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.


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.



by Sheree Fitch; Illus. Emma Fitzgerald

If you ever go travelling

On Everybody Street

You’ll see Everybody’s


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.



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.


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)


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!


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.


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

TWO BY TWO: February 2018

The books listed below are listed in pairs, summarizing the poetry, picture books, novels, graphic texts I’ve read over the past months.


In this collection, poet Nikki Grimes finds inspiration of poets from the Harlem Renaissance by using a form called “Golden Shovel”. The idea of this form is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (a striking line) and create a new poem, using the words from the original. Clever, clever, clever, and a remarkable tribute to African American poets as well as contemporary African American artists.
Bilston has been descried as the “Poet Laureate of Twitter’.Thanks to my student, Jake who introduced me to this highly imaginative wordsmith with the staggering poem “Refugees” (check it out online). Every year or so I buy a ‘grown-up’ poetry anthology. I read the Brian Bilston poems chronologically and loved them (most all of them), especially the shorter one’s that appealed to my sense of humour.
Frisbee whizzing
through the air
above our heads,
over the sand,
into the water,
onto the waves,
out to sea.
You cried a lot that day.
Frisbee was a lovely dog.

AUTHOR: Jordan Tannahill

Biography or novel? Novel or biography? After reading a large chunk of Tannahill’s book, I came to realize that this is mostly fiction (Yes?) I was angry at myself (not the author) for not recognizing this earlier. This is yet another document of Tannahill’s virtuosity, and sharp, philosophical, daring, confounding observations of life, personal and/or otherwise.
Playwright (and wunderkind, often described as a Renaissance Man), Jordan Tannahill learned that his mother had been struck with cancer. On a plane ride home to reunite with his mother, Tannahill wrote and wrote a list of ‘declarations’ (1000?): This is a dirty rag/ This is a ghost town/This is a deck of cards/ This is the ace of spades. Declarations, the play, was recently performed at the Berkeley Street Theatre and I was totally fascinated, and absorbed by,the gestural  movement, and solo and choral presentation of each of the ‘declarations’.  Mr T, you are a smart smart man.

NOVELS: Middle Years



I totally believed in Obe’s discovery of a strange creature, strange, not only because of his wolf-like, hog-like, aardvark-like appearance but by his unique habit of only eating plastic. The eleven year old boy is extremely environmentally conscious and builds a relationship with this new animal, which he names Marvin Gardens. Obe feels that he needs to keep Marvin a secret but is still eager for others to know about Marvin, who may help  to keep the planet clean.

AUMA’S LONG RUN by Eucabeth Odhiambo

Auma is a young adolescent girl living in Kenya who has dreams of becoming a track star, attend high school on scholarship and perhaps one day be a doctor. AIDS is ravaging the community in which Auma lives  she is caught between a rock and hard place when faced with the decision decision to support her family or quit school.  An emotional story centred on hope and resilience.


HEARTWOOD HOTEL: Better Together by Kallie George, Illus. Stephanie Graegin


Heartwood Hotel is an animal residence in Fernwood Forest. In this third book in the series, the staff attempt to have things run smoothly when Mr. Heartwood heads off on vacation. Such contests as <em>The Cutest Egg, The Tiniest Talent and the Best Blossom</em> provide amusing adventures that help prove that this hotel is the most accommodating and festive place in the animal community.
HALIFAX EXPLODES: Frieda Wishinsky

This title is part of the terrific Canadian Flyer series describing the back- in-time transported adventures of Emily and Matt. In this story, set in 1917, the two children have travelled to Halifax where a terrible explosion has left the city in ruins.  One challenge they are faced with is finding the lost sister of a young soldier.



THE BREADWINNER by Deborah Ellis

adapted from the feature film directed by Nora Twomey, this graphic novel is based on the original novel by Deborah Ellis that tells the story of Parvana who must disguise herself as a boy in order to support her family during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.

ESCAPE FROM SYRIA Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, Mike Freiheit

According to the Government of Canada, 40 000 Syrain refugess had resettled int he country as of January 2017. This graphic story describes the collapse and destruction of Syria and the tragedies facing one family trying to escape the turmoil. A very informative – and heartbreaking – story that helps readers gain some understanding of the refugee crisis.



