Group Stories with Dixit Cards by ESL Students

Dixit cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Group One's Story

Group One’s Story

Group Two's Story with Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Group Two’s Story with Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Group Three's Story

Group Three’s Story

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Group Five's Story

Group Four’s Story

Dixit cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Group Five's Story

Group Five’s Story

My students enjoyed writing stories inspired by Dixit cards last week, but we ran out of time to share them with the whole class. An illustrated blog post seemed just the thing to capture the stories for later viewing and discussion!


Collages for Relaxation and Welcoming Spring

My collage bag and I paid a visit to a colleague’s ESL class this morning for a guest lesson. In forty minutes, sixteen fantastic collages emerged, creating a buzz of creative excitement!

Geanella's Collage

Geanella’s Collage

Joey's Collage

Joey’s Collage

Joey's Collage

Joey’s Collage

Joey's Collage

Joey’s Collage

Cassie's Collage

Cassie’s Collage

Cassie's Collage

Cassie’s Collage

Celia's Collage

Celia’s Collage

Rick's Collage

Rick’s Collage

Allen's Collage

Allen’s Collage

Salman's Collage

Salman’s Collage

Shen's Collage

Shen’s Collage

Guermo's Collage

Guillermo’s Collage

Jose's 3-D Collage

Jose’s 3-D Collage

Jose's 3-D Collage

Jose’s 3-D Collage

Ryan's Collage

Ryan’s Collage (Background print by Carlyle Raine)

Lorraine's Collage

Lorraine’s Collage

Henry's Collage

Henry’s Collage

Jesse's Collage

Jesse’s Collage

Brahms' Collage

Brahms’ Collage

Zoey's Collage

Zoey’s Collage

ESL Students’ Relaxation Collages

To follow up a recent textbook unit on healthy lifestyles, I asked the students to make collages on the theme of relaxation. The resulting collages made me proud of their individuality, creativity, and colors!

Ellidan's Collage

Ellidan’s Collage

Flyer's Collage

Flyer’s Collage

Mina's Collage

Mina’s Collage

Ben's Collage

Ben’s Collage

Simplice's Collage

Simplice’s Collage

Jayden's Collage

Jayden’s Collage

Christian's Collage

Christian’s Collage

Hannah's Collage

Hannah’s Collage

Jay's Collage

Jay’s Collage

Yuri's Collage

Yuri’s Collage

Angela's Collage

Angela’s Collage

Angela's Collage

Angela’s Collage

Angela's Collage

Angela’s Collage

Jhosuet's Collage

Jhosuet’s Collage

Judith's Collage

Judith’s Collage

Edwin's Collage

Edwin’s Collage

Alexander's Collage

Alexander’s Collage

Danilo's Collage

Danilo’s Collage

Danilo's Collage

Danilo’s Collage

Rita's Collage

Rita’s Collage










Your House Isn’t Like Other Houses : Eric’s Ninth Letter

As a graduate student in Scotland, receiving letters from home was cause for rejoicing. I still remember how happy I was to receive an aerogramme from Eric in January of 1992.IMG_4065


I sit a stone’s throw from the house where you lived in Liberty (“your house?”, “your parents’ house”?) — where better to start a letter to you? I came with my dad up to Jewell because I was bored . . . . . By the way, I’m sitting on the steps up to Jewell at the corner of Jewell and Franklin so I really am near The House. I’m sure you yourself sat here occasionally.


Your House Isn't LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Your House Isn’t LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Your House Isn't LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Your House Isn’t LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Well, I’ll have to continue this back — Wow, I see your mother [I feel weird] — home. Your mother got out of a white car and walked up to your house. Your mother is back getting something out of the white car. Well, I’ve got to leave. I’ll just take one last look at the house and get out of here. Your house isn’t like other houses.


I love how Eric wrote letters like a playwright, setting the scene and including dialogue and interior clues.

Signficant break in time, place, and mood

Setting: back at parent’s house

     What is going on in your psyche?? Would you like me to come visit you sometime? [Some friendships are firmly "rooted" in place and time and have no meaning outside of a given context. Is ours? I think not; what do you think? Anyway, I will probably come if you want me to.] What exactly are you studying? Do you have to eat a lot of haggis? Well, enough questions.

