READING FICTION (ages 9 -13): A good start to 2019

Yikes! My ‘to read’ list is growing and growing.  I blame the New York Times review. I blame award announcement season. I blame Amazon. I also blame friends who keep saying, ‘you have to read this!’.  I will get through the pile, book by book, but am mostly eager to start with novels ages 9 through 13. I’m really going to try not to buy any new titles for at least 60 days!!!!


IN YOUR SHOES by Donna Gephart

Miles and Amy are two very likeable characters each coping with the trials of middle school, the  strengthening  of family ties and the sorry of death. Miles is an avid bowler (his family owns the local bowling alley in town). Amy lives in a funeral home run by her uncle. She is the new girl in the school, trying to fit in and cope with a disability that requires her to wear special shoes. An enjoyable and rather breezy read.


Alex Gino, author of the book George, has written a great book to help young readers think about differences, about family and about friendships. Jilly’s sister is born deaf and Jilly wants to be the best sister she can be, learning to become an ASL user and doing the right things medically, politically. Jilly engages with a group of friends online and these conversations help her learn more about diversity which grows when she connects with Derek who is a Deaf Black ASL user. This novel is one of my favourites in this list.


All burnt-out teacher, Mr. Zachary Kermit wants to do is retire.  He just needs to stick it out for one more school year. Alas, he has been assigned a group of students – the unteachables – special needs ‘misfits’ that nobody wants to teach, especially Mr. Kermit who’d rather hand out daily worksheets while he does his crossword puzzle. Over the course of the year, these special kids get wiser and Ribbit (the kids name for their teacher) awakens to the challenges of life and teaching and caring. Another funny engaging novel from a terrific author. (Note: I invite educators to read The Troublemakers:  Lessons in freedom from young children at school by Carala Shalaby as a companion to this novel).

NOWHERE BOY by Katherine Marsh

When his father finds a new job,thirteen year old Max and his family have moved to Brussels Belgium. Ahmed a fourteen year old Syrian refugee finds himself stranded in Brussels and ends up hiding in the wine cellar of the house that Max and his family are staying in. Max eventually learns about Ahmed’s plight and is determined to get him to a place of safety. The adventure is a good distraction from the unhappiness that Max feels at home and at school. As the book proceeds the narrative is episodic and cinematic in nature as the two boys plot to defy the odds and struggle to find a hopeful life for a refugee. Highly recommended story of the refugee experience. Note: The graphic book The Unwanted by Don Brown provides is an important companion read to help readers further understand the plight of those Syrians who were forced to flee their country)


Newbery prize winner 2019. An engaging read about a Latino girl and the special people in her life.  Merci is a clever young lady and as a result she receives a scholarhship student at Seaward Pines Academy. Like many young adolescent girls, she tries to find a place of belonging. She is worried about friendships about her grandfather who has Alzheimers and being the best she can be as daughter, grandaughter, friend and student. Great to have a book with Spanish lingo and a caring family. I enjoyed the book but not as much as the Newbery Award committee did. (I prefered Ghost Boys and The Front Desk and Harbor Me)

THE BOOK OF BOY by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

This title was recently given a 2019 Newbery Honor award. The medieval setting and pilgrim quest is filled with mystery and miracles.  I would say however, that the narrative adventure has a strong appeal for particular readers who reading of long ago times, particularly regarding religious quests combined with fantasy adventures.. I would say that The Book of Boy would is particularly deemed for strong  readers. The writing is fantastic and the rich production of the book (woodcut illustrations introducing each chapter, bevelled pages) is striking.

MAX EINSTEIN: THE GENIUS EXPERIMENT by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Another adventure from the James Patterson factory. Max Einstein, an orphaned girl, is a genius who is challenged to do some good in the world. Max would certainly become best friends  (rivals?) with Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. A frenetic plot has her and a group of other genius students solve the solar power problem in the Congo.  This book is for readers who are intrigued with espionage adventures and who connect strongly to the world of science. I am neither and sort of lost interest about 2/3 of the way through andfelt the ending sort of drizzled, because lo and behold there will be a sequel.

FRANTICALLY FANTASTIC by Adam Wallace; illus. James Hart

My friend Jim brought me this amusing chapter book title by Australian author Adam Wallace and artist James Hart. The authors have a popular series (Accidentally Awesome, Blunderingly Brilliant) that tell describe the farcical antics of kids caught in amusing circumstances. The hero of this funny story is challenged to find out who is stealing the chickens from the farm owned by his grandparents.


The bestselling author, Eric Walters has done it again with another terrific book.  Reading fiction can also be like reading nonfiction and with this novel, the author’s extensive research into the life of elephants (and wolly mammoths is evident. An engaging adventure about a girl and her father who run an elephant sanctuary. The plot thickens when a philanthropist enters the picture with a life-changing scheme that is certain to rock the world of biology. Nominated for a Silver Birch award 2018.



WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate

Katherine Applegate’s titles have appeared on several of Dr. Larry Recommends postings and Wishtree is worth mentioning again. And again.

His novel MUST be shared with students. A perfect read aloud for 8 – 11 years olds. A tree talks. The people in the tree’s community makewishes on the tree. A community of animals depend on the tree. A hateful message is carved into the tree. To help students work towards an understanding of what friendship really means, of racism, of Islamophobia, this book is mandatory reading. Thank you for your exquisite writing and heartbreaking narrative. Ms Applegate. Teachers, parents, please, please get this book! (I just bought 6 more copies!)

SHOUT OUT: Larry has a new book!!!

