TEN PICTURE BOOKS: Diversity, Equity, Caring, Inquiring

Many recent picture book publications have been written to tap into the inquiring minds of young people to help them consider their identities, their place in the world and their relationships with others. Simple texts. Strong messages.

I am offering the following titles, with excerpts from the texts, to help us consider the need for literature to raise questions, to answer questions, to provide comfort and to build compassionate understanding.

 

WHY AM I ME? Paige Britt, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Why am I me…
… and not you?

ONCE IN A BLUE MOON by Danielle Daniel
Once in a blue moon,
skipping in the sun,
I see not one but two rainbows
painted across the sky.

QUESTIONS ASKED by Jostein Gaarder; illus Akin Duzakin, trans. from the Norwegian
How do I talk?
How do I find the exact words I need from all the words in my head?

Can I be sure that all my memories really happened?

WHAT COLOR IS THE WIND by Anne Herbauts

The little giant passes through the town.

What color is the wind?

The color of curtains, laundry, clothes…

But the window disagrees.

It is the color of time.

LOVELY by Jess Hong
Lovely is you.
Lovely is me.
We are all…
Lovely

MOST PEOPLE by Michael Leannah; Illus. Jennifer Morris
Most people want to make other people – even strangers – feel good.
Most people are very good people.
Some people do bad things.

IMAGINE by John Lennon; Illus. Jean Jullien
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us,
and the world will be as one.

LOVE THE WORLD by Todd Parr
Love making art.
Love sharing your heart.
Love yourself.
Love the World.

TEACUP by Rebecca Young

Once there was a boy who had to leave his home… and find another.

In his bag, he carried a book, a bottle and a blanket.

In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.

 

SHOUT OUT
HER RIGHT FOOT
by Dave Eggers; Art by Shawn Harris

A fine specimen of nonfiction text.
A sublime tribute to the Statue of Liberty.
A powerful message of acceptance.

“This 150 woman is on the go.”

“Give me your tired. Your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

FALL INTO FICTION

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!

SHOUT OUT!

TAKE ME TO YOUR READERS

by Larry Swartz

Take Me to Your Readers

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…

  1. Connected by Books (Motivating readers)
  2. Connected by Genres
  3. Connected by Theme
  4. Connected by Response
  5. Connected by Curriculum

HA! HA! HA!

As a new school year begins, I would like to offer books that can ignite laughter in the classroom and promote a love of reading. I have fond memory of introducing a humour unit into my grade 2/3 classroom many years to launch an integrated approach to learning. I took the initiative to bring in twenty joke and riddle books which provided an authentic independent reading program.  I read aloud a funny novel (The Mouse and The Motorcycle) , we read funny pictures (The Dumb Bunnies by Sue Denim (Dav Pilkey) being a favourite, and funny poems (hooray for Dennis Lee and Shel Silverstein), we delved into comics, funny poems, shared funny events of our lives (and our families’ lives) and for homework the students were invited to watch funny television shows and ‘review’ them for their comedic effects. Filtering smiles and laughter into the classroom, I believe was a good thing setting the tone for a ACTIVE JOYFUL LEARNING and putting into action the words featured on a banner that hung in our classroom “Oooo we, ain’t we a-havin’ fun!” (from the picture book, The Dancing Skeleton by Cynthia De felice; Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker)

Of course, what’s funny to one person may not be funny to others and that’s a plus in introducing funny books to children. They either ‘get it’ or not.  Some kids may ask “What’s So Funny?” others may share an aha response and laugh out loud. Children’s literature is certainly an important vehicle to tickle the funny bone of young readers, a perfect vehicle to build community and to inspire, motivate and stretch readers of all ages. I offer the following titles hoping they bring smiles and laughter into your classrooms.

AUTHORS OF FUNNY PICTURE BOOKS

Denim, Sue. (aka Dav Pilkey) THE DUMB BUNNIES (series)

Drew Daywalt;  Illustrator Oliver Jeffers. THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT (sequel: The Day the Crayons Came Home)

Klassen, Jon I WANT MY HAT BACK (trilogy includes: This is Not My Hat; We Found a Hat)

Litwin, Eric; Illustrator James Dean PETE THE CAT (series)

Rubin Adams; Illustrator Daniel Salmieri. DRAGONS LOVE TACOS (sequel: Dragons Love Tacos 2)

Watt, Melanie. SCAREDY SQUIRREL (series)

Willems, Mo. ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE SERIES (e.g., We Are in a Book) (also: DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS (series)

SOME PICTURE BOOK TITLES

Barnett, Mac; Illustrator Brian Biggs NOISY NIGHT

Haughton, Chris. SHH! WE HAVE A PLAN

Maclear, Kyo; Illustrator Isabelle Arsenault SPORK

novak, b.j. THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES

Pham, LeUyen. THE BEAR WHO WASN’T THERE

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse; illustrator Tom Lichtenheld DUCK! RABBIT!

SHOUT OUT!

Books that Drive Kids Crazy by Beck and Matt Stanton

  • DID YOU TAKE THE B FROM MY _OOK?
  • THIS IS A BALL

Books That Drive Kids CRAZY!: This Is a Ball

 

Check out the cover of this picture book. The premise of this book is that the visual cues do not match the verbal text. One page reads, ‘This is a bike.” and the illustration on the opposite page shows a line drawing of a car. (Ha! Ha!). To test the humour quotient, I visited a grade one class to read the book aloud.  The kids howled and howled (really!). (I did too!).  A funny book, and not a mention of underwear anywhere. (I have already given copies of this book to my 6 great nieces and nephews.

FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

(Chapter book series)

  • IVY & BEAN by Annie Barrow and Sophie Blackall
  • BAD GUYS by Aaron Blabey
  • MY WEIRD SCHOOL by Dan Gutman (also: My Weirder School)

3 Novel titles (ages 9 -11)

  • FLORA AND ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES by Kate Di Camillo
  • WORD OF MOUSE by James Paterson with Chris Grabenstein
  • ANYTHING BY DAVID WALLIAMS (e.g., Mr. Stink, Demon Dentist, The Boy Who Wore a Dress)

3 Novel titles (ages 12 -14)

  • WORD NERD by Susin Nielson
  • I FUNNY (Series) James Paterson
  • ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL by Jesse Andrews

And for  the grown ups: Anything by DAVID SEDARIS

  • BARREL FEVER
  • ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY
  • DRESS YOUR FAMILY WITH CORDUROY AND DENIM
  • LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS
  • THEFT BY FINDING: DIARIES (1977 – 2002)

 

 

 

SUMMER READING: Two by Two

July took me to London England to teach a drama course. A terrific time was had by all. I can’t go on a plane without having books to keep me company. Also, during down time (!) from seeing 13 plays, I looked forward to relaxing and reading during the london trip, and after.  The list below outlines two titles under different categories which summarizes ten books I read in July.

TWO BRITISH NOVELS

THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS by Ruth Hogan

An intriguing title and an intriguing premise. Short story writer, Anthony Peardew (!) has collected lost objects throughout of life, but upon his death he leaves all his belongings to his assistant Laura who has been given the mission to return all the objects to their owners. The narrative flows fairly smoothly even though the story switches back and forth in time,  switches from real-life events to incidents with a ghost and is interrupted by short short stories about different objects.  I rather enjoyed the book but my engagement  wavered with the varying story elements.

THE MUSIC SHOP by Rachel Joyce

After reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (one of my favourite books this past decade), I seek out any writing by this British author.  Frank owns a music shop, not just any music shop, but one that is restricted to only vinyl. When Ilse a woman in a pea-green coat faints one day in front of Frank’s store, they mysteries of both character’s pasts gradually unfold. Will they fall (and stay) in love is the big question, but bigger still is the challenge of overcoming odds, staying true to one’s convictions and dealing with life’s adversities and having hope make this a mostly engaging read.  Music itself is an important character in this novel.  Didn’t love the last quarter of the book (where the novel skips forward to a couple of decades into the future.  Good enough book. Not as good as Harold Fry.

TWO MEMOIRS

INSOMNIAC CITY: New York, Oliver, and Me

This book documents the authors life and observances when he chose to come to New York after grieving over the death of his partner. When he falls in love with Oliver Sachs, writer and neurologist he encounters a deep and endearing relationship with Sachs, who came out at the age of 75. Together the two authors face illness and death when Sachs is diagnosed with cancer. Hayes is honest in his sharing of his love as it unfolds.  He pays tribute through photography and words to New York streets,  buildings, characters and  conversations that certainly make you (me) wanna be a part of it. Beautiful book. I wept.

BIRDS ART LIFE by Kyo Maclear

Kyo Maclear is known to me as a picture book author and illustrator (Spork, ). In this memoir, the author shares her experiences of birdwatching within the environs of Toronto. This memoir is more than respecting and celebrating the world of wings.  Maclear shares insights into being a daughter, wife, parent, artist, an urban citizen, and a lover of nature. A philosophical tone permeates and references to history and literature add to the author’s thoughts.  Photographs and drawings are interspersed throughout the book. A worthy companion to H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

TWO SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS

ONCE UPON A PLACE compiled by EOIN COFLER; illus. P.J. Lynch

No, not “Once Upon A Time,” but “Once Upon a Place” in this collection of short stories and poems by 16 Irish writers.  A range of stories, mysterious, adventurous, grim, funny each capturing a sense of place (a park, the sea, a garden, a tower, a library).  As short story collections go, enjoyed some better than others but I always am intrigued with how the Irish do tell a story quite differently than others (that’s a good thing).

SEEDFOLKS by Paul Fleischman

Fleischman presents thirteen different voices in thirteen different stories in abookcentred on a garden that transforms a neighbourhood. Each of the voices, young and old, convey a sense of what it means to be a member of a community, what it means to be an immigrant (or neighbours of an immigrant) and what it means to have hope to thrive and to belong. Seedfolks will be presented as a play at the New Victory Theatre in New York and I certainly look forward to seeing it.

TWO CHILDREN’S NOVELS

BUBBLE by Stewart Foster

Joe is not allowed outside the London hospital room that he’s been living in since infancy.  He longs to let the bubble burst to see the outside world. Will he? Should he? And whatin the world will he choose to experience?  The book certainly inspires compassion in the reader, but for this reader I was often perplexed about the adventures Joe chooses to take and the character who is responsible for risking Joe’s life. despite sincere and earnest intentions to be a guiding spirit for they eleven year old boy. Bubble was first published as The Bubble Boy in the United Kingdom.

POTTYMOUTH AND STOOPID by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

From the book jacket: “I can’t give away the whole story, but here’s a hint: it involves a TV show, a funeral, an evil cheerleader, and a couple of delicious McFlurrys.”  Patterson and Grabenstein have written a funny book (What again!?) filled with a stew of comical adventures.

TWO SCRIPTS

THE FERRYMAN by Jez Butterworth

I was fortunate to be able to get a ticket for this ‘hot’ West End Play by Britain’s hot playwright. The play takes place in a farmhouse in Ireland and with 21 characters we are presented with a story cloth woven with regret, revenge, loss, secret love and turmoil during the time of “The Troubles”. Flawless acting top to bottom. Reading the script afterwards offered the opportunity to dig deeper into the rich storytelling of Irish folk.