WOLF IN THE SNOW by Matthew Cordell

Don’t think I would have chosen this one if I were on the Caldecott committee, but I wasn’t and this wordless (almost wordless) book one the Medal honour. A story of a young girl in a red coat, and a wolf pup, both lost in the snowstorm. A story of bravery, friendship, trust. William Steig’s Brav

FROM THE HEART OF AFRICA collected by Eric Walters

Hoorah! for Eric Walters who founded and runs Creation of Hope, an organization dedicated to providing caring for orphans in the rural Mbooni district of Kenya. Hoorah! for all the novels you’ve written that have engaged readers young and old. Hoorah! for this fine new picture book where Mr. Walters has collected favourite sayings from various places in Africa and have them matched by illustrations from artists from countries around the world. A beautiful picture book creation. Hoorah!

I pointed out to you the stars, but all you saw was the tip of my finger.(Tanzania)

If you wish to go fast, go alone. If you wish to go far, go together. (Central Africa)



CHANNEL OF PEACE:Stranded in Gander on 9/11

by Kevin Tuerff
Thank you, Kevin for putting this book into my hands. Mr. Tuerff (and his partner) found himself, along with thousands of others, stranded  in the small town of Gander Newfoundland after the 9/11 attack. This book is an account of the kindness compassion of the Newfoundlanders who generously opened their arms to the ‘come from aways’.  The event has been transformed into an amazing theatre event, Come From Away, currently wowing audiences in New York and Toronto. An important story. A heartwarming book. A must-see musical!

READING DIARY: December / January

This posting presents a record of the books I’ve listed in my reading diary.  There is a pattern to this list: Non-fiction/ Fiction/ Non-fiction…

December 24 WRITING RADAR Jack Gantos

Gantos has been a favourite author since I first read the Joey Pigza series. This book is Gantos’s how-to recipe book and practical guide inviting writers to use everyday happenings to inspire their writing. Wish I had this book when teaching my students about notebook writing.

December 27: PATINA Jason Reynolds

This book is the second in Reynold’s Track series celebrating he lives of young adolescent students determined to beat the odds, to show others (and themselves) that they ‘ain’t no junk’. Patina (Patty) Jones has a mother whose legs had been amputated and a will that lets her own legs outrun everyone on the track. Jason Reynolds is at the top of the heap of children’s literature authors for the 21st century and Patina was one of my top five children’s literature reads of 2017.

December 28: THE ROBIN: A Biography Stephen Moss

Everything you wanted to know (and things you might not have wanted to know) about the robin. Yes, a ‘biography’ of red-breasted feather friend presented in 12 calendar months (about 10 pages each of text with splendid colour plates and lovely poem excerpts).

December 31  A MODEL WORLD Michael Chabon

Short stories by Pulitzer Prize winning author.  Hit and miss, which for me is usual for short stories collections. Part Two of this book (The Lost World) revolves on the life of a single character, Nathan who struggles to cope and make sense of the world after his parents divorce.

January 2 WILD THINGS: The Joys of Reading Children’s Literature as An Adult Bruce Handy

With a title such as this book offers, I felt a need to read this book which takes us on a journey of Children’s Literature classics (Goodnight Moon, The Cat in the Hat, The Ramona Series, The Narnia Series, Charlotte’s Web) providing background information on the creators of great children’s books and insights into their significance.)  A great read for those of us who treasure children’s literature treasures.

January 4 A BOY CALLED BAT Elana K. Arnold

Bixby Alexander Tam (BAT) has a mother who is a veterinarian who one days brings home a baby skunk for her son to take care of.  Do skunks make good pets? Will Bat get to keep the skunk beyond the first four weeksof Thor’s life (skunk’s name)? Humour is filtered throughout this novel which is noteworthy for it’s endearing portrayal of an austic young boy.

January 6 HOW TO SEE by David Salle

A collection of criticisms helping us to consider the what’s and how’s of contemporary artists.and their creations.

January 9  SNOW & ROSE Emily Winfield Martin

Emily Winfield Martin deserves kudos as a storyteller and illustrator in this re-imagining of the fairy tale, Snow White and Rose Red.  Strong potential for a Read Aloud in the classroom.

January 11 BETWEEN YOU & ME: Confessions of a Comma Queen Mary Norris

Lessons (and stories) about the idiosyncratic, complex, and confusions of grammar and spelling – and comma – usage from a person who’s worked in the copy department for The New Yorker magazine.

January 16 AFTER TOMORROW Gillian Cross

A family of refugees  from Britain encounters many survival challenges when they settle into the countryside of France. Though set in the future, the issues and problems of being a refugee resonates with the plight of hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes in recent years.


Speaking of children’s literature, go and  see PADDINGTON 2 (with or without kids). This one is  as good and clever and funny the first PADDINGTON movie.  And perhaps read the Michael Bond books.)


