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December 2013

Read it! Hear it! See it!

December 23, 2013 | Alison | Comments (0)

Taking a trip over the holidays?  Stuck in the car for hours on end?  Take a book to pass the time.  Books are available in so many formats these days there's bound to be one that will work for your trip.

While there's nothing like actually reading the book, sometimes it's easier to read it another way.  Family trips in the car are a great chance to use audiobooks in the CD player or eaudiobooks on your digital device. 

Ebooks let you carry those big fat books, or lots of books without taking up all the space in your bag.

There are lots of titles to choose from for children, teens and adults.  Here are some popular titles for school children.


Are you a Rick Riordan fan and can't get your hands on the print book?  Try the audio book. Often waiting lists for other formats are shorter.  Have you seen the movie?

House of HadesBookLightning thief





large print




Fans of the 39 Clues can find the series in three different formats.

39 clues Kings Ransom Operation Trinity
Find all the books here.

Find the audiobooks here.


Look here for eaudiobooks.





Diary of a wimpy kid Rodrick Rules
Find all the print books of Doug's adventures.

They're also available in audiobooks,and ebooks.


The first couple of books have been made into a movie too.  Check them out.





Happy Holiday reading, however you choose to do it.

Around the world with Cinderella

December 21, 2013 | Alison | Comments (0)

Girls of all ages love thier princess stories, some are picky about the princess while others just want a story with a princess in it.  Disney has created firm images of princesses in the minds of a number of girls but most of the stories they tell have been told so many times before.  Did you know that there are versions of Cinderella told in cultures all over the world. 

To travel the world with Cinderella, why not start with some of these stories?  They are just a starting point though.  You can choose a place and there will be a Cinderella story to go with it.


We'll start our trip around the world with the familiar Disney version.  The average Cinderella fan knows she has singing mice that help her get things done.  This was one of Disney's early movies so of course the look has changed over time.  Have a look at how the story changes.

Disney Cinderella Modern Disney Cinderella

Algonquin CinderellaThe Rough Faced girl is a Native American telling of the story based Algonquin tales.

Caribbean Cinderella



Explore the warm Caribbean with Cendrillon.



Mexican CinderellaTravel to Mexico with Adelita.


Stories from China, Egypt, Korea, Persia and Greece.

Cinderella China Egyptian Cinderella  Korean Cinderella Greek CinderellaPersian Cinderella


You can even get stories that borrow from many different cultures to create a Cinderella story.

World Wide Cinderella


Happy reading and enjoy your trip.


Snapshots in History: December 20: Remembering Canada at the Battle of Ortona

December 20, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)


(Credit: Battle of Ortona - Canadian Army Newsreel)



(Credits: CBC Digital Archives - Return to Ortona; Medium: Television; Program: The National; Broadcast Date: Feb. 1, 1999; Guest: Ted Griffiths, Samuel Lanko, John Matteson, Mel McFie, Bill Warton; Host: Peter Mansbridge; Reporter: David Halton; Duration: 25:49)



(Credit: Infantry of the Edmonton Regiment supported by Sherman tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, Ortona, Italy. December 23, 1943. Photo: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National
Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-114030)


On December 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Battle of Ortona that occurred from December 20-28, 1943 on the Adriatic front in Italy between troops of the 1st Canadian Division under the command of Major-General Christopher Vokes and paratroops (Fallschirmjäger) of the German 1st Parachute Division under Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich. This battle, which resulted in a victory for Canadian troops, has been compared to the larger-scale Battle of Stalingrad by being referred to as “Little Stalingrad” or the “Italian Stalingrad” due to similar close combat fighting amidst destroyed buildings and rubble.

The initial Canadian attack on the occupied seaside town of Ortona began on December 20, 1943 with the Canadian 2nd Brigade’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) and a portion of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. They faced German paratroops who had received orders to defend Ortona at any cost. The 3rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division had engaged in a northerly thrust to the west of Ortona in an attempt to outflank the German troops and cut off communications but faced stiff resistance from the German defenders as well as challenges from the difficult topography in the area.

In Ortona, German forces concealed machine gun and anti-tank emplacements throughout the town to deter rapid movement by Canadian tanks and troops. For their part, Canadian troops employed a new technique called “mouseholing” that now has become a mainstay in urban warfare situations.  Canadian troops would improvise with No. 75 Hawkins Grenades, an example of pressure detonated anti-tank mines, by attaching them to wooden sticks secured together with tape, and rigged with primacord and safety fuses. Often, four or five of these weapons could be detonated simultaneously, resulting in holes in building walls through which soldiers could easily pass. The Canadians fought house-by-house, often fighting for control from the top floor downwards.



