All TWELVE fiction titles in this posted were published in 2020. I have included books for middle years readers and YA (and one nonfiction title).
MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed (YA)
Having recently finished Ahmed’s strong novel about the race, identity and the immigrant experience in the novel Interment, I was intrigued to read her 2020 novel Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know. I like that the novel has two narratives (Khayamm’s, an American, French, Indian Muslim teenager) and Leila (who is forced to hide her love from the Pasha who has bestowed her with favoured status in his harem, 200 years ago.) More time is spent with Kahyam who while on vacation in Paris sets upon a quest to find the mystery behind a Delacroix painting and the history of the Dumas family. Coincidently she happens to meet a boy named Alexander Dumas who is a descendent of the famous author. Daniel Pennac with his rights of the reader, gives us permission to not finish a book, and as I approached page 100, i decided to abandon this novel because I wasn’t all that interested in the Khayyam’s mission, her former and newly-found love interests and the detective like investigation into Dumas and Delocroix’s life. And so I won’t find out how Khayyam and Leila’s story intertwine. That’s OK.
A HIGH FIVE FOR GLENN BURKE by Phil Bildner
Major League baseball player (1976-1979) had two notworthy claims to fame: 1) After raising his hand over his head and slapping a teammate’s hand who had just scored a home run, he ‘invented’ the high five slap 2) He was the first MLB player to come out to teammates during his professional career. Author Phil Bildner pays tribute to this sports hero through the world of sixth grader Silas Wade who presented a school project to his classmates (omitting the detail about Burke, being gay. Silas a skilled young baseball player, has come to terms with the fact that he too is gay, but the process of coming out, like for many young adolescent boys is troublesome. He reveals his secret to his best friend, Zoey and his coach. Bildner knows the world of baseball and adeptly describes the action on the field and the need to be a strong, respectful member of a team. The gay author also digs respectfully into minds and worries of those who are struggling to reveal their true identities. For this, the novel works well on two levels giving sports fans and young adolescents a hero to empathize – or connect – with. High five, Mr. Bildner. High Five, Silas, and High five, Glenn Burke.
THIS PLACE: 150 Years Retold / multi-authored (Graphic text: nonfiction/ fiction) YA (2019)
Ten stories created by Indigenous authors and illustrators, providing a history of known and unknown figures and events that tell a history that goes back 150 years. The graphic collection helps to illuminate the past, present and future of Indigenous communities and their battles to survive. The narratives are not always presented with clarity but the visuals are often strong and provide powerful imagery(frequently drawn from real-life photographs). Any of the stories can lead to further inquiry about the stories of people, places and time. “It tells tales of resistance, of leadership, of wonder and pain and pasts we must remember and futures we must keep striving towards planting each story like a seed deep inside from us ” (from the forward by Alice Elliott, p. vi) A timeline of historical events is presented to introduce each of the stories. Suitable for adolescents and adults.
AGGIE MORTON: MYSTERY QUEEN: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn
A fortuitous comment by one of Jocelyn’s editors who asked, “whether Agatha Christie might be a good model for a child sleuth?” spurred the author to invent the fictitious twelve year-old sleuth, Aggie Morton, who along with her new Belgian friend, Hector Perot, are caught in the web of a murder case that involves rat poison, a will, a letter, a rascally journalist, and oh yes, a love story (or two). Young readers will delight in helping solve the crime along with Aggie in 1902 in Torquay England(which just happens to be Christie’s birthplace). What a terrific terrific read! Four stars out of four. The Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie e would certainly be giving Aggie Morton – and Marthe Joceyln a high five. Indeed we will be meeting this young detective in forthcoming mystery adventures. thanks to the comment of a wise editor.
BLACK BROTHER, BLACK BROTHER by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Donte and Trey are brothers. Their mother is black, their father white. 12 year-0ldDonte is dark skinned and his older brother is lighter skinned. Both boys attend a private school, but it is Donte who is taunted by racist remarks, especially from the school bully, Alan. When Dante, innocent, is accused of a misdomenor, he is expelled from school How will Dante, and other black boys feel safe and free? For Donte, salvation is found in the world of fencing where he challenges himself to train as a competitive fencer, hoping he can take down the fencing team captain, Alan. Though not as powerful as her recent novel, Ghost Boys, the author once again examines black youth who fight against injustice and racism. The sport of fencing is given great description.
THE LITTLEST VOYAGEUR by Margi Preus; illus. Cheryl Pilgrim (ages 8 -11)
A story about the Voyageurs travelling from Montreal to trading posts. A story told from the point of view of a squirrel – yes, a rascally red squirrel named Jean Pierre Petite Le Rouge. Le Rouge hides himself in a canoe and though he can’t contribute much to the mission but he partakes in the voyages and portages and commeraderie of Jean Mechant, JeanPaul, Jean Luc, Jean Jacques, Jean Henri, Jean Cladue, Jean Louis, and his good friend Jean Gentille (appropriately named). Squirrel surrives the adventure but when he is shocked to find out what awaits when they finally arrive at the trading post – the FUR trading post. Applause goes to Marge Preus for making historical events come alive through fiction. We need more stories like this to make history accessible to young people. It would have certainly made history more accessible to me than those history text books. An amusing adventurous read!