I LOVE NEW YORK: 3 books

NEW YORK CITY HAIKU: from the readers of the New York times

GOING INTO TOWN: A love letter to New York by Roz Chast

An absolute gem of a graphic memoir that leads readers to discover and/ or re-discover the joys of New York City by genius cartoon artist, Roz Chast.  I wanna be a part of it!!!


A superb, succinct guide taking readers on a trivia and historic tour of The Big Apple.


Looking through my 2017 diary record of books, films and theatre, some things stand out as being my favourites of the year. I have reduced each list to five items, listed alphabetically by author or title.


Once in a Blue Moon Danielle Daniel

Her Right Foot Dave Eggers; illus. Shawn Harris

The Gold Leaf Kirsten Hall; illus. Matthew Forsythe

Out Angela May George; illus. Owen Swan

Teacup Rebecca Young


Wishtree Katherine Applegate
The Stars Beneath My Feet David Barclay Moore
Patina Jason Reynolds
Orphan Island Laurel Snyder
The Warden’s Daughter Jerry Spinelli


The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian Sherman Alexie (re-read)
The Marrow Thieves Cherie Dimaline
Turtles All the Way Down John Green
Shooter Caroline Pignat
The Hate U Give Angie Thomas


You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me Sherman Alexie
A Man Called Ove Frederick Backman
The Heart’s Invisible Furies John Boyne
Insomniac City Bill Hayes
Theft By Finding: Diaries: 1977-2002 David Sedaris


The Florida Project
I, Daniel Blake
Three Billboards Over Ebbing Missouri


Faces / Places
Human Flow
Loving Vincent
The Red Turtle


John (Berkeley Street)

Middletown (Shaw)

Mr. Shi and His Lover (Tarragon)

Our Town (Theatre Rusticle)

Tartuffe (Stratford)


The Band’s Visit
A Doll’s House: Part 2
Sweeney Todd (revival)
The Wolves
Sunday in The Park with George (revival)


The Ferryman
Lady Day
Romantics Anonymous
Twelfth Night (The Globe)


What is a ‘Good’ Teacher? David Booth & Richard Coles (professional read)

Sit Deborah Ellis (short stories)

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense For Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups Chris Harris; illus Lane Smith (poetry)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (NT Live)

Batsheva Dance Company (dance)


During November and December, I’ve read a batch of children’s literature and adult books covering a range of genres that includes poetry, script, short story, historical fiction, nonfiction. An attempt has been made to organize this list under headings by author, theme or genre.



The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

After reading the Mr. Terupt series, I look foward to delving into any new books by author Rob Buyea who really knows the trials and tribulations of middle school students. Presented through the voices of boy and girl characters, this story questions – and explodes – the procedures and values connected to standardized testing.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Was enticed by great reviews to read this book by this first time author. Moore has presented us with a 21st century fictional hero, a boy named Lolly, addicted to leg0-building.  His mother (gay) does her best to make ends meet and to love her son unconditionally.  Lolly carries the load of the memory of his brother who was shot and the threat of harassment from the local crew. The Harlem setting is an essential ingredient in this novel, as is the language that give authentic voice to the characters. I expect this one to be winning award. It needs to be read. It’s at the top of my list for 2017.

from the New York Times review, Holly Goldberg Sloan, October 16, 2017

The Stars Beneath Our Feet “is the right story at the right story at the right time and its set in the right place. It’s not just a narrative, it’s an experience.”

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

The author personalizes the story of Fidel Castro’s call to arms of volunteer teachers to bring literacy to all of Cuba through the experiences of Lora, a brave 12 year old who chooses to live in the remote regions of the country to help fulfill the revolutionary premier’s mandate. So good to have an another Paterson book to read.

Bad Dad by David Walliams

Every year I look forward to reading a new novel by this fantastic – and funny – British author. Bad Dad is the story of a bad dad, champion race car driver,  who gets entangled with a crime boss and his henchman, all for the love of his son. Funny (and yes, poignant).



Listen to the Moon

Morpurgo is a master storyteller and this is a fine example of historical fiction, told through various voices, about a young girl who survives the crash of the Lusitania and ends up on The Isles of Scilly where she is cared for by a loving family – and tormented by a community who thinks she is of German descent. Remarkable!

Lucky Button

After being taunted by bullies, Jonah finds comfort in the local chapel where he discovers a lucky button connecting him to Nathaniel a foundling boy from the eighteenth century. An informative read about abandoned children, family – and Mozart.


A retelling of the classic story as told by Pinocchio. I read this book in advance of seeing a not-very-good production of the play at the National Theatre in London. Read this book, skip the play. Emma Chister Clark illustrates.

Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of OZ

Yes – that Toto. Yes, that Wizard of Oz Great retelling of the iconic story. Vibrant illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark add to the delight of this book.



