CULTIVATING WORD POWER: A Picture Book Approach

I am working on a PEMBROKE  publication about helping students gain word power by collecting, inspecting and hoarding words.  The book (title TBD) will be forthcoming in the fall.  As the school year, begins I would like to share some thoughts about helping to build students love of words and am providing the following excerpt from my manuscript and outlining some picture book titles to support this initiative.

REACH FOR YOUR OWN WORDS TELL THE WORLD WHO YOU ARE

AND HOW YOU WILL MAKE IT BETTER

 from The Word Collector by PETER REYNOLDS

The Word Collector

The hero of Peter H. Reynolds picture book is a word collector. Jerome delights in inspecting, and collecting and filling his scrapbooks words that he HEARD, that he SAW, that he READ. No teacher guide is needed for ‘using’ this book with young people. Reynolds presents an invitation for readers young and old to pay attention (and collect) words that are short, that are sweet, words that puzzle or mystify, words that are simple, words that are powerful, words that are marvelous to say, to enrich our language power and to carry in our language knapsacks to take out as needed when reading, writing and conversing. Peter (and Jerome) lead readers into thinking about and reaching for their own words to make their worlds better.

Many titles are available are specifically written to celebrate the engagement with words. For pre-school children there are several titles available to help them identify, name and label things. Many picture books have also been written to demonstrate how words are important in the lives of the fictitious characters, words that enrich their vocabulary and word power.

COLLECTING WORDS: Ten Strategies

1. Encourage children become word collectors by providing them with their personal Word Collecting booklets. Students can collect words that they view (in the environment), hear (in conversations and discussions) and read (independently in books).

2. Students complete the following sentence stem…

MY FAVOURITE WORD is… BECAUSE…

These word choices can be shared in a class discussion or perhaps be displayed in a class blog, on a bulletin board.

3. Invite students to suggest names of pets that they know. These names can be listed on a chart. Survey the class to determine the favourite name that be used for a household pet or perhapsa pet dragon.

4. Create a classroom bulletin board entitled “We Collect Words”. Using post it notes, or strips of paper, students can be word detectives and record new, strange, or interesting words that they wish to share with others.

5. Challenge students to collect ten to twelve words on a specific topic (e.g., names of places,colours, feelings or a spelling pattern (three syllable words, words with two different vowels, long words). Students can then put an asterisk beside the three most interesting words on their list.

6. Students write three favourite words they’ve collected on a piece of paper. Papers are put into a hat, box or jar. Students gather in a circle and each select a slip of paper with the three words.

7. Invite students to focus on a specific topic or spelling pattern. Challenge students to go on a word in books they’ve read that fit the pattern.

8. Collect paint chip samples from a local hardware store. If possible, provide each student with a single sample strip. Which colour name is their favourite? As a follow up, some students may be challenged to invent new names for colours (for crayons or markers, for ice cream flavours, or nail polish).

9. Have students collect favourite words over a one-week period that can be displayed alphabetically on a word wall. As a follow-up activity, survey the students to find out which of the collected words are their favourites.

10. Students complete the following sentence stems that have them list words on a specific topic

My favourite smell is…

My favourite crayon colour is… One word to describe me is…

The longest word I know that begins with the letter’s’ is… Here is a four-syllable word I know…

Here is a word I know with three different vowels…

RECOMMENDED PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT WORDS

Selig loved everything about words – the sound of them in his ears (tintinnabulating), the taste of them on his tongue (tantalizing), the thought of them when they percolated in his brain (stirring), and most especially, the feel of them when they moved his heart (Mama!).

From The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter: illus. Giselle Potter

LEARNING ABOUT WORDS: Toddlers ages 2 to 5

My Very First Book of Words by Eric Carle

Maisy’s Amazing Big Book of Words by Lucy Cousins

Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis; Illus. Laura Cornell

Llama Llama Loves to Read by Anna Dewdney

Touch: My Big Touch-and-feel Word Book by Xavier Deneux

Baby’s First Word will be DADA by Jimmy Fallon (also: Everything is MAMA)

Cassie’s Word Quilt by Faith Ringgold

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills

Bob Books: Sight Words Kindergarten Set Lynn Maslen Kertell

First 100 Words by Roger Priddy

Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry

Carlo Like Reading by Jessica Spanyov

 

THE POWER OF WORDS (ages 6 +)

Alphabet Soup by Kate Banks; illus. by Peter Sis

Max’s Words by Kate Banks; illus.by Boris Kulikov

Donovan’s Word Jar by MonaLisa DeGross

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence; illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

Miss Alaineus: A vocabulary disaster by Debra Frasier

Other Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world by Yee-Lum Mak; illus. by Kelsey Garrety-Riley

Fancy Nancy (series) by Jane O’Connor; illus. Robin Preiss Glasser

Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds Words Lora Rozler

Did you Take the B from my_ ook? Beck & Matt Stanton

Thesaurus Rex by Laya Steinberg; illus. Debbie Harter

The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter; illustrated by Giselle Potter

The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer

READING DIARY: ‘Adult’ reading…June / July 2018

The titles below are presented in the order that I read them as the summer months unfolded. These books include fiction, non-fiction and poetry and  were mostly drawn from my ‘grown-up’ reading pile. (I read several children’s novels in-between.)

 

CALYPSO by David Sedaris / June 20

Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!
Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!
Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!  Sometimes heartbreaking! Funny! Funny!
Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT by John D’Agata (author) & Jim Fingal (fact-checker)
/ June 25

A fascinating, fascinating read! Author D’Agata wrote an essay in 2003 framed on the story of a teenager who committed suicide by jumping off the tallest building in Las Vegas. The article was first rejected due to factual inaccuracies but was later accepted by another magazine, after being scrutinized by fact-checker, Jim Fingle, a process that took seven years as the two men communicated, argued, negotiated and searched for truth. Every statement is held up for fact-checking and this book presents those notions in magenta font, which borders excerpts of the ‘real’ essay which appear in black font on each page. This is a book about, fiction vs non-fiction, accuracy, truth, embellishment, artistic liberty and readers trust and faith in an essayist’s, a journalist’s words words. Certainly brings a torchlight to the notion of FAKE NEWS.

This publication will be transformed into a Broadway play starring Cherry Jones, Daniel Radcliff and Bobby Carnevale. Can’t wait to see it – I think!