WORD BY WORD by Larry Swartz

101 ways to inspire and engage students by building vocabulary, improving spelling and enriching reading, writing and learning.



A recent order from Amazon brought a batch of Graphic texts. The comic format continues to be a strong and vital medium to tell both imagined and real stories.  For this posting, it is worth repeating two previously mentioned entries that are graphic adaptations of iconic texts: The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill A Mockingbird. Also, two of the titles below wouldn’t be classified as graphic, but they are heavily illustrated so I am including the in this posting. 


BE PREPARED by Vera Brosgol

The story of a young girl. A young Russian girl. A Russian girl who goes to a camp in the U.S. for Russian Youth.  Told in graphic format. Based on author’s personal experiences.  Quality  graphic illustrations presented in monographic olive green formatting. An engaging story that takes readers into summer camp life and the tribulations of staying positive despite some primitive conditions and loneliness. A stronger edit would have helped clarify some narrative gaps at times.


THE UNWANTED: Stories of Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

In 2011, a flood of refugees  escape from their country which is under the tyrannical rule of Bahar al-Assid.  Dan Brown’s stark images and clear exposition present a powerful example of non-fiction graphic text, helping readers to understand the chaos and turmoil and resentment that the ‘unwanted’ encountered as Syrian refugees spread throughout Europe.

NOTE: Text to text connection: Nowhere Boy a novel by Katherine Marsh, tells the story of a young adolescent Syrian who is forced to hide in the wine cellar of a house in Brussels and provides readers with a strong narrative about one boy’s refugee experience)


HEY, KIDDO by Jarret J. Krosoczka

The subtitle of this book provides an efficient summary to this powerful graphic autobiography: “How I lost my mother, found my father, and dealt with family addiction.”

Kroosoczka is a popular author/ illustrator (Lunch Lady graphic novels, Platypus Police) and in this memoir, he takes readers an on journey about growing up in a family grappling with addiction and pays tribute to the people who supported him and helped him survive and helped him to grow into a talented artist. It is worth watching Jared J. Kroscoczka’s TED Talk which gives voice to many events outlined in Hey, Kiddo.


TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD  by Harper Lee / Graphic adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham for a graphic novel version

Fordham has faithfully used Harper Lee’s words and conversations and story events in this graphic novel version of the iconic story. Having recently seen theatre productions of the at the Stratford Festival and on Broadway, I decided to spend time with this book, which still resonates for today’s generation. And will continue to be taught and taught in schools.


THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK: Graphic Adaption by Ari Folman; illustrations by David Polonksy

I approached this publication with some trepidation, believing that iconic The Diary of Anne Frank be left untouched, because it is iconic and because it’s authenticity shouldn’t really be tampered with. More people are familiar with Nazi Germany with this book, more than any other. This version was an extremely powerful read, faithful to the beloved book. The visual images are often quite staggering, extending the feelings, moods and questions of a young adolescent girl. Expressions and gestures and musings of the characters along with the cramped attic quarter setting and war-torn landscapes are artfully captured. The graphic adds further interpretation and clarity to Anne’s narrative. Portions of the original text are retained throughout.


DOG MAN: BRAWL OF THE WILD (series) by Dav Pilkey

Do yourself a favour and read a Dog Man book and you’ll know why a billion kids love Dav Pilkey.   He’s funny. The colourful, zazzy graphic format definitely appeals. Repeating the punchline to several jokes as ‘diarrhea’, is bound to get giggles.



Prince Sebastian loves to wear fabulous  dresses and does so both secretly and in disguise. When Frances, the talented dressmaker comes into the Prince’s life and becomes his personal designer, the pursuit of dreams (for both characters) meets its challenges – and truths. Will Sebastian be trapped into marriage? Will Frances reveal Sebastian’s secret and give up her quest to be famous?  An entertaining fairy tale of a Prince. Charming!



A VELOCITY OF BEING: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick (non-fiction)

 In the introduction to this collection, the editors explain that they “reached out to many people to write a short letter to the young readers of today and tomorrow about how reading sculpted their character and their destiny”.  Adam Gopnik, Daniel Handler, Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Jacqueline Woodson and Neil Gaiman are examples the 125+  voices that provided inspiration for the benefits of reading. . Each letter was paired with an illustrator, artist or graphic designer to visually bring its message to life (e.g., Peter Brown, Roz Chast, Maria Kalman, Mo Willems, Marianne Dubuc). 


WHAT THE NIGHT SINGS by Vesper Stamper (a novel)

The Nazi’s have destroyed everything in Gerta’s life. Liberated from the concentration camps, the teenager must find strength to move forward. Falling in love, re-gaining her talent for music, and making choices about a future life as a Jewish presents many questions and many choices for Gerta as a displaced person. Lushly illustrated throughout by the author.


SHOUT OUT: Larry has a new book!!!

WORD BY WORD by Larry Swartz

101 ways to inspire and engage students by building vocabulary, improving spelling and enriching reading, writing and learning.

YEAH FOR YA! Fiction 12+

The Young Adult titles listed below present adolescenthood  in a variety of contexts and settings that courtroom n the deep south, a modern day high school, and a Russian forest.  ‘Shout Out’ books highlight two recent non-fiction publications centred on the Holocaust.


