“BOYS WILL BE …” THE EMOTIONAL LIVES OF MIDDLE SCHOOL BOYS: 2024 titles

The  mostly titles listed in this posting explore themes of PUBERTY, MASCULINITY and THE EMOTIONAL LIVES of boys.  Each of the middle school characters deal with issues that many young teenagers can identify. Each book deals with a ‘tough topic’ issue (e.g., poverty, gender and queer identity, death loss and remembrance, racism) and could be added to my recommended list of fiction presented in my book Teaching Tough Topics.  As luck would have it, several of these titles are written in the free verse format which I’m quite fond of. 

 

AND THEN, BOOM! by Lisa Fipps (Verse novel)  / POVERTY

In her debut novel, Starfish (2021), Lisa Fipps wrote a powerful story about body shaming and the trials and tribulations of a young adolescent girl dealing with her weight and with bullying.  The author’s newest novel is a look into the harsh realities of living in poverty. Whenever she gets ‘the itch’. Joe’s mother abandons her son. He and his grandmother are left to downsize, to pay the bills and use any means to fight hunger. Life for Joe, is filled with unexpected ‘And then…’ moments, especially large one’s that are unexpected BOOM moments which demand that he face challenges, make decisions and solve problems in order to survive from day to day.  When life gives you lemons – A death, a storm, starving and the care of stray dogs – it is hard to make lemonade. Joe’s resilience and strong character help him get through life’s “And Then, BOOM” events. “Every story boils down to and thens and BOOMS!/ And -thens and BOOMS, but  are all about the moments when something happens that changes everything./ It could be bad. And it could be good but it’s often not.” (p. 5). Joe’s life circumstances often broke my heart but I was compelled to cheer for him  because of his humour and hope even when hard days got worse.   I absolutely LOVED this novel. I can’t wait for another Lisa Fipps publication. 

Excerpt (p. 65)

Hunger is day-in, day-out luck,

creating inside you

an urgent need, 

a craving, 

a longing

for something you can’t survive or thrive without 

and yet 

you don’t have it.

 

Hunger just isn’t about food. 

 

ASKING FOR A FRIEND by Ronnie Riley / MENTAL HEALTH / QUEER IDENTITY

“Labels can change as you grow… and just because you identify one way now, doesn’t mean you’ll always identify that way. Things change, people change, and labels are fluid.” (pp. 108-109)

Nonbinary Eden Jones suffers from social anxiety. They feels that their life is  ‘pathetic’ and they want to be as invisible as possible.  Their mother has moved them to a new school, hoping things will get better. Eden Jones is asking for a friend. Actually, they need a few friends because their mother is expecting them to invite them to his birthday party, but Eden has lied about his friendship circle.  Even though they are reluctant to approach them, Eden gradually comes to develop friendships with Duke, Ramona and Tabitha .  Things are getting better for Eden as the group starts to bond… but they remain trapped in the lies they told his mother  – and their new ‘sort of real’ friendships. Ronnie Riley (queer, trans, nonbinary, lesbian, neodivergient) has done a remarkable job of presenting a cast of nonbinary, lesbian, trans characters who find joy in their queer identity even through the ups and downs of friendships. 

 

CALL ME AL by Wali Shah and Eric Walters / ISLAMOPHOBIA

“It’s only because of hate that we understand the need for love.” (Dr. Martin Luther King) (see page 207)

This excellent novel is centred on the character of Ali Khan, who, with the hope of better ‘fitting in’ prefers to go by the name Ali. Eigth grade Ali does very well in school but is not as perfect as his father wants him to be. Al’s father was a doctor in Pakistan and now works as a cab driver striving to do the best for his family. He has strong aspirations for his 3 sons and even though Al is respectful of his father’s outlook, he is becoming independent particularly with his interest and talent for writing poetry. (Doctors don’t write poetry. Al is up against racist views with his peers and more dramatically on shopping trip with his mother and brother when some thugs attack them, shouting ‘Go back where you came from!’.  Poet, Wali Shah and Master novelist, Eric Walters have told a special story, about an immigrant family,  a special teacher, and a conflicted teenager which that many of young adolescent readers will certainly connect to. Understanding of social class,  insights and information about celebrating Ramadan are strong features of this book, as is the belief that “Forgiveness is Peace “. Call Me Al is absolutely a highly recommended choice from Dr. Larry. 

 

MID-AIR by Alicia D. Williams (Verse novel) / DEATH LOSS & REMEMBRANCE 

Eighth-grade student Isaiah feels lost. He is struggling with the loss of his best friend Darius who was killed in accident. Isaiah feels guilty for the part he played in the hit and run accident and worried about the dwindling friendship with Drew who he enjoys hanging out with doing wheelies, watching movies and attempts to break Guiness World Records before entering high school. Isiah can’t seem to cope with a lost friend and a fading friend  his feelings of grief and the need to forge ahead with honesty and grace. The verse style and use of slang and vocabulary are relatable and well-suited for the reflective stance of this black teenage character.

 

DEAR MOTHMAN by Robin Gow (Verse novel)  / DEATH LOSS & REMEMBRANCE / TRANS IDENTITY

Nora / Noah’s best friend, Ella / Lewis, was killed in a car accident Noah is trying to come to terms with the loss. Noah and Lewis understood each other and had much in common, including the fact that they were both Trans. The novel is mostly written as letters to Mothman,  Lewis’s favourite cryptid, who may or may not be living in the woods near Noah’s house. Strange appearances convince  Noah that Mothman is real and Noah decides to make Mothman the subject of his science fair project and gather as much evidence to prove its existence. When Noah makes friends with three girls, he finally comes to feel that he belongs. Through the extended metaphor of a lonely creature, Robin Gow has created a compelling story about grief,  gender issues and acceptance. The journal letters. as well as recounts. of everyday events are presented as free verse (in rather small font) and provide a narrative, and an honest expression of emotions. Dear Mothman and an authentic confessional account of a preteen  boy living with autism who is dealing with grief and their  queer identity. 

Excerpt (p. 157)

Why is being a person so hard sometimes?

I keep getting sad and thinking

“Maybe it would be easier to not have friends at all>”

 

Then I’m like – no, Noah. 

You love your friends.

This is just hard. 

 

JUDE SAVES THE WORLD by Ronnie Riley / QUEER IDENTITY

“Being nonbinary, and figuring it out young, has been a little strange. I know who I am, butr I’m unsure how to tell the world.” (p. 4)

Twelve-year old Jude is rather comfortable with their nonbinary identity but he is not sure that others in their world understand them (especially their grandparents).  Jude has a deep friendship with Black gay friend, Dallas (“He’sthe only person who’s willing to call me out when I do dumb things.” (p. 60) Stevie, a popular girl in their class adds to the friendship duo, but her loyalties are divided and she abandons the bond that she had with Jude and Dallas. Hoping to give support to others in the community, Jude creates the first Diversity Club to town, a safe place, where marginalized people, young and old, can come togetehr and share their stories with out  concerns without being judged. Ronnie Riley’s novel provides a safe space for queer, nonbinary and disabled readers (Jude is diagnosed as ADHD) who are coming to terms with coming out, struggling to maintaining friendships and questioning their identities. Riley’s goal writes are especially written for young trans, nonbinary and queer readers with the hope that the find pieces of themselves in this story, and offers their wish “I hope you all the unconditional love and strength in the world.’  This book is for fans of Alex Gino and A.J. Sass fiction. See also: 

Excerpt (p. 62)

But those three words haunt me.

Are you sure?

Am I sure I’m not a girl or a boy. Yes.

Am i sure my gender can be described as waving my hands in the air and wanting to scream into a pillow? Yes.

Am  sure I’m worthy of love? Up until that moment, I thoght so. 

 

RED BIRD DANCED by Dawn Quigley (Verse novel) / INDIGENOUS CULTURE

This is a verse novel, presented in alternating voices of a girl named Ariel, passionate about ballet dancing, and her neighbour Tomah, a struggling reader who seems to get by by making others laugh. The two friends live in the city’s Intertribal Housing Complex  When Ariel’s Auntie goes missing, Ariel’s dancing suffers and she strives to keep the memory of her missing aunt alive. (“Dancing is how i connect my body and soul to the earth”. Ariel and Tomah carry each other through their sadnesses and struggles. Dawn Quigley, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe does a brilliant job of unpacking the trials and tribulations of urban Native kids and their connections with those who came before them and their resilience even when bad things go on outside the front door in the city. Quigley masterfully uses the free verse form to illuminate the emotions and stories of two Native citizens. Readers are given insights into the Native culture (e.g. Jingle dancing) but  especially come to understand the plight of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MM1W) through aunt Binieshinh’s story.Impressive too is the description of bird life that serves as a metaphor for the character’s world views.  This book deserves awards. 

Excerpt

Life in the housing complex / meant/ family is a / doorstep away. / Life is in/ our relatives/  relatives/ who may not be blood related/ but are like tree/ roots that/ intertwine and hold on / to one another unseen (p. 12)

 

THE TENTH MISTAKE OF HANK HOOPERMAN by Gennifer Choldeonko / POVERTY/FAMILY

What do you do when your mother disappears from your life? Where do you go? Who will take care of you? Will your mother come back into your life?  When their mother takes off,  sixth grade student Hank Hooperman and his three year-old-sister, Boo are forced to move from their home. Hank and Boo are totally dependent on each other and are  filled with love for each other.They are temporarily put into the foster care of a senior citizen, Lou Ann Adler who was a good friend of Hank’s grandmother and even though Hank tries hard to be a really good kid, it seems to be too much for Lou Ann. Hank develops friendships at his new school as well as with a compassionate neighbour named Ray who understands what Hank is going through. More than anything, wants to find his mother but she has problems that he can’t solve (she is known to be an alcoholic). Award-winning Newbery Honor  Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) writes appealing narratives with feisty fictional heroes who are caught in the web troubling circumstances. Her books are guaranteed to engage middle years readers as they root for resilient characters like Hank Hooperman, a boy who makes mistakes, makes decisions and  struggles to carriyon, even though life has tossed him a batch of lemons. 

 

ULTRAVIOLET by Aida Salazar (Verse novel) / TOXIC MASCULINITY

Thirteen year old Elio Solis tries to navigate social media, friendships, his Mexican culture  and his changing body. Swimming in his head are his mother’s warnings about toxic masculinity and consent and his father’s warning to ‘man up’.  In fact, his father takes him witness a cock fight as well as  partake in a community man’s group called ‘Brother’s Rising’  Elio is also experiencing ‘head over heels’   feelings for the beautiful Camilla, so much so that he sees the world as ultraviolet. When Elio’s heart is crushed by the blows of first love, he struggles with the ups and downs of coming of age. Through splendid accessible poetry, sprinkled with Spanish language, Ultraviolet provides a strong perspective  and questioning of masculinity.

Excerpt (p. 43)

So does that mean

I’m automatically toxic?

No, not you, but behavior like that could be.

As a boy you have priveliges that girls don’t.

It’s what the world gives you

just for being a boy. 

That doesn’t seem fair, I shrug. 

 

ETC.

THE CHOCOLATE WAR by Robert Cormier (1974) / YA+ / BULLY POWER

“They tell you to do your thing but they don’t mean it. They don’t want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too.” (p. 248)

Trinity boys school is conducting a fund-raiser to sell chocolates and Jerry Renault is the only student who refuses to take part in this school-wide initiative, even though it means defying the challenge of a secret school society called The Vigils. The Vigils lead by the abusive, manipulating Archie is the foundation for what one character claims is “something  rotten in the school. More than rotten.. Evil.” A poster that hangs in Renault’s locker asks: Do I dare disturb the universe? and this question serves as the moral compass of Jerry’s stance. Top (opening sentence: “They murdered him'” to bottom (“Someday, Archie you’ll get yours” )  Archie is probably one of the most evil characters in literature whos behaviour is beyond bullying as he tortures others with his words and actions (as is  Brother Leon, the domineering teacher who leads the project.  This story grew from an incident  with his teenage son, Peter, who came home from school one day with boxes of chocolates to sell and announcing that he didn’t want to do.The Chocolate War is an astonishing read, albeit an absolutely chilling chilling read. Devastating! I will  be seeking out the sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War.

I know I’ve read this book many years ago, but in honour of its 50th year of publication, I decided to read this novel – one of the top ten banned books in classrooms throughout North America. In one Florida Middle school, teachers endured abusive harassment and death threats because of the stand they took.  Criticism for the book centred on the anti-authority worldview,   a gutsy violent ending, and yes, the inclusion of masturbation. “Too complicated. Too many characters. A downbeat ending, which teenagers in the 1970’s would find difficult to accept. Too violent. Not quite an adult novel, too sophisticated to be a juvenile novel. Too unbelievable.” (Introduction by Robert Cormier, 1997, edition) At that time, Corman sent a message, “I have been at a loss for words. The ironic thing is that words are my business, and thw words in my books have been the cause of so much trouble” (in the New York Times, Sunday June 2, 2024, p. 32). . Throughout his life, Robert Cormier put forth mighty efforts combatting attempts to ban The Chocolate War. Like many authors do today. 

In the edition that I read a short essay is included by author Patty Campbell, the author of the biography of Robert Cormier who she calls the ‘grand master of young adult fiction.”  (e.g.,  I Am the Cheese, After the First Death, Fade, The Bumblebee Flies Away, The Rag and Bone Shop).  The following is an excerpt from her piece entitled ‘Who is this Robert Cormier, anyway?”

“His writing is unique in its richness and power, as le looks unflinchingly at tyranny and the abuse of authority, at treachery and betrayal, at guilt and forgiveness, love and hate, and the corruption of innocence His novels are brilliant and complex structures full of intricate wordplay and subtle thought, although at first reading they seem to quite direct and simple. Because, most of all, the works of Robert Cormier are good stories, full of suspense and surprise and dramatic action as his characters struggle – sometimes unsuccessfully – to find an appropriate response to the existence of evil.” 

 

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FYI

BOYMOM: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity by Ruth Whippman

Journalist, Ruth Whippman investigates the changing complexities of manhood, focusing on the loneliness and longings that many boys experience. As a mother to three sons, this feminist writer offers a review of child development, a report into masculinity literature and a insights into society rules that often limiting boys from connecting with honesty and humanity.  As a memoir, Whippman digs into  the ultimate parent goal of raising good sons (which suddenly feels like a hopeless task). Chapter titles include “Boys Will Be Boys: Off to a bad start”; “‘Girl Stories’: What we are failing to teach boys about being human”; “‘Feminizing the Classroom’: Boys and school” and “Sex and Sexism”. 