(Credit: Members of the Seaforth Highlanders sit down for their Christmas dinner.
Photo: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-152839)

On December 25, 1943, Canadian troops “celebrated” Christmas in Ortona. Soldiers of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada went in shifts to the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli (that was several blocks away from the fighting) for Christmas dinner. However, the fighting beckoned and many of these soldiers were killed. The following day, December 26, 1943, demonstrated a ferocious nature to the fighting: German paratroops destroyed a house containing a Canadian platoon, killing 23 soldiers and burying 1 soldier alive for three days; Canadian troops retaliated by destroying a house with up to 50 German soldiers inside. By December 27, 1943, German forces were trapped in between the destroyed San Tommaso cathedral and a castle. Heavy artillery fire and naval gunfire off the coast helped to diminish the German paratroops’ resistance. The German battalion commander was ordered to save his remaining troops. The Canadians had warned German troops and the civilian population that carpet bombing of Ortona was scheduled for the morning of December 28, 1943. German forces withdrew from Ortona on the evening of December 27, 1943 to the north and Canadian troops entered the town the following morning.


Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


The Canadian battlefields in Italy Ortona and the Liri Valley

The Canadian battlefields in Italy: Ortona and the Liri Valley / Eric McGeer, 2007. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 MACG

View Canada’s World War Two battlefields in Italy through three-dimensional satellite maps that clearly delineated populated towns and the local topographic features.


Ortona Canada's epic World War II battle

Ortona: Canada's epic World War II battle / Mark Zuelhke, 1999. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 ZUE

Historian Mark Zuelhke filled a gap in Canada’s war history by producing a detailed, gripping account of the Battle of Ortona told from the soldier’s point of view and the important role that Canadian troops played in dislodging experienced German paratroopers from the town of Ortona, albeit at a high cost of 2,339 Canadian soldiers wounded or killed. Follow the efforts of infantry soldiers of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada with the support of tankers from the Three Rivers Regiment as they engaged in harsh house-to-house combat with German paratroops amongst heavy shelling.

Also available in eBook format.  


Ortona street fight

Ortona street fight [Rapid Reads] / Mark Zuelhke, 2011. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 ZUE

Historian Mark Zuelhke also penned this “Rapid reads” title that is suitable for ages 13 and up (Grade 8 reading level and above) on the Battle of Ortona in December 1943 that is realistic and readable. Eight pages of photographs are included. No bibliography is included so the intent is to support recreational rather than research or scholastic-based reading. (Those readers interested in a more in-depth account of the Battle of Ortona should stick with Zuelhke’s 1999 book.)

Read the review in CM Magazine. 


Want to watch documentaries that deal with Canada’s contribution at the Battle of Ortona? Try the following DVDs for loan from Toronto Public Library collections:


Canada at war. Volume 2 [1 videodisc] / Donald Brittain et al.; National Film Board of Canada, 2000. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.5371 CAN V. 2 (Includes: 7. Road to Ortona)

Volume 2 of the Canada at War series produced by Donald Brittain, Peter Jones, and Stanley Clish included 4 episodes from the 13-part series, viz.: 5. Ebbtide -- 6. Turn of the tide -- 7. Road to Ortona -- 8. New directions.


A war of their own the Canadians in Sicily and Italy [2 videodiscs] / H. Clifford Chadderton; War Amps (War Amputations of Canada), 2000. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 WAR DISC 1-2 (Includes: pt. I. Sicily to Ortona -- pt. II. The D-Day dodgers.)

Join (recently deceased) war veteran and War Amps spokesperson Cliff Chadderton as he discussed the challenges faced by the Canadian Army in Italy and Sicily during the Second World War and the clever techniques that Canadian troops developed to fight experienced troops on the opposing side within the context of harsh terrain.  



(URL: - Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence – Map: The Battle for Ortona (Small) and the Adriatic Sector. Nov. 28, 1943-Jan. 4, 1944. – See URL: )

Snapshots in History: December 19: Remembering Édith Piaf

December 19, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)


(Credit: Edith Piaf - Film clips of her life and funeral 1963)



(Credit: British Pathe – Edith Piaf Tribute (1963))



(Credit: Edith Piaf - Non, Je ne regrette rien)


On December 19 and beyond, take a moment to remember French singer Édith Piaf  (Born: Édith Giovanna Gassion at Belleville, Paris (20th arrondissement), France on December 19, 1915; Died: October 10, 1963 at Plascassier (Grasse), French Riviera, France). She was named Édith for English nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by German troops in World War One for helping French soldiers to escape from German captivity. She was abandoned by her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard, at birth and lived briefly with her maternal grandmother. Her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, took Édith to live with his mother (who ran a brothel) in Normandy before enlisting in the French army in 1916.