VOICES IN THE AIR by Naomi Shihab Nye / June 30

Naomi Shibab Nye stands on the shoulders of ‘essential voices past and present that have the power to provoke us, lead us, and give us hope.’  The poet invites readers to “Slow down. /Turn the page. Breathe. Listen.” I was challenged by grasping the signficance of each poem but read each poem page by page and respected Shihab Nye’s master of poemwords. Perhaps they demand ‘listening’ (and talking). I cherish this excerpt...”what a minute      said to an hour / Without me      you are nothing.” (from the poem “To Manage”)

MILK AND HONEY (2015) and THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS (2017) by Rupi Kaur / July 2

Was interested in discovering why Canadian poet, Rupi Kaur has had such phenomenal success. Poetry doesn’t usually end up on New York Times bestseller lists. (How many poetry anthologies have you purchased in the past year?.  Unlike a huge fanship, I didn’t love these two collections, finding them somewhat pretentious. But I have not been struck by the heartbreak of a romantic relationship. I am not angry. Or broken.  I am not a woman. The poems are mostly short. The fine simple line drawings are often more poetic than the words they accompany.

perhaps

i don’t deserve

nice things

cause i am paying

for sins I don’t

remember

EDINBURGH by Alexander Chee / July 22

I was intrigued by many of Alexander Chee’s essays in his book “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel” (2018, paperback version) and so decided to read his first novel.  In The story of a gay Korean, at different stages in his life who encountered traumatic events (pedophelia, suicide of a lover) and works to build a new life through teaching and a loving relationship.  Straightforward narrative is not Chee’s strength. Too often there seemed to be gaps from section to section, but the author does have a strong command of poetic images (‘I’d never seen feathers look like that they could protect anything until now, but here I can see how they hold the air, strain it like a whale’s baleen strains the water.’ (p, 176)  (‘Metal is like love, it takes its temperature from touch.’)  (p. 220) which often gave me cause to pause and wonder). Question: Why does the author  often omit  question marks when they seem to be required?

THE ONLY STORY by Julian Barnes/ July 31

A 19 year old boy meets up with a woman, twice his age. They have an affair. A rather unconventional one.  This is a ‘love story’, a journey into the heart, a journey of connecting, a journey into the heart,  (told from the male’s point of view)

 

Shout Out/ July 7

THERE THERE by Thomas Orange

There There: A novel

An explosive novel about the Native American identity. Twelve characters are heading to a Powwow in Oakland California. Thomas Orange rises on the shoulders of Sherman Alexie and takes wild flight with the intersection of friendship and family, anger and despair, bad behaviour and strong resilience, of a cast of Urban Indians. At times brutal, at times poetic, this is a novel that will likely be on many top ten lists at years end and required reading lists for the decades ahead.

 

SUMMER READING 2018: FICTION, Middle Years and YA

The titles below, listed alphabetically by author, present a range of genres, themes, character and settings that should appeal to readers, ages 9 through 16.

YA NOVELS

 

THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara (X), a Domincan teenager, living in Harlem confronts the feelings of growing up, of falling in love and becoming an independent thinker. Most challenging for X is her confrontations and battles with her mother who is devoutly religious and wants the same for her daughter. The only comfort for Xiomara is her journal writing, a place where she can be honest with herself and consider the relationships in her life. With the encourgement from an English teacher, Xiomara finds a sense of peace in writing poetry and participating in Spoken Word events. The Poet X is a tough character asking questions and fighting for what she believes in. A worthy contribution to the Free Verse novel from a first-time novelist.

EMERGENCY CONTACT by Mary K. Choi

Not sure exactly why I bought this novel. Maybe I read a great review. However, I do like books with alternating narratives. We meet Korean Penny Lee, a college freshman who enjoys writing (and learning about writing) and we meet Sam, a down and out twenty year old, a great baker  who dreams of becoming a documentary filmmaker. Penny and Sam intersect, mostly through text messages and become the ’emergency contact’ for one another as they share problems with family, breakups and grasping for their dreams. The author has a terrific command of contemporary lingo that is filtered throughout the narrative (e.g., meta, tagging, every day carry (EDC), obvs (obviously) snack-crastinated)

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

This novel was brought to my attention by OISE colleague Rob Simon, who conducted a research project with Teacher Candidates and a group of grade 8 students. Responses centred on the issue of transgender identity. Having such literature is important for adolescents to bring them closer to understanding the complexities of hanging on to gender identity when family, community and even friends are confused by the truth.  There are many novels recently about transgender males. This story, however, is about a girl (Elizabeth) who really knows herself to have been a male (Gabe) his whole life. Gabe doesn’t need to convince himself about this identity, but needs to sort out new feelings about falling in love with beautiful girls,  and the challenges of being loyal to friends, the trauma of being threatened by ‘haters’ and the trials of coming out.  Gabe’s passion and knockout expertise for the world of music is a plus to the story. (He is  talented deejay for a midnight program called ‘Beautiful Music for Ugly Children’.

BAYGIRL by Heather Smith

I have a favourite new Canadian author. Having read and admired Ebb & Flow and The Agony of Bun O’Keefe I chose to read this first novel for young people by Smith. I am often puzzled when reviewers say they ‘couldn’t put a book down and finished it in one day.” This novel tells the story of sixteen year old Kit whose father, an alcoholic, making Kit’s life (and her mother’s) miserable. The Newfoundland setting and Newfoundland ‘characters’ add to the appeal of this fine novel.  Can’t wait for your next one (and more), Heather Smith.

 

AGES 9 +

 

INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling

Early in this novel (and on the jacket blurb) we learn that thirteen-year old Aven was a girl who was born with no arms and who was adopted by loving parents. Many questions will likely come to a reader’s mind and most are answered as we learn how Aven copes and thrives and rises to any occasion and tough challenges. Together with her new pal Connor, another isolate, they fight mean kids, work towards solving a mystery  and   hold hands together to conquer their world.  The setting of a Western theme park in Arizona adds to the adventures. A terrific story about resilience.

SECRET SISTERS OF THE SALTY SEA by Lynne Ray Perkins

Alix is a happy young girl, with a happy older sister, a happy mother and father who all go on a happy vacation by the sea. Readers join Alix in her holiday adventures and in doing so might be inspired to consider the events that comprise their own family vacations by a salty sea – or elsewhere. Perkins’ narrative gives significance to what may seem like ordinary moments, but help readers to contemplate  the stuff of our growing-up the memories of our experiences that fill the knapsacks of our lives. Really, nothing dramatic arises in Alix’s family vacation – unless licking the icing off a store-bought cake, eating periwinkles, making sea-glass necklaces can be considered dramatic but long bicycle rides, a new friendship and a visit to a bird sanctuary contribute to an important week for Alix. Perkins, a Newbery award winner for her novel Criss Cross, tells an appealing story and presents black and white illustrations that are both realistic and poetic that are sure to engage readers (yes, mostly female), ages 8 through 11. A ‘sweet’ read.