Rooted in Place and Time, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Rooted in Place and Time, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

All I did this X-mas was sit around and read. Why did I just write that? It is not true. I did lots of things including: ski, go to a country bar in Denver, . . . . see several movies, try to call you. However, for the last 5 or 6 days I’ve mostly been sitting around reading. I’m reading Discipline and Punish (Foucault), a study of how the power to punish has evolved in the last several hundred years. Extremely good.  I think my parents are wondering why the fuck I would choose to read such a book for no  particular reason. 

Your House Ins't LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Your House Ins’t LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

What else? I went out on a ship for the first time (only 3 days). I may be going out for 6 weeks this spring — I haven’t decided. It was weird being out on a ship even for a few days. I think I could deal with 6 weeks though. It would certainly give me time to reflect on confinement as a form of punishment and to read Moby Dick.

Rooted in Place and Time, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Rooted in Place and Time, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Rooted in Place and Time, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Rooted in Place and Time, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Notice that the density of information has the text has increased down the page. However, I’m fighting a losing battle and must wrap up this letter. I could use the “additional message area” but I would prefer to wrap up the letter on this page and put an “additional message” in the additional message area.  LOVE, ERIC

IMG_4069– Random Thoughts –

What’s going to happen to Salman Rushdie? . . . . . Do you like bolo ties? I have one now. I like it. How does the thought of a half-Catherine, half-other parasite growing inside of you, sucking your blood, and finally ripping you open on its way out strike you? You write the best letters of anyone I know so write back.

Your House Isn't LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Your House Isn’t LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Your House Isn't LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Your House Isn’t LIke Other Houses, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2014

Dixit Cards Continue to Inspire English-Language Learners

Last semester, I tried using Dixit cards to encourage students to speak in class and the results were so inspiring that I repeated the lesson this term. The cards prompted the students to access deep stores of wisdom, insight, humour and personal meaning. Their presentations affected me significantly, and I was so proud of them.

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

In this moment, I choose this card. In this card, we can see the clean sky, and the weather is sunny. And the umbrellas have all colours of the rainbow.

I think this card is like me because the different-coloured umbrellas are like how I use  different attitudes or different faces to protect my tender heart. My heart is a little weak. So I have to use the different ways to protect me because I (am) afraid to (get) hurt.

The temperature is so high, and the people have to use the umbrellas to keep out the sunshine and protect their skin. The people will think, “This weather is too hot and I have ice-cream or iced-tea.”

Everybody uses different ways to protect their tender hearts because this tender(ness) cannot face the sunshine. I chose this card because it is same as me,  so I love this card. (Sunny)

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

The picture shows a little boy, mountains, and a beautiful twilight. The little boy’s bubbles are planets in the sky. He’s walking far far away.

This picture makes me feel freedom. For me, it’s very important that all people show creativity and imagination. (Lauricelly)

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

I think this cat is using magic. The cat is hungry and hopes to get a fish through magic. He is also working hard because he is trying to get a fish.

Why did I choose this picture? Because it (is) like how I’m learning English. I can’t use magic, but I can keep trying.  (Christine)


Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

We can see this picture has a white candle on the table. In this picture, it is mostly dark.  (The candle) is the only light in this dark.  When the smoke goes up, the candle goes down and he dies.

The picture made me feel hope and made me feel a little sad because time is cold. (It doesn’t care) if you are  a rich man or poor man, a teacher or student. Time doesn’t see you or feel you.

I think this picture is very important for us because I think we are like candles. We just have a short life, but we can be a light in this world.  (Jerry)

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

This is a picture of a boy and a white horse. The boy (is) riding a white horse who is walking on the dry ground. He comes to eat and drink on the cliff. There is a beautiful oasis on the other side of the cliff. There is blue sky, sunshine, clean air, and a lot of trees.

The boy wants to go the oasis, but in front of him is a bottomless chasm. He thinks, “How can I follow the rainbow across the cliff?” Finally, through hard work and wisdom, he arrives on the other side.

The picture made me think, “When we (are) in trouble, don’t give up. We should think of the ways to solve it.” Rainbows come after the storm. The same is true of life.  I chose this picture because it give(s) me a positive outlook on life. (Mandy)

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

This is my picture. My picture doesn’t have any people or animals, but it has many eggs. You can see small house(s) near the grass. Living in this house are very small animals like the ants. I like ants very much because they very work hard. They are small animals, but they can work hard and make these houses.