GOOD BOOKS MAKE GOOD FRIENDS: GREAT NEW PICTURE BOOKS

Listed here are ten picture book titles – all terrific. The cast of characters for these varied recent publications includes a frustrated little witch, a group of young explorers,  a boy’s nighttime journey guided by light, a frightened leaf, a brother and sister dealing with mental health issues in their home, two young immigrants learning belonging, and racism,  two children venture out and skate on the winter ice of Lake Superior and a girl who loves loves loves good books! Unless marked otherwise, these titles are 2024 releases. 

 

BROOM FOR TWO by Jennifer Murano; illus. Scot Ritchie

A young witch-in-training has to deal with a ruined broom in order to pass  her flying test. With determination and a bit of magic, Little Witch resolves to get back in the air and dip and doodle her way to success (with a little help from her new friend Ramshackle Rat.  Words and pictures work together to offer young readers an entertaining story about never giving up. 

Excerpt

While taking her test, Little Witch: 

Dipped and doodled

Rose and Sunk

Flew in a circle

And landed BUMP1

 

GOOD BOOKS MAKE GOOD FRIENDS by Jane Mount

A shy young girl, finds friendship in the books that she reads. Book provide her with comfort and magic even though it means spending time alone while others are playful outgoing and loud.  Eventually she comes to find others who are as devoted to reading as she is. This title is a tribute to children’s book lovers, young and old.  What clinched the purchase of the picture book was the fantastic display of picture book and fiction titles, old and new. As a keen book lover, I was thrilled to see such titles as The Snowy Day, Goodnight Moon, The Little Engine that CouldThe Phantom Tollbooth, Harriet the Spy, Pax , featured on the front cover.  Page by page of Good Books Make Good Friends, it was great to encounter hundreds of titles that I have been part of my life. (I think I’ve read 90% of the books that have been recognized). Jane Mount – you and I are book friends!

 

THE GREAT EXPEDITION by Pater Carnavas

After being charged with the mission of delivering a valuable parcel, a group of young adventurers set out for the ‘wild country’ where they  beat insurmountable odds on their great expedition – in their own backyard.  Through engaging illustrations and adventurous recounts, Peter Carnavas presents a sure-to-please story of problem-solving and perseverance.

 

I TOO, AM HERE by Morgan Christie; illus. Marley Berot

Inspired by the Langston Hughes poem, ‘ I Too’, I Too, Am Here is an exploration of immigration, racism, and belonging. A young girl celebrates her shines a light on her home environment and honours the stories her family tell. Grandma tells of arriving in a new home and confronting racism  (In bright red paint someone had written GO HOME in big letters around her fence).  Dad recounts his first experiences with snow and encountering bullies who taunted “Go back where you belong!”. Mom tells her story of growing up in the south where Black people were not treated equally. The girl recalls a time at school when someone didn’t want to hold her hand because of her rich dark skin. Langston Hughes poem which made the girl feel beautiful, strong, and loved. This is a salute to people who have come from all over the world with stories and cultures that shape the places they call home. I Too, Am Here is a heartwarming story accompanied by vibrant illustrations.  

Excerpt

I sing out beyond the winding roads and buildings that touch the sky. 

The street I live on is made up from families from all around the world.

Our cultures twirl through the neighbourhood like spinning leaves spreading pieces of us all around. 

 

THE LIGHT FROM MY MENORAH: Celebrating Holidays from Around the World by Robin Heald; illus. Andrea Blinick

A young boy, celebrating the miracle of Hanukkah, follows his menorah’s light which carries him off into  an adventurous night sky journey. On his travels he witnesses families from around the world celebrating their own special holidays with the glow of a lamp or candle flame: diyas (Diwali); kinaras (Kwanzaa); candles (Sacandanvian St. Lucia Day) krathongs (Loy Krathong in Thailand) and strings of light (Christmas).  This is a tory, and informational text that illuminates celebrations and worships from around the world. Andrea Blinick’s illustrations capture the wonder and magic of shining light zigzagging North South, East and West. 

 

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I HAVE EVER SEEN by Nadia Devi Umadat; illus. Christine Wei (2023)

When war strikes there were loud noises everywhere that made a young girl’s mother cry. Mother packs up her family and they board a shiny airplane taking them to somewhere new home. Slowly adjusting to life in a new country, new seasons, a new apartment, a new school,  and new friends eventually leads to a special day when the family is given citizenship. On that day Mama cries happy teacrs and it is the most beautiful thing the young girl has ever seen. This is very very special story of moving to a new land. 

 

POETRY COMICS by Grant Snider (graphically illustrated poetry)

I often seek out new publications that feature poetry. I often seek out new publications that are presented as graphic texts. Poetry Comics is a wonderful hybrid of poetry and art. Most pieces are presented in a full page grid, each panel featuring a short line of text and a whimsical illustration. The book is organized into four sections, each represe ting one of the four seasons. In the classroom, this book can serve as a source for students to illustrate existing poems in graphic format, to encourage non-rhyming poetry writing, to create comics and to pay observe and reflect on their everyday experiences. (note: This  is an ideal book for reinforcing the comprehension strategy  of VISUALIZING. Delightful! 

Sample: “How To Write a Poem #1”

Find a quiet place/ A sharp pencil/ A blank page / Sti still/ Keep quiet / Wait / A poem will rush in to fill the space


Sample: “Other Oceans”

The wind makes waves in new wheat.

Clouds foam and froth like surf.

Night in the country is a sparkling sea. 

 

UPS AND DOWNS by Nancy MacNairn; illus. Doruntina Beqira

Life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows. This is the story of a young girl and her mother who has bipolar disorder. Even though her mother’s moods fluctuate, the girl never doubts her mothers love for a second. Even though times are sometimes difficult, Mom is ‘super great’ . This is a very important book about mental health issues that young people can learn about and think about. 

Excerpt

… my mome has bipolar disorder. It affects her mood and energy. It is not something taht she or I can control. Even though things are UP and DOWN, they are not all or nothing. Mom can’t always do things for us, but she tells us “I love you” a lot.

 

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SHOUT OUT

I’M AFRAID, SAID THE LEAF by Danielle Daniel; illus. Matt James

I’m very fond of  both Danielle Daniel’s publications (Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox; Sometimes I Feel Like a River, You Hold Me Up) as well as Matt James titles (I Know Here, The Funeral, Tadpoles).  This great partnership of these two award winning author has produced what is certain to be at the top of my list of 2024 favourites. Through simple text and glorious paintings, the Daniel and James have produce a book  of empathy and interdependence. The book is inspired by the belief that “all living things rely on each other for support and survival (jacket text). By reading I’m Afraid, Said the Leaf, readers will help readers of all ages think about that we are better and stronger when working together. Five out of five stars. 

Excerpt

I’m so cold, said the horse. / I will warm you said the sun. 

I’m so hot, said the bear. / I will cool you said the creek.

I’m so hungry, said the squirrel. / I will feed you said the nut. 

 

SHOUT OUT

SKATING WILD ON AN INLAND SEA by Jean E. Pendziwol; illus. Stewart (2023)

Two children wake up to the winter song sung by Lake Superior. They venture out into the cold and encounter tracks set by fox, deer, hair, mink, otter and wolf. Ravens croak, a blue jay scolds  before lacing up their skares and venture off to the surface of theice where the voice of Lake Superior vibrates beneath their feet and “hums a haunted meoldy, the song of water, held captive by winter, mysterious magical music as old as teh earth, rising up from her depths, echoing up and up”.  This is a staggering picture book achievement, a hybrid of lyrical poetic writing, narrative, and informational text. The art work by printmaker Todd Stewart is the best of the best of recent picture book illustrations. Skating Wild on an Inland Sea  is the perfect marriage of words and visuals. Staggering. 

 

 




A DOZEN CANADIAN NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

This posting presents a dozen terrific examples of NONFICTION which have been released fairly recently. . Each of the picture books is Canadian.  Each of the  titles invites readers to consider new information about different topics.  Each of these is sure to ignite knowledge, curiosity and wonder. 

 

SCIENCE: ANIMALS AND NATURE

 

BOMPA’s INSECT EXPEDITION by David Suzuki with Tanya Lloyd Ki; illus. Qin Leng.

Two twins on a nature expedition with their Bompa (grandpa) SECRET and discover the marvels of nature right outside their door as they search for insects. Readers join in with this family to share in the surprises and wonder of fuzzy bumblebees, dragonflies, caterpillars, ants and mosquitos.  David Suzuki is a master of providing accessible information about nature and animals and Qin Lang provides colurful detailed art work that offers information and story.

“What would the world be like without humans?”

“If we are gone.. the other animals would be left alone. No one would miss us.” 

SECRET GARDENERS: Growing a Community and Healing the Earth by Maija Hurme and Lina Laurent

Three children discover a woman named Amy planting vegetables in the yard of an abandoned house. Amy teaches Luna, Bianca and Billy how to grow food in a no-dig garden. Neighbour by neighbour joins in the gardening project until a secret about the boarded-up house overshadows the community’s efforts. Chapter headings (e.g., Composting, Sowing A Seed), labelled items and information presented in text boxes make this a splendid blend of fiction and nonfiction. Highly recommended. 

THE SMALLEST OWLET written and illustrated by Gerogia Graham

This book  is based on a true story that happened in an aspen grove where an owlet fell from its nest and was loyally cared fro by Mother Owl who stayed on the ground heroically protecting her owlet until its feathers developed. The richly detailed landscape illustrations are filled with texture and wonder.

“Small Owlet has never been out of his nest before now. He hears strange sounds all around and trembles with fear. He leans into his mother’s warm safe belly.

SUPER SMALL: Miniature Marvels of the Natural World by Tiffany Stone; illus. Ashley Spires

This a fascinating book about tiny tiny insects, reptiles and mammals, each with a superpowers (e.g., Oribtid Mite, Pygmy Seahorse Dwarf Latern Shark).  Information is presented in clever rhyming verse. Side panels for each animal is presented in graphic format to present information about each creatures superpowers. Ashley Spires lively illustrations, large and small are a delight. This is a GREAT example of nonfiction text where words and pictures inform and intrigue. 

from “Scaly-Foot Snail

“Clinkity-clank. Clinkity-clank

The snail all snails want to be.

An iron-plated escargot.

See how my enemies flee!”

WHAT WILL I DISCOVER ? by Tanya loyd Kyi;. illus. Rachel Qiuqi

A young child, anting to know ‘everything about the world’  puts on a scientist’s and asks questions about suns and planets, animals and trees, asking questions about lad, sea and air and the mysteries of the nature.  This picture book is a great resource of information and discovery, inviting children to reveal (and research)  their own questions about the natural world. 

“How do trees learn to talk to one another through their tangled roots? Do different kinds of tres speak different leafy languages? What tine creatures hide within the ice of Antarctica? How do they survive in the cold and the dark?

WAVES & WEBS: Patterns in Nature by Robin Mitchell Cranfield

This book invites readers to explore patterns that exist in nature (e.g., up in the sky, seashells, spiderwebs, starfish, sunflowers) and might encourage them to consider patterns in the world around them. 

“Bold patterns of lines dazzle the eye. A skunk’s thick stripes warn predators. “Stay away or you’ll be sorry!” Sunflower seeds send a happier message: “Time for a snack!”

 

 

PEOPLE

 

EVERY CHILD MATTERS by Phyllis Webstad; illus. Karlene Harvey

This book honours the history and resilence of Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island,  and moves us all forward on a path toward Truth and Reconciliation.”  Phyllis Webstad, the founder of Orange Shirt Day, offers inforamion and insights into the heartfelt movement where ‘Every Child Matters”. 

KIMIKO MURAKAMI: A Japanese Canadian Pioneer by Haley Healey; illus. Kimiko Fraser

The life of Kimiko, an ordinary woman born in British Columbia was changed during the Second World War when the Canadian government all all Japanese Canadians “enemy aliens” This is the story of Kamiko and her family who were force to leave their home and live and work in internment camps. 

A TULIP IN WINTER: A story about folk artist Maude Lewis by Kathy Stinson;. .illus Lauren Soloys

A beautiful beautiful biography telling the story of one of the world of one of  most celebrated folk artists  Her

colourful primatif scenes of Nova Scotia landscapes are poignant depictions from an inspiring artist who saw beyond the hardships of poverty and rheumatoid arthritis,

‘As Maud grew up, colour flowed through her days.”

 

ETC.

 

THE BE KIND ALPHABET by Anouk Frolic

An alphabet hook that instills empathy and respect presented as rhyming  poems through the lives of 26 animals (A= / B= Bee / C=Chipmunk / D=Donkey)

“Gecko, Gecko on the wall / Gecko I hear your chirping call. Found in many places around our Earth, / you hatcvh from an egg at the time of your birth.”

THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION:6 December 1917, at 9:05 in the morning: A poem by Afua Cooper; illus. Rebecca Bender

Powerful word and images help readers understand what happened when too ships, the Mont Blanc (carrying ammunitions) and the Imo (carrying war supplies), collided in teh Halifax Harbour. The disastrous impact of the resulting explosion is given a dramatic commemoration through Afua Cooper’s powerful words accompanied by historiical photographs and evocative illustrations. 

“The munitions heated and at 9:05 exploded/ Shooting death into the four directions! Boom!  Boom! BOOM!”

HOW TO MAKE A PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH in 17 Easy Steps by Bambie Edlund

Making a peanut butter sandwich should be simple. Tell that to a group of critters in this humorous step by step ‘how to’ recipe.

You will need…. 2 crows, 1 raccoon, 1 ht with brim, 3 oranges, i bunch of bananas, 4 mice, 1 skunk, 1 skateboard, 3 loaves of bread, 3 squirrels, 6 cheekfuls of peanuts, 1 miniature don ke, 4 wooden clogs, 1 accordian, 1 fallen log, 1 beaver, 1 empty jar, 1 badger

MIDDLE YEARS FICTION TITLES (PRESENTED IN PAIRS)

This posting outlines ten novels which have been published in 2024 (except for three books.) Several of these books have many things in common, so I have organized my reviews by arranging the titles in pairs to highlight some text to text connections. I have given six Shout Outs since I thought these  new releases by favourite authors are terrific and are likely to be on my list of favourites at year’s end. 

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SHOUT OUT

FINALLY HEARD by Kelly Yang

Finally Heard is the sequel to Yang’s previous book Finally Seen. Kelly Yang is quite the prolific author, who seems to release a new title year by year.  I highly recommend the five titles in her Front Desk series for their relatable characters, the unfolding and solution of  real problems and for illuminating NOW issues that are part of our world (Anti-Asian racism (Front Desk), undocumented citizens (Three Keys), living through the pandemic (New From Here) and censorship Finally Seen) . Kelly Yang has done it again  with her newest novel by exploring the ‘hot topic’ of the impact of social media on young people. 