SWING by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

I’ve so enjoyed reading free verse novels by award-winning author, Alexander (Booked, Rebound, Solo) and was looking forward to reading his latest YA release, but I’m afraid I put the book down after reaching page 133. Noah has had a crush on Sam for many years and although she is part of his friendship circle, a romantic relationship doesn’t seem to be coming their way. Walt, Noah’s confident is determined to change all that, but I really wasn’t interested in how it unfolded and knowing that I had about 300 pages to go, I didn’t particularly care, even though I sort of wanted to find out about why American flags are being left around town.  Looking forward to reading other Alexander books.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN: The Novel by Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

I was fortunate enough to see the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen in New York and I feel it is a play that every adolescent should see. It is the story of a boy who feels invisible. Pretending that he was best friends with Connor Murphy, a troubled teenager who committed suicide, Evan must deal with the trap of lies he is building for himself, despite the huge success of a Social Media initiative where teenagers across the country are also trying to find a place to belong. I approached this novel with some hesitancy since I so admire the musical, but in the end this is a great read that helps readers get into the mind of a boy dealing with mental health issues. Usually a play or movie is based on a book, but in this case the book adapts the play’s characters and storyline and even without music sings an anthem about connectedness and the need ‘to be found’.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee / Graphic adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham for a graphic novel version.

Fordham has faithfully used Harper Lee’s words and conversations and story events in this graphic novel version of the iconic story. Having recently seen theatre productions of the  at the Stratford Festival and on Broadway, I decided to spend time with this book, which  still resonates for today’s generation.  And will continue to be taught and taught in schools.


In the year following 9/11, Shirin,  a Muslim girl, is caught in the tribulations of being a teenager. Her race, her religion and her hijab force her to withdraw from the degrading comments and taunts that are part of her schoolday experiences. A love of breakdancing and a growing friendship (and first love) with a white boy changes Shirin’s life as she learns to let her guard down and come to terms with the struggles of belonging and the impact of prejudice. A fierce and honest read, relevant to the lives of adolescents like, or unlike Shirin.

A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE by Robert Newton Peck

Olga Stephenson, dear teacher-librarian at my school handed this novel over to me forty-one years ago when my father passed away and before Gary Paulsen and Jerry Spinelli, I would say Robert Newton Peck was a favourite author. I decided to re-read this novel that I so long ago enjoyed. Don’t know why I connect to Peck’s story of a young Shaker Boy and the relationships he has with his family, neighbours and his own pet pig named Pinky, but I was still impressed reading about  the teachings of Pecks’ father and father and son’s faithful dedication to taking care of the farm.  I wept at novel’s end just as I did four decades ago.

TALES FROM THE INNER CITY by Shaun Tan (short stories, poems)

Shaun Tan, author of The Arrival, Lost & Found and Tales from Outer Suburbia must have some pretty wild dreams. His surreal paintings are always staggering and in this collection they overpower Tan’s strange stories about animals, real and fantasized such as crocodiles trapped in a high rise building, a monstrous shark, a rhino on a freeway, and frogs who were once members of the business board. What an imagination! What a talent! As with any short story collection, I liked some (‘Parrot’ ‘Lungfish’), more than others (‘Bears’).


In this contemporary retelling of Baba Yaga folklore, Jane Yolen, in free verse style, presents a story of the iconic Russian fairy tale witch in novel that is at times dark, dream-like, sad and sophisticated.



ANNE FRANK’S DIARY: The Graphic Adaptation (not a novel)

Adapted by Ari Folman

Illustrations by David Polonsky

I approached this publication with some trepidation, believing that iconic The Diary of Anne Frank be left untouched, because it is iconic and because it’s authenticity shouldn’t really be tampered with. More people are familiar with Nazi Germany with this book, more than any other. This version was an extremely powerful read, faithful to the beloved book. The visual images are often quite staggering, extending the feelings, moods and questions of a young adolescent girl. Expressions and gestures and musings of the characters  along with the cramped attic quarter setting and war-torn landscapes are artfully captured. The  graphic adds further interpretation and clarity to Anne’s narrative. Portions of the original text are retained throughout.

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation



by Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz (non-fiction)

In 2015,  nineteen-year old Jordana Lebowitz attended the war criminal trial of Oskar Groening, “‘The bookkeper of Auschwitz” who was complicit in the deaths of more than 300 000 Jews. Kacer outlines Groening’s testimony as well as shares the voices and hard stories of Holocaust survivors who came to testify against them.  As witness to the events, Jordana helps readers understand why it is important to remember history and move forward for social justice causes.

To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A teen's account of a war criminal trial


Recent ‘grown-up’ reads had me embarking on a variety of genres, and a range of topics that includes the mourning ritual of a Jamaican family, the episodic life of a black slave, young kids who can’t behave and oh yes, the remarkable poetry of POTUS (Don’t ask!).



I often enjoy reading scripts of plays that I’ve seen. Was lucky enough to make a trip to London, England to see some wonderful theatre and very munch enjoyed seeing these three plays and reading them in play script format.

NINE NIGHT by Natasha Gordon

Nine Night is a ritual tradition where Jamaican families mourn for nine nights. In this play, the passing of Gloria brings her children and grandchildren together for parties, stories and hidden revelations.  The dialect is somewhat more challenging to read than to listen to, but universal themes of faith, squabbles and connectedness come through strongly in this play, the first play by a black woman to be produced in the West End.

THE INHERITANCE by Matthew Lopez

I so loved this play about the lives and loves of gay men across generations in the past three decades. The beauty of Stephen Daldry’s inspired direction and the impact of the staggering acting does not of course come through   on the printed page but Matthew Lopez’s words reveal stark conversations and  powerful stories. Inspired by E. M Forster’s novel Howard’s End (on my reading pile).


