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’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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


 THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT by Jason Reynolds


ALL AMERICAN BOYS (with Brendan Kiely)



GHOST (Track series)

PATINA (Track series)


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).


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.


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).


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)


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.)


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)


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!


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.


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.


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



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.