Lina Gao is a fifth grade student who discovers a talent for making videos that help promote  her mother’s bath balm business and other members of the community. She is one of the last in her class to acquire a cell phone and though this helps her think she now belongs, she soon discovers that group chats can be dangerous. She and her friends are caught in the web of hurtful messages which exasperates Lina’s frustrations of growing up fast and learning to acquire a thick skin.  She is worried about her _OO_body, odour, and pimples.  She strives to be kind and gain acceptance from her peers but is distraught when a classroom bully torments her face to face and online on Discord. About social media struggles, Lina (and her friends) need to accept the fortune cookie message that “All things will be difficult before they are easy.” (p. 81)I  and her mother’s advice that “Being strong doesn’t mean suffering si, lently.” (p. 297). I was certainly impressed by the way Kelly Yang presents important facts about Social Media through a fictional lens. For example, Lina is influenced by the media to buy cosmetics to make her feel better about herself; The caring classroom teacher gives lessons on how the brain works and how dopamine effects our moods and  obsessions with technology;  the organization of an after-school information meeting warning students and families about the potential dangers of social media. One piece of narrative concerns an adult who befriends and tricks kids online. And there’s the now issue of cell-phones being allowed in class. What’s a teacher to do?

Kelly Yang has yet to win the Newbery Award but she absolutely deserves recognition not only  unpacking the trials and tribulations of puberty and shining a light on the obsession with social media for impacts the socialization and the mental health of young people.  Finally Heard gets a five-star review from me. Kids need to read this book, as do their parents and teachers.

Lina’s journey was inspired by real issues Kelly Yang’s kids have gone through. She writes: “I hope Lina’s story serves as a jumping point to start talking to kids about digital health before they get a pone. I hope it inspires, enrage… and ultimately leaves us with hope.” (p. 327)

“If I could go back to Harvard and say one thing to young Mark Zuckerberg, I would say this: “Yes, you mad the thing that changed the world. But you forgot the responsibility taht comes with changing the world. The next generation deserves better. They deserve the honest trutgh, so they have a chance to find out who they are before they’re shaped by an invisible machine.” (p. 337)

SHOUT OUT

THE ONE AND ONLY FAMILY by Katherine Applegate

Katherine Applegate first introduced the iconic children’s literature hero, Ivan, the silveback gorilla to readers in the Newbery award-winning novel The One and Only Ivan, published in 2012. The fictional story was loosely based on the plight of a real western lowland gorilla who was captured as an infant by poachers in Africa moved to a cage in a mall and finally released to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.  Reading the jacket cover for this new story, we learn that Ivan has become a father and comes to learn the joys and challenges of parenting twins. The book is divided into four sections (1. the wait; 2. the welcome 3) the worry 4) the wish. Applegate maintains her masterful style structuring  the book in short (1-4 page) chapters, each with a title. Short paragraphs of one to  three sentences are separated with white spaces, offering poetic expression to the narrative.  Needless to say the writing is once again exquisite (“My son is holding on to me. / Maybe it is not because of love or need or purpose. Maybe the movement is ingrained in a way we can’t understand… Perhaps babies hold on to fingers because they must. And perhaps that’s all we need to know.” (pp. 127-18).   And the Ivan stories of becoming a parent, caring for his wife and  newborns, loving his friends, and remembering his past in  Africa and in the mall are inspiring and touching.  The One and Only Family is the fourth and final book in the Ivan quartet (The One and Only Ivan: The One and Only Bob; The One and Only Ruby).  The One and Only Family is a book about Family and Love (with a capital ‘L’ Katherine Applegate will continue to write splendid books, but we thank her for your bringing  the beloved Ivan into our lives engaging readers – young and old – yesterday, today and for many tomorrows. 

Excerpt (p.174)

Stories, it seems to me are living things. Once you set the free, they’re like offspring. They have destinies of their own.

They are no longer your responsibility.

They belong to the world. 

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2 SHOUT OUTS by 2 authors worthy of  SHOUT OUTS

These two titles are connected because they are by two popular authors, each who has written over 100 novels. They aey are Canadian. They are prolific. They are great storytellers.  Eric Walters and Gordon Korman have each written a terrific novel centred on a talented eighth grade student who is facing a dilemma that turns their life around. 

 

THE CLUB by Eric Walters

Jax is a talented trumpet player. So is Liv. When the two meet up for band, they become fast friends but as the story we learn that there is more to the relationship than just being friends. The first 100 pages or so of this novel deals school life, band rehearsals and the ‘boy girl stuff’. Eric Walters captures the world of eighth grade students (and their dialogue) with authenticity. Then the narrative takes a twist when Jax and his single mother, and Liv and her single mother embark on a DNA project to determine if in fact Jax and Liv are brother and sister. Spoiler alert: Walters takes readers into the world of sperm donation. Procedures and information about women who choose to have sperm donors and the logistical and emotional impact of making that choice. We come to learn the meaning behind the title of this book as Jax and Liv learn about their possible extended family. As always, Eric Walters tells an engaging story. Moreover, as the expert writer that he is, Walters delves into contemporary issues that show, through fiction, how young adolescents deal with real dilemmas taking readers into  deeper understanding of friendship and family. The Club is another Eric Walters ‘winner’ of a novel. 

SLUGFEST by Gordon Korman

Arnie Yashenko  (Yash) is the sports icon of Claarington School District,’worshipped by the whole town ever since he won hsi first field day ribbon in kindergarten. Due to an administrative, , star athlete Yash is forced to attend summer school to acquire a mandated credit Physical Education Equivalency (PEE) aka ‘Slugfest’ in order to graduate from eighth grade. The fun unfolds as we learn about Yash’s ‘Slug” classmates (an academic superstar, two twins who are always arguing, a prankster, and an athlete who has warn off sports, and a girl who is into protests). Each of these characters has a chance to tell a story from their point of view through the novel’s multi-voiced chapters.  Heading this crew is an elderly teacher who is a terrific baker but teaches outside the box of what is expected from gym class (e.g. playing Duck Duck Goose, Musical chairs). The culminating event where the hapless Slugfest crew (a la Bad News Bears) partake in the local school football championships. Gordon Korman has the talent to present realistic situations with a layer of wackiness two great ingredients for creating novels that captivate middle years readers.Slugfest is a terrific addition to the Gordon Korman bookshelf. 

Excerpt (p. 271)

“… Who makes the best sports story? Underdogs!”
“We’re so under we need shovels to dig up to the earth’s mantle

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These two titles have been chosen as selections for Junior grade novel studies in the Peel District Board of Education. Both of these fantasy adventure stories are centred on central characters who enter new worlds and discover the stories of Black American folk heroes. 

 

FUTURE HERO: Race to Fire Mountain by Remi Blackwood (2022)

Jarell is a talented artist who is often teased at school. Visits to his local barbershop brings a sense of comfort to him. One day, however, Jarell discovers a hidden portal in the shop and he is suddenly transported into a legendary magical world of powerful gods and dangerous creatures.  Is Jarell the hero they have been waiting for? A sure-fire story for lovers of fantasy adventures. Race to Fire Mountain is Book One of the  Future Hero series. Other titles invite readers to partake in further Jarell adventures:  Mission to Shadow Sea (Book #2), Escape from Darkwing Cave (Book #3) and Battle For Sky Kingdom (Book #4).

TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY by Kwame Mbalia Adapted by Robert Venditti; illustrated by Olivia Stephens  (2019) (2022)/ Graphic editiion

Tristan, a grade 7 student, feels responsible for the tragic death of his friend Eddie. Eddie has left Tristan his journal which contained collected stories about African American folktales and West African mythology. While on visit to his grandparents in Alabama, Tristan encounters a doll-like creature named Gum Baby and when they squabble, Tristan punches a Bottle Tree and when one of the bottles breaks, a portal to a parallel world. In the world called Alke, the mythology and folktales in Eddie’s journ\al are real.  Encounters with the Bone Ships of the Burning sea, a visit to the MidPass inhabited by the Midfolk, and a place called the Golden Sky Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is filled with the stuff of fantasy adventures with such characters as the Fetterlings (Iron Monsters), Brer Fox)aunt, ok heroes Brer Rabbit and John Henry and winged women Miss Rose and Miss Sarah. As it turns out, when Tristan ripped the sky, he released a haunt which strengthened the evil characters which lead to Tristan and his new friends set out to retrive Anansi’s famed Story Box. Tristan also discovers that he is an Anansesem so that when he tells storeis, reality is affected to reenact his words. Readers who enjoy fantasy adventures are likely to enjoy this book and reading about the sky god Nyam, who is trapped in statue form, High John Carpenter who is seeking to gain power through the Story Box, Uncle Cotton who holds the Story Box and Brer Rabbit who is Anansi in disguise. To get the most out of this story, some prior knowledge about about African folktales would add power to this book. For me, (disclaimer: not fond of fantasy). the narrative was often not accessible. The book could lead to readers learning more about the fok hero Anansi. Robert Venditi’s ada[tion, is predominantly presented through dialogue. I would have like to have seen narrative captions to fill in some gaps in the narrative. The graphic art illustrations by Olivia Stephens are remarkable for their expressive characterizations, vibrant landscapes,  dynamic action scenes and energetic. cinematic quality. Other titles in the trilogy include Tristan Strong Destroys the World, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching.

This title is one of the Rick Riordan Presents series, an imprint of Disney Hyperion that was launched in 2018, publishing titles that use the mythology of various cultures and count in its storytellingo The books in the series are noteworthy for their diverse representation of characters an mythological deitiesSome titles in the series include: Winston Chu vs The Whimslies by Stacey Lee; The Lords of the Night by J.C. Cervantes.

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These two titles highlight the ups and downs of being a young adolescent, who questions their Muslim identity and try to come to terms with finding a place of belonging in school and in life.  

 

CALL ME AL by Wali Shah and Eric Walters

“It’s only because of hate that we understand the need for love.” (Dr. Martin Luther King) (see page 207)

This excellent novel is centred on the character of Ali Khan, who, with the hope of better ‘fitting in’ prefers to go by the name Ali. Eigth grade Ali does very well in school but is not as perfect as his father wants him to be. Al’s father was a doctor in Pakistan and now works as a cab driver striving to do the best for his family. He has strong aspirations for his 3 sons and even though Al is respectful of his father’s outlook, he is becoming independent particularly with his interest and talent for writing poetry. (Doctors don’t write poetry. Al is up against racist views with his peers and more dramatically on shopping trip with his mother and brother when some thugs attack them, shouting ‘Go back where you came from!’.  Poet, Wali Shah and Master novelist, Eric Walters have told a special story, about an immigrant family,  a special teacher, and a conflicted teenager which that many of young adolescent readers will certainly connect to. Understanding of social class,  insights and information about celebrating Ramadan are strong features of this book, as is the belief that “Forgiveness is Peace “. Call Me Al is absolutely a highly recommended choice from Dr. Larry. 

HUDA F ARE YOU? by Huda Fahmy (2021) (age 12+) / Graphic novel

This is a terrific graphic novel, somrewhat based on the author’s experiences growing  up and trying to figure out who she is (and what teenager doesn’t?).  Huda is a Muslim teen whose family has recently moved to Dearborn Michigan where she feels lost in a see of hijabis and realizes that her hijab can’t define her anymore. To find a place of belonging, she attempts to partake in a batch of cliques (fashionista, athlete, gamer) but is unsuccessful at being part of any group. Huda is a very smart girl  whose teenage awkwardness presents a warm, identifiable and humorous story of navigating Muslim Identity, developing friendships and confronting racism Huda Fahmy has created the webcomic “Yes, I’m Hot in This” and this witty and wise graphic piece of fiction is an A+ example of identity crisis  which a vast number of teenage readers  are sure to identify with. The number of panels on each page are rather sparse but the visual images in each frame are first-rate expressions of emotions and narrative, (as is the appearance of Huda’s conscience that appears throughout.  The title is terrific (even though the author’s mother wants the world to know that she hates the title).  Sequel: Huda F Cares?

 

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SHOUT OUT

These are two OUTSTANDING books, by two OUTSTANDING authors, each title sure to be at the top of the list of end-of-the-year favourites.  One of the reason, these two titles are linked because of the special relationship each of the main characters has with a senior citizen.

 

FERRIS  by Kate DiCamillo

Hurrah! Hurrah! A neel by Kate DiCamillo is cause for celebration. There is no doubt that she is on my list of favourite authors. Her multitude of fans would agree! Once again she tells a story with heart, humour and relatability. Emma Phineas Wilkey (Ferris) is an endearing character. Born under the ferris wheel at the local fair, her life is surrounded with fascinating,  likeable characters all around: Uncle Ted who, after having a dispute with Aunt Shirely,  has moved into the family basement to paint a history of the world; a feisty younger sister who attempted to rob a bank; a father who is worried about the invasion of raccoons; a best friend, Billy Jackson, who is a terrific piano player; a beloved -greif-stricken teacher; and last but not least Ferris’s much-loved grandmother Charisse who’s sudden stroke of illness is worrisome to the family; and oh yes, a ghost whose appearance is to take Charisse to the  Great Beyond An unusual hair-do, the quest to find 40 candles to light a chandelier, a budding romance, a loveable dog; and a  celebration of newly discovered vocabulary word are wonderful are ingredients the author has invented for a wonderful piece of fiction. Throughout the novel, the mantra “EVERY GOOD STORY IS A LOVE STORY” is a reminder about Ferris’s determination to protect and love those around her and a testimony to the heart of DiCamillo’s  fine writing. This is a good story, a GREAT story, a funny, endearing, quirky story about funny, endearing, quirky family and community – who live to love.  Hurrah! Hurrah! 

 

TREE. TABLE. BOOK. by Lois Lowry

Two Sophies are the main characters in this novel. Sophie Gershowitz is a middle grade student and  her best friend is eighty-eight year old Sophie Winslow. They enjoy good times together. but when young Sophie learns that  the elder Sophie is forgetting important moments in her life, Sophie and her buddies Ralph and Oliver to help her senior neighbour retrieve her memories thus preventing her from going into assisted living facility. The novel packs a punch when Sophie Winslow recalls stories from her past in Poland. Thank you Lois Lowry for another treasured specimen of children’s literature. I so loved this pognant ‘must-read’ book.

 

HOORAY FOR FICTION: 2024 titles +1

The 2024 fiction books listed below for middle years and YA readers offered rich reading experiences indicating that this is going to be another great year for reading chidren’s literature. The three terrific ‘Shout Out’ titles are ‘must reads’. 

