At 200 pages or less (except for one title), these books range from the funny to the serious.
BECAUSE OF THE RABBIT by Cynthia Lord
After reading and enjoying the novel Rules, I became a fan of Cynthia Lord’s writing. She does not disappoint in this book about a young girl, Emma, who has only known home-schooling but now finds herself in the public school system. Being new to a new school can be stressful, but a class project where groups of grade five students each must tell ‘two truths and a lie’ tests Emma’s sense of being different, particularly when she befriends Jack, a special needs student with whom she is partnered with. And yes, the caring of a pet bunny threads this story of compassion and kindness.
PLANET OMAR: ACCIDENTAL TROUBLE MAGNET by Zanib Mian; illus. Nasaya Mafaridik / (oops! this one’s 211 pages)
This is an engaging, entertaining read, particularly for fans of Wimpy Kid series. Playful fonts and comical illustrations add to the appeal of this book. What sets this narrative apart is the fact that the hero of the story is Muslim which connects to the world of many contemporary readers at the same time as inviting non-Muslim students to learn about his culture through celebrations and religious observances. Omar joins bookshelves of characters who stressed out about attending a new school and get caught in incidents embarrassing and challenging (encounters with the school bully). The author dedicates this book to “all the children who ever felt that being different is a negative thing.” HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
FISHBONE’S SONG by Gary Paulsen
Up until a few years ago, I bought any/every new Paulsen novel in hardback. His work from the 1990’s – survival stories set in wild nature settings – knocked me out (Hatchet (series), Woodsong, The Island). (I once asked for Mr. Paulsen’s autograph at a conference and i told him he was my hero). Books that I came across in the past few years seemed to be a diversion from Paulsen’s genius at explaining and celebrating the natural world. Fishbone’s Son, the story of an orphan boy who comes to be raised in the woods by a wised old man. reminded me of the Paulsen “I used to know” and i was gain impressed with his wondrous storytelling and detailed factual writing. Paulsen’s world, I am assured comes from authentic experiences and they are so removed from my own world of urban living. You are a hero. The lyrical nature of this book may not appeal to a wide range of young readers but his sentences and images can serve as mentor examples of fiction/nonfiction wordsmthing. Mr. Paulsen, you are a hero. “First story I heard I was a baby still in birth blood in a wooden beer crate down where the creek crossed under the county firebreak trail.”
THIS SIDE OF WILD by Gary Paulsen
Everything you wanted to know about experiencing the wild, living with the wild, learning from the wild, can be found in most of Gary Paulsen’s books. This book is presented as 5’chapters’ / nonfiction pieces. The collection of true stories “have taught Mr. Paulsen lessons that have enriched his life and deepened his respect for animals”. The man has certainly lived a life of extreme adventure so far from my world experiences but I am fascinated to read about his encounters with dogs, bears, birds, snakes, etc that led him to believe that animals know more than humans can ever fathom. Fascinating. Sample chapter title: A Confusion of Horses, a Border Collie named Josh, a Grizzly Bear who LIked holes and a Poodle with Three Teeth.
SIX KIDS AND A STUFFED CAT by Gary Paulsen
No nature writing or animals (except for a stuffed cat) in this story of six young adolescent boys who don’t get along but are enforced to be exiled in a restroom, when a storm forces them to stay in school. As the story unfolds, the six strangers, each with his quirks and personalities, eventually become friends. The narrative occurs over 73 pages, but what is intriguing about this publication is a play adaptation (about 65 pages) of the story that we had just read about. Clever. (I preferred the script over the narrative)
FINDING LANGSTON by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Eleven-year-old Langston and his father move from Alabama to Chicago leaving behind memories of Grandma’s cooking and cherished times with Mama. It is 1946 and the ‘country boy’ is continually being harassed in his new school. Salvation is found within the walls of the George Cleveland Hall Library where blacks are welcome and the oetry words of Langston Hughes which give the young boy hope, courage and a connection to his mother’s spirit. Beautiful writing shining a beautiful light on the power of poems.
LEAVING LYMON by Lesa Cline-Ransome
A companion story to Finding Langston that stands on its own. Lymon doesn’t remember much about his mother and father is in a State Penetentiary. After Lymon is being raised by two loving grandparents, circumstances force him to move to Milwaukee where he feels terribly alone, is caught in an abusive relationship, gets himself in trouble and is desperate to return to a place where he was loved by relatives and neighbours. In the first novel, poetry was the main character’s salvation, and in the second novel it is the music that becomes part of Lymon’s soul.
SUNNYSIDE PLAZA by Scott Simon
Any book that highlights its theme “KINDNESS STARTS FROM WITHIN” appeals to me. This is a wonderful novel, arousing empathetic understanding of a cast of adult characters with developmental disabilities who live in a community home. Sally Miyake is the resident who observe and questions the life of those around her and eventually becomes the hero to help sovle the problem of mysterious deaths and incidents that have struck the home. Yes, ‘kindness is found within’ the pages of this 191-page novel.
HIGH AND DRY by Eric Walters
In this chapter book, the author tells the story of a young boy and his grandfather who are forced to help rescue a young orca stranded on the rocks on remote island. An appealing survival story for young readers.