Dr. Larry Recommends

Dr. Larry Recommends

What books have I recently enjoyed reading? What plays have I recently enjoyed seeing? This section offers recommendations of some of my current favourite literary and arts experiences.  I look forward to frequently posting children’s literature book lists here.

KID LIT: AUGUST READING 2020

The TEN  titles listed below are suggested for recommended for different age levels and include different genres including free verse, chapter book, and nonfiction selections. 

 

LOVE FROM A to Z by S.K. Ali (YA)

This is story, told in alternating chapters presents the relationship between Zayneb, visiting her aunt in Doha, Quatar during March break and Adam who lives nearby with his father and sister. Zayneb is angry (and political) in response to her racist teacher back home in Indiana and Adam is troubled after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When Zaynab and Adam’s paths cross, they find some solace and connections with each other as they each question their place in the world as Muslim teenagers. That they each record their thoughts in their own MARVEL and ODDITY journals. A warm, thought-provoking story that deals with loss, memory, politics, friendships and falling in love.

LETTERS FROM CUBA by Ruth Behar

Esther’s father has left Poland and is now living in a small Cuban village. He dreams of having his family (mother, wife, three sons, 2 daughters) come to join him. At 12 years of age, Esther persuades her Papa that she should come to live with him. From 1937 – 1939,  Esther writes letters to her younger sister, Malka in which she describes her life in the small community, her new friendships, the struggle she and her father have to save money to pay for her family to join them,  her talent and success at making and selling dresses to locals and to a big department store and the threat. Antisemitism. The letters, never sent, serve as a record of Esther’s growing love of her new home and her dreams of bringing family together. Though fictional, the story is drawn from the author’s family history. A heartfelt book that brings another perspective to both the immigrant experience and to narratives that led to the Holocaust.

DRESS CODED by Carrie Firestone

The principal at Fisher Middle School is ruthless about having a dress code which he strictly enforces – especially for the girls.  Molly Frost and her friends are fed up with this unfair school ‘law’ and creates a podcast where girls tell their stories.  Eventually the grade 8 students take action and form a protest and rebellion so that future students at the school won’t have to deal with this ruling. Even though Molly has a lot to deal with (an out-of-control brother who is addicted to vaping, a school bully, friendship loyalties, she is determined to lead the pack in forming a rebellion with petition, posters and meetings with the Board of Education. The titled chapters are short (1 to 3 pages) and there is a range of text formats including PODCAST transcripts, letters, lists. This is a top-notch, quick-read,  novel that shines  a light on middle school life and inspires students to stand up for what they think is right.

ALL HE KNEW by Helen Frost (free verse)

Henry is a young boy, who can speak but is deaf. The time period is World War II and Henry is sent to sent to an institution because he is labelled ‘unteachable’. Victor, a conscientious objector is hired to work at the institution as part of a Civilian Public Service program alternative to the draft. Unlike others who have treated Henry and his friends harshly, Victor shows kindness to the boys.  When Victor recognizes ability and cleverness in Henry he strives to find hope  and comfort for the boy. Frost’s free verse novel is based on actual events that arose during WWII. This book is recommended for those  fond of free verse style, stories about those with physical challenges and historical fiction presented in poetic style.

DUCK DAYS by Sara Leach; illus.Rebecca Bender (Chapter book)

This is the third book in the series (Slug Days; Penguin Days) that presents the day to day adventures of Lauren, a young girl with Austism Spectrum Disorder. She strives to follow the counsel of her father who tells her to ‘go with the flow’ but when a class adventure of mountain biking day is announced, Lauren is stressed out because she is still using training wheels and worries about the teasing that awaits her. Her friendship with her best friend, Irma,  helps Lauren get through her worries. This is a fine story to help readers understand differences as well an engaging read to grasp themes of frustration, bravery and acceptance. Rebecca Benders’ black and white illustrations appear on every page adding clarity and joy to the narrative.

MANANALAND by Pam Munoz Ryan

Newbery Honour author Ryan tells the story of an 11-year-old Maximiliano Cordoba’s coming of age journey as he takes up family. mission of helping refugees. Maximiliano. living in the fictitious Central American village of Santa Maria longs to solve the mystery of what happened to his mother who disappeared when he was a baby. He eagerly listens to the stories his grandfather tells about the mysterious gatekeeper who leads travelers to a safe haven , a place called Mananaland (Tomorrowland). I am not giving this book as strong a review as it has been receiving. Disclaimer, I couldn’t wrap my head around the sense of fantasy realism  and myths that seemed to interrupt the flow of the narrative but I would certainly  add this piece of fiction  that tell about the plight of refugees  – ‘hidden ones – who are seeking a place of safety.

I’M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal (YA)

The novel is told in alternating voices: Gena (a Black teenager) and Campbell (a white teenager). The two girls lives first intertwine during a violent outbreak at a school Football game. Althouigh, they have different cultural perspectives to the Black Lives Matters movement,  Lena and Campbell stick together amidst protests and looting that quickly erupt in the city, throughout the night. The two authors take immerse readers into the violence of city protests, thus bringing news events to life. A worthy addition to YA novels that help readers contemplate race relations.

SKY OF BOMB,  SKY OF STARS: A Vietnamese War Orphan Finds Home by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (biography)

This omnibus edition presents two of the author’s award-winning biographies LAST AIRLIFT: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War and ONE STEP AT A TIME: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way. The story document’s eight-year old orphan Tuyet’s rescue from bomb-filled Vietnam and her adaption to life in Canada when when she is adopted by the Morris family. Tuyet’s fiuther resolve is tested when she embarks on corrective surgery for her twisted ankle and a gruelling physiotherapy regime. Together, these two stories recount the biography of a brave, courageous girl, who moved from a sky of bombs, to a sky of stars striving to find a place called home.

YORICK AND BONES by Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard.

Canadian picture book hero, Jeremy Tankard (Grumpy Bird) has created a graphic novel that features a skeleton character named Yorick (yes, that Yorick, you know him well). Together with his daughter Tankard tells an amusing tale about the skeleton, who ‘magically’ is resurrected and hopes to find a true friend to keep him company. A dog named BONES is thrilled to find the Yorick’s bones to chew on and ends up becoming a faithful companion to him. The speech bubbles are mostly given to the voice of Yorick. (Bone’s dialogue hardly ‘says’ anything beyond “Woof! Woof!”). What makes this book unique is the use of iambic pentameter, a tribute to the language of Shakespeare which may , or may not,  appeal to Middle Years readers. (“Whenever my eyes doth open it is dark!/It seems eternity that I have slept;/ So long I nary can recall my past.”)

 

SHOUT OUT

MARCH: A trilogy by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell (graphic biography) / YA

March celebrates, a graphic biography presented in black and white illustrations, celebrates the life of Black U.S. Congressman, John Lewis, committed to justice and nonviolence in fighting for civil rand human rights against Jim Crow laws  The  series recounts Lewis’s early life on a sharecropper Alabama farm to the 1963 March on Washington. Here is a remarkable story of a man who received both countless beatings from state troopers to eventually receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Book One spans Lewis youth in Alabama, a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the battle to tear down segregation through lunch counter sit-ins. (March the first title, winner of the four awards for nonfiction literature, is the first  in a trilogy. Book Two features the sit-in campaigns in Nashville, the Freedom Riders mission to combat segregation, and Lewis’s rise at 23 years old  to chairman of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Book Three focuses on the March from Selma to Montgomery demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. State troopers attacked the orderly protestors in a brutal confrontation that became known as ‘Bloody Study’. Media revealed the senseless cuetly of the segregated South which eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

March: Book One by [John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell]

Cover Image

GROWN UP READS: Summer 2020

Listed below are ten ‘adult’  titles I’ve read over the past month or so:

fiction x 3 / memoir x 2 / poetry anthology x2 / short story anthology x 1 /  novella x 1 /  travelogue x 1

SAILING ALONE AROUND THE ROOM: New an selected poems by Billy Collins

The anthology is divided into five sections (1988/1991/1995/1998/new poems and I chose to read one section / day this week. I turned down the corners of about 15 poems which, I’d say is a pretty good roster in a collection of 100 + poems. Thanks to my friend Bob for the birthday gift.

from Days

Each one is a gift, no doubt,

mysteriously placed in your waking hand

or set upon your forehead

moments before you open your eyes.