Between the wars, Édith engaged in acrobatic street performances with her father and toured the streets singing for money with possible half-sister Simone "Mômone" Berteaut. Nightclub owner Louis Leplée discovered Édith in 1935 in the Pigalle area of Paris and gave her the stage name La Môme Piaf (= The little sparrow, or the waif sparrow) from which she changed her stage name to Édith Piaf. She became friends with contemporaries such as Maurice Chevalier and helped launch the career of Yves Montand. She had relationships with different men and married twice (to Jacques Pills in 1952 and to Theophanis Lamboukas in 1962) but the love of her life, the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, was killed in an airplane crash in 1949. When Édith Piaf died in October 1963, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris at the time denied her a funeral mass on account of her lifestyle. Nonetheless, tens of thousands attended her funeral procession along Paris streets and over 100,000 mourners attended her burial at Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. On October 10, 2013, fifty years after her death, the Roman Catholic Church relented and gave Édith Piaf a memorial mass in the St. Jean-Baptiste Church in Belleville, Paris, the area in which she came into the world.

Édith Piaf left the world many beautiful songs, including some whose lyrics paralleled some of her earlier experiences in life. Some of Édith Piaf’s most famous songs included: "La Vie en rose" (1946), "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960), "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), and "La Foule" (1957). Consider the following Édith Piaf music CDs for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

Le coffret Edith Piaf [5 sound discs] / Edith Piaf; Wagram, 2011. 5 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA

Edith Piaf reborn and remastered [Rough guide legends] [2 sound discs] / Edith Piaf; World Music Network, 2011. 2 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA

Edith Piaf [Légendes] [2 sound discs] / Edith Piaf, 2011.  2 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA (Songs recorded between 1937 and 1959)

Hymne á la môme [2 sound discs] / Edith Piaf, 2012. 2 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA


What to learn more about Édith Piaf? Then consider the following titles for loan from Toronto Public Library collections:


No regrets the life of Edith Piaf

No regrets: the life of Edith Piaf / Carolyn Burke, 2011. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA BUR

Read this sympathetic biography of Édith Piaf and follow her rise to fame from humble circumstances. Follow the various roadblocks along the way that she had to face, viz.: the death of her only child at age two from meningitis, coping with the death of her great love Marcel Cerdan, and bouncing back with the song “Non, je ne regrette rien” in 1960 following her illness on a stressful 1959 tour.

Read the review in the Telegraph. Read the review in New Republic. Read the review in the New York Times.

Also available in eBook format.  


Piaf a biography

Piaf: a biography / Monique Lange, 2008. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA LAN

Follow the tumultuous and stormy career of Édith Piaf, the “little sparrow” who changed the nature of popular singing and influenced a generation of actors and singers including Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand. 


A cry from the heart the life of Edith Piaf revised edition

A cry from the heart: the life of Edith Piaf [Rev. ed.] / Margaret Crosland with Ralph Harvey, 2002. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA CRO

Juxtapose Édith Piaf’s rise to global popularity with ongoing addictions to alcohol and drugs and her tempestuous love affairs, tempered by her friendships with Marlene Dietrich, Jean Cocteau, Maurice Chevalier, Yves Montand, and Charlie Chaplin.  


My life / Edith Piaf with Jean Noli; translated from the French by Margaret Crosland, 1990. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA

Shortly before her death in 1963, Édith Piaf dictated her autobiographical recollections to journalist Jean Noli in which she presented herself in contradictory terms as both abusive and abused, both selfish and selfless, and both vulnerable and indefatigable. Piaf was unapologetic about her desire for love. She discussed her philosophical and religious beliefs as well as the scandalous aspects of her life.


Consider the following DVDs for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:  


Edith Piaf a passionate life

Edith Piaf: a passionate life [1 videodisc] / Marcel Blistène (producer); Kultur, [2004?]. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA EDI


This documentary used rare film footage denoting Édith Piaf’s life and career as well as her romantic interests and her funeral. News reports and interviews were used in the making of this documentary.


Read a review summary in the New York Times. 


La vie en rose [1 videodisc] / Marion Cotillard, Olivier Dahan (Director), Gérard Depardieu, Alain Goldman (Producer) et al.; Légende Films et al., 2007. DVD. Feature Film. French language with English subtitles and English closed captioning.


Enjoy this feature film with Marion Cotillard starring as Édith Piaf and Gérard Depardieu as Louis Leplée in this dramatic recreation of Piaf’s life.


Read the review of this film in the New York Times.


Pour les matériaux de la bibliothèque dans la langue française concernant Édith Piaf, s'il vous plaît cliquez ici.