We have an opportunity to come to Canada. In my country, many students don’t have money and their parents can’t afford to send them to Canada. They are very poor,  can’t go to school and can’t eat too many foods. We are not very rich, but we have a choice. We can eat two eggs for dinner. We need to use this opportunity to study in Canada to work hard.

In China, if you finish the high school we have a final exam. That exam is very important. We call it “Gaokao.” If you get good marks, you can go to a good university. If you maybe have a little mistake, you get little marks, so you lose. Maybe you can’t go to university. For me, I did not work hard enough on my studies, and I got very little marks. I think we need to work hard for the life.

My superhero is my classmate Sunny because I think Sunny very work hard for English. Not just for study, but for everything we need to work hard, like for jobs and even for getting a girlfriend. For example, why does R. have a girlfriend and why we don’t have a girlfriend? It’s because R.  works hard for clean his face and clean his body.

Why did I choose this picture? I think this picture is very important and very good for me. If I watch this picture, I can think I need to work hard more. (Paul)

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouat

This picture is talking about the desert. Someone put this anchor in the desert. I don’t know why, but I think it wants to explain to us how to survive anywhere.

The picture makes me feel afraid because there’s no life in the desert, no water, no food.  When I see this, I remember my country because we have a lot of desert. (Anas)

Dixit card illustrated by Marie Cardouet

This is a merry-go-round. There are four kids playing on the merry-go-round. When I saw the picture, I recalled my grandmother. A very long time ago, I went to a fairground with my grandmother. Now my grandmother is dead. I very miss her.

When I saw the picture, I missed her. I believe each person has a special childhood. This time with my grandma, that was my best time. When I saw the picture, I missed her so much. It’s a very beautiful picture. (Haiking)

Valentine’s Day Cards by ESL Students


Joey’s Card “Enjoy being love. Love makes the world go around.”


Joey’s Card

Last week I facilitated a Valentine’s Day art workshop at the college where I teach ESL, and the students’ work delighted me with its playful quirkiness. The natural creativity that surfaces when people sit around a table covered with pictures, glitter glue, thread, markers, stickers, scissors, and ribbon is a joy to behold!


Shirley’s Card (with messages inside)


Kamilla’s Card


Shirley P.’s Card


Shirley P.’s Card


Shirley P.’s Card


Shirley’s Card


Shen’s Card


Shen’s Card “I and my little good buddies are shocked.”


Jesse’s Card

The day after the workshop, I decided to take the abundant leftover materials to one of my classes and repeat the activity. Like the workshop attendees, these students made beautifully imaginative Valentine’s cards with messages both sweet and funny.


Jay’s Card


Jay’s Card


Mina’s Card


Mina’s Card


Ellidan’s Card


Ellidan’s Card


Danilo’s Card


Danilo’s Card


Jayden’s Card


Hannah’s Card


Hannah’s Card


Hannah’s Card


Ken’s Card


Ken’s Card


Ken’s Card


Frances’ Card


Frances’ Card


Cherry’s Card


Cherry’s Card


Cherry’s Card


Cherry’s Card


Cherry’s Card

The Name in the River: Photo-poem by Catherine

Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

She kneels before the river,

the ankles of her snow boots resting on the bench-edge.

Beside her, The Lightning Thief, three mysteries, Brave,

and a packet of cheese crackers make a small tower.

Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

She is not hungry for the crackers.

She watches the deer who sniffs the air for danger

before dipping its head in the river.

She wants to swim downstream in grey and blue

where the water’s wild direction drops from sight.


Window Art by Natu Patel, Humberwood Library

She turns to watch the librarian busy with the Holds cart.

The girl etches her name in the river with a fingernail.

Alia knows it is not allowed,

but she obeys an inner devotion

to a moving sanctuary, an altar of water.

Alia writes her name in the river

because it calls her daughter.

Alia dives into her river,

ancient gills awakening to underwater life.

The river’s name is Alia

and it carries the kneeling girl home.


Tall Grass Delight: Humberwood Library (1996)


Photo by Stewart Russell, 2009

Occupying a position on the far northwest frontier of the Toronto Public Library map, Humberwood branch lies forty-three kilometres from my home in Scarborough. Like Alderwood Library far to the south, Humberwood shares accommodations with a community centre and a school. These branches serve double-duty as school and public libraries.