POETRY 180: A turning back to poetry by Billy Collins (editor) / poetry

From the introduction: “The idea behind this printed collection, which is a version of the Library of Congress “180” website, was to a generous selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which nay listener could basically ‘get” on first hearing – poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate.? Are you kidding me, Mr. Collins??? If the intent is to remove torment from adolescent readers encountering poems (read/ listened), then this collection mystified me, not only for the choice of poems but for it’s vision to ‘beckon people back to poetry them a variety of poems that might snag their interest. For me, far removed from adolescenthood, I caught the meaning very few of the poems on first read.  Oh, how I love the idea of a poem a day. but I would say that most of these poems need deeper contemplation, collaborative dialogue, and a forum to share  “I wonder…”  thoughts.  I chronologically read 20 poems a day over a two week period and concur with a statement borrowed from Fran Liebowitz’s musical aesthetics: ‘Good poems are poems are poems I like and bad poems are poems I don’t like’. Perhaps a re-read is in order. Perhaps not. 

I wonder what high school students would think? I wonder what poems they would gather together for a Poetry 180 collection.

LOVE by Roddy Doyle

Two guys go into a bar and talk and talk and talk. (and drink and drink and drink).  Doyle has reader eavesdrop on the conversations of Davy and Joe who have been drinking pass since their youth. Stories abound about girls of their dreams, first-encounters, kids, separation from wives, loss of parents, and pub journeys in Dublin. What do we remember from the past?, what is important to remember? Who do we tell these stories to seems to be central to the themes of this book, as is the multi-faceted forms that love can take throughout our lives. Hang in there.. the novel eventually packs an emotional punch at the end of the night of drinking and talking, drinking and talking.

ALL MADE UP by Janice Galloway / memoir

This title is the sequel to the author’s memoir about growing up in small-townScotland.   Here Gillespie shares memories of her adolescent puberty years which involves boyfriends, academics and a devotion to playing music.  Once again we meet her stoical mother and her domineering older sister. I preferred the earlier title but sometimes when you learn about the struggles of a character you are intrigued to learn how a character’s  evolves and moves on against the odds..

OPENING DOORS: A memoir by Mehak Jamil

This memoir outlines the journey of a Muslim woman as she digs into her past to confront the traumas of growing up. The book is presented in alternating timelines: Childhood,  Undergrad, Twenty-something which allows the author to dig into experiences with her family and then with her university education experiences, therapy sessions and reflections from a twenty-something adult. Mehak’s Master’s research focussed on how teacher-student relationships can help build resiliency in students who have experienced childhood abuse and neglect. Mehak Jamil received her Masters of Teaching degree from OISE and her book Opening Doors is a story of resilience and through personal narrative and reflection,  ‘teaches’ readers about the effect of being berated and harmed by a parent.

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING by Colum McCann / novella

An elderly Jewish named Mendelssohn, a retired judge,   living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan with the help of a caregiver decides to dine out at a local posh restaurant where he will meet his son for lunch. After te meal, Mendlessohn leaves the restaurant and is attacked. The case to find out who the attacker was is unravelled by detectives who depend on events being captured by cameras.  Life appears differently from different angles. Each chapter in the short novella (143 pages) is introduced by a stanza from Wallace Stevents poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Blackbird.”  I treasure this statement, “Just as a poem turns its reader into accomplice, so, too, the detectives become accomplice to the murder”.  Readers as accomplice – brilliant! I so admired APEIROGON by this author, that I’ve since been meaning to dip into his other books. I will soon get around to Let The Great World Spin which has been sitting on my shelf for a while and I ordered 4 more titles from Amazon. August should be Colum McCann month for Larry.

THE BOOK OF MEN edited by Column McCann (short stories)

This anthology is a collection of 80 original short short stories (maximum 3 pages per piece) created by male and female writers from across the globe. Stories are presented, without titles, in alphabetical order by author. The essential question that inspired each story was to address “what it means to be a man and how to live up to that responsibility” (introduction). The anthology was written in honour of Esquire Magazine’s eightieth anniversary (2013) and Narrative 4 whose mission is to ‘use storytelling as a means to  understand ourselves and one another. (introduction).  I read every story sequentially, and like most short story and poetry collections some work better for me than others. Many of the narratives left me rather puzzled. That’s OK.  I turned down the corners on a handful of favourite selections (i.e, Michael Cunningham,  Elinor Lipman, Edna O’ Brien).

SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid

This is a story about a rich white woman, Alix Chamberlain  and her relationship with her twenty-five-year old babysitter, Emira Tucker. A “Reeses” Bookclub featured title. The novel begins with an episode at a supermarket where Emira, who is taking care of the Chamberlain child, is accused of kidnapping the two year old child. The event was captured on video but Emira is determined to keep it hidden. She is determined to find a better life for herself in terms of finding a job, a suitable place to live and love. This is a story about  class and race, power and ambition. It is also a story about how challenging it is to shake off the past where what has happened to us is hard to shake off. Those who enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere may like this, dare I say “woman’s book.”

SOMETHING’S FISHY IN ITALY by Steven Tencati / nonfiction

Some of my favourite trips have been to Italy.  This travel guide takes readers through a journey with the author and his wife’s as they adventure through Sicily, Sardinia,Rome, Tuscany and Cinque Terre etc. .  Experiences with food, hotels, , touring churches and castles and getting directions offer  reminiscencesabout times spent travelling in Italy or a motivation to visit La Bella Italia. I felt that I was ‘there’ when reading about places I’ve been so lucky to have visited. And hope to perhaps see again sometime. Maybe.

SHOUT OUT

HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Rave reviews abound. My friend Debbie raved about this novel. My friend Eleanor raved about this novel. The author was inspired by the unknown death of Hamnet, son of William Shakespeare , in 1956. O’Farrell invents details about the life and cause of death pestilence).of Hamnet and his symbiotic relationship  his twin sister, Judith, his father who is working in London and his mother, a central character of the story, who is gathers medicinal herbs and heals village members. The setting of the story predominates whether we are taken into forests, meet the family in their homes, visit the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon or journey to London in the 1600’s.  This is a book where the research and detail astonishes as much as the depiction of the devotion, marriage, and profound grief.. Every every sentence is beautifully crafted: She (Agnes) takes in the thatched eves of Hewlands, to her right, the white scree of cloud overhead, the restless branches of the forest, to her left, the swarm of bees in the apple trees.”  “He feels again the sensation he has had all his life: that she is the others side to him, that they fit together, him abd her, like two halves of a walnut.” NOTE: There are different cover versions of this novel, and in some cases, the book t goes by the title HAMNET and JUDITH

YA SUMMER 2020: Focus on Black Identity

The titles in this listing provide perspectives by Black authors on the Black experience, helping readers to contemplate Black identity, The Black Lives Matters movement, past, present and future through fiction and nonfiction.  It is interesting to note that many of these titles were written before 2020, when in fact these books sharpen understanding of what is happening in the world today. 

 

CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by Elizabeth Acevedo (free verse)

This free verse novel tells the story of two Dominican sisters, Camino and Yahaira, who didn’t know they were siblings until the tragic death of their father in an airplane crash. Papi kept a secret life both in New York and the Dominican Republic. The two sisters are forced into coming to terms a new connection, a reflection of reality and dreams, and an a new understanding of the past, the present and the future, a new connection and a reflection of reality and dreams.  The book is presented in alternating voices, each with a singular poetry format. (Camino = 3 line verses; Yahaira in two line verses. Acevedo writes: ‘I wanted a more intimate portrayal of what it means to discover secrets, to discover the depths of your own character in the face of great loss – and gain.”

FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Callendar

Felix Love is very concerned about falling in love. Felix is black, queer and transgender. He is proud of his identity but also confused about what it means to be true to themself and what it means to accept love when it is offered to you.   Their  questionings are stretched through a somewhat troubled relationship with theirsingle father, through evolving feelings  with Declan who was considered an enemy but now holds strong potential as a boyfriend. and through a deep relationship with friend, Ezra.  When Felix receives hateful transphobic messages, their feelings about honesty and secrets and acceptance become further complicated. Felix is however a talented artist which provides him with an opportunity to express himself.  Award-winning author, Kacen Callender (Hurricane Child, King and the Dragonflies) tells stories from a place of authenticity. They hope that a reader who picks up this book ‘learns more about themselves and their identity and that becoming who they truly are is a possibility’. Felix Ever After that will support and change lives of many adolescent readers.

TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE by Jay Coles

Like the novels, The Hate You Give and All American Boys, this title brings a strong perspective to police brutality on Black youth. Marvin and Tyler Johnson are two twins living in Alabama and one night chaos ensues and Tyler disappears. Teenage parties. Gangs. Police raids. Courtroom trials. Protests. Father in prison. Moreover, there is Marvin and Tyler’s anguish when Tyler goes missing.  Though the world of teenager, Marvin, Jay Coles gives voice to systemic racism white supremacy,  and dreams of a better future. (“I tell myself that I love this skin, that i’ve always loved my blackness, that if the world doesn’t love me, I will love myself for the both of us.”)

