DISCUSSING BLACK LIVES MATTER: Start with a book

Every educator concerned with teaching about differences and empathy and acceptance, asks ‘What can I do? What should I do?’ For me, children’s literature has been central to literacy and learning and enrich understanding equity, tolerance and belonging. In this particular time citizens, young and old are trying to make sense of systemic racism, educators and parents might not know where to start in order to help students make sense of what is currently happening in the world. My answer is simple :  Start with a good book!  It is my contention that children’s literature is a meaningful way to opening up conversations in order to build a deeper understanding of social justice, equity, and diversity, now more so than ever with the issue of BLACK LIVES MATTER.

A picture book, novel, or poem can help students to…

  1. Make connections to the text, perhaps having students reveal their own stories
  2. Raise questions about topics and issues of concern
  3. Have meaningful discussions and work towards finding answers
  4. Learn about the identity of others and come to better reflect on their own identities and values
  5. Experience narratives a that serve as case studies for relationships, values and struggles that appear in fiction and can be applied to real-world contexts

 

PICTURE BOOKS

THE UNDEFEATED by Kwame Alexander; illus. Kadir Nelson (poem)

A love letter to black life in the United States. 2020 Caldecott Medal and Newbery Honor,  Coretta Scott King awards.

“It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes.” (product description)

This is for the unforgettable

The swift and sweet ones

Who hurdled history

And opened up a world of possible

RACE CARS: A book about whiteness by Jenny Devenny

This is a picture book about white privilege designed to inspire tough conversations about race and privilege. Devenny tells the story of 2 best friends, a white car and 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?

NOT MY IDEA: A book about whiteness by Anastasia Higginbottom

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.

THE OTHER SIDE by Jacquline Woodson; illus. E.B. Lewis

The story of a fence that separates the black side of town from the White side of twon. When Cl0ver sees a White girl from ‘the other side’ sitting on the fiencek she grows more curious about why the fence is there and how its division can be conquered.

 

NOVELS

GHOST BOYS (fiction: Ages 10-13) 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.

ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds (YA)

Art imitates life in this novel, told in alternating voices examines a specific case of police brutality from the perspectives of two teenagers: Rashad  is suspected of shoplifting and assaulting a white woman and is savagely beaten by a white policeman and Quinn who witnesses the incident but initially pretends he didn’t.

THE NEW KID by Jerry Kraft (graphic biography)

Jordan Banks, 7th grader, wants nothing more than to go to an art school so he can pursue his dreams of beconming a comic artists.  His parents, however, enrol their son in  a private school known for its academics but Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.  2020 Newbery winning novel about poverty, alienation and racism.

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.   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,

MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers (YA)

A single decision can change our whole lives. Steve Harmon is sitting in a juvenile detention centre awaiting the trial of a crime that he was accused of being part of. The story unfolds as journal entries and a screenplay of Harmon’s own imagination.

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone (YA)

Justyce is a strong-minded teenager who goest to a white prep school where he is the only black student.An incident finds Justyce accosted by a white police officer. The diary that the boy keeps, where he writes a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reveals Justyce’s story, his dreams of escaping the bad neighbourhood to have a bright future, and escaping the bad neighbourhood he lives in. His diary reveals the story about an unarmed young back boy  named Shemar Carson who was shot by a white police officer in Nevada.

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas (YA)

 Starr Carter witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer and questions whether she should go to the police, fearing that they will not pursue legal action against the officer and justice will not be served

POETRY 

WOKE: A young poet’s call to justice by Hahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia

Gatwood; ullus. Theadore Taylor III

WE RISE, WE RESIST WE RAISE OUR VOICES  (essays, letters, poems and stories edited by  Wade

Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

REMEMBER THE BRIDGE: Poems of a People by Carol Boston Weatherford

NONFICTION

 A FEW RED DROPS: The Chicago Race Riots of 1919 By Claire Hartfield

On July 27, 1919, a teenage African-American boy was killed aftera. white man threw a stone that hit him. A protest riot resulted in 38 people dying and 537 people wounded.

THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST: 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action, and do the work by Tiffany Jewell

Question are raised: Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? to help readers understand the history of racism and how they can use their ant-racist lens and voice to liberation,

SHOUT OUT

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning

STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds (YA)

Reynolds presents a journey of race from past to present, helping us to think about race, why we feel what we feel but moreover, helps readers to identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.  Available as an audiobook. This is a reimagining of Dr. Ibram X Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning.

BLACK AUTHORS / BLACK FICTIONAL CHARACTERS

There is a wide range of books that feature black characters that open windows, mirrors and doors to understanding their lives. When we choose to share these titles with students, we are serving them with characters who may or not be different from themselves.  Any novel by Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paul Curtis or Jacqueline Woodson help student meet black fictional heroes.

Kwame Alexander

The Crossover (Booked, Rebound)

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in this Game Called Life

Solo

Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud Not Buddy

Elijah of Buxton

The Watsons Go to Burningham , 1963

Walter Dean Myers

Autobiography of a Dead Brother

Game

Monster

Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You

Look Both Ways

Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu)

Jaqueline Woodson

After Tupac and D Foster

Brown Girl Dreaming

Harbor Me

If You Come Softly (sequel: Behind You)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

READING IN ISOLATION: Part 2 / Children’s Lit: 2020 titles

All TWELVE fiction titles in this posted were published in 2020. I have included books for middle years readers and YA (and one nonfiction title).

 

MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed (YA)

Having recently finished Ahmed’s strong novel about the race, identity and the immigrant experience in the novel Interment, I was intrigued to read her 2020 novel Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know.  I like that the novel has two narratives (Khayamm’s, an American, French, Indian Muslim teenager) and Leila (who is forced to hide her love from the Pasha who has bestowed her with favoured status in his harem, 200 years ago.) More time is spent with Kahyam who while on vacation in Paris sets upon a quest to find the mystery behind a Delacroix painting and the history of the Dumas family. Coincidently she happens to meet a boy named Alexander Dumas who is a descendent of the famous author. Daniel Pennac with his rights of the reader, gives us permission to not finish a book, and as I approached page 100, i decided to abandon this novel because I wasn’t all that interested in the Khayyam’s mission, her former and newly-found  love interests and the detective like investigation into Dumas and Delocroix’s life. And so I won’t find out how Khayyam and Leila’s story intertwine. That’s OK.

A HIGH FIVE FOR GLENN BURKE by Phil Bildner

Major League baseball player (1976-1979) had two notworthy claims to fame: 1) After raising his hand over his head and slapping a teammate’s hand who had just scored a home run, he ‘invented’ the high five slap 2) He was the first MLB player to come out to teammates during his professional career.  Author Phil Bildner pays tribute to this sports hero through the world of sixth grader Silas Wade who presented a school project to his classmates (omitting the detail about Burke, being gay. Silas a skilled young baseball player, has come to terms with the fact that he too is gay, but the process of coming out, like for many young adolescent boys is troublesome. He reveals his secret to his best friend, Zoey and his coach. Bildner knows the world of baseball and adeptly describes the action on the field and the need to be a strong, respectful member of a team. The gay author also digs respectfully into minds and worries of those who are struggling to reveal their true identities. For this, the novel works well on two levels giving sports fans and young adolescents a hero to empathize – or connect – with. High five, Mr. Bildner. High Five, Silas, and High five, Glenn Burke.

THIS PLACE: 150 Years Retold / multi-authored (Graphic text: nonfiction/ fiction) YA (2019)

Ten stories created  by Indigenous authors and illustrators, providing a history of known and unknown figures and events that tell a history that goes back 150 years. The graphic collection helps to illuminate the past, present and future of Indigenous communities and their battles to survive. The narratives are not always presented with clarity but the visuals are often strong and provide powerful imagery(frequently drawn from real-life photographs). Any of the stories can lead to further inquiry about the stories of people, places and time. “It tells tales of resistance, of leadership, of wonder and pain and pasts we must remember and futures we must keep striving towards planting each story like a seed deep inside from us ” (from the forward by Alice Elliott, p. vi)  A timeline of historical events is presented to introduce each of the stories. Suitable for adolescents and adults.