Photo by Stewart Russell, 2009

Although the grounds of the community centre bordered a cluster of suburban houses, a rural atmosphere prevailed thanks to tall grass trails behind the complex and a “natural regeneration area” that ringed the building, softening any blunt angles.


Photo by Stewart Russell, 2009. All remaining photos by Catherine Raine.

Because of my prairie upbringing in Missouri, I have a natural tendency to swoon over wild grasses, the taller the better. I also like my grasses as frondy as possible, for tassels and tufts catch the wind more easily. That’s why I wanted to jump up and down when I saw a so many luscious grasses heaped up in front of the library’s entrance. Increasing my delight, a curved footbridge led to the front door, providing a sense of passing through a wild field.


Humberwood’s interior also felt very welcoming and open, especially when I caught sight of an inspired window seat — one long semi-circular swoop of light and wood. Enchanted, I immediately went to sit on it and soak up the natural view from the inside. While I admired some cottony tufts, I felt sun-warmed and content, like a napping cat.


A few paces from the wonderful seat was a rope hammock hanging from the ceiling. Jammed together in a cuddly heap were two studious stuffed gorillas with some class of collegiate folder tucked under one of the primate’s arms. Closer to the ground, resources in Hindi, Gujurati, and Punjabi were located a few bookshelves away from the hammock residents. French materials were also available near the Children’s Section.






A large paper tree and attendant dinosaurs — all holding prehistoric court among rocks and tissue paper on top of a sturdy bookshelf — announced the presence of the Children’s area. Sea and jungle creatures flanked the dinosaurs on their own shelf-tops.





On my 2014 visit, this dinosaur was taking a break.




On my first visit in 2009, what tickled me about the southwest corner of the library was the collection of zany Barbie dolls and action figures which dangled from the ceiling on fishing lines. One macho doll commandeered a motorcycle while a Barbie in a safari suit clutched his waist from behind. A few ceiling tiles over, a plastic man in a gas mask was parachuting towards some picture books. Nearby, a female and two male Barbies formed an aerial karate trio while more decorative (but less dynamic) dolls modeled nightclub outfits and a swimsuit.

The central ceiling-piece of 2009 was a large black helicopter complete with a rugged pilot, a female passenger in impractical gold boots, and a Rocky-impersonator hanging from one of the runners. Clinging to the wall was a rock-climbing Ken doll, his hands and feet scotch-taped to the indoor cliff. Although I worried about the stereotypical gender roles this display might be reinforcing, I couldn’t help but smile at the playful gaggle of dangling Barbies.


Below the Barbies, a collection of stuffed animals had been placed in a friendly pile where two shelves formed a corner on the west wall. A large stuffed Teddy-bear held a blue Wuvluvs alien on his lap. When I returned to Humberwood in 2014, the Wuvluv had migrated to a shelf that contained an Eiffel Tower replica and five boxcars.



More boxcars rode wildly overhead a few steps to the right, replacing the Barbies of five years ago.







Descending to the middle air, a fairy habitat graced the shelf near the children’s computer bay and a painted wooden clown’s body by the emergency exit stood upright, waiting for a photogenic face to fill the empty circle.



Although I didn’t pose for a clown photograph, I had a wonderful time in this spacious one-room library on the edge of Toronto’s city limits. Humberwood Library, a delightful surprise amid tall grasses, is now on my list of favourite branches.



My Ninety-Eighth Branch: Swansea Memorial

Community Mural, Swansea Town Hall

Community Mural, Swansea Town Hall

IMG_3513IMG_3425IMG_3333The penultimate Toronto Public Library I visited in 2010 was one of its smallest: Swansea Memorial. This compact and attractive branch occupies one room on the upper floor of Swansea’s City Hall, where it has resided for fifty-five years. (Previously, it was located in Swansea Public School from 1919 to 1959).IMG_3382 IMG_3372With only 1,127 square feet of floor space, Swansea Memorial made up for elbow-room constrictions with extra historical flavour. Even its big wooden table had a history; carpenter S. Haslam built it in 1926.IMG_3410IMG_3371IMG_3419 I liked the pioneer vibe of this venerable library, for it evoked the one-room schoolhouses of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. In fact, Anne’s famous Canadian author,  L. M. Montgomery lived in the village of Swansea from 1935 until her death in 1942, as Mary Henley Rubio details in Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (446). In 1939, Montgomery signed a letter honouring a woman named Mrs. R. C. Smith who had served as chairperson of Swansea Memorial’s library board for twenty years.Detail from mural in Swansea Town HallIMG_3457 IMG_3541In contrast to the solid, sober table was the tie-dyed kite on the ceiling. This sample of hippy whimsy seemed to soften the military associations of the library’s name. From a leaflet about Swansea Memorial Library’s history, I learned that credit for its inception belongs to the Women’s Patriotic League of Swansea, who wanted to honour the 152 freshly-returned local veterans of the First World War as well as “our twenty men who sleep in Flanders Field” (see letter above).Detail from Mural in Swansea Town Hall

