This posting includes a range of fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry titles that served me great reading pleasure over the past 6 weeks and guaranteed to engage readers from grades 5-9. I’m betting that some of these titles will be receiving awards.
ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES by Amy Sarig King
Mac and his grade 6 classmates are assigned to read The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, a powerful novel about time travel in to the Holocaust. As they embark on the reading the book, they discover that some words have been blacked out because someone deemed them in appropriate for young readers (Spoiler: the word ‘breasts’ has been scratched out Mac and his friends are determined to confront censorship and meetings with the principal and with the parents’ council add to the students’ frustration. This is an engaging story about activism and young people’s determination to uphold the TRUTH (even about Christopher Columbus and his discovery of American).
THE BOY LOST IN THE MAZE by Joseph Coelho (YA) (FREE VERSE)
This sophisticated narrative told in poems connects the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur with the story of a teenager who is on a quest to find his biological father. Theseus bravely conquers or murders enemies who interrupt his path to find his father. Theo, a modern-day youth in his final year of school is tricked on his own journey to find out the truth about is father. Both journeys intertwine as two youths discover the meaning of manhood. The stories are outlined in alternating chapters with staggering illustrations by Kate Milner. At times, Coelho offers readers a choose your own adventure alternative plots to follow. Unique in form and content, with vivid poetic verbal and visual images, The Boy Lost in the Maze is a strong exploration of myth and reality for strong readers.
THE DOOR OF NO RETURN by Kwame Alexander (YA) (FREE VERSE / HISTORICAL FICTION)
Award-winning poet, Kwame Alexander tells a powerful story about an eleven-year-old African boy named Kofi Offin, who gets stolen and sold into slavery.The story is set in Ghana in the 19th century and through poems, tells the story of Kofi’s life in school, bullying, his adoration of a village girl, his admiration of his older brother, and his skills as a swimmer. The final part of the book is harrowing describing Kofi and other black boys who are on board a ship where they will lose any sense of freedom they hoped for. To be sure, another awards awaits Alexander for this remarkable historical fiction that is an opening of doors thatprovides a back story of slaves, and truth about the history of African Americans. This is the first book of a trilogy, the saga of an African family that helps to fulfill the African proverb: We desire to bequeath two things to our children; the first one is roots; the other one is wings.
THE LAST BEAR by Hannah Gold
I’m always intrigued to read Waterstones Book choice of the year and The Last Bear is the 2022 winner of best fiction. A young girl and her father or on a mission on an Arctic post for six months. Her father is so immersed in his research to measure the changing Northern temperatures, that April is free to wanter the island on her own. Even though she was informed that polar bears no longer live on Bear Island, she is astounded one day toe meet a bear who is lonely, hungry and just like April, a long way from home. April and Bear come to develop a strong bond and the two friends journey throughout the island (April rides bears back). April keeps Bear a secret from her father (who really isn’t paying much attention to her) but April questions why bear is alone and how climate change has removed in from his famiiar life she takes action and becomes determined to save the bear – and take action to save the planet. An inspiring story about animal/human bonding and an important story to help readers thing about climate change. A thrilling adventure!
SPACEBOY by David Walliams illus. Adam Stower (ages 9-12)
Once a year i got to read a new novel by David Walliams and have a good adventurous and humourous read. Dare I say that Mr. Walliams’s recent title seems to make a little shift in narrative, characterization and formatting. The protagonist is not boy, but a twelve-year old orphaned girl named Ruth. This story is not set in the UK, but in America in the 1960’s. Events are still wild but didn’t seem as preposterous (or rude) as Billionaire Boy, Ratbuger, Demon Detnist or Bad Dad. The author takes readers on a journey with a flying saucer that crash-lands in a cornfield and the meeting up with an Alien creature. This novel, like previous fictional titles by the author, is filled with varied fonts, inventive words and an abundance of illustrations by Adam Stower whose comical style accompanies Walliams comical style (and now seems to be the authors’ partner in mischievous narrative). A story of alien creatures and space race adventures between America and Russia is sure to please young readers as much as it did with me.
TYGER by SF Said
Readers are quickly drawn into the story when Adam, who is forced to live in a ghetto with his Muslim family, when early in the novel he discovers something incredible in a rubbish dump in London, It is Tyger and Tyger is in danger. Adam (who dreams of being an artist) and Zadie (who dreams of being a writer), are determined to save the tyger at all costs. But this is a more than a survival story. Set in in an alternative 21st. century London, the world is on the verge of destruction and Tyger inspires the two friends to use their powers of perception, imagination and and to save their family and their community. A friend from England highly recommended this novel by award-winning author SF Said, best known for his novel Varjak Paw. The reviews from Britain have the stuff of any author’s dream: “an utter masterpiece”; “breathtaking”; “absolutely blown away”; “extraordinary”; “a gem”; “a classic”; ‘the publishing event of the year”. Tyger is a magical, mythical story with stark cinematic images and thrilling adventure that are sure to engage lovers of fantasy. Disclaimer, I am not a lover of fantasy and tend to stay away from Dystopian narratives. There is no doubt that SF Said is a great storyteller and has here presented a thought-provoking good vs evil work about colonialism, classism, racism and spirituality. There are some breathtaking episodes (public hanging; entering a magical world beyond doors ). Breathtaking too are the dynamic black and white illustrations by artist Dave McKean which add power as the pages are turned. Yes, a thrilling ride and a challenging one for its allusions, symbolism and fantasy.