AMAL UNBOUND by Aisha Saeed

Twelve-year old Amal, a well-educated Pakistani girl, longs to be a teacher. After insulting a member of the ruling class, she is forced to work as a servant and becomes the victim of a controlling family.  She struggles day to day, but is dutiful to the overpowering demands that come her way, with the hopes that she will be reunited with her own family and a place of freedom.

THE CREATIVITY PROJECT edited by Colby Sharp (short short stories, poems and illustrations)

The premise of this book is intriguing: 44 popular authors and illustrators were asked to come up with  prompt that could grow into a story. All contributors then swapped prompts, each challenged to let their imaginations loose to create a piece that grew from the seed of the prompt. The results are original and of course, creative. However, for me, most of the pieces fall short of entertaining me. We seem to be in the realm of fantasy and twilight zone narratives which I don’t particularly enjoy. With authors and artists suh as Kate Dicamillo, Chris Grabenstein, Jennifer Holm, R.J. Palacio, Lemony Snicket, I was hoping for more ‘wow’s’ that were served up here. The brevity of each piece was a plus. And I suppose the offered prompts might inspire young writers to create their own ‘creative’ pieces.

THE WORLD’S WORST CHILDREN 3 by David Walliams; illus. Tony Ross (short stories)

This guy is funny. Very very very funny. And gross. And rude. And funny. Illustrations, layout and wild use of font make this a very very very funny book (third in the series). with such characters as Kung Fu Kylie, Bonny Bossypants, Boastful Barnabus, and Vain Valentine.  Walliams is a genius and his books appeal to young readers (and me) who are eager to read about such things as bogeys, earwax and belly-button fluff.  Funny!

SHOUT OUT

FRONT DESK

Kelly Yang

This is one terrific novel.  Mia is the girl who sits at the front desk of a hotel in California. Her mother and father take care of all the maintenance duties while their daughter oversees customers. Mia’s family is Chinese and it is the 1990’s.  Based on her own background, Kelly Yang tells the heartbreaking – and heartwarming story – of one immigrant family as they strive to survive. The author has assembled a wonderful cast of characters that help readers come to understand poverty, racism, perseverance and hope. In the afterward to the book, Yang writes, “I hope in telling thse stories, these immigrants struggles and sacrifices will not be forgotten. They will will be forgotten./ And to nearly twenty million immigrant children currently living in the United States (30 percent of whom are living at or below poverty), I hope this book brings some comfort and hpe. You are not alone.”  A fantastic novel, an important novel. Read it!

Front Desk

TIME FOR SOME ADULT READING

I usually try to balance out my adult reading with children’s literature. Recently, I seem to have been more engaged with middle school fiction, but have had some digressions with some very fine fiction for grown-ups.

 

THREE TALL WOMEN by Edward Albee (script)

I recently went to see a terrific Broadway production of this play (Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf, Alison Pill) and decided to re-read the script of this 1994 Pulitzer Prize winner by Edward Albee.  The play is presented in two acts, with characters identified as A B C. In Act One, A, a cantankerous senior, is tended by a caregiver, B and visited by C who is hoping to get A’s affairs in order. Act Two has A  B and C playing the same character at different stages of her life.

I’VE BEEN MEANING TO TELL YOU: A letter to my daughter by David Chariandy

The author presents thoughts on heritage and identity to help his 13 year old daughter consider the politics of race and a sense of responsibility for her present and future life. Chariadny, the son of Black and South Asian migrants from Trinidad,  draws on his personal ancestral past and experiences growing up as a visible minority.

HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL by Alexander Chee (essays)

The sixteen essays in this collection help us to learn and care about the growth of a queer American Korean writer as we read about his background experiences in university, in publishing and in teaching writing. We learn about his Chee’s life as a young gay man, his experiences as an activist, his adult relationships and his quest to survive as a successful artist in America. The book is a melange of memoir and exposition and an advice column for those who choose to dedicate themselves to the craft of writing. I look forward to next reading his novel Edinburgh.

CITY POEMS by Joe Fiorito (poetry)

I bought this small anthology because it paints stark portraits of downtown Toronto living, neighbourhoods that I am familiar with.  Fiorito gives voice to the downtrodden, the drugged-out the dying folk. Most poems are short and pack a brutal punch.  Note: I was hoping to be able to use some of these poems in drama workshops centred on homelessness, but they are too stark and too bleak for anyone but adult readers.

WHAT IS IT ALL BY LUMINOUS by Art Garfunkel (autobiography)

I have been a fan of Art Garfunkel’s voice for many years.  (Angel Clare would be one of my desert island choices.) I was intrigued to read his autobiographical book. This book seems to be a stream of consciousness venture, filled with poetry and photographs from the singer’s life. The text is also presented in non-traditional font in order to represent the author’s writings over the years.  This is not your standard/traditional narrative story of a person’s life. Lots of ambiguity and inferring about his relationships and his artistry.  The book reads like a poem so I was able to glean some highlights about this person, but was often challenged to interpret his statements and insights with ease. I think I’ll stick to his music. Does anyone notice he faint aroma of slowly decaying flesh? /I’m depressed. All is vanity. Where is meaning? We are eating and excreting organisms. We’re led by maitre d’s. / We rest our Western Civilization on plumbing…

WHAT BELONGS TO YOU by Garth Greenwell

Terrific reviews for this debut novel (2016) that tells the story of a gay man and his encounters and ‘friendship’ with a hustler in Bulgaria.  A striking glimpse into one aspect of gay culture but the novel also strikes a universal chord regarding lust and relationships, trust and fidelity, the past and the present.

THE SPARSHOT AFFAIR by Alan Hollinghurst

Hollinghurst won the Man Booker Prize in 2004 for his novel The Line of Beauty. After reading some terrific reviews f I was eager to dig into the new novel that takes place over several decades. I enjoyed the first 1/3 of the novel but my interest waned as the decades passed. In the end, I was somewhat warmed over as we learned about generations of a handful of gay men, their admirers, their secrets, their talents and their exploits that seem to be in-tune with the times they live in. I wish I cared more about the characters and their connections. I much preferred John Boyne’s The Hearts Invisible Furies which had stronger narrative power and emotional engagement telling the story of a gay character from ‘womb to tomb’.

WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje

When I went to purchase this book, I asked the clerk if he heard it was ‘good’.  He said, “Even if you  don’t like Ondaatje’s narrative, you have to admire his great writing.”   Alas, I didn’t love this book. I didn’t even like it much. I was intrigued at first by the central characters who were adolescents and the first thirty or forty pages had me interested in their plight of being abandoned by their parents. The plot sort of settled into my familiarity with reading novels for adolescents. As the book unfolds, characters that I thought were bizarre, and situations which I found hard to grasp did not engage me.  As the mystery of the parent’s past and present lives unfolds, the book got more and more disjointed for me. And boring. I ended up skimming through the last 30 pages – just wanted to finish the darn novel. I went online to read some reviews – raves by many and one or two stars by a large number of readers who found the narrative to be convoluted and unengaging. One and half stars from me. I guess ya gotta admire Ondaatje’s writing.

MOTHERING SUNDAY by Graham Swift

A novel about secret lovers between two ‘upstairs / downstairs’ characters. The book shifts back and forth in time but is mostly centred in the year 1924.  An intriguing love story. Thanks for passing this novel on to me DN. Dare I ask, ‘Is this a woman’s book?’

SHOUT OUT

THE STORM

Arif Anwar

What a beautiful book. A beautiful Canadian book. The narrative crosses continents and different generations, but the chapter titles clearly inform the reader of the time and place of the different characters. When novels are described as sweeping adventures, I know understand what this means as the author takes us through time and sweeping events in the lives of Bangladeshi characters. The story particularly resonates with the complexities of legal immigration.  Arif Anwar, you are a fine author! The Storm kept me good company on a 12 hour airplane flight to China.

Spring Into Fiction: 2018 PART 2

I’ve tried to keep up with 2018 publications and below is a list of recent releases that I’ve recently enjoyed. Three of these titles are sure to end up on my end of the year, best reading list.

ROSCOE RILEY RULES by Katherine Applegate; illustrated by Brian Biggs (chapter  book series)

I’m an Applegate fan and decided to dip into this chapter book series about a grade one rascal named Roscoe Riley who always seems to be getting into trouble.  (Chapter One in each book is titled “Welcome to Time Out”. Applegate aptly captures the humour and shenanigans of one mischievous boy and his friends.   There seems to be 7 books in the series and I finished the first three (Rule #1, Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs; Rule #2 Never Swipe a Bully’s Bear; Rule #3 Don’t Swap your Sweater for a Dog).  Delightful!

IVY ABERDEEN’ LETTER TO THE WORLD by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy’s family’s world has been turned upside down after a tornado completely destroys their home. But Ivy’s larger challenge is her dealing with the strong feelings she has for a girl. Ivy couldn’t stop think with the word that starts with C and rhymes with brush.  This is the third novel I’ve read about young adolescent girls’ infatuations and confrontations with their lesbian sexuality. In this novel, the character’s feelings and frustrations and challenges with friendships are presented with honesty and heart.

HURRICANE CHILD by Kheryn Callender

Twelve-year old Caroline Murphy is troubled by the ‘mean girl’ treatment of her classmates, a bully teacher, but especially by the disappearance of her mother. Caroline sets out to find the whereabouts of her mother and the truth about why she abandoned her family. When a new girl, Kalinda arrives at her school, Caroline is smitten, thus giving readers insights into young adolescent infatuation and bonding. The novel’s setting in the U.S Virgin islands and narration of Caribbean folklore is well-depicted by the first time novelist.

BOB by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead; illus. Nicholas Gannon

A young girl returns to Australia to visit her grandmother  and is reunited with a short greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit. Apparently Livy and Bob became friends when Livy first visited when she was five years old. Bob, felt abandoned by Livy (he was) but now the two join together to find the mystery of Bob’s past. Who is this strange creature? Where did he come from? Will he ever find a place called home? The novel told in the voices of alternate characters.  A delightful readm sure to charm eight to ten year olds who enjoy reading about magical adventures.

MILES MORALES by Jason Reynolds

Miles has problems at school and problems at home and an ability to turn into the heroic Spider-Man (yes, he’s that Miles Morales). Mr. Reynolds is quite the prolific author and this novel seems to add another flavour –  another direction – to his writing talents in a story that is both realistic and fantasy adventure and sure to engage adolescent readers who are Marvel fans.

PLAYING ATARI WITH SADDAM HUSSEIN: Based on a true story by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil

This is a fine example of historical fiction, outlining the turmoils that one family faces under the terror of Saddam Hussein. The facts and details of Operation Desert Storm are presented with clarity – and heart. Ali Fadhil has co-written this story, providing authenticity of an ‘ordinary’ kid living in fear through bombings and food shortage.

THE AGONY OF BUN O’KEEFE by Heather Smith (YA)

I have found a new favourite author. My friend, Maria Martella (Tinlids) gave me a copy of the free verse novel, Ebb & Flow and I so enjoyed it that I got another book by this fine Canadian author and loved it – a lot! I fell in love with the quirky title character with a naive but sharp outlook on life.. Bun O’Keefe abandons her mother (who is a compulsive horder) and ends up living in a house of eccentric characters, a family of sorts, who are all doing their best to survive. There is a rawness (racial hostility, drugs, rape, suicide) to the episodes that the friends encounter but I always rooted for the health and survival of Busker Boy, a street musician, Chef, a hotel dishwasher with big dreams and Big Eyes, a Catholic school girl and especially Bun O’Keefe.  I am so looking forward to reading Smith’s first novel, Baygirl, and especially look forward to any future Heather Smith publications.

SHOUT OUT #1

ENDLING: THE LAST by Katherine Applegate

I always looked forward to reading any new Applegate author because of her terrific track record and her books over the past several years (Home of the Brave, Crenshaw, Wishtree) have been favourite reads. I approached this one it a bit of hesitancy,  knowing that I was going to venture into a kingdom with characters named Byx, a dairne, Tobble, a wobbyk, and Gambler, a feliver.  I’ve confessed that fantasy is not my genre of choice but Applegate  and so I approached this with trepidation, hoping to absorb the invented  fantastic vocabulary and complex world invented by the author. There is certainly lots of adventure in this story of an endling, a dog-like creature, presumed to be the last of his species,  who can walk upright and knows when someone is telling the truth. Determined to find more like her, Byx sets out on a journey and meeting a cast of characters that are the stuff of fantasy adventure. I hung in there, knowing that the author is doing more than ‘just’ telling a story (e.g., heritage, identity, gender roles, extinction).  Can’t say that I eagerly await more books in this series to be released, (especially because they will take Ms. Applegate away from stories with more appeal (for me).  But she is a master of anthropomorphic characterization (Animorphs, The One and Only Ivan).  This title will have many many fans. Many.