AGGIE MORTON: MYSTERY QUEEN: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn

A fortuitous comment  by one of Jocelyn’s editors who asked,  “whether Agatha Christie might be a good model for a child sleuth?” spurred the author to invent the fictitious twelve year-old sleuth,  Aggie Morton, who along with her new Belgian friend, Hector Perot, are caught in the web of a murder case that involves rat poison, a will, a letter, a rascally journalist,  and oh yes, a love story (or two). Young readers will delight in helping solve the crime along with Aggie in 1902 in Torquay England(which just happens to be Christie’s birthplace). What a terrific terrific read!  Four stars out of four.  The Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie e would certainly be giving Aggie Morton – and Marthe Joceyln a high five. Indeed we will be meeting this young detective in forthcoming mystery adventures. thanks to the comment of a wise editor.

BLACK BROTHER, BLACK BROTHER by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Donte and Trey are brothers. Their mother is black, their father white. 12 year-0ldDonte is dark skinned and his older brother is lighter skinned.  Both boys attend a private school, but it is Donte who is taunted by racist remarks, especially from the school bully, Alan. When Dante, innocent, is accused of a misdomenor, he is expelled from school How will Dante, and other black boys feel safe and free?  For Donte, salvation is found in the world of fencing where he challenges himself to train as a competitive fencer, hoping he can take down the fencing team captain, Alan. Though not as powerful as her recent novel, Ghost Boys, the author once again examines black youth who fight against injustice and racism. The sport of fencing is given great description.

THE LITTLEST VOYAGEUR by Margi Preus; illus. Cheryl Pilgrim (ages 8 -11)

A story about the Voyageurs travelling from Montreal to trading posts. A story told from the point of view of a squirrel – yes, a rascally red squirrel named Jean Pierre Petite Le Rouge.  Le Rouge hides himself in a canoe and though he can’t contribute much to the mission but he partakes in the voyages and portages and commeraderie of Jean Mechant, JeanPaul, Jean Luc, Jean Jacques, Jean Henri, Jean Cladue, Jean Louis, and his good friend Jean Gentille (appropriately named).  Squirrel surrives the adventure but when he is shocked to find out what awaits when they finally arrive at the trading post – the FUR trading post. Applause goes to Marge Preus for making historical events come alive through fiction. We need more stories like this to make history accessible to young people. It would have certainly made history more accessible to me than those history text books. An amusing adventurous read!

WAYSIDE SCHOOL: Beneath a Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar

He’s baccck! For millions of Sideway Stories from a Wayside School series, the popular author, after 40 years (!!!) has created another wacky book that takes place in the wacky school. We are reunited with many of the humorous characters that were featured in previous books, but this time, rather than short stories about each of the characters, the short chapters are interwoven as students are threatened by the Cloud of Doom bringing bad luck to the school. If you like stories with Spaghetti and feetballs, a teacher who is nuts about paper clips, a purple umbrella with green stripes (or a green umbrella with purple , stripes, jump rope arithmetic and a class project collecting a million finger and toenail clippings, this book’s for you.

THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE by Rebecca Stead

Bea is a child of divorce and follows a structured weekly visits between mom and dad. Bea has a warm relationship with both parents: “You will always have a home with each of us is one of the items on the list of things that will not change. The big event her life is the upcoming gay marriage of her father and Jesse.  At last she will get a sister that she always wanted (even though Sonia lives on the other side of the country). Bea’s therapist Miriam,  helps the grade five girl to deal with any disturbing issues that come her way (mean girls, eczema, homophobia).  Rebecca Stead, author of Liar and Spy and When You Reach Me, understands and reveals the inner life of kids and this book title is yet another appealing read of life of a pre-teenage girl observed.

WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE by Renee Watson (ages 8-10)

Renee Watson grew up in Oregon. So did Beverly Cleary.  Cleary first brought the feisty, rascally Ramona to the children’s literature world in 1955 (Beezus and Romona) and today’s readers can now read about Ryan Hart, a black girl in grade 4 who certainly would have been friends with Ramona.  In Ways to Make Sunshine, Ryan’s troubles concern her family’s need to downsize and move into a new house, the challenge to do something special in the Grade 4 talent show, and a bothersome brother.  The family news announced at the end of the book screams ‘sequel’ and thousands and thousands readers ages 8 through 10 who love reading about  families, schools and friends are sure to delight in Ryan Hart’s further adventures. Just as they did in the 11 Ramona books.

SLIME by David Walliams

Every year, David Walliams brings forth a new riotous (rude) adventure novel.  He’s done it again with this book that takes place on the Isle of Mulch, population 999, where most of the adults loathe children. Those grown-ups include headmaster Sir Walter Wrath,  terrible twins Edmond and Edmond Envy, owner of the toyshop, Mr. Lust, deputy head of Mulch School for Revolting Children, Madame Solenzio Sloth, piano teacher and mega-rich Aunt Greta Greed. Ned, a boy whose legs haven’t worked on since he was a baby, is the hero of the story. When he accidently invents, SLIME, which has the superpower to transform into anything (a whale a trampoline, a motorbike, a flock of pigeons etc.) The fonts, and format of each and every page add visual delight as do Tony Ross’s abundant cartoonish illustrations. I am a Walliams fan (as are millions of other readers) and I always look forward to his new novel titles, and not just because of his inventive vocabulary that could be found in Williamsictionary.  (e.g., slird, slouney, p0ngtas,magporia, globettes, puketastic) What a cleverly creative, whackily wonky author that gets them reading (and chuckling).

 

SHOUT OUT

WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed / Graphic biography

Omar Mohammed spent his childhood at the Dadaab camp in Kenya. He always had a goal to write about his experiences about being a refugee and a meeting with Graphic author, Victoria Jamieson resulted in this powerful book. Readers are given an inside visit into the hard times of a refugee camp as we learn about Omar and the devoted care he gives to his brother who his nonverbal brother Hassan. Stories of day to day dullness, hardships scrounging for food, bullying and haunting memories of Somalia. But Omar is determined to get an education and dreams for the day where he will be accepted to America. Omar now lives in Pennsylvania, working at a cente to help other refugees. This is an outstanding book and I dare the Newbery committee to give the award to a graphic biography two years in a row (e.g., New Kid). This book is deserved of awards. This book needs to be read.

 

SHOUT OUT

Prairie Lotus by [Linda Sue Park]

PRAIRIE LOTUS by Linda Sue Park

A powerful story of prejudice and racism.  The story takes place in the Dakota territory in 1880 and we are in the world of Little House on the Prairie. Our protagonist is Hanna a girl who is half-Chinese and half-white who fondly remembers her mother who was half-Chinese and half-Korean who was killed in an ambush and who is determined to carry on her mother’s tradition of being a skillful dressmaker. When Hanna and her father  arrive in the town of La Forge to set up a dry goods business, they come upon neighbours who don’t want any neighbours who aren’t white themselves.  When children are kept away from their one-room school house because Hanna has enrolled in the class, the young teenager holds her head up high, determined to teach others to see beyond the surface. Hateful racist comments and an abuse incident challenge Hannah and her father to fit into the community.  Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard, A Long Walk to Water) has drawn from her early childhood experiences and her adoration of The Little House Stories to bring a sense of history and the immigrant experience  alive to “provide food for thought for all who read it, especially the young reader in whose hands the future lies.” (p. 256)

This title will be on my top five list of the year, I’m sure. And I predict another Newbery for Linda Sue Park (unless the committee gives it to When The Stars Are Scattered

READING IN ISOLATION: ADULT BOOKS

I am staring at a pile of thirty or more titles that have been on my ‘to read’ list for the past couple of years. Isolation has given me the opportunity to dig into some nonfiction and fiction ‘grown up books’ to fill the days.  Here are some that have intrigued me over the past month. I still have piles to go before I sleep.

 

FICTION

LITTLE FAITH by Nickolas Butler

Since reading Shotgun Lovesongs (2014), I have been a Nickolas Butler fan. The pictures he paints of characters, of communities, of nature, of clothing, of meals, and the hearts of men and women are folksy, poetic and reverent. Lyle Hovde is one of the strongest fictional characters I’ve encountered this year. A devout husband, father, grandpa and friend. the story is centred around faith. His adopted daughter Shiloh is heavily involved as a member of an extremist church.  She and the pastor of the church believe that her five year old son Isaac has been given the God-given ability to heal the sick, a belief that is shaken when Isaac becomes ill. This is a story of questioning faith, religious and/or otherwise. I read this novel in one day. I loved it!