A FEW RED DROPS: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield (Nonfiction)

Poet, Carl Sandburg in the poem I am the People, The Mob wrote” “Sometimes I grown, shake myself and spatter a few drops of red for history to remember. Then – I forget.”  This nonfiction title provides readers with the story of Black and white immigrants who each sought a better life in city of Chicago. Against all odds, they worked in the busy stockyards, each race being pitted against each other by the rich who controlled the labor market. An incident that involved the drowning of a teenage Black boy who was struck by a white boy, launches the race riot of 1919 where 38 men of both races died and 537 more were wounded. The well-researched book, accompanied by photographs, tells a powerful story of racial justice – that continues to modern times. History needs to be remembered.

THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action and do the work by Tiffany Jewell; illus. Aurelia Durand (Nonfiction)

The intention of this book is to empower young people to stand up for what is right.  The book is a comprehensive guide that provides definitions, histories and questions that help students consider their own identities as they work towards ending racism. Activities that invite written responses to key questions, help students to consider the journey they are on to resist racism. This book is presented in 20 chapters, organized by 4 sections (1. Understanding and Growing Into My Identities; Making Sense of the World; Taking Action and Responding to Racism; Working in Solidarity Against Racism. A glossary offers definitions of terms that adolescents may or not be familiar with (e.g., agency, ethnicity, Folx of the Global Minority). Brightly-coloured illustrations make the pages come alive, often highlighting the text and quotations on offer (“When you know better, do better.” / Maya Angelou.

ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson (Nonfiction)

Activist George M. Johnson digs into his memories of growing up Black and queer in America, telling his stories of family, gender identity, virginity, racism and homophobia to help teenagers who may have to navigate similar experiences in their own lives. Johnson writes, “I believe that the dominant society establishes an idea of what ‘normal’ is simply to suppress difference which means that any of us who fall outside of their ‘normal’ will eventually be oppressed.” (p. 6) (NOTE: the novel King of the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender is an engaging fictional title about a black boy coming to terms with his gay identity).

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE by Lisa Moore Ramee (ages 11- 13)

7th grader, Shayla (Shay0 gets itchy pals whenever trouble approaches.  Life in Junior High is abound with trials and tribulations: boy trouble, friendship trouble, following school rules trouble and track competing trouble.  But bigger trouble is happening in the city when the a white policeman is declared innocent after shooting a black person. A powerful protest that Shay and her family participates in has the young teenager her own Black identity./ To support the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla starts wearing an armband which means more itchy palms.  This is a book that will inspire readers to look at the world outside and inside themselves and as they strive stand up for what they believe in.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY by Jacqueline Woodson (YA)

This novel by Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson was first published in 1998. In the preface to the 20th anniversary edition, Ella, a white Jewish teenager living in Manhattan, falls in love with Jeremiah (Miah) a black boy who lives in Brooklyn with his famous parents. Though they come from different worlds, they fall deeply in love despite a world that seems unsettled by interracial relationships. Woodson writes (2018), “What I didn’t know was that the book I was writing in the mid-nineties would only continue to resonate with many but would become relevant to more and more people as the use of social media grew, as groups like Black Lives Matter formed, as the cases of police brutality skyrocketed. I didn’t know a story I was writing about two young people falling in love would continue to be about so much more.” If You Come Softly is story of privilege and race that seems to resonate even more in current time than it did in 1998, 2018.

BEHIND YOU by Jacqueline Woodson (YA)

This is the companion book to If You Come Softly. (spoiler alert) Jeremiah looks down from the afterlife on the friends and family who are trying to cope with the grief of his loss. This short novel (118 pages) is told in short chapters through different voices that we met in the first novel, Ellie, the white girl who so loved Jeremiah, Nelia his mother who is struggling to write again, Carlton his best friend who is coming to terms with being gay, and Kennedy, a star basketball player. This is a good ‘companion novel’ for readers who enjoyed the first book and want to contemplate how people move on after losing the person they have deeply loved.

BLACK ENOUGH: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi (short stories/ YA)

This is a collection of 17 short stories, realistic fiction by acclaimed Black YA authors. These teenagers and young adults come from different social classes, different family circumstances, and different sexual preferences. I read this anthology chronologically and enjoyed every story which helped me delve into stories of being Black in America. Stories include three friends talking about their favourite sandwich creations ( ‘The Ingredients’ by Jason Reynolds); infatuation (‘Hackathon Summers’, by Coe Booth); same sex relationships (‘Kissing Sarah Smart’ by Justina Ireland) inappropriate nude pictures at a church retreat (‘Stop Playing’ by Liara Tamani) and hairstyles o (‘Half a Moon’ by Renee Watson). Editor, Ibi Zoboi writes “my hope is that Black Enough will encourage all Black teens to be their free, uninhibited selves without the constraints of being Black, too Black or not Black enough. They will simply be enough just as they are.” (p. xiv)

 

SHOUT OUT

MARCH by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell (graphic biography)

This book celebrates the life of Black U.S. Congressman, John Lewis, committed to justice and nonviolence in fighting for civil rand human rights against Jim Crow laws  The  series recounts Lewis’s early life on a sharecropper Alabama farm to the 1963 March on Washington. Here is a remarkable story of a man who received both countless beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Book One spans Lewis youth in Alabama, a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the battle to tear down segregation through lunch counter sit-ins. (March the first title, winner of the four awards for nonfiction literature, is the first  in a trilogy.

 

March: Book One by [John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell]

JOHN ROBERT LEWIS (February  21, 1940 – July 17, 2020)

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all i can to demonstrate that way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

(from  Lewis’s final words published, July 30, 2020, before his funeral was to start)

MIDDLE YEARS NOVELS (ages 9-13) : Summer 2020

Some great novels came my way this summer, many written in 2020, many helping to deal with a tough topic.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate (2020)

This book is a sequel to the award-winning The One and Only Ivan. I welcome any new Applegate and enjoyed reading about the feisty, independent dog, Bob, that we first met in the original story. The book is divided into three parts, where we learn i. about Bob’s life of being a pet, ii. a reunion with Ivan, a silverback gorilla and Ruby, a yound elephant, and iii. the search for his long lost sister. The central part provides the most adventure when a hurricane hits and Bob is involved with the rescue of sanctuary animals. The format (paragraphs are usually only two or three sentences) makes for a breezy read. T Perhaps Applegate was a dog in her previous life. She sure captures the voice , and knows the thoughts, feelings, and dreams of this canine.

STAND ON THE SKY by Erin Bow (2020)

The setting is Mongolia. The characters come from the nomadic Kazakh.  After her brother is injured, Aisulu embarks on the challenge of training an orphaned baby eagle for the annual Eagle Hunt competition. Kudos to Erin Bow who did her research by going live with Mongolian families and investigated encyclopedic information about eagles to help tell her story. Kudos to Erin Bow for presenting some thrilling scenes where characters swiftly ride on open plains, where families come together to care for an animal and each other and where  men – and one young girl – compete in a game where eagles soreThis book is a Governor General Award winner.

WE DREAM OF SPACE by Erin Entrada Kelly (2020)

Time: January 1986. Three central sibling characters CASH (repeating grade 7); FITCH (obsessed with going to the video arcade); BIRD (dreams of becoming NASA’s fist female shuttle commander) A Mom and Dad who always argue. Newbery Award Winner Erin Entrada Kelly writes good books (Hello Universe, You Go First, Lalani and the Distant Sea).  In her newest novel, she tells the storie and describes the frustrations of three sibling characters who are trying to find a place of belonging  in this big wide world. Important plot events emerge in  science classes where a caring teacher attempts to teach her students of the importance of space travel. The launching of the Challenger (January 28, 1986) is central to this novel.

RICK by Alex Gino (2020)

Just as the author successfully brought attention to the issue of gender indentity in the novel about a transgender young girl (George), they bring forth thoughts about tweenagers who might be questioning their own sexual  in this engaging title. Seventh-grader, Rick, isn’t sure if he likes girls or boys and considers that he may be asexual.  He decides to join the Rainbow Spectrum club in his middle school where kids of many genders and identities congregate. Rick hopes this club will bring him some answers and some new friendships, particularly since he is challenged with his friendship with Jeff known to be a bully and homophobic. A sub-plot involves a warm relationship with his grandfather where Rick learns more about keeping secrets. Gino expertly conveys not only the language of LGBTQIAP+ identities but provides insight and support through fictional characters that middle school readers can identify with, as they come to question their own sexuality as they approach adolescenthood.

