YEAH FOR YA! Fiction 12+

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


SWING by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

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

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

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

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

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


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

A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE by Robert Newton Peck

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

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

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


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



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

Adapted by Ari Folman

Illustrations by David Polonsky

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

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation



by Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz (non-fiction)

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

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


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



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

NINE NIGHT by Natasha Gordon

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

THE INHERITANCE by Matthew Lopez

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


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




Here are a couple of examples:

I Love to Read

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

Little Marco: a Haiku

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



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

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

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

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




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

NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney

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


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



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

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

Dreamers by Yuyi Moralis

*The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds

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


NOVELS (ages 9-13)

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

The Truth According to Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Missing Mike by Shari Green

*No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

*Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

The Front Desk by Kelly Yang



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

*The Landing by John Ibbitson

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

90 Days of Different by Eric Walters



The Storm by Arif Anwar

*Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Pops by Michael Chabon

Calypso by David Sedaris



The Cakemaker
*The Rider
The Shoplifters



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


THEATRE (local)

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


THEATRE (London/ New York+)

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



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

Bird Guy by David Booth

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Ptolemy the psychic pterodactyl struggles with psoriasis.


NIGHT JOB by Karen Hesse; illus. G Brian Karas

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


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

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


*THE FUNERAL by Matt James

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


POTATO PANTS! by Laurie Keller

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


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

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


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

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


THE WONKY DONKEY by Craig Smith (2010)

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

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



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

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

The Promise


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

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

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


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


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

MY FATHER’S WORDS by Patricia MacLachlan

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

*NO FIXED ADDRESS by Susin Nielson

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

* INKLING by Kenneth Oppel

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

SOUP by Robert Newton Peck

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

LU by Jason Reynolds

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


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

THE ICE MONSTER by David Walliams

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

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre and TD bank Winners

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

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

JOHN SPRAY MYSTERY AWARD: The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook

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

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

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

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

Picture Books about BELONGING

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


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

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

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

  And I keep walking.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSTAFA by Marie-Louise Gay (refugee experience)

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

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

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

IMAGINE by Juan Felipe Herrera; illus. Lauren Castillo

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

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

could write/ a magnificent story, / imagine.”

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

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

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

WHERE WILL I LIVE? Rosemary McCarney (refugee experience)

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

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

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

Inspiring words of activism are spread out in alphabetical order.

“March. Mediate.

Meditate. Motivate.”

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

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

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

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

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

“There will be times when you walk into a room

and no one there is quite like you.”


DREAMERS by Yuyi Morales (refugee experience)

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

“Books became our language.

Books became our home.

Books became our lives.”


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

THE WOLVES by Sarah Delappe (script)

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

SABRINA by Nick Drnaso (graphic)

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


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

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

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


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

EDUCATED by Tara Westover

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



Jonathan Evison


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



Ladder to the Sky

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


FALL INTO FICTION 2018: Building Empathy in Middle Years Readers

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


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

SAVING WINSLOW by Sharon Creech

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

MISSING MIKE by Shari Green

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

THE LANDING by John Ibbotson (YA)

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

MR. WOLF’S CLASS by Aron Nels Steinke

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


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

THE TURNING by Emily Whitman

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

HARBOR ME by Jacqueline Woodson

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

MAPPING THE BONES by Jane Yolen (ages 12+)

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



Poems by David Booth

Bird Guy: Wally Karr's Poems about Birds

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

The book is available on and


I am working on a PEMBROKE  publication about helping students gain word power by collecting, inspecting and hoarding words.  The book (title TBD) will be forthcoming in the fall.  As the school year, begins I would like to share some thoughts about helping to build students love of words and am providing the following excerpt from my manuscript and outlining some picture book titles to support this initiative.



 from The Word Collector by PETER REYNOLDS

The Word Collector

The hero of Peter H. Reynolds picture book is a word collector. Jerome delights in inspecting, and collecting and filling his scrapbooks words that he HEARD, that he SAW, that he READ. No teacher guide is needed for ‘using’ this book with young people. Reynolds presents an invitation for readers young and old to pay attention (and collect) words that are short, that are sweet, words that puzzle or mystify, words that are simple, words that are powerful, words that are marvelous to say, to enrich our language power and to carry in our language knapsacks to take out as needed when reading, writing and conversing. Peter (and Jerome) lead readers into thinking about and reaching for their own words to make their worlds better.