THE REVISED FUNDAMENTALS OF CAREGIVING by Jonathan Evison

One of my favourite novels in the past couple of years was Lawn Boy (2018) and after finishing it, I decided to purchase earlier titles by the author because since I enjoyed his storytelling, his  voice and humour. Since receiving three titles, they have been sitting in my ‘to read’ pile. I chose The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (2012) to read first because of the promos on the back cover: ‘Funny, humane and a lot of fun.’  ‘It’s got a great big heart.” An entertaining picaresque* and a moving story of redemption’.  Poor Benjamin Benjamin: His days as a stay at home father have ended (due to tragedy); He is now on the brink of divorce; after taking a caregiving course, he has been hired to tend to the needs of a young adult man who with Muscular Distrophy. Things don’t seem to be going Benjamin’s way. A road trip throughout the midwest brings adventure and surprises and a sense of determination to make the most of what comes your way.  “Be ready to be ready. … Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.”(page 236). Yes, an enterrtaining picaresque story of redemption.  I look forward to reading other Evison titles. *picaresque = an episodic styule of fiction dealing with the adventure of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.

KIT’S LAW by Donna Morrissey

It’s funny how good books come into your life. Last fall, I made a visit to St. John’s Newfoundland and my friend took me on a whirlwind trip to some fishing villages and the downtown area before I headed off to the airport. We stopped into a second-hand bookstore and Jan asked, “Have you ever read books by Donna Morrissey”.  Since, I hadn’t Jan gifted me with a $4.99 used copy KIT’S LAW (the author’s first novel) and it’s been sitting on my to read pile since October. I finished it this afternoon. What a great book! What a great Canadian author!  The fishing-village 1950’s setting is as strong a character as the vivid portrayal of a grandmother,  her mentally handicapped daughter and her teenage granddaughter, Kit. This is a story of despair and tragedy and longing and sin and murder. Anyone who loved the popular book Where The Crawdad Signs  by Delia Owens will recognize a kinship between that book’s character and Kit. Thanks Jan for introducing me to Morrissey. I’m sure I’ll read more books by her and perhaps buy other titles on my next visit to Newfoundland. Hopefully soon.

 

NONFICTION

THE MAN IN THE RED COAT by Julian Barnes

This is a rich and detailed specimen of nonfiction writing illuminating the world of The Belle Epoque . The list of famous names spread throughout the book would fill a telephone directory of Parisian and British cultural elite from the late 1900 hundreds to the early 30th century (Proust, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Henry James, James Whistler). Society doctor, renowned gynecologist (and an adventurous private life of Samuel Pozzi binds this historical together. What a fascinating, detailed read of time and place and culture. Includes quite a number of photographs and coloured plates of famous portraits, including The Man in the Red Coat a striking portrait of Pozzi by John Singer Sargent. Mr. Barnes yo are a marvel, researcher and raconteur extraordinaire.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This 150-page book is presented as a letter from author to his adolescent son, digging deep onto the meaning of race and history. “What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a place to live within it?” is the question that drives the author’s force and truthful awakenings that seeks to find answers of the black man’s place in the world.  Every paragraph (perhaps  every sentence) (But race is the child of racism, not the father. And he process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. “(p. 7) in this book provokes profound thoughts drawn from history, personal narratives and reporting which Toni Morrison claims to be ‘required reading.’

GOING SOLO: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg

There’s some irony in the fact that I read this book during times of self-isolation but I’ve had this on my shelf for a while and now was as good as time as any to read about this examination of those who choose (and prefer) to live alone, and those whose life circumstances (widowhood, old age) force them to do so. Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University and the writing of this book prompted him to drawn on extensive research with wide statistics and data including 300+ interviews with those who live solo, to help us think about the huge political, cultural and sociological shift over the past few decades of those who come to live ‘comfortably’ on their own, whatever their age or class or culture.  This is an in-depth analysis that helps the millions and millions across the world who go solo think about  marriage or being single, work and play,  freedom and independence, relying on the self (particularly as seniors)  loneliness and connectedness,  depending on others and needing others. And of course it helps those who don’t live solo to contemplate and understand those who find appeal in living alone.

GREEK TO ME by Mary Norris

Norris worked in the copy department for many years and would therefore be considered the maven of proper punctuation and grammar, and eventually be known as The Comma Queen. The author of Between You & Me has given us a book that reveals devotion to Greek words, Greek Gods,olive trees, ouzo and Greeks. Attention is given to the Greek alphabet and the surprising ways Greek helped form the English language. Norris is a deeply informed, engaging tour guide into the journey of all things Greek.

BEST KEPT BOY IN THE WORLD by Arthur Vanderbilt

Denham (Denny) Fouts’ clqim to fame was his role a socialite, muse and renowned male prostitute who hung around with princes, barons, tycoons, heirs, artists and a with authors as Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood was a notorious male prostitute. This slim book (155 pages) is a salute (worship?) to this extraordinary character. Not a very interesting read, other than the fact that it is what it is.

THIS PLACE: 150 Years Retold (Graphic text: nonfiction/ fiction)

Ten stories created  by Indigenous authors and illustrators, providing a history of known and unknown figures and events that tell a history that goes back 150 years. The graphic collection helps to illuminate the past, present and future of Indigenous communities and their battles to survive. The narratives are not always presented with clarity but the visuals are often strong and provide powerful imagery(frequently drawn from real-life photographs). Any of the stories can lead to further inquiry about the stories of people, places and time. “It tells tales of resistance, of leadership, of wonder and pain and pasts we must remember and futures we must keep striving towards planting each story like a seed deep inside from us ” (from the forward by Alice Elliott, p. vi)  A timeline of historical events is presented to introduce each of the stories. Suitable for adolescents and adults.

ONE DAY: The Extraordinary Story of An Ordinary 24 hours in America by Gene Weingarten

What do these events have in common? a heart transplant, a daughter and her boyfriend murder her parents, a Grateful dead concert, a man dies of AIDS, an abusive husband.  Each of these stories are centred on the Date of Sunday December 28, 1986.  Journalist, Gene Wiengarten digs into the past and chronicles events across America that took place on a specific date within a 24 hour period.  The target incidents leads to unravelling fascinating stories of love, murder, prejudice, fate and coincidence. What at first seems ordinary, indeed turns out to be extraordinary as we read about the relationships and behaviours and connections of a variety of humans.  Six years of research resulted in a series of 20 fascinating essays

18 PICTURE BOOKS

The  2019 picture book titles below are recent purchases.  If I were still working on my book TEACHING TOUGH TOPICS, most of these would be added to my ‘GREAT BOOK’ lists. 18 picture books are organized into fiction and nonfiction categories.

 

FICTION

WHILE GRANDPA NAPS by Naomi Danis; illus. Junghwa Park

Gilbert faithfully keeps watch over his napping grandpa, shooing away the pesky flies and contemplating family, fidelity, family and memory. (Death, Loss and Remembrance)

BON VOYAGE MISTER RODRIGUEZ by Christiane Duchesne; illus. Francois Thisdale

The appearance of the mysterious Mister Rodriguez fascinates the village children who come to learn about attachment and loss through this enigmatic character.  (Death, Loss and Remembrance)

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

In a real  letter written to the Chief of Police, Brianna urges the media to do better when investigating cases of missing Indigenous people. (Indigenous Identity) 

AUNT PEARL by Monica Kulling; illus. Irene Luxbacher

Aunt Pearl wonders through life pushing a shopping cart filled with worldly goods. Marta and Dan’s mother allow the homeless  Pearl  to settle into the household and wonder about her strangeness and giving things ‘a second chance’. (Poverty) 

WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER by Kyle Lukoff; illus. Kaylani Juanita

Aidan settles happily into himself as a transgender boy. His outlook on life is put to the test as he prepares for the arrival of a new sibling and they are determined to ‘get everything right.’ (Gender Identity)

GOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY by Kelly Starling Lyons; illus. Daniel Minter

A richly detailed and gloriously illustrated tale of family celebrations, family history and stories that are passed down from one generation to another. (Diverse Cultures)

SATURDAY by Oge Mora

Spending time with your mother on cherished Saturday outings, a young girl relishes in the routines and unexpected events of precious time spent together. (Diverse cultures)

MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE by Isabel Quintero; illus. Zeke Pena

Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighbourhood with her hardworking Papi on his motorcycle, admiring the sights, smells and sounds of her Hispanic community and recognizing that things are gradually changing around her. (Diverse cultures)

FROM THE STARS IN THE SKY TO THE FISH IN THE SEA by Kai Cheng Thom; illus. way-yant li and kai yun ching

Miu Lan can change into any shape they can imagine but they can’t decide what to be: a bird or a fish? A boy or a girl? (Gender Identity)

 

NONFICTION

ON MY MOUNTAIN by Francois Aubineau: illus. Jerome Peyrat

A story about sharing your environment (mountain home) both from the shepherd and the wolf’s point of view. A forward and backward story.