Snapshots in History: December 17: Remembering William Lyon Mackenzie King

December 18, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)


(Credit: William Lyon Mackenzie King – 1946 UN Conference)

On December 17 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King (Born: December 17, 1874 at Kitchener (previously Berlin), Ontario; Died: July 22, 1950 at Kingsmere, Québec), who was Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister (for approximately 22 years and 5 months) from December 29, 1921 - June 28, 1926, September 25, 1926 - August 7, 1930, and October 23, 1935 - November 15, 1948. King’s governments implemented a variety of social programs including old age pensions in 1926, unemployment insurance in 1940, and family allowances in 1944. King was Prime Minister during World War Two. Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939, fully one week after Great Britain and France had done so as Prime Minister King wanted a vote of war declaration from Canada’s Parliament on its own timetable as a means of asserting Canada’s independence. Canada’s role in the war is well-known through its military participation in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and through the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942 and the invasion of Hong Kong in 1941. Arguably, less known might be the important role that Canada played in the implementation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in which some 131,500 Canadian and Allied air personnel received flying, navigational, bomb aiming, air gunning, and wireless operator training across Canada during the Second World War. Canada was also a major player in nuclear research with the establishment of the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario in 1944 and the subsequent operation of the NRX reactor in 1947.

Prime Minister King and his government had to weather the Conscription Crisis of 1944 that followed up on a 1942 plebiscite asking Canadians to release the Canadian government from its pledge not to send any troops overseas (that was made in the 1940 Canadian general election campaign). The country was divided at that time with English-speaking Canada voting 83% in favour of sending troops overseas as needed and French-speaking Canada voting 73% against sending troops overseas with 63% of Canadians in favour overall of instituting conscription. Mr. King had a penchant for getting out of tough spots politically and rebounding from political defeats as in the elections of 1917, 1925 and 1930. The government also imposed the internment of Japanese-Canadians (and seizure of their property) in 1942 following the air attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire on December 7, 1941. (The government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized for this injustice carried out against the Japanese-Canadian people in September 1988 and instituted a compensation package.) On a happier note, Canada was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 with Prime Minister King (who also served as his own Secretary of State for External Affairs for many years) in attendance.

William Lyon Mackenzie King has served as a puzzle to many Canadians with some familiarity of Canadian history. Arguably, he is the best educated Prime Minister to date with a total of five university degrees (B.A., M.A. (University of Toronto); LL.B (Osgoode Hall Law School); M.A., Ph.D (Harvard University), and the only Prime Minister to date to have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree. On the other hand, some have learned of Mr. King’s connection with the occult and communing with spirits of dead individuals from his past, including his mother and former Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and his use of an ouija board and a crystal ball.


Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


Prime Ministers: ranking Canada’s leaders / J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer, 1999. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 971.0099 GRA

This book by historians Granatstein and Hillmer was a result of a Maclean’s magazine study that consulted 25 Canadian historians and political scientists on ranking all of Canada’s Prime Ministers up to the late 1990s but listed in chronological order of service. Despite perceived personal peculiarities, William Lyon Mackenzie King was ranked first as the best Prime Minister in the “Great” category. Kim Campbell was evaluated to be the worst Prime Minister. Brian Mulroney placed eighth in the “Average” category whilst Joe Clark finished fifteenth in the “Below Average” category.


Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King so similar so different

Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King: so similar, so different / Terry Reardon, 2012. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 941.08409 REA

Winston S. Churchill and W.L. Mackenzie King were contemporaries as they were born about two weeks apart in 1874. However, each took a different path into politics, viz.: King through academics and Churchill through military adventure. In the 1930s, Churchill, an isolated backbencher, was extremely prescient about the dangers of fascism and Nazism while King tended towards appeasement of the Nazis. Nonetheless, King came around to the dangers of the fascists and gave full support to Great Britain’s war effort once Canada’s Parliament had declared war first.

Also available in eBook format.


Consider watching the following interview with author Terry Reardon:


(Credit: The Agenda with Steve Paikin/TVO - Terry Reardon: Churchill and King, A 50-Year Relationship)


King William Lyon Mackenzie King a life guided by the hand of destiny

King: William Lyon Mackenzie King: a life guided by the hand of destiny / Allan Gerald Levine, 2011. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 971.0622 KIN LEV

Levine offered the reader the first biographical review of Canada’s best educated (Ph.D, Harvard University) and longest-serving (and arguably the most unusual) Prime Minister in many years. On the one hand, King consulted mediums to gain contact with deceased family members and political mentors. On the other hand, he showed great political foresight in outmanoeuvring political opponents and keeping the country together.

(This review also appeared in: Pick a PM: Prime Ministerial Biographies and Memoirs)

Also available in eBook and Talking Book (Restricted to Print Disabled Patrons) formats.