Endling #1: The Last

SHOUT OUT #2

GHOST BOYS by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This is a WOW! of a novel and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won book awards, particularly the Coretta Scott King award. Rhodes has given readers an interesting premise. The Ghost Boys in this story are African American youth who have been killed due to racism. On the opening page we are introduced to twelve year old Jerome who had been shot by the police who had mistaken the toy gun that the boy was carrying as a real threat. Jerome, as a ghost, is able to witness the devastation that the killing has had on his family and the community. Jerome also encounters the ghost of Emmett Till, thus connecting historical injustices to contemporary events. A strong novel for readers (ages 10+) helping them to gain complex issues of of police brutality and injustice and the power of bearing witness. This is an important work of fiction.

SHOUT OUT #3

YOU GO FIRST by Erin Entrada Kelly

I liked this novel a lot. Girl and Boy protagonists, alternating voices in alternating chapters, a love of words and factual information, middle school survival,  Charlotte (Lottie) and Ben live far apart but are connected not only by the online Scrabble game they play, but by their surviving middle school (and family) turmoil.   This is one terrific book that I enthusiastically recommend for readers ages 9 -12. It is a book where readers do root for the two characters and applaud their chutzpah and sense of resilience in their quest to ‘belong’.  In truth, I enjoyed this novel more than I did Hello, Universe, winner of last year’s Newbery Medal.  I look forward to digging into other Erin Entrada Kelly’s books.You Go First

HOORAY FOR JASON REYNOLDS!

This posting is giving a SHOUT OUT to Jason Reynolds, who has been called ‘a fine heir to the Walter Dean Myers tradition’ (Bulletin for the Centre for Children’s Books). Over the past several years, Reynolds has published books that have a strong appeal for middle school and YA readers. He’s won a batch of awards (Coretta Scott King author honors, The Walter Dean Myers Award, the Kirkus prize, and he was a National Book Award Finalist. Significant too, is that the heroes of his books are African American young adolescent and adolescent characters, thus demonstrating that the author is to carry high the Walter Dean Myers torch.

It is worth noting the bio that is featured on the cover of The Boy in the Black Suit

     Jason Reynolds is crazy. About stories. If you’re on the train talking to your friends, and you      see him, know that he’s listening to every single word you’re saying. Yes, he’s minding your business. Because he’s nosy. And you inspire him. Because you’re his hero. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?

Over the past month, I’ve read five titles by Jason Reynolds, two recent publications and two from the beginning of his writing career. I am a fan and certainly look forward to reading anything he writes.

Visit him at jasonwritesbooks.com

 

MY NAME IS JASON. MINE TOO:OUR STORY. OUR WAY (2009) (with Jason Griffin)

This book seems to be Reynolds’s earliest publication, now out of print.  Jason Reynolds wrote the poetry. Jason Griffin created the art. The two Jasons, one black, one white, joined forces and friendship as college roommates and collaborated to present this publication of word and visuals that pack a punch visually and emotionally.

THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT (2015)

Matt wears a black suit because he just got a job in the local funeral parlour, a job that helps him cope with the recent death of his mother and the fact that his father, a drunk, ends up in a hospital after being hit by the car. Matt finds comfort taking part in funerals. His friendship with Chris, Mr. Ray (owner of the parlour) and a girl named Love help Matt get through troubled times. In fact, his growing relationship with Love, who has also been through tough times, helps Matt to think about the boy he is and the man he wants to be.

FOR EVERY ONE: A poem. A nod. A nothing to lose (2018)

An extended poem  that Reynolds had been working on for a number of years, written in the form as a letter.   The poem is a testament to  Langston Hughes “Hold Fast to Dreams”, in that it invites readers to never give up

(Your dream) is the thing that makes

you special,

but not the thing that makes

you great.

 

The courage in trying,

The passion in living,

and the acknowledgement and appreciation of

the beauty happening around

you does that.

This poem seems to have been a cathartic experience for the author as he came to grips with his dreams of becoming an author and a ‘responsible’ adult. Reynolds does not hesitate to add that the his words of encouragement and inspiration were written more for himself, hoping that readers might some comfort within. In fact, the book’s dedication reads: For You. For Me.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER MAN by Jason Reynolds (2018)

Miles has problems at school and problems at home and an ability to turn into the heroic Spider-Man (yes, he’s that Miles Morales). Mr. Reynolds is quite the prolific author and this novel seems to add another flavour –  another direction – to his writing talents in a story that is both realistic and fantasy adventure and sure to engage adolescent readers who are Marvel fans.

SUNNY by Jason Reynolds (2018)

Sunny is one of the best runners in the 1600 but one day he decides that running is boring and he gives up his passion and talent for track, replacing it with the boom-bap-bap of dance. Thoughts of his dead mother and confessions about his life choices are written as Sunny’s diary entries. This novel, is the third book in Reynolds’ terrific Track series (Ghost, Patina), which, for me, seem to be getting better and better.

WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST (2014)

Reynolds first novel sets the path for one terrific author who excels in portraying the African American youth experience. Ali is the hero of this story, set in a ‘messy’ Brooklyn neighbourhood. Ali is dealing with family issues (his mother is a tough cookie, his father is absent). Noodles and Needles are brothers who live next door and Ali the boys don’t do much without each other, which eventually includes a venture into a neighbourhood party which is out of their league and leads to unexpected trouble.

 

Miles Morales

For Every One

Sunny

 THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT by Jason Reynolds

OTHER BOOKS BY JASON REYNOLDS

ALL AMERICAN BOYS (with Brendan Kiely)

AS BRAVE AS YOU

LONG WAY DOWN

GHOST (Track series)

PATINA (Track series)

WEE BOOKS FOR WEE KIDS

SHOUT OUT to the WEE FESTIVAL, a program of theatre events for children ages 0 – 5 years that takes place May 14 – May 21 (various venues).  Check out the Wee Festival Website.  To support the program, I’ve prepared a list of 25 CANADIAN BOOKS FOR WEE READERS. Huge applause to LYNDA HILL for her mammoth efforts to make this program a success.

 

Asoyuf, Morgan BLACK AND WHITE

Using familial crests of the Pacific Northwest, the art designed to help stimulate brain growth and visual development for young babies.

Bender, Rebecca HOW DO YOU FEEL?