BREATHE AND BE: A book of mindfulness poems by Kate Coombs; Illus Anna Emilai Laitinen (Poetry)

“I breathe slowly in, / I breath slowly out. My breath / is a river of peace. I am here in the world. / Each moment I can breathe and be.”

HONEYBEE: The busy life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming Rohman

Writer Candace Fleming follows the life cycle of the worker bee with informative detail accompanied by Eric Rohman’s knockout illustrations.

DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham & Charles Waters; illus. Mehrdokht Amini. (Poetry)

Fifty poems in range of poetic forms, presented alphabetically, provide inspirational thought for diversity, hope, and peace. Words for a better world are presented alphabetically (acceptance, ally, belonging, compassion, courage…etc)

THE BOOK RESCUER by Sue Macy; illus. Stacy Innerst

Aaron Lansky (outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish books) set out to preserve Jewish culture and history by collecting over a million books written in the Yiddish language. from around the world.

HOW TO BECOME AN ACCIDENTAL GENIUS by Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinsky; illus. Jenn Playford

Secrets and amazing stories of 30+ successful inventors who became scientific masterminds with remarkable discovers (e.g. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, No Stick Teflon, Popsicles, X-rays). Fascinating information with appealing supportive visuals. A terrific example of nonfiction text.

OVERGROUND RAILROAD by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illus. James Ransome

A tribute to the millions of African Americans who left their homes to become part of the Great Migration in a search for hope and freedom.

PACKS: Strengths in Numbers by Hanna Salyer

Air, Land and Sea animals team together in order to thrive in both human and non-human communities.

WHY? Laura Vaccaro Seeger

An inquisitive rabbit, who seems to only ask one question of a friendly bear stands in for young readers who are curious about the natural world.

Reading in “Isolation”: PART ONE

The COVID-19 crisis is,  to say the least, disturbing/ stressful. However, this period did provide me with the chance to catch up on some reducing, reduce my large pile of books and pass the time away beyond Netflix. These middle year titles kept me company. over the beginning weeks of ‘isolation’. Though quite varied in theme/genre I can honestly say that each of these 15 titles was great, most deserving four stars (out of four).

 

INTERNMENT by Samira Ahmed (Ages 12+)

This novel was published in 2019 which is worth mentioning since it is the story of a president who has declared that “Muslims are a threat to America”.  This is a powerful example of text to world connections as the story, though set in the near future, is drawn from headlines of today.  Layala and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim citizens and the 17 year-old girl is not giving up without a fight.  It is a story of activism and the power of resistance, despite the  consequences, in a fight for freedom. Prayers and thoughts can only go so far. Layla lives with the credo that you ‘can’t simply pray for what you want. You have to act. Wow! to this riveting novel that encourages readers to think about the need to fight complicit silence, a silence that exists in today’s world.

THE LINE TENDER by Kate Allen

I really enjoyed reading this novel that worked on many levels.  Much detailed scientific information is given about the life of sharks.  It eloquently describes how a middle -aged child copes with death.  It is about friends and families and digging into the past to understand how life carries on. Set in the coast of Massachusetts, The Line Tender tells the story of Lucy, who lost her marine-biologist mother and who now lives alone with her depressed father. A strong relationship with her friend Fred has the two friends on a field guide project inspecting the natural world around them – especially when a shark is brought to shore. I would give this book four stars (out of 4).

BOY UNDER WATER by Adam Baron

The central character in this novel is named Cymbeline Igloo (really!) and you can imagine the teasing and bullying this young boy gets with a name like that. On a dare, Cymbeline is challenged to partake in a swimming contest, but he has never ever been in the water. The story especially gains power when we learn about Cymbeline’s mother’s mental illness. When she disappears Cymbeline is on a quest, along with his wise friend Veronique,  to find out some truths about his mother’s life as an artist, his father’s disappearance, and the secret about why he has never been taught to swim.  A novel that ignites compassion in the reader’s heart.

24 HOURS IN NOWHERE by Dusti Bowling

The School Library Journal claims that this novel is reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s Holes with its ‘quirky characters and unique desert setting. I agree. Bowling (the author of the terrific Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus) has created a humourous suspenseful adventure that involves a bully (of course), dirt bike racing, the search for gold and an overnight 24 hour adventure of four characters being lost in a cave. An entertaining read.

PAGES & CO: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

Imagine you could enter any book that you want to meet the characters and adventures you so admire. What book would you choose to visit. Orphaned Matilda Pages encounters both Anne (Anne of Green Gables) and Alice (Alice in Wonderland) and ends up being a bookwanderer in attempt to meet up with her mother who disappeared upon Matilda’s birth. A great fantasy adventure where reality and fiction intertwine. A book lover’s delight!!!

LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA by Erin Entrada Kelly

This title by Newbery Medal Winner Erin Entrada Kelly is being well-reviewed and will certainly captivate readers who enjoy fantasy adventures. Disclaimer (I’ve said it many times) is that I’m not a fan of fantasy. Any story with character and creature names such as Nalupai, Fei Diwata, Ditasa-Ulod, menyoro, whenbo, Yootah, wallecta are sort of cumbersome for me to wrap my head around… but there are legions of young readers who are entralled with such invention. Applause goes to the author who has drawn her narrative from Filipino lore (though i’m not sure middle years readers would care about that).  Still, the island setting, the customs of the tropical island, the forces of good and evil, natural disasters, mysterious disappearances, a world of male domination, and especially Lalani’s quest to find answers for a better, healthy life provide ingredients for many many middle years readers. I’m glad I read it.

HERE IN THE REAL WORLD by Sara Pennypacker

Having enjoyed PAX a lot, I was looking forward to Pennypacker’s new novel about two misfits who meet up in an abandoned church. Ware’s family thinks he is attending the summer program at Rec Camp because of the ‘meaningful social interaction’ but when he encounters Jolene who is planting a garden amidst all the rubble. he gains strength from the project of creating a castle-like space as a refuge. There is some heart, and thought-provokingl writing throughout this tale, (“artists see something that move us, we need to take it in, make it part of ourselves. And then give it back to the world, translated, in a way the world can see it too.” (p. , but I think this book would appeal only to sophisticated middle age bookworms.

HIS NAME WAS WALTER by Emily Rodda

Apparently Emily Rodda has written over ninety books for children. I had never heard of this noteworthy Australian author but was introduced to her through this 2018 title. When the school bus breaks down, a teacher and four students come to settle into an empty country house.  After exploring an antique desk Colin and his friends find a handwritten book with strange illustrations and thus begins the story of an orphaned boy named Walter, a witch, a girl named Sparrow. As the children read through the book on a dark and stormy night they uncover mysteries and secrets, a prophecy and  a story of extraordinary love. This is a great book for readers who enjoy reading suspenseful, atmospheric adventures tales. The novel is divided almost evenly between the past and the present narratives, thus giving readers double the pleasure, double the fun.