Consider watching the following book review about this book and an interview with author Allan Levine:



(Credit: Biography Book Review: King: William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny by Allan Levine)



(Credit: Allan Gregg/TVO – Allan Levine on Mackenzie King)


Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada's world wars / Tim Cook, 2012. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 971.0612 COO

Read historian Tim Cook’s dual biography of Canada’s two world war Prime Ministers: Robert Laird Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Despite a lack of charisma, the author contended that both leaders were “warlords” in a Canadian way and had to navigate a number of similar issues: developing armed forces from a civilian base, conscription, mobilizing war finances and production, and keeping labour peace. On the issue of conscription, Borden was prepared to divide the country to achieve victory while King was very much concerned with keeping the country together. Both Prime Ministers’ governments used internment of people as an instrument during wartime: King’s government interned Japanese-Canadian people while Borden’s government interned the Ukrainian-Canadians under the pretext of being “enemy aliens”.

Read the review from Quill and Quire. Read the review from Digital Journal.

Consider watching this video of author Tim Cook discussing this book:



(Credit: Canada’s History:  Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada's World Wars by Tim Cook - Author and Historian Tim Cook discusses his new book Warlords and the wartime leadership of Prime Ministers Robert Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Tim Cook is the First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.)


Consider borrowing the following DVD from Toronto Public Library collections:

Mackenzie King and the conscription crisis [DVD] / Erna Buffie et al.; National Film Board of Canada, 2006. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.5371 MACK PPR (Public Performance Rights)

This documentary combined archival footage with excerpts from The King Chronicles, a dramatic series written and directed by Donald Brittain. Faced with a divided country on the conscription issue during the Second World War, W.L. Mackenzie King could only put off the decision for so long even though he was deeply concerned about the potential fracturing of the country. Some scenes included graphic language.

Reading Toronto: Yonge Street in Fiction

December 17, 2013 | Winona | Comments (7)

When I was a kid, growing up in downtown Toronto, I always imagined Yonge Street as the spine of the city.

I knew it ran all the way from the shore of Lake Ontario (the foot of Yonge, toes dipped in the lake), up along the seedy strip between Queen and Gerrard, through the busy intersection of Yonge and Bloor, straight to the top of Toronto (for me, then, probably somewhere around Eglinton), and even beyond that. They used to say it was the longest street in the world, although that turned out to be not entirely true.

Over the years I heard about Yonge Street in music, saw Yonge Street in movies and on TV (most memorably, on SCTV) and, of course, read about it in books.

Here are a few of my favourite memories of Yonge Street in fiction.


Alligator Pie

Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee illu Frank Newfeld

An entire generation of Canadians was raised on Alligator Pie, a collection of loopy, joyful rhymes for young readers written by Dennis Lee, Toronto's first Poet Laureate, with mind-bending illustrations by Frank Newfeld.

Alligator Pie illustration by Frank Newfeld
Although best known for its title poem ("Alligator pie, alligator pie / If I don't get some, I think I'm gonna die"), the book includes lots of other great ones, many featuring Canadian place names.

It has been 40 years since Macmillan of Canada first published Dennis Lee’s illustrated poem “Alligator Pie.” The much-beloved poem has been adapted into a short film, featuring the work of Métis puppeteer Jani Lauzon; for the stage, at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre; and now, into the form of a contest. - See more at:
It has been 40 years since Macmillan of Canada first published Dennis Lee’s illustrated poem “Alligator Pie.” The much-beloved poem has been adapted into a short film, featuring the work of Métis puppeteer Jani Lauzon; for the stage, at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre; and now, into the form of a contest. - See more at:
It has been 40 years since Macmillan of Canada first published Dennis Lee’s illustrated poem “Alligator Pie.” The much-beloved poem has been adapted into a short film, featuring the work of Métis puppeteer Jani Lauzon; for the stage, at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre; and now, into the form of a contest. - See more at:

Bed Song

Yonge Street, Bloor Street,
Queen Street, King:
Catch an itchy monkey
With a piece of string.

Eaton's, and Simpson's,
And Honest Ed's:
Give him his pyjama pants
And throw him into beds!

- From Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Frank Newfeld. Also available: ebook.


That Scatterbrain Booky

That Scatterbrain Booky by Bernice Thurman Hunter

That Scatterbrain Booky is the first in a triology of books for young readers about wide-eyed, irrepressible ten-year old Beatrice (nickname, Booky) and her working-class family in their struggle to make ends meet in Depression-era Toronto. Author Bernice Thurman Hunter draws heavily on her own childhood memories to offer up enchanting, episodic adventures about what it was like growing up poor in Toronto in the 1930s.

Yonge Street 1939 TPL S 1-1821
I fondly remember poring over this book (and its sequels, With Love from Booky and As Ever Booky) when I was a girl, fascinated by descriptions of events and places I recognized - the Santa Claus Parade, the Canadian National Exhibition - set in such different times. As when Booky and her mother take a TTC streetcar to Eaton's one day:

Yonge Street hummed and sparkled in the early spring sunshine. Cars honked and horses whinnied. Dogs barked, bicycle bells jangled and the popcorn man's whistle blew a long thin note.