 

ACROSS SO MANY SEAS by Ruth Behar

This is a fine novel about heritage, culture and endurance. The book is presented as four separate stories, set in four different time periods, each centred on a young Jewish adolescent girl. In Spain 1492, a family is forced to flee their country because of the Spanish Inquisition that enforced Jewish people to convert to Catholicism. In the second part, we are in Turkey 1921, Raina, a determined young feminist disobeys her father who punishes her by sending her off to Cuba. In 1961, Cuba, we are introduced to Alegra who is Reina’s daughter and being caught up in Castro’s revolution decides to work as a brigadista teaching citizens in the countryside to read and write. In the final section, Paloma and her family (her mother Alegra, her abuela Reina and her father) take a journey to Toledo, Spain where the young girl when visiting The Sephardic Museum,  learns more about her ancestors and the plight of the Jews.  Somewhat based on the author’s own family experiences,Ruth Behar has done exensive research from a number of sources (listed in the back of the book). The result is a sweeping saga, an engaging narrative of past and present and remembrance and a rich specimen of historical fiction. Author’s note: “My hope is that young people of all faith and backgrounds will gain from this story a new understanding of tolerance and resilience.”

 

THE FIRST STATE OF BEING by Erin Entrada Kelly

Award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly offers middle age readers stories with relatable characters caught in adventures that provide landscapes for them to deal with their identiies, their relationships and their views of the world (i.e.,. Hello Universe (Newbery Medal), We Dream of Space (Newbery Honor), Those Kids from Fawn Creek and You Go First). The central figure in this new title is Michael Rosario who lives in an apartment complex with his hard-working single mother.. The place is Delaware, the time is the summer of 1999. Michael has just turned twelve and is very concerned about the approaching January 1, 2001, the Y2K date that he is certain will end the world as they know it. His good friend and babysitter, and an elderly neighbour try to calm Michael down but as “someone with a weighted mind, he knew on thing for certain: telling someone to calm down never worked.” It is teh appearance of a weird-acting kid named Ridge that sets the plot in motion. Not only is this stranger from an outside place, he has – spoiler alert travelled from the year 2199 as part oon of a mission his mother is involved with known as STM (Spatial Teleportation Module, aka a ‘time machine’.) What mysteries about the future can Ridge share with his new friends? What information can Ridge offer Michael to deal with reality? How did Ridge transport himself from the future and will he be able to return home? For lovers of Science Fiction and speculation, Kelly has presented a literary treat by creating a situation that makes the unbelievable seem believable. Audio transcripts of Scientific conversations, excerpts from ‘The Spatial Teleportation  Summary Book’ as well as identifiable stories of family, friendship, bullying and worry help to make this another terrific title from Erin Entrada Kelly. 

 

JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE by Naomi Kanakia (YA)

I was recently at a conference with hundreds (thousands?) of books on display and the cover of this novel intrigued me: A 3/4 view photograph portrait of dark-skinned person with stubble beard, who is applying lipgoss to his face. Picking up the book to read the jacket blurb, I read “Tara just wants to be treated like any other girl at Ainsley Academy.” I bought the book because I’m interested in any fictional work that deals with transness and transphobia to better understand the joys and challenges of being transexual. Tara is the first trans-girl in an all-girls school . The plot is centred around girls joining the Sibyls, an old-fashioned Ainsley sisterhood whose members must   code names from Roman and Greek mythology.  Tara wants to join the club (or does she?) but this opportunity thrusts her into defining what girlhood means, the intentions of belonging to a sisterhood club, and coming to better terms of what it means to be ‘different’ at the school. Tara’s ‘just happy to be (t)here’ The club might capture the interest of adolescent girls (I wasn’t entirely engaged with this conceit). Still, Naomi Kanakia’s title is a worthy important contribution to literature about gender identity. 

 

MID-AIR by Alicia D. Williams (Verse Novel)

Eighth-grade student Isaiah feels lost. He is struggling with the loss of his best friend Darius who was killed in accident. Isaiah feels guilty for the part he played in the hit and run accident and worried about the dwindling friendship with Drew who he enjoys hanging out with doing wheelies, watching movies and attempts to break Guiness World Records before entering high school. Isiah can’t seem to cope with a lost friend and a fading friend  his feelings of grief and the need to forge ahead with honesty and grace. The verse style and use of slang and vocabulary are relatable and well-suited for the reflective stance of this black teenage character.

 

OUT OF THE VALLEY OF HORSES by Wendy Orr

Pajama Press  Wendy Orr’s novels taht are engaging reading adventures for middle years readers. Many in this age group love to partake in narratives that feature animals.  For lovers of horse stories, this title is an appealing since it deals with survival, self-sufficiency and mystical horses. The Valley of Horses has been a safe haven for Honey and her family for years, but when Honey’s father takes sick, she is challenged to find a way beyond her home territory to  solve the problem.  It is stories that have helped Honey learn about people and places outside her home and it a dangerous journey which takes her family to a mysterious valley with extraordinary horses.  This is another gripping adventure story by a great storyteller.  Other titles by Wendy Orr: Cukoo’s Flight; Dragonfly Song; Swallow’s Dance, Nim’s Island).


THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton (1967) (YA)

Published in 1967, this groundbreaking novel written by S.E .Hinton as a teenager remains to be groundbreaking novel in the world of children’s literature. It is noteworthy for being the title for establishing a Young Adult (YA) literature  category of literature.The story of three orphaned brothers (Darry, Sodapop, Ponyboy), two rival gangs (The Greasers & The Socs) and one gang rumble has been read by over fifteen million readers across the world. I came to re-read the book to prepare me for seeing The Outsiders presented as a musical in New York. Have you ever re-read a book that you long-ago admired?if so, have you enjoyed it as much as you did when you read it at a different stage in your life?  Does the book hold universal truths to different generations of readers? I remember presenting this novel to my grade 7 class when I first began teaching grade 7. I know that the book remains as popular today in classrooms as it did when it was first published.   The words ‘If we don’t have each other, we don’t have anything.’ remains as true today as it did to a fictitious character named Sodapop. The copy I read was published in 2017 (50th anniversary) and contains archival photos. letters, reviews and samples of media coverage. BTW: for lovers of the book, the broadway musical version of this story is worth seeing. I liked it. 

 

TIMID by Jonathan Todd (graphic novel)

Cecil’s family has just moved from Florida to Massachusetts and the grade 7 boy is finding it hard to adjust and fit in. Cecil is a lack, church-going young adolescent who is shy (yes, quite TIMID) and doesn’t know how to go about making friends with oth, Black or White. What Cecil has going for him is an artistic talent for drawing comics and a steadfast determination that he will one day be a famous cartoonist, despite his father’s wishes.  The author frequently uses thought bubbles which help readers get inside Cecil’s head and his worries about being labelled an OREO (Someone who is blavk but acts white. The story is semi-autobiographical drawing parallels to Jonathan Todd’s experiences figuring out who his real friends were. Middle school readers will certainly care for  – and root for – this talented timid teenager. 

 

SHOUT OUT #1

FERRIS  by Kate DiCamillo

Hurrah! Hurrah! A neel by Kate DiCamillo is cause for celebration. There is no doubt that she is on my list of favourite authors. Her multitude of fans would agree! Once again she tells a story with heart, humour and relatability. Emma Phineas Wilkey (Ferris) is an endearing character. Born under the ferris wheel at the local fair, her life is surrounded with fascinating,  likeable characters all around: Uncle Ted who, after having a dispute with Aunt Shirely,  has moved into the family basement to paint a history of the world; a feisty younger sister who attempted to rob a bank; a father who is worried about the invasion of raccoons; a best friend, Billy Jackson, who is a terrific piano player; a beloved -greif-stricken teacher; and last but not least Ferris’s much-loved grandmother Charisse who’s sudden stroke of illness is worrisome to the family; and oh yes, a ghost whose appearance is to take Charisse to the  Great Beyond An unusual hair-do, the quest to find 40 candles to light a chandelier, a budding romance, a loveable dog; and a  celebration of newly discovered vocabulary word are wonderful are ingredients the author has invented for a wonderful piece of fiction. Throughout the novel, the mantra “EVERY GOOD STORY IS A LOVE STORY” is a reminder about Ferris’s determination to protect and love those around her and a testimony to the heart of DiCamillo’s  fine writing. This is a good story, a GREAT story, a funny, endearing, quirky story about funny, endearing, quirky family and community – who live to love.  Hurrah! Hurrah! 

 

SHOUT OUT #2

LOUDER THAN HUNGER by John Schu (ages 12+)

Jake is a thirteen-year-old boy who’s life is full of despair, He is depressed. He has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He is a boy burdened Anorexia Nervosa.  He is wounded by bully taunts  “Loser. Wimp Freak.”    There is no happiness in his life, other than memories of time spent with his loving grandmother and admiration of Broadway musicals and Emily Dickinson poetry (“I am nobody! /Who are you?  Are you. – Nobody – too?”).  Jake does not have a healthy relationship with his parents (His mother is also dealing with depression.  The voice is an evil character roaring inside Jakes head (“You need to  burn off more calories.” “You don’t deserve love and warmth and kindness.”  “You – are  – repulsive!” “You don’t want to get better.”) Jake writes “I want  to erase every single thing about me.”   When others notice that Jake is wasting away (literally)  he finally he  is sent to a psychiatric treatment centre where, Whispering Pines,  much of the narrative unfolds. The demonic Voice persists and Jake resists help from other troubled residents and from his therapists. Readers will root for things to get better for Jake and will read on to discover a turning point that will lead this teenager coming to  feel worth and to lead a better life. 

This book is a punch in the heart. The free verse style is a suitable format for the character to reveal his reflective thoughts. Some pages only have a few words. Some poems are written with one word per line. Some words are written. Many phrases are repeated. Many statements follow a repeated pattern  Writers are often advised to ‘write what you know’. In an afterword to the book, the author writes a letter to his readers stating “How do I understand Jake’s inner thinking? How do I understand Jake’s heart so well so deeply? The reality is that many of his thoughts, including his disordered thinking and eating, are passed on my own experiences as a young person. Louder Than Hunger parallels John Schu’s life in many ways makes it all the more harrowing a read.  It is  courageous, heart-squeezing story and though a tough read, Jake’s/John’s story  can open doors and ignite conversations. Any reader with compassionate heart will worry and care aboutJake and want to wrap their arms around him to give assurance and hope. As I read through the book, I became aware of the word ‘heart’ that is sprinkled generously throughout the book. I first encountered librarian and author John Schu at a language conference where he passionately shared favourite book titles with the audience and generously gave books away to individuals asking, “Who’s heart needs this book?” In her brief forward, author Kate DiCamill0 writes that ‘reading Jakes story will change you.” And quoting Mr. Schu, I say “your heart needs this book!

 

SHOUT OUT #3

OLIVETTI by Allie Millington

There are many novels for middle age readers about troubled tweenagers (e.g., Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner) . There are many novels about young people who have to deal with illness and grief (e.g. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin; ;The Probabilty of Everything by Sarah Everett. There are many books that are presented in the anthr0promorphic voice from the animal or natural world) (e.g., Wishtree and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate) . :However, I cant think of any books that are narrated theough the voice of a typewriter. Yes, a typewriter. That is not a typo.  Allie Millington has presented an original engaging story where a typewriter named Olivetti is featured as an important character. Olivetti has lived with the Brindle family for many years, often used by the mother Beatrice Brindle. When Beatrice mysteriously disappears the family goes into action to find out why and where she has vanished. Twelve year old Ernest who likes to be left alone to enjoy going through his collection of Oxford Dictionaries is determined to find answers to the family crisis which  for him involves a theft from a Pawn Shop. Olivetti comes to the rescue which heads him to break the only rule of typewriter  code and types messages to Ernest, which leads to the divulgance of memories stored inside him.  The book is told in alternating voices of Ernest and Olivetti. Applause to Millington for presenting a uniaue narrative.. The review of this book in the New York Times (Sunday March  24, 2024) was written by the actor Tom Hanks who is a collector and afficionado  of Remington, Underwwood and Royal machines that he calls ‘wondrous’ things and praises  Millington who ‘captures the essence of why typewriters are such extraordinary creatures.”. Dr Larry’s Review?:   Sensational  Stellar! Stupendous! Superior! S’Wonderful!.  

Excerpt

“Typewrites do not have the luxury of moving on. Remembering is the very language we speak. I am a patchwork of pasts, stitched together with stories. A tapestry of tales.'(p. 188)

HOORAY FOR NEW PICTURE BOOKS + DISABILITIES IN PICTURE BOOKS (list)

The following posting offers an overview of ten recent picture book publications. several of which are titles to be treasured.

A book list of picture books about disabilities that I recently prepared is also included FYI.

 

BUNNY LOVES BEANS by Jane Whittingham (2024)

Jane Whittingham creates books of beauty and wonder for babies (Bear Has a Belly, Animals Move) each clear rhythmic text, striking photographs and attenion to appealing concepts. Bunny Loves Beans engages toddlers with familiar fcoloours and fruits and vegetables that both animals and humans eat.  Ripe white, squishy white, /Plucked from the tree white –  /White for a monkey, and white for me! This i s a delightful title, to inspre repeated readings. 

 

FIVE STORIES by Ellen Weinstein (2024)

This is a very special title to shine a light on the immigrant experience. The setting is a tenement building in the Lower East Side of New York. Stories of settling in to a new country  are told through the eyes of five children and their families who have lived in the same building of the course of a century. The author cleverly adds to the narrative by telling owho each child makes an impact on the family that comes after them (e.g. Jenny Epstein, a young Jewis girl who we first first meet in the 1910’s grows into becoming the English teacher for the Italian girl, Anna Cosi. Floor by floor, family by family, story by story (pun intended)  is a testimony to history, community and diversity. This book is a treasure that works on many levels (pun intended).   

 

I’M FROM by Gary R. Gray, Jr.; illus. Oge Mora (2023)

I am familiar with the “I Am From” poem written by writer and teacher George Ella Lyon in 1993. The list poem about identity (“I am from the forsythia bush,/ the Dutch elm/ whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.”) has been taught in classrooms throughout the world and has been celebrated as a mentor text for students to write metaphorically about their own individuality.  Poet Gary. R. Gray Jr. has written his first picture book, I’m From inspired by his growing up in Preston Nova Scotia, Canada’s oldest community. Oge Mora’s lively cut paper illustrations add a great spirit  and vitality to Gray, Jr’s  words.  There are several templates available for young people to create their own poem portraits. Like Lyon’s poem, Gray Jr’s. words serves as another model for students to define where they are from. (I would have thought an acknowledgement would have gone to George Ella Lyon). 