TWELFTH NIGHT: A Shakespeare Story by Andrew Matthews; illus. Tony Ross

Technically, this isn’t a script but this book in a series by Orchard Classic Books of Shakespeare plays told economically, comically and clearly.  I went to a terrific production of the play at The Globe Theatre and enjoyed reading this delightful book on the tube ride back to the hotel. Recommend any title in this series to make Mr. Shakespeare accessible for young people.

SHOUT OUT

YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME: A memoir by SHERMAN ALEXIE

              Product Details

Product Details

This title is sure to be on my top ten list of great books for 2017. In this memoir, Sherman Alexie is given a forum to deal with the demons of the complex relationship he had with his mother. The book also is a staggering account – told in pr and poetry formats – of the native writer’s history of belonging to a family, living on a reservation, being a husband, a father, a writer and a Native American.

 

 

 

READING DIARY: June 2017

Listed below are 10 book titles I’ve read during the past month (completed on dates mentioned). An eclectic mix of children’s literature and grown-up selections. Some of these choices were inspired by reviews and I guess I should someday learn not to give in to the lure of glowing criticisms. Then again, what some love, others don’t. And as my Aunt Esther always said, “That’s why God made chocolate and vanilla!”

June 1st: BEARTOWN by Frederik Backman (novel)

Since reading (and loving) A MAN CALLED OVE, I’ve been drawn to read all the titles by this Swedish author. None has compared to the enjoyment of OVE. Beartown is the most recent publication and this book is about hockey, hockey, hockey. Why would I read a book about hockey when I don’t even watch the game on TV? But of course the story is not ‘just’ about hockey. It’s about living in small towns, it’s about the politics of living in a small town, it’s about teenage rivalry, teenage power, teenage trauma. The book is about classism, racism, sexism. It’s about community. It’s about heroes. It’s about a junior ice hockey team determined to win the national finals.

June 3: REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (graphic autobiography)

Oh, the trials and tribulations of girl friendships. Oh the mean girl syndrome. This graphic autobiography is the author’s personal recount of belonging to a group, not belonging to a group, wanting to belong to a group, being loyal to our friends, being true to oneself. A great addition to stories about bullying.

June 6: THE RULES DO NOT APPLY by Ariel Levy (memoir)

One of Ariel Levy’s claim to fame is the National Magazine Award for Essays in Criticism in 2014 for her piece “Thanksgiving in Monglolia”. Having read the story online, I didn’t really need to read this memoir about the author’s unconventional experiences as a writer, as a wife, as a woman. I think women contemplating independence, faithfulness, adventure will get more out of this book than I did. For me, the essay, which frames this autobiography, tells me enough about Levy’s story about being married, being pregnant and being financially secure and her experience of loss for each of those life events.

June 8: SWEAT by Lynn Nottage (script)

When I saw this play in New York, it punched me in the gut because it seemed to jump off the page of today’s news and politics and also because of the despair that filters through the lives of the characters who find solace and rage when they come together  in the local bar.  Research for the play took Nottage to Reading, Pennsylvania where she playwright investigated the lives of down-and out factory workers struggling to keep their lives, their families and their friendships in balance. The script digs into issues of class and race, despair and hope. Sweat is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2017.

June 10: OSLO by J.T. Rogers (script)

OSLO is the Tony Award winning the play about the back-channel talks in 1993 in Oslo Norway between the Israelis and Palestinians. I was lucky to see the live production of this play at Lincoln Centre.  It’s a complex, dense (fictional) account of the real historical meetings that provides a gripping account of diplomacy and politics. Reading the play helped me to re-examine (and understand just a little bit better) the issues of a divided nations coming together and the struggle of working towards peaceful negotiations that still today remain a dream. I look forward to seeing this play again sometime… and re-reading the script.

June 12: THE GOAT by Anne Fleming (children’s novel)

Didn’t love this one because I kept thinking whether young readers would like this on enjoy itand I’m not sure they would. I picked up a copy after learning that this book is set in New York (ILNY) and brings together a number of characters who live in the same apartment complex.  There were several holes in the story for me. Once you learned about one character and began to care for his/her story, we are quickly taken to another situation that seemed to digress. An adventure with the goat character who lives on the roof of the apartment building concludes the book.  I felt that this book could have been improved with formatting (more chapters with chapter titles) and a bit more vivid  description of characters/ of events. I guess the goat served as a metaphor for being an outcast (?). Great cover.

June 17: THEFT BY FINDING: Diaries 1977-2002 (Diary)

I think David Sedaris writing is hysterically funny and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Even if you might not laugh at the same things as he does (or I do) you can’t deny that Sedaris is a guru of  recording and reflecting on day to day observations, foibles, quirks and truths.  This volume is drawn from the author’s diaries from 1977-2002.  I can’t wait for the next volume. Though the book should inspire us to take pen to paper when struck by overheard conversations, quirky behaviours and remarkable relationships, we might not tend to do so, certainly not with the panache and insight of this author.  These diary entries at least ignites us to pay attention to day to day observations, foibles, quirks and truths. Yer funny, Mr. S.

A taste: February 8, 1996, New York

“In the paper there’s a story about a fifty-five-year old cancer patient who paid her twenty-year      old neighbor to kill her. The kid went with strangulation, but she revived and then tracked him down, claiming that because she was still alive, he had to give her money back. They argued, and he beat her to death with a power drill.”