A little hedgehog sets off on a voyage of sensory discovery of textures.

Covello, Paul CANADA ABC

This colourful board book highlights Canada’s iconic symbols, animals and events. (e.g., dogsledding, outdoor hockey, the loonie, Zamboni).

Daniel, Danielle SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A FOX

Twelve totem animals in the Anishinaabe tradition are celebrated through the voices of twelve young speakers who explain why they identify with such creatures as fox, bear, raven, beaver. (e.g., Sometimes I feel like a beaver, /busy and purposeful./ I only use what I need /and I always get the job done). (Also: Once in a Blue Moon).

Fagan, Cary; Illus. Madeline Kloepper LITTLE BLUE CHAIR

A young boy seems to have outgrown his blue chair but readers join in on the adventures of the chair as it travels around the world.

Fullerton, Alma; Illus. Brian Deines IN A CLOUD OF DUST

In this simple, poetic story, A Tanzanian schoolgirl helps her friends learn how to ride the bicycles they receive from a truck that pulled into a schoolyard.

Gay, Marie Louise. SHORT STORIES FOR LITTLE MONSTERS

A collection of 19 short stories that explores the thoughts and wonderings of young children.

Hatanaka, Kellen WORK

An ABC book of different occupations (Also: Drive: a look at roadside opposites).

Heras, Theo HATS ON, HATS OFF

There are too many hats to try on when big sister tries to get her young brother ready for an outdoor excursion.

Jocelyn, Marthe SAM SORTS

As Sam is challenged to sort out his toys, readers are invited to consider different ways to classify objects that have similar and different attributes. (Also: One piece of String; One Red Button).

Knapp, Andrew LET’S FIND MOMO

In this Hide-and-Seek Board booko f photographs, young children can search for Momo, the border collie, and other other items

McGrath, Jennifer; Illus. Josee Bisaillon THE SNOW KNOWS

Who is hiding, who is sleeping in the snowy woods? This book explores a winterscape of nature and wildlife. Winner of Marilyn Baillie Picture Book prize, 2017.

Morstad, Julie TODAY

A day in the life of a young girl where hour by hour, she needs to make decisions (e.g., what will she wear?, what will she eat for breakfast?). An interactive book where children can share and discuss their own choices.

Novesky, Amy LOVE IS A TRUCK

A tribute to trucks of all kinds.

Obed, Ellen Bryan; Illus. William Ritchie LITTLE SNOWSHOE

The repetitious pattern of this story about an Arctic rabbit searching for his mother, make it appropriate for read aloud, let’s read together, or you read to me experiences. 30th anniversary edition.

Paradis, Anne, Illus. Kary BABY CAILLOU: Bedtime Hide-and-Seek

By lifting the lifts, readers can help Caillou find things that the needs to get ready for bed. (available in French).

Patterson, Heather I AM CANADA: A Celebration

Thirteen Canadian illustrators celebrate what Canada means to them. (Available in French)

Reid, Barbara PICTURE THE SKY

Celebrated plasticine artist, Barbara Reid,` invites readers to look up and take notice of the sky. (Also: Baby’s First Treasury a compilation, including Welcome, Baby; Read Me a Book; Sing a Song of Mother Goose and Zoe’s Year.)

Spires, Ashely THE THING LOU COULDN’T DO

A story of pirates, friendship, play and taking risks! (Available in French)

Tankard, Jeremy HUNGRY BIRD

Bird is hungry. Very hungry. Will Bird’s friends help him overcome his appetite when hunger strikes? (available in French) (Also: Grumpy Bird and Boo Hoo Bird books).

Valero, Geraldo JUMP, LEAP, COUNT SHEEP!

An introduction to the numbers 1 to 10 featuring wildlife from across Canada. (Also: Moose, Goose, Animals on the Loose).

Van Camp, Richard; Illus. Jule Flett LITTLE YOU

A simple board book that celebrates a baby and its family (Also: We Sang You Home).

Yahgulannas, Michael Nicole LITTLE HUMMINGBIRD

When fire rages in the forest, all the animals flee, except for brave little hummingbird who flies back and forth from stream to fire, each time carrying a single drop of water.

Young, Cybele NANCY KNOWS

Nancy the elephant tries to remember all kinds of things in this beautifully illustrated book featuring intricate paper sculptures. Winner of the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book prize, 2014.

Walters, Eric; Illus. Sue Todd AN AFRICAN ALPHABET

The 26 letters of the alphabet in their upper- and lower-case forms are connected to a variety of animals found in Africa. (Also: Bedtime 123)

SPRING INTO FICTION 2018: Part One

I’ve recently read a batch of novels for middle years and beyond which I gladly recommend in this posting.

 

REBOUND by Kwame Alexander.

A companion free-verse novel to  The Crossover, going back in time where we learn about Charles/ Chuck Bell’s (father of Jordan and Josh Bell) life as a troubled teenager and his growing talent as a basketball hero. Mr. Alexander you are a hero, too!

THE BOY WHO PAINTED THE WORLD by Melody J. Bremen

A young boy named Indigo is left to be homeless and his artistic talents and his dreams of finding somewhere and someone to share his life with, carry Indigo through the trials and tribulations of surviving on his own.

THE WILD ROBOT ESCAPES by Peter Brown

Really, really admired the novel The Wild Robotand in this sequel we are re-introduced to the robot character who is desperate to escape from farm life and return to the remote island to reunite with animal friends – and her son Brightbill. Though filled with many adventures, this Sophomore book wasn’t as appealing for me as Brown’s first novel.

WED WABBIT by Lissa Evans

Gave up reading this book after 60 pages because I really wasn’t interested in reading about the escapades of storybook characters called the Wimbley Woos. We are told on the book jacket that this book is ‘funny, seriously funny’.  But I didn’t feel like going into a strange fantasy adventure with a character named Fidge.  Yes, Daniel Pennac (readers bill of rights), I have the right not to defend my tastes

ONE TRUE WAY by Shannon Hitchock

The year is 1977.  Two twelve year old girls, Allie and Sam, discover that they have feelings for each other and each must deal with her feelings, and family approval/disapproval before they coming out and living a life that is truthful. An honest story about the challenges that many LGBT kids dealt with decades ago – and today!

ROOSTER SUMMER by Robert Heidbreder; Illus. Madeline Kloepper

A little gem of a novel (Canadian) told in free verse format, about a brother and sister who spend summer days on their grandparents’ farm. Drawn from the author’s childhood, these poems recollect adventures with Rexter the rooster, Seed-Sack the mule and Ginger-Tea the farm dog.