The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Set in the future, the white population has lost the ability to dream and as a result The Indigenous People of North America are being hunted for their bone marrow which holds the key to restoring dreams. A story of survival and battle of cultures. Winner of the Governor General’s Award, 2017.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Russell Picket, a billionaire disappears. Aza and Daisy decide to investigate, not just because of a hundred-thousand dollar reward, but her investigation will bring her closer to Pickett’ son, Davis. Fans of this popular YA novelist will likely continued to be engaged with the storytelling and depiction of teenage friendships.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This free-verse novel presents the story of 15 year old Will boards an elevator and sets out to avenge his brother’s fatal showing. During the ride, seven ghosts who knew Shawn board the elevator revealing several truths that the troubled teenager needs to know. From the jacket cover: “Jason Reynolds is crazy. About stories. Jason Reynolds is also tired. Of being around young people who are tired of feeling invisible.”



Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell (Canadian)

Alan’s brother is cruel and threatens to out his brother at school.

Vanilla by Billy Merrell (American)

Told in free-verse format, alternate voices.

Release by Patrick Ness (British)

Adam’s troubles emerge from his religious family, sexual harassment from his boss, and deep feelings for a former boyfriend, and loyalty to a new boyfriend.


AN IRISHMAN, A JAPANESE, AN AMERICAN and A BRIT: Four International authors (adult)

Smile by Roddy Doyle

I’ve admired books by this Irish author. In this book, a guy walks into a bar, confronts a lonely man who doesn’t want any company and is reluctant to dig into his past. I need to talk to someone about the ending of this story.

Autumn by Ali Smith

Rave reviews for this British title shortlisted for The Man Brooker Prize 2017 which for the most part, describes the relationship and exchanged views between a 101 man and his former neighbour. Described as ‘bold and brilliant’ and ‘transcendtal’ and ‘ever-inventive’, I didn’t get it.  (The first book in a series. Next up Winter. I will pass on these).

A Cat, A Woman, and Two Women by Junichiro Tanizaki

When at the check-out counter of Waterstones Book Store, the clerk suggested I buy this featured book by Japanese author Tanizaki. The title is a perfect summary for this story about a cat who plays a vital part in a broken marriage. (123 pages)

Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

A past and present journey through rural Missississippi.  I picked this one up because I was intrigued by the voice of the 13 year old main character named Jojo who joins his drug-addicted mother (Black) as she sets out to meet Jojo’s father (White) who is about to be released from prison. Strong writing and a wrenching narrative have helped to  put this book on many top ten lists of the year.


SCRIPTS (of three plays I recently saw)

Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams

A banquet of funny, harrowing, gutsy, stories of politics, family, business, sexuality, loyalty and a football game, revealed by black men who work in barber shops. Six barber shops. In six cities. In one day.

Follies book by James Goldman; Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim


Indecent by Paula Vogel

Vogel’s script is centred on the controversial play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch, written in 1907, first performed in Yiddish and German and later setting a scandal for its depiction of an affair between two women when performed in America in 1923.



Sit by Deborah Ellis (ages 11+)

Ten seated children from around the world, each facing a challenge and a difficult choice/  Bravo to master storyteller Deborah Ellis.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (adult)

A collection of stories set in both Vietnam and America, drawing deep into the experience of leaving the country of birth and/ or settling into an adopted homeland.

The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent by Steve Venright (not a children’s book!)

A collection of poetry, prose and artful quips. This author writes so far out of the box that there seems to be no boxed walls to contain his explosive thoughts. Mr. Venright, you are Sir Real. What a mind!  Very funny too! (“Time heals all wounds, but if I were you I’d see a doctor just the same.””You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, but you only have to break one to make a baby.”)



I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups

by Chris Harris, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Standing on the shoulders of Nash, Silverstein and Prelutsky

Chris Harris’s confirms that he’s a poet gone nutsky!


I'm Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups

Where does the sidewalk end? It doesn’t. It continues on into  the 21st Century in this funny (and thoughtful) collection of poems and funny (and thoughtful) illustrations. For poetry lovers –  and non-poetry lovers –  young and old and in-between.



At this time of year, top ten lists, awards and holiday season highlight some of the favourite (and popular) picture books available for young readers. The following list outlines some recent Dr. Larry Purchases, with 2017 publication dates (unless noted otherwise). A shout out is  given to the winners of the 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards and a special shout out to Pembroke Publisher’s newest release What is a “Good” teacher by David Booth and Richard Coles.