THE CASE OF THE MISSING AUNTIE by Michael Hutchinson 

Four cousins – The Mighty Muskrats – come from their rez life to experience life in the big city.  They plan to have fun at the Exhibition, to attend a rock concert (hopefully) and most of all, find some answers about the disappearnce of Grandpa’s missing sister who was ‘scooped up’ by the government and adopted out to strangers. Adventures include a visit to a mall, a pool-playing event, bullying harassment, volunteering at a street fair. Research takes the team to government agencies, including the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, where the Might Muskrats hope to unravel truths and answers about the residential schools and the fate of their missing auntie. This is one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve encountered recently to help illuminate the history of Residential Schools. Through a mystery story that involves an investigation of facts, readers can learn about the history and impact of Residential schools on Indigenous cultures. This title is the second book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series by Michael Hutchinson who is a citizen of the Misipawaistik Cree Nation in the Treaty 5 territory north of Winnipeg. The Case of Windy Lake is the first title in the series.

INVISIBLE EMMIE by Terri Libenson (Emmie & Friends Series)

Libenson must be living inside the locker of a middle school because her observations and insights into the life of grade 7 and 8 students are  right on! (and funny).  Emmie’s modus operandi is to remain a rather  silent invisible participants the tweens around her carry on with school tasks, friendships and even infatuations.  When an embarrassing note falls into the wrong hands, Emmie is humiliated and wants to hide even more.  But finding out who her true friends are gives her strength and by days end (spoiler alert) she comes out of her shell and changes for the better. Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid series,  Libenson’s books are heavily illustrated with cartoons and graphic pages and understandably have a wide appeal since young tweens can , identify with and learn from these true-to-life characters.  This title is the first in a popular series: Positively Izzy, Just Jaime, Becoming Brianna.

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE by Lisa Moore Ramee (ages 11- 13)

7th grader, Shayla (Shay0 gets itchy pals whenever trouble approaches.  Life in Junior High is abound with trials and tribulations: boy trouble, friendship trouble, following school rules trouble and track competing trouble.  But bigger trouble is happening in the city when the a white policeman is declared innocent after shooting a black person. A powerful protest that Shay and her family participates in has the young teenager her own Black identity./ To support the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla starts wearing an armband which means more itchy palms.  This is a book that will inspire readers to look at the world outside and inside themselves and as they strive stand up for what they believe in.

CLEAN GETAWAY by Nic Stone (2020)

Clean Getaway is a road trip story.  G’ma is white and she invites her black 11-year-old grandson, William “Scoob” (known as Scoob-a-doob to his grandmother) to join her on an impromptu trip in an RV.  The journey takes them to the southern states where the story of grandma’s past is slowly unravelled.  Along the way, G’ma has a chance to inform her grandson about historical injustices to black heroes (e..g Emmett Till,  Ruby Bridges). The author is best known for her YA novels (Dear Martin, Odd One Out)  and with this first novel middle -grade reader, illustrated by Dawaud Anyabwilean, she tells a story that is sure to appeal to 9-12 year olds. It is already a top ten title on the New York Times booklist.

CLICK: One Novel Ten Authors (various authors) (ten stories)

The stories in this book were written by various British, American and Canadian authors (e.g. Eoin Colfer, Deborah Ellis, Gregory Maguire, Linda Sue Park, Tim  Wynne-Jones.  The link to these stories is the character of George “Gee” Keane, a famous photojournalist who has travelled the world taking pictures of people at work, at war, in sports and at play.  The first story by Linda Sue Park launches the narrative when we learn that, upon his death, Gee leaves his grandson some photographs and his granddaughter a box with seven shells. How the camera and the shells and the photographs are connected is the premise of this book written in 2007.  As to be expected, I liked some stories better than others and sometimes felt the link between the stories was a bit of a stretch.

 

SHOUT OUT

GHOST BOYS  by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by [Jewell Parker Rhodes]

EVERY STUDENT, GRADES 5 THROUGH 8 NEEDS TO READ THIS NOVEL 

A powerful novel about a black boy killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.   As a ghost, this twelve-year old observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the aftermath of what they see as an unjust killing. The narrative draws connections through history as the boy meets other black boys including Emmett Till in heaven. I’ve just finished reading this book for the second time and I highly recommend it as a title that that empowers readers to make the world better and to prompt “meaningful change for all youth.” (page 208)

10 + 1 PICTURE BOOK PURCHASES: Summer 2020

The following batch of picture books were recent purchased. In recent months, i’ve been intentionally seeking out titles that support my investigation of tough topics. I choose to add to titles of recommended selections to address social justice, diversity and equity. How do we choose which titles we are going to spend our money on? In the following posting I provide a brief rationale for each of these choices for tough topics and/or otherwise. Dates of publication vary.

A STORY ABOUT AFIYA by James Berry; illus. Anna Cunha (2020)

An illustrated version of a poem by James Berry in which a young girl, with fine black skin where’s a summer frock where everything she passes (e.g. red roses, butterflies, a flock of pigeons, two tigers, a school of fish) is imprinted on her frock. A celebration of imagination, wonder and preservation of memories.  Stunning ‘poetic art by Brazilian Anna Cunha.

WHY? 1) Jamaican poet James Berry 2. a beautiful marriage of poem and illustrations

Afiya stands. She watches

the sharp pictures of colour,

untouched by her wash.

HER MOTHER’S FACE by Roddy Doyle; illus. Freya Blackwood (2008)

The author’s mother’s mother died when his mother was three. She has some fond memories of her mother but she couldn’t remember her mother’s face. This story is a tribute to that person.

WHY? Am fond of adult and children’s literature by this famous Irish author and I like to collect books that shine a light on adult/child relationships and the preservation of memories.

I LOVE YOU, BLUE KANGAROO by Emma Chichester Clark

Lily’s favourite toy is Blue Kangar0o, until she is gifted with other cuddly companions (Wiggly Green Crocodile, Yellow Cotton Rabbit, Wild Brown Bear etc.

WHY? Adrienne Gear recommended this as a mentor text for kids to write stories about their own toy treasures.

DUCK, DEATH AND THE TULIP by Wolf Erlbruch (2008/2020)

Death, holding a tulip, comes to fetch Duck .  Through what may seem ordinary conversations and  ordinary activities, Death and Duck prepare for the end-of life journey. A book that inspires contemplation and compassion and can inspire questions about death and dying.

WHY?: I seek out books that help unpack the tough topic of death and remembrance. Like Cry Heart But Do Not Break, this title tackles a sensitive topic through the personification and visual representation of death. Was eager to seek out work by Astrid Lindgren Award winning  German illustrator, Wolf Erlbruch

SUMMER FEET by Sheree Fitch; illus. Carolyn Fisher (2020)

A celebration of the outdoors, of play, and being barefoot. It’s great to review a picture book as ‘delightful’ and really mean it. Delightful! Joyous! Wordwonderfulicious!  I smile when reading Sheree’s word wizardry. I can hear the laughter of the children playing in each of the illustrations.

WHY? The book is by Sheree Fitch. No other reason needed.

We listen to secrets in whispers of leaves

in our carefully carefree

shimmy shenanigans

slow-climbing, toe-gripping

mighty baboonish

bare-naked

SUMMER FEET!

CHESTER’S WAY by Kevin Henkes (1988)

Chester and Wilson are two great friends who like to do everything together and do so until the incorrigibly Lilly moves into the neighbourhood and wants things done her way.

WHY? For a course I will be teaching, I am interested in acquiring picture books that present views of child play.  A book about cooperation and kindness. Hooray for Kevin Henkes. Hooray for Lilly

HOW TO BE A BUTTERFLY by Laura Knowles; illus Catell Ronca (2019)

Facts about butterflies are presented as instructions (“To be a butterfly, you must have two thin antennae, each with a club at the end.”  Facts are informative, clear accompanied by lively bright illustrations.

WHY? Am intrigued with nonfiction picture books that present information in a unique way. This title is a great mentor text for having students present information in the 2nd person voice. Thanks to Adrienne Gear for this terrific book recommendation.

LIFT by Minh Le; illus. Dan Santat (2020)

A young girl is enamoured with pushing buttons on the elevator. She is suddenly surprised to find her launching into other places (a jungle, outer space) all through the power of a pushed elevator button. Great illustrations filled with wordless pages.

WHY? Great reviews for this 2020 title. An engaging adventure tale presented with colourful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Dan Santat.  If you could push a button that could take you on any adventure, where might you choose to go and what would happen if you had the chance to ‘lift off’.

THE MAP OF GOOD MEMORIES by Fran Nuno; illus. Zuzanna Celej (2016)

A young girl is sad to be leaving the city which she has always lived in. To say farewell, she visits the places that have provided her with happy memories.