“I am from leftovers, buttermilk biscuits, baked beans, and you better eat what’s on your plate.”

 

SATURDAY MORNING hy Mr. Paterson (2024)

The author of this book is a spectacular wire sculpture artist who happens to have written a delightful book about two brothers, Antwon and Bejoe who each enjoy going on Saturday morning adventures. Antwon plans on climbing ‘the stairs of determination and the ledders of ascension through the machinery of mankind.” Bejoe wants to ride his bicycle and “ride with careless abandon to places unknown.” Readers who join in the adventures of the two brothers will likely be entranced with the decorative, kinetic illustrations that accompany the text. The story is accompanied by an explanation of how James Paterson  was inspired to ‘drift in the thin places between waking and dreaming’ and describes how he made his magnificent Storytelling Machines.  I received an autographed copy of the book from the artist/ author who wrote, “Always imagine”.  Imagination abounds in this wondrous picture book. 

 

THE SEARCH FOR THE GIANT ARCTIC JELLYFISH by Chloe Savage (2022)

I say this is a fine specimen of a picture book and so says Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize (UK) who claimed it to be the best picture book of the year. All her life, Dr. Morley has been fascinated by the idea of finding the giant Arctic jellyfish and so with years of research behind her, and the assembling of highly trained crew aboard a ship full of special equipment, she sets sail for an expedition to the Arctic. Will her mission be a success?  Is the jellyfish just a myth? After  battling the formidable waters of the icy sea, and coming across a majestic pod of narwhale gliding through the water, a curious pod of beluga whales, a polar bear, it seems that the steadfast crew aren’t likely to succeed in their quest to catch a glimpse of the elusive creature. Readers join in the awesome expedition, cheering Dr. Morley, knowing (spoiler) that the jelly fish is playfully swimming beneath the boat. Chloe’s art work with cut away images of the ship, finely detailed scenes of teh crew working away and mostly the miraculous views of Arctic landscape above and beneath the depths of the sea. I sort of wished for an appendix that would provide scientific information about the Giant Arcic Jellyfish, but this book inspires inquiry and research into  the mysterious life of life this marine animal. The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish is an example of texts and visuals that bear several revisits. Stunning!!!

 

SURPRISE! by Mies Van Hout (2024)

I love Mies van Hout’s picture book style (Happy, Friends) His vivid, t energetic chalk illustrations , set against jet black backgrounds area always ‘surprising’ . Each spread of this book depicts a vibrant depiction of a bird celebrating the jouney of parenthood (i.e. ‘expecting’; ‘marvelling’; ‘caring’; ‘cherishing’)  Surprise is a marvelling, caring, cherishingtitle for young readers (and grown-ups) to enjoy. (I’d be delighted to own any one of  Van Hout’s electrifying  bird illustrations,)

 

STRUM AND THE WILD TURKEY by Noa Daniel; illus. Alana McCarthy (2021)

Strum is a baby peacock who’s feathers are not as dazzling as his brothers and sisters. Unwilling to shake his tail feathers, he strummed them like a guitar. When his siblings set off to find mates, Strum is left alone and one day encounters a flock of turkeys who enjoyed his music and asked Strum to join in with their musical group. This is a story about finding your voice (literally and figuratively) and learning to belong through the power of music. A musical peacock… a group of jamming Wild Turkeys… a story about being true to yourself, this picture book is a delight with colourful full-page illustrations by Alana Mc Carthy. Link to rhthmic song about being different ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LIirM7ymtA

“Strum sat on his porch playing his plume and singing his heart out to the moon.”

 

TIME TO GO, LARRY! by Alison Hawkins (2023)

How could I not buy this book? It’s got my name in the title. It’s about a bear. It’s about Larry the Bear who is perfectly happy, cozying up under soft blanks and being perfectly content to stay in bed reading a favorite story with  just right light shining through the window. Larry is eventually coaxed out of bed with the best possible breakfast you could imagine (eggs, bacon,  crispy waffles with honey and tons of butter). Can he be persuaded to go outside and play with his friends – and what will convince him to ever head back home to delight in splashing in a bubble bath? Larry, the bear,  who lovingly needs convincing to expand his comfort zone. i like this bear a lot.m

 

SHOUT OUT

THE FERRIS WHEEL by Tulin Kozikoglu; illus. Huseyin Sonmezy (2020/2023 translation)

On a recent trip to a bookstore, i picked up a batch of picture books. This one stood out fr purchasing. I returned the others to the shelf. Tulin Kozikoglu is considered to be one of Turkey’s most treasured children’s book authors an her recently translated picture book. The Ferris Wheel is a treasure. The follows the parallel journeys of two families from cities apart. On the left hand side of each spread is the story of a boy and his mother who take a day’s journey throughout their neighbourhood. On the right hand side of each spread, a father takes hold of his daughter as he cautiously lead her to leave their city. Each parent protect their child from unfamiliar places and faces. It is when both families go around and around on a ferris wheel until a voice says “Come on, time to get going – with a heart full of hope. Kozikoglu’s simple, poetic text and Huseyin’ Sonmezay’s illustrations, both stark and joyful,  ultimately inspires readers to think about similarities and differences and talk about war and immigration.  I sat and read this story with a warm, but sometimes heavy, heart. And then re-read it again.  It is the best kind of picture book creation where words lure you to the visual images and visual images lead you back to the word and then repeat. . It is a book that works on many levels. Outstanding!

Author’s note:

If the book inspires just one childtgo welcome newcomers with compassion and curiosity, then I will be content. Just one child is enough for me. That one child will make a lot of difference in the long run. 

 

SHOUT OUT

ORRIS AND TIMBLE: The Beginning by Kate DiCamillo; illus. Carmen Mok (2024)

Orris is a rat. Timble is an owl.  Can they be friends or like the fable, “The Lion and the Mouse”,  grow to have a symbiotic relationship. Not much of a spoiler (see title), this book (first in an early-reader trilogy) tells the beginning of a beautifulfriendship, centred on kindness and storytelling. Presented in 8 short chapters accompanied by engaging illustrations by Toronto artist, Carmen Mok, Orris and Timble is  tender and thought-provoking tale told with (of course) glorious glorious writing. A book treasure to read .. and read again. 

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DISABILITIES: A PICTURE BOOK LIST

BLINDNESS

 

Bryant, Jennifer (illus. Boris Kulikov. Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille (blindness)

Cottin Menena and Rosana Faria. The Black Book of Colors  (blindness)

Herbauts Anne, What Color is the Wind? (blindness)

Ho, Cariina and Jesse Byrd (illus. Monica Poolo Rodrigues.Mighty Mara (wheelchair)

Keats, Ezra Jack. Apt.  3 (blindness)

Lao, Jimmy. The Sound of Colors: A journey of the imagination (blindness)

MacLachlan, Patricia (illus. Deborah Kogan Ray)). Through Grandpa’s Eyes (blindness)

Yolen, Jane (illus. Tony Ross). The Seeing Stick (blindness)

Young, Ed. Seven Blind Mice (blindness)

 

WHEELCHAIR

 

Carlson, Nancy, Arnie and the New Kid (wheelchair)

Ho, Cariina and Jesse Byrd (illus. Monica Poolo Rodrigues. Mighty Mara (wheelchair)

Munsch, Robert (illus. Michael Martchenko). Zoom! (wheelchair)

Palmer, Dorothy Ellen; illus. Maria Sweeney. The Scooter Twins (wheelchair)

Willis Jeanne (illus. Tony Ross). Susan Laughs (wheelchair)

 

HEARING LOSS

 

Blackington, Debbie. Gracie’s Ears (hearing aids)

Klein. Maggie. Max’s Super Ears (hearing aids)

Moore-Mallinos; (illus. Marta Faberga). I Am Deaf (deafness)

Seeger, Pete and Paul Dubois; (illus. Gregory Christie). The Deaf Musicians (deafness)

 

ETC.

 

Rahman, Bahram;( illus. Peggie Collins). A Sky-Blue Bench (prosthetics; inclusion)

Scott, Jordon; illus. Sydney Smith. I Talk Like A River (stuttering)

 

INCLUSION

 

Hall, Michael. Red: A crayon’s story (inclusion)

Palacio, R.J. We’re All Wonders (inclusion)

Parr, Tood. Everyone is Different (inclusion)

Sanders, Jayneen ;( illus. Camilla Carrosine). Included: (inclusion)

Thomas, Pat. Don’t Call Me Stupid: A first look at disability (inclusion)

 

 

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INTO 2024: GROWN-UP TITLES

This posting lists 6 FICTION  titles + 4 PROFESSIONAL TEXTS. Though not all books were published in 2024, they have been recent publications that I have delved into. If truth be told, I didn’t love all of these fictional titles. That’s OK!

 

FOURTEEN DAYS  by Magaret Atwood and Douglas Preston (editors) (2024)

This is a rather unique collaborative novel. Atwood and Douglas invited 36 authors from the Authors Guild Foundation to each create a short story to support the charitable work of the Foundation. The diverse authors, several who are familiar to me (e.g., Margaret Atwood, R.L. Stein, Tommy Orange, Mary Pope Osborne,Scott Turow  have written stories about a group of New Yorkers left  behind during the Covid-19 pandemic. The stories, in this collaborative  novel  remained unbylined. A list is provided at the end of the book. As stated in the introduction, “the storyetelling act invokes magical  powers to heal spiritual and phsical sickness to ctransorm the profane into the sacred… stories are what make us human (viii). There will be many books written about the pandemic (e.g., The Vulnerables by Sigred Nunez) and this book brings togther a group of residents in a rundown Lower Manhattan building who gather on the rooftop over fourteen days, early in the early lockdown days of the pandemic, to keep each other company, each telling a story more or less  drawn from their past experiences. Stories vary in theme: love stories, fantasy stories, gruesome stories, funny and sad stories. As with any colledtion of stories some are more engaging than others. I wish that the editors had suggested that the stories be of fairly equal length. Some take up a few pages of narration. Some are rather long and these seemed to be less appealing for me. Kudos to Douglas Preston who was committed to provide narration that connec the cast of characters and link the narrative over a fourteen day time period. Fourteen Days is an intriguing collaborative venture that illuminates the circumstances and feelings and worries of the surviving the pandemic. 


I AM HOMELESS IF THIS IS NOT MY HOME by Laurie Moore (2023)

Laurie Moore is a beloved short story writer (I only read her anthology Birds of America.) The New York Times review claimed that this, her fourth novel,  ‘braids a historical ghost story with zombie romance.” Finn is a put-on-leave high school history teacher who visits his dying brother, Max, wh’s in hospice care.  When Finn gets a text, that Lily, his ex-girlfriend,  a depressed therapeutic clown is in trouble,  he drops everything, leaves his brother’s bedsi  and drives to Illinois only to lear  that Lily has died by suicide. Finn immediately goes to the green cemetry in which Lily is buried and – as is the stuff of fiction Lily’s appears. Finn then takes the decaying corpse into his car and sets off to drive to Tennessee where they will donate Lily’s body to forensic science. The more Lily’s body falls apart (“Beneath her skin there was the wiggling look of maggots in meat. Levity versus gravity was not a fair fight.” (p.121), the vaguer her appearance in Finn’s life (even after he proposes to her). Enough said – except for  letters written by a  19th century innkeeper named  to her  long-dead sister that we read between chapters where she shares concerns about a suspicious guest who has taken a room at the end. Perhaps you like to read stories about zombie corpses wearing clown shoes. (I would have preferred if Moore stuck to the relationship between Max and Finn, but that’s another story.  I would gladly have given up halfway through this weird, droll, philosophical, rather obscure and yes,  imaginative, book but I figured I could plow on since it was only 193 pages. I did not enjoy this book. I Am Homeless If This is Nor My   was the National Book Critics Award for Fiction Award (2024). Go figure!

 

SHY by Max Porter (2023)

I’ve come across high praise for the work of British writer, Max Porter (The Death of Francis Bacon; Grief is a Thing with Feathers) and chose to read his most recent release, Shy as my introduction to his work.. I wouldn’t really recommend this novella (122 Pages) to many people. It’s stream of consciousness,  poetry/fiction style is for those who like a rather abstract style.  Inventive to be sure. I bought this book because I read that a) it was going to be made into a movie (called Steve) starring Cillian (Oppenheimer)  Murphy that I look forward to seeing someday and b)  I am often intrigued with stories that get into the heads of adolescents. To be sure, Shy is a inside-the-head of a very disturbed character. Shy is trouble and his volatile behaviour has caused a lot of trouble. (He’s sprayed, snorted, smoked, sworn, stolen, punched, run, jumped, crash6yued an Escort, smashed up a shop, trashed a house, broken a nose, stabbed his stepdad’s finger.” (p. 6) .This trippy narrative takes readers into  few wandering nighttime hours when Shy escapes from the Last Chance boarding school. A lost soul, 16 year old Shy, worries about how he has treated his teachers, his parents and himself and his journey is haunted by dreams, filled with despair and guilt. Porter writes with inventive artistry, but this dark tale didn’t very much satisfy my reading tastes.  Oh well. I won’t be digging into Max Porter’s previous publications..

Excerpt

Shy laughs. Ya like that do ya? Proper housy vocals, pure ragga fire. Smooth, scary, lairy. All meat no dairy. Haha. The best British invasion since the steam engine? The future is hear, ’95 no fear. (p. 45)

 

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE by Claire Keegan (2021)

I recently finished (and loved) Claire Keegan’s recent publication entitled So Late in the Day (2023) and decided to re-read Small Things Like These to confirm to myself that she is a masterful Irish writer. In an Irish town, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant is kept busy during the weeks leading up to Christmas. He dutifully makes his deliveries and strives to make ends meet to keep his dutiful wife, Eileen,  and  his five daughters  as comfortable as he can afford. It is a story of community. It is a story of the past memories rising up to haunt the hardworking man.  Filtered throughout the narrative, is the history of a small community controlled by the Church. In a note on the text, the author gives a short history of the Magdalen laundries where many girls and young women lost their babies. Some lost their lives. Brilliantly,  Small Things Like These encapsulates the history of Catholic institutions through the story of one young girl who was locked up in the coal room.  I read that  this story was going to be made into a movie  starring Cillian (Oppenheimer) and I’m sure I will re-read this novella (110 pages) once again.  Keegan’s writing is precise in the telling, description and straight=to the-heart capturing of emotions.  I now plan on reading other Keegan rather short but mighty titles (e.g. Antarctica, Walk The Blue Fields, Foster, The Forester’s Daughter). 