IMG_3386A soft turtle, a penguin portrait, and a lost and found basket also served to render Swansea Memorial less solemn than its name implied.Detail from mural in Swansea Town HallIMG_3523 IMG_3331 IMG_3357IMG_3452My last act of homage was to study the folksy mural on the outer wall of the library. I loved the lively colours and the way the art piece transformed the interior of an official municipal building into a friendly community space. I also appreciated how the mural held the tension between memorial and celebration, making it an ideal spot to reflect on a pilgrimage to 97 libraries!IMG_3486IMG_3488 IMG_3481IMG_3516 IMG_3489 IMG_3497 IMG_3507IMG_3544Love the paw-outlet overlap!

Love the paw-outlet overlap!

Innovative Jane/Dundas (1975)

Photo by Stewart Russell


Photo by Catherine Raine

To enter Jane/Dundas Library from the parking lot is to encounter the branch as a visual whole — silver, light-filled, and open. Look down and you can see groups of teens in their study nook below. Look to the right and the entire main level comes into view. Although Jane/Dundas isn’t a huge branch, such is the innovative use of space that it feels bigger than its 11,648 square feet.IMG_3208 A long carpeted ramp leads to the basement level, giving a sense of expansiveness. Further openness comes from the generous amount of free space overhead as well as the enormous west-facing window on the main floor, a spot where the sun makes shadow art on a reading lounge with a 1960′s vibe.IMG_3308IMG_3311IMG_3217 IMG_3232 IMG_3262IMG_3261sunloungeThe library’s spatial openness is matched by linguistic breadth, as evidenced by a large ESL section and materials in French, Chinese, Hindi, Polish, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The narrow aisles of the main level also yield substantial fiction and non-fiction collections.IMG_3253IMG_3278IMG_3274IMG_3275 The downstairs level is equally engaging. It has a quiet study room filled with self-improvement energy, a beautiful painting of a tree in the teen enclave, and a playful set of shelves in the children’s area. These wooden shelves contain an open square which allows young library-users to peer into a storybook zone. IMG_3155 IMG_3083 IMG_3110 With so many angles, corners, and views, Jane/Dundas is a delightful place to raise your reading head before burrowing back into study. I’m grateful I spent a morning immersed in such an imaginative space!IMG_3299

Humber Summit Library on the Run

IMG_2868 IMG_2807My visit to Humber Summit (1974) was a flying one, as Stewart and I arrived less than an hour before closing. A small branch placed on top of a gentle hill, Humber Summit’s interior successfully imitated a living room. I was drawn to a circle of fat armchairs positioned around a coffee table, but there wasn’t time to luxuriate in one, much less try them all out, Goldilocks-style.IMG_2812 IMG_2808 Not far away, a small group of youngsters on a red sofa watched the 2007 version of Hairspray, further enhancing the domestic atmosphere. While Tracy Turnblad danced her way to personal and civil rights victories, I studied multilingual shelves which offered materials in Spanish, Italian, Punjabi and Urdu. (On my return visit in 2014, I noticed that Spanish and Italian were no longer part of the collection).IMG_3060 IMG_3058Despite the presence of a ten-headed demon king, generously placed windows meant that no matter where you turned, you could be comforted by sunlight.IMG_2855 IMG_2879 IMG_2917 IMG_2943I sensed that the librarians were getting antsy to close, so I dashed downstairs for a quick look. The rooms were locked, but I discovered an auditorium, a couple of meeting rooms, a homework club, and a Leading-to-Reading office.IMG_2971 I liked how there was a choice of two different staircases to take you back up to the main level; one led to the northwest corner of the library and the other to the outer lobby. If we had more time, I would have loved to challenge Stewart to a game of chase.IMG_2984IMG_2981 IMG_2993Stewart caught sight of me when I re-emerged from the lobby and motioned me over to the check-out desk. Minutes before closing, we made a hasty exit so we wouldn’t further delay the staff. Stewart took a few pictures of the library’s exterior while I admired the business names across the street: Om Cash Bank, Bollywood Lollywood DVD’s, Empanadas, and Asafo Market. All was well at sunset on the mild slopes of Humber Summit.IMG_3050