THE UNDERCOVER BOOK LIST by Colleen Nelson
Tyson is known as the class troublemaker and Jane the the class bookworm join forces within a secret club to find Jane a new book-loving friend. Canadian novelist, Colleen Nelson weaves two stories together. where each character discovers their own self-reliance and courage to overcome obstacles. This novel is a finalist for several book awards and will particularly engage middle-age readers who think about their identities (who doesn’t?) and how caring, empathetic friendships are built.
THE ANTIRACIST KID: A Book about Identity, Justice and Activism by Tiffany Jewell; illus. Nicole Miles
Tiffany Jewell is the author of This Book is Anti-Racist and this publication guides readers into answering such questions asWhat is Racism? and What is Antiracism. This informative how-to book is divided into three sections: IDENTITY; JUSTICE; RACISM helping to teach readers how to recognize racism and injustice and motivate them to think about what they can do about them at at school, in the community, in the world. The book is beautifully laid out with colorful illustrations, quotes vocabulary and facts. Hooray for this thoughtful – essential guide for caring citizens ages 9-13. Bravo!
THE MISSING by Michael Rosen (Ages 11+) (BIOGRAPHY)
British author Michael Rosen had heard stories about his great uncles who were there before the war, but not after. Rosen embarks on research to discover the true story of his family in World War II and takes readers on an investigative journey to find about the disappearance of people lost during the holocaust.
MORDECHAI ANIELEWICZ: NO TO DESPAIR by Rachael Hausfater (Ages 12+)
(translated by Alison L. Strayer) (BIOGRAPHY)
Set in Poland during the Holocaust, No to Despair is a powerful account of the final days of the life of Mordechai Anielwicz, the young leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization that led to the insurrection agains the Nazi control. Anielewicz was a revolutionary leader with resolve and immense strength of resistance with obligations to defend each other, no matter the costs. “The opposite of despair is not hope, it’s struggle.” This title is part of the “They Said No” historical fiction series from Seven Stories Press for young readers about protestors, activists and revolutionaries (e.g., Harvey Milk, Primo Levi, George Sand, Victor Hugo)
OVERHEARD IN A TOWER BLOCK by Joseph Coelho; illus. Kate Milner (ages 11+) (POETRY)
Joseph Coelho, award-winning poet, is the Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022-2024. Overheard in a Tower Block is an anthology of his poems illuminating life growing up in a city.
As your book forms its leaves,
as you leave the story for others to read,
make sure you bind well your spine,
Don’t let the ink smudge on a word.
For you yourself are a book.
You yourself are a library.
SHOUT OUT: FICTION
A ROVER’s STORY by Jasmine Warga
Resilience (Rez for short) is a robot built to explore Mars and send information about life on the planet. When Mars and his companion, a friendly drone helicopter named Fly, navigate Mars, they soon discover the dangers of dust storms and giant cliffs. From the beginning of the story, we learn that Rez is developing humanlike emotions which is most unusual for a Rover. The novel is structured into five parts (‘Preparing’; ‘Launch” ‘Roving’; ‘Our Mission’; ‘Home’.) Interspersed throughout the novel is a series of letters written over decades by Sophie, the daughter of a NASA scientist who helped to create the robot. Though Rez will never read these letters they bring an added sense of humanity to the narrative. The adventures are told in the first person view of the robot which inspires both understanding and compassion for readers about space exploration. This book came to me when I asked a bookseller to recommend the best book she recently read who handed me a copy of A Rover’s Story with great enthusiasm, This piece of fiction, inspired by real life Rovers, is guaranteed to be a huge success read widely by readers, especially 9- 12. It is already listed on The New York Times bestseller’s list for Middle Age fiction. An enthralling read!
Author’s note: “To me, a novelists job is to use fiction to take something true and bring it to life in a unique and exciting way. This isa book that is informed by scientific facts but made whole through imagination.”
SHOUT OUT: FICTION
TWO DEGREES by Alan Gratz (fiction, ages 10-14)
Author, Alan Gratz has done it again. He’s written another thrilling adventure story – make that THREE amazing stories – in this novel about characters entrapped in three climate disasters. The book is divided into six parts, plus epilogue. Each part presents a narrative about different characters. This alternating has worked successfully for Gratz before (Refugee; Ground Zero) and in this novel, the author presents grab-your-throat adventures that moves the readers along (I suppose, one could choose to focus on one story at a time). Akira is caught in the wildfires of California; Own and George are threatened by hungry polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba and Natalie is dragged into a massive hurricane which comes crashing through Miami. Each of these characters are swept in the devastating effect of climate change and it is more than their stories of survival that connects them. This is a powerful important novel of our times, helping readers thing about the urgency of the climate crisis and what individuals can do to make a difference. This book, like other Gratz titles, will be widely read. This book should be read. Fasten your seat belts, this is an amazing work of fiction. Amazing!
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday
A handbook of personal stories and paintings; a list of 52 things to look forward to
Award winning author-illustrator Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse; If You Come to Earth…) presents a collection of joyful things to consider, to aspire to to ensure that we life is lived optimistically. Through 52 short personal stories accompanied with remarkable paintings, Blackall offers a handbook of things to notice to make the most of our time here on Earth: A Hot Shower; A New Word; First Snow; A Full Moon; Listening to a Song You’ve Never Heard Before; Moving the Furniture Around; Making A List; Coming Home. I so loved this inspirational gem that I bought 10 copies that will take care of much of my Christmas / Chanukah gift-giving for friends and relatives young and old.