I went to see this play because of the playwright (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman, Hangman) and it starred the fine actor Jim Broadbent and it tells a story (a peculiar, wild story)of Hans Christian Anderson who, according to McDonagh sheltered a one-legged black Pygmy woman  in his attack in Copenhagen because she, after all, was the composer of  Anderson’s beloved children’s literature. A very dark, very twisted, and yes, very funny tale.




Here are a couple of examples:

I Love to Read

I’ve read John Updike. I’ve read Orhan Pamuk. I’ve read Philip Roth.
I believe a lot of the stories are pure fiction.
They just pull it out of the air.
Gang of liars.

Little Marco: a Haiku

Not presidential
Like a little boy on stage
Very short and lies



TROUBLEMAKERS: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby

Thanks to colleague Cassie Brownlee for recommending this important book that helps educators and parents think abut the oppressive responses we tend to give to problematic student behaviours. By presenting four case studies of young children, the author  considers the essential need for young people to grow as whole free humans.

WEEDS IN BLOOM: Autobiography of an Ordinary Man by Robert Newton Peck

Early in my teaching career Robert Newton Peck was one of my favourite authors (A Day No Pigs Would Die, The Soup Series).  I hunted this book down on Amazon and received a used copy of this author’s fine memoir about the life and fascinating folks he remembered growing up on a Vermont farm, and later experiences when he moved to Florida. The twenty six chapters provide a tribute to those who may go unnoticed, unheard.  I wish I could write like Robert Newton Peck.




Washington Black’s life is first introduced to us when he was an eleven year old slave on a Barbados sugar plantation. When ‘Wash’ is selected to become the manservant to explorer and inventor Christopher Wilde (brother to the plantation master), Black’s journey through life takes him on  hot-air balloon, a ship captained by a hunter, the Underground Railroad, the Arctic, the aquariums of London and the deserts of Morocco. Edugyan’s narrative is cinematic, telling the story of the brilliant, resourceful  Washington Black forever contemplating loyalty, power and a place for freedom. ‘Epic’, ‘gripping’,  ‘enthralling’ and ‘exhilarating’ are words that have been used to describe this Giller Prize winning novel. For the most part, I would agree with the praise (a bit ‘too’ epic for my tastes).

NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne can’t live with each othe and can’t live without each other. Very different in personalities, these two characters really seem to understand each other and we are witness to their on-again off-again relationship from later years in high school, through university and beyond. A novel about the desire to love and be loved, Normal People has been declared ‘book of the year’ according to Waterstone’s bookseller, so naturally I bought it. A good read, but not the ‘book of the year’ for Larry.


Here’s a list of some of my favourite things, 2018. I’ve reduced lists to five items, except for children’s novels. All listed in alphabetical order.   Shout outs have been marked with *



Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders; illus. Jared Andrew Schorr

Most People by Michael Leanna; illus. Jennifer E. Morris

Dreamers by Yuyi Moralis

*The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds

The Promise by Pnina Bat Zvi & Margie Wolfe; illus Isabelle Cardinal


NOVELS (ages 9-13)

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

The Truth According to Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Missing Mike by Shari Green

*No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

*Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

The Front Desk by Kelly Yang



Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Steve Levisnon, Benj Pasek, Justing Paul

*The Landing by John Ibbitson

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

90 Days of Different by Eric Walters



The Storm by Arif Anwar

*Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Pops by Michael Chabon

Calypso by David Sedaris



The Cakemaker
*The Rider
The Shoplifters



Nothing Like a Dame
Three Identical Strangers
*Won’t You Be My Neighbour


THEATRE (local)

Every Brilliant Thing
Fun Home
Punk Rock
Secret Life of a Mother


THEATRE (London/ New York+)

*The Inheritance
Lifespan of a Fact
To Kill a Mockingbird+



You Took the Last Bus Home by Brian Bilston (poetry)

Bird Guy by David Booth

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman; illus. David Polonsky


These thirteen titles, varied in theme and style and narrative, represent the mighty world of contemporary picture books. Unless designated otherwise, these books were released in 2018. Four of the titles are noteworthy for being included on the New York Times Top Ten List of Outstanding Illustrated Books*


The wall is featured on the gutter of each page of the book, a wall designed to protect one side of the book from the other.


*AYOBAMI AND THE NAMES OF ANIMALS by Pilar Lopez Avila; illus. Mar Azabel

Ayobami writes the names of the animals she met on her dangerous journey to school, “the path that leads to the place where hope is born.” A heartwarming adventure that celebrates the importance of school and a recognition of the difficulties many children around the world encounter in pursuit of an education.


*THE FOREST by Riccardo Bozzi; illus. Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidaly (translated from the Italian by Debbie Bibo)

A journey into a forest… and beyond! Staggering visuals. Striking book construction. WOW! 


*A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS by Julie Fogliano; illus. Lane Smith

Who once lived in the house in the woods? Who walked the hallways of the house. Why did they leave? Where did they go?


P IS FOR PTERODACTYL: The worst alphabet book ever/ All the letters that misbehave and make words impossible to pronounce by Raj Halder & Chris Carpenter; illus. Maria Tina Beddia

Ptolemy the psychic pterodactyl struggles with psoriasis.


NIGHT JOB by Karen Hesse; illus. G Brian Karas

While a city sleeps, a boy accompanies his father who has the night shift as a school custodian.


MOON RIVER by Tom Hopgood (music by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini)

Moon River, wider than a mile/ I’m crossing you in style, someday!