Many titles are available are specifically written to celebrate the engagement with words. For pre-school children there are several titles available to help them identify, name and label things. Many picture books have also been written to demonstrate how words are important in the lives of the fictitious characters, words that enrich their vocabulary and word power.


1. Encourage children become word collectors by providing them with their personal Word Collecting booklets. Students can collect words that they view (in the environment), hear (in conversations and discussions) and read (independently in books).

2. Students complete the following sentence stem…


These word choices can be shared in a class discussion or perhaps be displayed in a class blog, on a bulletin board.

3. Invite students to suggest names of pets that they know. These names can be listed on a chart. Survey the class to determine the favourite name that be used for a household pet or perhapsa pet dragon.

4. Create a classroom bulletin board entitled “We Collect Words”. Using post it notes, or strips of paper, students can be word detectives and record new, strange, or interesting words that they wish to share with others.

5. Challenge students to collect ten to twelve words on a specific topic (e.g., names of places,colours, feelings or a spelling pattern (three syllable words, words with two different vowels, long words). Students can then put an asterisk beside the three most interesting words on their list.

6. Students write three favourite words they’ve collected on a piece of paper. Papers are put into a hat, box or jar. Students gather in a circle and each select a slip of paper with the three words.

7. Invite students to focus on a specific topic or spelling pattern. Challenge students to go on a word in books they’ve read that fit the pattern.

8. Collect paint chip samples from a local hardware store. If possible, provide each student with a single sample strip. Which colour name is their favourite? As a follow up, some students may be challenged to invent new names for colours (for crayons or markers, for ice cream flavours, or nail polish).

9. Have students collect favourite words over a one-week period that can be displayed alphabetically on a word wall. As a follow-up activity, survey the students to find out which of the collected words are their favourites.

10. Students complete the following sentence stems that have them list words on a specific topic

My favourite smell is…

My favourite crayon colour is… One word to describe me is…

The longest word I know that begins with the letter’s’ is… Here is a four-syllable word I know…

Here is a word I know with three different vowels…


Selig loved everything about words – the sound of them in his ears (tintinnabulating), the taste of them on his tongue (tantalizing), the thought of them when they percolated in his brain (stirring), and most especially, the feel of them when they moved his heart (Mama!).

From The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter: illus. Giselle Potter

LEARNING ABOUT WORDS: Toddlers ages 2 to 5

My Very First Book of Words by Eric Carle

Maisy’s Amazing Big Book of Words by Lucy Cousins

Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis; Illus. Laura Cornell

Llama Llama Loves to Read by Anna Dewdney

Touch: My Big Touch-and-feel Word Book by Xavier Deneux

Baby’s First Word will be DADA by Jimmy Fallon (also: Everything is MAMA)

Cassie’s Word Quilt by Faith Ringgold

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills

Bob Books: Sight Words Kindergarten Set Lynn Maslen Kertell

First 100 Words by Roger Priddy

Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry

Carlo Like Reading by Jessica Spanyov



Alphabet Soup by Kate Banks; illus. by Peter Sis

Max’s Words by Kate Banks; Boris Kulikov

Donovan’s Word Jar by MonaLisa DeGross

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence; illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

Miss Alaineus: A vocabulary disaster by Debra Frasier

Other Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world by Yee-Lum Mak; illus. by Kelsey Garrety-Riley

Fancy Nancy (series) by Jane O’Connor; illus. Robin Preiss Glasser

Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds Words Lora Rozler

Did you Take the B from my_ ook? Beck & Matt Stanton

Thesaurus Rex by Laya Steinberg; illus. Debbie Harter

The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter; illustrated by Giselle Potter

The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer

READING DIARY: ‘Adult’ reading…June / July 2018

The titles below are presented in the order that I read them as the summer months unfolded. These books include fiction, non-fiction and poetry and  were mostly drawn from my ‘grown-up’ reading pile. (I read several children’s novels in-between.)