THE NIGHT DIARY by Veera Hiranandani

Twelve year old Nisha receives a diary for her birthday and uses the journal to write letters to her deceased mother recording the tribulations her father and brother face as refugees. The story takes place in 1947, when India, freed from British rule, is being divided into two countries, Pakistan and India. Nisha’s Mama was Muslim and her father Papa was Hindu so it is no longer safe for the family to stay in Pakistan.

SUNNY by Jason Reynolds

Sunny is one of the best runners  in the 1600 but one day he decides that running is boring and he gives up his passion and talent for track, replacing it with the boom-bap-bap of dance. Thoughts of his dead mother and confessions about his life choices are written as Sunny’s diary entries. This novel,  is the third book in Reynolds’ terrific Track series (Ghost, Patina), which, for me, seem to be getting better and better.

BLACK BEAUTY by Anna Sewell

Everything you wanted to know (and more) about horses can be found in this iconic novel, first published in 1877. On a recent trip to NY, I went to see a wonderful 2 character production of Black Beauty (Red Bridge Theatre Company, Scotland) which lured me into reading this book. Other than
Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, can’t say that I’ve read many novels about horses.

SHOUT OUT

EBB & FLOW by Heather Smith

This Canadian novel is certain to be on my top five list at year’s end.  I am a strong fan of free verse style and this poetic  narrative, set in Newfoundland, unfolds like  ocean waves that ebb and flow. The story describes the relationship between a boy named Jett (who is dealing with a secret and the guilt of his past ill-behaviour), and his wise, accepting and compassionate Grandma.  Thanks to Maria Martella (Tinlids) for passing this fine book on to me. Anyone who enjoyed Pamela Porter’s The Crazy Man is sure to be enamored with this novel. I think I will re-read it again tonight!

Ebb and Flow

I BOUGHT 15 NEW PICTURE BOOKS

 

The picture books listed below are on various topics, in various genres, for various ages. Most titles were published in the last two years.Hats-off to Adrienne Gear who suggested some of these titles to an audience at Reading for the Love of It, 2018.* Also, special SHOUT OUT to the terrific teachers at the Reading Recovery Conference 2018 who encouraged me look a little bit closer at picture books that give young students success at reading and consider possibilities for ‘The Best Response to a Story…’ for my keynote address.

THE LAND BEYOND THE WALL: An immigration story by Veronika Martenova Charles

A young girl dreams of escaping a dark, grey world and living in a colourful place where she can pursue her hope to become an artist. This story is based on the  Canadian author’s personal experiences of being an immigrant. A beautiful story of the journey experience and the need to settle into a place called ‘home’.

JABARI JUMPS by Gaia Cornwall

An episode of courage and risk-taking and triumph in this simply detailed adventure about a young boy who is ready to jump off the diving board. A wonderful mentor text to help children consider how to  ‘add details’ to narratives.

MIGHTY MOBY By Barbara Dacosta; Illus. Ed Young

Yes, this is the Moby that rises from the ocean waves to battle with the one-legged captain who pursues him. The poetic text is never more than three lines long on each page. Ed Young is once again a mighty, mighty illustrator.

ONE DAY: Very Short, Shorter-than-ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; Illus. Fred Koehler

A perfect invitation for young people to write paragraph narratives by adding two or more sentences to the stories suggested by the author. The picture clues can help build narrative. With much thanks to Adrienne Gear for the recommendation.

“One day I went to school. / I came home. / THE END

“One day I lost my dog. / I found him. THE END

THIS HOUSE, ONCE by Deborah Freedman

A gentle – very gentle – book that  invites readers to consider the separate parts, the building materials , and the background history of the homes we live in.

HAND OVER HAND by Alma Fullerton; Illus. Renne Benoit

“A boat is not the place for a girl,” claims Nina’s grandfather. This story, by gifted Canadian author Alma Fullerton is set in a Filipino fishing village. Hand Over Hand helps to teach both grandfather and granddaughter about determination and collaboration as well as helps young readers to understanding issues of gender equality.

RALPH TELLS A STORY by Abby Hanlan

We all have stories hidden inside of us awaiting to be awakened. Ralph doesn’t think he does but when it’s his turn to read a story about an inchworm he came across in a visit to a park, he learns that his story can be given significance by describing the adventure in a detailed way. He also learns that stories can be found everywhere!

A DIFFERENT POND: Bao Phi; Illus. Thi Bui

A simple story about a fishing trip with a boy and his father, who tells stories about his own fishing ventures in his homeland in Vietnam. A Caldecott honor book.

THE WORD COLLECTOR by Peter H. Reynolds

Jerome collects words the he hears, that he sees, that he read – short words, sweet words, multi-syllable words and words that he thought were ‘marvelous’ to say.  This picture book is a glowing tribute to vocabulary development and invitation for readers to become their own word collectors: “Reach for your won words/ Tell the world who you are/ and how you will make it better.”

WE CAME TO AMERICA by Faith Ringgold

A book celebrating heritage and diversity by masterful artist, Faith Ringgold and an important book for today’s young people to help them think about immigration in their own families, communities and nation.

“We came to America, Every color, race, and religion, From every country in the world.”

ON OUR STREET: Our First Talk about Poverty by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casp; Illus. Jane Heinrichs

An important book about the topic of poverty told with accessible text and clear photography that provides readers with additional information about such topics as ‘What is it like to live on the streets?’ ‘Are homeless people the only ones who live in poverty?’ and ‘What are refugees?’

THANK YOU, EARTH: A love letter to our planet by April Pulley Sayre

Through vivid photographs, the author gives thanks to the beauty, the wonder, the glory of nature. The book is sure to inspire young readers to consider their own thank you’s to spaceship Earth and also find their own ways to researcht facts, pay respect and take action to honour this great planet we live on.

BABY MONKEY, PRIVATE DETECTIVE by Brian Selznik and David Serlin

“Who is Baby Monkey? He is a baby. He is a monkey. He has a job.” Baby Monkey is a private eye who is hired to solve five mysteries in five easy to read chapters. Buy this book if you have a four-six year old in your life. It’s funny, it’s adventurous, and it’s a graphic story, a great bridge from picture book to chapter books.  This book invites young kids to solve problems, carefully examine illustrations and enter the world of detective stories. The simple, repetitive text provides emergent readers with an engaging book to read successfully. Buy this book! (Thanks to my friend Debbie who told me her grandson loves sharing this book with his Bubby.)