*THE FUNERAL by Matt James

Attending her great-uncle Frank’s funeral, young Norma comes to learn about the rituals connected to death as well as deeper understanding of the importance of family.


POTATO PANTS! by Laurie Keller

Imagine a story about forgiveness within the funny adventure of Potato who only has one day to buy a pair of pants at Lance Vance’s Fancy Pant Store.


ARCHIE AND THE BEAR by Zanni Louise; illus. David Mackintosh

Archie  says hes’s a bear (It’s not a suit. I am a bear”). The bear says he’s a boy. (“It’s not a suit. I am a boy.”)  A story of the power of pretend and being true to who you think you are. 


THE BANANA-LEAF BALL: How play can change the world by Katie Smith Milway; illus. Shane Evans (2017)

A story that tells how sport and play can overcome differences, even those who had to leave their home because of war or disaster.


THE WONKY DONKEY by Craig Smith (2010)

To begin, a wonky donkey. By book’s end… a spunky, hanky-panky, cranky, stinky, dinky, lanky, honky-tonky, winky wonky, donkey!

Hee Haw, Hee Haw, Hee Ha! Ha! Ha!



by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe; illus. Isabelle Cardinal

When taken by the Nazi’s to Auschwitz, Rachael and Toby’s parents give the girls three gold coins and advise them that they must always stay together. The two girls protect each other amidst the horrors of concentration camp life. The Promise is based on a true story.

The Promise


This list presents ten recent novel reads before years end.  Several titles (*) will likely appear on my end of the year list of favourites.

* SWEEP: The story of a girl and her monster by Jonathan Auxier

Nan Sparrow, an orphaned girl living in London at the end of the 19th Century, spends her days sweeping chimneys. She and her group of ragmuffin friends struggle to survive the threats of abusive child labour. Nan befriends a mysterious creature known as a golem who grew from soot and ash. Together, the girl and her monster struggle to survive the hardships of chimneys and poverty and work hard to overcome turmoil and care for each other. Auxier, author of The Night Gardner has been called a master storyteller.  Auxier’s talent for conveying a particular time and place in his novels while telling tales of magical and  disturbing adventures has earned him deserved praise. Sweep is the winner of the Governor General’s award for children’s fiction 2018. A terrific read.


I really like this author (Waiting for Normal, All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook) and once again she has given us a compelling narrative. I quickly got to know and admire Mason Buttle, a special needs learner who can barely read and write. He sweats a lot. He is dealing with the loss of a best friend. He is growing a strong friendship with Calvin Chumsky and together the two boys combat bullies in the neighbourhood. This novel about self-reliance and hope will certainly be at the top of the list of Larry’s favourites this year.*


Terrific, award-winning author Kate DiCamllo has plucked her feisty character Louisiana Elefante from her recent novel Raymie Nightingale and tells her story about travelling (unwillingly) to Georgia with her Granny, Separated from her friends, the trip will be worthwhile for Louisiana if she can find out the truth about her parents, trapeze artists, believed to be killed in an accident. A crow named Clarence, a toothless grandmother in pain, a mean old hotel clerk, rascally friend who can easily steal things from a vending machine, a funeral, a bake sale, a devistating letter and discovered truths about Louisana’s past make will engage readers as they root for Louisiana finding her way to a place called home.

MY FATHER’S WORDS by Patricia MacLachlan

I have been a MacLachlan fan since reading her Sarah, Plain and Tall Series. Once again, the author touches the arts and deals with young children who must learn to cope with troubled circumstances. In this short novel,  Fiona and Finn O’Brien must deal with the sudden loss of their father. They lean on each other for support, and by helping dogs in rescue shelter, find healing, comfort and connections that move them forward.

*NO FIXED ADDRESS by Susin Nielson

A funny, heartfelt story about a boy and his mother, struggling to cope with life as they take up residence in a van. Felix, hopes to enter a television contest where he can put his trivia knowledge to good use.  He develops a strong friendship with two supportive friends, yet keeps his secret of ‘hidden homelessness’ from all those he meets. What an endearing character. Felix Knutsson is certainly one of the mos favourite fictional characters I encountered this year. Five stars for Felix. Five stars for Susin Nielsen.

* INKLING by Kenneth Oppel

What an intriguing, original character, Canadian author has given us with this engaging novel. Inkling is indeed a blob of ink rising from the pages of a sketchbook. He comes to life to teach Ethan how to try and to help Ethan’s dad, a graphic designer to get out of his funk and get back to his work. Inventive, imaginative and yes, believable.

SOUP by Robert Newton Peck

One of the first books I enjoyed in my youth was Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. I found them to be funny and adventurous, and the short story format appealed to me. When I began teaching I was introduced to Soup  by Robert Newton Peck and I loved it (as I did Homer Price)  for their humour, mischief and clever writing. In the first book (1974), told as short stories, Peck and his pal Luther Wesley Vinson (Soup) get into trouble (smoking corn and acorns, tying up Aunt Carrie on a tree, and rolling downhill in a barrel). There is a whole series of Soup books and I was glad to re-visit this first title and smile and remember reading to my students long ago.

LU by Jason Reynolds

Was looking forward to reading the final book in the Track series and was not disappointed. Like the other characters in Reynolds books (Ghost, Patina, Sunny), the main character, Lu, born albino, must learn to overcome literal, and not-so-literal,  hurdles to become a victorious track star and once again the author has given readers insights into tenacity and resilience.