CALYPSO by David Sedaris / June 20

Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!
Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!
Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!  Sometimes heartbreaking! Funny! Funny!
Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny!

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT by John D’Agata (author) & Jim Fingal (fact-checker)
/ June 25

A fascinating, fascinating read! Author D’Agata wrote an essay in 2003 framed on the story of a teenager who committed suicide by jumping off the tallest building in Las Vegas. The article was first rejected due to factual inaccuracies but was later accepted by another magazine, after being scrutinized by fact-checker, Jim Fingle, a process that took seven years as the two men communicated, argued, negotiated and searched for truth. Every statement is held up for fact-checking and this book presents those notions in magenta font, which borders excerpts of the ‘real’ essay which appear in black font on each page. This is a book about, fiction vs non-fiction, accuracy, truth, embellishment, artistic liberty and readers trust and faith in an essayist’s, a journalist’s words words. Certainly brings a torchlight to the notion of FAKE NEWS.

This publication will be transformed into a Broadway play starring Cherry Jones, Daniel Radcliff and Bobby Carnevale. Can’t wait to see it – I think!

VOICES IN THE AIR by Naomi Shihab Nye / June 30

Naomi Shibab Nye stands on the shoulders of ‘essential voices past and present that have the power to provoke us, lead us, and give us hope.’  The poet invites readers to “Slow down. /Turn the page. Breathe. Listen.” I was challenged by grasping the signficance of each poem but read each poem page by page and respected Shihab Nye’s master of poemwords. Perhaps they demand ‘listening’ (and talking). I cherish this excerpt...”what a minute      said to an hour / Without me      you are nothing.” (from the poem “To Manage”)

MILK AND HONEY (2015) and THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS (2017) by Rupi Kaur / July 2

Was interested in discovering why Canadian poet, Rupi Kaur has had such phenomenal success. Poetry doesn’t usually end up on New York Times bestseller lists. (How many poetry anthologies have you purchased in the past year?.  Unlike a huge fanship, I didn’t love these two collections, finding them somewhat pretentious. But I have not been struck by the heartbreak of a romantic relationship. I am not angry. Or broken.  I am not a woman. The poems are mostly short. The fine simple line drawings are often more poetic than the words they accompany.


i don’t deserve

nice things

cause i am paying

for sins I don’t


EDINBURGH by Alexander Chee / July 22

I was intrigued by many of Alexander Chee’s essays in his book “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel” (2018, paperback version) and so decided to read his first novel.  In The story of a gay Korean, at different stages in his life who encountered traumatic events (pedophelia, suicide of a lover) and works to build a new life through teaching and a loving relationship.  Straightforward narrative is not Chee’s strength. Too often there seemed to be gaps from section to section, but the author does have a strong command of poetic images (‘I’d never seen feathers look like that they could protect anything until now, but here I can see how they hold the air, strain it like a whale’s baleen strains the water.’ (p, 176)  (‘Metal is like love, it takes its temperature from touch.’)  (p. 220) which often gave me cause to pause and wonder). Question: Why does the author  often omit  question marks when they seem to be required?

THE ONLY STORY by Julian Barnes/ July 31

A 19 year old boy meets up with a woman, twice his age. They have an affair. A rather unconventional one.  This is a ‘love story’, a journey into the heart, a journey of connecting, a journey into the heart,  (told from the male’s point of view)


Shout Out/ July 7

THERE THERE by Thomas Orange

There There: A novel

An explosive novel about the Native American identity. Twelve characters are heading to a Powwow in Oakland California. Thomas Orange rises on the shoulders of Sherman Alexie and takes wild flight with the intersection of friendship and family, anger and despair, bad behaviour and strong resilience, of a cast of Urban Indians. At times brutal, at times poetic, this is a novel that will likely be on many top ten lists at years end and required reading lists for the decades ahead.