THIRTEEN DOORWAYS: WOLVES BEHIND THEM ALL by Laura Ruby (12+)

The story is told from Pearl’s point of view. Pearl is a ghost. The events of life in a Chicago orphanage during the war years are seen through Pearl’s eyes as she chronicles the life of Frankie and her sister are caught in a web of poverty and injustice. The life stories of both Frankie and Pearl are sure to engage readers.  The backdrop of The Great Depression and World War II add a sense of culture and historical understanding. The author has drawn from the real life narratives of her mother-in-law to create a compelling read.  I’m not one to pick up ‘ghost story’ reads but reviews have been strong and I rather enjoyed the book, even though I was more intrigued and involved with Frankie’s story than Pearl’s.

OPERATION FROG EFFECT by Sarah Scheerger

This book was recommended to me by someone who attended my RFTLOI session. Thanks for the suggestion. I really like books with multiple voices. In Operation Frog Effect, we encounter several students in Ms. Graham’s class 5th grade classroom. Students recount experiences and projects (e.g., the egg drop project; the social justice inquiry initiative.) At the beginning fo the year students are given notebooks to describe and reflect on every day events and the narrative told in eight perspectives is presented in varied formats: (Blake/graphic pages; free verse/ Emily; and script/Henry; letters to a Mexican grandmother/ Cecila and letters of advice to the teacher/Kailey. Reminiscent of course of Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (a favourite), this is a very  appealing read for middle year readers.

JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno

Cora is struggling to cope with the surviving a life of being homeless. Readers will root for this feisty girl and her special needs sister as they strive to rise above moving from shelter to shelter.

ON THE COME UP by Angie Thomas (YA)

Thomas rose to fame with the incisive and vital novel, THE HATE U GIVE which gave a story about racism and police violence that adolescents could hang on to. The author has once again written a novel about the experience of young black people.  Bri’s father was a hip hop artist who was killed, her mother m Jay, is a former drug addict and her brother has the talent and smarts to get his masters degree. But Bri’s family is now a step away from being evicted from their house and even though Jay strives to do the best for her children, bad luck and bad circumstances smother the family. But this is Bri’s story and she the dream of becoming a hip-hop legend on her own terms carry her forward from day to day. At school , she is labelled a smart-ass hoodlum.  But her talents as a rap artist and a fierce determination, despite anger and frustration push Bri forward into an Afro-American girl ‘on the come up’. No doubt this book has as much appeal as Thomas’s first one.  Four stars.

GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN by Alicia D. Williams (12+)

Genesis prayed a prayer for so long: God make me beautiful, make me light and give me pretty hair. 13 year-old Genesis prepared a long list of reasons why she dislikes herself.  Ultimately she feels she is ‘too black’.  Remedies such as scrubbing her skin, lemon baths and cosmetic creams do not seem to change her life in any way. Her family has just been evicted their home, her father is a drunk who cannot confront realities and her mother is caught in the middle between Genesis and her father for  pulling the family together.  The grade eight student does some find some salvation in her new school, with new friends, a caring music teacher and the chance of getting to shine in the school talent contest. A strong read where readers enter, with authentic detail, into the anxieties and hopes of an adolescent Afro American girl. Highly recommended.

SHOUT OUT

HOW TO BEE By Bren MacDibble

How to Bee
This novel received several book awards in Australia. A character named Peony wants to be a bee in order so her gramps and physically-challenged sister can survive living on a fruit farm. The story takes a turn when Peony’s mother kidnaps her daughter so that she can help make a living in the city. The young girl finds herself in a rich household and meets up with Esmerelda, a girl her age who is xenophobic.  The two develop a relationship, but Peony is determined to return to the farm which is for her a place called home. I read some online reviews that described this book as ‘cute’. There is nothing cute about this story of poverty, class, abuse, and yes, bees.   This novel was the best of the lot of current reads because of MacDibble’s unique voice and a story that both frustrates the soul but warms the heart. Wonderful!
THE PROMISE OF CHANGE: One Girl’s Fight for School Equality
 by Joanne Allen Boyce and Debby Levy
This is an outstanding example of nonfiction writing presented in verse style (mostly free verse, several rhyming pieces and other poetic forms (Ballad, Ode, Sonnet, Villanelle). Drawn from the experiences of Jo Anne Allen and 11 other African American students who were the first students to integrate a public high school in the American South. This is a landmark event in the history of Racism and Civil Rights. This was a courageous journey for the Clinton 12, in Clinton, Tennessee, but the journey was fraught with bigotry and violence.

CHILDREN’S FICTION: LESS THAN 200 pages

At 200 pages or less (except for one title), these books range from the funny to the serious.

BECAUSE OF THE RABBIT by Cynthia Lord

After reading and enjoying the novel Rules, I became a fan of Cynthia Lord’s writing. She does not disappoint in this book about a young girl, Emma, who has only known home-schooling but now finds herself in the public school system. Being new to a new school can be stressful, but a class project where groups of grade five students each must tell ‘two truths and a lie’ tests Emma’s sense of being different, particularly when she befriends Jack, a special needs student with whom she is partnered with.  And yes, the caring of a pet bunny threads this story of compassion and kindness.

PLANET OMAR: ACCIDENTAL TROUBLE MAGNET by Zanib Mian; illus. Nasaya Mafaridik / (oops! this one’s 211 pages)

This is an engaging, entertaining read, particularly for fans of Wimpy Kid series. Playful fonts and comical illustrations add to the appeal of this book. What sets this narrative apart is the fact that the hero of the story is Muslim which connects to the world of many contemporary readers at the same time as inviting non-Muslim  students to learn about his culture through celebrations and religious observances. Omar joins bookshelves of characters who stressed out about attending a new school and get caught in incidents embarrassing and challenging (encounters with the school bully). The author dedicates this book to “all the children who ever felt that being different is a negative thing.” HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

FISHBONE’S SONG by Gary Paulsen

Up until a few years ago, I bought any/every new Paulsen novel in hardback. His work from the 1990’s – survival stories set in wild nature settings – knocked me out (Hatchet (series), Woodsong, The Island). (I once asked for Mr. Paulsen’s autograph at a conference and i told him he was my hero). Books that I came across in the past few years seemed to be a diversion from Paulsen’s genius at explaining and celebrating the natural world. Fishbone’s Son, the story of an orphan boy who comes to be raised in the woods by a wised old man. reminded me of the Paulsen “I used to know” and i was gain impressed with his wondrous storytelling and detailed factual writing. Paulsen’s world, I am assured comes from authentic experiences and they are so removed from my own world of urban living. You are a hero. The lyrical nature of this book may not appeal to a wide range of young readers but his sentences and images can serve as mentor examples of fiction/nonfiction wordsmthing. Mr. Paulsen, you are a hero. “First story I heard I was a baby still in birth blood in a wooden beer crate down where the creek crossed under the county firebreak trail.”

THIS SIDE OF WILD by Gary Paulsen

Everything you wanted to know about experiencing the wild, living with the wild, learning from the wild,  can be found in most of Gary Paulsen’s books. This book is presented as 5’chapters’ / nonfiction pieces.  The collection of true stories “have taught Mr. Paulsen lessons that have enriched his life and deepened his respect for animals”. The man has certainly lived a life of extreme adventure so far from my world experiences but I am fascinated to read about his encounters with dogs, bears, birds, snakes, etc that led him to believe that animals know more than humans can ever fathom. Fascinating. Sample chapter title: A Confusion of Horses, a Border Collie named Josh, a Grizzly Bear who LIked holes and a Poodle with Three Teeth.

SIX KIDS AND A STUFFED CAT by Gary Paulsen

No nature writing or animals (except for a stuffed cat) in this story of six young adolescent boys who don’t get along but are enforced to be exiled in a restroom, when a storm forces them to stay in school. As the story unfolds, the six strangers, each with his quirks and personalities, eventually become friends. The narrative occurs over 73 pages, but what is intriguing about this publication is a play adaptation (about 65 pages) of the story that we had just read about. Clever. (I preferred the script over the narrative)

FINDING LANGSTON by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Eleven-year-old Langston and his father move from Alabama to Chicago leaving behind memories of Grandma’s cooking and cherished times with Mama. It is 1946 and the ‘country boy’ is continually being harassed in his new school. Salvation is found within the walls of the George Cleveland Hall Library where blacks are welcome and the oetry words of Langston Hughes which give the young boy hope, courage and a connection to his mother’s spirit. Beautiful writing shining a beautiful light on the power of poems.