June Harper’s parents declare the books she is reading as being inappropriate which leads to a huge book ban at the middle school.  Distraught, June and her like-minded classmates organize a freedom to read movement. Unfortunately, Alan Gratz has written a similiarly-themed book in Ban This Book and it seemed that too many incidents (e,g., a library in a locker) in Allison Varnes novel paralled one’s that I previously read about in Gratz’s book. Not that there can’t be more than one book on a similar topic, but I was upset with the parents in the book, the school administration dismissal of the librarian and the harsh (unlikely?) decision to get rid of books that adult thought kids shouldn’t read. I stopped on page 142 when I learned that pages in such books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Monster and Anne of Green Gable were defaced because of their content.

THE ICE MONSTER by David Walliams

 For the past few Decembers I’ve been visiting London England and first on my agenda is a trip to Waterston’s book store. And each year, a new Walliams novel is published.  Hooray! This story is set in Victorian London. Elsie, an orphan rescues a wooly mammoth that has been found on the North Pole and along with her companions is determined to return the Ice Monster safely home. Hilarious (of course) and very informative too! Mr. Walliams you are terrific and I look forward to next December’s purchases.

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre and TD bank Winners

The 2018 Canadian Children’s Literature Awards were announced at a celebration on October 29, 2018

AMY MATHERS TEEN BOOK AWARD: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

JOHN SPRAY MYSTERY AWARD: The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook

GEOFFREY BILSON AWARD FOR HISTORICAL FICTION: The Assassin’s Curse (The Blackthorn Key, Book 3) by Kevin Sands

NORMA FLECK FOR CANADIAN CHILDREN’S NON-FICTION: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Lisa Charleyboy (ed.) and Mary Beth Leatherdale

MARILYN BAILLIE PICTURE BOOK AWARD: When the Moon Comes by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Matt James

TD CANADIAN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE AWARD: Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith

Picture Books about BELONGING

The titles listed below are connected by a theme of identity and BELONGING. Compassion and empathy filter throughout each of these picture books, whether the narrative is about war, the refugee experience or finding a place in a community. One (or more) of these titles) should be strong contenders for Caldecott award.


MARWAN’S JOURNEY by Patricai de Arias; illus. Laura Borras (refugee experience)

Marwan is bound for a place he doesn’t know and he relies on the memories of his faraway homeland to give him courage and hold on to dreams of a peaceful place to live.

 “Marwan, keep going, walk, and walk, and walk.

  And I keep walking.”

LITTLE MAN LITTLE MAN: A story of Childhood by James Baldwin: illus. Yoran Cazac

Re-issue of 1976 publication, celebrating the joys and challenges of black childhood through the adventures of four-year-old boy observing people and strutting through the rhythms life in Harlem. On the back cover LeVar Burton writes, ‘neither the native idioms of speech nor the world as seen through TJ’s eyes are meant by Baldwin to engender a sense of comfort in the reader.’ in this ‘child’s story for adults.’

     “I want you to be proud of your people,” TJ’s Daddy always say.

THE DAY THE WAR CAME by Nicola Davies: illus. Rebecca Cobb (refugee experience)

Inspired by true events set in the destruction of war, this poem first published in the Guardian newspaper website alongside an image of an empty chair inspired hundreds and hundreds of images of empty chairs to be posted in solidarity for the 3000 unaccompanied  child refugees where were refused sanctuary in the UK in 2016. evokes the experience of a young refugee.

“Out of every hut a child came,/ and we walked together/ on a road lined with chairs,

Pushing /back the war w/ith every step.”

MUSTAFA by Marie-Louise Gay (refugee experience)

Mustafa is awakened by dreams of the war-torn country he used to live in. But now, the young boy is settling in to new surroundings and coming to find comfort in a new place.

“Mama,” asks Mustafa, “am I invisible?”

“If you were invisible, I couldn’t hug you, could I?” answered his mama.

IMAGINE by Juan Felipe Herrera; illus. Lauren Castillo

The author of this book, a poet,  artist, and  activist was the son of migrant farmworkers. This picture book illustrates Herrera’s poem ‘Imagine’ about a young boy’s search for achieving dreams and finding a place of belonging.

“If I grabbed a handful/ of words/ I had never heard and/ sprinkled them over a paragraph/ so I

could write/ a magnificent story, / imagine.”

SEA PRAYER by Khaled Hosseini; illus. Dan Williams (refugee experience)

Awaiting a journey in search of a new home, a Syrian father tells stories to his son, remembering a happy life that preceded a time when skies spit bombs.

“I have heard it said that we are the uninvited. We are the unwelcome.”

WHERE WILL I LIVE? Rosemary McCarney (refugee experience)

Many children, because of war and conflict are forced to leave their homes because they are no longer safe?  Will they find someone somewhere who will welcome them into a new home? Simple text, direct questions, powerful photographs make Where Will I Live? a thoughtful read.

Will I be able to sleep in the same place every night?”

PEACEFUL FIGHTS FOR EQUAL RIGHTS by Rob Sanders; illus. Jared Andrew Schorr

Inspiring words of activism are spread out in alphabetical order.

“March. Mediate.

Meditate. Motivate.”

HEY, WALL: A story of art and community by Susan Verde; illus. John Parra

A  bleak wall is transformed by friends and neighbours into a place of story and  color and celebration and joy.

“You are stone but you don’t have to be hard.

