye for detail that I can only dream of one day achieving! But since I was looking for inspiration, I got some excellent ideas for pieces with elements that I wanted to incorporate into my own costume.



For some great ideas that are less daunting, I recommend...

  Steampunk Your Wardrobe



Steampunk your wardrobe : easy projects to add victorian flair to 
everyday fashions

by Calista Taylor





Steampunk: Gears, Gadgets & Gizmos



Steampunk gear, gadgets, and gizmos : a maker's guide to creating modern artifacts

by Thomas Willeford

Not only are these ideas that anyone can achieve, they include the instructions! I particularly like the Taylor book for recommendations of steampunk elements into a daily wardrobe, not just extravagent costume ideas.



1000 Incredible Costume & Cosplay IdeasOur own Library Thomas recommends 1000 Incredible Costume & Cosplay Ideas by Yaya Han, which includes many different types of costumes – not just steampunk. As his review suggests, it's really more for inspiration, and doesn't include a how-to!

If you’re looking for more costume inspiration, you could always take a look at books on Japanese fashion, including Gothic Lolita and how to make your own kimono, watch some anime via Hoopla, or read an eBook on drawing manga?



For instruction, why not look at books for crafting metal jewelry, or eBooks on sewing?


Anime North will be back next May, but if you’re looking for somewhere else to wear your costumes this summer, here are some opportunities!

 and, of course…

 Where else do you plan to cosplay this summer? And what do you use for inspiration?

Edit: Added the link for the Sanderson Cosplay Fashion Show.

Farley Mowat, 1921-2014

May 7, 2014 | Sarah | Comments (3)

Beloved Canadian author and activist Farley Mowat has died at the age of 92. From Sandra Martin's obituary in the Globe and Mail today:

"Mr. Mowat was a trickster, a ferocious imp with a silver pen, an ardent environmentalist who opened up the idea of the North to curious southerners, a public clown who hid his shyness behind flamboyant rum-swigging and kilt-flipping, and a passionate polemicist who blurred the lines between fiction and facts to dramatize his cause. Above all, he was a bestselling and prolific writer who kept generations of children (and their parents) spellbound by tales of adventures with wolves that were friendlier than people, whales in need of rescue, dogs who refused to cower, owls roosting in the rafters and boats that wouldn’t float."

Here are links to some of his most popular books in the Toronto Public Library catalogue:

Never Cry Wolf

Owls in the Family

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be

Lost in the Barrens

Bay of Spirits: A Love Story

A Whale for the Killing

There are so many more books by and about Mr. Mowat - far too many to list here! I will end with an image from the 1981 NFB documentary Ten Million Books: An Introduction to Farley Mowat.



Fun projects for mini makers

March 21, 2014 | Sarah | Comments (1)

The spirit of Maker Culture has permeated our collective consciousness. Call it what you will: Making, DIY, constructivism... it seems to be everywhere these days! And the library is no exception - witness our new Digital Innovation Hubs at the Toronto Reference Library and the soon-to-be-opened Fort York branch.

Now that this formerly hidden subculture has made its way into the mainstream, there are lots of opportunities for children to get involved. When my kids and I were bored over March Break, we discovered Sylvia's Super Awesome Maker Show. Sylvia Todd, now 12 years old, has put together some very creative instructional videos on how to make everything from sidewalk chalk to simple circuits, lava lamps and robots. We made periscopes! Here's the how-to video:



Now, how about some books to spark your inner-innovator? This one has a fancy periscope that lights up with LEDs:


Explore the library's collection of science project books. A hot air balloon to go with your periscope?


And this list wouldn't be complete without the latest book on everyone's favourite building blocks:



Maker events for kids coming up at the library include Book Bash on April 26, 2014 at Northern District branch, and Building Buildings on May 24 at Fort York branch. I'd also like to check out the MakerKids space, near Dundas and Bloor in Toronto. They offer a lot of hands-on programs and special events.