Shout Out to this colourful and informative picture book which is the TD Grade One Book Giveaway given to over 550 000 children. Beck’s book is a tribute to Canada’s 150th birthday, inviting readers to say good morning to the beaver, the moose, the Canada goose, the kayak and the people of Canada coast to coast.

WILLY AND THE CLOUD by Anthony Browne

Why is everyone having a wonderful day, except Willy?A dark cloud has settled over Willy, a cloud that really has nothing to do with rain. Browne’s gorilla character helps readers understand that the best way to face our problems is to confront them.

SINGING IN THE RAIN by Tim Hopgood (song by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown)

I bought this book because it gave me ‘a glorious feeling’ that put ‘a smile on my face’ and made me wanna sing to and sing with children.

HERE WE ARE: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

This excellent book is the one I’ll be giving for the holidays to young people in my life to arouse their curiosity and to help them consider their place on the earth.

TOKYO DIGS A GARDEN by Jon-Erik Lappana; Illus. Kellen Hatanaka (2016)

Tokyo’s grandfather remembers a time before cities had eaten up the meadows and ruined the homes of the deer, foxes, birds and salmon. When an old woman gives Tokyo three seeds to plant   helping him to grow wishes and a garden place. 2016 Winner of Governor General’s Literary Awards for Children’s Literature.

THE SNOW KNOWS by Jennifer McGrath; Illus. Josee Bisaillon

A lullaby to creatures sleeping, stepping, pondering, pitter-skittering, trotting hiding and sliding in a snowy winter landscape. This Canadian picture book was the winner of the Marilyn Baillie  Picture Award.

WHEN WE WERE ALONE by David Alexander Robertson; Illus. Julie Flett

A young girl is curious about her grandmother’s hair and clothing, language and stories. This picture book takes a gentle, yet informative approach in a residential school. Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature.

LIFE by Cynthia Rylant; Illus. Brendan Wenzel

Life begins small. Then grows. Even for elephants. This beautiful picture asks the question, “What do you love about life?” and award-winning author Cynthia Rylant and award-winning artist Brendan Wenzel (And the Cat Saw) introduce us to a snake,  a turtle and a bird that help remind us that “in every corner of the world there is something to love.”

THE BOY & THE BINDI by Vivek Shraya; Illus. Rajni Perera (2016/2017)

Canadian author Vivek Shraya tells the story ofa young boy is fascinated by the dot on his mother’s forehead. When he is given his own bindi to wear, it  allows him to express and celebrate his difference.

THE TOWN IS THE SEA by Joanne Schwartz; Illus. Sydney Smith

A young boy looks out at the sea and  thinks about all in his town ‘that spreads out this way, and that’. Most of all he thinks of his father who is a miner and works under the sea, deep down in the coal mines. Listed as one of the New York Times best illustrated picture books of 2017.


Author and artist Jan Thornhill tells the tragic story of the extinction of The Great Auk, a bird that couldn’t fly or walk very well but avoided its predators until humans took to the sea. This Non-Fiction selection was awarded the $30 000 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, 2017.



TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

  •      TRAGIC TALE OF THE GREAT AUK written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

  •      THE SNOW KNOWS by Jennifer McGrath; Illus. Josee Bisaillon

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction

  •      CANADA YEAR BY YEAR by Elizabeth MacLeod; Illus. Sydney Smith

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People

  •      THE MARK OF THE PLAGUE by Kevin Sands

John Spray Mystery Award

  •      SHOOTER by Caroline Pignat

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award



What is a “Good” Teacher?

    by David Booth and Richard Coles, Pembroke Publishers

An important resource for novice and experienced educators who are encouraged to reflect on their past, current and future teaching.  The book is framed around thirty characteristics of excellence of teaching that help educators be the best they can be for their students. David Booth and Richard Coles have included voices that provide theoretical and classroom practices that help teachers consider:

  1. The Need to Know Our Students
  2. The Significance of Building Community
  3. The Essential Need to Reflect on Our Teaching


I am always interested in reading books about reading books. Some titles listed below are framed on children reading books. Other titles are targeted towards adults who enjoy reading books (children’s literature and /or otherwise) and who are inspired to reflect upon how books help shape our lives – and our teachings. Listed alphabetically by author, the titles are featured using a colour code:

  • Children’s Literature
  • Non fiction for grown-ups


WILD THINGS: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature As an Adult by Bruce Handy.