LEAVING LYMON by Lesa Cline-Ransome

A companion story to Finding Langston that stands on its own. Lymon doesn’t remember much about his mother and father is in a State Penetentiary.  After Lymon is being raised by two loving grandparents, circumstances force him to move to Milwaukee where he feels terribly alone, is caught in an abusive relationship, gets himself in trouble and is desperate to return to a place where he was loved by relatives and neighbours. In the first novel, poetry was the main character’s salvation, and in the second novel it is the music that becomes part of Lymon’s soul.

SUNNYSIDE PLAZA by Scott Simon

Any book that highlights its theme “KINDNESS STARTS FROM WITHIN” appeals to me. This is a wonderful novel, arousing empathetic understanding of a cast of adult characters with developmental disabilities who live in a community home.  Sally Miyake  is the resident who observe and questions the life of those around her and eventually becomes the hero to help sovle the problem of mysterious deaths and incidents that have struck the home. Yes, ‘kindness is found within’ the pages of this 191-page novel.

HIGH AND DRY by Eric Walters

In this chapter book, the author tells the story of a young boy and his grandfather who are forced to help rescue a young orca stranded on the rocks on remote island.  An appealing survival story for young readers.

 

INTO 2020: ECLECTIC READING

Have experienced varied reading over the past six weeks and the lists below include adult, YA, Middle Years fiction, one nonfiction title and yes, one poetry anthology (for grown-ups)

FIND ME by Andre Aciman (Adult Fiction)

The author of the novel Call Me By Your Name (loved it!) re-introduces some of the characters and is true to form in presenting stories about deeply falling in love. Told in separate sections (father falls in love with a girl on the train, Elio has an affair, and Oliver wants to return to Europe to pick up the pieces from long ago. The narrativess unfold in Rome and Paris, where music and food illuminate the settings.

KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES by Kacen Callender (Fiction, ages 11 – 14)

Author Kacen Callender won the 2019 Stonewall   Book award for her debut novel Hurricane Child and with the author was inspired to write a novel after their editor Andre Davis Pinkney said she ne er read a middle-grade book with a gay Black boy.  Kingston Reginald James (King), and his family are grieving over the death of Khalid. King is certain that his older brother continues to live as a dragonfly, who visits King in his dreams.  King keeps this secret to himself along with the secret that he might be gay. An incident  with a friend (a former friend)  forces King and his family to live beyond secrets. This book might (should) win the author another Stonewall book award.

ONE by Sara Crossan (YA Fiction)

A powerful story, told in verse form of two conjoined twins, who after sixteen years of surviving symbiotically, are forced to make an impossible decision of being separated.  Winner of the Carnegie Medal. A knockout!

TOFFEE by Sarah Crossan (YA Fiction)

After reading ONE, I will definitely be seeking out titles by free verse novelist Sara Crossan. In this book, a teenage girl runs away from home and eventually finds herself hiding in the shed of a house, where a lonely confused elderly woman, named Marlo lives. Marlo, who is living with dementia is convinced that Allison is a long lost friend from the past named Toffee. In an attempt to survive, Allison assumes Toffee’s identity and provides a comfort for Marlo. A book about identity, belonging and mental health.

AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins (Adult Fiction)

Despite controversy of misappropriation – because of controversy about misappropriation – I picked up this novel with claim to fame as being Oprahs’ book choice of the season. My attention was caught in the opening pages of the book, when 16 members of a Mexican family are slaughtered by powerful drug lords. A mother and her son, are desperate to survive and so unfolds the against-all-odds journey of immigrants desperate to find a better world in the U.S. Certainly a novel of the times. A novel of fear, resilience and hope.

CLOSED, STRANGER by Kate De Goldi (YA Fiction)

This is an early novel  by Award-winning New Zealand author Kate De Goldi (author of The 10 PM Question). It is the story of a strong attachment between two adolescent boys who seem to be joined at the hip. Max Jackson recounts his experiences with golden boy Westie. When love and lust enter each of the boys’ lives, their relationship becomes tumultuous, especially when Westie meets up with his birth mother who had abandoned him.  For mature YA readers.

THE 13-STORY TREEHOUSE by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (Fiction, ages 8-11)

Funny! funny! funny.1For young readers who are fans of Bad Guy, Captain Underpants, Dog Patrol and Diary of a Wimpy Kid., this is the first of a terrific series by Australian author Andy Griffiths and Illustrator Terry Denton. Enjoy the first book in the series and then climb higher to the 26-Story Treehouse, The 39-Story Treehouse, the 52-Story Treehouse and beyond.

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

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.

SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES by Christian McKay Heidicker (Middle Years Fiction; short stories)

Heidicker is a great storyteller. The book is divided into 8 sections, with an older fox  recounting eerie tales of young foxes, forced to escape danger, challenged to survive in the wild and bravely confront enemies – and ghosts. Newbery Honor Book, 2020

SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly (Fiction, ages 9-13)

A deaf girl longs to be understood and connected to others. When she learns about a whale who longs to be understood and connected to others, she sets herself on a mission to join an Alaskan Cruise (along with her deaf grandmother) and meet up with Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales. Readers will root for Iris and her determination at the same time as they will learn much about the aquatic world of whales.

OUTWITTING HISTORY: The Amazing Adventures of a Man who Rescued A Million Yiddish books  by Aaron Lansky (Adult Nonfiction)

An amazing story that documents the journey of one man to save the worlds’ abandoned Yiddish books before it was too late. Lansky’s tenacity take him throughout America and beyond to eventually collect more than an a million books. This true to life adventure introduces readers to a cast of characters, an array of Yiddish authors as Lansky crosses the bridge from the old world into the future. A fascinating, entertaining read about history and literature and the preservation of culture.

HARVEY COMES HOME by Colleen Nelson (Fiction, ages 8-11)

Harvey, a Westland Highland Terrier, beloved by his owner, Maggie, runs away from home. Austin volunteers in the retirement home where his grandfather works as custodian. Told in alternating chapters, this entertaining novel tells about Harvey’s adventures when he meets up with Austin. Readers will care about about what happens to this dog  but also gain compassion as they read about Mr. Pickering, a senior who is coping with memory loss, as he recounts  stories growing up in poverty during the Dust Bowl. (Curious that the title of thew book gives away the ending!) Forthcoming sequel: Harvey Holds His Own.

A GENTLEMAN FROM MOSCOW by Amor Towles (Adult Fiction)

This book has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years (hardback and paperback) and I was determined to dig into, and finish, it at last because it came highly recommended from friends. I loved the authors storytelling and backstorying and the blossoming of details.  An atmospheric and character driven book… but not enough carry forward plotting for me.  I liked it but didn’t love it. Now I can dig into at least ten other books on my pile that  I’ve promised myself to get into.

SHOUT OUT

TEACHING TOUGH TOPICS by Larry Swartz

How does children literature help deepen understanding of social justice, diversity and equity?

I am quite proud of this just-released publication which encourages teachers to choose and use children’s literature to unpack and dig deeper into topics that may seem tough (challenging, risky) but are vital to weave into our programs if we hope to enrich compassion, understanding, tolerance and kindness with young people as they become caring citizens of the world. Tough Topics include: Race and Diverse Cultures; The Immigrant and Refugee Experience; Indigenous Identities, The Holocaust; Physical and Mental Challenges; Poverty: Death, Loss and Remembrance, Gender Identity and Hom0phobia; Bullying; Ripples of Kindness,. 

