This month’s entry highlights 16 novels I’ve recently read. A few of these will indeed be on m top ten end-of-the-year list. Am proud too, to highlight the publication of my new book TAKE ME TO YOUR READERS!!! (the title, says it all.. YES?)
THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie
I so loved Alexie’s recent memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, that I decided to re-read his very special young adult novel that really gets into the head, heart and turmoils of a Native American teenager. Congratulations Mr. Alexie on the 10th anniversary edition of this remarkable – and important – novel!
SOLO by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess
Another fine free-verse Young Adult novel by Newbery award author (The Crossover) Kwame Alexander. The central character, Blade is rich. His father is rich and but he is a washed-up, drug addict rock star. Blade and his father each play music to ignite their souls. Is being the child of a celebrity a good thing? Is Blade going to follow in his father’s footsteps? Blade’s girlfriend’s parents forbid the two teenagers to continue their relationship. A secret is introduced in the middle of the novel that sets Blade off to find answers to his past and seek hope for his future.
POSTED by John David Anderson
Yikes! All cell phones are banned at a Middle School. Frost and his friends dream up a scheme to communicate only through sticky notes, a great idea, until mean messages are displayed and a sticky-note war unfolds. Another terrific novel about tweenagers struggling to fit in.
WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate
Stop reading this review and just go and get the book! Sure to be an award winner (please!), Katherine Applegate tells a beautiful story of a talking tree (!), an animal community blending together, an immigrant young girl longing for a true friend and one-word hate message carved in to the tree’s bark that is unsettling / devestating. I wish I had a class of my own to share this novel with. I wish that teachers everywhere will serve this novel to their students! A perfect read aloud. Ms. Applegate, I love your books (Home of the Brave: The One and Only Ivan; Crenshaw)
NEW BOY by Tracy Chevalier
Marketed as an Adult Novel, this for me, reads like a good YA novel. It is the 1970’s. Osei Kokote (“O”) arrives at a suburban Washington school. He is the only black boy in the school. O’s appearance tests loyalty and betrayal, friendships and love interests and issues of belonging, bullying, respect, racism. The book is written as an imagined Othello story for our times. The story of being an outsider should resonate for many readers. I haven’t made my mind up about the choice to centre this on sixth grade students because the relationships and conversations didn’t seem authentic for that age group.
THE LOSERS CLUB by Andrew Clements
Andrews is a top-notch author for writing about foibles in school settings that 8-11 year olds can identify (and laugh) with. Don’t let the title fool you. Alec can’t stop reading throughout and his teachers are annoyed by this and lay down the law. When the opportunity arises for Alec to create a new after school club (i.e. “The Losers Club”) where the only mandate activity is to read a book independently. No book talks. Just bring a favourite book. The club starts with only two members but as things unfold, many more students choose to join the club where books are heroes. Any novel that celebrates reading is a draw for me (and for young reading addicts, Clements fans, and/or otherwise). A great book list of Readers Club titles appears at the end of the novel. Quibble: How many titles are listed from the last 10 years, where some sensational novels have been published?
BUBBLE by Stewart Foster
11 year old Joe has lived his entire life in a hospital room. His condition demands that he never leave the room, even for a minute. Because of the threat of spreading germs, visitors are kept to a minimum. Conversations with his sister, hospital staff and friend across the ocean who lives life like Joe help him cope with loneliness. Along with the care of his nurses, dreams and superheroes keep Joe alive. Is there a happy ending in story for this brave young boy who is trapped by a medical condition? Readers will certainly root for Joe (as much as they’ve done for August Pullman).
REFUGEE by Alan Gratz
I consider this one of the top three novels on this list. A must-read for middle school students! Three refugee stories set in different times and places: Joseph escaping Nazi Germay in the 1930’s, Isabel escaping Cuba riots in 1994 and Mahmoud escaping the violence and destruction of Syria in 2015. Throughout the novel, Gratz narrates each of the action-packed escape stories, one after the other.. Timely indeed! Read it! Share it! (Please!)
ALL THE DIRTY PARTS by Daniel Handler
Should I include this book here or move down below to grown-up reads? This gutsy erotic book is more adult than young adult. Daniel Handler (of Lemony Snicket fame) has written a short novel (less than 140 pages) that explodes the male teenage adolescent sexual psyche. Just guessing that the book will get banned from secondary schools but banning books is a great lure to get young adults – MALE teenagers – reading. The book should be read… but moreover it should be DISCUSSED and not leave those teenagers left to ponder, question and connect on their own. There is ‘sex’ on every page (ok every other page) but this novel is for sure more than ‘all the dirty parts’.
ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson
Oh the trials of trying to fit into Middle School (a popular theme indeed!). This is a wonderful graphic novel about bullying and belonging (again?!), The story is framed by Imogene family’s family in the local Renaissance Fair offers the book a rather unique background setting and takes the trials and tribulations of adolescence outside the school halls.
THIS IS JUST A TEST by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Lang Shang
Oh the trials of being a 13 year old! David Da-Wei’s mother is Chinese, his father Jewish. David’s Bar Mitzvah approaches and his family can’t really afford a big party. His grandmothers don’t see eye to eye (or kreplach to wonton). He worries about talking to girls. Set in 1983-1984 David worries about the threat of nuclear war (he and his friend, Scott build a fallout shelter_. David also is twinned with a Russian boy who is unable to have his own Bar Mitzvah and so David will carry the honors for Alexi too. David, however is worried that his Bar Mitzvah twin may be a spy. Diverse families? Nuclear worries? Russian spies. Is this really 1984?
ORPHAN ISLAND by Laurel Snyder
This is a beautiful story set on an island inhabited by orphans. Each year the eldest child is replaced by another child brought to the island’s shores. This year is different when Jinny contemplates staying on the island with the people and surroundings she loves.
A Few For The Grow Ups
THE HEARTS INVISIBLE FURIES by John Boyne
Boyne’s fame in the world of children’s literature has come to us through The Boy In the Striped Pajamas. Boyne has become one of my favourite top-of-the-list authors with The Absolutist, The History of Loneliness, Beneath the Earth. His new publication knocked me out. The story is centred over 7 decades revealing the journey of a gay Irish man. Funny. Moving. Entertaining. I shared this book with some friends who provided me with these email comments: (“I regret every moment I have to put this book down.” (David S); “I’m on page 350 and don’t want to leave my apartment until I finish the book.” (Eleanor G); “I just finished the novel and I feel a loss now that I am not reading Boyne’s book.” (Leonard M). Darn any critics who aren’t as enamored as me and my friends. This will surely be my favourite adult read of 2017.
GINNY MOON by Benjamin Ludwig
After seeing the documentary Life Interrupted, I’ve been intrigued with reading about autistic characters. I tend to enjoy reading novels with teenage or child characters and in Ludwig’s book we meet Ginny Moon who reads Robert Frost poems for English class, must eat nine grapes every day for breakfast and is devoted to taking care of her baby doll. Ginny has been in foster care, (“forever home”) for years and sneakily sets up an escape to be reunited with her mother who is addicted to drugs and once abused Ginny. An engaging adventure!
CHILDREN PLAYING BEFORE A STATUE OF HERCULES by David Sedaris
I think Sedaris is funny funny funny. When I see his name on a book, I’m intrigued. This is a collection of 18 short authors that Sedaris is ‘ready to pick a fight’ for (e.g., Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Dorothy Parker, Tobias Wolff, Flannery O’Conner.) I read these stories chronologically and as with most collections, I enjoyed some titles more (‘The Girl with the Blackened Eye’ by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘People Like That Are the Only People here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk’ by Lorrie Moore than others (‘In The Cemetary Where Al Jolson is Buried’ by Amy Hempel). But I don’t want to get into a fight with Mr. Sedaris. (He might write about it!)
THE LAWGIVER by Herman Wouk
The author wrote this book at ninety-seven years of age (!). Wolk claims he always wanted to write a book about Moses and the premise of The Lawgiver is that a movie is going to be made of Moses’s life. Told mostly through emails, letters, transcripts the story of the making of the movie and the characters that include a writer/director, financeer, lawyers and Wouk himself. Was hoping to love this more than I did but it got a bit too convoluted for me and I didn’t seem to care whether the movie got made or not!
TAKE ME TO YOUR READERS
by Larry Swartz
Hot off the press, this Pembroke publication is intended to help educators lead students to read read read by offering them quality literature.. The book includes a huge range of recommended book lists and presents over 50 response strategies drawn from classroom experiences. Huge thanks to teachers who have invited me into classrooms to share books with their students, and to those guest voices who shared their best literacy practices with me. Hugs to Maria Martella (Tinlids) for inspiring the title.
Five chapters include…
- Connected by Books (Motivating readers)
- Connected by Genres
- Connected by Theme
- Connected by Response
- Connected by Curriculum