June 20: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng (children’s novel)

Reading reviews online (and on the back cover of the book) lured me into picking up a copy of this first novel by author Jack Cheng. The author has indeed captured a strong voice for his central character and the story events are believable/unbelievable enough for the stuff of a good novel. See You In The Cosmos was hit and miss for me. The beginning and ending chapters of the book worked better than the middle. Hard time believing that an 11 year old would leave his mother behind on her own, travel to the desert and then to Las Vegas and then to LA and be quickly taken care of by strangers and ‘family’ characters. Maybe if Alex was older. Maybe if everything that happened to Alex didn’t happen so fast. Maybe if I believed that the rocket adventures were more probable for this character, I might have enjoyed the book a bit more and come to think that this book is the ‘best book I’ve read in a long, long time’ (Holly Goldberg Sloan). But Alex’s daring adventures and space dreams and stories of missing and suffering family members are indeed the stuff of fiction and I give Mr. Cheng credit for his novel way of telling the story (taped messages on an iPod that will be launched into space. Probably this one will be on top ten lists at year’s end.

BTW: After reading the novel, I was struck by the coincidental feature article in New York Times Magazine (July 2, 2017): “An ambitious new initiative to beam messages into space may be our best shot yet of learning whether we’re alone in the universe. There’s just one problem: What if we’re not?”

June 22: THE WORLD’S WORST CHILDREN: 2 by David Walliams (short stories)

This is a sequel to Walliams’s first short story collection of ‘worst children’.  Funny author. Rude author. Walliams writes so far out of the box, that there was probably never a box that could contain this wild and crazy guy. Again, the presentation and formatting of the text is brilliant. And  the author’s genius is once again matched (surpassed?) by Tony Ross’s brilliant brilliant comic illustrations that fill the pages. Which story will you read first (‘HUMBERT the Hungry Baby’; ‘Gruesome GRISELDA’, ‘HARRY Who never, Ever Did His Homework’. Can’t get a nine, ten or eleven year old boy (or girl) to enjoy reading – Mr. Walliams has come to the rescue. BTW: A third volume of worst children is forthcoming. Can Walliams children get any worse?

June 24 THE SOPRANOS by Alan Warner

Wanted to read this one because I plan on seeing the musical version of the play (Our Ladies of Perpetual Succor) which is playing in London after successful runs at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and The National Theatre. The front cover praise tells us that this book is fantastically original. Indeed it is… BUT… I really struggled with the lingo and dialect (“the Seconds joined the Sopranos in a two-parter, cuddled in the neath, the Thirds waited and bassed the thing…”and decided I wasn’t going to persevere. I may give it another go. But will wait for the musical.

June 27 THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS by Arundhati Roy

The author’s claim to fame was the Booker Prize novel The God of Small Things written 20 years ago or so. This new one – receiving – critical acclaim is rather dense. We often read to take us to faraway places but a glossary is needed (for me) for much of the vocabulary as well as a Cast of Characters list to keep track of relationships.  I gave it 60 pages and set this aside. Not sure I will return to this one. Author Daniel Pennac tells us that one of the readers bill of rights is ‘not to finish a book.’ Not that I needed permission. Sample: “She visited the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and spoke to one of the less mercenary Khadims whom she know well about Zainab’s illness and asked him how she could neutralize Seeda’s siflie jaadu.” (page 46)

June 30 THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame

I read this classic piece of British literature many years ago and picked it up for a re-read since I am planning to see a musical version of the story in London this summer.  No wonder this one is a classic, probably best as a read aloud. Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad are appealing anthropomorphic souls and Graham’s descriptions of the friends adventures and countryside setting is indeed ‘classic’.

THIS ‘N THAT: Spring 2017

This month’s entry includes a variety of genres including 1 chapter book, 2 novels for middle year readers, 2 YA novels, 1 adult short story novel, 1 non-fiction memoir,  2 graphic novels,  and oh yes, 1 terrific new picture book!

UNBOUND by Ann E. Burg / Middle Years novel

How can white people own other people, sell them on the auction block, and separate families forever. Add Unbound to the list of special books about the American black slave experience, this story centred on a hidden community,   a real place, that sheltered people from bondage. Unbound is a beautifully-written free verse novel and a fine match to The Gospel Truth by Canadian author, Caroline Pignat. Books are listed alphabetically by author.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Graham, adapted by Arujun Gaind; Illus. by Sankha Banerjee / Graphic novel

Many classic titles of children’s literature have been transformed into graphic novel format, such as this one with a beloved cast of rather quirky characters who spend lazy days by the river.

TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan / YA novel

Craig and Harry, once a couple, are determined to break the world’s record for the longest kiss at over 30 hours. As they embark on their mission, their fame spreads – for better and worse. Peter and Neil are another couple in the novel who’s relationship is on a rocky road. Similarly, Avery and Ryan, new boyfriends,  are learning about the ups and downs of starting a new relationship and being accepted by family and peers.  These couples along with Cooper who is trapped by the lure of online hookups tie the narrative threads of contemporary gay love and the haunting voices of those who have come before. David Levithan’s is an important author who writes novels about homosexual live with with frankness, hope and authenticity to mirror the lives that many young adolescents encounter.

MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers, Illustrated by David Anyabwile  / YA novel

Myers’s novel, Monster,  stands at the top of the heap of best YA fiction. The book has been transformed into a graphic novel format which invites comparison to the original text and serves as an appealing read to those young adolescents who enjoy the comic-like format.