WHY?: A book that inspires readers to think about the special people and places and daily pleasures and perhaps create their own memory maps.

FAIRY SCIENCE by Ashley Spires (2019)

Fairies use magic wands and potions, but Esther likes facts and evidence. A tree in the forest is wilting and the fairies want to make magic talismans and do a mystical moonlight danced. Esther knows that only research, making a hypothesis and trying experiments will save the day.

WHY?: I’m fond of nonfiction picture books where information is inherent within narrative text.   Hooray for stories of magics. Bravo to a picture book that celebrates and promotes the power of science!

SHOUT OUT!

WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS by Carole Lindstrom; illus. Michaela Goade (2020)

This picture book is worthy of the awards it will/should receive. A rally cry to save the Earth’s water from harm and corruption (i.e. the harm of the evil black snake). “This is not a Native American issue; this is a humanitarian issue. It is time that we all become stewards of our planet so we can protect it for our children and our children’s children./ Water affects and connects us all. We must fight to protect it.” Carole Lindstrom

WHY?: Inspired by Indigenous movements to defend the sacred resource. A strong companion piece to award-winning The Water Walker by Canadian Ojibwe author.  Lush jewel-coloured illustrations provide an art-gallery of visuals. Bonus: Appendix essay /More on Water Protectors. Bonus (final page) An Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge (“I will do my best to honor Mother Earth and all its living beings, including the water and land. I will always remember to treat the Earth as I would like to be treated.”)

We stand

With our songs

And our drums.

We are still here.

 

 

CANADIAN NONFICTION

The 12 Canadian titles listed below represent the wide range of topics and styles that both inform and entertain.  Most of these titles appear in picture book format and can be shared with as read alouds in the classroom, or offered to students as independent titles to engage with.

 

ALIS THE AVIATOR: An ABC Aviation Adventure by Danielle Metcalf-Chenail; illus Kalpna Patel (PB)

Alia Kennedy was one of the first Indigenous female  commercial pilots in Canada. Alis guides readers into the world of aviation through 26 words that illuminate the world of flight. The alphabetical rhyming couplet format efficiently provides noteworthy vocabulary and explanations (C is for Chimpmunk, a small and nimble plane; D is for Dakota, a northern weather vane).  The colourful, three-dimensional cut-paper illustrations add information through simple depiction of aircraft.  The glossary of terms and biography of Dr. Alis Kennedy are a bonus feature. That this book is celebrated through female characters is an extra-special bonus.  A perfect nonfiction picture book.

CELLS: An Owners Handbook by Carolyn Fisher (PB)

An efficient, appealing way to present facts about cells. This picture book answers questions: What are cells? Where are they? What do they do? A artistic way to present information with loud colourful spreads and varied fonts.

IT BEGAN WITH A PAGE: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear; illus Julie Morstad (PB)

Gyo Fukikawa, a famous children’s book illustrator, got claim to fame with the book Babies published in 1963. this was the first time children of all colours adorned the pages of a picture book thus paving the way to a consciousness of representing a more inclusive world. Maclear tells the story of Fujikawa’s young life as a Japanese American and celebrates her creative process and her fight for racial diversity in children’s literature.

KILLER STYLE: How fashion injure maimed and murdered throughout history by Serah-Marie McMahon & Allison Mattehews David

What a unique, sometimes macabre, sometimes startling contribution to nonfiction genre. This book is an exploration of ways that clothing and cosmetics have tormented those who wear and make them.  Such headings as Murderous Mercury Hats, Constricting Corsets, Strangling Scarves and Fatal Footwear Fiascos is sure to intrigue. The photographic images and the illustrations certain enhance the ‘killer” topic. Beautifully laid-out design.

SERGEANT BILLY: The True Story of The Goat Who Went to War by Mireille Messier; illus. Kass Reich (PB)

Words and pictures tell the true story of a goat named Billy who was adopted by a platoon of soldiers during World War I. Billy saved the lives of his comrades and was smuggled, imprisoned, promoted for bravery. Narratives can help young people make sense of historical events and this picture book is a fine  example of a picture book that engages and informs through story and images.

FOREST by Kate Moss Gamblin; illus. Karen Patkau (PB)

This title is part of a see-to-learn series.  The text invites readers to consider what they see in a forest through the seasons (e.g., animalltracks, creatures in the soil, wild flowers). The question format encourages readers to take a close-up look at the vibrant visual images through lyrical text (‘Do you see the delicious sunlight, giving way to the soft darkness of the night?’

BEASTLY PUZZLES: A brain-boggling Animal Guessing Game by Rachel Poliquin; illus by Bryron Eggenschwiler (PB)

Information is presented in a novel way in this open the flap format.  Each spread provides objects that connect to the characteristics and behaviours of animals. The author and artist provide a puzzling list that are clues to the bits and pieces of animals  (e.g., What animal could you make with… a transparent raincoat, steak knives, two paddles, a fishing gaff hook (answer: A polar bear). Intriguing way to present information about the uniqueness of creatures.

IF I GO MISSING by Brianna Jonnie with Nahanni Shingoose; illus. Nshannacappo (YA) (PB)

This book is based on the true story of Brianna Jonnie who, at the age of 14,  wrote an open letter to the Winnipeg Police Service, imploring them to ‘do better’ when investigating cases of missing Indigenous peoples. (‘Asking for the public’s help days or weeks after an Indigenous girl goes missing is equivalent to announcing publicly that her life does not matter, or at least, not as much as others. The mostly black white and grey images add a sombre quality to this book.

GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST: A giant-screen adventure in the Land of the Spirit Bear by Ian McAllister and Alex Van Tol

An informative book that provides detailed facts and strong nature photographic image about the Great Bear Rainforest that stretches between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and Alaska. This book is a rich document of the making of the Great Bear Rainforest film.

PICKING UP THE PIECES: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket by Carey Newman and Kirstie Hudson

The Witness Blanket is a monumental travelling art installation that is an intricate quilting of assembled material objects, each telling a piece of Canada’s school story.  Artifacts were gathered from coast to coast and were woven into a blanket that is a three dimensional multi-panelled  exhibit. The book preserves that experience in a beautifully arranged catalogue of  photographs and artifacts (e.g. moccasins, mush-hole bowls, letters, paintings). This book in itself is a staggering artifact with information and stories of the residential school experience.

FAIRY SCIENCE by Ashley Spires (PB)

I’m fond of nonfiction picture books where information is inherent within narrative text. Fairies use magic wandss and potions, but Esther likes facts and evidence. A tree in the forest is wilting and the fairies want to make magic talismans and do a mystical moonlight danced.  Esther knows that only research, making a hypothesis and trying experiments will save the day.  Hooray for stories of magics. Bravo to a picture book that celebrates and promotes the power of science!

WHAT THE EAGLE SEES: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal by Eldon Yellowhorn & Kathy Lowinger

This book is a follow-up to Turtle Island by Eldon Yellowhorn adn Kathy Lowinger. In this book the authors tell stories of what Indigenous Peoples did when invaders arrived on their homelands.  The collection provides key moments in Indigenous History by telling, through about losses and survival challenges, forced assimilation and abuse  that were experienced when new nations, new ideas were formed to keep the Indigenous cultures alive. Photographs, titles and text boxes help make the information accessible to readers.

SPRING INTO POETRY

Living in Isolation I have challenged myself  during the months of May and June to read at least ten poems a day. This isn’t hard to do, since I’ve been dipping into anthologies for young people and adults audiences, including illustrated picture books, to help me reach my goal. To date, I’ve read over 500 poems, ore than I’ve read in the whole last year. How many poems have you read?

WOKE: a young poet’s call to justice by Mahogany L . Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood; illus. Theodore Taylor III

The passion of social justice is presented in 24 poems dealing with such topics as discrimination, empathy, speaking out and acceptance.

If we must live, let it not be in silence

Each shadow surrounding our right to be outraged

Let us not sit hands crossed while our stomachs grow upset

from Right To: After Claude McKay by Mahogany L. Browne

 

POEMS ALOUD by Joseph Coelho 

This collection of poems are intended to be read aloud/ performed alone, with friends and in a large group. Some suggested techniques are provided to offer different ways of approaching a poem (e.g., This poem is a race. Read as fast and clearly as you can; Start softly and finish Loud (crescendo), but experimenting with voice, sounds, gesture and movement help to lift the words of the page and have ‘fun with poetry.

The woosh of crops in he field

swish-swish-swish

plays in our ears.

