The TEN titles listed below are suggested for recommended for different age levels and include different genres including free verse, chapter book, and nonfiction selections.
LOVE FROM A to Z by S.K. Ali (YA)
This is story, told in alternating chapters presents the relationship between Zayneb, visiting her aunt in Doha, Quatar during March break and Adam who lives nearby with his father and sister. Zayneb is angry (and political) in response to her racist teacher back home in Indiana and Adam is troubled after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When Zaynab and Adam’s paths cross, they find some solace and connections with each other as they each question their place in the world as Muslim teenagers. That they each record their thoughts in their own MARVEL and ODDITY journals. A warm, thought-provoking story that deals with loss, memory, politics, friendships and falling in love.
LETTERS FROM CUBA by Ruth Behar
Esther’s father has left Poland and is now living in a small Cuban village. He dreams of having his family (mother, wife, three sons, 2 daughters) come to join him. At 12 years of age, Esther persuades her Papa that she should come to live with him. From 1937 – 1939, Esther writes letters to her younger sister, Malka in which she describes her life in the small community, her new friendships, the struggle she and her father have to save money to pay for her family to join them, her talent and success at making and selling dresses to locals and to a big department store and the threat. Antisemitism. The letters, never sent, serve as a record of Esther’s growing love of her new home and her dreams of bringing family together. Though fictional, the story is drawn from the author’s family history. A heartfelt book that brings another perspective to both the immigrant experience and to narratives that led to the Holocaust.
DRESS CODED by Carrie Firestone
The principal at Fisher Middle School is ruthless about having a dress code which he strictly enforces – especially for the girls. Molly Frost and her friends are fed up with this unfair school ‘law’ and creates a podcast where girls tell their stories. Eventually the grade 8 students take action and form a protest and rebellion so that future students at the school won’t have to deal with this ruling. Even though Molly has a lot to deal with (an out-of-control brother who is addicted to vaping, a school bully, friendship loyalties, she is determined to lead the pack in forming a rebellion with petition, posters and meetings with the Board of Education. The titled chapters are short (1 to 3 pages) and there is a range of text formats including PODCAST transcripts, letters, lists. This is a top-notch, quick-read, novel that shines a light on middle school life and inspires students to stand up for what they think is right.
ALL HE KNEW by Helen Frost (free verse)
Henry is a young boy, who can speak but is deaf. The time period is World War II and Henry is sent to sent to an institution because he is labelled ‘unteachable’. Victor, a conscientious objector is hired to work at the institution as part of a Civilian Public Service program alternative to the draft. Unlike others who have treated Henry and his friends harshly, Victor shows kindness to the boys. When Victor recognizes ability and cleverness in Henry he strives to find hope and comfort for the boy. Frost’s free verse novel is based on actual events that arose during WWII. This book is recommended for those fond of free verse style, stories about those with physical challenges and historical fiction presented in poetic style.
DUCK DAYS by Sara Leach; illus.Rebecca Bender (Chapter book)
This is the third book in the series (Slug Days; Penguin Days) that presents the day to day adventures of Lauren, a young girl with Austism Spectrum Disorder. She strives to follow the counsel of her father who tells her to ‘go with the flow’ but when a class adventure of mountain biking day is announced, Lauren is stressed out because she is still using training wheels and worries about the teasing that awaits her. Her friendship with her best friend, Irma, helps Lauren get through her worries. This is a fine story to help readers understand differences as well an engaging read to grasp themes of frustration, bravery and acceptance. Rebecca Benders’ black and white illustrations appear on every page adding clarity and joy to the narrative.
MANANALAND by Pam Munoz Ryan
Newbery Honour author Ryan tells the story of an 11-year-old Maximiliano Cordoba’s coming of age journey as he takes up family. mission of helping refugees. Maximiliano. living in the fictitious Central American village of Santa Maria longs to solve the mystery of what happened to his mother who disappeared when he was a baby. He eagerly listens to the stories his grandfather tells about the mysterious gatekeeper who leads travelers to a safe haven , a place called Mananaland (Tomorrowland). I am not giving this book as strong a review as it has been receiving. Disclaimer, I couldn’t wrap my head around the sense of fantasy realism and myths that seemed to interrupt the flow of the narrative but I would certainly add this piece of fiction that tell about the plight of refugees – ‘hidden ones – who are seeking a place of safety.
I’M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal (YA)
The novel is told in alternating voices: Gena (a Black teenager) and Campbell (a white teenager). The two girls lives first intertwine during a violent outbreak at a school Football game. Althouigh, they have different cultural perspectives to the Black Lives Matters movement, Lena and Campbell stick together amidst protests and looting that quickly erupt in the city, throughout the night. The two authors take immerse readers into the violence of city protests, thus bringing news events to life. A worthy addition to YA novels that help readers contemplate race relations.
SKY OF BOMB, SKY OF STARS: A Vietnamese War Orphan Finds Home by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (biography)
This omnibus edition presents two of the author’s award-winning biographies LAST AIRLIFT: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War and ONE STEP AT A TIME: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way. The story document’s eight-year old orphan Tuyet’s rescue from bomb-filled Vietnam and her adaption to life in Canada when when she is adopted by the Morris family. Tuyet’s fiuther resolve is tested when she embarks on corrective surgery for her twisted ankle and a gruelling physiotherapy regime. Together, these two stories recount the biography of a brave, courageous girl, who moved from a sky of bombs, to a sky of stars striving to find a place called home.
YORICK AND BONES by Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard.
Canadian picture book hero, Jeremy Tankard (Grumpy Bird) has created a graphic novel that features a skeleton character named Yorick (yes, that Yorick, you know him well). Together with his daughter Tankard tells an amusing tale about the skeleton, who ‘magically’ is resurrected and hopes to find a true friend to keep him company. A dog named BONES is thrilled to find the Yorick’s bones to chew on and ends up becoming a faithful companion to him. The speech bubbles are mostly given to the voice of Yorick. (Bone’s dialogue hardly ‘says’ anything beyond “Woof! Woof!”). What makes this book unique is the use of iambic pentameter, a tribute to the language of Shakespeare which may , or may not, appeal to Middle Years readers. (“Whenever my eyes doth open it is dark!/It seems eternity that I have slept;/ So long I nary can recall my past.”)
MARCH: A trilogy by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell (graphic biography) / YA
March celebrates, a graphic biography presented in black and white illustrations, celebrates the life of Black U.S. Congressman, John Lewis, committed to justice and nonviolence in fighting for civil rand human rights against Jim Crow laws The series recounts Lewis’s early life on a sharecropper Alabama farm to the 1963 March on Washington. Here is a remarkable story of a man who received both countless beatings from state troopers to eventually receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Book One spans Lewis youth in Alabama, a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the battle to tear down segregation through lunch counter sit-ins. (March the first title, winner of the four awards for nonfiction literature, is the first in a trilogy. Book Two features the sit-in campaigns in Nashville, the Freedom Riders mission to combat segregation, and Lewis’s rise at 23 years old to chairman of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Book Three focuses on the March from Selma to Montgomery demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. State troopers attacked the orderly protestors in a brutal confrontation that became known as ‘Bloody Study’. Media revealed the senseless cuetly of the segregated South which eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.