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE by Elizabeth Strout / Adult short story novel

Strout’s novel Olive Kitteridge was terrific.  As was her most recent novel, The Story of Lucy Barton. Anything is Possible is a novel told in short stories, where ucy Barton appears like a photo bombed character (except for one story where she has a very awkward reunion with her brother and sister) in these tales (somewhat sad) of love and redemption. What a great writer, Strout is, capturing moments and particulars in the lives of those trapped by fate – and dreams.

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas / YA novel

This novel has reached the #1 spot in the NY Times for YA Novels.  Put aside To Kill A Mockingbird, teachers and let adolescents ride on Starr Carter’s shoulders as she learns to cope battle against police brutality and racism and community and the dynamics of teenage life.

HILLBILLY ELEGY: A Memoir of a Family in Culture and Crisis by J.D. Vance / adult non-fiction

Vance’s memoir is an important document of life in the rust belt states.  Vance tells a personal story of both brokeness and hope to those caught in the web of  white working class struggle. The Vance family story, and J.D. Vance’s attempts to shake off the shackles of poverty and move forward is a strong story of poverty, abuse, alcoholism – and family loyalty –  and the burden of being ‘dirt poor’.

BLOB by David Walliams / Chapter book

David Walliams is funny funny funny. This short chapter book was written to help celebrate World Book Day in the UK (cost: 1 British pound), Bob has been told by the chlidren at his school he has a funny face but he rises above it all when Bob meets a blobfish called Blob, who is also known to have a very funny face. A funny story, and yes a heartwarming one too as a story of friendship and acceptance and – a menagerie of animal creatures looked upon as being ‘odd’.

BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA by Lauren Wolk / Middle Years novel

Wolk’s Wolf Hollow was one of my favourite reads last year and I looked forward to reading her newest novel.  The island setting is a strong character in this novel. The story of a girl named Crow who mysteriously was washed upon on the shore of the small island, only to be rescued by Osh, a man with a secret past who unofficially becomes a surrogate father to the girl. Crow is on a mission to find out about her heritage and the adventure takes her to an island once inhabited by lepers. I look forward to reading other future novels by this talented author.

SHOUT OUT: Picture Book

THE GOLD LEAF By Kirsten Hall, Illus. Matthew Forsythe

A gold leaf shines forth on a tree in the forest, and each of the animals wants to take possession of the special leaf more than anything else in the world.  When the animals struggle over ownership, the leaf is destroyed. Leaves on trees return each year. Will each of the animals take a second chance and leave the leaf untouched? Love this book and am eager to share it as aclass  read aloud (and a gift to all  the youngsters in my life).

THE REFUGEE EXPERIENCE

In recent years, the refugee experience has been at the core of political and global news. Many young people have come to learn about events from the media. Many of the students we teach is someone, or knows someone, who has been a refugee. There are many examples of children’s literature that provide narratives that help students work towards an understanding of refugee turmoil and settlement. To help build compassion and empathy, it is important that we present students with picture books, novels and media texts to help them grasp the tribulations of those being forced to leave their home countries and those who find a place to belong when seeking asylum, when immigrating, when settling into a new place called ‘home’.

PICTURE BOOKS

WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS (translation:SOMOS COMO LAS NUBES) by Jorge Argueta; Illus. Alfonso Ruano

The author has created these poems, drawn from his experiences from El Salvador’s war in the 1980’s. The words and pictures convey a moving account of thousands of children, often alone,  who are forced to leave their their homes in Central American to seek refuge in the United States.

MAMA’s NIGHTINGALE: A story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat; Illus. Leslie Staub

Saya’s mother is sent to jail as an illegal immigrant. Mama is able to communicate with her daughter by sending weekly tape recordings of bedtime stories based on Haitian folklore. With hopes of being united with her mother, Saya is encouraged to write a story that may bring her mother home.

OUT by Angela May George; Illus. Owen Swan

Out

“I feel different. It’s the way people stare. I’m called an asylum seeker, but that is not my name.” So begins this story about a young girl who along with her mother is forced to leave their country and lucky enough to have found refuge in an Australian city, dreaming of being united with her father. The war torn country is not named, the boat that  was travelled upon is not identified. Out is a tale, simply told, of the universal experiencing of migration.

LOST AND FOUND CAT: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes; Illus. Sue Cornelison

A cat named Kunkush is carried hundreds of miles by his family that is forced to leave Iraq when life became too dangerous. Through all the chaos of the escape, Kunkush is separated from is family, only to be rescued by others and eventually returned to the arms of the his family in a safe home. That this is based on a true story is remarkable.

STEPPING STONES: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs; Art by Nizar Ali Badr

Rami, her brother Sami and hteir friends, free as birds, used to laugh and play together. But then war came to their country and the birds stopped singing and the family searches for a place where bombs didn’t fall: “A river of people in search of peace.” The story is told in both Arabic and English. The images that accompany the simple, poetic text is comprised of rocks which the Syrian artist, Nizar Ali Badr has collected on the beach.

THE JOURNEY by Francesca Sanna

When war begins, a mother and her two children must leave all their belongings behind and travel many miles to a place that will be unfamiliar and safe. In the author’s note at the back of the book, Sanna explains that The Journey is actually “a story about many journeys..’ a collage of personal stories adn the incredible strength of the people within them.”

ADRIFT AT SEA: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho; Illus. Brian Denes

A fishing boat, overloaded with sixty Vietnamese refugees is a adrift at sea.  Told in the first person from the six year old’s point of view, the author recounts the story of Tuan Ho’s dangerous, yet brave, journey with his family toward a new life in North America.