Excerpt

“… he found himlef asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what ws there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?” (p. 108)

 

WANDERING STARS by Tommy Orange (2024)

This title can be considered a prequel, a sequel, a companion to Cheyenne and Arapho author Tommy Orange’s mighty first novel, There There, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It is not necessary to read the first book to dig into this sophomore publication. The book is divided into two parts: 1924 when the American government campaigned to eradicate the original inhabitants of the American land (i.e., “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” and 2018 when members of the Red Feather family lament society’s refusal to see Native American’s as existing in the present day.  The author conjures a world of ancestors and descentdents with a cast of warriors, drunks, outlaws, addicts and lets us into the world of  ‘all the Indina children who were ever Indian children never stopped being Indian children.”  I read this book at a languid pace. Fairly short chapters read like short stories: point of views vary from first to second to third person, without straightforward narrative. There are however, episodes in the lives of these characters  that paint an explosive, therapeutic existence of the Native American soul, particularly as seen through the yes the troubled teenager Orvil, who after a being accidently shot at a PowWow, relies on  drugs to get through each day. Tommy Orange is an outstanding author – at the top of the list of the best of contemporary Indigenous authors.  “Orange’s ability to highlight the contradictory forces taht coexist within friendship, familiar relationships, and the characters themselves, who content withholding private and public identities, makes “Wandering Stars” a towering achievement.” (New York Times, March 24, 2024)

 

THE WORLD AND ALL IT HOLDS by Alexsandar Hemon (2023)

Some friends highly recommended this title to me, knowing that I loved the book IN MEMORIAM by Alice Winn (about two WW I soldiers who fell in love). The World And All It Holds is an epic story, a sprawling narrative. The action starts in Sarajevo in 1914 and concludes in an epilogue Jerusalem, 2020. Rafael Pinto was Jewish and Osman Kariski was Muslim who met serving in the Austro-Hungarian Arm in World War I. Pinto and Osman “loved each other more than anyone had ever loved another person before, or would after, and were together for the rest of their lives even when they were apart, even after Osman died.” (p. 322), After escaping the trenches, they find themselves entangle with spies and Bolsheviks. Travels acrooss mountains and deserts all the way to Shanghai, Hemon presents a horrowing survival stor, ambitious story that is a tapestry of horrific, tender and hallucinatory events.  Most of all  it is a tale about tghe resilience of true love. this  The story is vast and expansive with some brilliant lyrical passages. I read , so much so that I read this at a rather slow pace. 

 

SHOUT OUT: PROFESSIONAL TITLES

BE WHO YOU NEEDED by Rachel Weinstock (Amazon, 2022)

The Caring Adult’s Guide to Helping Young People Transform their Emotional Well-Being, Self-Confidence and Happiness

Several years ago, Rachel Weinstock was a student of mine in the education program. I immediately recognized her to be creative, compassionate soul. She currectly works as a Transformational Coach & speaker for youth who are struggling with being bullied, self esteem and anxiety. I am very proud of the publication she has written which serves as an iinformative persusaive document to challenge and support those who interact with youth and may remember the challenges of growing up, needing to be recognized, to belong and to feel safe. Be Who You Needed offers practical tips and heartfelt stories for parents, educators and caring adults to engage and connect with young people.  The book is structured in 59 short chapters with such titles as ‘Perspective is Everything’, ‘Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Chair’, ‘Youre Braver Than You Thing’ and ‘Learning to Let Go’.  Rachel Weinstock is a person with a big heart and her heart is put into every page of this rich inspirational resource. In the afterward, the author writes: “My biggest wish is that this book plants seeds in people’s minds on how we interact with children to empower them to be their best sleves. I have always felt a deep calling to ake the biggest impact I can, and I hope this book is able to touch your heart.” Mission accomplished Rachel. Bravo!

 

THE HEART-CENTERED TEACHER by Regie Routman

Restoring Hope, Joy and Possibilities in Uncertain Times

(An Eye on Education Book / Routledge, 2024) / available through Pembroke Publishers in Canada. 

In the book’s opening, ‘A Letter to Readers’, the author’s lead sentence reads: “My goal, dear reader is to write to you like I’m talking to you, as a fellow traveler on life’s winding road, to share my journey with candor and humility.” I’m always eager to dig into a new Regie Routman publication, and when I read over the table of contents, I knew that this recent release would be a must-read. With chapter headings such as ‘Loving Our Students’, ‘Promoting Equitable Opportunities’ and ‘Becoming our Truest Selves’, I knew that the author would help us to think carefully about “developing, nurturing and sustaining caring relationships — in our teaching lives, our home lives, and in the happy intersection of both.” Particularly noteworthy is Chapter 5, ‘Developing Professional Knowledge’, which is essential reading for classroom teachers, consultants and administrators. A new Regie Routman publication is not only a cause to “nourish the heart, mind and spirit” but a cause for reflection and celebration. With The Heart Centered Teacher, she invites us to consider where we are and points toward the path for what we could be, what we should be, as educators.

 

MICRO MENTOR TEXTS by Penny Kittle (Scholastic, 2022)

Using Short Passages From Great Books to Teach Writer’s Craft

This book is designed to provide educators with a guide to help students focus their writing with clarity and power. This is accomplished by studying ‘micro mentor texts’  which highlights passages from  the deyze acclaimed books and use these passages to reflect and and analyze the choses authors make to craft those texts to engage readers and guide them into their own writing. I was lucky enough to sit in on a Penny Kittle’s presentation at the Reading For the Love of It Conference, 2024. Her expertise and humour was evident throughout. Most of all her work with adolescents to ignite their writing capabilities brings authenticity to the teaching of writer’s craft. Penny Kittle believes that ‘”all students will create independent reading and writing lives of joy, curiosity and hunger when given agency.” texts, and student examples that give evidence to the healthy writing community she establishes to inspire writers. This book offers a wealth of mentor A star you are, Penny! Thank you for your words, your wisdom and your work. 

 

POWERFUL THINKING by Adrienne Gear (Pembroke, 2024)

It is not by accident that the titles of Adrienne Gear’s professional are centred on the word ‘power’ (e.g. Reading Power, Writing Power, Powerful Poetry, Powerful Understanding) Each of Adrienne’s books is ‘powerful’. Her newest release, Powerful Thinking is designed to ‘Engage Readers, Building Knowledge and Nudging Learning in Elementary Classrooms.”  Gear is  passionate about helping teachers to stretch their thinking around reading comprehension, literacy instruction and content-area  learning. She is an authentic literacy mentor, drawing on her own teaching experiences and inspiring teachers through practical ways to inspire a ‘culture of thinking. The easy to follow lessons, the presentaton of anchor texts, the consideration for meaningful read-alouds in many subjects and wealth of theoretical insights serve as a powerful book to inspire powerful thinking about powerful teaching and learning.  Hooray to you, Adrienne for another fantastic professional resource.

INTO 2024: Middle Years Titles + 2YA

Unless designated otherwise, the following lists some 2023 titles that started off my reading for the new year. 

 

THE BLUNDERS by David Walliams; illus. Adam Stower

With 20+ record-breaking fiction titles  (55 million – copies) which have been translated into fifty-five languages, David Walliams remains to be reliable, preposterous, adventurous, silly, clever, rude (sometimes) and very funny! funny! funny!. I seem to be buying a new Walliams title each year and the wild adventures of the Blunders family (and their pet ostrich) who will do anything to maintain their crumbling house (Blunder Hall). The graphic formatting with varied fonts, , the comical illustrations by Adam Stower and the wickedly wild imagination of Mr. W. does not disappoint. The Blunders will likely raise sales of this author’s books by another million or so. 

 

THE BOOK OF WHYS by Gianni Rodarti; translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar; illus. JooHee Yoon (illustrated. nonfiction)

From 1955 to 1958, Italian journalist Gianni Rodari worked wrote two columns  “The Book of Whys” and “The Mailbox of Whys” for L’Unita one of Italy’s daily newspapers in which he answered questions raised by kids. The Book of Whys is a selction of Rodari’s answers to the range of questions he received. He sometimes answered with succinct fact, but always with wit and absurdity and philosophical wisdom.  There are 138 questions, none taking more than one page (e.g., Why doesn’t the moon fall down? Why don’t people get along? Why do we eat? Why can cats see in the dark? Why do we have to study? Why are we born? Why are grown-ups always right?). Most entries are accompanied by rhyming ditties (cleverly translated by Anthony Shugaar).  Proverbs, rhymes, parables are spread throughout). JooHee Yoon’s marvelous, often amusing, full page and border illustrations match the whimsical nature of Rodari’s text.  Joon writes:”My hope is for this book to inspire readers young and old to continue exploring this curious world we inhabit, to question the things we take for granted, and to never stop asking, “Why?”. This is a fun, thoughtful,  book for the curious-minded. 

A sampling

Wishes are like stirrups that poke us in teh ribs and make us run faster; as long as we’re wishing for things, we’re still alive…”

Dreams are imagesx constructed by your sleeping mind: a sort of slightly demented movie theatre taht opens for business in our brains onc we shout our eyes.

Why do you grow? Because you eat food, and you’re alive. The same is true for plants and trees, which eat through their roots and leaves; each and every leaf is a little workshop that pulls carbon dioxide out of the air, cooking up carbon for the plant and oxygen for us. 

I’m of the opinion –

Please attend to my song – 

That ‘grownups’ are always right

Except for when they’re wrong….

 

THE BOOK THAT NO ONE WANTED TO READ by Richard Ayoade; illus. Tor Freeman (2022)

This is a book written by a book. Richard Ayoade offers readers a rather short (108 pages) philosophical treatise on what it means to open a book and continue to read a book and to let readers in on the secrets feelings and attitudes of a book. This extended personification is often amusing (matched by hilarious comical illustrations by Tor Freeeman but what’s funny for some people may not be consider funny by others. For me, the ‘joke’ eventually wears thin even though the latter part of the book is a “telepathic conversation with a book in a library powered purely by your own imagination.”

Excerpt (p. 70)

How people treat books. They have no respect. They act like they own them.

Isn’t that because people do own them?

I don’t know how you sleep. Books aren’t just property. They’re not just things. They are alive!

But aren’t they also things?

So are you?

 

THE COLLECTORS: short stories edited by A.S. King / YA

Author, A.S. King invited ten YA writers to create a story about being a collector. King writes “‘toss out conventions, as if there were no rules, there was no ‘normal’ and they could be as weird as they wanted. Much of these stories are indeed surreal, odd and weird. Most short story collections, hetter by a single author or a collection of authors will have hit and misses, some better than others and this was definitely the case with this anthology. Some stories were rather long and sluggish (boring)  (e.g., “La Concha”by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo)  some were too obscure for me (I didn’t get them) (‘Sweet Everlasting” by M.T Anderson). The stories do vary in stylee (conventions were tossed out) but if readers are expecting straightforward narratives, these pieces didn’t always work. “Take It From Me” the tory of a non-binary adolescent collecting pieces of other people’s collections by David Levthan and “A Recording for Carole Before it All Goes” by Jason Reynolds is presented as a transcript recording made to a grandmother with Alzheimer’s was bittersweet were my favourites.  The Collectorss may appeal to teenagers who like to delve into teh uncoventional, the weird. The Collectors is the recipient of the 2024 Printz award award for excellence in Young Adult literature., a brave choice, I’d say. 

 

CROSS MY HEART AND NEVER LIE by Nora Dasnes; translated from the Norwegian by Matt Baguely (2020/2023) (graphic novel)

Tuva is a twelvey-year old Norwegian girl who is entering grade 7. She has a good relationship with her single-parent father. She has friends (Bao (loyal) and Linnea (whose loyalty changes when she finds a boyfriend. She is infatuated with a new girl who arrives at the school.  Cross My Heartg and Never Lie is a story of tumultuous  friendships and the temptation of keeping secrets and sometimes telling lies.  It is a story of ihaving a les bian crush.  It is a story of growing into our true identity and growing into an comfortable image that remains true to self. This graphic novel, presented as a diary will certainly resonate with many girl tweenagers who want to belong, to be cool and the journey of being a little kid to being a teen.’Dasne’s book is certainly an authetic picture of girlhood. It’s enterataing! It’s engaging.!  It’s terrific! Winner of the 2024 Stonewall Children’s Literature Award for LGBTQIA+ books. 

 

IMPOSSIBLE CREATURES by Katherine Rundell

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of fantasy stories but once in a while I  give them a chance. Even though I think I have a vivid imagination, i can’t seem to wrap by mead around “IMPOSSIBLE” (i.e., a magical land called the Archipelago where al the creatures of myth still live side by side with humans) situations and CREATURES (e,g,, Hippocamp, Chimaera, Laavellan, Nereid, Ratatoska and yes, dragons). The story centres on the wild adventures of a boy named Christopher who rescues a baby griffin who meets up with Mal, a girl on the run from a Murder and has the power to transform the destiny of the world. I decided to pursue British author Katherine Rundell’s book since I have enjoyed previous adventurous stories (e.g.,The Good Thieves, The Rooftoppers) by her and also because Impossible Creatures was named WATERSTONE’S “Book of the Year, 2023.”   There has been noteworthy testimonies from other authors. Michael Morpugo writes “There was Tokien, there is Pullman and now there is Katherine Rundell.’ Philip Pullman claims that readers will ‘seize this with delight’ and Neil Gaiman writes that “Katherine Rundell is a phenomenon.’ There is no doubt millions of young and old readers of fantasy stories will be in Nirvana heaven reading heaven with this book, first in a series. (one is enough for Dr. Larry)

Excerpts to give you a ‘taste’

“I have in my stores the bones of the chimaera and the blood of the cetus, and the sap  of the red urchin. But the blood needs six hours of steaming. And the forest has a bush of long-stemmed dew-wort, but it only flowers in the two hours before dawn. So you will wait.”  (p. 247)

“The arrows were taken from the quills of a manticore’s tail, fletched with feathers froma hippogriff, and tipped with karkadann poison. You wouldn’t survive being grazed by one. Then they reached the turning.” (p. 286) 

 

ONLY THIS BEAUTIFUL MOMENT  by Abdi Nazemian  / YA

This title was recently awarded the 2024 Stonewall Award for YA literature. It is one of the best novels in recent years that deals with  gay identity for ages 12+. The book is told through three voices in three different time periods. Mood is an out gay teen living in Los Angeles, 2019; Saeed is an engineering student in Los Angeles, 1978 and Bobby is the son of a calculating stage mother who has dreams of her son finding fame in Hollywood. The three stories interconnect in this intergenerational story of an Iranian family where secrets have kept grandfather, son and grandson apart. Nazemian does an exquisite job of depicting the Iranian queer experience and universal gay experiences of accepting one’s self . It is a captivating story of self-discovery, politics and  love. Though multi-voiced, the author offers large chunks of narrative to tell engaging stories of passionate friendships, gay culture and making choices. Only This Beautiful Moment is a beautiful beautiful – important – book, deserved of the Stonewall book prize for LGBTQIA+ literature.  I know it will be on my list of 2024 favourites. 