The pebble roll of the sea on the shore

hushes in our ears.

from To the Countryside

 

THE WOMAN  IN THIS POEM by Georgia Heard (editor); (Adult)

How many poetry anthologies do you buy/ read in one year? I challenge myself to go beyond poetry collections written for young people and was pleased to come across this special creation (2015) , by a special poet. Georgia Heard has collected  over seventy classic and contemporary poems written by women about women’s “lives and dreams, thoughts and experiences.” The book is divided into five thematic sections (Love, Motherhood, Work, Family and Friends, Balance. An exquisite – and tough – collection that shines a light on women voices.

Does a poem enlarge the world

or only our idea of the world

from Mathematics by Jane Hirshfield

 

WHOO-KU HAIKU: A Great Horned Owl Story by Maria Gianferrari; illus. Jonathan Voss

A picture book. A nonfiction picture book. A nonfiction picture book told in verse. A nonfiction book told in haiku verse. And it is a STORY (of the great owl).  The birth and growth of a pair of great horned owlets under the protection of Mama and Papa.  What a beautiful  beautiful piece of literature!

Trying out her wings

Beating, leaping, teetering

Owlet bobs and springs

 

POEMS THAT MAKE GROWN MEN CRY:100 men and the words that moved them by Anthony and Ben Holden (eds.) (Adult)

The editors invited 100 men (poets, novelists, scholars,  stage and film artists) to each select one poem that would say brings them to tears.  The poems are arranged in chronological order by date of publication. Who’s to say why a poem moves someone but love and loss, of course,  seem to be the predominant theme.  Confession#1: I didn’t “GET” a lot of the poems, but that’s ok.  Confession #2: I tried to figure out how many of these poems touched the heart.  I will perhaps re-read some.  There was one poem that touched me because it brought a specific memory of time, place and relationship and I therefore felt I had a personal connection to the words. I have travelled that highway, I have witnessed that twilight. My dear friend and I have been welcomed by those ponies and pastures. Connections: I guess that’s what makes a grown man cry.  The following excerpt begins the poem, entitled Blessing by James Arlington Wright chosen by novelist, Richard Ford:

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota

Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.

And the eys of those two Indian ponies

Darken with kindness.

They have come gladly out of the willow

To welcome my friend and me.

 

WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater; illus. Ryan O’Rourke

Poet VanDerwater previously wrote the anthology Read! Read! Read! and with this publication she digs into the world of writing through a range of rhymed pieces. Titles include: Writing about Reading: My Story, Revision is, Writing is for Everyone, and Truth and Wish.

I make marks with one wish-
that a person will look
that a reader will giggle
remember
reflect

The reason I write?
To connect.

 

I AM A SEED THAT GREW THE TREE: A nature poem for every day of the year selected by Fiona Waters; illus. Frann Preston-Gannon.

I bought this 300+ page anthology while on a trip to London, and though it was heavy to pack, I knew that it was a worthwhile purchase if only it led me (parents? teachers?) to read a poem a day. The book has been sitting on my coffee table and I decided to read the  collection of poems, organized into months.  (it took me 12 days to read 365 poems, most by British poets, some classics, some anonymous, some very short.  The colourful spreads by Preston-Gannon provided a stunning, colourful gallery of animal and nature images. This book was certainly worth shlepping home.

I am the seed

that grew the tree

that gave the wood

to make the page

to fill the book

with poetry

~ Judith Nicholls

GROWN-UP READS: May/June 2020

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been alternating my reading between children’s literature and ‘grown-up’ reads. The following TEN thought-provoking titles are some  that I recently enjoyed (mostly).   

I WAS A CHILD OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS by Bernice Eisenstein (Nonfiction)

This moving memoir provides images and stories of the author’s childhood growing up in a Yiddish-speaking household in Toronto’s Kensington Market areas in the early 1950’s.  Though both parents were Holocaust survivors who met in Auschwitz and married after liberation, their experiences of war were ever-present but rarely spoken about. The recollections, along with the spot drawings, portraits and full page images created by the author, provide poetic, narrative detail to Einstein’s  self-discovery and contemplation of her connection to the Holocaust.

THIS IS PLEASURE by Mary Gaitskill

This novella (81 pages) came highly recommended to me and this was my virgin read of Mary Gaitskill’s (Bad Behaviour, The Mare, Two Girls Fat and Thin).  No doubt that this was a though provoking reading experiencing that invites readers to contemplate and figure out the complexities of the #MeToo movement. The story is told in alternative voices, Quinn (Q) and Margot (M). Quinn a smart, talented editor is dismissed from his job because of inappropriate/naughty/rude behaviour. He’s not the most likeable fictional character you’d come across. But Quinn just wants to enter and better understand into the minds of the women he encounters (he never sleeps with them). Margot, a faithful friend understands where he is coming from. Sort of.  Q is infuriating, but what harm did he really do and should his life be destroyed because of his own rude/ but honest words and actions?  Get into groups and discuss.  The story is available online (see New Yorker magazine).

THIS IS NOT ME by Janice Galloway (memoir)

The setting: Scotland, late 1950’s through 1960’s. This is the story of the Scottish author’s childhood with “a boozy father, a staunch mother, and a domineering older sister’. To survive the circumstances, young Galloway took a rather silent stance to the abuse and poverty and dominance that she faced.  She astutely observes  the people in her community, her teachers, her sister’s wildness, television, music  As a preteen, shes trives to find a voice for herself.   I am always intrigued by stories of young people who must deal with what life deals them, however troublesome and unfortunate those things might be. “Your life and your luck were the self-same thing, and they carried on regardless, irrespective of your hopes, wishes and desires. All you had to do was last through whatever came towards you, good or bad. All you had to do was hold on tight.” (page 281). Janice Galloway’s e story continues in a sequel entitled All Made Up.

SWIMMING IN THE DARK by Tomasz Jedrowski

This novel by gay Polish author Jedrowski, surveys the life of Ludwig, who is at first disillusioned by his homosexual desires and then enamoured and enthralled when he meets up with Janusz, a fellow university student, at an agricultural camp. Life back in Warsaw challenges the two men from deepening their relationship when political views and choices divide them. The book’s voice varies from second to first person; the time varies from present to past. An elegant story of love and loss with the Polish setting providing history, culture and atmosphere to the storytelling.

I KNOW YOU KNOW WHO I AM by Peter Kispert

Each character is gay. Each character lies or deceives. One hires an actor to pretend that he is an old boyfriend, Troy says he was an avid hunter, Gavin told his boyfriend he was a professional diver (he’s not).  Who are these people and what do they say about those in the gay community? An anthology of 21 short stories (some only two or three pages) and when reading such a collection, I was expecting to find some (one?) more appealing than others but this wasn’t the case. I read the stories chronologically (skipped over a few) and was unwowed when I reached the end of the tales.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

Sometimes I just like to dig into a bestselling title. Sometimes I like to read a novel before seeing the movie or watching the TV series.  Little Fires Everywhere has been at the top of the booksellers list for 70 weeks or so. The story is set in a ‘reputable’ upper class suburban neighbourhood in Cleveland.  The four teenage Richardson children each have their issues with relationships, family and/or otherwise. The family hires a maid to help with the household but she has hidden secrets about her artistic past, her pregnancy and her relationship with her daughter. Another significant plot event is the appearance of an Asian woman who once abandoned her infant who is about to be adopted by well-to-do parents. (What makes someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?). OK, I’ll say it, this is a ‘woman’s novel’.  It is a story about class, race, secrets, community etc. Ng’s writing is crisp as she challenges readers to be sympathetic to different characters.  Now I can watch the TV series with Reese Witherspoon and Kerri Washington, who’s images as I had in mind when I read the book. Comment: The racial identity of two central characters is rather a mystery.  The choice to leave this ‘open-ended’ bothered me some because I think knowing the race of these characters would add some depth to their narrative. With the TV series we know that Mia and Pearl are black.  For some reason, this was totally eft vague in the novel but I had the television commercials to help me understand who these characters were. Just sayin’!

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years (actually I have two copies).  Saunders won the Booker Prize for this novel and it seems, from online reviews that it’s either a love-it or hate-it reading venture. I gave up after 150 pages (length 344 pages). I was not enjoying it. I wasn’t getting it. And I didn’t want to spend another day being in this supernatural cemetery with characters I just couldn’t care about.  Some sympathy did  go to the plight of  the spirit President Lincoln’s 11 year old son. The style and form certainly intrigues which is why I picked up the book in the first place. The majority of the book is presented as snippets of conversation with real and historical sources woven into the fictional narration. Very clever. Very inventive. Very not for me.  I will gladly pass on both copies of this book to anyone who is a ‘smarter’ reader than I am.