I had to own this book, a tribute to American book classics (e.g., Where the Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat, The Runaway Bunny) and a reflection on how children’s books have been – and need to be – significant to shaping the tastes of those who choose to read Children’s Literature (and other books)

I’D RATHER BE READING: A library of art for book lovers by Guinevere de la Mare

A small books with short essays, poems, photos, quotations and illustrations celebrating the pleasure of reading.  The following message that ends the book gave me food for thought (p. 94)…


THE LOSERS CLUB by Andrew Clements

Alec is addicted to books. He is always reading books in class and as a result he doesn’t pay attention to his teachers. When he’s forbidden to read books at school, Alec invents an after school club where he plans to be the only member except more and more kids are lured to join ‘The Losers Club’. Hooray for the Alec’s in the world! Hooray for Andrew Clements!

BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz

Who gets to  decide what books can read? One of the school parents complains about certain books that should be banned from the school library (e.g. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) because they are not appropriate to read. Amy Anne Ollinger (and friends) is determined to fight back and initiates a secret banned-books library out of her locker which ignites a school-wide storm of book reading.

READING WITH PATRICK: A teacher, a student, and a life-changing friendship by Michelle Kuo

When asked to persuade someone to read Reading With Patrick in 50 words or less, Michelle Kuo said: “It’s an intimate story about the failure of the education and criminal justice system and the legacy of slavery; about how literature is for everyone, how books connect people, and the hopte that with enough openness and generosity we can do the hard work of knowing each other and ourselves.” (The New York Times, July 30. 2017)

LAUGH OUT LOUD by James Patterson with Chris Grabenstein

Jimmy wants to make reading fun for kids because “the more reading is fun, the more it gets done! and so he is determined to fulfill a dream despite the pessimism from the grown-ups in his life and build the most incredible book company in the entire world. Filtered throughout Laugh Out Loud is references to popular children’s literature titles. And of course, there is a meta aspect to this book since Jimmy is really the prolific (and popular) author of such books as The  Middle School, I Funny, The House of Robots  and the Daniel X series of books.

MY LIFE WITH BOB: Flawed Heroine Keeps Books of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

For over twenty-eight years, the author has kept a single book, a journal that serves as a record for every book she’s read. BOB is Pamela Paul’s Book of Books. By reading about the author’s book choices, perspectives and relationships with those texts, readers are encouraged to contemplate their own choices and connections to books.

READ! READ! READ!: Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater; Illus. Ryan O’Rourke

Poems about all kinds of reading including cereal boxes, maps, road signs, magazines and birthday cards.

An open book
will help you find
an open heart
an open mind
inside yourself
if you’re inclined
An open book
will make you kind.


Best Illustrated Books of 2017

(according to the New York Times, Sunday November 12, 2017)

ON A MAGICAL DO NOTHING DAY by Beatrice Alemagna  

FRIDA AND HER ANIMALITOS by Monica Brown, Illus. John Parra                                                       

FEATHER by Remi Courgeon                                                                                                                            

KING OF THE SKY by Nicola Davies, Illus. Laura Carlin


MUDDY: The story of blue legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, Illus. Evan Turk     


A RIVER by Marc Martin                                                                                                                                 

THE WAY HOME IN THE NIGHT by Akiko Miyakoshi                                                                               

A TOWN BY THE SEA by Joanne Schwartz, Illus. Sydney Smith                                                         

PLUME by Isabelle Simler                                                                                                                             

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The Case of R.B.G vs Inequality by Jonah Winter; Illus. Stacey Innerset

TEN PICTURE BOOKS: Diversity, Equity, Caring, Inquiring

Many recent picture book publications have been written to tap into the inquiring minds of young people to help them consider their identities, their place in the world and their relationships with others. Simple texts. Strong messages.

I am offering the following titles, with excerpts from the texts, to help us consider the need for literature to raise questions, to answer questions, to provide comfort and to build compassionate understanding.


WHY AM I ME? Paige Britt, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Why am I me…
… and not you?

ONCE IN A BLUE MOON by Danielle Daniel
Once in a blue moon,
skipping in the sun,
I see not one but two rainbows
painted across the sky.

QUESTIONS ASKED by Jostein Gaarder; illus Akin Duzakin, trans. from the Norwegian
How do I talk?
How do I find the exact words I need from all the words in my head?

Can I be sure that all my memories really happened?


The little giant passes through the town.

What color is the wind?

The color of curtains, laundry, clothes…

But the window disagrees.

It is the color of time.

LOVELY by Jess Hong
Lovely is you.
Lovely is me.
We are all…

MOST PEOPLE by Michael Leannah; Illus. Jennifer Morris
Most people want to make other people – even strangers – feel good.
Most people are very good people.
Some people do bad things.

IMAGINE by John Lennon; Illus. Jean Jullien
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us,
and the world will be as one.

Love making art.
Love sharing your heart.
Love yourself.
Love the World.