WAYSIDE SCHOOL: Beneath a Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar
He’s baccck! For millions of Sideway Stories from a Wayside School series, the popular author, after 40 years (!!!) has created another wacky book that takes place in the wacky school. We are reunited with many of the humorous characters that were featured in previous books, but this time, rather than short stories about each of the characters, the short chapters are interwoven as students are threatened by the Cloud of Doom bringing bad luck to the school. If you like stories with Spaghetti and feetballs, a teacher who is nuts about paper clips, a purple umbrella with green stripes (or a green umbrella with purple , stripes, jump rope arithmetic and a class project collecting a million finger and toenail clippings, this book’s for you.
THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE by Rebecca Stead
Bea is a child of divorce and follows a structured weekly visits between mom and dad. Bea has a warm relationship with both parents: “You will always have a home with each of us is one of the items on the list of things that will not change. The big event her life is the upcoming gay marriage of her father and Jesse. At last she will get a sister that she always wanted (even though Sonia lives on the other side of the country). Bea’s therapist Miriam, helps the grade five girl to deal with any disturbing issues that come her way (mean girls, eczema, homophobia). Rebecca Stead, author of Liar and Spy and When You Reach Me, understands and reveals the inner life of kids and this book title is yet another appealing read of life of a pre-teenage girl observed.
WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE by Renee Watson (ages 8-10)
Renee Watson grew up in Oregon. So did Beverly Cleary. Cleary first brought the feisty, rascally Ramona to the children’s literature world in 1955 (Beezus and Romona) and today’s readers can now read about Ryan Hart, a black girl in grade 4 who certainly would have been friends with Ramona. In Ways to Make Sunshine, Ryan’s troubles concern her family’s need to downsize and move into a new house, the challenge to do something special in the Grade 4 talent show, and a bothersome brother. The family news announced at the end of the book screams ‘sequel’ and thousands and thousands readers ages 8 through 10 who love reading about families, schools and friends are sure to delight in Ryan Hart’s further adventures. Just as they did in the 11 Ramona books.
SLIME by David Walliams
Every year, David Walliams brings forth a new riotous (rude) adventure novel. He’s done it again with this book that takes place on the Isle of Mulch, population 999, where most of the adults loathe children. Those grown-ups include headmaster Sir Walter Wrath, terrible twins Edmond and Edmond Envy, owner of the toyshop, Mr. Lust, deputy head of Mulch School for Revolting Children, Madame Solenzio Sloth, piano teacher and mega-rich Aunt Greta Greed. Ned, a boy whose legs haven’t worked on since he was a baby, is the hero of the story. When he accidently invents, SLIME, which has the superpower to transform into anything (a whale a trampoline, a motorbike, a flock of pigeons etc.) The fonts, and format of each and every page add visual delight as do Tony Ross’s abundant cartoonish illustrations. I am a Walliams fan (as are millions of other readers) and I always look forward to his new novel titles, and not just because of his inventive vocabulary that could be found in Williamsictionary. (e.g., slird, slouney, p0ngtas,magporia, globettes, puketastic) What a cleverly creative, whackily wonky author that gets them reading (and chuckling).
WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed / Graphic biography
Omar Mohammed spent his childhood at the Dadaab camp in Kenya. He always had a goal to write about his experiences about being a refugee and a meeting with Graphic author, Victoria Jamieson resulted in this powerful book. Readers are given an inside visit into the hard times of a refugee camp as we learn about Omar and the devoted care he gives to his brother who his nonverbal brother Hassan. Stories of day to day dullness, hardships scrounging for food, bullying and haunting memories of Somalia. But Omar is determined to get an education and dreams for the day where he will be accepted to America. Omar now lives in Pennsylvania, working at a cente to help other refugees. This is an outstanding book and I dare the Newbery committee to give the award to a graphic biography two years in a row (e.g., New Kid). This book is deserved of awards. This book needs to be read.
PRAIRIE LOTUS by Linda Sue Park
A powerful story of prejudice and racism. The story takes place in the Dakota territory in 1880 and we are in the world of Little House on the Prairie. Our protagonist is Hanna a girl who is half-Chinese and half-white who fondly remembers her mother who was half-Chinese and half-Korean who was killed in an ambush and who is determined to carry on her mother’s tradition of being a skillful dressmaker. When Hanna and her father arrive in the town of La Forge to set up a dry goods business, they come upon neighbours who don’t want any neighbours who aren’t white themselves. When children are kept away from their one-room school house because Hanna has enrolled in the class, the young teenager holds her head up high, determined to teach others to see beyond the surface. Hateful racist comments and an abuse incident challenge Hannah and her father to fit into the community. Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard, A Long Walk to Water) has drawn from her early childhood experiences and her adoration of The Little House Stories to bring a sense of history and the immigrant experience alive to “provide food for thought for all who read it, especially the young reader in whose hands the future lies.” (p. 256)
This title will be on my top five list of the year, I’m sure. And I predict another Newbery for Linda Sue Park (unless the committee gives it to When The Stars Are Scattered