 

SHOUT OUT

MY HEART WAS A TREE: Poems and Stories to Celebrate Trees by Michael Morpurgo; illus Yuval Zommer

When I first ordered this book, I thought I was going to receive an anthology of tree poems and tales collected by Michael Morpurgo. No, each of thes selections ( 18 stories and 4 stories was written by the brilliant beloved British author. In the introduction to the book, Morpurgo writes that he was inspired to write this celebration of trees because of the daily walks he takes in the bluebell woods behind his house as well as being inspired by the spirit of poet Ted Hughes whose poem “My Own True Family” opens the door to this collection (“My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree. (Hughes).  Morpurgo writes: “I know ever one of the trees I pass. They hear me coming, they listen to me. I listen to them, to the whisper of them, the roaring of them, the creaking of them.”

Morpurgo’s writing offers more than a celebration to the 73 000 species of tress that exist in our world. It is both a reverence and worship of the impact trees have on humanity. Some poems are told by trees themselves (‘The Singing Tree’. Several selections tell stories animals that live inside and outside trees (“Down by the Riverside’; ”The King of the Forest. ‘The Murmuring Elephants and the the Giant Mango Tree’). Some selections describe the people who use trees (‘Oh Don’t Fall Down Over, Don’t Fall Down’; ‘All My Days’). Some poems are presented in rhyming pattern, several not. Each piece is presented with clarity, accessible vocabulary and imagery and appealing narrative. Whether a poem or a story, selections provide information and stir up emotions. Most of all, Morpurgo’s tribute reminds us to appreciate and cherish nature’s wonder that fills our planet. The visual images are as much a WOW! as Morpurgo’s words. The artist Yuval Zommer beautifully dresses each page with lush illustrations often decorated with glorious borders of leaves and branch details. This publication is a marvel. I am pleased to own it and look forward to re-reading it from from time to time. 

from “All My Days”

Outside my window still she stadns,

My dear old chestnut tree,

Always there,

 

All my days,

All my life. 

 

from “Here is Home”

Here I am still, and this is my tree

Giraffe comes by, elephant and rhino.

We leave them be, they leave us be.

Man comes too, knows to keep away, knows that

Here is my home,

Here is coolm

Here is safe. 

 

 

 SHOUT OUT

A WHALE OF A TIME  Edited by Lou Peacock; illus. Matt Hunt (Poetry anthology)

A Funny poem for Every Day of the Year

This I think.  

This I know,

A Poem a Day

Helps the reading muscles grow.

L.S.

In the middle of my career as a classroom teacher, I realized that in my literature-based Language Arts program I really didn’t do justice to the world of poetry. I decided to implement a Poem of the Day program where each day I shared a poem with the students. In fact, after launching this initiative, it was the students who chose the poems to share with their classmates.  180 days. 180 poems. More poems than i got in my school career. More poems than most classrooms experience in any given year. 

A collection such as A Whale of a Time offers a poem-a-day experience, whether read aloud to a group of students gathered together on a classroom rug, whether shared side by side with parent and child or whether read independently. 365 days. 365 poems. the poems could be read chronologically or read randomly. The book is organized into monthly chapters so in fact, a collection of 30 or 32 poems could be read at one sitting.  No guarantee that all poems will be enjoyed equally but by offering a banquet of poem forms and poem words, readers can come to find some favourites, puzzle over some pieces, re-read poems, or maybe learn one or two by heart (some are very short).

Imagine ‘a poem a day’ to help build confidence and comfort with literary form.. A ‘poem a day program’ has the potential  to stretch vocabulary skills, to foster narrative power, to enrich comprehension, and perhaps massage different emotions. The funny poems in this collectionare intended to make readers to smile, to laugh out loud and perhaps to share them with others because “reading and feeling and laughing and sharing are what the funny, sad, surprising, beautiful world of words is all about.” (introduction, Lou Peacock). Of course what makes one person laugh may not tickle the funny bone of another. Humour is an individual thing.  This is a joyful read, and with a year full of poems, a ‘whale of a thing’  indeed. (matched by fantastic, comical, joyful, energetic, colourful artwork by Matt Hunt.)

Samples

My puppies in the garden                                              When dinosaurs roamed the earth,

He loves to smell the flowers                                         So huge, it was easy to spot ’em,

To help them grow my puppy always                           You’d frequently  see a triceratops,

Sprinkles them with flowers.                                         But never a tricerabottom.

~ Bruce Lansky                                                                 ~ Celia Warren

 

Two fantastic “Poem of the Day” Anthologies

I AM THE SEED THAT GREW THE TREE: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year  /Selected by: Fiona Walters, illus. Fran Preston-Gannon (2018)

TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT; An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year / Selected by Fiona Walters, illus. Britta Teckentrup (2020)

 

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FYI: The Newbery Awards, 2024

The John Newbery award is a literary award given by the Association for Library Services for Children (division of the American Library Association) to author of ‘the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for Children. The 2024 Newbery winners were announced on January 22.

The John Newbery Medal: THE EYES & THE IMPOSSIBLE by Dave Eggers; illus. Shawn Harris

Newbery Honor Titles:

Eagle Drums written and illustrated by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson

Elf Dog and Owl Head by M.T. Anderson; illus. Junyi Wu

Mexikid written and illustrated by Pedro Martin

Simon Sort of Says be Erin Bow

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri; illus. Daniel Miyares

 

NEW PICTURE BOOKS TO BEGIN THE NEW YEAR

This posting lists some recent acquisitions. It’s great to have some great 2024 releases to promote. 

 

HAPPY by Mies Van Hout / 2022; 2024

I’m very fond of Mies Van Hout’s vibfrant, kinetic illustrations (Surpirse, Friends).  Pajama Press has published a terrific board book edition of Happy, which is. a great introduction for young readers to everyday emotions. Words naming emotions are presented on one side of the spread and are accompanied by pictures of fish on the facing pages, each depicting an emotion through strong facial expressions (e.g. ‘confident’, ‘furious’, ‘content’). This book makes me HAPPY.

 

AN INTERESTING WORD FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR by Dr. Meridth L. Rowe; illus. Monika Forsberg / 2021

In my teacher resource, Word by Word, I promote the idea of presenting ‘a word of the day’ into the program. Not a revolutionary idea, but the strategy provides students can stretch students vocabulary and spelling skills and motivate them to pay attention to the power of words in their own reading and writing. This book is a wonderful resource to build readers vocabulary, label their emotions and fire their imaginations. At one-a-day that’s 365 words (more than the 180 word a day possibilities in classroom settings).  The book is organized into spreads for each of the 52 weeks of the year. Each double-page spread provides clear, colourful illustrations in a particular setting to accompany a labelled words, some which may be familiar to readers (ages 8+), other words may be new.   At the bottom of each page, succinct defintions of the words are provided.  An Interesting Word for Every Day of the Year is a  gift of a book. 

Example: Week 28 (seashore setting)/ fractious, briny, turbulent, gallop, alert, tentative, sweltering.

 

THE BICYCLE MAN by Allen Say / 1982

In the Author’s Note to Kozo the Sparrow (2023) Allen Say shares his memory of being in Morita Sensei’s class in grammar school, a teacher who first appeared in one of his splendid picture book memories. The story of the bicycle man is based on a sports day event where a group of Japanese children encounter two American soldiers a year after the war. The black soldier delights the youngsters by performing tricks on a bicycle which the school principal shared with him. 

 

IN EVERY LIFE by Marla Frazee / 2023

 The text of this picture book is rather sparese, with a repeated poetic pattern (e..g. ‘In every birth, blessed is the wonder.’; ‘In every smile, blessed is the light.‘. Each statement is accompanied by ‘spot’ illustrations that help bring narrative to illuminate the text. Gloriaus double-page landscape images  pages are presented to further illuminate significant moments ‘in every life’. Marla Frazee’s picture book was named a  2024 Caldecott Honor book winner. 

 

MISS IRWIN by Allen Say / 2023

This is a tender story about a close relationship between a grandmother and her grandson, Andy.  Old age has challenged Grandma’s memory and she  thinking that he is Willie a boy she taught in second grade. Grandma (Miss Irwin) recalls special times with Willie, his love of birds and the gift hummingbird nest he once gave her as gift..  This is a fine addition to Allen Say’s memory stories and his vivid pastel illustrations executed ina n impressionistic style exquisitely the capture the mood of the story and remembrances to treasure from Miss Irwin’s yesterdays as a teacher, and today as a grandma. 

 

THE ONLY LONELY FAIRY by  Lana Button; illus. Peggy Collins / 2024

Leah enjoys playing “Fairies” but nobody seems to want to play withe her. Is she doomed to be alone forever? This is a rather amusing story with heartfelt insights into the trials and tribulations of finding friendships.   Many young readers will identify with Leah and her plight to find friends to play with.  This is a wonderful title to add to collections of picture books addressing social-emotional growth. 


TEN WORD TINY TALES to inspire and unsettle by Joseph Coelho (+21 illustrators) / 2024

Joseph Coelho is the UK Children’s Laureate (2022-2024). Each spread features a sentence that is exactly 10 words long and readers are left to question, to switch on their imaginations and conjur up a story that could grow from these statements.  The words and the wild colourful illustrations by 21 different artist friends, are designed to ignite and inspire  stories to be told, stories to be written, humorous, bizarre and or otherwise.  In fact, a suggestion of “How to Lengthen A Ten-word Tiny Tale” or an invitation to ‘Take Your Pen on A Journey”are provided as an afterward to the pictures. This picture book stands on the shoulders of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, where a title and a lead sentence and black and white surreal illustrations have led to thousands and thousands of written work in thousands and thousands of classrooms.  Write on!

Sample Tales

I hear the patter of tiny feet underneath my bed.

We watched the teacher lead the children through the portal.

She spent days trying to climb out of the sky. 

 

SHOUT OUT!

TWO PIECES OF CHOCOLATE by Kathy Kacer, illus. Gabrielle Grimard / 2024

This is a   story set in a Nazi prison camp in Bergen-Belsen in Northern Germany. It is 1945, and Francine Christophe and her mother become Jewish captives caught in horrific conditions. To lift her daughter’s spirits, Maman shows her daughter two pieces of chocolate secretly hidden inside a bag. Though Francine is tempted to eat them, her mother tells her to wait for a day when she really needs the sweets. Francine befriends a fellow prisoner who is pregnant and when she gives birth to her daughter, Francine realizes that the time has come to share the chocolates. This is an extraordinary Holocaust story about hope and survival. Ultimately, the picture book is a story of ripples of kindness paid forward in the decades ahead.   It is a remarkable true story retold by the remarkable Kathy Kacer whose many books focus on the Second World War and the Holocaust. It is a book that helps build understanding and compassion and inquiry into the history of the Holocaust. I received an advanced reading copy of this picture book which is to be released in the spring of 2024.  Buy it, share it, discuss it. There is much to be learned – and felt – from Two Pieces of Chocolate.

 

SHOUT OUT

GROUNDWOOD BOOKS / 2024 PUBLICATIONS

5 new publications from Groundwood Books are to be celebrated for their representation of diverse cultures by diverse authors. 

 

LOOK! LOOK! by Uma Krishnaswami; illus. Uma Krishnaswamy

In India, a young girl discovers a slab of stone on a weedy patch of land. “Look! Look!” she calls out to her friends who clear away the weeds, the garbage and find more stones.  Soon many villagers come to the site and work to uncover an old well buried and forgotten for a number of years. Stories are told of the tine when old wells caught the rainwater and turned the fields green. As Earth’s climate changes fast, the discovery of these ancient wells may be one way to conquer dry spells and sorter rainbursts and ultimately handle the floods and save the water for people who need it. Look! Look! is a beautiful story, beautifully illustrated that pays tribute to community and traditional knowledge.This book is a companion to Out of the Way! Out of the Way

 

THE SCOOTER TWINS by Dorothy Ellen Palmer; illus. Maria Sweeney

Melvin and Melanie are disabled twins, each needing a mobility scooter to ride to school. Brother and sister take a different approach to their new acquisition. Melanie wants something shiny and speedy and is excited about racing. Melvin wants something safe and slow because he is worried he’ll fall. Both children are concerned about how their family will be able to afford new scooters. The Scooter Twins is an inspirational story that can help young readers understand the world of those who are physically challenged as well as the coming together of families to support their needs.

“Mom always said, ‘When people stare, tell them what you want them to see.’

Melvin sat with that for a moment … “Okay, my scooter is a safe little friend that helps me be me.”

 

SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE AN OAK by Danielle Daniel; illus. Jackie Traverse

I am very fond of Danielle Daniel’s previous publications, Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox and Sometimes I Feel Like a River written through simple syntactic poetic pattern that provide reflection and celebration of the animal world and nature. In this new release,  the author presents twelve lyrical poems that portray twelve different trees in different seasons. Each poem identifies a feature of the tree (e..g.  I share my flowing sap (maple); I am the tallest of trees (redwood); I bloom dainty pink flowers (cherry blossom)).  Daniel Danielle, like her Algonquin ancestors believes that “trees are sentient beings with much to give and teach us”.  Jackie Traverse’s paintings provide rich backdrops to Daniel’s words. 

Sometimes I feel like a pine, 

calm, still and gentle.

My branches cradle fresh-fallen snow,

filling me with peace. 

 

WE LISTEN by Caitlin Dale Nicholson with Leona Morin-Neilson

A child, her family and her friend arrive at a picnic spot by the lake. Before they eat lunch, Nohkom suggest they pick leaves for Labrador tea and once amongst the trees, she invites all to pause and listen and pray. Fulll page illustrations tell a story of the outing. The text that appears at the bottom of each page succinctly encapsulates the story of a memorable outing (e.g., Nokhom gets ready. We get ready / Nokhom walks.We walk. We Listen is a bilingual book, in Cree and English. A recipe for Labrador tea is included. Other titles in the Nohkom by the picture book creators include I Help and I Wait.

 

WHEN I VISITED GRANDMA by Saumiya Balasubramaniam; illus. Kavita Ramchandran

Maya is excited about her holiday in India where she will spend time with her Grandma. Maya would prefer to have quiet time wih her Grandma but a visit to a loud and hot market and visits from Grandma’s  nosy neighbours interrupt her plans. When Maya awakes one morning to find the house unusually quiet, the story takes a turn when Maya learns that her Grandma had a heart attack and is now being taken care of in ICU. When I Visited Grandma is a heartfelt story of cross-cultural and intergenerational relationships. 