Format: Each Tough Topic Chapter Includes;

  • Quotations from Children’s Literature
  • An Essay Introducing the Topic
  • Perspective Voice (s)
  • Language and Vocabulary Focus and Activities
  • Minds On lesson to open up the topic
  • Two model lessons , each using children’s literature and a focus response strategy
  • LiSTS: Great Books for a Great Topic

     

A FEW OF LARRY’S FAVOURITE THINGS, 2019

The list below highlights some of my favourite cultural experiences listed alphabetically by author (books), or alphabetically by title (movies and plays). Those items marked with an asterisk (*) deserve a  SHOUT OUT

 

PICTURE BOOKS

THE UNDEFEATED by Kwame Alexander; illus. Kadir Nelson

THE DAY WAR CAME by Nicola Davies; illus. Rebecca Cobb *

THE BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX, AND THE HORSE by Charlie Mackesy *

WILLA’S HOUSE by David Booth; illus. Renia Metallinou *

ALWAYS WITH YOU by Eric Walters; illus. Carloe Liu

 

MIDDLE YEARS FICTION

COUNT ME IN BY Varsha Bajaj

THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS by Ann Braden

BEVERLY, RIGHT HERE by Kate DiCamillo

BROKEN STRINGS by Kathy Kacer and Eric Walters

THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman

 

YA FICTION

MY BROTHER’S NAME IS JESSICA by John Boyne

THE 10 PM QUESTION by Kate Di Goldi *

HEY, KIDDO by Jarret J. Krosoczka (graphic autobiography)

FREE LUNCH by Rex Ogle (autobiography)

CHICKEN GIRL by Heather Smith

 

ADULT FICTION

FIND ME by Andre Aciman

THE INNOCENTS by Michael Crummey

THE READER ON THE 6:37 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin

OLIVE, AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout *

 

MOVIES

CAPERNAUM

JOJO RABBIT

MARRIAGE STORY

PAIN AND GLORY

PARASITE *

 

DOCUMENTARIES

AGNES BY VARDA

HALE COUNTY: THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING

HONEYLAND *

MIRACLE OF MIRACLES

63 UP *

 

PLAYS (local)

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

THE FATHER

THE FLICK

THE JUNGLE

PASS OVER *

SCHOOL GIRLS: Or the African Mean Girls Play

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

 

PLAYS (New York)

THE CONSTITUTION AND WHAT IT MEANS TO ME

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE

JAGGED LITTLE PILL

THE LEHMAN TRILOGY *

OKLAHOMA *

 

ETC.

YOU WON’T ALWAYS BE THIS SAD by Sheree Fitch (Poetry)

WHITE BIRD by R.J. Palacio (graphic novel)

LOOK BOTH WAYS: A tale told in ten blocks by Jason Reynolds (short stories) *

THE FRONT PAGE (Stratford)

THE MUSH HOLE (Young Peoples Theatre)

THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (Bridge Theatre, London)

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE (National Theatre / London)

 

DECEMBER: LARRY’S READING LOG

There’s quite a varied batch of books of different genres listed below.  Travelling  to London for six days allowed me to catch up with some of my reading.  When I was awaiting my luggage at the carousel back in Toronto, a gentleman came up to me and said “I saw you reading during the whole flight!”.  I have to have a book or two on a plane while travelling. Surprised that he noticed, but he also said, “I think you were the only person on the plane reading!” (no comment). December, a month without going to work, allowed me to reduce my reading pile.  I am determined to read the ten books that are on my table, before buying any new ones. Ha! Ha! What follows is my reading diary over the past 31 days.

 

December 1st

FREE LUNCH by Rex Ogle (autobiography)

As he enters sixth grade, Rex tries to hide the fact that his mother has signed him up for free lunch meals, He is also to hide the fact that his out of work mother and her boyfriend are abusive to him. This is a touch-the-heart story about a family who struggle to survive poverty. The story is all the more powerful because it outlines the true events of the author who struggles to stay optimistic.

December 4th

THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis (middle years fiction)

I reread this novel because I’m going to see a theatre production in London at the Bridge Theatre. I’m going to see this play because of the terrific director Sally Cookson. Alas, the book didn’t wow me as much as the first time I read it 35 years ago!

December 6th

THE BOY AT THE BACK OF THE CLASS by Onjali Rauf (middle years fiction )

A new boy arrives in class and is a refugee from Syria. This sparks curiosity in the students who sit around him who are anxious to seek answers about the boy’s past. As Ahmet’s story unfolds, a group of friends are determined to come up with a ‘great idea’ to reunite the boy with his parents. Statistics inform us that there are 65 million people seeking refuge and freedom in today’s world. This first novel is a worthy contribution to literature that helps middle age readers learn about the plight of refugees through one boy’s story. Winner of the Waterstones best book for children 2019.

December 9th 

IF YOU GIVE A PIG THE WHITE HOUSE  by Faye Kanouse; illus. Amy Zhing (picture book)

An adult parody of the popular picture book titles by Laura Numeroff (If You Give a Mouse a  Cookie) telling the story of a presidential pig who binges on Fox news, fast food and tweets.

December 10

TOUCHING THE VOID by Joe Simpson (nonfiction)

Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates explored the 21 000 foot peak in the Andes. When Simpson plunged off an ice ledge, Yates tried to lower his friend to safety but eventually was forced to cut the rope in order to prevent his own death. The harrowing adventure is outlined in the book Touching the Void which I read in advance of seeing the theatre production in London. How could the story of mountain-climbing possibly transfer to the stage? Theatre magic!

December 11

THE READER ON THE 6.27 bv Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (adult fiction)

The book starts off a little surreal as the author tells the story of Gylain Vignelles who hates his job working in a pulping factory. But each day on the 6.27 train, Vignelles reads aloud from texts which gets the attention of a rapt audience of passengers. When the protagonist discovers the diary of a young woman, he sets on a quest to find out the location of the public toilets that she cleans.  He is convinced that he is determined to find the love of his life. A bestseller from France, this book proved to be an enchanting testimony to a love of books and the love of one’s life.

December 11

WHY YOU SHOULD READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE SO OLD AND WISE by Katherine Rundell (essay)

British children’s author shines a bright  light on the world of children’s books, suggesting that when adults read children’s literature it can validate, stretch and change their world. “Read a children’s book to remember what it was to long for impossible and perhaps-not-impossible things. Go to children’s fiction to see the world with double eyes: your own, and those of your childhood self.” (p. 62)

December 13

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman (fiction)

I read this novel in advance of seeing the play at the National Theatre in London. Gaiman is a master at presenting fantasy worlds that makes the unbelievable seem believable.  This is the story of a man who digs into his past centred on the spells of three women who were his neighbours. Disclaimer: I never am ‘enthralled’ with fantasy but the layer of this story filled with childhood imaginations and coming to terms with loss is captivating. The theatre production is astounding!!!

December 15

THE BEAST OF BUCKINGHAM PALACE by David Walliams (middle years fiction)

I’ve gone to London for the past five Decembers and each time I go, there is a new release of a David Walliams novel.  This adventure is set into the future, where people in dark London where people are starving. Prince Alfred has never left his Buckingham Palas home but when his mother is dragged off to the Tower of London, the boy is determined to save her (and the kingdom) (and the world). Hysterical. Of course!

December 15

NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE by Greta Thunberg (speeches)

A collection of 11 short speeches by young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg who pleas for a call to action for adults to ‘start acting as you would in a crisis’. Thunberg shouts out that ‘our house is on fire’ since according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than twelve years away from not being able to undo our mistakes.” (p.19) and the lives of young children are in the hands of those adults. Thunberg was honoured with Time Magazines Person of the Year, 2019.

December 16

BOY GIANT: SON OF GULLIVER by Michael Morpurgo (middle years fiction)

Master storyteller Michael Morpurgo presents a refugee story with a twist. Omar and his mother are forced to flee their home and Afghanistan and Omar finds himself rescued on an island of wee folks who bestow him with the name Son of Gulliver. An adventurous tale of community, humanity and kindness. Bravo Morpurgo!

December 17

TEENAGE DICK by Mike Lew (script)

Is it better to be loved or feared? Shakespeare’s Richard III is now embodied in the life of a disabled teenager, Richard, determined to gain power, as president of the senior class, no matter the cost to those around him. Revenge is spurred on by the abuse he has received from others because of his disability but now Richard is set not only to defeat Eddie, the school jock, but fall in love with the dream girl at the school.  I saw this play at the Donmar Theatre, London.

December 17

FAIRVIEW by Jackie Sibblies Drury (script)

This strongly reviewed off-broadway play has to be seen to best be experienced. But I was able to catch a performance of this at the Young Vic theatre in London. Fairview audiences are advised to never give the ending (you’ve never seen anything like it). Scene One provides insights into a domestic family preparing for Grandma’s birthday. The unfolding of the dinner turns out to be a surprise – for the audience – and takes some time adjusting to what is going on and what indeed the message is about confronting our views of race. A play that invites conversation. Even after reading the script, I didn’t entirely buy into the unfolding events – and ultimately, the play’s message. Let me think about it.