I read all the signboards as we passed. "Smoke Sweet Caporal", "Buy British Consul" and "Drink Coca-Cola." Boy, how I'd love to drink Coca-Cola. I had no idea what it tasted like, but the beautiful girl on the billboard said, "It's delicious!"

"I love Yonge Street, don't you mum?"

"Yes," she said, chewing a Brazil nut with her front teeth because the back ones had been bothering her lately. "And did you know, Bea, that it's the longest street in the world?"

"I didn't know that, Mum!"

"Well, you learn something every day."

- From That Scatterbrain Booky by Bernice Thurman Hunter. Also included in Booky: A Trilogy.


Ten Elephants on Yonge Street Souster

Raymond Souster, known to many as Toronto's unofficial poet laureate, was the author of over 50 books of poetry and the editor or publisher of many more. In 1952 he co-founded Contact Press, an early publisher of Canadian poets like Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, and Anne Hébert, and in 1966 he co-founded the The Leage of Canadian Poets. His literary career spanned some 70 years until his death last year at age 91


For more than 40 years, he also worked at the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building at King St. W., near Yonge. Yonge Street is featured in several of his poems (over 40, according to Stephen Cain in The Canadian Modernists Meet), including this one:

Yonge Street Saturday Night

Except when the theatre crowds engulf the sidewalks
at nine, at eleven-thirty,
this street is lonely, and a thousand lights
in a thousand store windows
wouldn’t break her lips into a smile.

There are a few bums out,
there are lovers with hands held tightly,
there are also the drunk ones
but they are princes among men, and are few.

And there are some like us,
just walking, making both feet move ahead of us,
a little bored, a little lost, a little angry,

walking as though we were honestly going somewhere,
walking as if there was really something to see
at Adelaide or maybe on King,
something, no matter how little
that will give us some fair return
on our use of shoe-leather,

something perhaps that will make us smile
with a strange new happiness,
a lost but recovered joy.

- From Ten Elephants on Yonge Street by Raymond Souster.


Basic Black with Pearls

Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig

In Basic Black with Pearls, the city is a labyrinth, a complex, ever-changing landscape littered everywhere with memories like "explosive devices", dangerous as land mines. Helen Weinzweig's experimental, at times surrealistic, novel tells the story of an unhappy suburban housewife who attempts to escape her mundane existence (characterized by the anonymous outfit she wears like a uniform, or a disguise, a simple black dress and a string of pearls) by roaming the streets of Toronto in search of her lover, a mysterious and, as the reader comes to realize, imaginary, foreign spy. 

Loew's Yonge Street
The Globe and Mail called it "a brilliant performance" in its review, with "marvellous set pieces as Lola wanders the city." It went on to win that year's Toronto Book Award.

On Yonge Street I found myself part of an indeterminate crowd. They will, I know, finally go into Simpson's or Eaton's or Woolworth's for something to do. I stayed on the east side of the street in order to avoid the same temptation. I crossed only after I got to Elm Street, although I did linger in front of Loew's Downtown to look at the stills of movie stars about to make love. At the corner of Dundas a sudden chill wind came up. The United Clothiers showed overcoats and parkas in their window.

 - From Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig.


In the Skin of a Lion

In The Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje's iconic Toronto novel combines myth and history, mystery and romance, archival documents and poetic imagination, to tell the stories of the lives of the immigrant labourers who built the city's Bloor Street Viaduct in the early 20th century. This book won the Toronto Book Award in 1987 and the inaugural Trilliam Book Award that same year.


Toronto is as vivid a character as any of the others in the novel, like Patrick, a dynamiter, and Caravaggio, a professional thief. Yonge Street makes a surprise appearance in this passage:

There is an image of Caravaggio among the rich which Patrick will always remember: meticulous, rude, and confident. A parting in his dark hair like Yonge Street at midnight. Dressed as a pirate, he had leapt off the motor launch on that midsummer night with his dog and Giannetta and Patrick, yelled his greetings to total strangers, and strolled into the false moonlight of the Yacht Club ballroom claiming to be Randolph Frog. Society women accepted his name with a straight face – the rich, being able to change everything but their names and looks, would defend these characteristics with care. In this circle a man with the face of a pit bull was considered distinguished.

- From In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. Also available: ebook | talking book.


Kicking the Sky

Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa

In the summer of 1977, 12-year old shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques, son of Portuguese immigrants, was found violently murdered on the roof of a massage parlor on Yonge Street. The gruesome crime shook Toronto the Good and galvanized the city's close-knit Portuguese community. Kicking the Sky is a coming-of-age novel told from the perspective of another 12-year old boy, Antonio Rebolo, with the real-life tragedy as backdrop.