Pleasant Yet Spartan Woodview Park (1964)

IMG_2744 IMG_2667IMG_2632 Through no fault of its own, Woodview Park Library resides in a shabby strip plaza near the intersection of Sheppard Avenue and Weston Road. Even though no actual views of woods or parks existed, welcoming sunbaths from the storefront windows compensated for the spartan interior decor. IMG_2661 IMG_2666The teen nook had a engaging bench and fern on a table as well as a couple of armchairs upholstered in a 1970′s spirit. It seemed an ideal spot to read a magazine in the sun or check one’s phone for Facebook notifications.IMG_2641IMG_2626 A smaller table on the opposite end of the single-room branch signaled the start of the Children’s section. I liked how a container of crayons silently invited creativity.IMG_2682 IMG_2688 IMG_2727The most colourful decorative feature of Woodview Park was on the east wall. Adhering to it were the very same wooden cut-outs in the shape of joyful kids found at Black Creek Library.

IMG_2726 IMG_2738Below the jolly artwork, low-budget yet inventive taped objects offered visual clues to various categories of books, such as toothbrushes for the Human Body, a tiara and wand for Fairy Tales, foam planets for Astronomy, plastic dinosaurs for (surprise!) Dinosaurs, a stuffed bunny for Pets, a shuttlecock and assorted erasers for Sports, and a heraldic shield for Medieval Times (among other objects).

IMG_2756 IMG_2618IMG_2736IMG_2769IMG_2760IMG_2759 The branch offered plenty of ESL, Italian, Spanish, and Vietnamese resources as well as volumes in the language of Romance. (Two titles I liked were Cattle Baron: Nanny Needed and Hired: Cinderella Chef  because they made household chores sound sexy).IMG_2800IMG_2798IMG_2792IMG_2788When I left the library, I didn’t feel the wistful ennui of a woman being presented with a butterfly she doesn’t want. The sunny bustle of Woodview Park had turned my ordinary Saturday morning into an extra-cheerful one.

Formerly Rural Rexdale (1959)

IMG_2591IMG_2469From the outside, Rexdale Library had a pleasing squatness that gave it the air of small-town post-office. Confirming this impression, a historical outline posted inside described the evolution of the library and its formerly rural surroundings. I was especially fascinated by a newspaper clipping which showed how Kipling Heights looked in 1955.IMG_2562IMG_2488Though not as empty as the field in the photograph, Rexdale wasn’t very crowded on the afternoon of my visit. Near the west wall, a couple of elderly men fondly reminisced about TTC fares that only cost six cents in the post-war era.IMG_2514IMG_2515IMG_2560A few shelves away from their table were books and DVD’s in languages which were rarely heard in Kipling Heights fifty-five years ago: Gujarati, Punjabi, Spanish, and Hindi. Further diversity flowered in a paper tree covered in name-fruit.IMG_2475IMG_2433 IMG_2430Having come into the building from the back entrance, I decided to investigate the west bay window with a lovely C-shaped seat. Brightening the window were pictures of Lola Bunny, Dora the Explorer, Winnie the Pooh, Pikachu, and an Anime Warrior Girl.IMG_2399IMG_2502IMG_2489IMG_2524IMG_2529IMG_2532IMG_2519IMG_2522Opposite the windows, a wooden sliding screen completed the circle started by the window seat. Its flexibility made it possible to enclose the area into its own separate space. Emphasizing the room’s singularity, a circular depression in the middle suggested a woodland pond.IMG_2486IMG_2420Two carpeted steps led to the sacred pool, providing the perfect amount of transition time from land to water. With late afternoon sunlight gently bathing the window-seat theatre, this otherwise ordinary branch was transformed into a cartoon-friendly hermitage with lofty views of clouds and a hot air balloon. IMG_2453IMG_2464 IMG_2601 IMG_2592

The Cool Colours of Oakwood Village

To enter Oakwood Village Library (1997) was to step into a pale concrete rectangle. I found the interior colours very calming, especially the mottled blue and grey accent walls . A balm to thirsty eyes, this spacious branch was a cool drink of water.

oakwood_village1IMG_2200IMG_2281IMG_2344Even though Oakwood Village’s straight lines and concrete stairs reminded me of a university library, the lively clientele didn’t allow much academic dust to settle. In fact, a joyfully chaotic face-painting event had just broken up when I turned up to see the library.

