Below are ten novels I’ve read this autumn that I rather enjoyed. However, in considering award contenders, none of these would be on my top five list. Surprisingly, there were many text to text connections for me in these novels whether the connections were because the books were by first-time authors, authors of renowned, about siblings with troubled parents, about putting characters in unfamiliar settings, feature dogs as central characters and presented in free verse formats. Each of these novels was published in 2016.
GERTIE’S LEAP INTO GREATNESS by Kate Beasley
Gertie belongs to the sisterhood of Ramona Quimby. She is clever and feisty and full of comedic pranks. First time novelist, Kate Beasley breezily describes Gertie’s plans to become ‘the greatest fifth grade student in the world. This novel should appeal to eight to ten year old girls who enjoy watching after school sitcoms. It will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about ‘never give up’ characters.
MOO by Sharon Creech
I bought this book without reading a description. Knowing the author’s work, admiring free verse novels, and a simple inviting cover, prompted me to own this book. A family moves to Maine and life is certainly different for them from the big city they once lived in. Twelve-year-old Reena, the main character, of this novel slowly adjusts to the life of beaches and blueberries and an ornery cow named Zora. Once again, Sharon Creech (author of Love That Dog) tells her story in free verse style, in short chapters. Note: Imagine reading two great novels about cows in a couple of years. Moo reminded me of a the fine and funny Canadian novel, Audrey (cow) by Dan Bar-el
ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES by Shari Green
Bailey and Kevin’s parents are having relationship problems and so the brother and sister are sent to the West Coast Island town of Felicity Bay to live with their grandmother. I do like novels that are free verse style which works for this novel. I enjoyed the book because it seemed to take me on a vacation to a seaside CANADIAN community. Bailey’s quest to come to an understanding of conflicts in a community, in a family and to believe in ‘miracles’ holds this novel together. Disclaimer: Not fond of the title, which seems to eliminate many boys from picking up this book.
THE POET’s DOG by Patricia MacLachlan
Like Moo, I bought this novel because of the title as well asmy familiarity with the author, Patricai MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall). This short novel (83 pages) interweaves the story of two young children, a dog that finds them in a winter storm and a cabin that belonged to a poet. This book is suitable for reading aloud and/ or can be given to young readers who might enjoy reading about dogs and poets.
THE BEST MAN by Richard Peck
I have been reading novels by Richard Peck for more than three decades and was delighted to meet Archer Magill, who, like many young adolescents is confronted with the challenges of Middle School. Archer connects to his father, grandfather and his uncle who serve as important role models, but when he meets Mr. McLeod who is doing a practicum placement in Archer’s class, he finds a new role model. I find myself smiling when I read Peck’s books and also connecting emotionally to the relationships and problems he presents so clearly – in this case, that of same sex marriage.
MAXI’s SECRETS by Lynn Plourde.
Spoiler alert: Maxi, the title hero of this novel, dies. We learn this piece of information in the opening two sentences of the novel (“Let’s get this over with – it’s no secret. / My dog, Maxi dies”). Stories about dogs appeal to many young readers. And if you have a book with a dog who dies, it seems to be a ‘winner’. (Thank you Gordon Korman, for No More Dead Dogs). When Timminy is forced to confront the meanness of bullies, Maxi, a deaf dog and a blind neighbour named Abby give the boy strength and enrich his compassionate capabilities.
AS BRAVE AS YOU by Jason Reynolds
Genie and Ernie’s parents are having relationship problems and so the two brothers are sent to Virginia to live with their grandparents. Spending a lot of time out of doors, doing chores, Genie and Ernie have a strong brotherly relationship. Grandpop is a central character in this novel, and Genie who develops a strong bond and curiosity about life when he spends time with his quirky but wise grandfather who is blind. Apparently, the two boys are Afro-American and for me this just seems to be a casual piece of information that is not significant to the boys’ identities. Filtered throughout the novel are Genie’s wonderings about life, (e.g., Why are swallows called swallows? How many stars are in the sky? And whose job is it to count them?) thus inspiring a sense of wonder and inquiry that readers can connect to.
GHOST by Jason Reynolds
Reynolds is a storyteller indeed (see As Brave as You). The hero of this story, named Ghost, is a runner (and a wannabe champion athlete, the Junior Olympics, in fact). When an opportunity arises for him to be part of a ‘team’, Ghost needs to shed his anger and bad habits (e.g., the theft of running shoes) and learn how to better cope with his family circumstances and relationships with his peers. This fast-paced book is the first in a series by the author.
SHELTER: A novel by Jung Yun
The story of an unhappy family – an unhappy Korean family. Shelter is also a novel centred on family obligations, class, domestic abuse, fidelity, and class. Yun’s narrative seemed to flow quickly and built empathetic understanding for the troubled Korean protagonist.
THE NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan
How many novels have you read told from the point of view of a fetus? McEwan brilliantly presents an intelligent, curious narrator who ‘observes’ and comments on the behaviours of his parents, on infidelity, on sex, and on his mother and uncle’s plan to murder his father. (Hamlet anyone?) Unique storytelling is an understatement.
Anne Poretta 1944 – 2016
To know Anne Poretta was to love her. I connected with Anne a few years ago and I quickly recognized that I had a good colleague, a great friend. I once bumped into her in a grocery story and she told me she was buying ingredients to bake biscotti. I casually suggested that I love lemon biscotti. Each time we met afterwards and PD events or otherwise, Anne had a package of carefully wrapped biscotti for me. Anne was the kindest of souls. I so admired Anne for her passion for teaching, her love of children’s literature, her love of children and her optimistic view of life. Artist, cook, educator, Anne was at all times a level four. What a terrific, joyful person!!! Ciao, bella!
see: Globe and Mail, October 28, lives lived …http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/lives-lived-anne-porretta-71/article32543812/