Critics of the whole Maker movement for kids may complain that it's just a new way to say "crafts." I beg to differ. Yes, the end result may be a crafted product, but the value lies in the process. True Making for kids is child-led and discovery-based. We are tapping into their fascination with new technologies, but doing it in a communal setting. In a world where children are tempted by so much solo screen time, any trend that encourages social, inquisitive, human interaction is fine by me!


The King in Yellow : Book at the dark heart of True Detective

March 4, 2014 | Sarah | Comments (3)

Have you been watching True Detective? I have been obsessing over it a bit lately, and not only for the gripping performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The show quickly moves from a plain old cop drama into a fascinating study in detective-noir, Southern gothic, horror, and possibly things supernatural.


Rust Cohle and Martin Hart are two polar-opposite homicide detectives investigating a string of ritualized murders in Louisiana in 1995. Supposedly, they catch their guy, but the story jumps ahead to the present day when more bodies have been found, and brilliant, obessive, loner Cohle is a suspect. The diary of one of the victims contains complete passages from Robert W. Chambers' 1895 book of short stories The King in Yellow.


photo credit: Devin Faraci 

The stories in the book repeatedly mention a fictional play called The King in Yellow, the second act of which drives readers insane, as well as talk of a mysterious "yellow sign" and a frightening entity known as The King in Yellow. Chambers writes creepy very well, and his work influenced other writers of the weird, like H.P. Lovecraft and horror icon Stephen King.

But what does all of this have to do with True Detective? Well, apparently, the show is rife with not just literary references to Chambers' book, but with symbolism from the stories too. This io9 post by Michael M. Hughes goes pretty deeply into it. 

If you want to read the stories for yourself, you can come in to the Merril collection and have a look at their original copy of The King in Yellow. Otherwise, you can find electronic copies for free through Overdrive (although there are holds!) and the always-available Project Gutenberg.  

When you are done, and dying for some more spine-chilling reads, check out this excellent "True Detective" Reading List, put together by Lincoln Michel of BuzzFeed. It includes the novel Galveston, written by Nic Pizzolatto, writer for True Detective. Wow, I'd better get my name on the holds list for that as well!  

Women and Small Business Workshop: Tools to Plan Your New Future

November 5, 2013 | Cat | Comments (0)

CL84017Are you a woman dreaming of starting
your own business?

Or are you thinking of leaving the corporate
world to venture off on your own?

Join us at the Lillian H Smith branch on Tuesday, November 12
from 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
as we learn from 2 boomer-age women
who have successfully made the leap from the corporate world to running their own small businesses. Banasha Shah is an actuary
with over 25 years in the financial services industry and Jayne Huhtanen is a certified business coach with over 25 years of corporate training experience.

This interactive workshop will deliver:

  • Steps to develop a business vision consistent with your values and goals
  • Steps to create a financial blueprint to support your vision
  • An understanding of the special financial risks women face and how to overcome them
  • Practical tips to maximize business success

Will Your Small Business Idea Fly?

October 14, 2013 | Cat | Comments (0)

123-ymcakeynoteAre you thinking of starting our own business? Do you have a groundbreaking idea?

Join Carla Langhorst, author of "Will It Fly? The Idea Tester" on Monday October 21 at Lillian H Smith from 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. and put your idea to the test. This presentation will help you find out if your small business idea is marketable, profitable and does it make sense for you.

Carla Langhorst is a small business coach and works for Small Business Solver, Inc. and sees thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners grow their businesses from simple ideas as well as taking an existing business and getting it to the next level.

According to Carla, this revolutionary process will thoroughly evaluate your dream’s feasibility. The Idea Tester will help you to determine if your dream will fly and it will give you the confidence to move forward. From engineers to hairdressers, from graphic designers to programmers - no matter your occupation, the Idea Tester will help you along the path to independent success.

Lillian H. Smith library, in the heart of the Discovery District, Chinatown and Kensington Market, is a district branch of Toronto Public Library. Learn more about your local library & community, and while you're at it, drop us a comment. If you are visiting us in person, look for the bronze gryphons guarding our door.