ALL THE WORLD A POEM: Gilles Tibo; Illus. Gauthier

A celebration and tribute to the world of poems, rhyming and not: “Poems lives in books, yes, but also in the stars, on the moon, in tree-branch tangles”. The whimsical collage art by Manon Gauthier adds picture poetry to Tibo’s words.

SHOUT OUT

EVERYBODY’s DIFFERENT ON EVERYBODY STREET

by Sheree Fitch; Illus. Emma Fitzgerald

If you ever go travelling

On Everybody Street

You’ll see Everybody’s

Different

Than EveryOne you meet

This re-issue of Sheree’s rhyming book invites readers to consider that everyone’s different, everyone has gifts, and everyone carries troubles in some way. The book is designed to help build awareness of mental illness which according to the Afterword by the author “is not an issue of others, it belongs to all of us. Really, it is not an issue at all, but at the very heart of how we look at the world, each other, and ourselves with understanding and compassion.”  Thank you Sheree and Emma for this important book that delights with language and art but inspires heartfelt thought and conversation.

Some of us have visions

Some of us have schemes 

Most of us have wishes

All of us have dreams.

 

YAY FOR YA!

During the months of February and March, I spent time reading novels for Young Adolescents (YA).  Many of these books could be paired up as side by side reads: Budding romantic relationships (36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You / Optimists Die First); contemplating African American Identity (Dear Martin /Piecing Me Together/Speak No Evil); challenging assumptions about ourselves (Optimists Die First / 90 Days of Different); gun violence (Shooter / Long Way Down).  Any and all of these books will engage readers 12+ who are questioning who they are and who they are becoming. (Is there any teenager who doesn’t?)

EVE & ADAM by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate

Husband and wife team, Michael Grant (BZRK, Gone Series) and Katherine Applegate (Home of the Brave, Wishtree), famous for the popular Animorph series, have joined forces to write a science fiction novel about a teenage girl is challenged by her mother, a renowned geneticist, to create ‘the perfect boy. Applegate is a favourite author of mine. Science Fiction is not my genre of choice. I gave up after 133 pages, enough for me to decide that I wasn’t enjoying this book. Teenagers who favour science fiction are welcome to have my copy of the book.

36 QUESTIONS THAT CHANGED MY MIND ABOUT YOU by Vicki Grant

This book, by Canadian novelist Vicki Grant is framed around 36 questions that are part of a psychology experiment (based on a real life study) about the possibility of love being engineered.  Teenagers Hildy and Paul each have their reasons for signing up for this research project. Much of the novel is written as dialogue / messages between the two characters. Readers of this novel become eavesdroppers on the funny and honest conversations -and yes, quirky, growing relationship – between Hildy and Paul, each character dealing with troubled family life, each revealing their stories and feelings about the life that has shaped them.  Morever, readers can’t help but consider how they might answer the questions presented throughout the novel. For example, Question 11: Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible. Question 14: Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for along time? Why haven’t you done it? Question 18: What is your most terrible memory?

SPEAK NO EVIL by Uzodinma Iweala

Technically, this is adult fiction, but according to the New York Times Review, “Iweala writes with such ease about adolescents and adolescence that ‘Speak No Evil, could be a young adult novel.” (Ruman ALam, Sunday, March 18, 2018.  The main character in this novel, Niru, a Nigerian, now living in Washington, struggles with coming out, with being a black American and being the son of immigrant parents with strong religious beliefs. For adolescent readers, Niru’s journey is a strong contrast to the Simon vs the Homo Sapiens by Becky Albertalli.  (i.e., the movie Love, Simon)

OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST by Susin Nielsen

Susan Nielsen is a terrific author – a terrific CANADIAN author -that has great appeal for many young adolescents (Word Nerd, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, We Are All Made of Molecules.) A family tragedy has made sixteen year old Petula De Wilde (irony in her name) a paranoid optimistic who struggles to copy with every day life.  One day she connects with Jacob, (a boy with a prosethetic arm) who is able to slowly peel away the layers of  Petula’s paranoid outlook on life. Nielsen has written episodes of the popular Degrassi Junior High Series and other TV programs and is adept at capturing the interactions, the connections and the conversations of  many Young Adults.

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone

The teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King swarm inside the mind of Justyce McAllister, an African American honour student destined for an Ivy League School. When caught in the turmoil of being handcuffed (even though he was innocent) and witnessing his best friend’s shooting by a white off-duty cop, Justyce writes “Dear Martin” letters to his hero to help him find answers to his identity and his dreams and social justice issues.

90 DAYS OF DIFFERENT by Eric Walters

90 days of summer. 90 chapters. 90 exciting adventures for high-school graduate Sophie Sophie is labelled as being a girl who is always in control, totally responsible and completely predictable. Her friend Ella wants to shake up Sophie’s life before they head off to college and plans a ‘something different’ adventure each day… crashing a wedding, being a runway model, riding a mechanical bull in a cowboy nightclub, getting arrested (almost) and feeding the homeless in a soup kitchen. The premise is a terrific one for this popular author who always knows how to tell a good story and with this novel is able to spin 90 adventures that change one teenager’s life. Mr. Walters you write good books!

PIECING ME TOGETHER by Renee Watson

Jade feels like an outsider in the private school she attends. Jade is a bright (scholarship), talented (collage art) who lives by her mother’s credo that it is important to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. One of those opportunity’s is a mentorship program called Woman to Woman where this brave young African American teenager questions racial identity, privilege and the realistic possibilities of her dreams and hopes. Readers of this novel will likely sympathize with the questions that Jade poses about relationships and her place in the world and root for Jade as she struggles to find answers from her mother, her mentor, her friends, her teachers. Jade is not a quitter.

SHOUT OUT

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

I revisited two important novels from 2017 that deal with guns and teenagers. Sometimes the fiction we read helps us to gain deeper understanding of world news.

SHOOTER by Caroline Pignat

From the jacket: “A lockdown catches five grade 12 students by surprise and throws them together in the only unlocked room on that empty third floor wing, the boys’ washroom. / Told in five unique voices through prose, poetry, text messages, journals and homework assignment, each student reveals pieces of their true story as they wait for the lockdown to end.” It is not a drill. There is a shooter in the school.” (Winner of the Canadian Children’s Centre John Spray Mystery Award, 2017)

LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds

In this free verse award-winning novel, Reynolds tells a story in real time about one daunting and haunting seven floor elevator ride with fifteen-year old Will who has a gun hidden in the waistband of his jeans. Will is seeking revenge for the murder of his brother.  Where will his conscience