December 19 SHOUT OUT

WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin (Adult fiction)

a debut novel by an Irish author. telling the story of 84 year old Maurice Hannigan sitting alone in a bar in the grand hotel. Over the course of the evening Hannigan raises five toasts to five people who helped to shape his life. I loved this book – oh those Irish! – though the deep losses and deep loves he has encountered are quite heartbreaking.

December 20

PET by Akwaeke Emezi (YA fiction)

A National Book Award finalist. By spilling her blood on her mother’s artwork, a transgender teenager brings a monster (Pet)to life from the painting. In a world where monsters have supposedly become extinct, Jam and her best friend Redemption, soon discover that there are monsters that continue to lurk and must be stopped. A rather strange novel.  Adolescent readers who enjoy fantasy horror will find an intriguing read in this debut novel.

December 21

DOG SONGS by Mary Oliver (poetry)

A poetic tribute to man (and woman’s) best friend. The poet celebrates and pays tribute to the dogs who have accompanied her on walks, and loved her unconditionally. (“A dog comes to you and lives in your own house, /but you,/ do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them.”)  (p. 25)

December 22 SHOUT OUT

YOU WON’T ALWAYS BE SAD: A Book of Moments by Sheree Fitch (Poetry)

Poet Sheree Fitch’s son died on March 2, 2018, and to deal with grief and pain and gratitude, the poet lifts a heavy pen, which ‘became a wand of healing’.  (“those who are on the other side/are never very/far/ away/ they are/ ever there/ over there/ waving/ saying we’re fine just fine.” (P.125)

December 25

DEAR SWEET PEA by Julie Murphy (Middle Years fiction)

When Sweet Pea’s parents decide to divorce, they think it’s best that life be as normal for thier 13 year old daughter as possible. They share custody and arrange to live on the same street (separated by only one house).  Sweet Pea strives to accept things as they are but holding onto friendships proves to add to her middle year’s anxieties. Miss Flora Mae, a famed local advice columnist,  is sandwiched between Sweet Pea’s two homes and plays an important role in the the girl’s life as she strives to get – and give advice. An engaging novel, particularly for tweenagers who may experience troubled parent relationships and changing friendships.

December 31

TRUST EXERCISE by Susan Choi (adult fiction)

A book award does not a great novel make. I was intrigued with this National Book Award for Fiction title since one of the central characters is a drama/theatre teacher but this book gets a thumbs down from me. I didn’t care about any of the adolescent characters and their troublesome relationships. I get more authenticity from reading YA fiction.  Since I had nothing else to read on an airplane flight, I plodded on, but gave up with 50 pages to go. I ended up giving my copy to the stewardess on the plane and hope she gets more out of this book than I did. Feh!

December 31

FROM THE CUTTING ROOM OF BARNEY KETTLE by Kate De Goldi (Middle Years fiction)

This novel by New Zealand award-winning author Kate De Goldi (The 10 PM Question) was a good read. This author has a story for each of the characters that she introduces and the premise of this novel introduces a street of interesting folk.  Barney Kettle, who is determined to be a famous film director someday, embarks on a documentary project that digs into the stories of a range of characters on High Street. A narrative about a homeless couple hiding in the post office adds another layer, and a sense of mystery to this book.

 

 

LARRY READS: November 2019

Below are ten titles (varied) of books that I’ve read over the past month.

 

MY BROTHER’S NAME IS JESSICA by John Boyne

Sam idolizes his brother, a popular good-looking footballer. But life changes dramatically when Jason announces that he knows he was born in a girl’s body and is about to transition. The boys’ parents aren’t any help – actually very harmful – to the circumstances, especially since the mother has her heart set on getting the prime minister’s job in Britain and family secrets must be kept.   Boyne is a favourite author of mine and I was intrigued throughout by the arguments, emotions and confrontations this family with humour. Mom and Dad’s comments are so outlandish they’re often funny. This is a signficant contribution to literature dealing with young people questioning their gender identity and with those around them who need to learn about acceptance. Despite some controversy (Who is Boyne to tell a story about a transitioning adolescent? The offensive title?), I applaud – and highly  recommend – another John Boyne creation.

BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY by Brian Francis (YA)

Toby’s mother committed suicide and the girl, now a teenager lives with her grandparents. Toby is troubled by her past (who is my father? who are my real friends?) and now plans to kill herself.  Her estranged father finally appears on the scene and when Toby learns that he is gay, and a drag queen she continues to ask questions about her past? A meeting with Toby’s father is strained and she struggles to accept things as they are and move on. A strong YA book concerning mental health, homophobia and acceptance.

ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA by Ruth Freeman

Written as letters to her grandmother in Africa, a young refugee girls recounts her experiences in “Crazy America”. Insightful narratives about a newcomer adjusting to North American customs, friendships and learning the English language.

ALL OF ME by Chris Baron

Ari is fat and he constantly worries about what others think of him. To add to his woes, he is being bullied, he is supposed to be practicing for his Bar Mitzvah, his parents are breaking up. But Ari does develop friendships who help him through his emotional turmoil and help him to see dealing with problems is all part of growing up. Written in free verse style.

SERAFINA’S PROMISE by Anne E. Burg

Serafina promises her family that she will get all her chores done so that she can go to school. Her bigger promise is to become a doctor one day and take care of the poor people in her community. Told in free verse, this book, set in Haiti, is a story of courage and perseverance and family love.

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA autobiography)

A biography written in free verse. Anderson’s main claim to fame as an author is her novel “Speak” which provided teenage readers with a story dealing with rape. Shout is based on Anderson’s personal experiences beginning with her life as a shy thirteen year old, her own rape story, and how she slowly recovered from that experience. Jacket blurb: “This book is for anyone who has ever been lost, ignored, silenced, abused, assaulted, harassed, talk down to, made to feel small. or knows someone who has.” Powerful poems best suited for a teenage audience.

THE LION THE WITCH and the WARDROBE C.S. Lewis

I chose to re-read this novel because I am going to see a stage production at the Bridge Theatre (London, UK).  I’m going to see the play because the director, Sally Cookson, has wowed me with previous productions (Jane Eyre, Peter Pan).  Alas, the novel didn’t engage me as much as it did the first time I read it (about 35 years ago).

HURRICANE SEASON BY Nicole Melleby

11 year-0ld Fig (Finola) has a lot on her shoulders. She is burdened with the erratic behaviour of her disturbed, unpredictable father, a once-renowned piano player. Fig fears that she will be taken away by child services when her father has ‘episodes’. With the help of a caring neighbour who just moved into the neighbourhood, Fig comes to learn that her father is bipolar – and gay.  A well-written moving story about mental health, homophobia, facing danger, confronting friendships, first loves,  mental health and homophobia.

WHITE BIRD by R.J. Palacio (graphic novel)

Palacio’s novel Wonder has inspired millions of readers to think about what it means to be kind. In this graphic text, Julian (the character who bullied Auggie) learns about the Holocaust from his grandmother  who recounts her experiences as a young Jewish girl, hiding from the Nazis  in occupied France. The book is introduced with the words by philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” White Bird is an important contribution toHolocaust literature that helps bring the past into the present and help students to consider the power of courage and kindness in a time of war.

 

SHOUT OUT

OLIVE, AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout

This is a sequel to Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, once again presented as short stories. Much of the cast of characters are connected to Olive (her son and his family, a new husband, a former student), but sometimes Olive’s name just seems to fly by.  The author has a gift at getting at the truths of how people feel about each other. With cranky, critical Olive, who seems to be as grounded as they come, openly observes and reflects on the quirky behaviours of those in our family and our community and the strange emotional connections to those we love (or pretend to love) relationship choices, Strout is a fantastic writer, observing the world without any word fuss, but always with keen observation and deep heart. Strout understands the lonely and loneliness. As Olive journey’s through her senior years, there is a sense of sadness in the stories of her world and these stories are certain to raise questions in readers’ minds and consider “What’s it all about?”. .  S I loved this book, certain to be at the top of my favourite’s list by year’s end.