IMG_2158IMG_2161Phalanxes of strollers streamed toward the exit, only slowed by the odd recalcitrant toddler in the collector lane. Wide aisles prevented any major traffic jams.

IMG_2155On the east side of the room, an empty expanse of carpeted floor waited for the next storytelling audience. This open area’s only decorations were a gas fireplace and an exhibit of three art pieces by Barbara Reid. My favourite one depicted a father and daughter in a supermarket. I loved how Reid managed to make the plasticine glow with textile warmth.


Artwork by Barbara Reid

The upper floor also had a very roomy east side, although it appeared slightly less spacious because of the armchairs for newspaper-browsers. Actually, the second floor was almost exactly the same size and shape as the main level, except for a narrow open space on its north side. I looked down the gap as I leaned against the ledge, catching a glimpse of bookish activity below.

IMG_2305IMG_2358IMG_2345Near the ledge were a couple of wide black chairs whose high backs contained large uniform holes. Since these leather chairs furnished the Teen Section, it wasn’t surprising that I saw two actual teens interacting with them. One kid remained seated while a friend pretended to punch his head through the holes. Clearly, this was not a love-seat. I moved away from the edifying scene to gaze at shelves filled with books in French, Tagalog, and Italian (Spanish and Portuguese were no longer available at this branch in 2013).

IMG_2324IMG_2384IMG_2387IMG_2381With only one floor unvisited, I trotted down to the basement to see the theatre. The door was locked, so I returned to the main level and studied a Christmas book display in three glass cases near the exit. The winter theme held steady in the form of giant paper snowflakes hanging nearby and authentic snow creating patterns on the skylights near the north wall.

IMG_2194IMG_2203IMG_2232 IMG_2243 IMG_2267In response to the snow, knitted blankets and scarves provided the perfect warming backdrop to a display of new books on the ground level.IMG_2225 IMG_2234IMG_2252 IMG_2251 Oakwood Village, thank you for providing a sanctuary of coziness filled with relaxing colours and hospitable light.IMG_2312 IMG_2248

Something More Original: Eric’s Eighth Letter

Letter number eight was postmarked July 20, 1990 and arrived on University of California, San Diego letterhead:


How are you? You’ve got to write me and tell me what the hell’s going on in your life. As you no doubt concluded from the letterhead, I am working in San Diego this summer. I will be starting my Ph.D. program this fall.


Just Kidding, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2013

I want to know (how) Europe was. How have you changed Catherine? Not just in Europe, but in the last few years when I’ve seen you less and less. What are your long term plans — graduate school, job, get married and pregnant (just kidding), or something more original like mercenary, jewel thief, sex therapist, talk show hostess.

Just Kidding, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2013

Just Kidding, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2013

Just Kidding, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2013

Just Kidding, Collage by Catherine Raine, 2013

Sex Therapist Career Option, Collage by Catherine Raine 2013

Sex Therapist Career Option, Collage by Catherine Raine 2013

Are you looking forward to your senior year? Are you dreading it? Write back,

Love Always,


Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Mercenary or Talk Show Hostess, Collage by Catherine Raine 2014

Summer and Winter Visits to Victoria Village Branch (1967)

June 2010


Winter 2013

Similar to Evelyn Gregory branch, Victoria Village Library fit right into its neighbourhood setting, taking its place among the generous number of trees along Sloane Avenue in Scarborough. With  pale green walls and leafy views from its high windows, Victoria Village’s interior was like a cheerful and well-stocked treehouse.IMG_1846

Winter 2013

Winter 2013

Although built on a modest rise, I felt a generous sense of elevation when I looked out the big glass door in the west wall. From there, I could see high rise apartments in the distance and trees in the foreground between the library’s parking lot and that of a local school.IMG_1868IMG_1874When I turned towards the north wall, I noticed that the ceiling was lower over the Kids and Teen’s Section, creating a long and narrow space illuminated by more than a dozen high rectangular windows side by side. These windows served up a vision of mystical sky slices filled with leaves in summer and dark branch etchings in winter. More pragmatically, this part of the library contained ESL materials as well as offerings in French, Chinese, and Hindi.