CREATING COMPASSIONATE KIDS: Essential conversations to have with young children by Shauna Tominey (Professional Resource)

The author guides parents, caregivers and educators through conversations with young children about a range of topics (e.g., Race, Sex and gender, Peer Pressure, Kindness). The goal of this book is to have adults talk to children about topics through conversations that help children recongize how they feel and how they fit in with the word. Sample conversations provided throughout.

APARTMENT by Teddy Wayne

This story, set in New York in 1995, 1996, didn’t seem to go anywhere but in the end I’d say it inspired readers to think about masculinity, class, loyalty and the pursuit of one’s dreams.  The narrator is lucky enough to live illegally  in a rent-controlled apartment (courtesy of his aunt. He is also lucky to live off his father’s expenses. He meets the talented Billy in the MFA writing program they both attend. and invites him to live rent-free in the rapport. The two guys have different upbringings, the same goals of getting their work published and but somewhat different expectations of what friendship means. Apartment is both the central setting and I’d say a metaphor for being connected with others (or not).

 SHOUT OUT

Apeirogon: A Novel by [Colum McCann]

APEIROGON by Colum McCann

I bought this book after reading a knockout review in the New York Times. It is certain to be on my favourites list by year’s end, if for nothing more than it’s unique style. 1001 Chapters (I’d say ‘episodes’ (recalling One Thousand And One Knights). Some chapters are only one sentence long. The book is a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction drawn from the  true story of Bassam a Palestinian and Rami, an Israeli who bond after the terrible loss of their daughters. Fact and imagination, narrative and information are woven together brilliantly. For some, the originality of the format (is it really a novel?), and the meandering of past and present would be off-putting for some. However,  I was fascinated how McCann dug deep into the grief and healing of the two families, shone a light on  the politics of Israel, inspect the world of birds and flight,  and dipped into figures from history (Philipe Petit, Einstein, Christ) to illuminate the central story. I’ve had the author’s Let the Great World Spin sitting on my shelf for a couple of years and I now look forward to reading it.

 

 

12 CHILDREN’S NOVELS: May/June

WOW! I have read these twelve novels over the past month. Each of these is terrific and I would say I would give each of these middle years and YA novels four star (out of four star rating). And I’ve given shout outs to THREE must-read titles. 

THE COLOR OF THE SUN by David Almond

Plot: A boy named Davie  wanders through a countryside on a warm summer’s day. Davie’s mother urges him “Don’t hurry back. The day is long, the world is wide, you’re young and free.”  Davie’s father died a few years ago and obeying his mother, the boy now sets off on a journey, (literally and metaphorically, real and imaginary and literally). To add to the plot,  a teenager has been found stabbed in the town’s ruins. and Davie thinks he knows who the murderer is and will meet up with him on his wanderings.  Each encounter  (a priest, a one-legged tramp, two girls creating a world of fairies and monsters, a best friend, a frog, a ghost) that  lures him to question ‘the meaning of life’. This novel will not appeal to all middle age readers, but it’s worldliness and otherworldliness packed an emotional wallop for me.  Because this novel is still lingering in my mind, I would say it was one of my favourite reads this spring and sure to be in my top five books by year’s end. I haven’t enjoyed Almond books much since reading Skellig, but this one was a WOW! I think I shall reread this novel again soon. Beautiful, beautiful writing: “The starlings swirl in him. The fox prowls in him. It all becomes part of this kid, this ld, this boy-becoming-man, this ordinary fragment of the ordinary world.”

DANCING AT THE PITY PARTY: A dead mom graphic memoir  by Tyler Feder (story) (ages 12+)

When Tylee Feder was in her first year of college, her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer. This biography tells of the year of her mother’s death,  Jewish mourning rituals and the aftermath of dealing with grief.  Feder’s memories and fondness of her mother are strong but now she must deal with profound sadness. Any0ne who has lost a parent will especially empathize with Feder’s story and the ways she deals with death, loss and remembrance. The graphic format of this book add appeal (at times amusing) but mostly ignite author’s perceptions of the pain she felt. A great book!

WINK by Rob Harrell

7th grader Ross Malloy is diagnosed with rare eye cancer and in order to prevent total blindness he goes through surgery and daily treatments over a month. Ross struggles to accept his circumstances when all he wants to be is normal.  He has to deal with problems that many pre-teens face (bullies, falling in love, friendship circles) but having to deal with gobs of eye goo, hair loss, a weird cowboy hat and a squinty eye are not part of every 13 year old’s world.   Spot illustrations and comic panels appear throughout the book adding a sense of humour to the narrative.  Wink is a work of fiction but the details of the treatments were based on the author’s own experiences with cancer. Add this title to great books that deal with resilience and kindness.

STEPPING STONES by Lucy Kinsley (graphic novel, grades 3-5)

Based on the author’s own story, a young girl moves to a farm with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Jen longs to return to the city but eventually relaxes into the routines of living on a farm (taking care of the chicks, setting up a stand at the market, catching frogs, milking cows etc.). A notebook of Jen’s drawings  and comics adds an extra visual appeal to this graphic story.

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon (YA)

Tariq Johnston, a black teenager, is shot down by Jack Franklin who is white. In the aftermath of his supposedly gang murder, the people in the community has something to think, feel and say.  Accounts vary but somewhere lies the truth.  This is a story of a neighbourhood struggling to make sense of the tragedy and learning to cope. Magoon has chosen a cast of eighteen characters to address the controversial issues from different perspectives. In the notes at the end of the book, Magoon writes about the novel: “The book offers a chance for young people to discuss issues of race, community, violence, death, authority, voice perspective and truth with the safe space of fiction.  Hopefully it allows for a more open and less loaded conversation than might occur while discussing the real-world issues that the novel parallels…. I hope that this novel and other YA literature can be used to start conversations between teens and adults about the prevalence of these shooting incidents, and how we as a nation can begin to respond and heal from these tragedies, and hopefully learn how to prevent similar things from happening in the future. How It Went Down was published in 2014,

HARVEY HOLDS HIS OWN byColleen Nelson; illus. Tara Anderson

Readers who enjoyed meeting Westie, Harvey in Harvey Comes Home will be pleased to read another adventure about this loveable, faithful dog.  The story is told in short chapters from three different perspectives: Maggie, Austin and Harvey.  Harvey’s owner, Maggie has chosen to volunteer in the senior residence and although this is a positive experience (especially her relationship with Mrs.Fradette who has her own story to tell about being a female auto mechanic) but is troubled by changing friendships. Austin is concerned that his grandfather, the janitor at the the retirement home, is going to get fired and is on a mission to solve the problem. Everyone loves Harvey but his snooping around gets him in trouble with a mean old raccoon. The narrative passes by at a quick pace and readers will be wagging their tales as they read about the adventures of the appealing characters who appear throughout. The novel stands alone from the first book but readers will likely want to spend more time with the dog and the residents of the Brayside Retirement Villa.

ELEVEN by Tom Rogers

How do we help middle age readers understand catastrophic events that happened in the world before they were born?  Tom Rogers tells the story that takes place on September 11th, 2001. It is the day that Alex Douglas turned eleven. It is the day that Alex’s mother went to work in Manhattan as a nurse and his father is scheduled to drive the train that goes underneath the twin towers. Rogers brings humanity to this story through the Alex’s eyes, who longs more than anything to get a new dog for his birthday. An engaging informative, almost like being there, reading experience for young readers who may or may not know much about the historical event that changed the world.

ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk

Wolk writes beautifully, poetically (Wolf Hollow, Beyond the Bright Sea) and with this third novel for middle years reader she once again demonstrates a talent for weaving setting and character together to tell a captivating story. It is the time of the Great Depression and Ellie and her family have moved into Echo Mountain, which perfectly suits this girl who immerses herself in the rugged natural world. An accident has left her Father in a coma and his revival is the central plots of the novel.  When Ellie discovers a ‘hag’ who lives alone in a cabin, she continues to learn about natural medicine, the stories that shape us and the importance of family. Scenes with a black snake, flesh-eating maggots, a bear, bee stings are as strong and harrowing as any you’d find in children’s literature.

