lullibies for little criminals

Lullabies for Little Criminals┬áis unique. For days I’ve been trying to decide how to approach this review. If I outlined the plot, you would think it’s depressing. It isn’t. It’s a charming, hopeful tale about a motherless thirteen-year-old with an immature, heroin-addicted dad. It’s also about childhood’s irrepressible happiness. I’ve never read a story about street kids this authentic, this unromantic.

Heather O’Neill’s brilliant, resilient little protagonist, Baby, is an oasis of hope and normality in Montreal’s underbelly, a dangerous underworld that exists, unseen and unnoticed, right beside the safe, child-centred world of the middle-class. This is nothing like “the street” as depicted by Hollywood. It’s too familiar and therefore much worse.

Baby tells her story with such a fresh voice that you are compelled to read on, though you dread each twist and turn. Hers is the inevitable tragedy when a young tween can only get love and shelter from the local pimp. Tawdry stuff, you think. I know how this will end, you think. You don’t.

I’ll be looking for more by Heather O’Neill. She has already won the 2007 CBC Radio Canada Reads award for this book. I’d nominate her for a Governor General’s Award as well.

It’s not why we read but…

The results are in from Test the Nation and there’s good news for bookworms. The highest scorers were those who read fiction and literature, followed closely by readers of SF and Fantasy!

People who played word games daily or a few times a week did much better in general than people who never play them.

Members of the winning team (The Ad Writers) had an average score of 55.8 or 79.7%

The English Teachers and Word Gamers teams came in fairly close behind at 54.6 and 54.2 respectively.

You know what this means, don’t you? Keep doing those word games, sure, but most of all, keep on reading. Readers rule the world. Bwaa haa haa!

Test the Nation: Watch Your Language!

This is a CBC show which allows you to test your knowledge from the comfort of your chesterfield. The studio contestants included: The Celebrities, The Romance Writers, The English Teachers, The Sorority and Fraternity Students, The language gamers, The Comedians and the Ad Writers. The winner overall was a seventeen-year-old who is already publishing crosswords in newspapers. The winning team was the Ad Writers.

I sat through the whole test, carefully jotting down numbers and letters and hoping my son wouldn’t wake up and interrupt me. The results?

I have finally found a quiz show that I wasn’t lousy at. Could it be that the purpose of this show, unlike so many game shows, wasn’t to sell me something?

I got 58/70 (83%). Wanna face me? Wanna? Huh? Huh? You can. It’s pure fun for language geeks. If you missed the show tonight, you can play online at Test the Nation. Careful now, there are some questions designed to test your knowledge of Canadian English. I got tripped up by the Bismark question.

Of course what I’m really burning to know is:

  1. The average score on the winning team
  2. Russell Smith’s score
  3. The score of the seventeen-year-old, overall winner and youngest contestant. I didn’t catch his name but you can see his picture here.

Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe

I’m a fan of Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe radio show. His stories are entertaining, usually funny and they have a quality I struggle with in my own writing: heart. It’s situation comedy but he makes you care. McLean’s characters, snug in their tight-knit community, are always involved in each others’ lives. It’s a welcome antidote to the private alienation of living in an urban suburb. Don’t get me wrong. I would hate to live in a community where people put their noses into my private life, but it’s nice to fantasize about neighbours who care.

McLean is a seasoned journalist as well as an author of fiction and he knows people. The resulting stories are deceptively simple. When McLean reads his folksy yarns on the radio in his “Dave” persona, it’s easy to forget how much polish goes into these comic gems. Slick? Sure, but to work comedy must appear easy.

Fittingly, Penguin Canada has given this hardcover some of the slickest and funniest cartoon art I’ve seen in a book of short stories. It’s unique and fun. 1950’s style caricatures beckon us from their cartoon panels into the secretive and labyrinthine “Vinyl Cafe Inc.”

Check it out yourself online. The cover of the book has pictures of the various naughty types and their peccadilloes. Unlock their secrets at:

For excellent stories with gentle humour, I recommend this one for gift-giving or self-indulgence. Stuart McLean can be heard Saturday mornings at 10:00 a.m. (10:30 NT) on CBC Radio Two, Sundays at 12:00 p.m. (12:30 NT) on CBC Radio One. For more information about his show, check out: CBC Radio.