Author Anthony De Sa grew up in the Little Portugal neighbourhood in the city's west end where most of the novel is set. But Yonge Street looms large throughout; as De Sa has said, "When we were younger we would get on our bikes and ride up the street because it was electric...There was something about it. It was magical and exciting and dangerous, and as kids that was something we were drawn to.”   

"Do you know anything about the kid that's gone missing?" she said, her eyes searching the street below.

"He doesn't live in our neighbourhood."

"I know that, stupid. I'm just wondering what you've heard."

"Not much. We're going to look for him tomorrow." Emanuel had last been seen by his brother and a friend on crowded Yonge Street, across from the new Eaton Centre, our first real mall, which spread across two full city blocks and sparkled like an enormous glass cage. That's where we planned to start our search.

"The cops have been looking for two days and haven't found him, but you and your little friends think you will. Good luck with that."

 - From Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa. Also available: ebook.


Girl on the Subway

CradKilodney_Malignant Humors_TimMcKenna_PhilMcLeod

No recollection of Yonge Street in fiction would be complete without a nod to Crad Kilodney. For years he was a fixture on Yonge, where he'd stand selling his self-published books, a sign around his neck advertising his wares: "Dull Stories for Average Canadians" or "Easy Books for Imbeciles" or "Pleasant Bedtime Reading" or "Putrid Scum." 

To my mind (and I'm not the only one), Crad Kilodney is a Toronto literary legend. But I almost had to leave him off this list because it was a bit tricky finding something, well, sufficiently innocuous to be posted here. Then I lucked upon this passage:

You would have seen Henry on the southwest corner of Yonge and Bloor, outside of Stollery's clothing store, preaching the gospel. I say "preaching" out of deference to him. I'm not sure it deserved to be called preaching, for reasons I will get to in a moment.

He was in his seventies and had white hair and very pale skin that evidently avoided the sun. He wore clothes that were old but clean, and he had a preference for a black topcoat in the winter and a black suit in the summer.

He was a frail-looking man who stood very stiffly and walked slowly. He would stand in front of the Stollery's window facing Bloor St. He would hold a Bible, but he never read to the crowd from it. He kept it merely as a reference in the unlikely case he should get into a discussion with a passer-by.

From Girl on the Subway and Other Stories by Crad Kilodney.


Interested in reading more works of fiction set in Toronto? Check out the Library's lists of books that focus on Toronto during different time periods.

Looking for more memories of Yonge Street, or want to share your own? Visit youryongestreet - the Library's interactive digital exhibit of people, places, and events on Yonge.

Snapshots in History: December 2-3: Remembering the 1984 Bhopal Chemical Plant Disaster

December 3, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)


(Dominique La Pierre on Dow Chemicals 1/12/09)


On December 2-3 and beyond, take a moment to remember the leakage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other ingredients at the Union Carbide Plant Disaster in Bhopal, India on the evening/early morning of December 2-3, 1984. The Bhopal disaster or gas tragedy in Madhya Pradesh state resulted in some 3,787 officially confirmed deaths by the state government (although many more died in the tens of thousands) with some other half-a-million-plus people injured to varying degrees (temporarily and permanently) from the incident. The Union Carbide India Limited plant was established in Bhopal in 1969 to produce carbaryl, a pesticide known commercially as Sevin. The process used at Bhopal involved the treatment of methyl isocyanate (See 3 in the diagram below) with 1-naphthol (See 4 in the diagram below).


(Credit: Preparation of carbaryl as in Bhopal.png - English: Synthesis of carbaryl, which uses methyl isocyanate. Adapted from Thomas A. Unger (1996), Particle synthesis handbook, William Andrew, pp. 67-68. ISBN: 0815514018. Source URL: )


(An alternative treatment process involves the conversion of 1-naphthol to chloroformate which is then treated with methylamine to give the desired result. The same reagents are used but the preparation of methyl isocyanate is avoided. Click here to view the alternative synthesis of carbaryl.)

Factors leading to the events of December 2-3, 1984 included the filling of large storage tanks with methyl isocyanate (MIC) beyond recommended levels; poor maintenance at the plant; the malfunction of several safety systems and the turning off of other safety systems to save money (including the MIC tank refrigeration system - its operation might have lessened the impact of the disaster); proximity to densely populated slum dwellings; deficiencies in health care and other services; a dearth of skilled operators in the plant; and the lack of an emergency preparedness plan. Seven (7) former employees were convicted in June 2010 of death by negligence and sentenced to two (2) years in jail in addition to a fine; one other former employee was also convicted but died before the court passed sentence.