Summer 2010

Summer 2010

Winter 2013

Winter 2013

IMG_1973IMG_1970 IMG_1967IMG_1974In the Teen Zone, two homemade robot friends oversaw a busy study table from on top of a bookshelf. Both robots wore pie tins on their heads and had protruding egg-carton eyes taped to their aluminum faces. Large disposable baking tins provided their torsos, and their arms were foil-covered paper towel rolls with hands made from fuzzy silver pipe cleaners. (On my 2013 visit, I saw that the robots had been retired from service).IMG_1847IMG_1861In the northeast corner of the kid’s section, a tired coyote rested its head on a bin of blocks. I wondered how he had ended up there and hoped it wasn’t a severe case of nausea. With his tongue hanging out and head tilted back, this poor coyote looked uncomfortable at best and sick at worst.The rest of the main level consisted of a comfortable reading lounge and shelves of adult fiction and non-fiction. Though small, Victoria Village also boasted a downstairs community room. It was locked when I visited in 2010, but I was able to take a picture of a jolly puppet theatre from the hallway. Thanks to its north windows, the basement level was almost as sunny as the upper one.On my most recent trip to Victoria Village, I was able to photograph the lower level more completely. A forgotten scarf became a frame through which to further appreciate the community area.IMG_1907IMG_1949 IMG_1925 IMG_1918 I was reluctant to leave this restful branch, so I walked slowly around the north side of the building. There I discovered the tree responsible for filling the interior window panes so beautifully. With the setting sun pausing on its branches, it seemed the perfect image to close a blog post!

Sunlight and Triangles at Amesbury Park

IMG_1770Amesbury Park (1967) rested in front of a grassy mound of parkland on the south side of Lawrence Avenue West. Its interior had the care-worn look of a neighbourhood facility in high demand, but the library still managed to define its space in interesting ways. For example, a curved purple screen marked the dividing line between the lobby and the Children’s area and served as the upper back of a red cushioned bench.IMG_1691 IMG_1689 IMG_1679On my first visit in 2009, I noticed that someone had carved an open porthole in the wave-shaped divider, inviting patrons to imagine a submarine universe, but the porthole was absent in 2013.IMG_1706 IMG_1721Nevertheless, plenty of windows remained to illuminate the collections, including two giant triangular skylights and many large windows that faced the park.IMG_1724IMG_1747IMG_1802As the photographs above suggest, triangle shapes abounded in this purposeful yet relaxed parkside branch. However, lest I completely float off in a reverie of sunlight and triangles, let me mention the large ESL section and offerings in French, Gujarati, Hindi, Italian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. (By 2013, the Tamil collection had moved to Downsview branch).IMG_1816 IMG_1815IMG_1830 IMG_1813IMG_1814IMG_1825 IMG_1822IMG_1829When I crouched down to examine the spine of a romance novel called Armed and Devastating, the lights went off for a few moments, signaling the library’s imminent closure. I enjoyed the brief bath of natural light — silver and blue on a late autumn afternoon in 2009 — and reluctantly gathered up my notebook and book sale items. I left Amesbury Park, my eighty-sixth branch, with the sense of an afternoon well-spent.IMG_1773

Trash Bunny’s Worst Christmas (Photos and Poem by Catherine Raine)


Lost animal of Christmas past,

floppy ears cover eyes

too ashamed to accept,

how low she’s fallen,

 faded felted belly

frozen in grief to the sidewalk.


Without even a plastic bag

to disguise rejection,

she lies exposed, less than garbage.

Discarded cords, old homework,

and a Disney Store bag (2007)

press against the slack form on three sides.

Her tired pelt casts shadows on jigsaw mats

that are not useful, not even fun.


 Who used to love you?

Who threw you away?

Who remembers the morning

you got yanked from a red box

and hugged with aggressive joy?

Where is your former seat

on a bunk bed or cedar chest?

You never chose this street, this corner, this end.

Nobody asked if you were done with love.


When I see the patchwork bow on your neck,

my ribs tighten in pain.

The bow’s faded hearts, flowers, and stripes

in green, blue, yellow, and a hint of purple

cannot uplift this heap of despair,

but the colors found me, your witness, your friend.

Let’s sit together until the truck comes.


… by Catherine Raine