THE DAY YOU BEGIN by Jacqueline Woodson; illus. Rafael Lopez

What’s it like to find yourself in a place where you feel different because of the way you look, the way you dress, the way you eat, play, speak? What is it like to share your stories  that may be different or similar than the one’s others have?

“There will be times when you walk into a room

and no one there is quite like you.”


DREAMERS by Yuyi Morales (refugee experience)

Dreams can come true about a new life, in a new country, speaking a new language and learning to read.

“Books became our language.

Books became our home.

Books became our lives.”


SOME GREAT (and not so great) ADULT READS: August, September

THE WOLVES by Sarah Delappe (script)

This play received high praise when it first opened off-broadway. I was fortunate enough to see The Wolves when it transferred to Lincoln Centre and at the Crow’s Theatre in Toronto. It’s a knockout of a story following nine teenage girls as they warm up for their indoor games.  A vivid glimpse into female adolescenthood is depicted as the girls gossip, argue, comfort, taunt, conspire, compete and demonstrate their wolf personas on and off the field.

SABRINA by Nick Drnaso (graphic)

The draw for me for this book, was that it is the first graphic novel nominated for a Booker Prize. Not that prizes are the lure, but I’m often interested in reading graphic novels. Sabrina, a young women disappears thus sparking the mystery of where she is? who is she with (if anyone?) and will she return? But it’s not really Sabrina that we (and her boyfriend) are worried about. Is it all a conspiracy theory – fake news. Yes, a book ‘of our times’, beautifully drawn. (I often wished that the verbal text was larger).


Intertwining the real life experiences of Dita Kraus who oversaw a library of a few books during the horrors of The Holocaust into the fictional turmoils of an adolescent girl thriving to bring culture and hope to an Auschwitz ‘school’. Iturbe depicts the horrors of the camp and the struggles of surviving Nazi cruelty, so this was at times an uncomfortable read. The book is translated from the Spanish.

IF YOU SEE ME, DON’T SAY HI by Neel Patel / Short stories

I enjoyed reading all eleven stories in this short story collection  by Indian American author Neel Patel who presents the ‘brown experience of living in the US’ as middle class citizens.  The stories, of course, are universal in discussing relationships between parent and child, siblings,married folks, soon-to-be married folks, gay. I felt I got to know the characters well in the ten-twelve page stories.  I look forward to reading Patel’s debut novel sometime in the future.


I wish I could say that I liked this novel more than I did. It wasn’t all that exciting, narratively speaking but I was somewhat interested in the portrayal of art-making and artist temperament and the art world business. I was sort of enjoying reading about the relationship between father and son over the decades. I was going to put the book down several times and continued until the end. Maybe two star rating from me.

EDUCATED by Tara Westover

Look up the word “resilience” in the dictionary and don’t be surprised if you see the name Tara Westover.  In this memoir, Westover chronicles her life combating fanatical Mormon parents who were detrimental to her health, her education and her social identity. Determined to find a place for herself in the world, Tara Westover chooses to go to college. Her tenacity and brilliance lead her to become educated – well-educate – and in-doing learns about the meaning of struggle and survival, home and self-invention  An inspirational story.



Jonathan Evison


5 stars from me. This was my favourite novel of the summer. I favour fiction told with Holden Caufield-like voices and in this book, Evison tells the story of Mike Munoz, a  young man who happens to have a talent for mowing lawns. Mike just got fired from his job because of ‘unfair’ treatment by his boss. He knows that there is something more to be had from life and as he struggles through poverty and adverse happenings, he hangs on to the pursuit of the American dream, knowing that something better awaits him.  Strong voice, sardonic humour and deep insights into self and other made this a great read for me.  I am looking forward to reading previous titles by the author (All About Lulu, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!)



Ladder to the Sky

in recent years, John Boyne has become my favourite author. The Heart’s Invisible Furies was at the top of my list last year. His novels for young people are terrific (e.g., The Boy in the Striped Pajamas).  When meeting a new release, I can become sceptical about whether I will enjoy it as much as previous titles.  Ladder to the Sky is a WOW! Boyne’s central character, an up-and-coming author who achieves success is unforgettable, not only because he’s strikingly handsome, but he’s quite the schemer and will do anything to succeed, no matter who gets in the way. The novel is framed into three main sections (with two interludes). Each section is told from a different voice: third person, second person, first person. Clever.  This is a great, page-turning read and will indeed be on Larry’s best of the year. (Thanks to my friend Lynn who shlepped the book back from Europe where it was released in August).


FALL INTO FICTION 2018: Building Empathy in Middle Years Readers

The novels listed in this posting are mostly suited for students from fifth to ninth grades. Each of these books should engage young readers in stories of coping, kindness, resilience.


Because of his large size, Marcus feels like an outsider at school. He is, however, a boy with a heart who takes care of and looks out for his brother Charlie, a boy with Down Syndrome.  When Marcus gets into an altercation at school (in defense of Charlie) his single  mother realizes that it’s time to take stock of the family situation and decides to travel with her sons to Puerto Rico, a place that has a strong attachment to her past. More than anything, Marcus wants to meet up with his father, who abandoned the family and going to Puerto Rico will hopefully give him a chance to reconnect – if he can find him.  Readers join in with Marcus and his family’s journey through Puerto Rico and come to experience the beauty of the land, the taste of the food, and the spunk of a Spanish cast of characters.