TEACUP by Rebecca Yung; Illus Matt Ottley

Once there was a boy who had to leave his home.. and find another. In his bag he carried a book, a bottle and a blanket. In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.” Simple text, lyrical watercolour illustrations, make this a picture book that contains universal connections for those who have been forced to leave behind a life, once enjoyed.

NOVELS

The five titles below have been featured in several of my blog postings. These free verse novels are shining examples of young people who have been caught in the web of the refugee experience and live of life where hopes and dreams underlie their struggles to survive and belong  Past experiences, present salvation and future possibilities frame each of these novels. Any of these novels would initiate compassion, curiosity and connections to global issues. Together, these five books would help a teacher, grades five through seven, organize a literature-based unit that  brings these global issues into the classroom.

HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate

ALL THE BROKEN PIECES by Ann E. Burg

INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai

THE RED PENCIL by Andrea Davis Pinkney: Illus. Shane W. Evans

NON-FICTION

MAKING IT HOME: Real-life stories from children forced to flee. London, UK: Puffin Books, 2004.

OUR NEW HOME: Immigrant Children Speak by Emily Hearn and Marywinn Milne (eds.). Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2009.

ADULT FICTION

EXIT WEST by Mohsin

Amidst the turmoil of civil war (in an anonymous country), Nadia and Saeed meet and fall and love. As the war escalates, the two characters are torn with the decision to remain in their home city or leave their old lives behind by leaving through ‘doors’ that will take them to safer places, but places that are filled with uncertainty and new challenges of survival.

For an integrated drama unit on the theme of refugees, see Drama Schemes Themes and Dreams by Larry Swartz and Debbie Nyman. Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers, 2010, Chapter 6: “Home”, pages 112-131.

NOVELS FOR GROWN-UPS

The list below summarizes some adult fiction (and one script)  I`ve read over the past 6 weeks. If I were to give a star rating, only one of these would receive 4 stars, one would receive 1 star, and the rest 2 or 3 stars. Sometimes, children`s literature inspires me more!

ENIGMA VARIATIONS André Aciman

WHY: The author`s novel Call Me By Your Name grabbed `my  heart. This new novel has Italy and New York settings: How could I not read this!

VERDICT: Hit and Miss. The journey of a man named Paul seeking true love, told in five different `chapters` with settings both in Italy and New York. He lusts over a man, he lusts over a woman, back and forth. And in this back and forth, my feelings about this character fluctuated.  Lucky Paul to have `found`love so many times.  Aciman certainly knows how to write a story of infatuation and desire.

SELECTION DAY Aravind Adiga

WHY: Enjoyed the author`s previous novel The White Tiger. Am interested in stories set in India (though I`ve never been there).

VERDICT: The story of two brothers competing for fame and glory in the world of cricket. I know nothing about cricket and don`t care to learn more.  I even turned to Google a to get a Cricket for Dummies overview didn`t help. This book was a slog for me but I persevered cuz from time to time I was interested in the brothers`relationship and the choices they had to make about seeking fame, being loyal to others, pursuing an education and being trapped by adolescent love.

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE  Frederik Backman

WHY: Loved the author`s previous novel, A Man Called Ove.

VERDICT: `Almost`as good as Ove with another cranky quirky central character (this one, a woman). Four Stars from me!

MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE`s SORRY Frederik Backman

WHY: I really loved A Man Called Ove and decided to read other titles by Backman.

VERDICT: I didn`t love this one as much as Ove and Britt-Marie. Being fond of good storytelling, I should have liked this novel a lot because it`s about a child and her grandmother connected by the stories they tell. But the stories are in the fantasy realm and I am often known offer a disclosure that I am not fond of fantasy. But the narrative flow of this one didn`t cut it for me. Sorry, Mr Backman. I know await your newest release this spring, entitled Bear.

A LINE MADE BY WALKING Sara Baume

WHY: I so admired the author`s debut novel, Spill Simmer Winter Falter. Some staggering wordsmithing and the story of a lonely man and his lonely dog touched my heart.

VERDICT: This sophomore book wasn’t as good as the first`by the author. The story of a twenty- something artist, frail at best,  who decided to live on her own, and surround herself with nature, it reminded me a lot of H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Stories and images (photographs) of dead animals added an artistic frame to this meditative narrative. Again, some beautiful writing.

A HORSE WALKS INTO A BAR David Grossman

WHY: Great review in NY Times. Curiousity of narrative presented as a continuous monologue in an Israeli nightclub.

VERDICT: Didn`t finish this one. Gave it a chance at 85 pages, but the `humour`escaped me and I had yet to experience the story of `loss of and survival`after almost reaching 100 pages. It`s OK not to finish a book and this one gets one star from Larry. If I was listening to this guy in a bar, I would have walked out!

MISTER MONKEY Francine Prose

WHY: a) a friend recommended it cuz it was recommended to her b) it`s centred on a children`s theatre production (and I like Children`s Theatre) c) the story is told from the points of view of different characters and I like this format.

VERDICT: Hit and miss. Didn`t like the first two chapters.  Enjoyed the middle stories that seemed to have an authenticity. Story and interest in characters faded out.  Didn`t enjoy the final chapters and skipped through them quickly.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE Tennessee Williams

WHY: Saw an intriguing, haunting, minimalist production of the play starring Sally Field so I decided to revisit and reread the script.

VERDICT: I tend to read this magical play every few years. This is certainly my favourite Tennessee Williams play, and probably one in my top ten list of dramas, whatever production I`m lucky to see.

FICTION FOR DIFFERENT AGES

The titles below present an overview of chapter books and novels and one novella that I read in the past month. Books are presented in order of suggested age appeal. Two SHOUT OUTS (non-fiction) are provided to conclude this post.