 

FYI: CALDECOTT WINNERS 2024

The Caldecott is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book published by an American publlisher in the US> during the preceding year. The winners of the Caldecott Award were announced on January 22,2023

Caldecott Medal:  BIG by Vashti Harrison

Caldecott Honor Books:

> In Every Life by Marla Frazee

> Jovita Wore Pants by Aida Salazar; illus. Molly Mendoza

> There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds; illus. Jerome Pumphrey and Jarret Pumphrey

> The Truth About Dragons by Julie Leung; illus. Hanna Cha

 

INTO 2024: Grown-up Titles

I’m off to a good reading start for 2024. Although I enjoyed some titles more than others (and was disappointed with some), I enjoyed digging into these diverse novels. Unless otherwise designated, publication dates were 2023.  I’m eager to get to some 2024 releases!

 

COLD COMFORT FARM by Stella Gibbons (1932)

This novel was written about 90 years ago. It was recently given to me as a gift from a friend and I found it to be quite the entertaining, funny read that includes a cast of characters and a story that might have been written 180 years ago (i.e.,Hardy, Bronte). Flora Poste is orphaned at age 19 and chooses to live with relatives in a farm in Sussex. She finds herself wanting to bring order to the somewhat idiosyncratic routines and dysfunctional family relationships. Cold Comfort Farm claims to be a send-up of romantic cliches (madwoman in the attic,  The eccentric characters: Aunt Adam Doom who constantly calls up an awful incident from the past, Amos Starkadder, a hellfire preacher, Seth, handsome and over-sexed, Meriam Beetle, a hired girl, Mr Myberurg (aka as Mr. Mybug, a writer determined to win over Flora)  and not to mention four cows named Feckless, Aimless, Pointless and Graceless make for a wild romp in the countryside. And Stella Gibbons witty language sharp dialogue and vivid descriptions (“The sharp blue air of spring thundered silently on window-panes by her slow batrachian breath. Powerless waves of fury coursed over her inert body.” (p. 181) make Cold Comfort Farm, a wondrous engaging satire. . 

A Google search of  almost quotes from Cold Comfort farm provide a good taste of Stella Gibbons writing:

“I saw something nasty in the woodshed.”

“Like all really strong-minded women, on whom everybody flops, she adored being bossed about. It was so restful.”

“She liked Victorian novels. They wre the only kind of novel you could read while eating an apple.”

“Happiness can never hope to command so much interest as distress.”

“Women are all alike – aye fussin’ over their fal-tals and bedazin’ a man’s eyes, when all they really want is man’s blood and bis heart out of his body and his soul and his pride.”

 

FIRST TO LEAVE THE PARTY by Salah. Bachir

Salah Bachir is a Canadian philanthropist extraordinaire. He has organized a ‘wealth’ of fundraising galas (Gala Salah), lifetime achievement tributes and has dedicated himself as an enthusiastic gay activist. Salah Bachir has worked in the film world for more than four decades and has the luxury of being an avid art collector and style guru who confidently wears wild hats, scarves, brooches, pearls and diamonds that add to his uniqueness. His  life and work experiences  have afforded him the rich opportunity to become friend and companion to a banquet of celebrities. First to Leave the Party is a record of Bachir’s ‘life with ordinary people.. who happen to be famous.”  One can marvel at the Table of Contents list of playwrights, movie stars, singers, comedians and like-minded philothranpic  persons who  he has hosted, dined with, corresponded with and befriended: Marlon Brando, Ella Fitzgerald, Norman Jewison, Stephen Sondheim, Edward Albee, Margaret Atwood, Andy Warhol (to name a few of the 60 who happen to be famous.) This was a very entertaining read with sparkling,  stories from the kindest of men who  lives and loves to the fullest. Wow! Wow! Wow!

 

HANMNET by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

Hamnet was the name of William Shakespeare’s and Agnes/Anne Hatheway’s son who died at the age of eleven in 1596. The facts of his death have not officially been recorded, but the author speculates that his death was caused by the bubonic plague. Hamnet had an older sister named Susanna and a twin sister named Judith. His father (the name Shakespeare is not mentioned once in the novel) removes himself from the family and sets off to London to work on his plays. The novel is told in alternate narratives: 1)the meeting and marriage of Hamnet’s parents 2. the lead up and aftermath of the young boy’s death.

Because I’m going to see the play in London, I decided tore-read this wonderful novel that I so enjoyed when I first read it during the pandemic and, upon second reading, continue to sing its praises. I have several friends who consider this to be one of their very favourite novels in recent years. The writing is sublime. The story is fascinating. The setting (Stratford, England) and family and community characters of the 16th century are portrayed in vivid detail. The book packs an emotional wallop describing parents grieving over a lost child. I have a hard copy of this book, entitled Hamnet. I have a paperback version, entitled Hamnet and Judith. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel who wants to read an outstanding piece of historical fiction, a great story. + I am looking forward to the movie version, directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Paul Mescal and Jessie Buckley. (P.S. I did not enjoy the rather pedestrian theatre production of Hamnet which I recently say in London. Boring!)

 

HOW TO BUILD A BOAT by Elaine Feeney

A story about a troubled boy. A story about a troubled teacher who helps the troubled boy. An Irish writer.  For me, these were intriguing ingredients to spend time with a novel. Thirteen year-old Jamie O’Neill, is on the autism spectrum obsessed with mathematics,he colour red and the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. Even though his mother died when he was born, Jamie is grieving over her and has a dream of building a Perpetual Motion Machine which he feels will establish a connection to his mother, a dedicated swimmer. When Jamie arrives at his new school he is bullied and finds himself somewhat challenged by school expectations and curriculum. Two teachers are eager to work alongside Jamie to help him through his journey of adolescents and his dedication to  assembling gthe boat (i.e. a currach). Both teachers have troubles of thair own. Tess Mahon, who has has experienced trouble getting married has a troubled marriage and Tadhag, the woodworking teacher, is a rather lonely individual who years to experience love. If truth be told, I was hoping to enjoy this book more than I did I found my interest floundering from time to time (e.g. the detailed putting together of  the boat takes up space mid-novel) but I stuck with it, however, and was rather engaged when Elaine Feeney dug into the feelings of the characters.  This book was on the longlist for The Booker Prize, 2023. 

 

THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE by James McBride

James McBride (The Color of Water; Deacon King Kong, The Good Lord Bird (National Book Award), is a mighty fine writer. When I read that his newest novel was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s book of the year, I was intrigued. The book takes place in the 1920’s and 30’s in Pottstown Pennsylvania, a dilapidated neighbourhood of Chicken Hill where immigrant Jews and African Americans live side by side comfortably, since all those citizens have ambitions, sorrows and hopes.  The Heaven and Earth Grocery store, owned by Moshe and Chona Ludlow, is at the centre of the community happily serving all Chona is the kindest priority admired by all. Moshe, a Romanian immigrant runs the town’s integrated dance hall, hiring popular musicians to entertain customers. The novel starts off with the discovery  in 1972 of a human skeleton, but (spoiler) we don’t really know the secret of the body until the final pages of the book. Those expecting a murder mystery thriller will be disappointed. In fact, readers who expect linear narratives to keep them going may be disappointed. McBride paints remarkable detailed portraits of characters who encounter bigotry and deceit. The novel becomes centred on the story of a deaf black child, named Dodo,  who the state claims needs to be institutionalized. Chona and her neighbours bond together to keep the boy safe. The novel is presented in 29 chapters + Epilogue, each with a title that serves to unpack descriptions of characters and events (e.g., ”The Stranger’; ‘Monkey Pants’; ‘Bernice’s Bible’. Each of these chapters could be considered a short story, which together form a mosaic of a time, a place and a people. Throughout the book, there are passages that are written with vivid description and yes, humour. Winner of the Kirkus Prize for fiction, 2023.  The book (deservedly) has received raves (“Heart-healing” “Wondrous” “Vibrant” “Stunning” and is considered one of Barack Obama’s favourite books of 2023. Just sayin’. I liked this book a lot and would be pleased to hear about any awards that come its way. . 

 

THE LITTLE BIG THINGS by Henry Fraser / Memoir (2017)

At 17 years of age, Henry Fraser had a tragic accident diving into the sea which severely crushed his spinal cord. This memoir chronicles Fraser’s journey of recuperation and conquering unimaginable difficulties to embrace a new life and new way of living being paralysed from the shoulders down. Readers are taken inside Henry’s head as he struggles with medical procedures and physiotherapy. Most of all, it is a story of perseverance and hope and staying positive. One chapter, entitled “Accept and Adapt” serves as a mantra for making progress through dark times. There is no doubt that it was the devotion of family and friends that guided Henry Fraser to acceptance and believing that the little things are big things.  Henry Fraser has become a motivational speaker and mouth artist d by author J.K. Rowling who has championed Henry as “living proof that acceptance and aspiration are not mutually exclusive” (p. 3). I read this book in preparation to see the musical in London which was an inspirational, mvoing, production of an inspirational life. 

 

PACIFIC OVERTURES by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman (script) /1976/1986

Set in 19th century Japan, Pacific Overtures tells the story of the country’s westernization starting in 1853, when American ships forcibly opened it to the rest of the world. The story is told from the point of view of the Japanese.  The genius behind this musical is Stephen Sondheim. The songs ‘Please Hello’, ‘Bowler Ha’t are oh so brilliant. ‘Someone in a Tree’ capturing an elderly man’s memory of his younger self cleverly depicts how historical moments are perceived and interpreted over time. Sondheim’s work is always sophisticated so it was worth reading the script to dig into the intricacies and intellect of his songs. I first saw this musical in 1976 and was lucky enough to see another production at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. I loved it. (I wept three times).

from Someone in a Tree

It’s the pebble, not the stream.

It’s the ripple, not the sea,

That is happening. 

Not the building but the beam,

Not the garden but the stone

Only cups of tea

And history

And Someone in a tree. 

 

SMALL PLEASURES (edited by The School of Life publishers) (2016)

This is a collection of 52 small pleasures of every day life,  Each mini essay is accompanied by a photograph that invite readers to pay attention to the things that give joy and wonder and “to move the small pleasures from the margins closer to the centre of our collective consciousness and our lives.”  Some examples include: “Sunbathing’; ‘A Night Alone in a Hotel’; ‘Staring out of the Window’; ‘A Hot Bath’; ‘Cypress Trees’ (yes!); and A Book That Understands You’. The book reminds me of the special picture book by award-winning author illustrator, Sophie Blackall entitled Things to Look Forward To: 52 small Joys for Today and Everyday, a book I gifted to a dozen friends last year. 

 

STRANGERS by Taichi Yamada (1987/ English Translation by Wayne P. Lammers / (2003)

If I read a book, I often like to see a movie version whenever it is released. Though I’m not too fond of it, I occasionally read a book on which a movie is based after  seeing the film. The movie All of Us Strangers was one of the first films I’ve seen in 2024 and it knocked me out. The performances were dynamo (Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell) and the meeting with the parents’ ghosts and the gay themed-love story was quite moving. The movie, written and directed by Andrew Haigh was based on the Japanese book, Strangers. The novel is centred on a divorced, rather lonely TV scriptwriter named Horada who works in a building that is mostly empty at nights. A visit to a theatre in an area of Tokyo where Harada grew up leads him to follow a man who looks exactly like his father. Horada is thrust into a reality where he has meetings at his childhood home with his mother and father who appear at the exact age they had been when they died. Horada (and readers) are caught in the strange reality of talking to ghosts. Yamada evokes sympathy for this character, who has amorous adventures with a woman whom he meets in his building. The physical deterioration and mental health of Horada makes for an haunting story which ultimately (like the film) is about grief and isolation and a longing for things we have lost and are unable to have again. At 201 pages Strangers  was a rather eerie, but intriguing,  story. I think I will go see the brilliant, poignant movie again. 

 

WATER by John Boyne

A new John Boyne title always makes me happy. This Irish author, whose work is the most translated author of all time is a very favourite of mine. His novels have given me much reading pleasure in recent years=. A great storyteller indeed  (e.g.,The Absolutist, The Hearts Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky; All the Broken Places). Water is John Boyne’s newest publication and what is especially exciting is that this title is the first release in the four-part series, “The Elements” (Water, Earth, Fire, Air). This book tells the story of Vanessa Carvin who escapes Dublin to live on a small island. Hoping to escape from her past she changes her name to Willow Hale. We learn that her ex-husband had been involved in a scandal and Vanessa questions whether she was complicit in his crimes (pedophilia). Willow Hale is grieving soul and now living a rather hermetic life on the island, hoping to come to terms with guilt, truth and hopefully peace. Once again, John Boyne stirs up the heart. I eagerly await the three other novellas to be released over the next year. 

 

SHOUT OUT

THE LITTLE LIAR by Mitch Albom

Eleven-year-old Nico Krispis becomes ‘the little liar’ when a German officer offers him a chance to persuade Jewish residents living in Salonika Greece to board the train heading north where jobs and safety await. This is a cruel ruse, of course, but Nico’s innocence leads him to reassure passengers on the railroad platforms who, we know will be lead to a horrific doom in Auschwitz. The novel unfolds by interweaving stories of Nico, who becomes a pathological liar in order to survive; Sebastian, an older brother who seeks revenge for what he believes was Nico’s fault for herding his family to the boxcar, Fannie a girl who is forced to choose between Nico and Sebastian and Udo Graf, the demonic Nazi officer who was responsible for destroying the lives of thousands.  The narrative takes us from the round-up of Greek Jews, to the concentration camps and the years beyond where Nico, Sebastian, Fannie and Udo are haunted by horrors of the Holocaust. The book held my attention from the very beginning to the gripping climax and conclusion. Brilliantly, Mitch Albom narrates the story by the voice of Truth itself. Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven) is a great storyteller. For me, The Little Liar is the best of his popular titles. 

There are many fine examples of historical fiction set in the Holocaust. The recent release of The Postcard by Anne Berest is an important contribution to the genre, not to mention some fine examples of children’s literature that help to bring insights into the Holocaust (Note: Books by Kathy Kacer + see Dr. Larry Recommends posting, ‘The Holocaust: True Stories 2023/04/05)  The Little Liar is one of the first novels I read in 2024 and I know it will be at the top of my list of favourites by year’s end. It’s a fantastic book! Do yourself a favour and read it.

Excerpt (p. 7)

“You can trust the story you are about to hear. You can trust it because I’m telling it to you, and I am the only thing in this world you can trust… But I am the shadow you cannot outrun, the mirror that holds your reflecgion. You may duck my gaze for all your days on eararth, but let me assure you, I get the last look.

I am Truth.

And this is the story of a boy who tried to break me.”