SAVING WINSLOW by Sharon Creech

Imagine a story about a mini donkey (Winslow) who’s chances of survival upon birth are slim. Despite cynical views from people in his life who predict the donkey will die, Louie is determined to nurture the animal back to good health. A lovely story about resilience and care. Once again, Creech proves herself to be a terrific storyteller (particularly when present fiction about animal characters (Moo, Love That Dog)

MISSING MIKE by Shari Green

Imagine reading a story about wildfires in the summer months of 2018. Cara, her family and her neighbours are forced to evacuate when a fire (in British Columbia) overtakes the community. All is left behind, including the family’s one-eyed dog, named Mike. What do we do we do when all our past possessions are lost? What hope does the future bring to once again find a place called home? What does ‘home’ mean? A fine – and timely – Canadian novel told in free verse format. Wonderful!

THE LANDING by John Ibbotson (YA)

This book was the Governor General’s award winner for juvenile fiction in 2008. A new edition was created to celebrate the books 10th anniversary with proceeds to support the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. I loved this book, a wonderful coming of age story. Ben Mercer s a hard-working, obedient adolescent with a talent for playing the violin. Ben gets a glimpse into the cultured life of the rich (he is hired by a wealthy widow to fix up her cottage) and wonders if he will ever be able to escape the trappings and rural life in Muskoka.
The soul of the Canadian cottage setting along with the the soul of this teenager fictional hero certainly captured my interest and my sympathies. It deserved the award.

MR. WOLF’S CLASS by Aron Nels Steinke

The draw for me with this title that a) it was a humourous graphic novel b) it’s about a new teacher learning to cope. This book may appeal to readers who are beginning to engage in the graphic novel format. The chapters are short. The visuals and verbal text are appealing. The characters are comical. The humour is ‘juvenile’ (a missing girl accidentally is hidden in a box, one boy brings in his great great grandma’s brain for show and tell, and yes, there are fart jokes). The novel had a blend of ‘real’ and exaggerated school situation. This is the first book in a series but I don’t think I’ll hunker down and read more about Mr. Wolf’s ventures.


This was an enjoyable read, more or less. Dare I say it… a book for girl readers! Hanna Geller is trying to fit in and find a place of belonging, as she encounters life in fifth grade. When she discovers a note that says NOBODY LIKES HANNA, she (and the school staff) try and get to the bottom of the bullying incident. The title statement “If This Were A Story” is repeated throughout (I lost count), putting a meta twist on the storytelling, helping the reader to distinguish between reality and fiction. For me this debut novel tries to hard. Turley’s writing program sure must devote attention to metaphors, cuz the novel is abundant with figurative language. This could be a good thing, but it was a bit too much for me.

THE TURNING by Emily Whitman

This is a novel that adds to the folklore of Selkie folk.  Aran is born of a human father and a seal mother.  He is awaiting (and longs) for his ‘turning’ into a seal and as the story unfolds, we are uncertain whether the boy will ever get his pelt. David Booth, in his resource Exploding the Reading usesSelkie lore as a source for meaningful cross-curricular learning from a range of elementary and secondary teachers. The Turning is another intriguing novel of that could be added to the collection of living by the sea, in the sea and the secrets that are force to be kept by legendary Selkies.

HARBOR ME by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson is another is deserved of all the praise bestowed upon her. In this book, a group of six kids gather in a place to exchange stories, views, complaints and connections. The students (mixed races and genders) are given a space to speak when the teacher provides a space dubbed the ARTT room (“A Room to Talk). Each of the students has an issue to deal with his or her life (a missing parent, a parent in jail, racial profiling) and when Woodson presents an episode about the dreamer issue, I recognized that the author is a master of capturing the soul   of thousands of young people coping with life in 2018. The students grow to share private thoughts, to connect and to  harbor each other. any novel that deepens empathetic understanding and honesty can be considered a great read. Thank you Jaqueline Woodson.

MAPPING THE BONES by Jane Yolen (ages 12+)

Master storyteller, Jane Yolen has previous written fiction set in The Holocaust  (The Devils’ Arithmetic, Briar Rose). In this powerful book, she uses  the Hansel and Gretel story as a framework for this harrowing story of a family smothered by the atrocities of Nazi Germany.  Chaim and Gittel are at the centre of the story, struggling to survive and combat evil people, forbidden forests and death ovens. Each sentence is beautifully crafted by this important author of over 350 books. Mapping the Bones is a compelling read.



Poems by David Booth

Bird Guy: Wally Karr's Poems about Birds

In recent years, poetry anthologies for young people have been somewhat sparse. David Booth has written a remarkable collection of poems centred on the topic of birds. The subtitle of Bird Guy is “Wally Karr’s Poems About Birds: 9th Grade English Project” and a grade nine student writing narrative and rhyming poems for a high school writing project, sets the premise for poems drawn from memoir and science.  Hooray for David Booth for presenting over seventy poems organized into chapters with titles such as ‘Familiar Feathers’, ‘Strange Feathers’, ‘Family Feathers’, ‘Tickling Feathers’.  How fantastic it is to have a new collection of poems – Canadian – to engage (and inform) middle year students. Bird Guy also is a fine resource for looking at a variety of poetic forms.  And is with most appealing poetry anthologies, it is wonderful to have a balance of poems that make us smile (‘Real or Fake’, ‘The Birds on My Uncle’s Head’), touch the heart  (‘Window Pains’, ‘Bird Guy’, ‘Pigeons and Popcorn’, ‘Bird Brains’) and gain much information about nature’s feathered friends. (‘Guano’, ‘Birds of Prey’, Voted #1). SHOUT OUT TO to Maya Ishiura for perfect black and white drawings that add poetry to the poems.

The book is available on and