THE FOX AND THE GHOST KING by Michael Morpurgo / suggested ages 7-9

Why? Ever since reading WAR HORSE about a decade ago I have been a Morpurgo fan (What took me so long? Since I’ve recently been collecting books with Fox characters (e.g., Pax by Pennypacker), I decided to buy this slim chapter book with illustrations by Michael Foreman.

Verdict: May appeal to young readers who like stories about animals, ghost kings and football (soccer). May be a bit obscure for North American audiences who may not be as enamoured with football matches as the Brits.

BOOK UNCLE AND ME by Uma Krishnaswami / suggested ages 7 -9

Why? The title. I am a book uncle.

Verdict: An appealing character who loves books, believes in fighting for justice. The setting in a community in India is a plus.

SCAR ISLAND by Dan Gemeinart / suggested ages 10-12

Why? Enjoyed reading The Honest Truth by the author. Was drawn to the Reformatory setting where a group of boys need to survive in a world without adults. The Lord of the Flies premise appealed to me.

Verdict: Should appeal to boy readers who like a good adventure/ survival story. The Lord of the Flies theme didn’t pack a punch.

SHORT by Holly Goldberg Sloan / suggested ages 10 -12

Why? Enjoyed reading Sloan’s Counting by 7′s. Always interested in reading about characters who’s identity poses a challenge. In this case, Julia is one of the shortest kids in her school – but don’t call her short.

Verdict: The book is centred on Julia’s experiences playing a munchkin in a community production of The Wizard of Oz. Julia’s commitment to the production along with her friendships help her discover what it means to be an artist, and what it means to be strong and true to oneself. An amusing, breeze read.

FLYING LESSONS & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh / suggested ages 11- 13

Why?: 1. Short Stories 2. Each story centred on diversity 3.  award-winning authors (and other notable authors) (e.g., Matt de la Pena, Jacqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers.)

Verdict: With short stories you can pick and choose which one’s you want to dig into and in what order. I read the book chronologically and would willingly share any of the titles with middle school readers as a story of diversity and identity.

SHOOTER by Caroline Pignat / suggested ages 12-16

Why? Pignat is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award. I always find that her books pack a punch. I enjoy reading novels that are told from different perspectives. I enjoy books that have varied formats (e.g. free-verse poetry, text messages, journals).

Verdict: The setting is a high school. The story is told in mostly real time through the voices of five teenagers trapped in a washroom during a lockdown in the school when a shooter threatens the safety of the school population. An engaging, suspenseful read for young adolescents who will likely connect to the stories of each of the five high school students in this novel.

AND EVERY MORNING IN THE WAY HOME GETS LONGER AND LONGER by Fredrik Backman /suggested for adults

Why? 1.After reading A Man Called Ove, I am eager to read all of Backman’s fiction. 2. Am intrigued with the novella format (76 pages). 3.Recently seem to be reading stories about approaching death 4. Enjoy reading stories about memories. 5. A heartwarming relationship between grandfather and grandson.

Verdict: A little gem. (see 5 reasons above)

Mr. MONKEY by Francine Prose / suggested for adults

Why? A friend recommended it. The story is centred on the production of a children’s play and I like going to children’s plays.

Verdict: A romp.  Was going to give up on the book after 50 pages, but it seemed to get better as I continued.

SHOUT OUT by Kwame Alexander

THE PLAYBOOK: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in the Game Called Life

by Kwame Alexander

  • Short free verse poetry
  • Short biographies stories of inspirational athletes (Le Bron James, Wilma Rudolph, Pele)
  • 52 ‘rules’  / precepts to live by
  • Black and White photographs by Thai Neave
  • Kwame Alexander is a great author (The Crossover, Booked)
  • The end pages are textured ‘as if’ a basketball.

Appeals to: young men, older men, young women, older women, coaches, basketball players, sports enthusiasts, those who say they don’t like poetry, t those who admire free-verse poetry,  those who feel that everything they learned about life they learned from being an athlete, and those who contemplate their own rules of life they follow. This is a book of motivation and inspiration and is sure to be at the top of top ten lists for a long while.

 

 

SHOUT OUT

50 YEARS OF IMPACT

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Bravo to David Booth and team (Lisa Rupchand, Lara Carmale, Danny Cavanagh, Dorian Nicholson) who created a remarkable – and beautifully laid out – publication celebrating the impact of OISE, past, present and future. This is an informative document about an important educational institution (which I’ve had the honour of working at for many years!)

READING NOVELS, January 2017

January in Canada is somewhat of a gloomy time. Few movies or plays are luring me out of the house and so I’ve been digging into a batch of novels that have been piling up my bookshelf. Only one title has a 2017 pub date, and it is my favourite book on the list below.

Product Details

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill

Disclaimer: I’m not fond of fantasy stories. I prefer realistic fiction rather than tales that take us into other worlds.  I know I’m in a minority. And I shout ‘hoorah!’  that millions of kids enjoy books that transport them into magical realms. I’m just not one of those kids.  Books with character names such as Antain, Gherland, Glerk, Fyrian and Xan don’t particularly entice me.  Yet, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a fascinating tale about an ancient witch, baby sacrifices, a swamp monster and nourishment from the moon that  creates drinkers to be “enmagiked”.  Barhnill is a sublime storyteller, gifted with shaping words and creating images.  No doubt that hundreds of thousands of fantasy readers will enjoy this novel more than I did. After all, it is the 2017 Newbery Medal Winner,

LILY and DUNKIN by Donna Gephart

Timothy was born in boy’s body, but is determined to maintain his identity as a girl named Lily Norbert Dorfman, a boy with bipolar disorder  acquires the name Dunkin (as in donuts).  The two grade eight students meet and become friends and learn to reveal and handle their secrets to friends and family. I am always intrigued with novels told in dual or multiple narratives and I so admired this novel that boldly presents a story of someone struggling with gender fluidity and someone who copes with being a Special Needs learner.