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


The age of catastrophe disaster and humanity in modern times

The age of catastrophe: disaster and humanity in modern times / John David Ebert, 2012. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 363.3409 EBE

Man-made disasters are on the rise and the efforts to keep nature and civilization separated are not likely given their interconnectedness. It is more challenging to distinguish natural disasters from man-made ones. Ebert analyzed a number of post-World War 2 or “neomodern”disasters such as Bhopal (1984) and Chernobyl (1986) as well as several disasters of planetary scale, including Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans (2005) and the Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown (2011).

(Also reviewed in: Snapshots in History: April 26: Remembering the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster)


This borrowed earth lessons from the fifteen worst environmental disasters around the world

This borrowed earth: lessons from the fifteen worst environmental disasters around the world / Robert Emmet Hernan, 2009. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 363.7 HER

Humankind has damaged the environment through the desire for profit and a stubborn ignorance of the potential consequences. Some of the major environmental disasters covered are: Bhopal (1984), Chernobyl (1986), Exxon Valdez (1989), Love Canal (late 1970s), Minamata (1950s-1960s), and Three Mile Island (1979). This book introduces the reader to individuals involved in protecting their local communities and environments.


  Five minutes past midnight in Bhopal

Five past midnight in Bhopal / Dominique LaPierre and Javier Moro, 2002. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 363.179 LAP

The authors provide a great deal of background information leading up to the Bhopal gas tragedy. The technical aspects of the disaster are balanced with the human side of the story with a focus on a peasant family forced to leave their farmland and move to the Bhopal region where fate awaited their arrival.

Also available in French as: Il était minuit cinq à Bhopal: récit .  

Also available in Hindi as: Bhopāla bāraha bajakara pañca minaṭa


Consider several titles that were written closer to when the Bhopal disaster occurred:

Bhopal: anatomy of a crisis / Paul Shrivastava, 1987. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 363.179 SHR

The author, a management academic who hails from Bhopal, analyzes industrial crises (with specific regard to Bhopal) for characteristics relating to victims and their communities, governments, and corporations. Governments in developing countries are found to offer inadequate infrastructure to support industrialization while businesses are said to have a narrow focus, and are unprepared and unresponsive where crises are concerned.


The Bhopal tragedy: what really happened and what it means for American workers and communities at risk / Ward Morehouse and M. Arun Subramaniam, 1986. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 363.179 MOR

This book, whose intended audience was the Citizens Commission on Bhopal, was the first monograph-length account of the Bhopal disaster. The authors address the question of responsibility for the chemical plant leak and analyze the health and environmental impacts of the chemical gas discharge. The authors calculate $4.1 billion (in 1985 American dollars) in compensation for solely economic losses as providing an overview of pending claims litigation at the time.


A killing wind: inside union carbide and the Bhopal catastrophe / Dan Kurzman, 1987. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 363.179 K / 363.179 KUR

Kurzman tells the story of what happened at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India from the viewpoints of various individuals including the victims seeking compensation, local politicians, and company representatives. The impacts of local corruption and bureaucratic barriers are also discussed.


Would you rather watch and listen? Consider the following documentaries for viewing from Toronto Public Library collections:

One night in Bhopal [DVD] / McNabb Connolly, 2004. DVD. Adult Non-Fiction. Documentary. 363.1791 ONE

This documentary reports on the escape of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India that killed thousands of people and injured hundreds of thousands more. The film emphasizes cost-cutting measures that weakened operational safety at the chemical plant.


Scared sacred [DVD] / Velcrow Ripper (filmmaker) et. al.; National Film Board of Canada, 2006. DVD. Adult Non-Fiction. Documentary. English/French with subtitles. 303.62509 SCA

This documentary records filmmaker Velcrow Ripper’s five-year journey of documenting the “ground zeros” of various disasters and humanity’s capabilities of turning despair and disaster into possibility through stories of survival, resilience, and hope. Velcrow Ripper visits Bhopal, India, the Cambodian minefields, Bosnia, Hiroshima, Afghanistan, New York City after 9/11, as well as Israel and Palestine.



What about a novel that ties into the Bhopal Disaster? Do you prefer to read fiction over non-fiction? If that is the case, then consider the following title for loan from Toronto Public Library collections:


  Animal's people

Animal’s people / Indra Sinha, 2007. Book. Adult Fiction. FICTION SIN

The author, a frequent contributor to, offers the reader a mixture of seriousness and satire. The reader is introduced to the main character, Animal, a 19-year old, disabled teenager with a badly deformed spine. Consequently, he must walk on his hands and feet to get around. As an infant, Animal was injured and orphaned as a result of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Animal is taunted as a result of his disability but is befriended by Nisha (with whom he falls in unrequited love) who loves Zafar, the leader of a protest group demanding compensation from the chemical company. An American opens a free clinic to which Animal goes but Zafar is suspicious and urges a boycott of the clinic as he believes it to be allied with the chemical company.

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