TEACUP by Rebecca Young

Once there was a boy who had to leave his home… and find another.

In his bag, he carried a book, a bottle and a blanket.

In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.


by Dave Eggers; Art by Shawn Harris

A fine specimen of nonfiction text.
A sublime tribute to the Statue of Liberty.
A powerful message of acceptance.

“This 150 woman is on the go.”

“Give me your tired. Your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”


This month’s entry highlights 16 novels I’ve recently read. A few of these will indeed be on m top ten end-of-the-year list. Am proud too, to highlight the publication of my new book TAKE ME TO YOUR READERS!!! (the title, says it all.. YES?)



I so loved Alexie’s recent memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, that I decided to re-read his very special young adult novel that really gets into the head, heart and turmoils of a Native American teenager. Congratulations Mr. Alexie on the  10th anniversary edition of this remarkable – and important – novel!

SOLO by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

Another fine free-verse Young Adult novel by Newbery award author (The Crossover) Kwame Alexander. The central character, Blade is rich. His father is rich and but he is a washed-up, drug addict rock star. Blade and his father each play music to ignite their souls. Is being the child of a celebrity a good thing? Is Blade going to follow in his father’s footsteps? Blade’s girlfriend’s parents forbid the two teenagers to continue their relationship. A secret is introduced in the middle of the novel that sets Blade off to find answers to his past and seek hope for his future.

POSTED by John David Anderson

Yikes! All cell phones are banned at a Middle School. Frost and his friends dream up a scheme to communicate only through sticky notes, a great idea, until mean messages are displayed and a sticky-note war unfolds.  Another terrific novel about tweenagers struggling to fit in.

WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate

Stop reading this review and just go and get the book! Sure to be an award winner (please!), Katherine Applegate tells a beautiful story of a talking tree (!), an animal community blending together, an immigrant young girl longing for a true friend and one-word hate message carved in to the tree’s bark that is unsettling / devestating. I wish I had a class of my own to share this novel with. I wish that teachers everywhere will serve this novel to their students! A perfect read aloud. Ms. Applegate, I love your books (Home of the Brave: The One and Only Ivan; Crenshaw)

NEW BOY by Tracy Chevalier

Marketed as an Adult Novel, this for me, reads like a good YA novel. It is the 1970’s. Osei Kokote (“O”) arrives at a suburban Washington school. He is the only black boy in the school. O’s appearance tests loyalty and betrayal, friendships and love interests and issues of belonging, bullying, respect, racism. The book is written as an imagined Othello story for our times. The story of being an outsider should resonate for many readers. I haven’t made my mind up about the choice to centre this on sixth grade students because the relationships and conversations didn’t seem authentic for that age group.

THE LOSERS CLUB by Andrew Clements

Andrews is a top-notch author for writing about foibles in school settings that 8-11 year olds can identify (and laugh) with.  Don’t let the title fool you. Alec can’t stop reading throughout and his teachers are annoyed by this and lay down the law. When the opportunity arises for Alec to create a new after school club (i.e. “The Losers Club”) where the only mandate activity is to read a book independently. No book talks. Just bring a favourite book.  The club starts with only two members but as things unfold, many more students choose to join the club where books are heroes. Any novel that celebrates reading is a draw for me (and for young reading addicts, Clements fans, and/or otherwise). A great book list of Readers Club titles appears at the end of the novel. Quibble: How many titles are listed from the last 10 years, where some sensational novels have been published?

BUBBLE by Stewart Foster

11 year old Joe has lived his entire life in a hospital room. His condition demands that he never leave the room, even for a minute. Because of the threat of spreading germs, visitors are kept to a minimum. Conversations with his sister, hospital staff and friend across the ocean who lives life like Joe help him cope with loneliness. Along with the care of his nurses, dreams and  superheroes keep Joe alive. Is there a happy ending in story for this brave young boy who is trapped by a medical condition? Readers will certainly root for Joe (as much as they’ve done for August Pullman).

REFUGEE by Alan Gratz

I consider this one of the top three novels on this list. A must-read for middle school students! Three refugee stories set in different times and places: Joseph escaping Nazi Germay in the 1930’s, Isabel escaping Cuba riots in 1994 and Mahmoud escaping the violence and destruction of Syria in 2015. Throughout the novel,  Gratz narrates each of the action-packed escape stories, one after the other.. Timely indeed! Read it! Share it! (Please!)