PARACHUTES by Kelly Yang (YA / Ages 14 +)

China sends the greatest number of international students to US High schools Statistically, the numnber of international high school students from China rose by 48 percent between 2013 and 2016.  This novel tells the story of a group of ‘parachutes’  who are dropped off to live in private homes and study while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. The book is told with alternative voices: Claire who comes to California from Shanghai and Dani, Claire’s host sister who’s mother works very hard to make ends meet. Claire has always lived a life of privilege and now must learn to cope on her pwn without daily parental involvement. Dani is a skilled debater and is determined to enter the championship and get a scholarship to Yale.  These two bright teenagers do not live together on friendly terms but in the end find out that they have things in common `the power of speaking out.’ There is a content warning included as a preface to the book: “This book contains scenes depicting sexual harassment and rape.”  As we journey through the novel we wonder about the who, what and why of harassment and rape. This is a powerful element of the story that I would say appears about 2/3 of the way through the novel and the Author’s Note that appears at the end of the book, informs readers of the reasons she wrote Parachutes, with incidents drawn from her own life. This is an important book to bring attention and understanding to the #MeToo movement.

SHOUT OUT 

Ghost Boys by [Jewell Parker Rhodes]

GHOST BOYS (fiction: Ages 10-13) by Jewell Parker Rhodes (REREAD)

EVERY STUDENT, GRADES 5 THROUGH 8 NEEDS TO READ THIS NOVEL 

A powerful novel about a black boy killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.   As a ghost, this twelve-year old observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the aftermath of what they see as an unjust killing. The narrative draws connections through history as the boy meets other black boys including Emmett Till in heaven.

DRAGON HOOPS

by Gene Luen Yang (graphic text)

Dragon Hoops by [Gene Luen Yang]
This is a FANTASTIC graphic book. A FANTASTIC graphic Nonfiction Book. A FANTASTIC nonfiction book about Basketball. In fact, everything you wanted to know about basketball and then some. Master comic artist Gene Luen Yang didn’t ‘get’ sports at all as a kid. While working as a computer teacher at a HighSchool in California, he decides to observe and document the training and challenges of outstanding players on the men’s varsity team. The book is rich in presenting historical information, issues of racism and sexism and the joys and challenges of competing. You can feel the sweat of the players, hear the roar of the crowds and be part and the joys and sorrows of winning and losing championships.  This book is certain to appeal to a wide range of readers whether they be graphic readers, sports enthusiasts or admirers of great books.  WOW!

DON’T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME
by Eric Walters

How can young people make sense of the COVID-19 epidemic? How will tomorrow’s readers understand what the world lived through in 2020. This book by Canada’s children’s literature hero Eric Walters, reads like a documentary because the. jumps off the pages of today’s news. Walters has his pulse both on world events and the minds and community of young people and with this title he has chosen to illuminate those world events through the minds of a group of grade eight friends. Don’t Stand So Close to Me, is to say the least, a timely read about a time when it was essential to stand alone, stand together. Available on line and in print from ORCA publishers.

Don't Stand So Close to Me by [Eric Walters]

TWELVE NEW PICTURE BOOKS: June 2020

Larry bought a dozen new picture books that make a varied bookshelf of titles that are humourous or deal with tough topics.  Nine of these titles were published in 2020. 

 

A DROP OF THE SEA by Ingrid Chabbert; illus. Guridi (kindness) (2017)

Ali and his great-grandmother live in an desert.  In her old age, great-mother is getting weaker. Ali asks ‘Have all of your dreams come true?’ and she expresses her wish to see the sea. The young boy is determined to fulfill her wishes and sets off to bring the sea to his grandmother. A beautiful story about strong family ties,   loyalty, kindness and determination to do something to make someone’s dreams come true. What a beautiful beautiful picture book with simple narrative and simple but powerful visual images.

I LOVE MY PURSE by Belle Demont; illus. Sonja Wimmer (gender identity) (2017)

Charlie is enamoured with a bright red purse that was a gift from his grandmother. He has thrilled to be taking the purse with him to school, but he is confronted by his father, and schoolmates about his choice.  Each person confronts Charlie on is choices (e.g., “You are a boy. Boys ride skateboards and read comic books.”).   Like Morris Micklewhite and his adoration of a tangerine dress (Christine Baldacchino), this young boy is a hero this stroy challenges gender stereotypes and is a strong example of the need to be true to yourself.

*RACE CARS by Jenny Devenny (racism) (2016)

This is a book about white privilege designed to inspire tough conversations about race, privilege and oppression. Devenny tells the story of 2 best friends, a white car and a black car, that have different experiences and face different rules (“Bridge is for white cars only. All other cars must go around the river”) while entering the same race. Advice is given about talking about race with kids and discussion questions are provided to help frame the discussion.  I wonder what questions the kids will have? I wonder how significant they will grasp the metaphorical story? I wonder what they will come to understand about white privilege? I am writing this blurb as CNN is reporting about the Black Lives Matters protests this week.  How can we help children find answers to questions – and moreover, ask questions that can bring them to some kind of understanding.  The intent of this book is very clear, very timely, and admittedly very important. I’m just not too sure about the didactic spirit of this book. I haven’t quite made my mind up about this title. I think I will have to share it with some young readers, one on one or gathered on the rug in a classroom

SMART GEORGE by Jules Feiffer

Oh, how i so loved BARK, GEORGE by this very important illustrator. It was good to revisit the character  since first meeting him in 1999. In this book the rascally George is asked by his mother to solve some simple addition questions, but George world rather do dog things (eat, nap, go for a walk) than do arithmetic.  Great to keep company with Feiffer and George again. Not sure if it has the same ‘read it again’ appeal as the original.

THE HAIRCUT by Theo Heras; illus. Renne Benoit

A father and son bond together on their first visit together to the barbershop.  Simple text, with spot on details and large colourful illustrations.  I’m sure many little ones (and parents) can relate to the experience.

NOT MY IDEA: A book about whiteness by Anastasia Higginbottom (racism)

When he watches TV, a white child witnesses coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were tied up.  He turns to his mother and asks “Why?” and assures the child that he is safe. An activities section urges kids to grwo justicee and seek out and listen to the truth about racism and white supremacy.

GROSS AS A SNOT OTTER by Jess Keating; illus. David DeGrand

How could such a title not appeal to young readers, especially those who are curious about animal life? Jess Keating has presented a series of books entitled “The World of Weird Animals” (Pink is for Blobfish; Cute as an Axolotl). This book provides important facts and amazing details about gross animals (e.g., maggot, Zombie worm,hagfish, star-nosed mole, parrotfish).  Each animal is featured on a double-page spread, one page being a close-up photo image, the other providing strange-but true details and a list of scientific facts that includes species name, sizediet, habitat, predators and threats.  A terrific example of a nonfiction picture book. Hooray for you Mr. Keating. And hooray for snot otters. (This wrinkly creature looks like a rotting tongue with legs. It is known as the hellbender salamander, not covered in snot but covered in mucus which comes from glands in their skin which protects them against infections.) Fascinating!

WHAT IS GIVEN FROM THE HEART by Patricia C. McKissack; illus. April Harrison (poverty)

This is McKissack’s final picture book The award-winning author (Mirandy and Brother Wind) is a rich story with an important message about kindness and the joy of giving.  Living off the mantra of Reverend Dennis, “What is given from the heart reaches the heart.” a mother and son, living in poverty, are determined to help out another destitute family. Beautiful. And I so loved the art work and expect to see more by The artist and designer April Harrison,

BENJAMIN’S BLUE FEET by Sue Macartney

A young booby bird eager to discover and develop one step at a time as he learns to fly, dive, sim and fish. Thinking that his beak is too long, his wings are too wide and his feet are too long (and blue),  Benjamin learns about perseverance and self-acceptance.  Marine life, the creatures of the Galapagos, fun illustrations and fun with font add to the appeal of this entertaining story.

TICKLED PINK: How Friendship Washes the World in Color by Andree Poulin; illus Lucile Danis Drouot (kindness)

Zoe is a black and white zebra. Pancho is a black and panda. Zoe and Pancho only want to play with black and white animals. Filippo, a pink flamingo wants to be make friends with Zoe and Pancho but they are having none of it. Filippo is determined to show others how pink is significant to the wold (cherry blossoms, bubble gum, sunsets) and along the way he gains confidence, self-acceptance and along the way helps others understand learn about tolerance, belonging and the power of pink!

THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul (kindness)

A family listens to breaking news on the TV and the news is bad (never identified).  The young girl, disturbed by the reaction the news is causing in her home and community, is determined to help out in any way she can. and attempts to try to do just one thing small thing to raise everyone’s spirits.  This is a story, with limited text, is about taking action, being optimistic and spreading kindness.

UNDOCUMENTED: A worker’s fight by Duncan Tonatuiuh (immigration)

Juan is an undocumented worker, who grew up in Mexico, working in the fields and who comes to the U.S> to become an undocumented worker.  This is a story about a migrant workerrisks everything when he stands up for himself and his community. Details and narrative help readers to understand what it means to find a better life in the struggle to make a positive contribution to society. The accordian-fold format of this picture book adds power to the storytelling.