THE INQUISITOR’S TALE (or The Three Magical Children and Their Holdy Dog by Adam Gidwitz; Illustrated by Hatem Aly.

This story, for independent middle years readers, is centred on of a trio of young characters: a  peasant girl who has visions, a young monk with colossal strength and a Jewish boy who has the power to heal wounds. The three heroes are chased throughout Medieval France in an adventure, told in the style of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales, each chapter being narrated by a different traveller. Religion, both Christianity and Judaism, plays a large part in this story. And there’s a farting dragon. Bravo to Gidwitz for detailed historical research woven into a  remarkable journey of adventure! A 2017 Newbery Honor Book.

FULL OF BEANS by Jennifer L. Holm

Time (The Great Depression in the 1930’s) and Place (Key West, Florida) are as significant to this story as is the character of Beans Curry who spearheads a project to bring tourism to this failing Florida town. A colourful cast of characters, a series of humourous vignettes and the plight to overcome poverty make this a rewarding read by a top-notch author.

BOOK UNCLE AND ME by Uma Krishnaswami

Sometimes I (we) buy a book because of it’s title.  I am (hopefully) known as Book Uncle to several nieces and nephews. In this novel, Yasmin borrows books from Book Uncle, a retired teacher (!) who has set up on a lending library on his street. Yasmin and her friends learn about activism, collaboration and community as she and her friends must combat the mayor’s office who wants to get rid of the bookstand. For readers, ages 7 – 9.

WORD OF MOUSE by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein; Illus. Joe Sutphin

Patterson needs no plug from me. He is currently one of the most popular authors for middle school readers (e,g., The Middle School Novels, The I Funny Novels, The Treasure Hunter Novels). Here he and Chris Grabenstein tell of the adventures of a blue mouse (yes, blue) who has escaped from laboratory experimentation. Surviving alone in the world outside the lab, Isaiah strives to be reunited with his ninety-six family that has been left behind. A friendship with an Albino girl who  who feels like she’s an outsider in her new school helps to set Isaiah on a quest  filled with mischievous adventures sure to appeal to readers, ages 8 – 10 who are sliding into the world of novels. Isaiah joins the mouse brotherhood of Stuart Little, Desperaux and Anatole. It is worth quoting a few of ‘Jimmy’ Patterson’s mission statements: “We believe a kid who reads is a kid who succeeds.”; We believe it’s every adult’s responsibility to get books into kids’ hands and into kids’ lives.”: We want ever kids who finishes a Jimmy book to say: “Please give me another book.” The author certainly succeeds with Word of Mouse, a book to that can easily enjoyed by developing novel readers.   We’re sure to meet the blue mouse in further books. Yahoo!

THE WARDEN’S DAUGHTER by Jerry SpinelliProduct Details

Here is a   five star review, somewhat revised  of this novel that Irecently posted on Amazon.com:

For realistic fiction, I’ve always claimed that Jerry Spinelli is at the top of the heap of young author novelists. His publications over the past several years have been hit and miss for me. With The Warden’s Daughter Spinelli once again proves that he is the best at giving us authentic characters whose identity strengthens through introspection and through  the building of  relationships under complex circumstances. It is great to eavesdrop on Spinelli conversations. It is great to venture into a specific time and place (a prison). It is great to have our heart wrenched in rooting for a feisty, angry character. I know I will not easily forget the cantankerous tormented character of Cammie who struggles to find love and belonging and a special person to call mother. Thank you Mr Spinelli for Cammie. Thank you for returning to the Philadelphia of Maniac Magee. Thank you for another great book to build compassion in young readers. Thanks for the best book I’ve read so far this year. (And thanks too for the short chapters.) Please let me see this book on the Newbery list next year.

STUART LITTLE by E.B White

Two things inspired me to reread this classic novel about an adventure-seeking mouse: 1. William Schwalbe wrote a chapter in his book called Books for Living, claiming that E.B. White’s book inspired him as a growing reader 2. Melissa Sweet’s biography of E.B. White (Some Writer!) tells us how White’s first book for children came to be.  I do love books with anthropomorphic characters and this mouse shines brightly in the hall of fame of animal heroes.

SHOUT OUT: The Crown (Netflix)

I only got my smart phone last year. And I’ve never been hooked up to NETFLIX until this month.   I’ll be rather busy catching up on TV shows for the next month or two. Or three.  THE CROWN is worth paying whatever extra fee I know have on my Roger’s Bill. Staggering writing. Staggering acting. This was a great binge watch on a cold winter’s day.

SHOUT OUT

A MAN CALLED OVE by Frederik Backman

I loved this novel which has been translated from the Swedish. If you like books that are described about ‘heartwarming’; If you know a curmudgeon who lives strictly by the rules; If you like stories about devoted love: If you understand the challenges of caring for neighbours you don’t agree with;  If you understand the power of grief; If you loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, If you like cats; If you hate cats; If you are likes books told with dark humour, and short chapters you will have a reason to read – and love – A Man Called Ove.

Note: The film version of this book is nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film. I actually own the DVD and watched it promptly after finishing the novel. I look forward to reading other books by Backman and quickly went on Amazon to order My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry; And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer; Britt-Marie Was Here.