ALL THE DIRTY PARTS by Daniel Handler

Should I include this book here or move down below to grown-up reads? This gutsy erotic book is more adult than young adult.  Daniel Handler (of Lemony Snicket fame) has written a short novel (less than 140 pages) that explodes the male teenage adolescent sexual psyche.  Just guessing that the book will get banned from secondary schools but banning books is a great lure to get young adults – MALE teenagers – reading. The book should be read… but moreover it should be DISCUSSED and not leave those teenagers left to ponder, question and connect on their own. There is ‘sex’ on every page (ok every other page) but this novel is for sure more than ‘all the dirty parts’.


Oh the trials of trying to fit into Middle School (a popular theme indeed!). This is a wonderful graphic novel about bullying and belonging (again?!), The story is framed by Imogene family’s family in the local Renaissance Fair offers the book a rather unique background setting and takes the trials and tribulations of adolescence outside the school halls.

THIS IS JUST A TEST by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Lang Shang

Oh the trials of being a 13 year old! David Da-Wei’s mother is Chinese, his father Jewish. David’s Bar Mitzvah approaches and his family can’t really afford a big party. His grandmothers don’t see eye to eye (or kreplach to wonton). He worries about talking to girls. Set in 1983-1984 David worries about the threat of nuclear war (he and his friend, Scott build a fallout shelter_.  David also is twinned with a Russian boy who is unable to have his own Bar Mitzvah and so David will carry the honors for Alexi too. David, however is worried that his Bar Mitzvah twin may be a spy. Diverse families? Nuclear worries? Russian spies. Is this really 1984?

ORPHAN ISLAND by Laurel Snyder

This is a beautiful story set on an island inhabited by orphans. Each year the eldest child is replaced by another child brought to the island’s shores. This year is different when Jinny contemplates staying on the island with the people and surroundings she loves.

A Few For The Grow Ups


Boyne’s fame in the world of children’s literature has come to us through The Boy In the Striped Pajamas. Boyne has become one of my favourite top-of-the-list authors with The Absolutist, The History of Loneliness, Beneath the Earth.  His new publication knocked me out. The story is centred over 7 decades revealing the journey of a gay Irish man. Funny. Moving. Entertaining.  I shared this book with some friends who provided me with these email comments: (“I regret every moment I have to put this book down.” (David S); “I’m on page 350 and don’t want to leave my apartment until I finish the book.” (Eleanor G); “I just finished the novel and I feel a loss now that I am not reading Boyne’s book.” (Leonard M).  Darn any critics who aren’t as enamored as me and my friends. This will surely be my favourite adult read of 2017.

GINNY MOON by Benjamin Ludwig

After seeing the documentary Life Interrupted, I’ve been intrigued with reading about autistic characters. I tend to enjoy reading novels with teenage or child characters and in Ludwig’s book we meet Ginny Moon who reads Robert Frost poems for English class, must eat nine grapes every day for breakfast and is devoted to taking care of her baby doll. Ginny has been in foster care, (“forever home”) for years and sneakily sets up an escape to be reunited with her mother who is addicted to drugs and once abused Ginny. An engaging  adventure!


I think Sedaris is funny funny funny. When I see his name on a book, I’m intrigued. This is a collection of 18 short authors that Sedaris is ‘ready to pick a fight’ for (e.g., Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Dorothy Parker, Tobias Wolff, Flannery O’Conner.) I read these stories chronologically and as with most collections, I enjoyed some titles more (‘The Girl with the Blackened Eye’ by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘People Like That Are the Only People here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk’ by Lorrie Moore than others (‘In The Cemetary Where Al Jolson is Buried’ by Amy Hempel). But I don’t want to get into a fight with Mr. Sedaris. (He might write about it!)

THE LAWGIVER by Herman Wouk

The author wrote this book at ninety-seven years of age (!). Wolk claims he always wanted to write a book about Moses and the premise of The Lawgiver is that a movie is going to be made of Moses’s life. Told mostly through emails, letters, transcripts the story of the making of the movie and the characters that include a writer/director, financeer, lawyers and Wouk himself. Was hoping to love this more than I did but it got a bit too convoluted for me and I didn’t seem to care whether the movie got made or not!



by Larry Swartz

Take Me to Your Readers

Hot off the press, this Pembroke publication is intended to help educators lead students to read read read by offering them quality literature..  The book includes a huge range of recommended book lists and presents over 50 response strategies drawn from classroom experiences. Huge thanks to teachers who have invited me into classrooms to share books with their students, and to those guest voices who shared their best literacy practices with me. Hugs to Maria Martella (Tinlids) for inspiring the title.

Five chapters include…

  1. Connected by Books (Motivating readers)
  2. Connected by Genres
  3. Connected by Theme
  4. Connected by Response
  5. Connected by Curriculum